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Tuesday, 25 March 2014

News about Kenau and the True History of the Siege of Haarlem

News about For What is Ours.

An Army of Judiths was so badly edited by my (ex) publisher, who also cut out the most important siege history, that I was duty-bound to win back my publishing rights. I have now re-published, under the title, For What is Ours, Kenau, and the True History of the Siege of Haarlem. 

This new and updated version is historically faithful account of the siege, a story that needs no embellishment, and has now been professionally edited.

Historical accuracy is of paramount importance to me, and my fascination with the siege of Haarlem does not begin and end with Kenau’s (alleged) part in it. My interpretation of the story examines the effect that such a bloody siege would have had on women, and therefore I hope that my account does justice to the times, the stoic people of Haarlem in general, as well as the courageous women involved.

The book is available as a free download on certain days (please keep an eye on my twitter account @monkunderwood), but is also available from the Kindle lending library. Also I am pleased to announce that For What is ours is out now in paperback. 

Thursday, 2 January 2014

September 1572, Dearest Kenau, Thinking of Home

View of Haarlem and the Haarlemmer Meer

Jan van Goyen (Dutch, Leiden 1596–1656 The Hague)

September 1572
Dearest Kenau, 

You should be pleased to hear that we have recently set our sails for Haarlem, and expect to be with you soon, though we do have to make a stop for the delivery of some fabric before we reach home. I shall make this brief, as our messenger is hopping from foot to foot to catch the tide. 

Be assured that although the North Sea is a dangerous place for any ship, the waters are, happily, riddled with Sea Beggars, and our passage will be a good deal safer because of it. At all times we are escorted by our loyal friends the Beggars, Aelbert is an excellent sailor, as you know, and our deck-hands have hawk-eyes out for trouble. I must confess myself to a little concern for our safe return to Haarlem, but we are such a piffling merchant ship that the Spanish are unlikely to risk a dog-fight at sea over us. We had a fine couple of Sea Beggar friends aboard last night to share supper with us, who have a Spanish commander chained up in their orlop, bleating like a sheep, they said. You know yourself that the Spanish ships are high-sided and slow in our northern seas, and I always think of you when I see the English ships cutting through the water at such a speed that takes the breath away. 

Sadly, we have heard much of the Spanish fury being inflicted on the little towns and cities, and it is true that they are all over Holland like fleas on a cat. Our Sea Beggar friends tell of the division of opinion at the Cityhouse, but please understand, sister, that this is but a temporary setback, and be assured that good sense will be restored soon enough. The balance of power shall be reinstated, though I cannot write more than this, I beg you to trust that I know this for the fact that it is. There are few people I could write such information to, without throwing them into a useless panic, but I know you shall use it wisely.

With the grace of God we shall be with you before Alva learns how to say the name ‘Haarlem’ correctly. We are closer by the day, Kenau, and we are with you in spirit before body. 

Make sure those geldings are kept safe for my return, I shall need to stretch out my sea legs!

Your ever-loving sister,

Sunday, 22 December 2013

June 1572, Overlooking the Spaarne River, Haarlem.

My Dearest Ermgard, 

Junius has kindly sent you this money for your English taxes, and so we shall expect to see you in Haarlem before the month is out. Use it for your escape. Promise more if you need to, and you know I do not use such words lightly, such is my worry for your safety. 

Tonight is warm and quiet, the summer moon is casting silver stars into the Spaarne River, and I am looking out over my little shipyard, thinking of you and wishing you could share this view of our home in such glory. I have made a roster of my carpenters to keep a vigil over my little flatboats at night, but I have taken the Sundays, the night that robbers prefer for their felonious work. My neighbour, the shipwright van Schraalhans, not my favouite person, admittedly, has had two favourite flaboats taken in the past months, none of which was ever seen agian. I beleive they were robbed and sold on to escaping families. Double cowardice in my opinion.     

I cannot put into words what savageries our little country is suffering, Erm. I am learning fresh horrors about the dreadful King Phillip of Spain’s deeds, almost daily. These I cannot repeat, but I can write that it is common knowledge about our country that he means to subjugate us by any means necessary. Some of our elders still believe that a parley will melt our differences away to a trickle that shall run into the Haarlemmermeer and be lost in those waters for all time. There are more than a few of us who understand that this charlatan king of Spain believes he owns the Haarlemmermeer outright, every last drop of it. My hand is shaking with rage, so I shall not write another word about this pretender king and his plans for all of us. 

On a lighter note (for me, though I fear your triumphant riding days are numbered), the geldings know my voice well by now, so hurry, dear sister, you have some catching up to do.
God speed.
Your devoted sister, Kenau.   

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Ermgard's letter to Kenau, from the port of Dover, 1572

May 1572, Dover, England      

Dear Kenau, 

I must say that you write an amusing letter on some counts, but an equally gloomy one on all others. 

The family Hoogarten found us after a deal of searching, and we spent a good evening of drinking some fine Dutch beer and eating a host of worst that tasted of home. Anke’s brother Hans fetched them from here in Dover, and they all left for the city of Norwich yesterday. Ah, Kenau, the long faces of her daughters were a terrible sad sight, for they cannot speak a word of the English tongue, or even understand it. The little ones wept as they climbed into the wagon, and though Anke said she shall one day return to Haarlem, I doubt it very much. I am saddened to see so many families torn apart so wretchedly. 
Kenau, we are held captive in the port of Dover. It has rained down hard on us every day of our incarceration, like God is furious at us silly people. Yes, I did write ‘incarceration’, as we are not allowed to leave from this place without paying a ridiculous English tax that the Queen Elizabeth has conjured up for the cheating of all Dutch merchants, it seems. We have all our money tied up in a heavy cargo of kersey fabric, so we are quite stuck in this place. We are not allowed to wander about the town of Dover (a fact that we have managed to get around quite well, due to our ingenious Sea Beggar friend that I shall not name for reasons of security). I shall refer to him as Z form this time onwards. 

There is rumour upon rumour about whether the Queen Elizabeth shall come to Our Prince of Orange’s aid against the Spanish invasion. The sensible amongst us know this to be impossible for the queen, due to her keeping of good relations with King Phillip. Whilst harbouring a personal and deep resentment for her policy, indeed I cannot imagine the enemies she has at her court, and turning against Spain at this point could be a deadly act that leads to war between Spain and England. I shall say no more about it, except that these are wicked times we live in, and God is busy indeed.       

I am truly sorry to hear about Don Pedro, though not in the least surprised. I recall that he lent you a good sum of money to invest in timber, and I cannot imagine a more honourable fellow in Haarlem. But Junius is right, Kenau, and as much as it hurts your pride (and your money pouch), fraternising with a Spaniard right now is tantamount to treason, for which they could hang you. Such acts are avenged all the time, Kenau, so I pray you have indeed severed all ties with Don Pedro, though I should not fancy his chances of a clean escape back to his own country right now. 

Z has told me that the relief of Brielle was a bloody affair, and one that he shall never forget. He said that the admiral Lumey is a fellow to be reckoned with, and was a hero in the retaking of Brielle, though he has spared us the details, again, for reasons of our country’s security. Lumey has, since that time, gone into hiding, though we are assured he is well and alive and reloading his pistols. 

The comical part of your letter put a broad smile on our faces for a good while after reading it, and not least because you are so convinced of your own poverty! Kenau, I shall write nothing more than thank you, dear sister, for a very entertaining evening!

Now Z has arrived and is in a hurry for this letter, for her must catch tonight’s tide. I can say nothing more of his leaving. 

I urge you to send us some money, Kenau, which I trust shall be interest free. I have a good supply of buyers, so your investment would be safe. 

Finally, those geldings sound splendid. However, if you believe you can win a race against me then you should take a good, long lie down to recover your senses. 

I hope to hear from you soon. 

I am sending this with the love of us all. Take great care, this war will only gather speed.
Your dearest sister Erm. Aelbert sends his love to you all, and wishes you fortitude.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Kenau and Ermgard's letters. Before the Siege.


Hagestraat, Haarlem, April 1572

My dearest Ermgard, 

I am sitting at my parlour table with the windows open wide on a sunny evening. The peaceful babble of gulls circling above my home always puts me in mind of you, away at sea. 

I am writing with resolute hope that you receive this very soon, for I shall place in the hands of the family Hoogarten for safe delivery. Anke Hoogarten came to my shipyard some days ago to give me the news that they are leaving for a place called Norwich, where they have some relatives newly arrived. I cannot condone such an action at this time, but with her husband gone from Haarlem to become a foot soldier, her five girls under the age of ten, and the Spaniards at our heels, Anke has better reason than any to leave Holland. She is quite devastated, of course, as their house behind buttermarket is worth a good sum. She sold it to the city, she said, for a fraction of what was worth (she has always been a good friend to our family, but I admit to a loss of faith in her financial judgement since the incident over the Belgian lace that was no more Belgian than I). No matter, but I should like to have bought the house myself, even though I am not a wealthy woman. It is a sad fact that my shipping business has suffered greatly for the lack of timber entering Haarlem by way of the Spaarne River of late. And worse, I am sworn to my children that I shall not leave Haarlem to obtain more, otherwise I would be away from here myself on such a trip. 

I digress, though this subject brings me nicely onto the matter of your absence. Erm, we need you back here as a matter of some urgency, on the next tide if you can manage it. During the year of your absence Haarlem has suffered from a lack of foresight befitting that of a blind man. For an example, Don Pedro Delovitas, my most trusted friend and timber-man, and I, have severed our ties for the sake of all our safety. He is the only fellow about; Catholic, Puritan, Hebrew or saint that I could trust to a take a sack of gold out of Holland and bring it back untouched, if ever an errand were called for. Not that I have such a sack to test this theory on, but I know this to be true in my heart. He has been my greatest financial support for a good few years now, and I shudder at the thought of losing his income, and no less his friendship. We discussed our break at great length, and as he has a nephew that fights for King Phillip, Don Pedro is privy to the whereabouts of the Spanish army, and their tactics. I cannot write further on this matter for obvious reasons, but I am downhearted in the extreme. Amongst many others with such foresight, Don Pedro is in no doubt that the Duke of Alva will try to gain Haarlem for a main prize, and though my friend openly disagrees with the tactics used for such a battle, he warns of the consequences of our refusal to hand over the city. Spain has lost the town of Brielle to our Sea Beggars, as you should know. Erm, we all understand how much the Sea Beggars value a vile temper and a good fighting arm, so you must watch the progress there, and give Brielle a wide berth on your journey home. 

Junius and Adriana paid me a visit recently, and whilst Adriana played happily with Young Guerte by the hearth, Junius put his case for me signing off all dealings with Don Pedro; publically, he advised, and soon. Erm, I am so desperate that I imagine you sitting before my fireside, creaking father’s rocking-chair in your especially annoying way, and speaking the facts that you have witnessed from your vantage point. With the exception of your underhand ways of winning any horse-race we have ever engaged in, you know I trust you implicitly. As an aside, or a little teaser to get you home, Junius has engaged a new ostler, and has bought two fine geldings, just broken and fast as the wind, so you had better hurry home Erm, as I have the upper hand on you already.

What else? Ah yes, Amarron has still not kicked out that louse of a husband, Wiebe, who daily accuses her of being a scold. I had to pay him a little visit not long since, so I shall furnish you with the gratifying details of this upon your return. Catherina is more grating and vain than ever, and I do not know how Theo keeps upright with such a shortage on bones in his back. I pray that one day he shall rise up like a great mythical beast from the deep and all shall be better in Haarlem because of it. 

I am too flippant when I should be anything but, Erm. I am sick with worry about a Spanish invasion and there isn’t a town official, magistrate, alderman or housewyfe in Haarlem that sees the danger coming. They do nothing except argue and bicker, our good prince William is constantly sick, or absent, or both, and Junius grows older and frailer by the day. My savings are dwindling and I am losing my income on a daily basis. I would swear an oath that the Hooftdwacht walls cringe down whenever I approach, and I am forced to go there on a regular basis to claim what I am owed by the huge number of nefarious Haarlem merchants who think they can dupe a poor widow woman.  

Hurry back, Erm and God speed.
Your loving sister, 

More to follow...

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Can We Label Kenau Hasselaer Feminist?

I’m not sure when feminism became a dirty word. Who actually made it dirty? And as much as I’d like to blame it all on men, I think (us) women have a lot to answer for. 

My own mother, by no means an imbecile, labelled me the ‘practical one’, and my sister ‘the glamorous one’, thereby confusing the hell out of both us by her defective judgment. With great enthusiasm I launched myself into a hellishly practical career as a chef, just before my sister spent her formative years temporarily blinding well to-do ladies by spraying them with posh scent in London department stores. Not that I regret my culinary past at all,  but I might have been so much more fulfilled as a writer, or an historian, as I am now, than pulling the guts out of dead game birds and chopping stuff. It’s no incidental fact that my brothers were simply known as ‘The Boys’. ‘The Boys’ were so much freer to make their own choices on where their lives would take them. 

So, that’s what labels can do for you. 

Try this. Think of that seminal (sic) heroine early on in your reading career? What label did you give her? Then, and what would you label her now? Personally, I’m thinking of Cathy in Wuthering Heights, a gal I labelled as such an idiot she made my toes curl up the wrong way. She casually threw away her every chance of proper love, and married Mr Wrong to elevate herself socially. I’d automatically labelled Cathy an idiot. But should I have? And more importantly, would I have, if I’d not learned how to label women so early in my life (she was a simple soul, that Cathy, trapped in a beautiful shell of faux complexity). And I most definitely I mean women, because we’re a judgemental lot as a rule, and quietly carping at our gentlest. We can be so cruel to each other, much crueller than we are to men. With no hesitation we can go straight for the jugular as a first point of contact. We know we can do it, and do it so well, because we were taught by our mothers, who were taught by their mothers, ya-di-ya-di-ya. 

So, back to my fabulous protagonist Kenau (Hasselaar / Hasselaer, take your pick), the most fascinating woman I’ve had the privilege to ‘get to know’ through my years of research. Ask a Dutchman if Kenau was a feminist and he’d probably say yes, of course she was, don’t be ridiculous, she killed men didn’t she? Ask any Dutchwoman, and sadly, she might say ‘Kenau, ah, now let me think…, no, sorry, Kenau who?’   

Seeing a pattern?  

My research showed that Kenau was a shipbuilder, or at least a timber merchant. Tick #1 for feminism. However, my research also showed that if a woman was widowed, and she was a woman of means / substance, it was likely that she would have taken over her husband’s business automatically. They just quietly got on with it. Tick #1 for the non-feminists.
Kenau was a mother, hardly a prerequisite for an early-modern feminist, so no ticks there. However, she must have had all her wits about her, she was of noble stock, well educated, and she would have known what special atrocities the Spanish soldiers reserved for their female captives. Kenau had numerous daughters and sisters, so she vowed to fight to her dying breath, which ticks about five #5 feminist boxes in my (scientifically precise) survey. 

And here’s another thing: The one indisputable fact of Kenau’s life were her multiple appearances before the magistrates of Haarlem on debt collecting missions. she was up at that Cityhouse more times than any other woman in Haarlem, in her day, and had a fearsome reputation as the woman not to be messed with. I have a personal theory it was this, together with the killing Spaniards thing, which made her name synonymous with the word Bitch

Over the years Kenau has been depicted in many images, and until recently, in none of them was she waiflike. Incidentally, there’s a bit of a hoo-ha going on about the new Kenau Hasselaer statue that was recently erected (sorry, I keep sic-ing up all over the place), in Haarlem. 

Just how far have we come? Compare and contrast. 

 Before (Feminism)


A famous painting of Kenau that stands in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, probably painted late 16th century, depicts Kenau as a warrior, clearly proud, of medium-attractive appearance, and heavily tooled-up. This was an influentual for me when writing the book. I was always intrigued by her lack of armour.



1973, A Bronze by Theo Mulder, which stands by the Amsterdamse Poort in Haarlem. I always liked this bronze; it looks heroic, windblown and mystical. Feminism-wise, it’s neither here nor there.



The new statue of Kenau by the artist Graziella Curreli, which went on display at the Haarlem train station last year, courting much controversy. 

Interesting, isn’t it?

So, which box do we tick now?  My money’s firmly on the non-feminist, let’s-all-slide-inconspicuously-backwards box, it’s an international disease and it’s catching. Great statue, and as a work of art I won’t comment further. However, art or no, it’s not doing anyone any favours by portraying this strong, noble and passionate heroine in a short skirt, with a handbag, no muscles or meat on her bones, and touching up her hair! I invite, no, I implore anyone who has read An Army of Judiths to comment on my depiction of Kenau. In short, this remarkable woman was, if we must have labels, and it seems we must, an early-modern feminist icon of the highest order. 

How many boxes did that tick?