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...