Monthly Archives: December 2015

The erstwhile lady-in-waiting: Amalia von Solms


Amalia von Solms as Diana, by Gerard van
Honthorst. c.1632. (Stichting Historische
Verzamelingen van het Huis Oranje-Nassau, Den Haag, SC/1414)

Hard on the heels of the correspondence of Flemish mystic Antoinette Bourignon, which was published in EMLO earlier this month, our final catalogue to appear this side of Christmas is that of Amalia von Solms, daughter of Johann Albrecht I of Solms-Braunfels, lady-in-waiting to Elizabeth of Bohemia, and wife of the Dutch statholder Frederick Henry of Orange-Nassau. Although much of her correspondence is no longer extant, Amalia, who exercised significant political influence both during the lifetime of her husband and after his death, corresponded extensively with her secretary, Constantijn Huygens, on a myriad of subjects — everything from matters of state to the education of her grandchildren — and it is these letters that form the focus of the catalogue at present. The metadata for Amalia’s correspondence are being made available to EMLO by Dr Ineke Huysman of Huygens ING and over the course of the coming weeks and months additional letters, metadata, and links to external resources will be added. And of course both catalogues — those of Amalia von Solms and Antoinette Bourignon — will contribute in no small measure to the work being conducted by our colleagues at Women’s Early Modern Letters Online.

Whilst the correspondence of Constantijn Huygens, currently with metadata taken from J.A. Worp’s edition (The Hague, 1911–17) and provided to EMLO by our partners at the Circulation of Knowledge project from their text-mining database, the ePistolarium, may be consulted in tandem, users will find it particularly useful to follow the links provided in Amalia’s catalogue to the Huygens Brieven Online database, where manuscript images, transcriptions, translations, and printed copies, may be consulted. Hugyens Brieven Online is also under the expert oversight of Dr Ineke Huysman and we are working together to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date metadata is available to scholars in EMLO.

On this short, winter-solstice day, as many continue to consign to the mail cards and parcels for friends and relations, I’d like to post an epistolary gift to you, our invaluable community of early modern scholars. It comes in the form of two short videos, both directed by Nadine Akkerman of Leiden University and Jana Dambrogio of MIT. The first, A Tiny Spy Letter: Constantijn Huygens to Amalia von Solms, 1635, shows a reconstruction demonstrating how Amalia would have opened one of the smallest pleated letters known to have existed, before tucking it safely into her sleeve. The second, Amalia von Solms’s Holograph Letter to Eleonore de Volvire: A Letter of Condolence, 1670, reconstructs the folding, sealing, and addressing of the letter in which Amalia commiserates with Eleonore on the loss of her husband, François de l’Aubespine (1584–1670), Marquis de Hauterive-Châteauneuf and Governor of Breda. Do watch and marvel, and perhaps even venture to consider how today we could economise on envelopes and fold our Christmas missives …

On behalf of all at EMLO, I wish you neat locking and a happy midwinter break!

The First Secretary: Henry Oldenburg

A landmark publication appears in EMLO this week in the form of the correspondence of an early modern individual so central to the epistolary networks being pieced back together by our research project Cultures of Knowledge that he needs little by way of introduction. Suffice it to say we could not be more delighted to usher into the union catalogue our first installment of the catalogue of Henry Oldenburg’s correspondence. During the past year, work has been underway to collate metadata from the edition published between 1965 and 1986 Halls_vol1_cropby Alfred Rupert Hall and Marie Boas Hall, and our intention is to release the resulting calendar in three batches over the course of the coming few months.

As secretary, Oldenburg conducted almost all of the official correspondence of the early Royal Society. The metadata of the Halls in their remarkable edition represents, therefore, the core correspondence of the Society from its inception until Oldenburg’s death in September 1672. This first third of the correspondence, taken from volumes I to V and spanning the years 1641 to the end of May 1669, intersects seamlessly with five of the key foundation catalogues around which EMLO was constructed: namely those of John Aubrey, Samuel Hartlib, Edward Lhwyd, Martin Lister, and John Wallis. Users of EMLO may wish to note that these are scheduled to be joined shortly by catalogues of many of Oldenburg’s other correspondents, including Robert Boyle, John Collins, David Gregory, James Gregory, Robert Plot, and Francis Vernon.

We hope very much that you relish EMLO’s early mid-winter gift of Oldenburg and, when his calendar is brought to completion, that you will watch as links are created and ‘dots’ joined. In the interest of joining still more dots, it should be remembered that although EMLO in its current iteration is primarily a catalogue of epistolary metadata, many individual letter records can accommodate a great deal of further work. Scholars and students focussing on individual catalogues, or portions of catalogues, are warmly invited to enrich them with additional data: people, places, or events mentioned; abstracts; transcripts; or links between series of letters sent and received. If you are interested in making a contribution of this nature, please do get in touch. These are the invaluable details that will help knit together crucial connections across the union catalogue and integrate its innumerable parts into a more densely interlinked whole.

Antoinette Bourignon: ‘I must speak’

For those who did not have the pleasure of attending the paper presented in the very first Cultures of Knowledge seminar series by the renowned scholar Professor Mirjam de Baar of the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Groningen (the podcast of this paper may be downloaded from our previous website), or for those who have not encountered before the subject of Professor de Baar’s research, I should like to introduce here Antoinette Bourignon, the Flemish spiritual mystic and prophetess, whose catalogue of correspondence became available in EMLO this week.


Portrait of Antoinette Bourignon. Posthumous engraving made for the edition of her collected works, 1686. (Source of image: Mirjam de Baar)

EMLO is particularly fortunate to have worked with Professor de Baar to make available online the calendar of this remarkable woman’s letters. Born in Lille in 1616, Bourignon, who received no formal education or theological training, embarked upon — to quote Professor de Baar — ‘a spiritual voyage of discovery, one that led her to take a critical and independent stance in relation to the church and its doctrinal authority’. Bourignon, who felt herself compelled to gather together true Christians and professed herself chosen by God to restore true Christianity on earth, purchased and ran her own printing press in a bid to disseminate her message via a myriad of published epistles. Among Bourignon’s more-renowned followers were numbered the Dutch natural scientist Jan Swammerdam, the French theologian Pierre Poiret, the Anglo-Irish natural philosopher Robert Boyle (whose correspondence catalogue will be released in EMLO shortly), and one of the subjects of last week’s blog, Moravian-born pansophist Jan Amos Comenius. Large numbers of Bourignon’s disciples, both male and female, who gravitated to her from a wide spectrum of social backgrounds and political situations across the face of Europe, wrote to Bourignon for guidance on spiritual and personal matters, and their concerns and individual voices may be discerned clearly in Bourignon’s published responses. Where scans of Bourignon’s published letters are available online, EMLO provides links from the relevant letter record in the calendar and we urge you to take advantage of these to read some of her letters. Bourignon wrote a spiritual autobiography, published under the title La Parole de Dieu in 1663, and for further biographical information we could not recommend more highly Professor de Baar’s biography (‘Ik moet spreken’. Het spiritueel leiderschap van Antoinette Bourignon [1616–1680]), which was published in 2004 by WalburgPers.

Bourignon is just one of a number of intriguing and influential early modern women whose correspondences are in preparation at present for inclusion in EMLO’s union catalogue. Within the next few months, for example, calendars for the correspondences of Amalia von Solms and of Elizabeth of Bohemia will be released and, of course, we are working with our long-term partners at the British Academy project Women’s Early Modern Letters Online, headed by Professor James Daybell and Dr Kim McLean Fiander; their collection of sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century women’s correspondence will be made available within EMLO and it will be possible soon to conduct searches either exclusively within the cluster of women’s correspondence or to expand out from this across the EMLO catalogue as a whole. These are productive times for the studies of early modern women, and we look forward greatly to publication of these catalogues as well as to the spotlight being shone onto the fascinating networks surrounding them when the prosopgraphical tools we are creating here in Oxford are brought into wider play.