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Chapter V

In search of peace and spiritual comfort

The self-exiles find friendship, homes and jobs
in charming Leyden; however, a vengeful
King James continues to harass them.

Still in the Archives in Leyden is a record of the official action taken on the undated memorial, written in Dutch, that Rev. John Robinson sent to the Leyden magistrates and that stated respectfully:

"Some members of the Christian Reformed religion, born in the kingdom of Great Britain, to the number of 100 persons or thereabouts, men and women, represent that they are desirous of coming to live in this city by the 1st of May next; and to have the freedom thereof in carrying on their trades, without being a burden in the least to any one."

On Feb. 12, 1609, over the signature of one of their most respected leaders, Jan van Hout, the Leyden magistrates hospitably declared by way of response:

"They refuse no honest persons free ingress to come and have their residence in this city, provided that such persons behave themselves, and submit to the laws and ordinances; and therefore the coming of the memorialists will be agreeable and welcome."

Not so to King James.

The Pilgrims had hardly bundled up their belongings and come the canal route to Leyden--a passage westward toward Haarlem and then southwest to Leyden--when the king's ambassador at The Hague, only eight miles southwest of Leyden, informed the Leyden magistrates of King James' displeasure.

In straight-faced, diplomatic manner, the magistrates sent the ambassador copies of the correspondence with Rev. Robinson, and claimed that they had acted "without having known, or as yet knowing, that the petitioners had been banished from England, or belonged to the sect of the Brownists...and request that we may be excused by...His Majesty."

This reaction was in the well-known liberal spirit of van Hout. The Leyden magistrates, of course--long accustomed to furnishing haven to religious refugees and supporting the reformist activity of their already famous university--well understood the plight of the Pilgrims. Also, a 12-year truce the Dutch signed with Spain in the spring of 1609 made the subservience to the wishes of His Britannic Majesty less imperative.

King James, however, would be playing a strongly punitive role against the Pilgrims during their stay in Leyden.

"Leyden...a fair and beautiful city and of a sweet situation, but made more famous by the university wherewith it is adorned, in which of late had been so many learned men." In those words Bradford pinpointed the community's chief attractions, particularly the renown of its professors. One of them, Johannes Polyander--who would play an important part in the Pilgrims' dealings with King James--in telling friends of his house beside one of Leyden's numerous, Venice-like canals lined with linden trees, concluded: "I am lodged in the most beautiful spot in the world."

Leyden, like much of Holland, has the appearance of a low-lying meadow save for an artificially raised hill at the point where two branches of the Old Rhine, flowing in from the east, join near the city center and flow as a broader stream westward out of the city. On the hill, called the Burgh, was in early times a fort and later a castle.

Quick employment was a critical need for the Pilgrim newcomers. Leyden had long been a center of the fine-cloth trade. A lot of the wool goods exported from England, enriching ports like Boston [England], were manufactured into cloth in Leyden. In those days, however, this did not mean that there were immense mills. Manufacturing mostly meant work on handlooms in individual houses, with the clothing entrepreneur furnishing the working materials, and warehousing and trading the finished products.

Most of the Pilgrims got jobs in the cloth industry, the greatest number of weavers in wool, silk, linen, fustian or bombazine (a form of silk with a special weave). Some were wool combers and wool carders. Some made gloves, ribbon and twine. A few were merchants. Some tried several jobs, from baker to printer.

"They fell to such trades and employments as they best could," said Bradford, "and at length they came to raise competent and comfortable living, but with hard and continual labor."

At first their lodgings were in the newer part of Leyden, a city which, like Amsterdam, was expanding as it prospered. Costs were lowest there, in the northwest area of the community, and so there the Pilgrims "pitched" (settled). Above all, they valued peace, said Bradford, and "their spiritual comfort above any other riches whatsoever.

"They continued many years in a comfortable condition, enjoying much sweet and delightful society and spiritual comfort together in the ways of God, under the able ministry and prudent government of Mr. John Robinson and Mr. William Brewster who was an assistant unto him in place of an Elder, unto which he was now called and chosen by the church.

"Such was the true piety, the humble zeal and fervent love of this people, whilst they thus lived together, towards God and His ways, and the singleheartedness and sincere affection one towards another, that they came as near the primitive pattern of the first churches as any other church of these later times have done...."

On May 5, 1611, Rev. Robinson and some members of the church, including his brother-in-law, completed the purchase of a house "formerly called Groene Port (Green Gate)," which had a garden and a big vacant parcel of land in the rear. The purchase was on behalf of the entire church, the price 8000 guilders (equal then to 1400 pounds [British pound of 1850 was equal to $5] ), with one-fourth down and an annual mortgage payment of 500 guilders--a big debt.

Green Gate, which was used as a parsonage for Rev. Robinson and his family, is the place most associated with the Pilgrim stay in Leyden, though long since demolished. It was here that the Pilgrim congregation met and held its divine services. The house was located in the old center of Leyden on the south side of the hof (square) surrounding the foremost landmark in the city, St. Peter's Church, a former cathedral built in the early thirteenth century.

The house faced Bell Alley [a 1660's Sabbatarian Christian congregation was located in Bell Lane, London and was called the Bell Lane Church of God, from which Steven Mumford and his wife came from before they settled in Providence, Rhode Island.] The entrance to the old cathedral was just across the alley. A visitor leaving the house and turning left would very quickly arrive at the linden-bordered canal outside Professor Polyander's house, and by then crossing the bridge over the canal, would arrive directly at the University of Leyden. A right turn on leaving Green Gate, and a walk of similar distance and another landmark, the Stadhuis (City Hall), an ornate medieval structure.

The house, under lease when purchased, was not available for another year. But the big parcel of land was accessible and a carpenter member of the congregation, William Jepson, began construction of 21 shall dwellings for members of the church.

Rev. Robinson moved into Green Gate on May 1, 1612. None of the Pilgrims has left a description, but we can readily imagine their thanksgiving service or their springtime gathering in Green Gate's garden, with its well that was the watering place for all those small dwellings built by Jepson. Bradford has left a happy picture of Robinson and his flock:

"His love was great towards them; and his care was always lent for their best good, both for soul and body. For besides his singular abilities in divine things, wherein he excelled; he was also very able to give directions in civil affairs, and to forsee dangers and inconveniences: by which means he was very helpful to their outward estates; and so was, every way, as a common father unto them."

The many extant records at City Hall--public records of marriages, citizenship, real estate, mortgages--furnish vivid glimpses of Pilgrim life in Leyden.

Bradford became a citizen of Leyden in the year Rev. Robinson took over Green Gate. Bradford, now of age, had come into an inheritance from his family estate back in Austerfield. He arranged to acquire a house of his own and the following year walked with his witnesses up the magnificent staircase of City Hall for his marriage to Dorothy May, 16-year-old daughter of the elder of the Ancient Church in Amsterdam. The groom was 23.

Bradford told how "many came unto them (the Pilgrims) from divers parts of England; so as they grew to a great congregation." In all, the congregation grew during the Pilgrims' time in Leyden to some 300 parishioners. Word of the Pilgrims had gone far beyond the "eminent places" near Scrooby--Boston, Hull and Grimsby. Newcomers came from Amsterdam's Ancient Church, from London, and from shires from Yorkshire to Kent. [Their persecution and steadfastness in endurance won many souls, which swelled their ranks.]

The new members included some of the most prominent of the Pilgrims. There was Isaac Allerton, a London tailor, who would become a merchant and magistrate in the New World. There were three who would become deacons in Leyden: Robert Cushman, a wool comber from Cantebury; Samuel Fuller, a maker of silk, satin and serge from London; and John Carver, a Yorkshire merchant and brother-in-law of Rev. Robinson. And there was Edward Winslow, a London printer and a future colonial governor.

The names of all of these, save Carver, are among those on the marriage rolls, which record nearly 50 Pilgrim weddings in Leyden. Carver, who would be the first governor of the Pilgrims in the New World, had married the older sister of Rev. Robinson's wife before coming to Holland.

THERE WERE NEARLY 100 CHILDREN IN THE PILGRIM church during the time in Leyden--a pleasant, family picture. They were contemporaries of the artist Rembrandt, a child in Leyden in those years.

But there was a sad side, too. Childbirth was often fatal in those times, and burial records tell mournful tales. The saddest is of a friend of Brewster, Thomas Brewer, who within two months lost a child, and then his wife and another son in childbirth.

The Pilgrims' simple, steadfast, industrious way of life brought "good acception" from their neighbors.

"Though many of them were poor," said Bradford, "yet there was none so poor but that if they were known to be of that congregation (Brownists), the Dutch, either bakers or others, would trust them in any reasonable matter, when they wanted money; because they had found by experience, how careful they were to keep their word; and saw them so painful (painstaking) and diligent in their callings. Yes, they would strive to get their custom (business); and to employ them above others in their work, for their honesty and diligence."


In back of the land where the Pilgrims built 21 small houses was the former Veiled Nuns' Cloister. The Leyden magistrates assigned the lower floor as the gathering place of the Reformed Scotch Church. The broad-minded pastor of the Pilgrims, Rev. Robinson, was friendly with the minister and members of this church, and they would at times hold communion together.

The clergyman's scholarship, like his tolerance, attracted many admirers, especially in the university. Soon after his arrival in Leyden Rev. Robinson, like many other exiled clergy on coming to Holland, published his opinions. He wrote a book A Justification of Separation, that was a theological defense of noncompliance with England's state church. He frequented the library of the university, conveniently located in the upper floor of the nearby Cloister.

In the fall of 1615 Rev. Robinson was admitted to the university as a student of theology. Many advantages accompanied this honor: Tax exemption, exemption from the service in the city guard, and allowances of 10 gallons of wine every three months and 126 gallons (half tun) of beer every month--very welcome in an era without tea, coffee, soft drinks or a generally safe water supply.

"Great troubles" that "greatly molested the whole state" arose at this time, Bradford said, over what was called the Arminian controversy--a hot religious dispute that attracted the heavy hand of King James.

Jacobus Arminius, who up to his death was a professor of theology at the university, had preached that individuals by their own action can win salvation. This went against the rigid teaching of the Calvinists that man's salavation was a matter of heavenly predestination. The university had professors on both sides of the controversy and Rev. Robinson attended their rival lectures despite his heavy schedule of writing "sundry books" and giving three lectures a week to his congregation.

King James went so far as to persuade the Dutch authorities to influence the university to reject the candidate chosen to succeed Prof. Arminius.

Rev. Robinson was brought into the controversy by his friend Prof. Polyander, orthodox advocate of the Calvinist doctrine. The clergyman, said Bradford, "was loath, being a stranger." But the professor anxiously importuned Rev. Robinson with the appeal that "such was the ability and nimbleness of the adversary that the truth would suffer if he (Rev. Robinson) did not help..."

The Pilgrim pastor ultimately delivered three university lectures and won "much honor and respect." But the grateful university refrained from heaping any "public favor" on Rev. Robinson to avoid "giving offense to the state of England"--namely King James.

In later developments in the controversy--developments that gravely endangered the unity of Holland--King James got the Dutch government to further twist the university's arm and prevent the famous English divine, Rev. William Ames, from joining the university's faculty.

Rev. Ames was a friend or tutor to all the clergy who would fill the first pulpits in New England. Only his death prevented him from coming to the New World in later years. But his teaching--his use of direct, forceful language--shaped the sermons preached to early New Englanders. And his book for long was the principal theological text at the first training ground for New England clergy, Harvard College.

Harsher tactics than those used against Rev. Ames were employed by King James against William Brewster and his underground press.

Brewster, who had suffered the "greatest loss" in the flight from Scrooby to Holland, had financial difficulties that were the more burdensome because of his age. In those early years "he suffered much hardship," said Bradford. "[as] he had spent the most of his means, having a great charge (expense) and many children; and, in regard of his former breeding and course of life, not so fit for many employments as others were; especially such as were toilsome and laborious. But yet he ever bore his condition with much cheerfulness and contentation (contentment)."

Brewter's schooling at Cambridge came to his aid. He could speak Latin, the scholar's language. The University of Leyden drew many students from Denmark and Germany. Brewster prepared a book of rules, in the style of Latin grammar books, and taught English in his dwelling. "Many gentlemen, both Danes and Germans," said Bradford, "resorted to him, as they had time from other studies; some of them being great men's sons."

BREWSTER'S GREATEST SOURCE OF HELP HOWEVER, was Thomas Brewer, a wealthy gentleman from Kent who came to live in Leyden, in a house he purchased in Bell Alley just a door but one from Rev. Robinson's Green Gate. It was called Green House.

Brewer, a man in his late 30s, about 10 years younger than Brewster, was a member of the Reformed Scotch Church. He was a Puritan zealous to spread the gospel. He made his house a center for students, among them a doctor and a future minister of his church. Brewer himself was enrolled in the University of Leyden as a scholar in literature.

Chiefly with Brewer's financing, Brewster was able late in 1616 to make arrangements for publishing from his dwelling on Stink Alley, a narrow passageway off Choir Alley, which runs from the main city street with its City Hall to the square surrounding St. Peter's Church, entering the square toward the rear of the church. Brewster's L-shaped, three-family house also had an entrance on Choir Alley.

Brewster and his helpers had "employment enough," said Bradford; "and by reason of many books which would not be allowed to be printed in England, they might have had more than they could do."

Financial aid made it possible for Brewster, who was not a printer himself, to secure a master printer from London, John Reynolds. With Reynolds came an apprentice printer, or assistant, who would become a most prominent Pilgrim. He was Edward Winslow, then 21 years of age. They both lived in Brewster's house, and, when they soon went with their brides to be married at City Hall, members of the Brewster family went as attendants.

Brewster's publications were far more religious than commercial in nature. The first few books, in Latin and Dutch, bore his name; the date, 1617; and the words In Vice Chorali, which is the Latin translation of Choir Alley and the name most often associated with Pilgrim activities. The fact that none of the first three books was in English and that only those bear the Brewster imprint indicates that they were intended to provide later printing with protection.

Eventually some dozen-and-a-half books came from Choir Alley, which would keep such a small enterprise very busy. Later events, when the authorities raided the premises, suggest that no press work was done there and that the type, when set, was taken for printing to Dutch shops.


Significantly, Prof. Polyander wrote a preface to Brewster's first book, a Latin commentary on religious proverbs. Brewster's printing had other associations with the university, including tracts on the Arminian controversy. One of his other earliest books was a polemic by Rev. Ames, who was such a personal source of irritation to King James even though the clergyman was one of those Puritans who wanted to stay within the state church.

Late in 1618, with Europe about to be plunged into the devastation and agony of the Thirty Years War, and with Prince Maurice of Orange eager for English assistance, King James was able to get the Dutch ruler to issue an edict that prohibited foreigners in Holland from printing books objectionable to friendly foreign countries.

King James had reason. Earlier that year, in August, he had called a church synod at Perth, the ancient capital of Scotland, in an effort to impose a hierarchical structure of bishops over the presbyters, the elders, of the Scottish church.

The Scots were unalterably opposed. The historian of the Scottish church, nonconforming David Calderwood, wrote a tract denouncing the Perth Assembly. To get it printed, he fled to Holland, and in a few months Perth Assembly, printed with type from Brewster's fonts, appeared in Scotland. It had been smuggled into Scotland concealed in wine vats. King James was incensed. [PERTH ASSEMBLY denounced efforts by King James to impose a hierarchy of bishops on the Scottish church.]


The captain of the guard in Edinburgh, on the king's orders, searched the "booths and houses" of three booksellers there but found neither Perth Assembly nor the author.

An innocent Scottish bookseller who happened to be in London was seized and brought before the angry king. "The devil take you away, both body and soul," raged King James to the kneeling bookseller, "for you are none of my religion." As for his Scottish subjects in general, the king added: "The devil rive (split) their souls and bodies all in collops (slices), and cast them into hell!" The bookseller was unjustly kept in prison for three months.

In July 1619 His Majesty's ambassador at The Hague, Sir Dudley Carleton, came across some copies of Perth Assembly and some clues. He hurried off a message to King James' secretary of state, Sir Robert Naunton, at Whitehall Palace: "I am informed it is printed by a certain English Brownist of Leyden, as are most of the Puritan books sent over, of late days, into England." In view of the new Dutch edict, Carleton said that he would complain to the Dutch authorities.

Five days later Carleton hustled off another note to Naunton in which he said that the culprit was "one William Brewster, a Brownist, who hath been, for some years, an inhabitant and printer at Leyden; but is now within these three weeks...gone back to dwell in London...where he may be found out and examined." If Brewster was not the printer, advised Carleton, "he assuredly knows both the printer and the author."

Carleton was right. Brewster was already in England and some three months earlier--doubtless aware of the royal manhunt--had, as Pilgrim Deacon Robert Cushman, then in England, wrote the Pilgrims back in Leyden, gone "into the north" of England. Brewster, sought by the authorities in three countries--England, Scotland and Holland--had gone underground.


Now began something of a comedy of errors. The sleuths were unquestionably misled by friends of Brewster, particularly his friends at the University of Leyden, where his tutoring of scholars had made him quite popular.

Naunton wrote Carleton that Brewster was not to be found in London and that he must be somewhere in Holland. Carleton wrote back that he was informed Brewster was not only not in Leyden but unlikely to be there any time soon, "having removed from thence both his family and goods..."

From King James came something more menacing for the Dutch, eager for his good will. The king had commanded him, Naunton said, to tell Carleton to "deal roundly with the State-General (the Dutch central government) in his name, for the apprehension of him, the said Brewster, as they tender (value) His Majesty's friendship."

Carleton began to get hints that Brewster was in Leyden...no maybe Amsterdam. He had searches made, keeping Naunton (and, of course, the irritated king) informed.

Then, suddenly, Carleton triumphantly informed them that Brewster had been taken in Leyden. But Carleton was quickly forced to get off another message explaining that he was in error--an error caused by a bailiff, "a dull, drunken fellow (who) took one man for another."

The man under arrest was Brewster's benefactor, Thomas Brewer.

Brewer told the authorities that "his business heretofore had been printing, or having printing done," but he blandly explained that he had quit any printing the prior December because of the edict making it illegal. He identified Brewster as "his brother," but, by way of throwing the pursuers off scent, said that Brewster was "in town at present, but sick."

The bailiff, now certainly sober, rechecked and reported that Brewster "had already left" Leyden. Brewer, being "a member of the university," was now transferred to the university authorities. When the bailiff asked assistance from the university in seizing the illegal printing supplies, university officials--most likely with tongue in cheek--appointed Prof. Polyander, Brewster's friend, to help him.

THEY FOUND "THE TYPES" IN THE GARRET OF Brewster's former dwelling in Stink Alley. They made a catalogue of the books found. Then the bailiff had "the garret door nailed in two places, and the seal of the said officer, impressed in green wax over the paper, is placed upon the lock and the nails..."

Naunton wrote consolingly to Carleton:
"I am sorry that Brewster's person hath so escaped you; but I hope Brewer will help you find him out."

Brewer did no such thing.

It was now, however, that Rev. Ames' desire for appointment at the University of Leyden was wrecked. In going over the catalogue of Brewster's books, Carleton noticed that Rev. Ames "hath his hand in many of these." Carleton told Naunton he therefore "desired the curators of the University of Leyden not to admit him (Rev. Ames) to a place of public professor...until he hath given His Majesty full satisfaction." That, given the king's attitude, was impossible.

The king's request ran headlong into difficulties raised by the university. Its officials were unwilling to remand Brewer, and felt they should be the ones to try him. Carleton got the Prince of Orange to speak personally with the university rector. Finally Prof. Polyander arranged a compromise: Brewer was to go "voluntarily" to England, with the assurance that he could return to Holland within three months free of expenses, and unharmed.

Carleton called Brewer "a professed Brownist" who had "mortgaged and consumed a great part of his estate...through the reveries (dreams) of his religion." Questioning of Brewer in London proved futile. Naunton wrote Carleton that Brewer "did all that a silly creature could to increase his (the king's) unsatisfaction." Brewer was discharged. But he did not return to Holland.

A few years later Brewer, persecuted by the bishops for aiding gatherings of nonconformists in Kent, was fined 1000 pounds and imprisoned. He remained in King's Bench Prison for 14 years, until he was released by act of the Long Parliament, on the eve of the civil war against King James' son and successor, Charles I.

Brewster, in heading "into the north," may well have avoided a much worse fate than Brewer's, with King James--called "the wisest fool in Christendom" by the chief minister of a French monarch--thirsting for his arrest.

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