Een koloniaal huwelijksdrama in de Gouden Eeuw
The drama of a colonial marriage in the Golden Age
In the seventeenth century, one of the most important motives for sailing to the Dutch East Indies was the desire to amass a fortune, and one of the fastest and easiest ways to achieve that was to latch on to a rich widow. Joan Bitter, a failed lawyer who embarked for the Indies in 1675, followed this dictum. Just six months after his arrival in Batavia (present-day Jakarta), he married Cornelia van Nijenroode, an enterprising businesswoman with considerable assets. Within a few months of their wedding, however, husband and wife were at each other’s throats.
Bitters bruid is the exciting story of an unhappy woman heroically defending herself against a heartless adventurer who has set his sights on her money. Cornelia had insisted on maintaining an independent power of disposal over her assets, but this turned out to be difficult to enforce. As her husband, Bitter had control over her possessions and refused to give her permission to engage in commerce. What’s more, he soon began searching for ways to channel her wealth back to the Dutch Republic. Although married women were considered minors in the Golden Age, Cornelia fought back and tried to get a divorce. This struggle – complete with legal subterfuge, mutual recriminations, and even public brawls – would drag on for fifteen long years.
Leonard Blussé weaves a wealth of interesting detail about the position of women in the Golden Age into his account of this painful marital drama. He also describes attitudes to marriage during the colonial era and the practice of the day regarding divorce and inheritance. He draws on paintings, letters, travel accounts and legal records to give a vivid depiction of life in the Orient, social control and church discipline. The book also provides a fascinating insight into the rigorous jurisprudence of the day and, above all, sketches the policies of the ubiquitous East India Company.