Online Dictionary of Dutch Women

DORTH, Johanna Magdalena Catharina Judith van, also known as the freule (gentlewoman) Van Dorth (baptised Warnsveld, near Zutphen, 7 May 1747 – died Winterswijk, 22 November 1799), Orangist, executed for high treason. Daughter of Jan Adolf Hendrik Sigismund van Dorth, Lord of ’t Velde and Holthuysen (1720-1798), and Jacoba Schimmelpenninck van der Oije (1711-1776). Judith van Dorth never married.

Johanna Magdalena Catharina Judith van Dorth was born at the still-existent ’t Velde House near Warnsveld; she was baptised in the Reformed Church. In 1750 her mother gave birth to a boy, but he died three years later. Judith’s other brother, Gerrit Jurrien Johan Adriaan Adolf, was born in 1755. The family spent their summers at ’t Velde and the winter months in Zutphen. In 1759, Judith van Dorth was admitted as a canoness to the Freiweltliche Hochadelige Damenstift Gevelsberg (a community of women living under a rule but not under a perpetual vow), in the German County of Mark. She did not actually live there, but the benefice amounted to a modest annual allowance. Presumably Judith attended boarding school from the age of thirteen, first in Maastricht and later in Arnhem.

Domestic conflicts and money matters

Thanks to the surviving correspondence, we are well informed about the first affair to tarnish the reputation of young Judith. In 1766 she embarked on a clandestine relationship with the Zutphen lawyer Engelbert Crookceus, a family friend. Judith’s parents were furious when they discovered that their nineteen-year-old daughter regularly entertained her lover in her room at night. The relations between Judith and her apparently heartless and hot-tempered mother had probably been strained all along. As punishment Judith was confined to the house. Not long afterward, the lovers began to make preparations for an elopement. They took into their confidence a maidservant, who secretly put things in readiness for their departure. Their plan was found out, however, and for Judith’s parents, this was the last straw. On 16 September 1767, the magistrate at Zutphen gave them permission to have Judith locked up in the private Vrouwenbeterhuis Duynkerken (a women’s house of correction) in Delft. They also disowned her, with permission from the States of Gelderland, on account of her ‘profligate and reprehensible way of life’. Around 1776, Judith van Dorth was again living at ’t Velde, where she managed the household after the death of her mother. A legacy from Aunt Schimmelpenninck in 1788 put Judith and her brother Gerrit, who had meanwhile come into possession of the manor of Holthuysen and been admitted to the nobility of Zutphen, in a much better financial position. In 1789 they bought the manor of Harreveld near Lichtenvoorde and together took up residence there, leaving their father at ’t Velde. His tenants called him ‘the devil incarnate’, blaming him for extortion and other malpractices. The new Lord and Lady of Holthuyzen were equally unpopular with their mainly Catholic subjects. Brother and sister alike were unprepossessing, and Gerrit was known for his violent temper. To make matters worse, they both had a cavalier attitude to debts and creditors. There were rumours of terrible rows, alternating with stories of unseemly intimacy between brother and sister.

The Van Dorths were Orangist sympathisers, but after the Prussian intervention, when interesting posts with lucrative emoluments became available to faithful Orangists, they were mostly passed by because of their controversial reputation. The situation became awkward after the Batavian Revolution of 1795, when Judith’s father and brother were suddenly removed from office, thus suffering an abrupt loss of income. Their numerous creditors seized this opportunity to lay siege, as it were, to ’t Velde. The Van Dorths – Judith no less than her male relatives – resisted their creditors tooth and nail. ‘God damn it, you’re not coming in’, she called out repeatedly to the authorised agents on the other side of the draw-bridge. One of the plaintiffs described her as a woman ‘driven by immeasurable passions, capable of going to any lengths’ (Manschot-Tijdink, Allerneeteligst, 108 and 111).

The years that followed were completely dominated by this financial struggle; the Van Dorths were under constant pressure from their creditors. Gerrit fled to Germany, and Judith disposed of goods that had been placed under seizure. On 23 November 1797 she was arrested and, pending trial, locked up in the Zutphen town hall. Nearly five months later she managed to escape with the help of a physician friend and a jailer’s maid, whom she had bribed. It is not known whether Judith again saw her father, who must have died around this time. At any rate, she joined her brother Gerrit in Münsterland. Strangely enough, the criminal proceedings were broken off on 26 February 1799, and in August of that year she was again at Harreveld.

Political perils

On 27 August 1797, an invading Anglo-Russian army landed on the coast of Noord-Holland and proceeded in the following weeks to conquer a large part of the province. Crown Prince Willem, son of the last stadholder, proclaimed the speedy restoration of the old regime. The Executive Leadership of the Batavian Republic reacted by enacting emergency measures in which a summary death sentence was imposed on all those who in any way occasioned ‘tumultuous assemblages and revolt’. Nevertheless, the Orangists in the Achterhoek (the easternmost part of the province of Gelderland) were convinced that the tide had turned: from their place of exile in Westphalia, they forayed into Batavian territory. Thus Orangist forces led by August Robbert baron van Heeckeren van Suideras arrived on 5 September in Winterswijk, where he appointed a new government and then marched on.

In Lichtenvoorde, too, the Orangist party came into action on 5 September. Judith and Gerrit, who had returned from Germany, put on a good show. Around eight o’clock in the morning they drove into the village in a carriage with orange trappings. The inhabitants were regaled with orange bows and a speech promising to restore the stadholder and punish his opponents. The company, with some followers in tow, drove on to Groenlo, where they hoped to meet the Crown Prince or at the very least the Lord of Suideras. Neither one showed up, and in the evening Judith van Dorth and her brother returned, disappointed, to Lichtenvoorde.

There a dramatic event had taken place that would prove fatal to Judith. In a brawl at an inn, a well-known local Patriot called Frederik Resink had been stabbed to death. Judith loudly voiced her satisfaction at this outrage: ‘Oh, but that was only one, more of them are in for it, he was only a Patriot!’ And to her brother she said: ‘Brother, Toon [the coachman] must go immediately to Grol to mobilise four or five hundred hussars, then we’ll do them all in.’ When a bystander ventured to cry out ‘Long live the Republic!’, he was told: ‘Just you wait, little chap, we’ll get you!’ (Manschot-Tijdink, Allerneeteligst, 155). This was idle talk, but dangerous enough, for the counter-revolution was doomed to be short-lived. The popular uprising the Crown Prince had counted on did not take place, and all hope vanished with the defeat of the Anglo-Russian army at Bergen on 19 September. The Orangists in the Achterhoek were forced to seek refuge, and Judith’s brother was among those who fled across the border to safety.

Conviction and execution

On 15 September the commander of the French auxiliary troops declared martial law. An inquiry was carried out into the disturbances, and on 18 September Judith was arrested on suspicion of inciting a riot and conspiring to murder Resink. She was confined to the house of correction at Arnhem. Her trial was assigned to a military tribunal installed on 5 October in Winterswijk. It consisted of five senior and junior officers of the National Guard, only one of whom was a native of the region. These lay judges were assisted by the bailiff of Bredevoort – the innkeeper W. Paschen – and by a Mr Bom – a lawyer of Lichtenvoorde, the only jurist among them – who acted as public prosecutor. There was much ado about the qualities and motives of the judges. Personal ill will could hardly have played a role, but it is possible that dislike of the landed gentry in general and of these representatives of it in particular was a strong motivation. Judith and her relatives had, after all, gone too far.

On 21 November this ad hoc court of law convicted 52-year-old Judith van Dorth of high treason and sentenced her to death, basing their right to do so on the emergency measures enacted by the Executive Leadership. The execution took place within the obligatory 24 hours. On Friday, 22 November 1799, Judith van Dorth was executed by a six-man firing squad on a boggy piece of wasteland just outside Winterswijk, near the Jewish cemetery. All those who witnessed the event said that she met her death bravely. After falling lifelessly to the ground, she was laid in a coffin, but when a soldier saw her move, he fired another bullet into her. This incident was later magnified into the story that even from her coffin she raised her arm in protest against the injustice she had suffered. Her body was buried two days later in the Reformed Church at Lichtenvoorde.

The Franco-Batavian rulers undoubtedly intended this unusual execution as a deterrent; indeed, it seems to have been effective, since a repetition of it proved unnecessary. The Orangist party reacted with great consternation: the day after the execution, a pamphlet appeared with an inflammatory verse, Op de afschuwelijke Onrechtvaardigheid…. (On the terrible injustice …). It was the beginning of a low-key polemic about the lawfulness of the judgement. Judith’s brother, Gerrit, received letters of condolence from the Crown Princess and from Princess Wilhelmina, the wife of Willem V. Gerrit himself vanished in the mists of time.

Reputation

As far as we know, the ‘gentlewoman’ Van Dorth is the only woman in the history of the Dutch Republic ever to be sentenced to death by a military tribunal. Moreover, she is the only woman in Dutch history – apart from Ans van Dijk, the ‘Jew huntress’ executed in 1947 – to be executed for political reasons. The horror-struck author of the pamphlet that appeared the day after Judith’s death wrote the following lines of verse: Now that, alas, in our days we must see/  A bullet pierce a woman’s breast – Indeed!/ Who ever would have given such things credence?/ Has humaneness now been thoroughly extinguished?

Despite her remarkable death, Judith van Dorth never grew into an Orangist heroine, for the circumstances surrounding these events were too difficult to unravel, and her character and actions were dubious in any case. She has gone down in history as an eccentric, ill-mannered gentlewoman who was the victim of her own impulsive behaviour. In 1891 the Dutch historian Theodoor Jorissen called her a ‘ranting and raving lady’; Jan and Annie Romein characterised her as hysterical; and as recently as 1999 there appeared a biography of Judith van Dorth with the revealing title ‘Een allerneeteligst caracter’ (A most prickly character).

Reference work(s)

Van der Aa; BWG.

Archives

For archival sources on the Crookceus affair and the later conflicts with creditors, etc., see a.o. Gelders Archief, Arnhem: Oud-Rechterlijk Archief , Schoutambt Zutphen, Civiele procesdossiers, nr. 197 and Archief van het Hof van Gelre en Zutphen, inv.nr. 4697 and 4698, nr. 4. On the first apprehension and subsequent escape of Judith van Dorth, see Stads- en Streekarchief Zutphen: Memorie- en Resolutieboeken, inv. nrs. 63 and 64. On her final apprehension and execution, see a.o. Gelders Archief Arnhem: Oud-Rechterlijk Archief Lichtenvoorde, 92. For further archival sources, see references in Manschot-Tijdink.

Bibliography

  • W. Gtz. Paschen, Verdediging van Willem Paschen Gtz. drost van Breedevoort tegen Cornelis van der Aa, schrijver der geschiedenis van den jongst geëindigden oorlog (Deventer 1807).
  • Cornelis van der Aa, De zoogenaamde verdediging van Willem Paschen Gtz. drossaard van het ampt Bredevoort. Aangaande zijne bedrijven ten jare 1799 als commissaris van de militaire rechtbank, aan den proefsteen der waarheid en des gezonden verstands getoetst (Utrecht 1807).
  • Mr. H. van A., Uit de gedenkschriften van een voornaam Nederlandsch beambte over de tweede helft der achttiende en het begin der negentiende eeuw (Tiel 1882).
  • Th. Jorissen, ‘Freule van Dorth’, in: Idem, Historische en literarische studiën (Haarlem 1891) 35-53.
  • G.A.W. Boerkoel, De bevrijdingsbeweging van 1799 in de Gelderse Achterhoek (Aalten 1974).
  • G.J. van Setten, ‘Freule Judith van Dorth. Martelares voor Oranje’, in: H.M. Beliën, D. van der Horst and G.J. van Setten ed., Nederlanders van het eerste uur. Het ontstaan van het moderne Nederland 1780-1830 (Amsterdam 1996) 109-115.
  • Hermine Manschot-Tijdink, Een allerneeteligst caracter. Het leven van Judith van Dorth (1747-1799) (Aalten 1999) [the notes provide many references to relevant archives and publications].

Illustration

The execution of Judith van Dorth. Detail of a print by Reinier Vinkeles for the  Cornelis van der Aa publication (1807).

Author: Gert Jan van Setten

last updated: 13/01/2014