4. The Calvinists openly challenge the authorities: an account of the sermon preached at
Boeschepe, Flanders, 12 July 1562
Explanatory Comment: In the early 1560s the Calvinists in the Southern Netherlands, and especially in the Westkwartier of Flanders and in the towns of Valenciennes and Tournai grew bolder. Where previously their services had taken place in secret, either in private houses or in the remote countryside, the Calvinist radicals now felt strong enough to challenge the Roman church openly. Since the sermon was planned to coincide with the celebration of the mass and held in the churchyard onlookers can have been in no doubt as to the intentions of the Calvinists. The preaching at Boeschepe about which the inquisitor Pieter Titelmans wrote to the Regent in the summer of 1562 had been carefully orchestrated by Calvinist refugees back in England. The lay preacher and several assistants travelled from England for this purpose and distributed notices in the Flemish towns designed to attract the attention of the curious to what may be counted as the first 'hedge service' in the Low Countries. Predictably the authorities responded to this provocative act by unleashing a fierce persecution.
Pieter Titelmans, Inquisitor, to Margaret of Parma.
Kortrijk, 17 July 1562
As it was Monday I went to Ieper to deal with some business for our most reverend father in God, the bishop of the same, and having heard a rumour about some disorder and scandal, which had taken place in the village of Boeschepe, near Steenvoorde, I went there on Tuesday to discover the truth for myself. From my investigation I learned that on the previous Sunday, at the time of high mass, a certain uneducated layman, who comes from the place, called Gheleyn Damman, had climbed up to a particular spot in the churchyard of the same which was quite suitable for preaching. He had delivered a sermon attacking our holy mother, the Church, the authority of our holy father, the Pope, the holy sacrifice of the mass, the sacrament of the altar and other articles and mysteries of our holy Catholic faith causing great disquiet and scandal to good people and insulting Our Lord Jesus Christ and His Church. This went on for an hour or more. At the sermon there were according to the estimates of those who saw it between 150 and 200 people from nearby places and elsewhere. Some of these carried rusty rapiers and staves, and others pistols to protect and defend their preacher. It was also reported that there were others in the surrounding hills in attendance to give help if this were needed, but we have not been able to establish the truth of this, for we had to return quickly the same day to the aforesaid Ieper.
Some years ago the said preacher Damman was apprehended and did public penance in his shirt in the aforesaid place for his heretical beliefs. He is the brother of Willem Damman, who was recently delivered by force from the bishop's prison in Ieper by some of his followers.
Although I have notified my lords in the Council of Flanders of the above, it nevertheless seemed good and necessary for me to acquit myself by advising Your Highness to provide a remedy. For it is very necessary and more than time that everybody according to his rank shows his concern, as we find daily more and more, although for our part we do not have the means to do as much as we wish.
As for the ordinary forces of law and order, Your Highness will find that every remedy which has been taken until the present is inadequate, given our experience of the situation in the open country and villages and the great extent to which the poor, simple people have been misled by those who go to and fro daily to England and elsewhere; likewise, the Anabaptists, among whom those of Armentières play a part.
Madame, I pray God, Our Creator and Redeemer, to keep Your Highness in prosperity and to grant her always good counsel for the salvation of your good subjects and His Church. From Kortrijk, 17 July 1562.
Source and Literature: Troubles religieux du XVIe siècle dans la Flandre maritime,
1560-1570, ed. E. de Coussemaker, II (Bruges, 1876) 61-62. M. Backhouse, "The Official Start of Armed Resistance in the Low Countries: Boeschepe, 12 July 1562",
Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte 71 (1980) 198-226.