‘I am torn apart by the greatest troubles because of the jus patronatus which certain Catholics confer upon themselves here’, wrote a worried Johannes van Neercassel, apostolic vicar of the Missio Hollandica or Holland Mission, to Sebastiano Antonio Tanara, internuncio of the pope in Brussels.1 At the time of this letter, 28 July 1682, Van Neercassel was embroiled in conflict with four noblemen – Floris Bam, Floris Carel van Beieren-Schagen, Nicolaas van der Duyn, and Anthony van Lynden – who maintained that they enjoyed patronage rights over clandestine Catholic churches and chapels in their seigneuries.2 Theoretically, this right entitled them to nominate priests in these churches. However, the apostolic vicars vehemently denied the existence of such rights, as a result of which they became involved in a series of conflicts with Catholic nobles throughout the Holland Mission.

These conflicts merit our attention for several reasons.3 First, the clashes about the jus patronatus in the Dutch Republic shed light on the configuration of lay and clerical power and influence over the Missio Hollandica. The conflicts represented a struggle for leadership between the most powerful members of the Dutch Catholic lay elite, Catholic nobles, and the clerical leaders of the mission, the apostolic vicars (and, later on, the internuncios).4 Recent scholarship has firmly established that the programmes of Catholic renewal that were launched across early modern Europe were not simply top-down affairs; rather, the success of such efforts depended on cooperation between clergy and laity.5 In the Dutch Republic, an officially Protestant country where Catholicism was outlawed and reduced to a minority faith, clerical control could easily give way to lay leadership, as the Catholic mission depended on lay support in the form of money, places of worship, and protection.6 The authority of the apostolic vicars who presided over the Holland Mission did not go unquestioned: they were locked in a long-standing quarrel with regular priests, Jesuits in particular, most of whom were loath to acknowledge their leadership over the Mission. Lay claims to power through the assertion of patronage rights presented yet another challenge to their authority.

Secondly, important as rights and influence may have been, these conflicts entailed more than just that: they reveal the religious preferences and loyalties of the Catholic nobility who pressed for their candidates to be appointed as priests in clandestine Catholic churches in the areas over which they held sway. Dutch Catholic lay elites indeed came to express their preferences for a particular type of Catholic spirituality and style of pastoral care. Loyalties to specific priests and religious orders emerged among the Dutch laity, often depending on the geographical organization of the Holland Mission.7 Some major Dutch cities, including Amsterdam and Utrecht, were home to a significant number of regulars within the city walls, while the border regions near the Holy Roman Empire and the Southern Netherlands were often frequented by regulars based in monasteries across the border.8 As a result, long-lasting bonds between religious orders and laypeople were established in these areas.

Thirdly, this analysis of the conflicts over patronage rights enables us to start to unveil a dimension of the history of the schism within the Catholic Church in the Republic that has been neglected, namely the role of the Catholic laity. Scholars have studied the schism almost exclusively from theological and juridical perspectives, and have centered on the fortunes and misfortunes of the clergymen involved.9 In the last decades of the seventeenth century, when the controversy between ‘Jansenists’ and their opponents started to heat up (as will be discussed below), a number of nobles voiced their religious preferences – their disdain for Jansenist priests and the rigorist brand of Catholic spirituality they advocated – by resorting to what they regarded as their legitimate rights of patronage.

The struggles over patronage rights thus touched upon two fault lines within the Holland Mission – the authority of the apostolic vicars vis-à-vis regular priests and the Catholic laity, and the existence of different types of Catholic spirituality – which imbued these conflicts with extra gravity and longevity. In this article, I will study how these fault lines manifested themselves in the quarrels regarding the jus patronatus, based on the analysis of ten conflicts that occurred in the period when the apostolic vicars governed the Holland Mission (1592–1727). The eleventh conflict occurred in 1728, when Giuseppe Spinelli, nuncio in Brussels, presided over the mission; it is included because of its clear links with an earlier clash. As we shall see, a number of these conflicts were firmly intertwined with the Jansenist controversy, and should be regarded as early instances of Catholic laypeople taking a firm stance in the larger conflict that would ultimately tear Dutch Catholicism apart.

Contested Rights: The Jus Patronatus

The jus patronatus was the right of patrons to nominate and present a priest to a bishop for approbation in a church that had been either constructed or endowed by the patron in the Middle Ages. Over the centuries, many a noble family acquired this right and passed it on to their descendants; at the eve of the Reformation the jus patronatus was well established. After the Protestant and Catholic Reformations, this right remained in force. The Council of Trent decided to maintain the jus patronatus, albeit with the requirement that claimants of this right had to prove that they had acquired it legitimately.10 In the Dutch Republic, the Reformed Church heavily criticized the existence of this right, as it rejected any outside influence on the election of Protestant ministers, which it regarded as an internal affair.11 However, despite continuous lobbying by Calvinists, the secular authorities in the Republic decided to maintain this right. Whereas in cities the right of patronage was exercised by the secular authorities, in villages in the countryside this right was usually in the hands of seigneurial lords.12 As a result, in some places Catholic patrons exerted influence over the appointment of Reformed ministers in former Catholic parish churches.13 In spite of the stance of the secular authorities, Reformed Protestants staunchly continued to challenge the existence of the jus patronatus, which often lead to protracted legal battles.14

The apostolic vicars did not mind Catholic patrons being involved in the process of electing new Reformed ministers; indeed, time and again they stressed that the patronage rights Catholic nobles enjoyed over parish churches remained unharmed and intact.15 A number of Catholic nobles (and one Protestant), however, argued that this right also applied to the manorial chapels and clandestine Catholic churches in their jurisdictions. This was objectionable to the apostolic vicars, who regarded it as a serious threat to their authority. They argued that patronage rights had to be sanctioned by local bishops; rather than automatically acquired through the patron’s actions and inheritance, these rights were granted to him.16 Comporting themselves ‘as resident archbishops formed in the mold of Trent’, the apostolic vicars reserved the prerogative to allow or refuse such rights to themselves.17 As they rejected the nobility’s claims, problems ensued.

Even though members of the Catholic lay elite exerted significant influence over the Holland Mission from its inception, this did not immediately cause difficulties. The first known conflict about the jus patronatus occurred in 1645, when the nobleman Nicolaas van Renesse van Elderen appointed a Carmelite priest in the village of Assendelft.18 Apostolic vicar Philippus Rovenius protested and emerged victorious as Nicolaas yielded to the verdict of the University of Louvain which denied him patronage rights.19 After that, it would take almost forty years for conflicts about the jus patronatus to re-emerge. The resurgence and intensification of clashes about patronage rights in the last two decades of the seventeenth century was caused by the fact that the fault lines within the Holland Mission became more pronounced. This can partly be attributed to the fallout of the increasingly ferocious controversy between Jansenists and anti-Jansenists which plagued Catholic Europe in the second half of the seventeenth century and beyond. The role of apostolic vicar Johannes van Neercassel was an important factor as well. Born in Gorkum in 1623 and appointed apostolic vicar in 1663, Van Neercassel managed to strengthen the authority of the apostolic vicars over both the secular and regular priests serving in the Holland Mission. This, in combination with his promotion of a more rigorous form of Catholic spirituality tending towards Jansenism, created opposition among sections of the clergy and laity alike, enabling them to make common cause.20

As Table 1 below shows, the conflicts can be grouped into three distinct clusters: 1679–1686, 1689–1694, and 1710–1714. Within these clusters, conflicts were often interrelated, as were the nobles involved. For example, four of the five protagonists of the first cluster enjoyed kinship ties: Anthony van Lynden, Lord of Kronenburg, and Floris Carel van Beieren-Schagen, Count of Warfusé, had married into the Catholic Van Wassenaar van Warmond family;21 the Protestant Jacob II van Wassenaar was a member of the related Van Obdam branch of the Van Wassenaar family; Nicolaas van der Duyn, Lord of Rijswijk, was also related to this branch through his grandmother, Tijmanne van Wassenaar-Obdam.22 Floris Bam, who did not stem from an old noble lineage, was a close friend of Van der Duyn.23 In addition to these social ties, the fact that all of these nobles lived in Holland, that they met, and talked about asserting their rights, contributed to the emergence of this particular set of incidents.24

Table 1

Conflicts about the jus patronatus in the Holland Mission

Apostolic vicars/internuncios Nobles Date
Philippus Rovenius Nicolaas van Renesse van Elderen 1645
Johannes van Neercassel Jacob II van Wassenaar van Obdam 1679–80
Nicolaas van der Duyn 1681–4
Anthony van Lynden 1682–4
Floris Carel van Beieren-Schagen 1682–4
Floris Bam 1682–6
Petrus Codde Joost van Steenhuys 1689–93
Hendrik van Dorth 1692–4
Alexander Borgia Oswald III van den Bergh 1710–2
Alexander Borgia/Vincenzo Santini1 Ferdinand Maria, Count of Berlo 1712–4
Giuseppe Spinelli Alexander Walrad Diederik van Hugenpoth 1728

On 10 October 1713, Santini was appointed as internuncio in Brussels. Although Adam Damen was the official apostolic vicar, his refusal to act as such de facto put Santini in charge of the mission. Van der Vorst, Holland en de troebelen, 141.

The First Cluster of Conflicts (1679–1686): The Defence of Rights and Authority

The quarrels between the Catholic nobility and apostolic vicar Johannes van Neercassel that occurred in the 1670s and 1680s mainly represented struggles over influence and authority. Several aspects of these conflicts, however, bear witness to the outfall of the swelling Jansenist controversy. The clash between apostolic vicar Johannes van Neercassel and Anthony van Lynden, Lord of Kronenburg, generated a large body of source material and is illustrative of the larger context in which conflicts about the jus patronatus took place and should be understood. In Loenen (aan de Vecht), Catholics had been accustomed to gather at Kronenburg Castle and ’t Honderd House to practise their faith, but in 1648 Maria Sophia van Stepraedt donated a plot of land at the Slootdijk on which a clandestine church was built in 1652.25 When the serving priest, Johan van Heymenberg, died in 1682, Maria Sophia’s son, Anthony van Lynden, favoured Laurentius Pilsen to become the new ‘pastor’ at the Slootdijk and asked Van Neercassel to approbate him.26 Yet Van Neercassel was hesitant about this proposal, because Pilsen had just been appointed in Huissen; instead, he was eager to appoint Everard van der Burch.

Van der Burch, however, had been nominated by the Lord of Rijswijk, Nicolaas van der Duyn, to become Rijswijk’s new priest. Van Neercassel preferred to have a more senior priest in Rijswijk and refused to send Van der Burch. He feared that Van der Burch was not sufficiently schooled in the ‘controversies’ and not brave enough to face his opponents. The apostolic vicar wrote that no one would really support Van der Burch apart from Van der Duyn and his friend, the nobleman Floris Bam.27 Thus Van Neercassel’s decisions left three noblemen unhappy: Van der Duyn and Bam because Van der Burch was not coming to Rijswijk, and Van Lynden because he did not want this priest. Yet Catholics at the Slootdijk sent a letter to Van Lynden, asking him to accept Van der Burch and not to force another priest upon them, and stating that they would not bear the costs of maintaining that priest.28 Van Neercassel, too, tried to convince Van Lynden to accept Van der Burch by arguing that the well-being and salvation of souls, not ‘seigniorial rights’, was of the utmost importance.29

In April 1682 Van Lynden wrote that he was forced to execute his rights and that he had ordered his sheriff to prohibit Van der Burch from living and administering the sacraments in his seigneury.30 Van Neercassel tried to persuade Van Lynden with a formal ruling by a number of professors from Louvain, which held that Van Lynden had not endowed the church, but was merely a benefactor, and that patronage rights could not be derived from the gift of such a small strip of land.31 Yet unlike Nicolaas van Renesse van Elderen, Van Lynden would still not give in.32 Furthermore, in 1683 he received support from Nicolas du Bois, professor of the Sacred Scriptures at Louvain and a former jurist who, according to Lucien Ceyssens, was a lackey of the anti-Jansenist camp.33 Du Bois defended the rights of the Catholic nobility in a treatise in which he systematically refuted the points Van Neercassel had made in an earlier publication.34 In his treatise, Van Neercassel had argued that patronage rights had always been a gift from the bishop and that if Catholic nobles indeed enjoyed patronage rights, those rights did not extend to private chapels, but were limited to parish churches.35 In order words, the patronage rights that Catholic nobles rightfully possessed in former Catholic churches could not be transferred to manorial chapels or clandestine churches built on their land or within their jurisdiction.36

In the meantime, Van Lynden had embraced a more drastic course of action: he authorised the sheriff of his seigneury, a Protestant, to remove the church furniture and library from the clandestine church to his castle and to order Van der Burch to leave.37 A similar forceful intervention had already occurred in Rijswijk, a village in Holland, where the Protestant bailiff, sent by Van der Duyn, had disrupted Mass and chased away the serving priest, Theodorus de Groot. A couple of years later, in 1686, De Groot was taken captive at the altar and imprisoned.38 The actions of these noblemen were replicated by Floris Carel van Beieren-Schagen, who sent his officer to prevent the priest Gerardus Alkemade from saying Mass in Schagen.39 Sooner or later, all these noblemen flexed their muscles and resorted to similar strategies to enforce their claims. Finally, in April 1684, Pope Innocentius XI, solicited by Van Neercassel on this point, decided that the Catholic Church did not acknowledge the rights of patronage of the Catholic nobility in the Dutch Republic.40 Yet whereas Anthony van Lynden, Floris Carel van Beieren-Schagen, and Nicolaas van der Duyn submitted themselves to the pope’s judgment, Floris Bam obstinately refused to do so.41 In May 1684, Van Neercassel complained to the Propaganda Fide about the privileges granted to Bam, conveying his incredulity that this nobleman was allowed a chaplain.42 Although it was later decreed that Bam could not have a chaplain, subsequent events, including the imprisonment of De Groot, indicate that in 1686 this conflict was far from resolved.43

Although the conflicts in Loenen and Rijswijk had initially started as classic struggles for authority, the larger Jansenism controversy was already lurking in the background. This complex and multifaceted conflict consisted of a series of different but interlinked debates which were not neatly contained within the walls of theological faculties but spilled over into the public, creating warring factions among clergy and laity alike. At first these debates were primarily theological in nature and revolved around the role of free will and justification, moral theology, and pastoral care. From the last decade of the seventeenth century onward they became predominantly political and ecclesiological in nature, focusing on the authority of the pope and the secular authorities in relation to the governance of the Catholic Church.44 Within the Holland Mission, a more rigorist brand of Catholic spirituality and pastoral care, which was permeated by the theology of the Latin Church Father Augustine (and promoted in the posthumously published work of Cornelius Jansenius), clashed with the theology of the Jesuit Luis de Molina. In general clerical proponents of the more rigorist brand demanded higher (moral) standards from the laity, for example by raising the bar for granting absolution and policing access to the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist. Yet other priests, usually regulars, continued to advocate a less exacting style of pastoral care, resulting in a divergence of opinions and practices which created unrest among both clergy and laity. Moreover, in the Dutch Republic discussions about theology and pastoral care intersected with debates about authority and influence over the Holland Mission, a highly explosive mix which pitted secular against regular priests (although this division was not absolute, as not all secular priests were Jansenists).

Both the significance of these theological issues and the sensitivity of matters pertaining to church governance, caused that local conflicts had the potential to reverberate widely throughout the Catholic world. Rome closely monitored the developments relating to these matters and actively intervened when necessary. Hence in 1670 Johannes van Neercassel himself was forced to travel to Rome to acquit himself of accusations of Jansenism and to resolve a long-lasting conflict with the Society of Jesus regarding the exact authority of the apostolic vicars.45 Other forceful measures included the suspension (1702) and eventual dismissal of apostolic vicar Petrus Codde in 1704, the summoning of Jansenist priests to appear before the nuncio in Cologne, and the excommunication of a number of them.46 Such interventions by the Roman curia established a dynamic pattern of interaction between ‘centre’ and ‘periphery’ and often exacerbated conflicts, some of which had initially been local and relatively small-scale in nature.

Seen from the perspective of the heightened tensions caused by the Jansenism controversy, the involvement of Nicolas du Bois in the quarrels about patronage rights was not a coincidence but the result of a mounting campaign against Jansenists. Even though the arguments in Du Bois’s dissertation were grounded in canon law and did not contain any accusations of Jansenism, several of the tracts he authored left no doubt about his feelings toward this religious current, and in his capacity as censor he approved the publication of the ominously titled book Jansenismus omnem destruens religionem.47 From around 1679 Du Bois also presided over a secret committee that actively lobbied in Rome in order to muster forces against the Jansenists.48 Moreover, the conflict with Floris Bam dragged on at least partly because the nobleman had allowed a Dominican, friar Saly, to preach and administer the sacraments at his estate.49 The superior of this friar, Willem Wijnants, conspired with Odoardo Cibo, the secretary of the Propaganda Fide, who had illegally obtained authorization for Saly.50 Wijnants was ‘plotting against me in Rome’, Van Neercassel grumbled in a letter to the internuncio: Wijnants had joined a growing body of clergymen voicing their opposition to one of Van Neercassel’s books, Amor Poenitens, in which he advocated an austere practice relating to the sacrament of confession.51

In Rome, Jansenists and anti-Jansenists competed for influence and tried to further their respective causes. Van Neercassel sent a continuous flow of letters to ensure the help of several cardinals and plead his case with the pope.52 However, he had many opponents in the Eternal City: in a letter to a fellow priest he complained that Du Bois had besmirched his name and reputation, even among the lords of the curia, in whose love he had hoped to find comfort.53 Van Neercassel did not only have to deal with opponents from within the ranks of the clergy, since from the mid-1680s onward Dutch Catholic laypeople started to affiliate themselves with one or other of the parties in order to pursue their own interests.54 The laity, and members of the social elite in particular, could and did write directly to the Propaganda Fide or even the pope to advance their cause.55 They also recruited agents who could do this on their behalf in situ. Van Neercassel mentioned that apparently ‘Bam [was] wasting much money to find friends who can aid him in his damaging intention.’56 In June 1684, Van Neercassel wrote a letter to Cardinal Pietro Ottoboni in which he complained that a regular priest in Rome had offered Bam support and that this regular ‘also attacks my book, Amor Poenitens, with equal animosity’.57 The laity and clergy thus started to make pacts to further their respective goals. This was partly possible because the Jansenist controversy had many sides to it, enabling various parties to align their interests. This trend would continue as the conflicts about the jus patronatus in the late 1680s and the 1690s became increasingly intertwined with the Jansenist controversy. Even though the apostolic vicars had some reasons for not granting patronage rights to the laity which had nothing to do with theological issues, this could not obscure the fact that the apostolic vicars’ preference for priests started increasingly to diverge from that of the laity.

The First Cluster of Conflicts (1679–1686): Clerical Versus Lay Authority

One of the reasons Van Neercassel objected to granting jus patronatus to the laity was that he foresaw that ‘all rulers, either Catholics or non-Catholics, all magistrates and prefects of villages, would in a short period of time creep stealthily towards the same right if the faculty of nominating and presenting priests or missionaries would be granted to nobles and wealthy Catholics’, as he wrote to the Propaganda Fide.58 Thus one important fault line within the Holland Mission upon which the jus patronatus touched was the (contested) authority of the apostolic vicars. In 1671, after a long and hard struggle, Van Neercassel had finally acquired the right to formally approve all missionaries working in the Holland Mission, including regulars.59 Until then, the jurisdiction of Van Neercassel and his predecessors, who were granted not the authority of ordinary bishops but of bishops ‘in partibus infidelium’, had never been carefully delineated. Regular priests in particular were loath to submit to the leadership of the apostolic vicars. The conflicts about the jus patronatus threatened to undermine once again the authority of the apostolic vicars over the Holland Mission; hence Van Neercassel’s unwavering determination to emerge victorious.

Another reason for rejecting the jus patronatus was that the apostolic vicars feared that the priests themselves would be subordinated to the authority of lay patrons. What Van Neercassel did not mention to Van der Duyn was that he did not want Van der Burch to become the pastor of Rijswijk because Van den Burch’s sister was Bam’s sister’s chambermaid, and the apostolic vicar feared that the priest would be equally subservient to Bam.60 Moreover, according to Van Neercassel, Van der Duyn was a suitor to Bam’s sister, thus placing Van der Burch in the hands of two aligned Catholic families, and leaving little space for the ties between the missionary and his bishop.61 It should be noted that close connections between noble families and priests were not uncommon: relationships were formed due to the nobility’s maintenance and protection of missionaries, something which the apostolic vicars themselves encouraged. But when priests were overly dependent on their patrons, those patrons – and not the apostolic vicars – would hold the reins over the Mission, or so the vicars feared.62

In addition to the fact that apostolic vicars dreaded the ‘domestication’ of missionary priests by lay families, the personal and professional characteristics of the candidates selected by the patrons constituted another cause for concern. Van Neercassel feared that allowing the nobility to exercise patronage rights would result in the entrance of insufficiently qualified priests.63 These alleged mercenary priests (‘Presbyteros mercenarios’), soaked in bad doctrine (‘mala imbutos doctrina’), would be added to the mission if patronage rights were granted to the nobility, Van Neercassel wrote.64 Hence he deplored the words ‘pro suo arbitro’ – ‘according to his choice’ – in the title of Du Bois’s dissertation, because it implied that patrons could also nominate unqualified priests.65 Both Van Neercassel and his successor Petrus Codde were concerned about the education and standard of the missionaries, who had to be sound in doctrine and whose behaviour should provide living exempla to the laity.66 As the apostolic vicars deemed the appointment of priests to be the sole prerogative of bishops, lay influence in this process was nothing but an obstacle to the full implementation of the mission they envisaged.67

The Second Cluster of Conflicts (1689–1694): The Early Jansenist Controversy

Other fault lines within the mission that became increasingly apparent were the differences in theological doctrine and pastoral style, as the second cluster of conflicts demonstrates.68 Van Neercassel and Codde, both members of the Oratory of Bérulle, where a stern Augustinianism was taught, tended to favour secular priests who shared their theological outlook and style of pastoral care, most of whom had enjoyed an education at the University of Louvain, and more specifically the Holland College, a hotbed of Jansenism at the time.69 Next to financial prowess and social standing, education was one of the factors on which a process of oligarchization in the Holland Mission was based, as a clerical elite gradually emerged around Van Neercassel and Codde.70 This created tensions within the missionary corps as a number of priests, particularly those who had been educated not in Louvain but in Rome or Cologne, felt themselves to be systematically disadvantaged by the apostolic vicars, further complicating the Jansenist controversy in the Dutch Republic.

To an increasing extent, the preference for priests expressed by noble patrons and other members of the Catholic laity started to diverge from that of the apostolic vicars. The three priests Van Neercassel included in his efforts to quell the conflict in Rijswijk, for example, later received bad publicity in the Breve Memoriale, a treatise from 1697 that was compiled by Codde’s opponents.71 In the Dutch Republic, Catholics favoured priests for a variety of reasons, some of which did not have anything to do with the theological convictions or pastoral style of the priest in question.72 Charles Parker has shown, however, that generally lay expectations ‘focused on pastoral competence’: priests needed to be well-educated and their behaviour had to be morally sound.73 The preference for a particular priest could also be the result of the strong ties which existed between Catholic laypeople and religious orders and which had developed over the course of several decades or even longer.74 For example, the chapel of the Wiardastate in Goutum, a Frisian village next to the city of Leeuwarden, contained an altar that was consecrated in 1615 and dedicated to ‘God, St Francis, and the saints of his Order’.75 Such bonds are also visible in the testimonies gathered by the Jesuits in which the laity attested, among other things, that the Jesuits had been administering the sacraments in a particular area, constituting invaluable proof in their legal battles with the apostolic vicars.76 A nobleman from Utrecht, Daniel de Ridder van Groenestein, several of whose family members joined the Society, stated that Jesuits ‘amidst great dangers’ had started to offer spiritual solace to the laity at a time when secular priests were few and dispersed.77 Various members of the Heereman van Zuydtwijck family provided similar testimonies in favour of the Jesuits, as this family enjoyed close ties to the Society. Many family members were baptized by Jesuits, and several of them studied at Jesuit colleges and joined the Society as priests; in the later seventeenth century, some family members moved to Utrecht, where they bought a house bordering a Jesuit mission station, to which the family had direct access.78 Small wonder, then, that this family became a vocal opponent of the Jansenists.79

Close relationships with religious orders were also established in parts of the Dutch Republic that were mainly served by regular priests, such as the border zones within reach of the monasteries located in Catholic enclaves or foreign territories just across the Dutch border. From their monastery in Megen, for example, Franciscans ventured into the area known as Maas en Waal, sandwiched between the rivers Meuse and Waal, where they frequently visited Doddendael Castle. Its owner, Peter Reinier van Stepraedt, emphasized his affection for this Order by donating the high altar in the church of their monastery in Megen.80 Parts of the province of Gelderland, such as the Maas en Waal area, belonged to the spiritual jurisdiction of the bishopric of Roermond, which experienced financial hardship and administrative difficulties throughout the seventeenth century. As the bishop and his secular clergy were largely unable to fulfil their pastoral duties, regular orders such as the Franciscans stepped in to fill the vacuum.81 Like elsewhere in Gelderland, strong links between the laity and this Order developed, too. In 1680 Van Neercassel was enraged about the ‘exorbitant wish’ of some Catholic nobles from the Veluwe, who wanted to make use of the services of a regular priest who had never received written approval by the apostolic vicar.82 Van Neercassel had always told Floris Bam that all priests had to be formally approved by him and that Rome had limited the number of regulars that were allowed to work in the Mission.83 Yet in this case Van Neercassel acted differently, as he was well aware that these nobles preferred Franciscans.84 Moreover, wanting to avoid the impression that he favoured certain priests, Van Neercassel informed the nobles that he did not want to force a secular priest (‘prister vande cleresij’) upon them.85

Compared with the earlier conflicts about the jus patronatus in the period 1679–1686, the conflicts in the second cluster were much more intertwined with the Jansenist controversy. The conflict between Joost van Steenhuys, Lord of Aerdt, and Petrus Codde started when the former wanted to obtain a pastor for Aerdt, a village in the province of Gelderland, which had lacked one for several years. Van Steenhuys thereby claimed patronage rights which Codde explicitly refused to acknowledge, referring to the tracts written by Van Neercassel on this matter. Later Codde declined to appoint Van Steenhuys’s nominee, the secular priest Arnoldus Massop, as the pastor of Aerdt, arguing that this priest ‘had not studied long enough’.86 As a result, in 1693, four years after the start of this conflict, Aerdt still did not have its own pastor. The situation was exacerbated as the Franciscans in the nearby village of Elten, who celebrated Mass in Aerdt on Sundays and holidays, were not allowed to preach or take confession.87 In order to end this precarious situation, Codde and Van Steenhuys agreed on the appointment of the secular priest Thomas Verhoeven. Yet even though initially Van Steenhuys and his wife Barbara Antoinette de Fourneau were satisfied with this priest, the latter nevertheless requested that Codde allow her to make confession to another priest, her ‘confesseur ordinaire’.88 The warm feelings toward Verhoeven seem to have evaporated rather quickly. According to a draft letter written by the priest Rutger van der Burch, Van Steenhuys had threatened to have Verhoeven removed by a Protestant official.89 Apparently Van Steenhuys had levelled criticism at Codde, too, as did his wife, who called the apostolic vicar a ‘niegesinde’, an innovator, who restricted Franciscans from taking up pastoral care.90 Whereas for Van Steenhuys this conflict primarily revolved around contested rights (he nominated a secular priest to become the pastor of Aerdt and criticized the earlier missionary activities of the Franciscans), his wife clearly connected Codde’s actions to his Jansenist leanings.91

As the Jansenist controversy steadily gained pace, it cast an even larger shadow over the conflict between Hendrik van Dorth and Codde. Van Dorth was the owner of Medler Castle, near Vorden, a village in Gelderland which enjoyed the frequent presence of Franciscans from the monastery of Zwillbrock.92 In 1692 Van Dorth clashed with Codde because he preferred a Franciscan, whereas the latter insisted on the appointment of a secular priest. However, the priests Codde favoured, Balthazar van Ray and Laurentius van Rhemmen, were attacked by Van Dorth and his peers on grounds of Jansenism and because these priests would not allow them to choose their own confessors.93 This was an important matter, as some nobles refused to make confession to Jansenist priests.94 In a letter to Codde, Derk van Keppel, Lord of Wolbeek, wrote that he could not understand why Van Rhemmen had prohibited his ailing sister from going to the ‘father (pater) of Zutphen’ for confession, something she had done for over fifteen years.95 He also pointed out that it was strange that certain authorities were granted to secular priests, but not to Jesuits.96 Codde, like his predecessor, was keen to avoid the idea that he favoured priests who shared his convictions, and was aware that a specific style of pastoral care was not particularly liked by these nobles. He therefore suggested to Hendrik van Dorth that Van Rhemmen’s successor should not be a priest ‘from the Dutch nation, neither from the University of Louvain’ (‘van de Hollandse natie, nog van de Leuvense studij’).97 Yet criticism of the Jansenists and the apostolic vicar continued to mount. In addition to the criticism directed at Codde by Barbara Antoinette de Fourneau, other nobles complained about ‘junior missionaries’ whose aberrant ideas about the ‘death of Christ for all’ and the sacrament of penance threatened the unity of the Catholic Church.98 Priests with Jansenist leanings, such as Van Rhemmen, commonly propounded the idea that Christ had died only for a select group of people, while restricting absolution to those believers who were truly contrite for their sins.99

Similar complaints were voiced by Everard Canisius van der Heyden, Baron of Meijnerswijk. In 1688 he wrote a letter to the pope to complain that Codde was restricting the ‘faculties’ (authorities) of two Capuchin missionaries whom he financially maintained. According to Van der Heyden, Codde endeavoured to introduce priests ‘of his opinion’ (‘suae sententiae’) who were often very young (‘valde juvenes’) and who

send the majority of penitents away from confession, without their having received absolution for a long time and almost towards desperation […] [and] they plunder [them] with their absurd expressions, interrogations, [and] horrible and visible gestures, thus they transform the sacred tribunal of penance into a detested capital punishment of consciences […] so that therefore many Catholics have been driven back towards desperation and resignation of confession.100

It is likely that Van der Heyden, who was trying to convince the pope to counteract Codde’s decisions, was rehashing some of the tropes which were often used to portray Jansenists in a negative way.101 We therefore need to treat accusations of Jansenism with some caution, as they were sometimes unfounded but still effective means of getting a priest removed.102 On the other hand, some of the priests with Jansenist leanings did rail against popular devotions and religious sensibilities, thus offending the laity.103 The case of Hendrik van Dorth against Codde was discussed at a meeting of the Propaganda Fide, and the reasons why the nobleman did not want a secular priest as chaplain were summarized, such as the new doctrines spread by Jansenist priests and their preference for new catechisms published in France.104 These included a Dutch translation of the ‘Catechism of the three bishops’ (it had been commissioned by three French bishops), which was criticized, among other things, for teaching the laity almost nothing about the invocation of saints.105 Another book, Christian teachings and prayers (Christelycke onderwijsingen en gebeden), authored by two Dutch Jansenist priests and published in 1685, was controversial because it contained a passage which explained why Christ had not died for all people.106 Such ideas were also expressed in sermons, and, together with the high demands Jansenist priests placed on the laity with regard to offering absolution, they were cause for real concern.107 As a result, a number of laypeople, including some powerful members of the nobility, started to lend support to the anti-Jansenists. In 1701 the priest Jacobus Cats wrote to Codde that several nobles, including Oswald III van den Bergh and Ursula van Raesfelt, had signed a tract (the ‘libellus supplex’), which, according to an opponent of Jansenism, was very successful in Rome.108

The involvement of Oswald III van den Bergh might have been in the making for some time. Van den Bergh was a member of one of the most powerful noble families in the Dutch Republic and enjoyed kinship ties to the ruling Orange family. He governed the county of Bergh and his family’s seat, Bergh Castle, was located at ’s-Heerenberg, a village in the province of Gelderland and close to the German border. Although this family enjoyed cordial relations with secular priests, they favoured regulars. In Boxmeer, an autonomous seigneury independent of the Dutch Republic, they supported the construction of a Carmelite monastery, while in Elten, a village belonging to the Duchy of Cleves, they gave the Franciscans permission to rebuild their monastery.109 Van den Bergh preferred Franciscans and the Catholics of ’s-Heerenberg reflected the preferences of their temporal lord.110 In 1685 they made a request to Van Neercassel in which they related that the Franciscans, because of their ‘exemplary life, holy teaching, carefulness, and well-mannered behaviour’, had gained so much credit that Van Neercassel’s refusal to allow a Franciscan priest to attend to the Catholics in Bergh was an affront to this Order. Moreover, the Franciscan missionaries were also beloved by Oswald van den Bergh and his mother, and the laity slyly pointed out to Van Neercassel that he did not want ‘to offend the count, who is the patron and collator’.111 The apostolic vicar corresponded about this matter with one of the count’s councillors, ‘a great patron (fautor) of the Observants’, and a conflict was averted.112 Yet the unrest, which had been caused partly by Du Bois’ tract, allegedly spread by the Jesuits, did not evaporate immediately. On the contrary, in 1689 tensions were on the rise again as the count aimed to appoint a priest in Etten (a village near ’s-Heerenberg).113 All these developments clearly show that a section of the Catholic nobility, and Oswald van den Bergh in particular, became involved in the unfolding schism in the Catholic Church in the Dutch Republic. Due to a number of significant changes, however, later conflicts about patronage rights would not be so profoundly marked by rising heat of the Jansenist controversy.

The Third Cluster of Conflicts (1710–1714): A Return to Earlier Clashes

After the skirmishes between Oswald van den Bergh and apostolic vicar Petrus Codde, which took place in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, in 1710 the nobleman in turn clashed with the Propaganda Fide. The congregation did not acknowledge his patronage rights, thus copying the stance of Van Neercassel and Codde.114 Eventually, the acting internuncio Alexander Borgia, stepping in after the vacuum created by the deposition of Codde in 1704, decided to appoint a Franciscan, thereby putting an end to the conflict.115 This dispute, however, was not caused by the appointment of a Jansenist priest by Borgia. The possibility of such an appointment by the leadership of the Mission was rendered very unlikely because of the tightening control of Rome and a number of organizational changes. After Codde’s suspension and dismissal, only apostolic vicars loyal to Rome were appointed, while sometimes, as a matter of expediency, (inter)nuncios were temporarily put in charge of the Mission. The new leadership was unlikely to appoint Jansenist priests, which lessened the importance of the Jansenist controversy in relation to quarrels about patronage rights, even though the controversy itself raged on. At the same time, the reorganisation of the Holland Mission did not remove its fundamental fault lines. Conflicts could and did still erupt due to lay claims to authority and contrasting religious preferences. Van den Bergh tried to claim patronage rights, while the appointment of a Franciscan bears witness to Borgia’s awareness of the nobleman’s religious preferences.116 Devotional patterns and spiritual inclinations continued to exert important influence over the choice of priests. Hence, in 1729, Frans Wilhelm of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen followed in the footsteps of his predecessors and requested that a Franciscan become pastor of ’s-Heerenberg.117

Another nobleman who clashed with Borgia was Ferdinand Maria, Count of Berlo. This nobleman refused to accept Nicolaas van der Steen as the new pastor of Esselijkerwoude, a village in Holland, and resorted to the jus patronatus.118 The internuncio tried to calm the situation by suggesting that he would accept a candidate nominated by Ferdinand Maria, but without acknowledging the nobleman’s rights of patronage.119 This proposal was outright rejected and Van der Steen was imprisoned in The Hague – according to Borgia because of the count’s machinations – and released only after a bail of 1500 guilders had been paid. Eventually, however, Ferdinand Maria backed down somewhat and asked for Gerard Langeveld to be appointed, which Borgia was only willing to do in exchange for the nobleman’s withdrawal of his claims.120 In several respects, this conflict represented a return to the earlier conflicts about the jus patronatus. Firstly, it mainly revolved around the defence of (pretended) rights rather than the aim to bar the appointment of a Jansenist priest. Secondly, Ferdinand Maria’s wife was Anna Hendrina van Wassenaar van Warmond (b. 1679-d. 1722), whose stepsister, Jacoba Maria (b. 1650-d. 1683), had been married to Floris Carel van Beieren-Schagen, the nobleman who had disagreed with Van Neercassel in the early 1680s.121 After almost thirty years Ferdinand Maria took up the gauntlet and like his predecessors tried to claim patronage rights, yet again without any tangible results.

Regardless of the often fruitless attempts to claim formal patronage rights, Catholic nobles continued their efforts to influence the decisions made by the clerical leadership. In 1728, Baron Alexander Walrad Diederik van Hugenpoth (b. 1695-d. 1780), who had inherited the seigneury of Aerdt from his uncle Joost van Steenhuys, wrote a letter to the Propaganda Fide complaining that a new pastor had been appointed without his preferences having been taken into account. As it was rather difficult for him and his family to travel to the abode of the newly appointed pastor, he requested a chaplain at his castle.122 In his letter, Van Hugenpoth described the ways in which his ancestors – members of the Van Steenhuys family – had supported Catholicism in the region, and argued that the priests presented by them had always been approved by the apostolic vicars.123 The Propaganda Fide did not budge: it refused to grant formal patronage rights, although it did offer to appoint a priest who would be to the baron’s liking. Van Hughenpoth declined this offer and did not allow Willem Thoer, the priest appointed by archpriest Petrus van Beest, to enter his castle. Nevertheless, the nuncio was willing to send a chaplain to the baron’s castle, which seems to have put the conflict to rest.124

Because the Dutch secular authorities (and the States of Holland in particular) began to interfere with the governance of the Holland Mission in earnest from the start of the eighteenth century, the authority of the apostolic vicars appointed by Rome waned. As a result, the influence of the nuncio and the Propaganda Fide grew, and in combination with the establishment of the Church of Utrecht in 1723 this culminated in the decision (taken in January 1727) to subsume the Holland Mission under the rule of the nuncio in Brussels. Despite the foundation of a rival Catholic Church and the organizational changes within the Holland Mission, the stance taken by the (inter)nuncio and the Propaganda Fide corresponded to the policy advocated by Van Neercassel and Codde to a surprisingly large degree.125 Like the apostolic vicars, Borgia expressed the fear that ‘heretics’ would try to claim the jus patronatus once this was allowed to Catholic nobles.126 Moreover, although both Borgia and the apostolic vicars refused to formally acknowledge the patronage rights of the Catholic nobility, in some cases they were willing to acquiesce to the candidates of the Catholic nobility.

The following example is illustrative of that policy. In 1689 the nobleman Frans van Dorth had taken it upon himself to care for the Catholics living in the village of Varik (Gelderland).127 To this end he modified his castle, improving access to his manorial chapel and making it possible to house missionary priests.128 Well-intentioned as the actions of this nobleman may have been, they ignited a quarrel with the pastor of the nearby town of Tiel, the Dominican P. de Windt. According to him, the Catholics of Varik and other places in the Tielerwaard fell under his spiritual guidance.129 Although Codde agreed with De Windt, in 1688 he nevertheless accepted Van Dorth’s candidate – the secular priest Daniel Meynaerts – and allowed him to provide spiritual solace to Varik’s Catholics.130 De Windt did not take this lightly and tried to obstruct Meynaerts; at various times Codde asked Van Dorth for his continuous support for and protection of this priest.131 At the same time Codde suggested to Meynaerts that he should not continue to live at Van Dorth’s castle but should find a place for himself, ideally without affronting Van Dorth. Although Codde referred to pastoral concerns (‘for your sheep may access you and you may run out to them more freely’), having a separate dwelling reduced the extent to which a missionary priest depended on noble patronage.132 In October 1695, Codde kindly informed Van Dorth about the necessity to transfer Meynaerts to Amsterdam and replace him with another priest.133 In this way Codde tried to ensure the nobleman’s continuous support, while at the same time making it perfectly clear that the authority to appoint and transfer priests lay squarely in his own hands.

Only in particular historical circumstances did Van Neercassel and Codde slightly amend their policy. For example, in the territories occupied by French armies in the years 1672–1674, most parish churches returned to Catholic hands. In several parish churches Catholic nobles possessed legitimate rights of patronage, as the apostolic vicars themselves had argued, and were allowed to nominate Catholic priests, just as had been the case in pre-Reformation times.134 Yet apart from such exceptional circumstances, Van Neercassel and Codde embraced a consistent policy – denying formal patronage rights to laypeople – that was adopted by their successors in the eighteenth century. Hence, in spite of the change in the leadership of the Mission, conflicts about patronage rights continued to occur.


The tensions which arose because of the contested patronage rights and the larger Jansenist controversy put a strain on the relationship between the laity and clergy of the Holland Mission, and among laypeople themselves. At several times noblemen who claimed the jus patronatus were harshly criticized by the apostolic vicars and felt their honour had been violated.135 Van Neercassel likened the behaviour of Anthony van Lynden to that of a non-Catholic nobleman and gossiped that Floris Bam had married a ‘vilis mulier’ (a ‘cheap woman’) in Antwerp without obtaining the legally required consent of their parents. Moreover, Bam would only have constructed a ‘splendid chapel’ in this house so that ‘he may rule similar to other nobles of this area’. In another letter, Van Neercassel claimed that Bam sought to acquire the jus patronatus in order to undermine the authority of other nobles in the region.136 In other words, according to Van Neercassel, Bam’s charade was nothing but an ill-fated attempt to mask his power politics. Van der Duyn was aggrieved by the actions of archpriest Johannes Roos, an Oratorian and Jansenist, whom he called ‘hot-tempered and careless’ as this priest had ‘conferred’ with a Protestant lawyer who had threatened the bailiff of Rijswijk that he would take the case to the provincial Court of Holland.137 Although annoyed, Van der Duyn was hardly impressed and stated that Van Neercassel would certainly lose this case unless the ‘placards of the land’ were somehow nullified.138 Like other Catholic nobles, Van der Duyn did not hesitate to invoke the laws against Catholicism and mobilize Protestant officials in order to gain the upper hand in a conflict.139 Such actions indicate both the authority of the Catholic nobility and their willingness to confront and challenge the leaders of the Holland Mission.

In general, however, both the Catholic nobility and the apostolic vicars were keen to mend relations, because ultimately protracted disputes did not benefit either party. Hence in several letters to high-ranking clergymen in Rome, Van Neercassel blamed Du Bois and regular priests for inciting the nobility to claim these ‘pretended’ rights.140 As he put it, ‘the nobles were bewitched by pseudo-missionaries and animated by an impudent and deceitful text of a certain Du Bois, a professor from Louvain’.141 Theodorus de Groot, the priest caught up in the conflict in Rijswijk, corroborated Van Neercassel’s interpretation. According to him, Bam and Van der Duyn had acted ‘at the urging of this regular, who even defames most foully and deceitfully you [Van Neercassel] and all the clergy in the Holland Mission’.142 It was, of course, in the interests of Van Neercassel and his clergy to shift all the blame onto their enemies, but it also reflected a genuine wish to lead the nobility back into the bosom of the church, since Van Neercassel knew that the mission could not succeed without their support.143

The stance of the apostolic vicars and their missionaries could not conceal that the rifts in the Dutch Catholic community were real, and that they were deepening rather than healing. In spite of cases of rapprochement between Catholic nobles and apostolic vicars, when Rome suspended Codde on suspicion of Jansenism and appointed Theodorus de Cock as his successor, several Catholic nobles decided to back the latter.144 Not all laypeople abandoned the Jansenist camp, however, and the rift amongst the clergy was replicated among the laity. Already in the 1690s several nobles around Vorden were willing to house Van Rhemmen, the Jansenist priest chased away by Hendrik van Dorth. Van Rhemmen even found refuge in the houses of some farmers, who boldly contravened the orders of their temporal lord.145 By no means were the Catholic nobility and their subjects united.146 As the Jansenist controversy intensified, the rifts within the Catholic community deepened even further, a process which deserves to be studied in depth but falls outside the scope of this article. Nevertheless, the conflicts regarding the jus patronatus offer a glimpse of the emerging factions within the Dutch Catholic community and show how the fault lines in the Holland Mission created fissures which crossed binary oppositions such as secular-regular and clergy-laity, instead causing the emergence of parties which cut across these lines.


The conflicts over patronage rights reveal the dynamics between laity and clergy in the Holland Mission: in exchange for their support, Catholic laypeople expected to exercise a degree of influence over the missionary efforts. This included the appointment of priests who accorded with the type of spirituality and style of pastoral care preferred by the laity. Making use of their privileged position, the Catholic nobility thereby resorted to rights which had existed in the pre-Reformation Catholic Church and remained in force in the Dutch Reformed Church, albeit in a slightly modified form. The conflicts that emerged as a result of the claims of the Catholic nobility reveal how the two fault lines which had plagued the Holland Mission ever since its inception – the precise configuration of lay and clerical influence, and the existing spiritual and pastoral differences – played out in a particular context. On the one hand, clergy and laity vied for rights through which they could expand their influence and authority. Catholic nobles might have been partly motivated by dynastic considerations, aiming to safeguard or expand their power and autonomy as local lords. Yet for both the Catholic nobility and the apostolic vicars the defence of their rights was a balancing act: neither could afford to alienate the other party completely, dependent as they were on each other’s services. The degree of lay and clerical agency in the Holland Mission was never fixed, but was rather a temporary outcome of the constant interplay between laity and clergy. This was a complex process that was influenced by a host of factors, ranging from the social standing and economic prowess of the people involved to the constantly shifting balance of power in Rome. As such, the struggles about the jus patronatus were part of the wider development of the (re)configuration of lay and clerical power and authority.

On the other hand, in addition to the juridical nature of these quarrels, some of them should be seen as the first adumbrations of the Jansenist controversy that would lead to a lasting schism in the Catholic Church in the Dutch Republic. Conflicts about the jus patronatus had clear religious dimensions as Catholic nobles and the apostolic vicars pressed for their respective candidates and thus articulated their religious preferences. These clashes serve as a sharp reminder that Catholic laypeople in the Dutch Republic chose their own sides and had a variety of means at their disposal to express their preferences. Due to their privileges and socio-economic status, the Catholic nobility enjoyed a unique and privileged position within the Dutch Catholic community. A growing number of laypeople of more modest means, however, could and did make their preferences known over the course of the first decades of the eighteenth century. This larger process of Catholic intra-confessional affiliation in the late seventeenth century and the first half of the eighteenth century has hitherto been neglected by historical scholarship, and will be the topic of my next book project.

In the end, the outcome of these conflicts did not yield a clear winner. In one of his letters to the Propaganda Fide, Van Neercassel warned that allowing patronage rights to the laity would create factions among laypeople and clergy alike.147 As nobles were not granted formal patronage rights, noble power was somewhat curbed and a mission wholly dominated by the nobility did not materialize – although de facto Catholic nobles continued to enjoy extensive influence over the priests who worked in the areas under their control. Yet, even though the jus patronatus remained in the hands of the Church, the fragmentation of the Dutch Catholic community into rival camps could not be prevented, and the schism resulting from the Jansenist controversy continues to this date in the Catholic Church in the Netherlands.