Colors of Shame: The Defamation of the Son of Holland – Hugo van Velden

Tuesday, October 13th, 16:00, Faculty of Theology, Oude Boteringestraat 38, room 125

In the fall of 1417, the bishop-elect of Liège, Duke Jan van Beieren, sailed down the Meuse river and took possession of the strategically important city of Dordrecht, in an attempt to seize the rule of Holland. Duke Jan succeeded magnificently and ousted the competing pretenders, his niece Jacoba and her husband, the Duke of Brabant, within a year. In the ensuing negotiations, Jan was confirmed as the de facto ruler of the county but agreed to relinquish the comital title, which he had used briefly, in favor of an epitheton that styled him ‘Son of Holland’. At the outset of his campaign, Jan van Beieren had enlisted the services of Count Johann von Nassau, who joined the invading army with his own war-band and fought at Jan’s side in Dordrecht and Rotterdam. But once the war was over, things went sour between the two. Count Johann claimed that Duke Jan had broken his word and the terms of their contract, as a result of which he had suffered very substantial financial losses, most likely because the townspeople of Dordrecht had taken his valuable prisoners of war and ransomed them to their own benefit. Johann went at great length to seek compensation from Jan van Beieren, who had promised to reimburse him, Van Veldenbut all his legal actions came to naught. When all else had failed the Count of Nassau sought recourse to a measure of last resort and issued a brutally crude letter of defamation in which he denounced Duke Jan, in word and image, as a perjurer and a man without honor. The letter was distributed widely in the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of France and survives in one copy. The surviving letter depicts Jan van Beieren pressing his seal on the ass of a sow, as a token of the untrustworthiness of Jan’s sealed promise and to signal the utter contempt in which he was held by his former comrade in arms. Johann announced that he would tie this shameful image to his lance and thus fly the Son of Holland’s color.

Hugo van Velden is Rijksmuseum Professor of Medieval Art at the University of Amsterdam. His Jan van Eyck in Holland will be published in 2015.

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