Jump to ContentJump to Main Navigation
The Burgher and the WhoreProstitution in Early Modern Amsterdam$

Lotte van de Pol

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199211401

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199211401.001.0001

Show Summary Details
Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.oxfordscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2017. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use (for details see http://www.oxfordscholarship.com/page/privacy-policy). Subscriber: null; date: 26 February 2017

(p.232) Appendix 1 Contemporary Writers on Amsterdam Music Houses and Prostitution

(p.232) Appendix 1 Contemporary Writers on Amsterdam Music Houses and Prostitution

The Burgher and the Whore
Oxford University Press

(p.232) Appendix 1

Contemporary Writers on Amsterdam Music Houses and Prostitution

Peter Hajstrup, A Common Sailor from Denmark

Travelogues were generally written by members of the elite and the majority of Germans who kept accounts of their travels were scholars or clergymen. This memoir by an ordinary seaman, Peter Hansen Hajstrup, who was in Amsterdam in 1644 to sign up with the VOC, is therefore highly unusual. Hajstrup came from what was then Danish Schleswig Holstein and he wrote in German. The following is translated from Frank Ibold, Jens Jäger, and Detlev Kraak (eds.), Das Memorial und Jurenal des Peter Hansen Hajstrup (1624–1672) (The Memoir and Journal of Peter Hansen Hajstrup) (Neumünster, 1995), 65–6.

On 27 August, Sunday, at 7 o'clock in the morning, I and my comrade set out to see the city of Amsterdam, where he was familiar with all the streets, and also walked outside the Hellewegs Gate; there he took us into an inn, in fact a public whorehouse. The landlady soon showed us to a pleasure garden behind the house, where my comrade ordered a pint of wine, which was soon brought to us by a madam so finely adorned that many would have thought her a young noblewoman. But when she came to us with the wine she sat down next to my comrade and asked him how it went with him and how he had been all this while; she said that as she saw it he had every reason to thank the dear Lord. Meanwhile she put her hand down his trousers and kept asking how he was furnished there, embracing and kissing him as she did so. Seeing this, I sat as if stricken; I did not know what I should think, since at that time I was still young and inexperienced. But when she went away I said to my comrade, ‘What kind of a place is this? I think you have brought me into a whorehouse.’ At that he answered: ‘What else did you have in mind? We want a happy day of it and to have a little fun with these young ladies! Shortly another will come, who is even prettier than she. That will be the one for you.’ (p.233) I said: ‘No, I don't want to stay here!’ Then the whore came back, bringing, or so she thought, one for me as well. They sat down with us, beginning to kiss and to clap. As I sat still, not turning to look at them, the whore asked me if something was wrong. I said: ‘No!’ Then she started to put her arm around me too, and since I was not used to such things and also not in agreement, I hit her in the face with my fist, so that she fell to the ground next to the table. This caused my comrade to fly into a rage, saying: ‘It's wrong of you to hit a woman.’

I answered: ‘I have hit a wanton whore, and I regard he who chooses to defend her as no better than a rogue. I will not remain in such company!’ So I paid for the wine and left. But when I went back through the Hellewegs Gate I could not find the way to my lodgings; I knew neither the name of my landlady nor the street, so I walked about the city all that day, until in the evening I came upon the old West India House and remembered it, so that I came to my lodgings again; from then on, however, I no longer kept company with my comrade.

Thomas Penson, An English Arms Painter

One of the few surviving early modern travel accounts by an ordinary Englishman was written by a painter of coats of arms, Thomas Penson (1622–after 1694). In 1687 he travelled through Holland, the Southern Netherlands, and France, staying in Amsterdam for two months. His journal, Penson's Short Progress into Holland, Flanders and France survives in a neat but clearly much-read manuscript. The following is taken from van Strien, Touring the Low Countries, 44. Penson has just described his visit to the Spin House.

But although they have these prisons and useful places for punishing vice, yet there are also in this great city other places, which visibly encourage it. Particularly the Long Cellar, which (I was informed) is tolerated by the States for the use of strangers and travellers, whereunto they may repair and have a woman to live and lie with them, so long as they stay in the country. And they will also tell you they shall be very just to you, taking care of your linen and do whatsoever is necessary to be done for you, as if she were your faithful wife (but trust them who will, for me). I was divers times there, being curious to know the customs of the place and [p. 55] was directed by a friend in England to a captain of a ship that trades thither, to find him every day upon the Exchange or at night in the Long Cellar. But I found him on the Exchange daily and he was so kind [as] to go with me and show me some of the customs of the country, which perhaps I had not known but by his acquaintance. But I used it with such prudence as I though might become me, being a stranger there.

I found the women generally very loving to Englishmen and would rather be a companion to them than any others. When I entered this cellar (which is a long place and where they always burn candles), I found divers women (p.234) walking about, very neat and clean dressed. So soon as I was set down, there came one of them to me and kissed me saying: ‘Mijn Heer ghy sal met mijn slapen de nacht’, that is: [p. 56] ‘Sir, you shall sleep with me tonight’. I was no sooner set but the servant brought me a rummer of wine, for which (according to the custom of the place) I presently paid six stuyvers. Then I sat and talked and drank with my lady a little while. Soon after I saw another which walked by me, I thought [her] much handsomer and to be preferred before the first, so I beckoned her and the other soon left me. This also was very free in her embraces and offered me all the kind things I could desire, inviting me home to her lodging, whither I went with her. Where so soon as I came in, her maid filled a large rummer of wine and set by me on the table. We tippled that off and was very merry with singing etc. and had another filled. Nor could I ask anything of her that she did not freely impart to me. And intreated me to stay all night, which I as decently refused as I could, with a [p. 57] promise to come to her on the morrow, which visit I ever after omitted. Thus, my curiosity led me to tread the serpent's path, but was not stung, which I must own as a blessing from Heaven since neither importunity nor opportunity was then wanting.

William Mountague, A London Lawyer

William Mountague also visited the Long Cellar. His description of and reaction to prostitution in Amsterdam are typical of a traveller of the upper classes, certainly one who wrote for publication. This account appeared as The Delights of Holland, or, a three months travel about that and the other Provinces etc. etc. (London, 1696).

[p. 217] We were carried to their nasty common Bawdy-House, call'd the Long-Cellar, (we bid 'em put Sodom to it), presently appear'd half a Dozen of plump Punks, ready to be employ'd, desirous to go into a Box by themselves; but we did not like this Kitchen-stuff, so we call'd for a Pint of White Wine, and gave it them, (not drinking a Drop ourselves; for the Wine, and other Licquors in those filthy Houses, is always (like their Women) good for nothing). We had a little Liquorish Chat; they knew us to be English, and said they like'd our Country-Men best of any [p. 218] in the World; but we paid six Stivers for our Wine, and so took our Leaves of these Ladies.

We were immediately conducted by a Friend to a House of Pleasure, something like; the Sign is, the Hoff van Holland, or the Court of Holland, and there were, in a Front-Room, below Stairs, a knot of a dozen Women, to be hir'd, but all employ'd, some working, some playing at Cards, etc. We call'd for some Ale, which being brought in Bottles, was something like (tho' not so good as) our Cock-Ale; we paid six Stivers, (which is about a Penny more than an English Six-pence), and treated the Ladies, who were handsomer, and better dressed than t'other; [p. 219] however we had nothing more to say to 'em, than a little merry Tattle, so we paid, and move'd off. These Women attend the (p.235) Service of the Publick, and, when agreed with, will go where you please, and do with you what you please. These Things are conniv'd at by the Magistrates, who say, 'tis unavoidably necessary, to prevent worse Things, Violations, Rape, etc., they abounding with Strangers, Travellers, and Mariners, long absent from Women. They have many of these houses (as we were informed), between forty and fifty, they generally go under the Name and Shadow of Musick-Houses, but we were content with seeing but two, taking their Words for the rest; nor did we hear any Musick there. This [p. 220] State makes an Advantage of these light Ladies, for each for her Admission must pay three pence; by laying out of which she hopes to get more.

Bernard Mandeville (1670–1733), A Dutch-English Physician and Writer

Mandeville (1670–1733) fled his native country in 1691 for political reasons. in 1700 he returned to the Republic for serveral months, staying, in his satistical and political writings he regularly presents Holland, in an idealize and exaggerated form, as an example of rational governmental. Many foreigners observed prostitution in Amsterdam with Mandeville's mainly in Amsterdam. The Fable of the Bees, or, Private Vices, Publick Benefits (1714) in mind. The following extracts from the book are from ‘Remark H’, which discusses virtue, and ‘Remark Q’, which discusses frugality. In both cases, he is referring to Amsterdam.

From Remark H

[p. 95] Who would imagine, that the Virtuous Women, unknowingly, should be instrumental in promoting the Advantage of Prostitutes? Or (what still seems the greater Paradox) that Incontinence should be made serviceable to the Preservation of Chastity? and yet nothing is more true. A vicious young Fellow, after having been an Hour or two at Church, a Ball, or any other Assembly, where there is a great parcel of handsome Women dress'd to the best Advantage, will have his Imagination more fired than if he had the same time been Poling at Guildhall, or walking in the Country among a Flock of Sheep. The consequence of this is, that he'll strive to satisfy the Appetite that is raised in him; and when he finds honest Women obstinate and uncomatable, 'tis very natural to think, that he'll hasten to others that are more compliable. Who wou'd so much as surmise, that this is the Fault of the Virtuous Women? They have no Thoughts of Men in dressing themselves, Poor Souls, and endeavour only to appear clean and decent, every one according to her Quality.

I am far from encouraging Vice, and think it would be an unspeakable Felicity to a State, if the Sin of Uncleanness could be utterly Banish'd from it; but I am afraid it is impossible: The Passions of some People are too violent to be curb'd by any Law or Precept; and it is Wisdom in all Governments to bear with lesser Inconveniences to prevent greater. If Courtezans and Strumpets (p.236) were to be prosecuted with as much Rigour as some silly People would have it, what Locks or Bars would be sufficient to preserve the Honour of our Wives and Daughters? For 'tis not only that the Women in general would meet with far greater Temptations, and the Attempts to ensnare the Innocence of Virgins would seem more excusable even to the sober part of Mankind than they do now: But some Men would grow outrageous, and Ravishing would become a common Crime. Where six or seven Thousand Sailors arrive at once, as it often happens at Amsterdam, that have seen none but their own sex for many Months together, how is it to be suppos'd that honest Women should walk the Streets unmolested, if there were no Harlots to be had at reasonable Prices? For which Reason the Wise Rulers of that well-order'd City always tolerate an uncertain number of Houses, in which Women are hired as publickly as Horses at a Livery-Stable; and there being in this [p. 96] Toleration a great deal of Prudence and Oeconomy to be seen, a short Account of it will be no tiresome digression.

In the first place the Houses I speak of are allowed to be no where but in the most slovenly and unpolish'd part of the Town, where Seamen and Strangers of no Repute chiefly Lodge and Resort. The Street in which most of them stand is counted scandalous, and the Infamy is extended to all the Neighbourhood round it. In the second, they are only Places to meet and bargain in, to make Appointments, in order to promote Interviews of greater Secrecy, and no manner of Lewdness is ever suffer'd to be transacted in them; which Order is so strictly observ'd, that bar the ill Manners and Noise of the Company that frequent them, you'll meet with no more Indecency, and generally less Lasciviousness there, than with us are to be seen at a Playhouse. Thirdly, the Female Traders that come to these Evening Exchanges are always the Scum of the People, and generally such as in the Day time carry Fruit and other Eatables about in Wheel-Barrows. The Habits indeed they appear in at Night are very different from their ordinary Ones; yet they are commonly so ridiculously Gay, that they look more like the Roman Dresses of stroling Actresses than Gentlewomen's Clothes: If to this you add the aukwardness, the hard Hands, and course breeding of the Damsels that wear them, there is no great Reason to fear, that many of the better sort [p. 97] of People will be tempted by them.

The Musick in these Temples of Venus is performed by Organs, not out of respect to the Deity that is worship'd in them, but the frugality of the Owners, whose Business it is to procure as much Sound for as little Money as they can, and the Policy of the Government, who endeavour as little as is possible to encourage the Breed of Pipers and Scrapers. All Sea-faring Men, especially the Dutch, are like the Element they belong to, much given to loudness and roaring, and the Noise of half a dozen of them, when they call themselves Merry, is sufficient to drown twice the number of Flutes or Violins; whereas with one pair of Organs they can make the whole House ring, and are at no other Charge than the keeping of one scurvy Musician, (p.237) which can cost them but little: yet notwithstanding the good Rules and strict Discipline that are observ'd in these Markets of Love, the Schout and his Officers are always vexing, mulcting, and upon the least Complaint removing the miserable Keepers of them: Which Policy is of two great uses; first it gives an opportunity to a large parcel of Officers, the Magistrates make use of on many Occasions, and which they could not be without, to squeeze a Living out of the immoderate Gains accruing from the worst of Employments, and at the same time punish those [p. 98] necessary Profligates the Bawds and Panders, which, tho' they abominate, they desire yet not wholly to destroy. Secondly, as on several accounts it might be dangerous to let the Multitude into the Secret, that those Houses and the Trade that is drove in them are conniv'd at, so by this means appearing unblameable, the wary Magistrates preserve themselves in the good Opinion of the weaker sort of People, who imagine that the Government is always endeavouring, tho' unable, to suppress what it actually tolerates: Whereas if they had a mind to rout them out, their Power in the Administration of Justice is so sovereign and extensive, and they know so well how to have it executed, that one Week, nay one Night, might send them all a packing.

From Remark Q

[p. 208] As soon as their East India Ships come home, the Company pays off the Men, and many of them receive the greatest part of what they have been earning in seven or eight, and some fifteen and sixteen Years time. These poor Fellows are encourag'd to spend their Money with all Profuseness imaginable, and considering that most of them, when they set out at first were Reprobates, that under the Tuition of a strict Discipline, and a miserable Diet, have been so long kept at hard Labour, without Money, in the midst of Danger, it cannot be difficult to make them Lavish as soon as they have Plenty.

They squander away in Wine, Women and Musick, as much as People of their Taste and Education are well capable of, and are suffer'd (so they but abstain from doing of Misschief ) to revel and riot with greater Licentiousness than is Customary to be allow'd to others. You may in some Cities see them accompanied with three of four lewd Women, few of them Sober, run roaring through the Streets by broad Daylight with a Fidler before them: And if the Money, to [p. 209] their thinking, goes not fast enough these ways, they'll find out others, and sometimes fling it among the Mob by handfuls. This Madness continues in most of them whilst they have any thing left, which never lasts long, and for this reason, by a Nick-name, they are call'd Lords of six Weeks, that being generally the time by which the Company has other Ships ready to depart; where these infatuated Wretches (their Money being gone) are forc'd to enter themselves again, and may have leisure to repent their Folly.

(p.238) In this Strategem there is a double Policy: First, if these Sailors that have been inured to the hot Climates and unwholesome Air and Diet, should be frugal and stay in their own Country, the Company would be continually oblig'd to to employ fresh Men, of which (besides that they are not so fit for their Business) hardly any one in two ever lives in some Places in the East Indies, which would often prove a great Charge as well as Disappointment to them. The second is, that the large Sums so often distributed among those Sailors, are by this means made immediately to circulate throughout the Country, from whence, by heavy Excises and other Impositions, the greatest part of it is soon drawn back into the publick Treasure.

Elkanah Watson, A Young American

Elkanah Watson (1752–1842), an American merchant, was sent to paris in 1779 to carry dispatches to Benjamin Franklin. Before going back in 1784, he made an extensive tour of England and Holland. This passage from A Tour of Holland (London, 1789), describes his visit to an Amsterdam music house (speelhuis).

On our return, being curious to see the amusements of a spillhouse, we were conducted to the most celebrated one. But my stars! what a scence [sic]!—I have never heard Amsterdam mentioned but these spillhouses were esteemed a principal curiosity; they are licensed by the police for the protection and safety of modern women—and are noted for the regulation they are under. I could not however endure the sight five minutes—my feelings were too sensibly attacked—the smoke was so thick, and the company so vulgar, that I was glad to decamp after having satisfied my curiosity. In entering we were obliged to pay for a bottle of vinegar, (called wine) whether we had it or not; and then we crowded through a gang of smoking jack tars, boors, and vulgar citizens, to the other end of the room; where I was much diverted to see a strapping negro fellow dancing a jig with one of the spillhouse ladies, and an old man playing upon a violin. The dancing was curious enough—they seemed to dance, or rather to slide, heavily upon their heels, scaling about the room, without the least order or animation. Indeed they seemed to me like a couple of artificial machines set in motion.

But alas! in casting my eyes about me, I was sickened to the soul with an idea that darted across my brain. There were about forty or fifty of these devoted wretches seated round the room—they looked like so many painted dolls, stuck up for sale: The scene carried with it an idea of entering a butcher's slaughter house, where the calves and sheep are hung up for the highest bidder. Alas! poor human nature, how art thou fallen below the beasts of the field!—Enough of spillhouses.—Good night.