By Renske Hoff
The title page of this sixteenth-century Dutch Bible carries a simple ownership mark by Walburch van Manderschijt. This Bible, part of the special collections of the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (shelfmark: XC 05039), was printed by Jacob van Liesvelt in Antwerp in 1526. It became Van Liesvelt’s best known edition, as it was the first complete Bible—i.e. including the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the apocryphal books—to be printed in Dutch. Although vernacular complete Bibles (and New Testaments) circulated in manuscript, most late 15th– and early 16th-century biblical publications contained the Epistelen ende evangelien (the Epistles and Gospels). These presented a selection of biblical texts in liturgical order, allowing readers to read, in the vernacular, the passages that would have been read in Latin during Mass.
However, Van Liesvelt’s Bible type proved highly successful. Early readers such as Walburch van Manderschijt embraced the novelty of the complete Bible, despite—or perhaps because—the fact that they demanded new reading practices. As the Bibles contained much more text, which was no longer organised in the order of the liturgy, readers needed to apply new methods to navigate through the book and comprehend the text it offered. Paratextual elements surrounding the main text, such as liturgical tables, running titles, chapter summaries, and lists of contents, could help readers find their way through the book. Jacob van Liesvelt’s folio-sized, complete Bible of 1526 has been widely discussed with regard to its Luther-based translation and prologue, and the novelty of printing the entire Bible in one volume. However, little attention has been devoted to questions concerning the readership of this new type of Bible. Who were the owners and readers of this edition and how did they interact with the book?
This copy provides the name of one of them. Walburch van Manderschijt was a German-Dutch countess, born in 1468 to Konrad van Manderschijt and Walburga van Horne. At the age of seventeen, Walburch married Willem I, Count of Neuenahr. After he died, she married Frederik van Egmont, Dutch Lord of IJsselstein and Count of Buren and Leerdam, in 1502. He died in 1521, after which Walburch spend her last years in the Huis van Ysselstein, a large house in the Dutch town of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, which Frederik bequeathed to her. Although the house was demolished in the eighteenth century, the address—Orthenstraat 36—can still be visited. Walburch’s exact date of death is unknown, but the absence of any documentation dating beyond 1530 leads to the assumption that she died around 1530/1531.
Besides these biographical facts, little is known about Walburch. The various archival sources that contain her name imply that she was quite aware of her financial rights and opportunities. For instance, a charter of June 17, 1505 states that she should receive an annual allowance of 600 guilders from her husband Frederik, allowing her to take care of her German estates and in order to secure her income in case she would be widowed. In 1518, Walburch signed a similar charter, this time concerning the financial agreement between her son Willem II and his wife. Furthermore, sources dating from 1499 and 1527 document how she drew up her will and secured her children’s inheritances.
Walburch van Manderschijt presumably acquired the Liesvelt Bible while she lived in the Huis van Ysselstein. Assuming that she died shortly after 1530, she probably was the first owner of the book. As Walburch did not leave any annotations in the book other than her name, we do not know in what ways she used and read the book. Other questions that remain open are, for instance, why she preferred this complete edition, if and how she used the paratextual material, and what she thought of the fact that Jacob van Liesvelt based his Dutch translation on Martin Luther’s German Bible editions. Nevertheless, the fact remains that Countess Walburch—twice widowed and about sixty years old—was one of the first people in the Low Countries to possess and use a complete Bible. It was through curious first buyers and readers like her that this new vernacular Bible type took root in the sixteenth-century Low Countries.
Source: Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam (shelfmark: XC 05039). Photos by Renske Hoff, reproduced with permission.