Rutger Thomas, the earliest ancestor of the Rutger Branch, lived in the second half of the sixteenth century. It was a time of great changes. In this century the Reformation took place, during which new religious schools rose up that turned against the Roman Catholic supremacy. The ideas of Luther and especially Johannes Calvijn (John Calvin, 1509-1564) played a very important role in this process, so much that the protestants in Holland are still called "calvinists" and the Dutch habit of always wanting to lecture everybody is usually labelled as being "calvinistic".
Rutger Thomas lived in Gorinchem, which was also written as "Gorkum", and is still pronounced that way. At the time Gorinchem was one of the major cities of Holland, and played an important role in the Reformation. Already in 1522, a woman called Ariana Glimmers had been buried alive there for adhering to Lutheran heresy. After the Iconoclasm of the Low Countries, which had started in August 1566 and involved the destruction of the rich interiors of Roman Catholic churches, the religious conflict reached its climax. On 27 June 1572 the Bailiff of Gorinchem surrendered the city to the Gueux, 'Gueux' being a French nickname, meaning beggars, given to the Counts and other Noblemen of Holland by the Spanish Court that ruled the Netherlands till that time. The Gueux were protestant and were revolting against the Spanish domination. Leader of the Gueux was Stadholder William of Orange, forefather of the Royal family of the Netherlands. After the taking of Gorinchem, nineteen catholic monks were imprisoned, who refused to renounce their belief and were hanged for that. Catholics still remember them as the "Martyrs of Gorinchem". Three hundred years later, in 1867, they were declared saints by pope Pius IX.
After this rough but short period in history, which ended in 1572, Gorinchem was protestant, although the city still had a large catholic population, according to historians. Among the protestants were certainly Thomas Rutgerse (generation II) and his father Rutger. We know that the name of Thomas's father has to be Rutger, for the simple reason that Thomas's name is saying so. Thomas Rutgerse means "Thomas, Rutger's son". We also know that they were protestant, because of the intruiging christening tradition of this family in which most boys received names from the Old Testament like Abraham, Isaac and David for many generations. It is said that this tradition stems from Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (nowadays the Dutch part of Flanders in the south of the province of Zeeland).
The evidence that we found the father of Thomas Rutgerse is strong, but not conclusive. We found that a tax of six Guilders was paid by a Rutger Thomas on 4 July 1591. This fact is known from the original Kohier van de verponding, the sixteenth century tax register. This Rutger lived at the address Huis van Arkel ofte Kervelingen (House of Arkel also known as Kervelingen) in the Krijtstraat (Chalk Street) and according to the record the house was his eigen huis, zijnde twee woningen (his own house, being two appartments).
The original record from 1591, mentioning the tax payment by Rutger Thomas. Click here
for a higher resolution (429 KB).
We also found in the records of the City of Gorinchem, that a Rutger Thomas was registered as poorter on 6 May 1585. He was a linnen weaver. Poorter was the name for citizens in those days. One had to pay to become one, apart from certain other duties to be fulfilled. It does not necessarily mean that someone was new to the city, as you could also be entitled to become citizen because you had reached adulthood.
Although we can't prove with certainty that this Rutger Thomas is the right (and one and the same) Rutger, it is tempting to believe he is. The name Rutger was rather rare in those days and neither was the name Thomas very common. In the records of buys and sales of property, one finds a Rutger Jacobs as well, but this man was also known as Rutger Jacobs Hommel, which makes him an unlikely candidate. Moreover, he was married to a woman called Geertken Jansz, while the first name Geertken is completely unknown in the Van Gorkom family for centuries, and we have reason to believe that the wife of Rutger was named Fykjen. Moreover, if our Rutger Thomas is indeed the 'right' Rutger, this Rutger Thomas would be the father of Thomas Rutgers (generation II), grandfather of his namesake Rutger Thomasse (generation III) and greatgrandfather of Thomas Rutgerse (generation IV). It is difficult to discard this kind of circumstantial evidence. We should also add the fact that the senior Rutger Thomas owned a house that must have had a considerable value, which reminds of the numerous real estate transactions of his son in Utrecht. The coherent picture emerges of a family which was "well off" in those days.
From Oude namen van huizen en straten in Gorinchem, bewerkt door W.F. Emck Wz., ontvanger der gemeente Gorinchem (Gorinchem, 11 november 1924) (Old names of houses and streets in Gorinchem, compiled by W.F. Emck Wz., tax collector of the Municipality of Gorinchem), a unique handwritten work, kept in the city archive of Gorinchem, it is known thet the House of Arkel, which Rutger Thomas owned in 1591, was opposite the entrance of the church. This church can still be found on the central market square of the city, with its tower and main entrance 'at the back', although the nave has been replaced in 1851 by tremendously ugly architecture. The tower, however, is the original one, build somewhere around 1450. The copper weathercock on top was purchased in 1589 for a price of 11 Guilders. It was gilded for another 10 Guilders and 10 Stuivers (dimes). In 1591 the city bought a church bell in the city of Heusden, the same year in which Rutger Thomas lived in the Krijtstraat. Until the day of today, Krijtstraat is still the name of the short street along the tower.
The Huis van Arkel was part of the Hof van Arkel (Court of Arkel). Van Arkel was the name of the family of Lords that owned Gorinchem and the surrounding area in the twelveth, thirteenth and fourteenth century. In a historical source from 1656 (Abraham Kemp, Leven der doorluchtige heeren van Arkel. Ende jaarbeschrijving der stad Gorinchem. Naar aantekeningen, betrekkelijk de geschiedenis van Gorinchem en van 't Geslacht van Arkel, van diens grootvader Aard Kemp tot den jare 1500, meaning "Life of the noble Lords of Arkel. And history of the city of Gorinchem. After the notes concerning the history of Gorinchem and the Arkel family by his grandfather Aard Kemp till the year 1500.") the betrayal is described of Lord Jan van Arkel by his son, which happened in 1405:
"Den Raad-slagh geschiedde in 't huys van Kannevan een Borgoens' edelman, hebbende een voor-puy met veel trappen opgaande, onder kelders, boven wooningen, staande in de Krijt-straat achter de groote kerk tot Gorinchem, nu in mijnen tijd 't Cypier-huys en Gevange-poort zijnde. Seker dienst-maaght sittende op een heymelijkheyd om haar gevoegh te doen, 't eynden de Kamer daar sy vergadert waren, hoort al de woorden, en 't eyndelijk Raadt-slot, still blijven docht haar best, soo langh de vergadering duurde, die gedaan, sy voort Heer Jan van Arkel alles geopenbaart: hoe hij dit erkaude, veel meer dan sijn mond-spijse, kan men bedenkken. Hoovaardigheyd, wee-moed, spijt, haat, gramschap en andere passien lagen onderling en worstelden, kroppen evenwel voor dien tijd in sijn boezem. 's Anderen-daaghs, hy treed uyt sijn huys (het Hoff van Arkel, staande west-waard van 't Kerkhof, in de Krijt-straat, na bewoont by de Heeren van Otteland, tot .. toe, en nu noch in dit jaar 1643 by Capiteyn Jonkker Willem de Viry, geweesde beveelder van ..) om in de Kerk, staande recht tegen over sijn Hoff, in den Goddelijken dienst te gaan." (Kemp, p.158)
Translation: "The deliberation took place in the house of Kannevan, a nobleman from Burgundy, that has a housefront with many upgoing stairs, cellars beneath, appartments upstairs, standing in the Krijtstraat behind the big church at Gorinchem, now in my time being the jailers house and prison gate. A certain maid was sitting on the toilet to do as she wished, at the end of the room where they were meeting, hearing all the words and the final decision, she thought it would be best to keep still, as long as the meeting lasted, and when over, she revealed everything to Lord Jan van Arkel: how he chewed on this, much more than his food, one can imagine. Disdain, sadness, regret, hatred, anger and other passions were competing with eachother, bottling up for that moment in his chest. The other day, he steps out of his house (the Court of Arkel, standing westway of the churchyard, in the Krijtstraat, after being inhabited by the Lords of Ottoland, and still now in the year 1643 by Captain Esquire Willem de Viry, former commander) to go in the church, which stands straight opposite his Court, to God's Service."
The Krijtstraat was also a wellknown street in Gorinchem, because already in 1545 the city school was standing next to the Hof van Arkel.
Map of Gorinchem (Gorickum) from about 1558, based on a map by Jacob van Deventer. The most prominent detail on the map is the big church. The house of Rutger Thomas was standing opposite the tower.Click here
for a high definition version (659 KB). Blaeu's map from 1652 on the home page of this site shows the church and opposite houses even better.
Of course we have no idea when the elder Rutger Thomas was born. We can safely assume that his father was another Thomas, or maybe Thonys, but that is all we can be sure of. Nevertheless we may guess that he was born in about 1565, plus or minus, say, ten years. As said on the page about generation II, it is reasonable to think that son Thomas Rutgerse was born in about 1590. In that case it is possible that Thomas was born in the house in the Krijtstraat. Many tax records are lost and therefore earlier information on this house comes from 1584 and the next record is from 1596. In these specific years other people were paying tax at this address, meaning that father Rutger came to live here after 1584 and left before 1596.
If Thomas was born in 1590, he was born during the construction of the new city walls of Gorinchem, which lasted from 1584 till 1600. As the war with the Spanish had started in 1568 and was going to last for many years, Gorinchem needed to be fortified, being one of the major strongholds at the southern border of the Dutch Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden (Republic of The Seven United Netherlands). You can see these new walls on Blaeu's map from 1652, shown on the home page. Building the new walls, under the supervision of the fortification architects Thomas Thomaszoon and Adriaen Anthoniszoon, was a huge effort. It must have been witnessed day by day by father Rutger. There was certainly a buzz, as there were many construction workers in town and also many soldiers, because of the strategic importance of the city at the time. Gorinchem is very close to the Province of Brabant in the south, which was Spanish then. Its location at a river was also of great significance. In the Netherlands the river Rhine splits up in several branches, the biggest one being the river Waal. At the point where the river Waal turns into the river Merwede, Gorinchem is found.
Altogether, a lot was going on in Gorinchem at the end of the sixteenth century, but it seems there was no acute need to leave Gorinchem at the time, except for trade perhaps or other practical reasons. In fact, it seems business in Gorinchem was thriving at the time, because of the construction works, the many strangers in town and its favourable geographical location at a big river at the southern border of the Seven Netherlands.
De Krijtstraat in Gorinchem on 26 October 2006. At the right stands the church tower, which is practically invisible, because it is renovated. This is where the main entrance was untill 1851. The houses to the left were probably build in the 19th century. So in fact, nothing dating back to 1591 is left, apart from the church tower. The person in the middle of the photo must be walking right in front of the spot where the house of Rutger was.
Ties all over Holland
Only God knows why son Thomas decided to move to Utrecht. From a historical point of view, already in 1600 there were ancient ties between Gorinchem and Utrecht. Utrecht was (and still is) the capital of the Roman Catholic province of the Netherlands. Gorinchem was part of the bishopric of Utrecht. Around 1350 Jan van der Lede was bishop of Utrecht. Jan van der Lede was half-brother of Jan IV, Lord of Arkel. As said, the Van Arkels ruled over Gorinchem for centuries. From 1480 onwards gifted students from the Latin School in Gorinchem, would go to Utrecht or Leuven to continue their studies. As a matter of fact, Utrecht is only 40 kilometres (25 miles) to the north. It seems people have always been moving around through all the ages, and so they did in 1600.
By coincidence, there was a seventeenth century painter, called Jan Rutgersz van Niwael, whose work can still be found in musea and private collections all over the world. Historians believe that he was born in Gorinchem in about 1595 and died in Utrecht in about 1674, where he spent most of his life. Regarding the fact that he is "son of Rutger" as well, it would be easy to portray him as brother of Thomas Rutgerse. Unfortunately there is not a shred of evidence, apart from the fact that they were both 'son of Rutger', born in Gorinchem and spending most of their lives in Utrecht. But it illustrates that it was not uncommon to move from Gorinchem to Utrecht. And as there is little known about the origin of the painter, it also illustrates that is is really difficult to obtain valid information about people born in the sixteenth century.
Thomas was certainly not the only traveller of his family. Thomas married Elisabeth de Leeuw, who had ties to Rotterdam, as the record of an inheritance shows. Their son Rutger had ties to the cities of Haarlem and The Hague. Son Gijsbert had ties to the city of Gouda and son Abraham had ties to Leusden, near Amersfoort. When Thomas's grandson Tobias, son of his eldest son Rutger, was to be christened in Haarlem in 1643, he went there from Utrecht to be one of the two witnesses. So, it seems we are looking at a family that was used to travel, although they all ended up in Utrecht. As said, it was also a rather wealthy family at the time. Alas, within a few generations this wealth seems to have evaporated completely, although later offshoots of this branch have done quite well again.
Special thanks to R.F. van Dijk and A. de Vries, archivists of the City Archive of Gorinchem.
Main sources on the history of the city of Gorinchem: Bert Stamkot, "Geschiedenis van de stad Gorinchem", published in 1982 by Merewade, Gorinchem, and W.F. Emck Wz., "Kroniek van Gorinchem, Geschiedkundige en andere aanteekeningen in chronologische volgorde 1230-1927", published in 1929 by J. Noorduyn & Zoon, Gorinchem.
Map of Utrecht by Jacob van Deventer, published in 1557. Click here
for a very high quality city map (1.276 Mb) from Blaeu's famous atlas "Toonneel der Steden", published in 1652.