The Dutch Beke

Mysteries surrounding a Middle Dutch translation

First page of the Croniken van den Stichte van Utrecht ende van Hollant

The success of a medieval text can be judged relatively simply by the number of manuscripts copied, the development of several versions and the degree of popularity among later owners. In this sense this Utrecht University Library Ms. 1182 (5 D 9) represents a popular text: the Middle Dutch translation of Jan Beke’s Chronographia, known under the title Croniken van den Stichte van Utrecht ende van Hollant. Could Ms. 1182 and other manuscripts help us find out where that translation was made?

The chronicle by Beka

Jan Beke, also called Johannes de Beke or Beka, wrote a chronicle in Latin about the bishops of Utrecht and counts of Holland ending in 1346. He based his Chronographia mainly on older chronicles. He dedicated his work to Jan van Arkel, bishop of Utrecht (1342-1364) and William of Bavaria, who governed the county in the name of his mother Margaretha (in 1348 he became count Willliam V). Most of the approximately fifteen medieval manuscripts we know from Beke’s chronicle in Latin, contain continuations of that chronicle up to later periods, some of them ending in 1393 (Carasso-Kok 1981, 312-318, nr. 297; Bruch 1973, xii-xvii). Still in 1393, a Middle Dutch translation was made of one or more Latin manuscripts.

The Middle Dutch translation

There are approximately twenty medieval manuscripts (Bruch 1932, xliii-xlviii) of the Middle Dutch translation, and at an early stage different versions appeared. The four most ‘original’ manuscripts can be dated back to the period between 1393 and 1405: Brussels, KB 7420 (K1 in Bruch's edition); The Hague, KB 130 C 11 (L1); Utrecht, UB 1183 (N1; Bruch calls it incorrectly Hs. 1182); and our manuscript Hs. 1182 (O1). Hans Bruch (1982, xlix, lvii) supposes that the last three, and certainly L1 and N1 came from the same scriptorium, due to the fact that their layout is similar to a great extent, even though there are textual differences. However, Bruch does not discuss where that scriptorium might have been. If Bruch is right, we can make some progress in this respect.

The scriptorium

All four manuscripts have a connection with Utrecht.

  • According to Bruch (1982, xlix), The Hague, KB 130 C 11 (L1) is the best manuscript as far as the text is concerned, and it has the same penwork as Utrecht, UB, Ms. 155 (written in 1402) and Ms. 88, which were both in the possession of the Utrecht canon Wilhelmus de Arnhem (see Van der Horst 1989, 6-7, nr. 20-21), who was provost of Emmerik and died in 1424. Peter Gumbert (1974, 179-180) attributes the decoration in those two manuscripts to the Eastern Netherlands.
  • UB Utrecht Hs. 1183 (N1) has a Utrecht bookbinding from around 1500 (cf. Hulshof and Schretlen 1921, 18 (L fol 772 from 1501)) with stamps that are associated with bookbinder Dirck Claesz. Roest, who also bound other books for the chapters of St. John and Oudmunster.
  • Brussels, KB 7420 (K1) was owned by Peter van Sconenburch (Van den Gheyn 1906, 704, nr. 4480), who is known to us because he sold estates in De Bilt to the Utrecht monastery of Vredendaal in 1493.
  • Ms. 1182 (O1) has on fol. 1r a single initial with penwork, drawn in the Utrecht ‘Martinellum-style’, common around 1400 (Proske-Van Heerdt 1992; Gerritsen-Geywitz 2009, 20-21).

The four manuscripts show variations which must partly have come about around 1393-5, and some or all of them may date back to that year or shortly after. The earliest dateable manuscript with the translation is the Kladblok van Heraut Beieren (Claes Heynensoon) from 1396 (The Hague, KB 71 H 39 (KlHer)). The text in the Kladblok is already more remote from what must have been the original translation than the four manuscripts mentioned above (Bruch 1982, xlix; Van Anrooij 1986, 158). Apparently, copies and adaptations appeared in quick succession. Based on the origin of and the connections between the four most ‘original’ manuscripts we may assume that the translation of the Chronographia by Jan Beke was made in Utrecht.

Radboud’s hymns

Another clue can be found in the text itself. In the Latin Beke it is said that Radboud (bishop 899-917) composed the best texts about Willibrord and Boniface (freely translated) and also wrote the complete office of the Feast Day of the Translation of Martinus (Bruch 1973, 63, caput 34). On 4 July it was celebrated that Martinus’ relics were transferred to the basilica of Tours. The text in the Middle Dutch translation on fol. 14v reads: ‘ende mede dicht hi een heel ambocht dat men noch huden daghes singhet op sunte Mertijnsdach translacio’ (cf. Bruch 1982, p. 48). (‘and he also wrote a complete work which is still sung up to this day on the translation day of St. Martin’). The contemporary addition ‘which is still sung up to this day’ seems to point to an origin in one of the religious institutes in Utrecht, for instance one of the chapters. In Utrecht the Dom Church was dedicated to St. Martin, the patron saint of the city and the diocese. Radboud’s office with musical notation can be found in the 12th-century antiphonary of St. Mary’s Chapter (UB Utrecht Hs. 406, fol. 133v-135r). The Middle Dutch translation also points to Utrecht in other respects (Bruch 1982, xix), and Antheun Janse even suggests a probable author: the town clerk Jan Tolnaer Jr. (Janse 2006; see also Smithuis 2017, 89-90).

Structure of  Ms. 1182

The manuscript consists of the translation with a few additions:

  • Fol. 1r-103r: Main text titled: ‘Dit sijn die croniken van den Stichte van Utrecht ende van Hollant’. Chronicle ending at the year 1393.
  • Fol. 103r-103v: addition: [E]nde hierom qwam die bisscop Jan van Ludijc … (repetition of 103vb6-22), followed by : [I]tem doe bisscop Florens ghestorven was (in 1393) … aen den ghesticht te brenghen (cf. Bruch 1982, 243-244).
  • Fol. 104r-114v: [I]tem doe biscop Florens gestorven was (cf. Bruch 1982, 244) … yn synre tyt hieft geweest (= Bruch 1982, 298 §21 l.60).
  • Fol. 114v: [N]u wil ic voirt scriven van den doemdeken (= Bruch 1982, 298 §22 l.1 and footnote) … dat si binnen bleven.
  • Fol. 114v-116v: copies of three records: Emperor Sigismund for the purpose of Jan van Beieren, of 13 March 1418; Willem count of Holland from 1413 and 1414.
  • Fol. 117v: notes on 23 July and August 1586; on 115r a note on 19 August 1586. The last two are about relieving ‘die stadt Barch’ – Rijnberk (Rheinberg), that the Duke of Parma visited that day.

The Continuation after 1393

As for the additions, Ms. 1182 is different from all other manuscript containing the Continuation: they are not written by the same scribe who wrote the main text, but by several other scribes (Bruch 1982, liii, lviii). However, the additions seem to be extracted from a more complete Continuation, and in some places the text also differs in relation to others. A modern hand has written the note in pencil at fol. 103r ‘herhaling van ’t voorg[aande]’ (‘repetition of what went before’) and twice the number 294. Next he adds numbers in ascending order to the consecutive sections, up to 347 on fol. 114v before the start of the deeds. Here he has compared the text with an old edition (Matthaeus 1701) which is based on Utrecht, UB, Hs. 1801 (8 K 8) (M in Bruch 1982, xliv). Possibly the notes in pencil were made by Harry Pierre Coster, whose dissertation from 1914 was the first modern study of the text.

fol. 114v: more than one scribe

Bookbinding and text block

The leather bookbinding holding the manuscript probably dates back to the 16th or 17th century. The bookbinding has no decorations and is in a good condition, apart from multiple scratches, stains and bent corners. The pastedowns which have been glued to the insides of the cardboard covers, are parts of a letter. On the back we can read two names: Frans Both and ? Vandervoort. They point to a Utrecht origin. Frans Both (van der Eem) was twice mayor of Utrecht in the period between 1577 and 1580 and died in 1587. Van der Voort is also a Utrecht family of regents. A strip of parchment, possibly from the 14th century with an unknown text, has been used at the front to strengthen the bookbinding.

All 117 folios are made of parchment, measuring ca. 280 by 195 mm. On several folios, sometimes following one another (for instance fol. 98v-101v) the ink seems to have run in several places. That is why the words are sometimes more difficult to read. Brown stains (for instance fol. 61r), white stains (for instance 28r), torn folios (for instance 32 and 40), small holes, either filled up or not at a later stage (for instance 10, 15, 45) and creases (especially 1-6) show that the manuscript was not seen as a luxury product but was used intensively.


There are fifteen quires in total. Most quires in the manuscript consist of eight folios, at which quire 11 (fol. 81-88) has two stubs between fol. 83-84 and 86-87 where two single leaves have replaced a bifolium. Quire 13 contains seven folios (fol. 97-103). This is the last quire of the main text. Between folio 96 and 97 we also see a stub. It could be that the copyist saw that he would not need an eighth folio and therefore decided to cut out the penultimate leaf. Quire 14 (104-109) also consists of six folios, quire 15 (110-117) then again of eight folios.

The modern foliation was added in July 1979, to correct an older foliation up to folio 115. However, mistakes have been made here: folio 81 had been given the number 79 (but after that the numbering of the leaves was done correctly) and folio 103 had been given the number 101, but from then on the numbering went on: folio 104 became 102, 105 became 103 and so on. This was corrected in 1979. Besides, the folios 33 through 40 have been bound incorrectly. That quire should continue after folio 48. So the order of the folios must be: 1-32, 41-48, 33-40, 49-117.

Codicological aspects

The ruling has been done with lead pencil, and where visible it has been done quite uniformly (with the exception of fol. 74r and 97r). The prickings are mainly visible in the second part of the book. The last two quires with the added texts show more deviations, such as lines between the columns while the text of fol. 115v-116v is not written in columns as is elsewhere the case, but right across the page. Ms. 1182 is written in the Gothic textualis, the additions on fol. 103 in a Gothic hybrida and on fol. 104r-114va we see a Gothic semi-hybrida. The initial on fol. 1r is decorated with penwork in red and blue and in the Martinellum style. Furthermore, we find lombard initials in the main text, alternating in blue and red ink, titles in red, sometimes with line fillers, cadels (fol. 4r, 6r, 6v, 17v, etc.), paragraph marks (21v, 25v, 35r, 55v, etc.) and improvements made by striking through or filling up in red (fol. 12v, 24r, 31v, 32r, etc.). In the additions, spaces for lombard initials or paragraph marks have been left empty. In several places in the manuscript letters or words have been scratched out and improvements have been made (for instance fol. 7v, 25r, 70v, 102r).

Traces of use

The majority of the folios in the main text show traces of use, such as small hands (maniculae) in several shapes (compare fol. 20v with 24v, 41v or 67v), crosses (fol. 28v, 30r, 33v, etc.) and brackets that form a small text box (for instance fol. 30r, 84v, 85r). On many folios notes are made in the margin or in other places in the folio. Dates also occur frequently (fol. 12r, 16r, 20r, etc.) and are possibly written by four different hands. The differences can be seen in comparing the dates on fol. 27v-31v. Place names are also written in the margins, as on fol. 17r (Heylighenberge), 22r (Reinsborch) and 25v (Berne). Names of persons, especially of bishops, are also frequent, for instance on fol. 17r (Ansfridus), 21r (Coenraet) and 23r (Godebold). These have also been added by several hands, like the other notes in the margin (for instance fol. 20r, 22r, 22v and 50v). The traces of use are from consecutive owners, but we only know the names of some of them.

Mark of ownership of Gilbertus Junius

Ownership marks

Probably the oldest ownership mark can be found on folio 117v. The words “dit boeck hoort toe J? …….b?rch” (‘this book belongs toJ?   b?rch’) can be distinguished. A total of five text rules seem to be erased. On folio 117v we also see a child’s drawing. It is possible that the scribbles in the top right hand corner are also scribbles made by a child.

On folio 115r we read: ‘Dit Boeck hoert toe: / Anthonis Van Nijkercken/ / Heere vergeeft dSonden / Anno .’  (‘This book belongs to Anthonis van Nijkercken / The Lord forgives the sins / A.D.’) Anthonis Huybertszoon van Nijkerkcken died in 1629. He was bailiff of Tull en ’t Waal (near Utrecht) and steward of St. Bartholomew's Hospital in Utrecht. He is the son of Huybert Thoniszoon van Nijkercken and Cornelia van Royen and married Margareta Anthonisdochter Ymants.

On the first pastedown we find the following mark of ownership: ‘Bibliothecae Ultrajectinae d.d. D. Gilbertus Junius ad S. Mariam Trajectensis Canonicus et vice-decanus’ (‘Given to the library of Utrecht by Lord Gilbertus Junius, canon and vice-dean of St. Mary’s Church in Utrecht’). Gilbertus Junius appears in approximately 200 deeds (mainly kept in the  Utrecht Archives), as canon (1650-1665) and as vice-dean of St. Mary’s Chapter (1666-1680). His brothers were Cornelis Junius, bailiff of Cothen, and Justus Junius. The three of them were cousins of  Adrianus Junius, rector of the Latin School in Amsterdam, who died in 1670. We may assume that the manuscript was given to the university library around 1680.

Research options

Ms. 1182 is in many ways an intriguing manuscript. From the time it was written in Utrecht around 1400 until it became part of the collection of the City and University Library around 1680, it had led an eventful life with several additions and owners. The translation of Beke’s work, its spread and the rapid development of its variants form an interesting field of study. Utrecht University Library owns about half of all known medieval copies of Croniken van den Stichte van Utrecht ende van Hollant, and all of them, with the exception of two, have been digitized (*): Mss. 1804* (J2 in Bruch 1982), 10 B 8 (K2, copy of K1), 1802* (L2), 1801* (M), 1805 (GWet), 1183* (N1), 1184* (N2, copy of N1), 1182* (O1) and 1803* (O6). Bruch gives little attention to the provenance of the manuscripts, so here an entire research field lies waiting to be explored.


Bart Jaski en Irini Verbeeck, January 2022