Love Stories from Flanders

Ghent Guide Anna — love

Natasha and Yaroslav remind us that tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day, and I have two true stories about love in store for you, both based on historic Flemish documents!

Story One: How Love Can Cause Trouble. It’s early 18th century. A certain Pauwels Laureijns Luijcx runs a hotel in Ghent, where he also brews beer and seduces local beauties. One of the women who fall for his charms is the wife of a merchant called Renier de Buck. When her husband learns that she cheats on him with Pauwels Laureijns, he calls his brother, also a merchant, and hurries to his rival to defend his honour.

Pauwels Laureijns turns out to be a rooster in more than one sense: in the resulting quarrel, he grabs his sword and attacks his unwelcome guests. De Bucks lose all interest in defending the honor of the family and take to heels. Pauwels Laureijns proves to be not only hotblooded but also quick: he catches up with them and then the irreparable happens – in an attempt to defend himself from his prosecutor, the Renier de Buck’s brother kills Pauwels Laureijns.

So what do we do now?! De Bucks choose the option, which by modern standards seems exotic: they rush to the Dominican monastery a hundred metres away and ask for refuge there.

We don’t know how much time they spent in the monastery, but we know exactly what the court of Ghent sentenced them to. Rainier’s sentence was a fine of 500 guldens and 15 years’ banishment, and his unfortunate brother, the murderer was sentenced to life-long banishment and seizure of all his property. De Bucks appealed, on the grounds that they were respected citizens, while their victim lived ‘quite a useless life’. Historical documents don’t mention whether the appeal was successful. Nor do they mention the name of the unfaithful wife whose love affair caused so much trouble. Not sure what Saint Valentine would have said of all this!

Story Two: How Love Makes Us Inventive. In 1420, a young woman called Liesbeth Recmast and a young man called Jan Peters meet at the fair and – I quote – ‘one begins to love the other’. The couple decides to get married and Lisbeth’s parents go to Jan’s father to arrange the wedding. ‘What wedding?’ – Jan’s father is taken by surprise. As Liesbeth’s family is poorer than Jan’s, he prudently kept silent about his intention to marry Liesbeth, and quite predictably, his father disapproves.

Liesbeth is turned down, but if you think that she walks away quietly weeping, you don’t know Flemish women! Instead of disappearing quietly, Liesbeth comes with a horse-and-cart, drags Jan, who gladly surrenders, into the cart, and kidnaps him in keeping with the finest medieval traditions! By the time Jan’s father recovers from the surprise, it turns out that Liesbeth and Jan are already married!

Then it gets even more interesting: in the 15-century Flanders, a marriage can’t be undone even if it resulted from kidnapping! So Jan’s father can’t separate Jan from his resourceful wife. He does the only legitimate thing he can do: he files a lawsuit against his daughter-in-law for kidnapping his son. The court sentences Liesbeth to a fine, which she eagerly pays. If a problem can be solved by money, it’s not a problem, it’s an expense, right? And Liesbeth and Jan lived happily ever after!

And so I wish you love, the kind of love that makes you resourceful and happy, and turns every day into Saint Valentine’s Day!