Dutch Church in London archive (Hessels edition, currently 638 letters)

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Cultures of Knowledge

Austin Friars as shown in the Copperplate Map of London. c. 1550. (source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

In the introduction to his history of the Dutch Church in London, which was published in 1950 to mark the occasion of the quarcentenary of the Church, Johannes Lindeboom observed that ‘few church communities possess such a wealth of written documents bearing on their past history, or have been the centre to the same extent of so many varied activities.’1 By the middle of the sixteenth century, immigrants from the Low Countries living in London made up the largest foreign community in the city. Although many individuals had settled for economic reasons, a significant proportion of these residents had fled to England as religious refugees and, in a charter dated 24 July 1550, Edward VI granted the nave of the church of Austin Friars for the use of ‘German and other foreigners . . . to practice, enjoy, use and exercise their own rites and ceremonies, and their own ecclesiastical discipline, notwithstanding that they do not conform with the rites and ceremonies used in our Kingdom, without impeachment, disturbance or vexation.’2  Following the issue of this Charter, the first superintendent appointed at the Church was the Polish reformer John a Lasco [Jan Łaski].

It had been intended that the church at Austin Friars, which until its dissolution in November 1538 at the hands of Henry VIII had formed part of a thirteenth-century Augustinian friary, would be used by both the Flemish and the Walloon communities, but within six months of the Charter the French congregation moved to a separate chapel, that of St Anthony’s Hospital in Threadneedle Street.3 Although the community was exiled during the reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor, the stranger churches were re-established in 1560 after the accession of Mary’s Protestant sister Elizabeth, and by the late sixteenth century the Flemish — or Dutch — community constituted the largest stranger church in London. From 1560 onwards foreign churches in London were obliged to accept the superintendence of the Bishop of London, but the Dutch were always permitted to maintain their own form of worship. The following century saw a further increase of numbers in response to the accession of James II’s daughter Mary and her husband William of Orange. Despite the fact that the choir, tower, and transepts of the church were demolished in 1600, that the nave was damaged badly by fire in in 1862, and that it was destroyed during a German air raid in 1940 and had to be rebuilt, the church remains active today.

Partners and Additional Contributors

Collation of the metadata of this archive of letters and preparation for their upload to the union catalogue was undertaken by EMLO Editorial Assistant Mark Thakkar, with assistance from Charlotte Marique during her internship with Early Modern Letters Online. The letters that once formed part of the Dutch Church archive’s Ortelius-Collius collection and were published in 1887 by J. H. Hessels have been collated by Joost Depuydt and information on this collection may be found on EMLO’s introductory page for the Abraham Ortelius catalogue.

Key Bibliographic Source(s)

J. H. Hessels, ed., Epistulae et Tractatus cum Reformationis tum Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Historiam Illustrantes (1544–1622): Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Tomus Secundus (Cambridge, 1889).


The archive of the Dutch Church at Austin Friars includes letter books; registers of baptisms, marriages, and burials; financial accounts; lists of members; committee minute books; books of memoranda; rules and regulations relating to Church governance; legal papers; and property records. Following the fire at the church of Austin Friars in 1862, the archive and library were deposited in 1866 in the Library of the Corporation of the City of London at the Guildhall and a printed catalogue was published in 1879.4 At this time, the letters in the archive consisted of both Ortelius’s correspondence and a collection of letters and papers dating from 1544 onwards that were concerned with the affairs of the Church and its members. These two collections were withdrawn from the Guildhall in 1884 and transferred to Cambridge University Library, where John Henry [Jan or Johann Hendrik] Hessels (1836–1926), who was admitted to St John’s College in 1894, worked to transcribe the letters. This resulted in publication of the first two volumes of Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum, and — following significant rearrangement — in 1897 a third volume divided into two parts.5 Hessels (a scholar whose publications included also editions of the texts of the eighth-century Latin-Anglo-Saxon glossary in Corpus Christi, Cambridge and at the University of Leiden), supplemented the Church archive with additional related documents. The letters and documents were re-deposited at Guildhall Library in 1952 and, although the Ortelius-Collius letters were removed for sale in 1954, the remainder of the archive may be viewed now at the London Metropolitan Archives, which merged with the Guildhall Library Manuscript Department in 2009.

The archive consists of more than 4,400 letters which span the years 1544 to 1874. The letters published by Hessels in his second volume are from the years up to and including 1622. A link has been provided from each letter record in EMLO to the text where it appears on the Internet Archive. As he explains in his introduction to the third volume, Hessels published in the first two volumes all the letters he and the Consistory believed had ‘ever been in the possession of the Church’. Subsequently, however, many more boxes surfaced and Hessels sorted through these, separating the contents into: bills, receipts, and accounts; attestations or certificates of membership of the Church; and letters and documents to be published in a complete chronological register, a corpus which became the third (two-part) volume of the Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Thus far EMLO’s catalogue contains metadata from Hessels’s first two volumes: letters from volume one may be found in the Ortelius correspondence catalogue, and volume two is presented here as the collection of the archive of the Dutch Church in London. Metadata for the letters published in volume three will be added during the coming year. This third volume that Hessels assembled is large and complex: letters published in the second volume are listed with short résumés; the texts of the more important letters are published, albeit with some omissions; and the remaining letters are set out with short extracts provided in English.

Edward VI granting John a Lasco permission to set up a congregation, attributed to Johann Valentin Haidt. Eighteenth century. (United Reformed Church History Society, Westminster College, Cambridge; source of image: Wikimedia Commons)

Further resources


John Henry Hessels , ed., Abrahami Ortelii (geographi Antverpiensis) et virorum eruditorum ad eundem et ad Jacobum Colium Ortelianum (Abrahami Ortelii sororis filium) epistulae, cum aliquot aliis epistulis et tractatibus quibusdam ab utroque collectis (1524–1628), ex autographis mandante Ecclesia Londino-Batava (Cambridge, 1887).

J. H. Hessels, ed., Epistulae et Tractatus cum Reformationis tum Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Historiam Illustrantes (1544–1622): Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Tomus Secundus (Cambridge, 1889).

J. H. Hessels, ed., Epistulae et Tractatus cum Reformationis tum Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Historiam Illustrantes: Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum. Tomus Tertii (Cambridge, 1897), pars prima, 1523–1631; pars secunda, 1631–1874.

J. Lindeboom, Austin Friars: History of the Dutch Reformed Church in London 1550–1950 (The Hague, 1950).

Launch Dutch Church in London archive (Hessels, vol. 2)  

Launch Ortelius (Hessels, vol. 1) letters 

Launch Ortelius-related (Hessels, vol. 1) letters


Please see our citation guidelines for instructions on how to cite this catalogue.


1 Johannes Lindeboom, Austin Friars: History of the Dutch Reformed Church in London 1550–1950 (The Hague, 1950), p. xi.

Ibid., appendix, pp. 198–203.

Christopher Hibbert, et al., The London Encyclopaedia (London, 2010), p. 744.

A printed catalogue of the Dutch Church material housed at Guildhall Library was published as A Catalogue of Books, Manuscripts, Letters, etc. belonging to the Dutch Church [ ... ] deposited at the Library of the Corporation of the City of London (London, 1879).

J. H. Hessels, ed., Ecclesiae Londino-Batavae Archivum, vols 1–3 (Cambridge, 1887–97).