Beatrijs: A medieval manuscript

Beatrijs: it is one of the best-known Middle Dutch manuscripts. The KB has this special book in its collection. The main texts in the Beatrijs are the 'Dietsche doctrinale' by Jan van Boendale and the 'Heimelicheit der heimelicheden' by Jacob van Maerlant. In between are some shorter texts, including the 'Beatrijs'. The poem has only been preserved in this book. It was written in Brussels in 1373 or 1374, for someone from noble circles. We don't know for whom, but it is thought to be Duchess Johanna of Brabant.

Beatrijs, a repentant sinner

The initial at the beginning of the poem about Beatrijs.

The poem about Beatrijs is a so-called Marian miracle. The nun Beatrijs leaves the monastery to live with her lover. When she returns after 14 years, it turns out that her role in the monastery has been taken over by Maria all those years. Beatrijs confesses her sins and is allowed to return to the monastic community.

The poem is older than the book in which it is kept. The text may even date from the 13th century. It is not known who created the Dutch version, but the author delivered an exceptional performance. Beatrijs' story is a literary milestone.

How did we get Beatrijs?

In the 17th century the manuscript was owned by the diplomat Nicolaas Heinsius. After his death it was auctioned in Leiden in 1683. In 1764 it reappeared in The Hague. In 1779 the book was sold again, probably to Jacob Visser, the Hague lawyer who certainly owned it in 1784. At the insistence of King Louis Napoleon, the book collection of State Advocate Visser ended up in the KB in 1809.

Wist je dat...

  • The Middle Dutch Beatrijs poem begins with the author's lamentation that poetry brings little benefit: 'From poetry comes mi cleine bate. / Those songs guess that it is late / Ende mineen sin niet en vertare.'

    In 1995 the poet Willem Wilmink retranslated the text into modern Dutch. With him the beginning goes like this: 'Poeting brings me little benefit. / Most people are of the opinion / that I should learn another trade.”

Browse Beatrijs online

You can view this masterpiece online via the digitized book of the manuscript. You will find this masterpiece in the KB catalogue under request number KW 76 E 5. Images of this manuscript can be viewed via Wikimedia Commons.

Read more about the manuscript and Beatrijs

Want to know more?

Ed van der Vlist
Conservator medieval manuscripts