- "Sine clausura":Unlocking the archive of the cloister of the Poor Clares St.-Elisabethsdal in Boxtel (1390-1719)
The cloister of the Poor Clares St.-Elisabethsdal in Boxtel, in the present-day province of Brabant, the Netherlands, is one of the monasteries created during the new wave of Observant Clarissan monastic foundations in the Northern Low Countries between ca. 1460 and 1513. It was established after Wamel (1461), Haarlem (1471), Veere (1478), Delft (1475/1481), Brielle (1483), Gouda (1490) and Alkmaar (1492/1509).1 But it was not the first Clarissan settlement in what is currently the Netherlands. More than a century before, Willem van den Bossche, lord of Erp (situated in North-Brabant), enabled through his last will d.d. 28 augustus 1335 the foundation of a convent of Poor Clares in the town of 's-Hertogenbosch,2 only a few kilometers from Boxtel. He dedicated his castle in the Hinthamerstraat to the creation of a convent of St. Clara, and in addition furnished an annual rent for its upkeep.3 In the wake of the completion of the convent church in 1344, pope Clemens VI gave official authorization for the foundation of this cloister in 's-Hertogenbosch. The first Clarissan nuns settled there in 1359.4 They would remain [End Page 89] in 's-Hertogenbosch for nearly two centuries, but eventually were forced to leave the city for once and for all in 1651. They found temporary shelter in the cloister St-Elisabethsdal in Boxtel, the only surviving Clarissan community after 1600 in the Northern Low Countries, to settle more permanently in Mechelen (Malines, present-day Belgium) in 1654.
Just like several other Observant Clarissan foundations, such as Wamel, Veere, Delft and Gouda,5 the cloister of the Poor Clares in Boxtel was the result of the transformation of a community of tertiaries. The first nuns were mentioned in a charter of the aldermen of Boxtel in 1468 as 'den susteren van der dorder regulen sinte Franciscus ordine'.6 Four years later, the bishop of Liège gave his approval to the foundation of this convent, named 'Sint-Elisabethsdal'.7 Pope Julius II allowed this house to switch to the order of Saint Clare in 1504,8 but this transition was completed only in 1513. Four rebellious nuns, reluctant to accept the rule of Saint Clare, obtained permission to stay in the cloister in Boxtel under the old religious regime.9 As has been demonstrated for the medieval diocese of Utrecht, such resistance against the transition from the so-called Third Rule of Saint Francis to a stricter rule, such as that of [End Page 90] the Order of Cîteaux, the Chapter of Windesheim or the Order of Saint Claire was rather common.10
Although the church and all the adjacent monastic buildings were destroyed by fire in 1540 - only the laundry and a small chicken coop remained -,11 the monastic sisters remained in Boxtel and rebuilt their cloister. Yet they were forced to leave the monastery around 1580 due to military violence during the Eighty Years' War and found shelter in 's-Hertogenbosch.12 There they stayed in a house at the Papenhulst until July 12, 1611,13 when the danger had passed and the women could plan their return. Less dan a month earlier the bishop of 's-Hertogenbosch had consecrated three altars in the church of the Clares in Boxtel and had solemnly placed there the relics of St. Stephen.14 Nevertheless, the return to Boxtel did not last forever. Once the Eighty Years' War was concluded with the Peace of Münster in 1648, it was stipulated that in the territories now officially under the control of the Dutch Republic Protestantism was the official religion, which meant that most remaining Roman Catholic monasteries were forced to close or forbidden to accept new postulants. Hence, the cloister of the Poor Clares of Boxtel was allowed to remain open until the last nun died.15 As this proved to take too long, the Estates General of the Dutch Republic decided to intervene in the summer of 1717: the still remaining sisters were expelled from Boxtel and the monastery was sold...