A Brill Calendar: February 9

Town and Gown

Few of Leyden University's early documents better illustrate its European position and stature than the request some representatives ‘ex ordine Studiosi Leidenses’ (‘of the echelon of students’) wrote to their ‘Curatorium’ on February 9, 1600.

Insisting on special rights within the city walls, they asked that august body directing the University to remain faithful to the law-giving of the ‘Authentica Habita’ they deemed still valid; a legal initiative originating from the Holy Roman Emperor Friedrich Barbarossa. His imperial decree applied in Europe since the Diet of Roncaglia in 1158. It specified that foreign students would always be at liberty to go where studies and interests brought them. Very soon after the ‘Dies Natalis’ of Leyden University in 1575, students from countries like France and England flocked to Leyden; German lands providing the majority of these foreigners.

The authors of this letter of complaint objected vehemently to the irresponsible practices the curfew at night (maintained by constables of the City Council) exposed them to. These young gentlemen refused to accept treatment meted out to harlots, barber-boys, peddlers and comparable night-birds, all unprotected by the shield of Pallas.

Their relative independence had been supported - since days of yore - by the ‘Forum Priviligatium’, allowing the ‘Universitas’ its own legal court & bench; each and everyone listed in the ‘Album Studiosorum’ was entitled to present his case to the academic Forum.

It is seldom that a letter, written some four centuries ago, evokes so vividly Leyden street-life. Its authors protest, for instance, against verbal abuse and name-calling in public; screaming ‘mofmaff, mofmaff’ to students hailing from Germany sounded particularly obtrusive to their minds.