Before the Mayflower: Life in Leiden

posted in: Mayflower Voyage, Pilgrims | 0

Leiden was a thriving industrial center while the Pilgrims lived there, but life was not easy for many of them.

The University of Leiden was a major draw to the Pilgrims decision to relocate to Leiden
The University of Leiden was a major draw to the Pilgrims decision to relocate to Leiden

This group, which was around a 125 people, were initially thrilled to be in Leiden.  They were drawn to the city due to the University.

Bradford described the feeling as, ““Yet seeing them selves thus molested, and that ther was no hope of their continuance ther, by a joynte consente they resolved to goe into the Low Countries, wher they heard was freedome of Religion for all men.”

Leiden had given the Pilgrim’s permission because Leiden, “refuses no honest people free entry to come live in the city, as long as they behave honestly and obey all the laws and ordinances, and under those conditions the applicants arrival here would be pleasing and welcome.”

The Pilgrim’s were dedicated to be productive members of the community on their arrival to the city.

The culture and language were very strange and difficult for the English congregation to learn, more or less to understand.

Peter's Church in Leiden, Holland
Peter’s Church in Leiden, Holland

Our Pilgrims were not the only religious groups seeking refuge in Leiden during this time.  A French Protestant group known as the Huguenots also lived there.

The Pieterskerk, or Peter’s Church, became an adoptive home to John Robinson and important to the pastor.  Robinson’s house was very close to the church. {He would eventually be buried in the church graveyard}.

While living in Leiden, the Pilgrims built twenty-one houses near the home of their pastor, John Robinson.  The garden area where they lived was called “The Green Close.”  However, this didn’t include half of the congregation.

The New York times describes their homes as “a single 8-by-14-foot room with a stone floor, small leaded windows, a big medieval fireplace.”

John Robinson was the spiritual leader of the Pilgrims and is buried at Peter's Church
John Robinson was the spiritual leader of the Pilgrims and is buried at Peter’s Church

The article goes on to describe “The parents would have slept sitting up in a box bed {because lying flat was thought to cause disease} and the children on the floor.  Somewhere in there a loom would have been crammed.”

Today the only remains are a wall of the Brewster home.  The alleyway to that home is called William Brewster Alley.  Brewster was a leader in the publishing trade during his years in Leiden.  He published at least eighteen different books between 1617 and 1619 while there.

One thing that may surprise many is that the water in the canals were unfit to drink.  Beer was considered a safer drink and everyone drunk beer.  The beverage could be purchased at nearby inns or taverns and taken home in small casks or jugs.

The Dutch were very liberal, which was of a huge concern to the Puritans.  They were afraid that they would eventually face extinction if they remained.  As in the words of Pilgrim John Robinson they did not want to “let their children grow up too soon.”