Tag Archive: Netherlands

From Antiquity to the XVIIIth Century, men believed in the existence of mermaids. Sailors even gave very detailed descriptions of them.

Pliny, in Chapter Nine of his Natural History, writes:

“A deputation from Lisbon was sent to Emperor Tiberius to announce to him that a Triton had been seen and heard in a cavern.  Nereids have been seen on this same coast.  One of them was dying.  Her moans were heard from afar by the inhabitants.  The Legate from Gaul wrote to Emperor Augustus that several dead Nereids were to be seen on the coast.  I can cite witnesses (who occupy a high rank in the Equestrian Order) and who have certified to me having seen in the Cadiz ocean a man of the seas, of a conformation perfectly identical to ours.  During the night, this man of the seas boarded the ships!”

The Naturalist Rondelet, who professes in the XVIth Century in Montpellier, writes in his Histoire des Poissons:

“There was taken in Norway a marine monster after a great torment.  All those who saw it gave it the name of Monk, for it had a human face, but rustic and not very gracious, the head shaven, and a sort of monk’s hood on its shoulders.  The extremity of the body ended in a wide tail.”

And Rondelet continues:

“The poets say that there are Nereids (that is to say a feminine being, of human form, which lives in the sea).  Pliny considers that this is not a fable.  Some were seen on the beaches in former times.  Their complaints were heard.  Some were seen in Pomerania, with a beautiful woman’s face.  I have heard it said that a Spanish mariner held one in his ship, but that one day she escaped, threw herself into the sea and appeared no more.”

It can be read in The Great Chronicle of the Netherlands that in 1433, off the coast of Poland, a marine man, with palmed feet and hands, who let himself be touched by everybody, was fished.  He does not speak, but he seems to understand very well.

In the XVIth Century, navigators brought several mermaids to the King of Portugal who managed to keep them alive for a few years. He showed them to his friends and tried in vain to teach them to speak.

The King of Poland has him locked up in a tower.  But the man of the seas goes into such a depression that it is thought that he will die from it.  He is taken back to the shore, where a great crowd is assembled.  He waves goodbye, plunges and disappears forever.

Father Bonhour, a French Jesuit of the Renaissance, writes:

“Mermaids, of whom the poets speak, are not just inventions.  They have been seen in diverse countries.  Philip, Archduke of Austria, brought one with him to Genes, in 1548.  Another appeared on a beach of Holland at the beginning of the century.”

But it is to the Naturalist Benoit de Maillet, a precursor of Darwin, and who is the first to maintain, in the XVIIIth Century, the thesis of transformism, that we owe the most abundant documentation on the men of the seas.  Benoit de Maillet was Consulate of France in Egypt and Inspector of French Establishments in the Levant.  He made numerous maritime observations which he consigned in his work Entretiens sur l’origine de l’homme (1748).  For him, the origin of Man is in the oceans.  Voltaire, who makes jokes of everything, derides him.  But the collection of testimonies taken from the chronicles of Portugal by Benoit de Maillet demand our attention.

The King of Portugal in the XVIth Century, Manuel, nicknamed the Great or the Fortunate, is having a glorious reign.  Vasco da Gama opens the route to the Indies.  Brazil is conquered.  The Court of Manuel is grandiose, enriched by the treasures of Africa and Asia.  But never is a more surprising gift made to King Manuel than the one mentioned in History of Portugal and Relations of the East Indies:

“A fishing net, thrown at the point of India, brought in fifteen men of the seas which were immediately sent to the Lisbon Court.  Thirteen died during the voyage.  The only ones to survive were a woman and a young girl.  They came to King Manuel who never grew tired of admiring them.  The Oceanides appearing very sad, the King had them lowered into a shallow place in the sea, bearing light chains which prevented them from escaping.  And the Court, aboard boats, were able to watch their evolutions.  These creatures lived for a few years during which, each day, they were taken to the sea.  But they were never able to learn to speak.”

Here now is something taken from The Great Chronicle of the Netherlands:

“Today, six men who had gone by boat to the Diamond Islands were preparing to return home.  It was sunset.  At the edge of the island, they noticed a marine monster.  This monster had a human face and its body ended like a fish.  He had black and grey hair, a long beard, and the stomach covered in hairs.  He had a ferocious air.  When he emerged, he wiped his face with two hands while sniffing like a dog.  He approached so closely that one of the men threw a line to him to see if he would catch it.  But the man of the seas dived once more and no-one saw him again.”

This report from the captain commanding the Diamond Quarters in Martinique was received by Pierre de Beville, Notary of the Quarters of the Maritime Company, in the presence of the Jesuit Father Julien Simon.  It contained as well “the separate and unanimous statements of two other Frenchmen and four Negroes”.

Mermaids and other marine monsters as they are shown in the XVIIth Century work “Physica curiosa” by G. Schott.

Here is something else, which occurs in 1746 and is reported to us by Sieur Le Masson, employed by the Marine:

“A sentinel making his round at night on the walls of Boulogne noticed a man gesticulating in the moat.  He hailed him without receiving a reply.  At the third summation, the sentinel fired.  When the cadaver was recovered, it was  noticed that it was that of a man of the seas whom the tide had left in the moat.  The inferior part of the body had the form of a fish.”

On 8 September 1725, Monsieur d’Hautefort sends to Count de Maurepas, Minister of Louis XIV, the following sworn account:

“Seven ships had dropped anchor on the  Banks of Newfoundland, when, around ten o’clock in the morning, a man of the seas appeared on the port side of the French ship Marie-de-Grace, captained by Captain Olivier Morin.  He firstly showed himself under the barrel of the Foreman Guillaume L’Aumone.  Immediately, the Foreman took a boathook, but the Captain stopped him, fearing that the monster would drag him down with him.  For this reason, the Foreman only gave him a blow on the back, without stabbing him.  The marine man circled the ship several times, went away, came back, raised himself out of the water as far as his navel.  This all lasted from ten o’clock in the morning to midday, and the monster was seen for all this time by the thirty-two men of the crew.  They were all able to notice the following particularities:  the brown and dark skin, without scales.  All the movements of the body, from the head down to the feet (visible in the transparent water), were those of a normal man.  The eyes were well proportioned, the nose wide and flat, the teeth white, the ears similar to those of a man, the feet and hands the same, except that the fingers were joined by a film, like those that exist on the feet of geese and ducks.  To resume, it was a man’s body as well made as those that one sees ordinarily…  Around noon, the singular creature went away from the ship, dived deeply, and no-one saw it again.”


To be continued.


The battle of the Shades – part 3

On 17 December 1680, the inhabitants of Ottery, in England, witnessed a celestial combat in which a comet was involved.

Most of these abundant witness reports escape the clinical definition of visual hallucination and everything that we know about mirages.  Here are two other cases of exceptional interest, among the hundreds that have been registered, starting with the combat related in Book II of Maccabees, which took place in the Jerusalem sky when Antiochus was getting ready to make war on Egypt…

The first case, which is one of the best authenticated, concerns a vision which occurred at Keinton in England, at the beginning of 1642…

Regrettably, it is often thought that the older the event, the less credible it is.  This same year, England sees the eruption of a Civil War which is just as well-known to us as the last year of King Louis XIII of France’s reign at the same epoch, or the events of February 1936…

When the Justice of the Peace of the County of Keinton, William Wood, backed up by several honourable people, certifies under oath to have seen a battle of spectres opposing the Puritans and the army of King Charles I of England, there is no apparent reason to doubt his sincerity…

On 23 January 1643, between midnight and one o’clock in the morning, some shepherds, some peasants, and some travellers begin to hear distant drum rolls over Edgehill, then cries of soldiers in agony, and the firing of muskets and cannons.  Gradually, the noises move closer and become so loud that the witnesses, terrified, want to flee.  This is when the furia of the “incorporal soldiers”, as the principal witness puts it, begins to be unleashed on the nearby hills, petrifying the spectators on the spot.  At the head of this first army, the flags of Charles I can easily be distinguished, preceded by several cannons and drummers in amaranth uniforms, beating the charge.  From the other side of the hill, the Puritan battalions surge, preceded by troops of cavalry which swoop onto their adversaries.  Soon, the melee is terrifying, and nobody among the witnesses thinks to flee any more out of fear that these infernal soldiers would turn against them…  After three hours of hand-to-hand combats, the partisans of Charles I, flee…

This event of course creates a sensation throughout the whole county, and the next day, the notables, Church ministers at their head, go to the place of combat, armed with rolls of paper, pens, and of course sprinklers of holy water and manuals of exorcism.

The battle of the ghosts takes place three more times with an even more considerable fracas of weapons, and the talk about this business finally arrives at the King’s ears.  Charles I immediately names a Commission, led by Colonel Lewis Kirke.  One week later, the battle takes place again, and some members of the Commission are even able to recognize several of the spectres, notably Sir Edmond Varney, who had been killed during the historical Battle of Edgehill…  two months earlier.


It is not always soldiers that are seen in the sky. Alpinists climbing the Cervin in August 1900 suddenly saw these strange crosses...

If we admit that the witnesses did not just have visual and auditive hallucinations, it is difficult for us to understand the sense of these historical doublings, these hiccoughs of Reason, but also of imagination.  Since they are only the replica of something that has already happened…  It is irritating for our human conception of space-time.  But in the case of the ghostly combats displaced in time, there is something even more troubling…

In the very first days of February 1574, five soldiers of the Bourgeois Guard of Utrecht, who are on guard around midnight, see on the near horizon, the representation of a terrible battle.  A first army, coming from the North-West, has manoeuvred very rapidly to surprise, it seems, another army coming from the South-East and moving slowly in some disorder, as if it were leaving a camp situated well away from the Front.  From this moment, the guards, who are used to seeing Spanish invaders attacking the “patriot” positions of the Count of Nassau, follow the different phases of the battle, notably its epilogue, when they see the army from the North-West regroup one last time and throw itself on the enemy which has formed a square surrounded by a double row of muskets.  The lances of the army from the South-East break like “frail reeds”, the sentinels note when they later make their statements under oath, and the columns are pushed back in disorder.

The Utrecht magistrates take this vision very seriously:  it appears to describe the end of the troop movements, before the great clash which would oppose the Spaniards of Don Luis of Requesens to the Dutch.  The guards’ precisions are so convincing, that the inhabitants of Utrecht have no doubts about the outcome of the decisive battle…  to come.  This unfolds on 13 February at Mook, that is to say, twelve days after the vision.  Count Louis of Nassau, the brother of William of Orange, finds there, with numerous knights, a glorious death.  The American historian Motley, a specialist of this period, is formal:  there are so many similarities between the vision and its realisation twelve days later, that luck cannot be invoked.  But, there again, we could formulate the hypothesis of a different time, which is no longer divided into “before”, “during” and “after”, like the time that we know now, a time relative to the spectators that we are, locked up in a theatre of shadows who, if they could get out, would have the revelation of absolute time, deployed motionlessly, in an eternal present…


A few decades ago, a former Commander of the Gendarmerie, Emile Tizane, who consecrated forty years of his life to investigating hauntings, assures in the book that he wrote that the apparitions are today just as numerous as before.  As for ghostly battles, not so long ago, the Defence Minister of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II took the head of an expedition destined to verify the validity of a battle of spectres which unfolds every 23 October at Kineton inside a terrain which is used as an army ammunition depot.


Louis Pauwels, whose work I have translated, has never seen a ghost, but does not necessarily deny that they exist.  He believes, along with Alexis Carrel, that in certain circumstances, Knowledge will one day establish that Man is capable of bending or stretching himself well beyond his apparent limits…


The imperial family at Godollo.

The death of a lady equerry of French origin, Emilie Loisset, following a fall from a horse, greatly saddens Empress Elisabeth (Sissi), but her equestrian passion is replaced more and more by forced marches which resemble races;  she is tiring her entourage to the brink of exhaustion.

“Suddenly, for no reason, I lost my courage, and I who, just the day before, suspected no danger, saw a threat in each bush and could not liberate my mind from its anguish”,

she would later say to a lady-in-waiting, while trying to analyze the disappearance of her passion for riding.  It must be noted that Sissi detests wasting her time, she does everything quickly.  She liked galloping on horseback, she now gallops on foot.  The police officers affected to her security are unable to explain how she is able to really gallop on foot, for six hours non-stop, without collapsing.  The ladies-in-waiting, exhausted by Sissi’s forced marches, declare forfait.

“Soon, no-one will be able to follow her”,

states her daughter Maria-Valeria, who is fifteen.  And a young, robust Hungarian girl becomes the Empress’ walking companion.  When Wilhelm I visits Bad Ischl, on 9 August 1882, he invokes his great age – eighty – as an excuse not to participate in these outings worthy of a chamois.  The Emperor of Germany is, however, delighted to accompany Sissi and Maria-Valeria to the theatre.  He will regret it:  the play, entitled The Promise Behind the Stove, ridicules a Prussian.  It takes all Sissi’s grace to repair this diplomatic error and bring laughter back to his shocked entourage.

An official voyage to Trieste and Dalmatia is planned in September.  It looks as if it is going to be delicate.  Extremists continue to agitate, and police reports are of the opinion that an attempt against the Emperor’s life cannot be excluded.  Franz-Josef wants to leave alone, but Sissi, informed of the dangers, refuses to remain behind.

She demands to share the peril.  She flees the Court, but faces the risks connected with being Head of State.  Sissi senses drama.  In fact, the programme must be changed at the last minute, for some conspirators are arrested and assassination inscriptions appear at the foot of an effigy of Franz-Josef.  Sissi does not leave her spouse, even exposing herself in an open carriage to better protect him.  On the steamship Berenice, a ball is supposed to take place.  A storm is raging, and it is discovered that the ship is leaking everywhere.  As always when she is really worried, Sissi is very calm.  They must reach the gunboat Lucifer, which has great difficulty in accosting.  The four days of tense voyage end on a comical note:  at the last grand dinner, one of the guests, perhaps moved by Sissi’s beauty, confuses his finger-bowl with one of his glasses and empties it completely.  Elisabeth has the greatest trouble not to burst out laughing.

On 2 September, Stephanie, Rudolf’s spouse, gives birth to a little girl, at Laxenburg.  The child is named Elisabeth, a homage that Rudolf had wanted to give his mother, but everyone will call her Erszi, the Hungarian diminutive for Elisabeth.

Stephanie, who wanted a boy, cries.  But Rudolf is happy.  He assures:

“It doesn’t matter;  a girl is much nicer!”

One remarkable fact, noted by Maria-Valeria:  Sissi, leaning over the cradle, does not find, this time, that the baby is ugly.

Franz-Josef offers an emerald and forty thousand florins to the new-born girl and, twenty days later, Rudolf is named Commander of the 25th Division, which is in garnison in Vienna.  This measure seems to compensate the advanced ideas held by the Crown Prince, which he doesn’t try to hide.  In fact, for the last year, he has become friendly with a liberal journalist, Moriz Szeps, the Director of a big Viennese daily.  Rudolf writes anonymous articles in it criticising the Government and the Empire’s foreign policy.

Maria-Valeria notes in her diary, at the date of 27 November, that a new actress has come to Burg Theater.  Her name is Katharina Schratt.

“She is magnificent…”

Little by little, it is noticed that, when Frau Schratt is onstage, Franz-Josef is in his box.

In April 1884, Elisabeth leaves again, this time for health reasons:  sciatica is making her suffer and the best way of treating it is to discontinue walking and horse-riding.

A great specialist of muscular troubles, Doctor Metzger, installed in Amsterdam, receives the Empress.  He does not hide his pessimism:  Elisabeth risks an infirmity if she continues her “outings”.  He notes that his patient mounts four horses a day, practises with a fleuret, and is surprised at having a swollen knee.  His greatest victory over the stubborn Empress is to obtain that she eat normally.  Astutely, the doctor does not speak of malnutrition, anaemia or nervous fatigue provoked by a stomach which is nearly always empty.  He speaks only of beauty, judging that if the Empress continues absorbing only milk, she will be “old and wrinkled” within two years.  The argument is decisive.  Sissi cannot bear for an instant the thought that her strange ways of caring for herself to remain slim is arriving at the same age phenomenon as that of women whose only exercice is opening their parasols…

While Stephanie and Rudolf undertake a voyage in the Balkans, Sissi makes a pilgrimage to Mariazell, on 11 September.  She had made a vow to give precious objects to the Virgin, Austria’s protectress, if she was cured of her sciatica.  Elisabeth is terrified at the idea of being confined to a wheelchair.  This would mean that she could no longer flee.  Worried, she again goes to Holland, in March 1885, to consult Doctor Metzger.  Massages having helped her, in May, she returns to Austria via Heidelberg, where she meets Maria-Valeria.  Mother and daughter are enchanted by the old university city, steeped in German romantism.

At the end of May, the Empress feels the need to know what has happened to the young man she had met at the Mardi-Gras ball in Vienna, eleven years before…  She again uses her pseudonym of Gabrielle.  The addressee, Frederic Pacher of Theinburg, who is still living in Vienna, replies on 9 June:

“Dear Yellow Domino,

“Nothing could have astonished me more than the sign of life that you give me.  It is not enough to say that I was stunned.  What has been happening over these eleven years?  Doubtless you still shine with your proud beauty like before;  as for me, I have become a respectable, bald spouse, I have a wife as tall as you and a delicious little girl.  You can, if you judge it convenable, leave aside your domino without fear after the passage of eleven years and shed light on this enigmatic adventure, the most troubling of those that I have ever lived (…).”

Sissi is enchanted.  Eleven years after his brief encounter, Frederic is still there.

In a lyrical frame of mind, the Empress decides to visit Louis II of Bavaria.

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