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The author of this letter, Cornelis Steijn, was a sailor in the Dutch navy. He experienced the first of a large number of setbacks during the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697) when his ship encountered four French enemy ships off the coast of Brittany in June 1696. Outnumbered and badly wounded, his captain was forced to surrender, after which the crew was transferred to a desolate prisoner-of-war camp near Dinan. 

From the prison, Cornelis managed to write a letter to his mother, begging her to find out whether there are any French prisoners in Zeeland that might be exchanged for him. She had better hurry up, he writes, because he is afraid that “it will be impossible to stay here all winter: cold or hunger will be the death of me before summer comes.” He also prays that God save him, “or the lice and fleas will kill him”. 

It seems as if the paper used to write this letter was torn from a book, as binding holes can be seen in the margin.


De Brienne letter: Cornelis Steijn to his mother Katelijncken, 1696


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