The Winholds from the Netherlands, Immigrants from Northern Europe

A number of reasons have served as motives of migration in different times and countries, including religious conflicts, natural disasters, inability to find one’s place in native country, search for better life and “forced” migration while escorting royalty. The First Statute of Lithuania (1529) asserted the right to travel abroad to learn chivalry with the permission of the ruler. Borders of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania were open for the movement of people and ideas in both ways. Colder climate did not hinder Europeans from coming and settling down in Poland or Lithuania, especially when they enjoyed support from influential local aristocrats. Lithuania has become the second motherland for a number of people arriving from Western Europe since the 16th century. Germans dominated among migrating westerners, while Poles began settling down in the GDL in larger numbers after 1569; the immigrants included a few Italians as well. Czechs, Hungarians and Scots (especially in Kėdainiai and Slutsk of the 17th century) were the three larger groups of ethnic minorities.

The Radziwiłł family loves Dutch

Entire villages of Dutch Mennonites, mostly husbandmen, began moving into uninhabited territories in Prussia and, later, in Greater Poland and in other regions since the middle of the 16th century as they were fleeing the persecution of Catholics in their own motherland. The society of the GDL began appreciating the experience of the Dutch immigrants in military affairs, trade and agriculture since the late 16th century. For instance, Field Hetman of Lithuania Kryzsytof II Radziwiłł spent some time in the Netherlands in the early 17th century where he studied military sciences with Prince Maurice of Orange, the expert in the field. Back in Lithuania, Radziwiłł tried to apply the Dutch model of bastion fortress and the system of fortifications in his castle in Biržai. In addition to that, he was ready to settle people from the Netherlands in his domains in Lithuania as well as to give them land plots and grant certain freedoms. It is not a coincidence that the noble brought home some cattle of better breeds on his way back from the Netherlands.

Dutch people constituted a stable minority among other foreigners who settled down in various localities across the GDL in the 16th and 17th century.

Some of them chose to stay in Lithuanian cities. Historians have no information about Dutch individuals who were, for instance, among the ruling elite in Vilnius, while just four or five immigrants from the Netherlands were listed as new citizens of Vilnius between 1661 1795. One of them was merchant Cornelius Winhold, the immigrant from the Netherlands who arrived in Vilnius in the late 16th century and continued living in the GDL.

We do not know which province of the Netherlands he was born in. He was a Reformed Evangelical probably coming from one of northern provinces that later formed the territory of Holland. It is very likely that he travelled to Lithuania via Gdansk, the city that maintained merchant and cultural ties with Holland. Cornelius Winhold had already visited the capital of the GDL before 1598. On the 15th of June that year, he and his wife Yakumina of the Descamp family rented a stone house in the prestigious Castle Street from Samuel Fink, the noble from Kaunas powiat and the son of royal physician Rupert Fink, for 2,000 threesome groschen. The couple bought that house several months later for 6,000 goldens. Although Cornelius Winhold became the owner of property in Vilnius, he failed to make it to the ranks of real citizens, because neither he nor his descendants have adopted Vilnius citizenship. This is the main reason why none of the Winhold family ascended to the ruling elite of the city despite being potentially eligible.

The short dynasty of the Winholds

The newcomer kept looking after his business in Vilnius and joined the religious life of the Protestants. Being an elder of the Polish part of the Church delegated by city dwellers, the Dutchman was an important figure in the city’s community of Reformed Evangelicals; his name appears in historical documents together with that of Solomon Risinski as both were examiners in the school run by the Reformed Evangelicals. In 1623, Cornelius Winhold acted as a middleman whenever the Voivode of Vilnius Kryzsytof II Radziwiłł wanted to hand over money to students of the schools.

As a merchant, Cornelius Winhold traded in various goods and fabrics brought in from Europe. In Lithuania, he had business ties with people of the same faith, the Reformed Evangelicals. The merchant eventually became a subject of the clientela (patronage) of the Radziwiłł ducal family who lived in Biržai and Dubingiai. The Radziwiłłs highly appreciated westerners, especially Germans and Dutch. Deputy Lord Cupbearer Jannusz Radziwiłł and his brother Krzysztof II Radziwiłł were among important customers of Cornelius Winhold. It was Krzysztof II Radziwiłł who mortgaged his possessions in Bielica, including the town with a szpital, and surrounding villages to Winhold in around 1617. The Dutch merchant spent most of the remainder of his life in Bielica. In his letters, Winhold used to inform Krzysztof II Radziwiłł about the situation in his possession and accomplishments underway, such as the compilation of property inventory, the peasant census, the renovation of the church and other issues. Cornelius Winhold died in Bielica on 14 December 1626. Following his will, he was buried inside the Reformed Evangelical Church in Bielica. The wife of the merchant died and was buried in 1633 in Vilnius.

His son Cornelius II Winhold (1600–1638) took over his father’s business in Lithuania as well as the possession in Bielica.

He received elementary education in Vilnius before continuing his studies in Marburg. He travelled in Western Europe in 1620–1621, the evidence being his letters written in Amsterdam and Paris. The elite of Vilnius often used to send their sons to educational and merchant trips in Europe in the first half of the 17th century. Back in Vilnius, Cornelius II Winhold married Catherine († after 31 December 1643), the daughter of the Lutheran burgomaster of Vilnius Jakub Gibel, in 1622. They had five children, but only one of their sons, Jakub, outlived his parents. Unfortunately, he, the representative of the third generation of the Winhold extended family, died early (before 1647) when he apparently was just 18 and unmarried. This was the end of the male line originated by a Dutchman Cornelius Winhold, who arrived in Lithuania in the second half of the 17th century. In the absence of direct heirs, the ruler, Władysław IV Vasa, gave the property of the immigrant family to a Polish subcamerarius (a judge in land border disputes) Samuel Rylski in 1647 after rejecting claims by indirect heirs from the Gibel and other families. Moral arguments that the Winhold family, unlike other immigrants, has not repatriated the wealth it had accumulated here, proved irrelevant as well. Rylski soon sold all the property of the Winhold family to two relatives of the last representative of the family. He sold the house on Castle Street to Kristyna Szweikowska, the wife of the Court Marshal of the GDL Antoni Jan Tyszkiewicz.

The progressive citizens

Immigrants from Holland, the Winhold family, were more than just ordinary merchants. They were famous for their wealth but also for good education and intellectual ties with the Humanists. Their social and cultural aspirations are reflected by the fact that occasional works of literature accompanied the most important events in the life of the Winhold family from Vilnius. On the occasion of wedding between Cornelius II Winhold and Catherine Gibel, a Polish-Latin piece Arae votivae in nuptiarum… was published in 1622. Memoria Winholdiana w trojgu kazań…, a collection of sermons by the Reformed Evangelical pulpiteer Balcer Labędzki, was released in 1635 in Lubcha. The publication includes sermons given in 1626, 1633 and 1635 after the deaths of Cornelius I Winhold, his wife Yakumina and their grandson Cornelius III Winhold. The sermon Meditacia rodzicielskie…, delivered in 1637 after the death of Johan, the son of Cornelius II Winhold, was released in 1638. Nadzieja sprawiedliwych…, the funeral sermon by Labędzki for the death of Cornelius II Winhold, was published in 1638 in Lubcha. Sermons like these could be published only when famous and influential citizens died. The Winholdes were the only ones in Vilnius to erect a family chapel in the Reformed Evangelical Cemetery.

Friendship between Cornelius I Winhold and Solomon Risinski, the Humanist courtier of the Radziwiłł family, should also be mentioned. Risinski published his first collection of proverbs in Polish in 1618 with public and private help from Cornelius. The latter warned Risinski that Grzegorz Knapski, the Jesuit, was about to release a similar publication. Cornelius persuaded his fellow to publish his book unfinished and, most probably, financed it. Both of them wished that the Calvinist came ahead of his ideological enemy, the Jesuits.

Do You Know?

It is likely that Cornelius I Winhold would organise intellectual discussions in his home on Castle Street where Solomon Risinski and Daniel Naborowski, another poet from the court of the Radziwiłł family, took part alongside Cornelius. The two-storey house he bought in 1598 was different from most homes owned by Vilnius citizens. Cornelius made sure that plumbing is installed inside the house in 1605 to supply water from the castle. The Winhold family lived in a superbly furnished house with library, detached kitchen, heating system for the entire house, premises for servants, a shop, food storages, wine cellars and lift-equipped warehouse.

The Winholdes were not detached from political developments, they followed the work of the Sejms and were interested in events related to wars and to the situation in Holland. They have accomplished a number of economic and religious undertakings in their new motherland that proved significant to Vilnius and the GDL between the late 16th century and the middle of the 17th century. Early deaths prevented them from achieving more.

Literature: A. Ragauskas, Vilniečiai Winholdai – Biržų Radvilų klientai? (XVI a. pab. – XVII a. pr.). Kelios mintys apie didikų ir miestiečių ryšius, Mūsų praeitis, 2001, Nr. 7, p. 5–21.

Aivas Ragauskas