Compared with the large number of English travellers to the Netherlands, few Dutchmen crossed the North Sea to visit England. In this respect, the fact that lower class Londoners in particular were not always friendly towards foreigners may have played a role. The French, for instance, who were easily recognizable by their clothes, reported that torrents of abuse were hurled at them in the streets of the English capital, ranging from ‘French dog’ and ‘French bitch’ to ‘French bastard’. Everybody who looked different was soon labelled ‘French dog’ for that matter, whether French or not.
London underwent quite an expansion between the end of the sixteenth and the end of the seventeenth century. Around 1550, London did not have any more than 50,000 inhabitants, but that number had about tripled in 1600 and a century later, in 1700, the metropolis numbered half a million inhabitants. High unemployment figures and the housing shortage contributed to foreigners (often including Englishmen from outside London) being met with distrust.
The collection includes two travel reports from Dutchmen who visited London during the reign of Charles II. In 1661, Sixtus Arnoldinus, bailiff at the Court of Friesland, came to London with his wife and eldest son. The sister of his wife, who was probably English by birth, lived there. His visit took place not long after Cromwell’s Commonwealth had come to an end and the Stuart monarchy had been restored to the English throne (1660). The visit of the anonymous ‘Amsterdam Father’ in 1683 took place towards the end of the reign of Charles II, who was to die in 1685. Sixtus Arnoldinus saw London before it was reduced to ashes by the Great Fire whereas when the ‘Amsterdam father’ visited London, the city had largely been reconstructed.
Arnoldinus’ report shows that the journey was not without dangers. When crossing the North Sea, a strong head wind forced them to return to Den Briel and, subsequently, the ship almost ran aground on a sandbank. After the family had arrived at its destination, bad luck persisted. The first day in London, where they stayed with Mrs. Arnoldinus’ sister, our bailiff came to blows about settling a bill for drinks with a young man whose acquaintance he had made on the boat. It appears that there were ‘guards’ at the door, but he managed to sneak away, leading his son by the hand, and roamed through the streets in search of an inn to spend the night. At his first attempt, he was chased from the doorstep by someone brandishing a stick. Eventually, however, the landlady of the tavern where they had had dinner, allowed him to spend the night there, although her husband (the cook) was against it. In the morning, he returned to his wife, who had been able to appease things with the help of her relatives. Later on, in a theatre, a cutpurse relieved him of his watch. ‘They will most certainly not come to Leeuwarden to give it back to me’, was his laconic reaction.
Where could a tourist have a meal in seventeenth century London? The anonymous ‘Amsterdam father’ tells us that “it is quite customary to go to a public kitchen. There are hundreds of them in London. Four spits rotate, one above the other, with chunks of beef, mutton, pork, veal and lamb. You can ask for as much as you want to be cut off and you eat your meat with some salt and mustard, a piece of freshly baked bread and a bottle of beer. If you want to have chicken, pigeon or rabbit, you have to place a separate order. Tasty and cheap”. “This is a way of life that may appear a bit funny to the foreigner”, our informant goes on, “but the bigwigs do not object to go there for their meal, which costs one English shilling at the most”.
In the seventeenth century, the Tower of London, was already a major tourist attraction. Both Sixtus Arnoldinus and the ‘Amsterdam father’ had a look. According to the ‘Amsterdam father’, swords had to be left behind at the entrance before a guide gave you a tour which included the weapons, the crown jewels and the prisoners’ rooms.
Sixtus Arnoldinus as well as the ‘Amsterdam father’ also visited Westminster Hall, where they saw Cromwell’s head displayed to the public, mounted on a spear (until it was blown off during a storm in 1688). Sixtus Arnoldinus also saw the heads of twenty of Cromwell’s brothers-at-arms on ‘undebarked spruces’ on London Bridge, ‘hideous’ to see for ‘they still have long hair round the head’.