The letter of pardon granted to Janneke Sbollens in February 1520, and preserved in the Kingdom’s General Archives, tells a dramatic story. Originally from Antwerp, Janneke Sbollens had married a certain Jan Ysewyns in August 1519 when she was pregnant by a young merchant. Three months later, after a tiring afternoon of washing and scouring, Janneke suddenly felt a strong night pain. She got up and told her husband that something had “slipped out” while she was pushing… When the neighbours heard a scream from the communal toilet (latrine), they immediately called in a mason to break the pipe.

By candlelight, they tried to save the distressed newborn. Miraculously, the child survived. By order of the bailiff, Janneke was put under surveillance so that she could be prosecuted. But she managed to escape by trickery. From her hiding place, she submits a request for forgiveness.
In her request, Janneke stressed that she had not intentionally dropped the child in the toilet. She explained that the child was wanted. Had she not prepared sheets and other supplies for the baby’s birth?

The child was born earlier than expected. Janneke still thought she had time to consult a midwife. She also explained that the baby had survived and had not suffered any consequences as a result of the dramatic birth. These arguments convinced the judges in Brabant: Janneke was pardoned.

To further explore the story of Janneke Sbollens, please see the General State Archive website (free account needed).

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