Friday, April 4, 2014

The Strange and Terrible Visions of Wilhelm Friess, Chapter Two: A Seditious Prophecy

The Dutch printer Frans Fraet was executed in Antwerp in January 1558. What we know about Fraet's career as a printer is largely due to the careful scholarship of Paul Valkema Blouw, who established that Fraet was the most prolific (and necessarily anonymous) printer of Reformation literature in Antwerp in the 1550s, and Valkema Blouw suggested that Fraet's publication of Protestant works was the cause of his execution. (See Paul Valkema Blouw, “The Van Oldenborch and Vanden Merberghe Pseudonyms or Why Frans Fraet Had to Die,” Quaerendo 22 (1992): 165–90, 245–72.)

The documents concerning Fraet's trial do not say much about printing heretical works, however. What they do extensively document is that Fraet was accused of printing seditious works, and the only work the trial documents specifically identified was a "very evil rebellious prognostication under the name of a Master Willem de Vriese." This prophecy contained "many grievous things against the secular and also the clerical rulers" and intruded in the affairs of "all clerical and secular princes and potentates and also the common people, arousing the same to sedition or desperation." All copies of Fraet's edition have been lost, but by connecting the many German editions of the prophecies of Wilhelm Friess to Fraet's publication, we now have a clear indication of what Fraet had printed. I provide a complete English translation of the most widespread German edition.

There are a few remaining mysteries whose solutions I leave up to the reader. What might Hans van Liesvelt have thought about these events? He had printed two prognostications by Willem de Vriese whose Protestant subtext wasn't difficult to discern, and now Frans Fraet had brought the name of de Vriese into connection with seditious printing. At the same time, Fraet was at least a personal acquaintance, a fellow Antwerp printer who published his own writings with Maria Ancxt, Hans van Liesvelt's mother. If an anonymous tract printed by Fraet was receiving official scrutiny, Hans van Liesvelt would very likely have been able to identify Fraet as the printer. If suspicion was falling on Hans van Liesvelt as the printer of de Vriese's earlier works, he would have had strong motivation to implicate Fraet. But would Hans van Liesvelt have saved himself by sending Frans Fraet to the same fate that had befallen Hans van Liesvelt's father a decade earlier?

In the same way, there are arguments and evidence to support the view that "Willem de Vriese" was a historically tangible human being, a medical doctor and citizen of Maastricht who died around 1557, as well as the view that "Willem de Vriese" was always a fictive author persona, including the prognostications for 1555 and 1556, Fraet's edition of 1557, and the later calendars and practicas published under the name of Willem de Vriese in 1581 and 1596. I sense essay questions waiting to be assigned.

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