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  • Writer's pictureHans Faber

Frisian women: free and unbound?

Below Saskia Holleman: The reincarnation of Mata Hari, her fellow citizen. Saskia was born in 1945 in the city of Leeuwarden in the province of Friesland. Standing stark naked in the milky grasslands with a Friesian Holland cow. It's a pamphlet from the former Pacifist Socialist Party (PSP) for the Dutch general elections campaign in 1971. Depicting every detail of the scenery in which you will be immersed when hiking the Frisian Coast Trail. Time to tell more about the proud tall women of the North.

Translated the pamphlet says something like: 'PSP - disarmingly/endearing'. The pamphlet caused quite a ruckus at the time. Not for the pacifist's statement to disarm during the height of the Cold War. No, no real risks there for the Dutch. Combining nudity with politics, however, was a whole different ball game. Certainly a bridge or two too far, in the so-called and self-proclaimed progressive lowlands. Yes, the Netherlands, they really got their priorities straight. It took a Dutch-Somali woman and politician, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, to fully appreciate the pamphlet. That was in 2005. But the lowlands were too small for Ayaan. She left for the United States, the Land of the Free.

By the way, the PSP has been dissolved into the fusion party GroenLinks, and at present (2023) GroenLinks is busy dissolving into the PvdA, Labour Party. Left-wing voters historically are always in the minority in the Netherlands.

Saskia Holleman 1917
Saskia Holleman 1971

We do not show you this pamphlet in order to (re)start a popular discussion about politics and populism. That would be too easy. Nor do we show this fifty-year-old pamphlet to be punished by Mark Zuckerberg again; the author of this post was already banned twice for a week from Facebook after showing this pamphlet from the early '70s(!). No, we merely show it to illustrate the topic of our post, namely: Are the women of Frisia free? More precisely, did women have a more equal position in (early) Frisian society? Regularly, Frisians claim women always held a strong position in their society, suggesting that Frisians have a more feminine, non-macho culture. Is this true or false?

In this post the term ‘Frisian’ is used for persons born in areas referred to as Frisian at the time they were born, since what is considered and named ‘Frisian’ shifted over time. Yes, Frisian (and therefore Dutch and German partly too) identity is difficult to pin down, and would justify a separate long read. Although, that would be near politics. We will not do that.

fLtR Margaretha, Sjoukje and Recha

Back to the topic of this post.

We can, of course, put an end to the whole discussion whether or not Frisian women held a strong(er) position, by highlighting the statue Ús Mem in the town of Leeuwarden. Ús Mem, ‘our mother’ in the Mid-Frisian language, is a huge statue of a Frisian Holland cow (check our post Golden Calves, or bursting udders on bony legs?). It's a much-praised breed. Sadly, it's nearly extinct nowadays. How weird, and therefore convincing, such a statue might be, it would be too easy for this post to settle the matter this way. Additionally, every scholar would only follow the example of the Exodus leader Moses in the Sinai desert, and throw his (e-)tablets against this new cow statue, because such a theory would not only be blasphemy but also unsubstantiated.

So, let’s dig a bit deeper in the Frisian fat clay.

1. Gods and names

To stick with idolatry and religion. There is this recurring story among Frisians that their tribe name derives from the Germanic goddess Freyja, also written as Freya or Frya. A seed, perhaps, planted in the minds of Frisians with the Oera Linda book that showed up in 1876. A fabricated manuscript in a self-designed writing, telling about the four-thousand-year-old history of the Frisians, which keeps inspiring people as if it were real to this very day. According to the Oera Linda book, the primeval mother of the Frisians was Freyja, and it was women - not men - who had meticulously determined the history of Frisia (Jensma 2022).

Freyja was a goddess of Norse mythology, associated with love, beauty, fertility, and war. This Freyja-origin theory would fit nicely for this post, except that we haven't found much scientific support for this story. Despite all the convincing Frisian beauties like Luisa Hartema, Doutzen Kroes, Maike van Grieken, Marloes Horst, Anna Wilken, Ferdau Hoekstra, Anne-Marie Lampe, Monique Sluyter, Akke-Marije Marinus, Sylvana van IJsselmuiden, Jane and Bridget Fonda, and of course, the amazing Audrey Hepburn (see featured image of this post).

The only small lead concerning goddess Freyja we found, are the Roman stone inscriptions at Hadrian's Wall in Britain. The numerus (i.e. an army unit) of a Frisian chieftain named Hnaudifridius, or in his native language Notfrid, serving the Roman army in the third century, set up an altar dedicated to, among other, the goddess Friagabis, one of the two Alaisiagae deities. Etymologically Freyja might be related to Friagabis, which would make a full circle. But we are not impressed by this theory either. Read also our post Groove in the Hearth to read more about pre-medieval goddesses worshiped by Frisians.


If you are interested to read more about the etymology of the word Frisian read this post of Taaldacht, in Dutch language, about its possible origins. The words Freyja and Frisian turn out not be related. An etymological explanation of the word Frisian that fits the ’70s pamphlet depicting Saskia Holleman, is the Old-Germanic ‘Frisioz’ which could mean ‘free and unbound’. However, we think the tribe's name of the Frisians has a complete different origin. Read our post A severe case of inattentional blindness: the Frisian tribe’s name.

If you are interested in this Frisian chieftain Notfrid in the Roman army mentioned above, read our post Frisian mercenaries in the Roman army. The same Frisian mercenaries erected a stone pillar dedicated to the thing (also ding, ting or þing), the Germanic assemblies. It is the oldest attestation of the thing in history. Read our post The Thing is… to learn more about these early democrats.


Concerning the Roman period, it was the Roman historian Tacitus (ca. AD 56-120) who wrote in the first century that in Germanic cultures, contrary to what was customary in the Mediterranean, it was the men who gave the dowry. No jewelry and other vanity goods, by the way. The dowry consisted of cattle, horses, and weapons. Also, the dowry remained the bride's personal property after they had married. Tacitus also wrote that women had the gift of prophecy and were fortune-tellers. His accounts illustrate women probably had a distinctive position within the (pre-) Germanic or Celtic pagan beliefs.

A modest argument concerning the own position of Frisian women that can be derived from Freyja is that this goddess wore fibulas 'brooches' similar to those magnificent pieces found in, for example, the terp (i.e. artificial settlement mound) of Wiewerd and, of course, in the terp of Wijnaldum, both located in the province of Friesland. We know that Freyja, and thus women, wore these brooches thanks to a silver pendant found in Östergötland, Sweden, depicting Freyja with this specific fibula type - the so-called disc-on-bow fibula. Read also our post Ornament of the Gods found in a mound of clay to learn about this piece of history. Thus, it was Frisian women, not macho kings or otherwise big men, who were the proud owners of these very exquisite fibulas, matching the quality of the Anglo-Saxon jewelry found at Sutton Hoo in England.

fibula of Hogebeintum,ca. AD 650

Freyja being the Folk.s Moder (‘folk mother’), i.e. primeval mother, of all Frisians, with a snow-white skin and blue eyes and all, as put forward in the Oera Linda book, led to quite some unforeseen interest with the Nazi regime, before and during the Second World War. Besides that brown ugliness, the Oera Linda book also inspired cults that are vibrant to this day. Among other, women who call themselves Daughters of Frya, with sanctuaries in Birmingham in the UK, LaGrange in the USA, and Armidale in Australia (Jensma 2022). Their beliefs and rituals are based on the Oera Linda book. The Daughters must dress themselves in short, white sleeveless tunics. According to the Daughters of Frya, the history of Frisia starts as early as the year 2194 BC. If interested, check the website Daughters of Frya. Oera Linda Order of Priestesses. Also, there are the Daughters of Freyja who worship the goddess Freyja, as part of the Norse Pantheon, and the Runic Lore. These daughters have groups in the UK and the USA.

A prominent Frisian god that was worshiped at the time these fabulous fibulae were being crafted, was the god Foseti, also written as Forseti. It was worshiped on Fositesland. The Anglo-Saxon Saint Willibrord, Apostle of the Frisians, visited Fositesland in the beginning of the seventh century. Fositesland is generally identified as the present-day island Heligoland or Helgoland, in the German Bight at the North Sea. An island named after the Frisian god Foseti, meaning 'chairman', and still very similar to the Mid-Frisian verb foarsitte. However, Foseti was mostly portrayed as a man, and associated with law and justice. Boring, boring. Not giving us any leads to answer the ever more burning question of this post.

Surprisingly, in Norway near Oslo the toponym Forsetlund exists, despite the fact Foseti was not a Norwegian god at all. The Old-Norwegian name Forseti is therefore probably derived from the Frisian name Fo(r)seti. Were it Frisian immigrants who introduced Foseti in southern Scandinavia?

There is another modest indication women of Germanic cultures were relatively independent. Names given to both men ánd women referred to bold and brave animals, and to weapons. Obviously, women, like men, were expected to be strong and powerful too. The fact several Viking warrior graves turned out to be not of men but of women, supports this idea. Tacitus too wrote that women in the Germanic cultures were expected to be brave and to stand side by side with her man during battle. Probably, battle was more a matter of families than that of bands of men, during the Roman period anyway. Women fighting as well, or at least at the edge of the battlefield to support them with food, new lead sling-bullets, encourage and treat them, et cetera.

2. Filicide

Early-medieval times do give us another hint that woman might have a relative equal social position, although a heavily disputed one. Old-Frisian law, namely, gave women the right to kill an infant. At the end of the eighth century, part of Frisian customary law was codified known as the Lex Frisionum. The codex had jurisdiction over the area between Sincfala (i.e. inlet the Zwin) in present-day Belgium, and the river Weser in the north-west of present-day Germany. Title V of the Lex Frisionum states:

de Hominibus qui sine compositione occidi possunt […] et infans ab utera sublatus et enecatus a matre

of the people who may be killed without a fine, are infants. The infant may be strangled by the mother and only if the infant was forced out the uterus

Some historians plea for a bit different understanding of this, indeed, difficult to understand law. They argue that in general it was at the discretion of the mother to let her infant die, as long as it had not been fed yet. This would align with the ninth-century Vita Liudgeri, where this practice in Frisia is mentioned. In this document the mother of Saint Ludger, named Liafburch, was saved as a new-born from being killed by her grandmother because neighbours put honey on the lips of little Liafburch. Having received nutrition, no longer infant Liafburch could be killed by her mother without being punished for it. Therefore, Ludger could be born later. He in his turn, would convert the Frisians to Christianity, et cetera. The rest is history. It got the ball rolling to the exemplary persons we are today. For more about this saint and the conversion, read our post Liudger, the first Frisian apostle.

We leave the precise historical and linguistic discussions aside, and conclude at this place there were evidently circumstances which could justify killing an infant and, moreover, that this was the authority of women. Not that of men. They didn't have this right. To address the reader's dismay, the practice of filicide isn't as barbaric and inconceivable as you might think at first. By no means it was comparable with Saturn devouring his son as painted by Goya. Instead, harsh and tough decisions had to be made in the past. A time without social healthcare, not even your basic Obama Care. A community had to consider, for example, whether or not a disformed child could be fed and raised. Lastly, Frisian law was different compared with that of its Scandinavian neighbours. There, it was the men who had the right to kill a new-born infant, and not the women.

Another distinctive difference with other early-medieval Germanic cultures when compared to the region, can be found in the Lex Frisionum, namely that a weregeld, commonly called blood money, for killing a woman was the same as that for killing a man. Of course, of the same social status. The weregeld for both was 50 Byzantine golden solidi, or ca. 1,700 gram of fine silver. One cow was worth one solidus, according to the Lex Ribuaria. You can do the math if you wanted to pay a weregeld with cattle. In other Germanic cultures, you had to pay a bigger fine for killing a woman than for killing a man. Three times as much even. The logic behind it might be that women were more 'precious' with regard to offspring, and they had in general a shorter life expectancy, mainly because of death during child bed. However, in East Anglia, like in Frisia, freeborn women and freemen had the same 'value' in fine silver. If interested to learn everything about weregelds, read our post You killed a man? That'll be 1 weregeld, please.

We would suggest not to interpret all this in a way women were of less value in the Frisian and Anglo-Saxon cultures, when compared to other Germanic tribes. Instead, it expressed women were regarded (more) equal to man, and not primarily seen as economic value. Or, another way of looking at it, it might indicate that in Frisia and in the east of England women had a lower mortality rate during childbirth than elsewhere. For a society with a high mortality in general, it is important for its survival to have many women and children, since they in general have a high(er) mortality rate.

Leaving the horror, legal texts and codices behind us, the era of the Lex Frisionum was, in fact, definable for the position of women in society. Let us explain this through the life of Beitske.

3. Beitske of Hogebeintum

The remains of Beitske were found during excavations of the terp of the village Hogebeintum, in the north of province Friesland. Beitske is not named after the successful Frisian racing driver Beitske Visser. No, her name is a reference to the wooden tree-coffin she was found in. Sorry twice, Beitske Visser! The Fries Museum in Leeuwarden simply did a poll, and the name Beitske was the most popular one. Also, in 2015 Maja d’Hollosy reconstructed her face in a very beautiful way (see image below). "All nice to know, but what has all this to do with this topic?" you might think. The following two things of Beitske are of need to know for the still burning question of this post.

Beitske of Hogebeintum c.AD 650

Firstly, Beitske's inhumation was exceptional because she was buried. Above that, she was buried in a tree trunk. The wood used was expensive oak. Burying the dead was for long, in any case till the Migration period, exceptional within the salt-marsh cultures of the Wadden Sea coast. Archaeologists consider the most common inhumation practice, leaving the body on the salt marshes for scavengers. Above, burying deceased in a coffin is exceptional. Wood was scarce at the barren, treeless tidal marshlands. Let alone oak wood. Furthermore, she wore a necklace of shells and amber. Taken everything together, this indicates we are dealing with a woman of certain prestige. If you want to know more about early burial practices, read our post How to bury your mother-in-law. In 2018, another interesting early-medieval coffin grave of a woman in Frisia was found; read our post Notre dame of Grou. Not a proud looking Beitske, but a more than heavily deformed woman.

Secondly, the age of Beitske. She was around fifty years old when she died. A considerable age in those days. However, the period she lived in, is truly relevant. This is the seventh century. Considering her personal age, Beitske lived around the year 650.

A lot of expenses and efforts for an old woman

There are similarities with other North Sea, southern Scandinavian, cultures. Grave finds of older women of prestige have been found of Vikings in southern Sweden, for example. But also the boat burial of Solleveld, close to modern The Hague, is relevant, because the person buried probably was a woman. The grave is dated the first half of the seventh century. Read more about this unique grave in our post Rowing the souls of the dead to Britain: the ferryman of Solleveld.

The time Beitske lived, Frisia was at the height of its power. Maybe Beitske even knew or had seen king Aldgisl or king Radbod, although they might have been overkings of a south-western kingdom (West Frisia), and Beitske was ruled by a different Frisian king of the north-west. Nevertheless, certainly she must have heard of one of them. It was a period Frisians controlled the supra-regional trade in the wider North Sea area, and had trading networks and settlements stretching from the British Isles, including ports of York and London, to Denmark, southern Norway, eastern Sweden, into the Baltic Sea, and deep into Frankish lands (i.e. Cologne, Worms and Paris, to name a few cities). Also, the Frisians still held control over the emporium Dorestat at the lower region of the river Rhine; the biggest settlement of north-western Europe that time. Some historians refer to this period as the First Golden Age of the Low Countries. A period Frisians were a dominant seafaring people (Van der Tuuk 2011). Not fishing but trading, to be clear. If you want to have a more detailed picture of the magnitude of the Frisian free trade, read our post Porcupines bore U.S. bucks.

The social structure of the Frisian society in the Early Middle Ages, was built around the family. Living in small terp villages along the southern coast of the North Sea from West Flanders to the south of Jutland. It was a fairly equal society, in the sense there were no real centrally led power structures, despite nobiles and (elected?) kings and overkings did exist. Besides trade, Frisians were livestock farmers too. The Frisians on the Wadden Sea coast held mainly sheep and cows on the salt marshes. Some crop production maybe too, salt-resistant crops like flax. These crops were protected against the sea by low summer dikes.

So, the distinctive element out of the above is that Frisians were agrarians and sea traders. The season to sail and for trade was from spring to the end of summer. We may assume, the management of the farm was (partly) left to the women. It all was relevant for the social position of women. It would be going too far by saying women were equal to men. Not at all. But, they had big responsibilities, and steered the house and farm for months during the absence of their trading men overseas. Again, no child day care. Preparing the house for winter even. Several historians argue this laid the foundation for a strong(er) position of women compared to other surrounding cultures, or better, compared to southern Europe.

In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this history repeated itself on the Frisian Wadden Sea islands, notably in region Nordfriesland, when whaling had become an important economic activity. Nearly all adult men were at sea most of the year, and it was the women who took care of the farm and finance. Read our post Happy Hunting Grounds in the Arctic. In general you can say, early societies living at and from the sea, whether trade of fishing, inevitable led to temporarily 'separation' of men and women. This might have stimulated a more equal position of women and men. And, who knows, working at the unpredictable sea might have led to a relative higher mortality rate of men, matching that of women due to death in childbirth, which also might have stimulated a more equal position, reflected in the weregeld amounts as described earlier.

Around the ninth century, when Christianity was first introduced in Frisia, the new religion’s more liberal status for women, including marriage as a matter of consent, connected very well with the already existing cultural and legal position of the ‘sea-culture women’ of the North. A vast collection of late- and high-medieval law codices and legal texts of Frisia has been preserved. According to these laws, women had the right to divorce from her husband, and was free to choose the man she wanted. Also, women were legally entitled to inherit property and to invest in a business, or to personally run one.

Concerning doing business herself, a unmarried woman in high-medieval Frisia only could make a contract together with her guardian, called a mund in Old Frisian. Once married, her husband fulfilled the role of mund. However, widows without minor children did not need a mund. Widows with minor children had full parental authority over her children.

Eleventh/twelfth century codices, Oudere Schoutenrecht 'older law of judges' determined that a daughter cannot be forced into a marriage against her will. The bride received a dowry from her family called a birns or fletieve in Old Frisian language. From her husband she got a gift called mundsket because he would would be her mund 'guardian' from now on, and the so-called morning gift halsepund. The bride invested in the marriage with linen and tableware which remained also her personal property (Wiegand 2022).

The Frisian engagement ceremony concerning the custom of ‘knot cloths’ which still existed in the seventeenth century, fitted within these medieval traditions. In a small piece of cloth some coins were placed with a loosely knotted knot. This was offered with the proposal by the boy. If the girl accepted the money or gift, she drew the knot tighter, after which they were engaged. In the sixteenth century, the custom of a ‘knottekistje’ existed. A small case that contained silver pennies and money that was given to the girl with the offer of marriage. If she accepted, they were engaged. In short, show me the money, was what the Frisian girl demanded over the centuries.

Concerning jewellery, late-medieval women were literally draped with gold and silver. The sixteenth-century house book of the family Manninga from the area around Norden in region Ostfriesland has many illustrations how men and women were dressed. This amazing richness, of which contemporaries testify, were personal property of women. The jewels were an insurance for hard times, but also gave women more (economic) liberties. Jewellery was given down the maternal line, from mother to daughter to granddaughter et cetera. (Spiekhout 2022).

When looking at medieval monastery life in high-medieval Frisia, the Knights Hospitaller of Saint John had a strong presence, comparable with other regions in Europe during the period of the Crusades. Around the year 1300, there were more than twenty houses with a convent in Frisia. Interestingly, and totally different from the houses of the Knight Hospitaller of Saint John elsewhere in Europe, was that nearly all of the Saint John houses in Frisia were inhabited by women, mainly lay-sisters. These houses needed to be profitable, and thus the women must have been economic active within the community. The Saint John Order represented about a fourth of total of monastic houses in Frisia. The other three quarters of the houses and monasteries belonged to the orders of the Augustinians, of Saint Benedict, of the Cistercians, of the Premonstratensians, and a few to the Teutonic Order. Most of these monasteries were inhabited by women too, both choir nuns (or cloistered nuns) and lay-sisters.

Let's step back to the Early Middle Ages again. A beautiful ninth-century story has been preserved. It's about a women living in a Frisian colony in Birka in present-day southern Sweden. An old, Frisian woman, whose name was Frideburg, requested her daughter Catla to make the journey to the emporium of Dorestat in the river Rhine area of Frisia after her death, in order to distribute her fortune among the church and the poor. Her daughter did what was requested. She travelled all the way to Dorestat, present-day Wijk bij Duurstede in the Netherlands, and distributed the wealth of her mother (Lebecq 1992).

Another interesting story around 800 was that of Saint Ludger, when he was in Frisia to convert the people to Christendom. In the village Helewyret, present-day Helwerd in province Groningen, Saint Ludger met the beloved blind bard named Bernlef. Bernlef was introduced to Saint Ludger by a woman named Meinsuit. A mysterious woman. Who was she and why was it a woman who introduced Bernlef, and not a noble or a man of stature? A visit of an authority like Ludger was not your regular thing, those days. Want to know more about Meinsuit or the blind bard Bernlef, read our post One of history’s enlightening hikes, that of Bernlef.

To continue our argument, in common with the Anglo-Saxons, women played a vital role in preventing, stemming and ending conflicts between tribes in the Early Middle Ages. This because of the fact they often were married into rival kin-groups. During tensions or violence between groups, these women had a personal interest and natural strong position between the rivalling kin-groups to intermediate. This position is illustrated in the Old-English epic poem Beowulf. Queen Hildeburg, who was married to king Finn of Frisia, is the 'chief mourner' after her son was killed during the battle between her own Danish kin and the Frisians. Her deceased son, of course, being half Danish and half Frisian.

4. Conclusion

So, there you have it. Everything put together a modest case can be made of a historical, more independent position of women in Frisian society, being for a long time part of the medieval North Sea culture. A culture therefore partly inherited by the northern Dutch and northern Germans too. No reason to praise ourselves, by the way. There was probably no equality. Maybe the position of women can best be described with the Old-English Exeter Book poem Maxims I of around the year 1100. The poem tells about Frisian women taking care of everything at the farmstead while their men are at sea for months. But when their (smelly) men return these women assume a caring role.

Scip sceal genægled, scield ge-bundan, léoht linda bord, léof will-cuma, Frísan wífe, þonne flota standeþ; biþ his čéol cumen and hire čeorl to hám, ágen ǽt-giefa, and héo hine inn laðaþ, wæsceþ his wárig hrægl and him seleþ wæde níewe, lihþ him on lande þæs his lufu bǽdeþ. (Exeter Book – Maxims I)

Ships shall be nailed, shields bound, | of light linden-board, her love a welcome guest, | to a Frisian’s wife, when his floating ship stands docked; | His ship will come and her man comes home, | her own provider, and she will call him inside, | wash his worn clothes and wrap him in new robes, | lower to him, landed, what his love bids.

A similar role one can find (again) in the epic Beowulf how queens poured the mead in the cups of the warriors guests, and gave gifts to her warrior guests in the hall of her king.

early modern period

In the year 1517, the Italian Luigi d'Aragona travels north to learn from the northern cultures. He describes the women in the Low Countries as being generally tall and big, fair skinned, healthy and having a pinkish flush. Therefore, they do not need to use make-up. Luigi d'Aragona also thinks women in the Low Countries enjoy a remarkable level of freedom. They trade, keep accounts, and do everything what is needed to run a business. Often equal to men. 1517 is also the year that the Wurstfriesen, i.e. Frisians of Land Wursten, fight a battle against the bishop of Bremen. No less than 500 women take part in this battle, and the banner of the Wurstfriesen was carried by the young woman Tjede Peckes. See for more our post Jeanne d 'Arc an inspiration for Land Wursten.

Some time later, during the Dutch Republic, foreigners were still amazed how freely women in ‘Holland’ were, both physically to travel and economically. Yes, even disapproval by foreigners of the liberty women enjoyed in the seventeenth century. Marriage in the Republic, for example, was already based on partnership and mutual duties and responsibilities. Dutch women (still) had the legal right to marry with a prenuptial agreement. In contrast to English women, Dutch women could own property. They also inherited equal shares with male heirs. After marriage, they had equal share over the property. Women were also actively involved in economic activities, including international trade even (Venema 2003). And, it was the university of Franeker in province Friesland that already admitted female students at the start of the eighteenth century, whilst everywhere else in the Dutch Republic, and later the Netherlands, women had to wait until the year 1871 before they were allowed to go to College. England had fallen behind. Oxford allowed the first women in 1920.

However, there was also a clear downside. Although women had their own honour independent of a husband, and enjoyed relatively more economic and social freedom in the Dutch Republic, their vulnerability was greater too. Because their marriage age was relatively late when compared to southern European countries, women had to take care of themselves longer, and there were less safety nets when young women became orphan or widow. Read our posts Harbours, Hookers, Heroines and Women in Masquerade and Yet another wayward archipelago for a much more elaborate story on these social aspects.

To finish our argument with an artistic and happy note, it was the famous painter Picasso who visited region Westfriesland, and who was impressed by the women of ‘Holland’. Also, how tall they were. Surprise surprise, he might even have had an affair with one. And, judge for yourself. Appear the three women below as painted by Picasso, to be of the obedient kind?

women of West Friesland Picasso
Les Trois Hollandaises, Picasso, 1905

5. Epilogue

Before we round up; who were the other three women whose images we presented at the start of this post?

Sjoukje Maria Diderika Bokma de Boer (1860-1939) born in Nes (island of Ameland, province Friesland, the Netherlands) better known as Nienke van Hichtum. She was married to the famous Frisian socialist politician Pieter Jelles Troelstra. Actually, that was not her biggest achievement. She herself was a prominent socialist, advocated for the Frisian language, and above all was a famous writer. Her children book ‘Afke’s Tiental’ (translated: Afke’s Ten, 1902) has made her famous till this very day.

Recha Schweitzer (1892-1984) born in Norden (region Ostfriesland, Germany). She was a strong and important advocate of Jewish diaspora rights, already before the Second World War. With her organization Youth Aliyah she saved thousands of young Jewish lives during the war. She fled to Israel in 1941. Later in life she supported the Jewish opera. In 1981, she received the Israel Prize, finally.

Margaretha Geertruida Zelle (1876-1917) from Leeuwarden (province Friesland, the Netherlands) and better known as Mata Hari. She was not an idealist or activist and Recha Schweitzer might have had her thoughts about her. Nevertheless, Margaretha was a remarkable independent woman. An exotic dancer, a courtesan, beautiful, free and wild. And, sentenced to death for spying for the Germans. In 1910, she was shot by the French. To this day, her life and personality is intriguing. As it was, for example, for the famous American Hollywood actor David Carradine in the ’70s. If you want to know more, read the posts of Hanneke Boonstra about Mata Hari.

What about Saksia Holleman? The naked woman with the cow? Well, she was not even aware of the fact the political party PSP stole her picture and that they used it for their general election campaign. As socialists, why should they? She saw the pamphlets, she sued, she won. After that, the hippie she was, she appeared naked again in the musical Hair in the '70s, played a role in a soft porn movie Wet Dreams, and performed as a dancer in the Sleeswijk Revue of the Dutch theater producer René Sleeswijk. She even played in the first movie of Martin Scorsese: Who's that knocking on my door/I call first. In this movie, she appeared in an erotic dream of Harvey Keitel. Find here the link to the erotic fragment of this movie, so '70s. All in all, a life very comparable with her fellow-citizen Mata Hari a century before.

Saskia Holleman on the day of the shoot, near Nootdorp – 1971

Eventually, in 1979, Saskia stopped following Mata Hari’s footsteps, and followed those of the old Frisian god Foseti. Indeed, she became a lawyer. Boring, boring. In 2013 she died, sixty-eight years young.

Have fun walking the endless grasslands of the Frisia Coast Trail, and do pay respect to its strong and tall women.


Note 1 - All the publicity surrounding Mata Hari in the Netherlands in 2017 triggered this post, thanks to writer Shipman. Her book about the life of Mata Hari was published this year in the Dutch language.

Note 2 – Average height of the tall women living in the north is 1.72 meters. See our post Giants of Twilight Land.

Note 3 - The political party PSP (Pacifistisch Socialistische Partij) dissolved in 1991 into the new political party GroenLinks 'green left'. With the provincial elections of 2023, Groenlinks and the political party Partij van de Arbeid 'socialist party'. And so castles made of sand, slip into the sea, eventually...

Suggested music

Cher & Raquel Welch, I'm a Woman (1975)

Whitesnake, She's a Woman (1980)

Further reading

Beerekamp, H., Saskia Holleman (2013)

Bosman, A.V.A.J., Rome aan de Noordzee. Burgers en barbaren te Velsen (2016)

Delantly, G. & Matto, M. (eds.), The Word Exchange. Anglo-Saxon poems in translation; Maxims I (2011)

Fryskednis, Saved from the Flood - Oera Linda studies (2019)

Haan, de P. & Huisman, K., Gevierde Friezen in Amerika (2009)

Heeren, S. & Willemsen, A. (eds.), Fibula’s. Vondsten, vormen & mode (2017)

Heerma van Voss, L., Michael Pye’s The Edge of the World. Een succesvolle, maar mislukte geschiedenis van de Noordzee (2016)

Israel, J., The Dutch Republic. Its Rise, Greatness and Fall (1995)

Jensma, G., Het Oera Linda-boek (2022)

Kloek, E., 1001 vrouwen in de 20ste eeuw (2018)

Kloek, E., 1001 vrouwen uit de Nederlandse geschiedenis (2013)

Lebecq, S., The Frisian trade in the Dark Ages; a Frisian or Frankish/Frisian trade? (1992)

Leyser, H., A short history of the Anglo-Saxons (2017)

Meijer, S., Aletta Jacobs & andere voorvechters van vrouwenrechten in Oost-Groningen (2021)

Mol, J.A., Vechten, bidden en verplegen. Opstellen over de ridderorden in de Noordelijke Nederlanden (2011)

Nieuwenhuijsen, K., Lex Frisionum. Inleiding (2010)

Nieuwhof, A., Identiteit en samenleving: terpen en wierden in de wijd wereld (2018)

Nijdam, H., A Comparison of the Injury Tariffs in the Early Kentish and the Frisian Law Codes (2014)

Pye, M., The edge of the world. How the North Sea made us who we are; chapter 10. (2015)

Roos, de J., Holleman, Saskia Maria (1945-2013), Digitaal Vrouwenlexicon van Nederland (2018)

Shipman, P., Femme Fatale. Love, Lies and the unknown life of Mata Hari (2007)

Siems, H., Studien zur Lex Frisionum (1980)

Sijens, D., Fryske bewegers: Trui Jentink. Altyd in rebel (2021)

Spiekhout, D., Brugge, ter A. & Stoter, M.(eds), Vrijheid, Vetes, Vagevuur. De middeleeuwen in het noorden; Wiegand, M., Vrije Friezinnen? Vrouwen in middeleeuws Friesland; Spiekhout, D., De pracht van middeleeuws Friese dracht (2022)

Steensen, T., Die Friesen. Menschen am Meer (2020)

Tuuk, van der L., De eerste Gouden Eeuw. Handel en scheepvaart in de vroege middeleeuwen (2011)

Tuuk, van der L., De Friezen. De vroegste geschiedenis van het Nederlandse kustgebied (2013)

Tuuk, van der L., Lof en Laster. Vrouwen in de vroege middeleeuwen (2019)

Tuuk, van der L., Radbod. Koning in twee werelden (2018)

Tuuk, van der L. & Mijderwijk, L., De Middeleeuwers. Mannen en vrouwen uit de Lage Landen, 450-900 (2020)

UUden, van C., Sheherazade van ‘t Neevlig Noorden. Nine van der Schaaf (1882-1973) (2021)

Venema, J., Beverwijck. A Dutch Village on the American Frontier, 1652-1664 (2003)

Walle, de H., Bouwina Meindertsma, de onverschrokkene (2024)

Weij, van der A., Deabus et Dis Communibus. Thesis on the religious identity of auxiliary on the northern frontier of Roman Britain (2017)

Willemsen, A., Gouden Middeleeuwen. Nederland in de Merovingische wereld, 400-700 na chr. (2015)

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