Maria Duyst van Voorhout

neighbor as a child and his life-long friend
Birth or Baptism date: 
January 22, 1662
Death or Burial date: 
April 26, 1754

Maria Duyst van Voorhout was born on the Oude Delft gracht about 100 meters from Leeuwenhoek's house on the Nieuwe Delft gracht. Her family was one of the richest and most prominent in Delft. Her father, grandfathers, and uncles were mayors, magistrates, and other town officials. Her mother died when she was very young. Her father died when she was 12. She had one sister, who died at 21.

When her father died, she moved into her grandmother's house, one of the largest in town. It was across the gracht from Leeuwenhoek's house, close enough that someone in front of Leeuwenhoek's house could carry on a conversation with someone in front of Maria's house and they would hardly have to raise their voices. That building was later the post office and is now a restaurant and some shops.

Maria was born in 1662, so she was 30 years younger than Leeuwenhoek. She was six years younger than Leeuwenhoek's daughter Maria. While Maria Duyst was a teenager in the late 1670's, the crazy guy across the gracht became the most famous person in Delft. Kings and queens came to visit him and look through his lenses.

Maria Duyst developed an interest in science. She married at 19 to a rich man from Leiden, Dirk van Hoogeveen, about ten years older, who died a year and a half later. A couple of years after that, she married Frederik Adriaan van Reede van Renswoude, from Utrecht, only a couple of years older. Maria's grandmother was appalled and changed her will so that Maria could not use her inheritance as long as she was married to Frederik Adriaan.

Maria was the last member of her family and eventually got it all, plus her husband's estates.

When she died in 1754 at age 91, Maria Duyst van Voorhout van Reede van Renswoude van Emmickhuysen en Bornewal was one of the richest people in the Republic, with a fortune of more than 2 million guilders. Few individuals (as opposed to families) in the history of humanity who weren't royalty had ever been so rich.

Her biographers all remark on her interest in science. They say she had a "levendig briefwisseling" with Leeuwenhoek, a lively exchange of letters. As best I can tell, none of their letters have survived.

Leeuwenhoek and Maria Duyst were distantly related by his second marriage. In 1671, notary Roland van Edenburgh wrote up the conditions for the recent marriage of Leeuwenhoek to Cornelia Swalmius (ONA inv 2244 fol 73 15-10-1671). The document specified that Johan Duyst van Voorhout (Maria’s grandfather) be appointed the guardian of any children in the event of Cornelia’s death. (Note: a Johan Duyst van Voorhout died in 1666).

Johan was a son of Hendrick Duyst van Voorhout en Margaretha Dircksdr. Uttenbroek, in that way related to Cornelia, who was the daughter of Johannes Swalmius and Grietje Uyttenbrouck.

Thus, Maria Duyst was the granddaughter of the (dead?) man appointed guardian of the children Cornelia never had who was himself son of Cornelia's [great aunt ??], also an Uttenbroek.

At the time of the birth of their daughter Johanna Maria, who was baptized on February 24, 1686 in the Domkerk in Utrecht, the couple lived at Achter Sint Pieter 4 in Utrecht. ... In April 1687 the family lived on the Hyppolitusbuurt in Delft. On April 19, 1687, Johanna Maria was buried out of this house in Delft. Source:

In December 1693, Leeuwenhoek rented one of the towers in Delft's wall and began a very productive period. In June 1694, Leeuwenhoek's second wife died after a long illness. He began writing a new letter full of scientific observations about twice a month. In 1696, the fifth volume of his collected letters was dedicated to Maria's husband. In flowery and not so grammatical Dutch, Leeuwenhoek referred to the many times he visited the estate at Renswoude (photo on right; click to enlarge) and the great time he had there. No mention of Frederik Adriaan's wife, but Leeuwenhoek uses "schaamtens". Schaamte means shame and in some contexts bashful or embarrassed, but the schaamtens form is not in any dictionary, even those from the 17th century. If it means "little shameful moments" or "embarrassing moments" which seems to work grammatically, what is Leeuwenhoek referring to? His own feelings? Some faux pas he committed? Why is he recalling it for publication?

During this period, Leeuwenhoek wrote a dozen letters to Frederik Adriaan. None mentions Maria.

I have found about a dozen legal documents with her name on them. Several of them also have the name of a lawyer, Paul Durven. When Leeuwenhoek rented the tower in 1693, Duven's name was on that, too. Durven's daughter Geertruijt had two kids in the mid-1690's [check date]. She named one Maria and the other Frederik Adriaan.

Maria began a salon in den Haag, where she and Frederik Adriaan lived, dedicated to the discussion of science.

Frederik Adriaan was a notorious homosexual and finally got arrested (after Leeuwenhoek’s death) in his hometown of Utrecht during a period when homosexuals were blamed for bringing God's wrath upon the Dutch Republic. Perhaps that's why Maria's grandmother didn't like him. It didn't seem to matter to Leeuwenhoek.

At the time, the most common punishment for almost everything short of murder was banning. The criminal would get some public humiliation, such as a whipping, and then be banned from the city or province or even the whole country for years or for life. Homosexuality was a category by itself. Wikipedia's Utrecht Sodomy Trials:

In Utrecht, some forty men were tried, of whom 18 were convicted and strangled. Other punishments included hanging and drowning in a barrel of water. The convicts' remains were either burnt, cast into the sea or buried under the gallows.

Frederik Adriaan escaped punishment by escaping (banning himself) to his ancestral estate, Renswoude, where he was Lord and beyond punishment. The portrait of Frederik Adriaan, given this context, is interesting.

After Leeuwenhoek's daughter died, Maria bought two lots of his microscopes at auction in 1647.

At about the same time, Maria established a foundation with three schools, one in Utrecht, one in Delft, and one in den Haag. They were dedicated to providing poor young men with training in scientific techniques, poor young boys just like Leeuwenhoek.