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. At 19, she married a rich man from Leiden, Dirk van Hoogeveen, about ten years older, who died a year and a half later, on 17 July 1683.

The following summer, on 27 July 1684, Christiaan Huygens gossiped about her in a letter to his brother Constantyijn Huygens.

Je ne vous escris point les nouuelles d'icy. Je scay que vous n'ignorez point celle de l'echapade de madle Schotte qui fait le plus de bruit. Vous aurez aussi appris la mort de Mr. Nierop. mais non pas peut estre encore celle de Mr. Geelvinck frere du deffunt Mary de la Cousine Becker. Il faisoit l'amour dit on a Madle Duyst vefve de Hogheveen et avoit pour rival le frere de Madle de Bie.

I do not write you the news here. I can see that you are not ignorant of that of Mademoiselle Schotte's escapade, which makes the most noise. You will also have learned about the death of Mr. Nierop but not perhaps that of Mr. Geelvinck, brother of the deffunt Mary of Cousin Becker. He made love, said he had Mademoiselle Duyst widow of Hogheveen, and had as his rival the brother of Mademoiselle de Bie.

In 1685, Jan van Haensbergen painted the portrait of Maria below with a close-up on the right (click to enlarge). That summer, Maria Duyst married Frederik Adriaan van Reede van Renswoude, from Utrecht, only a couple of years older. Maria's grandmother Geertruijt Vrancken van der Burch was appalled and changed her will so that Maria could not use her inheritance as long as she was married to Frederik Adriaan. He did not have as much money as he needed to maintain his flamboyant lifestyle and thus might squander Maria's. Not only that, he was an Orangist; she favored the opposition Dutch States Party (Staatsgezinde partij).

On April 24, 1689, Constantijn Huygens, junior, wrote in his journal, Dijckvelt prees de jongen Rhijnswoude seer, en beklaeghde hem seer over 't ghene hij van sijn vrouw most lijden, die hem dickwils begon te querelleren, eer hij se ter deegh gekust had. (Dijckvelt highly praised the young Rhijnswoude, who complained very much about what he had to suffer from his wife, who began to quarrel him before he had kissed her.)

Maria's biographers, Marian Langenbach being the most detailed in Een eigenzinnige dame, all remark on her interest in science. The word eigenzinnige means both eccentric and obstinate, both of which Maria had the money and status to afford. Some sources say that Maria Duyst 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. Johan's house on the Hippolytusbuurt had previously been owned by Dirck Jans Utenbrouck, Cornelia Swalmius' great grandfather ( -1596).

Thus, Maria Duyst was the granddaughter of the 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. Johanna Maria was born eight months after the marriage. 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 used the word 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 was 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 mentioned Maria. Maria began a salon in den Haag, where she and Frederik Adriaan lived, dedicated to the discussion of science. In 1647, Maria bought two lots of his microscopes at auction.

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

In her will, Maria left 1.5 million guilders to establish a foundation with three schools, one in Utrecht, one in Delft, and one in den Haag. They were dedicated to providing poor young boys with training in scientific techniques, poor young boys just like her friend Antony van Leeuwenhoek.

Paul Durven

I have found about a dozen legal documents with Maria's name on them. Several of them also have the name of a lawyer, Paul Durven. When Maria's grandmother's died in 1686, Paul Durven was named the executor of her estate, which Maria could not receive until after her husband Adriaan's death. When Leeuwenhoek rented the tower in 1693, Duven's name was on that document, too. Durven's daughter Geertruijt had two children in the mid-1690's [check date]. She named one Maria and the other Frederik Adriaan. Durven's family, along with the Groenewegen family, were named in a secret codicil to the will of Maria's grandmother, opened only after Maria's death, that led members of the two families to contest the will. They ended up settling for 300,000 gulden, leaving the 1.5 million for the foundation. Lagenbach's Eenzinnige dame has a detailed discussion of the contested will.

Frederik Adriaan

In addition to being an influential nobleman and politician, 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.