Snakes in the Dutch Golden Age: The Notes of Ernst Brinck In the early seventeenth century Dr. Ernst Brinck, mayor of Harderwijk (1582-1649), compiled notes on ‘four-legged’ animals, including snakes and insects. This article discusses his remarks on the ‘snakes’ and ‘adders’ found in the Dutch Republic and neighboring Germany. Information on other herpetofauna are given in a separate text box. Brinck’s comments are a mixture of folk belief and - rather accurate - eyewitness testimonies. He mentions that common European adders (Vipera berus) are oviparous, and provides a description of the eggs found in a pregnant female snake (probably a grass snake, Natrix helvetica) killed by a friend of his. The mayor also refers to the skin of a particularly large ‘adder’ caught near Münster, which he kept in his cabinet. This could have been an Aesculapian snake (Zamenis longissimus). His observation that peasants bury the body part of people and livestock bitten by adders in the soil for a few days to make the poison leave the body is noteworthy. Brinck believed that adder tongues were ‘hard and stony’, and that snakes love drinking milk. His claim that adders were absent in the province of Holland may be accurate. Other historical sources suggest, however, that the geographical range of the adder was much larger in the late medieval and early modern period. Brinck refers to toadstones and mentions seeing European tree frogs (Hyla arborea) in Germany. He provides a detailed description of the sand lizard (Lacerta agilis). ‘Het is etlichemalen op Veluwen gebeurt, dat huijßluijden int’ veldt adderen aengetroffen hebbende, ende met de schuppe haer wat tergende, sij so fell met haer tonge tegen de schuppe aen geslagen hebben, dat het vuijr vuijt de schuppe gevlogen is.’ Op deze manier beschrijft Dr. Ernst Brinck (1582-1649), burgemeester van Harderwijk, agressieve ontmoetingen tussen adders en Veluwse boeren. Het is slechts één van vele aantekeningen in zijn notitieboekje over ‘viervoetige dieren’, waartoe hij ook slangen en insecten rekende. Deze aantekeningen zijn gebaseerd op eigen ervaringen of die van ooggetuigen, maar vaak ook doorspekt met vormen van bijgeloof.

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S. Govaerts, & R. Lenders. (2023). Slangen in de Gouden Eeuw: de notities van Ernst Brinck. RAVON, 25(3), 40–43.
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