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09 March 2011

Machiel Van Antwerpen. (1719 - 1781) maid, seamstress, soldier.

Maria Van Antwerpen was raised Catholic in Breda, the seventh child and second daughter of a brandy distiller, who in later years worked on the docks. Maria was orphaned at age 13. Two years later a great fire destroyed 90 per cent of the city. Maria worked as a maidservant until 1746 when she was dismissed for visiting her family for Christmas.

Afraid of becoming a prostitute, she became Jan van Ant, and enlisted as a soldier, and shortly afterwards he married the daughter of his sergeant. However he was billeted in Breda in 1751 and recognized, initially by a child, and arrested.

The trial was much reported, a song was written about her, and Franciscus Lievens Kersteman wrote up an autobiography of Van Antwerpen. Maria was banished from Brabant and Limburg and all garrison towns. She moved to Rotterdam and then to Gouda, making a living as a seamstress.

In 1762 Maria having met Cornelia Swartsenberg who was unmarried and pregnant, and became Machiel van Antwerpen. Machiel again enlisted, this time in Zwolle and married her. The first child was stillborn. They moved to Amsterdam, where Machiel became a soldier working for the city. A second child, a son was baptised with Machiel as the father, but died after seven weeks.

On a trip to Gouda in 1769 he was recognized and charged with 'mocking holy and human laws concerning marriage'. Cornelia managed to escape. The resulting interrogation, spread across five hearings resulted in 43 folio pages of text, and makes Machiel one of the best documented working-class persons of the eighteenth century. He said of himself: "‘ik ben in de natuur een manspersoon, maar uiterlijk een vrouwspersoon (I am a male by nature, but a woman externally)".

As Maria he was banished to exile in Holland and West Friesland, and disappeared from history other than we know that she died, back in Breda, in 1781, the year that the city was captured by Spanish and Flemish troops.
  • Maria Van Antwerpen & Franciscus Lievens Kersteman. De Bredasche Heldinne ('The Heroine of Breda'). 1751
  • Rudolf M Dekker and Lotte C. van de Pol. Dekker. Vrouwen in mannenkleren: de geschiedenis van de vrouwelijke travestie. Rainbow pocketboeken, 134. Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Maarten Muntinga, 1989. Amsterdam: Muntinga, 1992. Translated by Judy Marcure and Lotte Van de Pol, with a Foreword by Peter Burke. The Tradition of Female Transvestism in Early Modern Europe. Basingstoke, Hampshire : Macmillan Press, New York : St. Martin's Press, 1989. p1,3-4,11,18,23-6,44,63-9,78-9,82-4,86,89,92-3,96-7,110.
  • "Antwerpen, Maria Van". Huygens Ing, 07/04/2009.

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