Stories from the past: Brienne chest in the press

On Sunday 16 February, we celebrated the results of five years of international scientific research on the letters of the Brienne chest at Sound and Vision The Hague.

As a media museum, we were particularly interested in the presentation by David van der Linden. He spoke in the press about the 17th century. “Back then, envelopes didn’t exist. Letters were folded to look like envelopes and then be posted. There were hundreds of thousands of different ways to do this. If you open the letter, you destroy the seal.”

Banned books

The Hague was the centre of international politics and the publishing world. Van der Linden has researched how people used to gain news. Dutch newspaper, Trouw published an article on his research: “Many letters to publishers included lists of banned books. They were subsequently smuggled to France.”

Another Dutch newspaper Algemeen Dagblad also published an article on the special chest:
“Normally, items were safely stored in the depot. This is where the letters of people who lived here 300 years ago remained. After extensive research, these people have now been given a voice. What can they tell us?

,,The letters include harrowing stories. About a wife who wrote her husband to tell him she was pregnant. Or someone who wanted their bastard child to be included in their last will and testament,” dr. Nadine Akkerman, researcher at Leiden University, explains.

‘Piggy bank’

The chest was Simon de Brienne’s ‘piggy bank’. He hoped that someday he would make money with it. The letters reveal that The Hague was the centre of prohibited best sellers. Books that were illegal in France, were printed in La Haye. The letters are available on the website, or visit the virtual exhibition.

Dutch Radio 2, the evening news NOS journaal and news for children Jeugdjournaal all featured news items on the Brienne chest. 

We are working hard to create a new museum setup. The focus will remain on journalism. As soon as we have outlined the new concept, we will know whether the Brienne chest will remain in the permanent collection. Until then, the chest and letters will be stored in the depot. In September, the museum will be open to the general public again. Check the website for updates or contact us to make a group appointment.