Jacoba's Jug

By drs. Jeroen ter Brugge, 10 february 2011.

"Dit’s vrouw Jakobaas kannetje gelooft, die hier maar eens uyt dronk; smeet het dan over ’t  hooft in de vyver dat het sonck."

(This is believed to be Lady Jacoba’s jug, that she drank from but once; then she tossed it over her head into the pond where it sank)

This is the text engraved on the rim of a silver lid that in the seventeenth century was  probably mounted on a ‘Jacoba’s jug’; the text encircles a depiction of a woman   (Jacoba?) drinking with a jug at her mouth. It is an intriguing object that we know fromNederlands Displegtigheden [Dutch table manners](Rotterdam 1732-1735), the well-known book on drinking habits and drinking vessels by Cornelius van Alkemade and Peter van der Schelling. Today Jacoba’s jug is still a term used by archaeologists, antiques experts and museums. The name is connected to a persistent myth that at the end of her life Jacoba of Bavaria, countess of Henegouwen, Holland and Zeeland, in a tower room of castle Teilingen drowned her loneliness and sorrows, tossing the empty vessels out of the window. The great number of jugs found during excavations in the seventeenth century required an explanation. It was quickly concluded that that these jugs must have had something to do with Countess Jacoba who lived there from 1433 to her death in 1436. The critical use of sources was in its infancy and imagination ran riot: according to some, Jacoba even made the jugs herself. As early as the late eighteenth century there were cautious voices raised, arguing that the association between the countess and the jug should be dropped, but even today the story is trotted out on every occasion. It fits very well into the picture of the restless and naive female ruler who had thrown away her chances, and could not stand up to the powerful forces surrounding her, such as her cousin, Philip of Burgundy and her uncle, John of Bavaria. There was indeed a close parallel with the position of the young Dutch Republic in the seventeenth century, amid such great powers as France, Spain and England. Now we know better.

jacobakanThe ceramic form we know as Jacoba’s jug stems from the time before the countess was born and the (tertiary) clay from which it was made is not to be found in Holland. It appears that the many Jacoba’s jugs found since the seventeenth century come from the German stoneware centre Siegburg, from whence crockery was exported to other countries, including the Netherlands . This fine clay lends itself to thrown pottery and to modelling, giving good results, and it can be fired at a much higher temperature than the quartiary clay of the Netherlands. Due to the high firing temperature the material fuses, as it were, so that the jugs, bowls and dishes are non-porous and do not have to be glazed. This sort of ceramics is known as stoneware due to its hardness and its impermeablity to liquids. Although there were other active centres of stoneware production, the Jacoba’s jug is a typical Siegburg product. The form is immediately recognisable, and that will have contributed to the perpetuation of the name Jacoba’s jug. However, that this name was unjustified did not lead to it being changed in the course of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The slender jug in various shades of yellow, with loop handle, pinched foot and rilled neck and body, almost without exception in specialist literature is called a Jacoba’s jug. It is notable that this name is used not just in Dutch language publications but in those of other languages. The term is still used in both academic works and those for a broader public. In almost every archaeological excavation in which fourteenth and fifteenth century artefacts are found, entire Jacoba’s jugs or shards of them come to light, so it would appear that they were widely distributed in Netherlands.

The oldest known mention of Jacoba’s jug dates from the middle of the seventeenth century. In his Batavische Arkadia [Batavian Arcadia] (Amsterdam 1636) Johan van Heemskerk mentions the jug in his description of the counts and countesses of Holland. At the end of her life in Teilingen he says that the countess, suffering from heartache, past her time by ‘somtyds … een Conyntjen te vangen…’, but also by ‘… zomtyds … een kannetjen uit te drinken, en over haar hoofd in de vyver te werpen…die nu nog by wylen aldaar gevonden wezende, na haren naam Vrouw Jacobaes kruikjes genoemt weden…’ (‘sometimes… catching a rabbit..’ but also ‘sometimes drinking a jug empty, and tossing it over her head into the pond… those that are now still found there, are called Lady Jacoba’s jugs after her’). A year later Mattijs van der Houve in his Hantvest of Chartre Chronyk [Charter Chronicle] (Leiden 1636) also brought the jugs into connection with  Jacoba:

‘…daer de Gravinne Vrou Jacoba uyt plach te drincken, sommige heel als oftse nieu waren, sommighe wat ghebroocken, die noch op het huys te Roosen-burgh bewaert worden

(‘there the Lady Countess Jacoba was wont to drink, some whole as if they were new, some broken that are still preserved in the residence at Roosenburg’)

From that time the term Jacoba’s jug has appeared in all sorts of publications. Well-known antiquarians of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries such as Adriaan Pars, Henrik Cannegieter and Gerard van Hasselt considered Jacoba’s jugs in their publications. Pars (Catti Aborigines Batavorum, Leiden 1697) went as far as manipulating history in favour of the Jacoba legend. He posited that because Jacoba’s jugs were found in excavations at Huis ’t Sand close to Katwijk, the countess must also have lived there. This resulted in criticism from Cornelius van Alkemade, who in a somewhat sarcastic letter made short work of this statement ‘Ik heb er gezien die 6 a 8 voet onder de aarde in ’t  afzanden van de Klingeduinen buiten den Haag gevonden zyn, als ook Hertehoornen: dog hoe ze daar komen daar vallen al veele zoete bedenkingen op. Zoo dit al Jakoba raakte, zou ze daarom onder de duinen in ’t Zand gewoond en horens gedragen of gebruikt hebben?’ (‘I have seen them buried 6-8 feet in the sand of Klingeduin outside the Hague, and also in Herthoornen: how they came to be there gives rise to all sorts of wild ideas. If they are all connected to Jacoba, did she then live under the dunes in ’t Zand and either used or wore horns?). Cannegieter (Eerste brief over byzondere Nederlandsche Oudheden, [First letter on unusual Dutch antiquities] Arnhem 1757) also goes too far in his interpretation. He is of the opinion that that the jugs are originally Roman and served as urns (‘lijkbussen’ [corpse boxes]) and were later in the Middle Ages used as drinking vessels. Van Hasselt’s Over Vrouw Jacoba’s Kannetjes, [On Lady Jacoba’s jugs] Amsterdam 1780) was the first attempt to deal seriously with the subject and came very close to the correct interpretation. The antiquarian and lawyer from Arnhem rejected the earlier, suggestions of the domestic origin and the association with Teilingen, and thereby also the association with Jacoba. Various nineteenth century authors, including G.D.J. Schotel and J. Craandijk, took up the subject and with new finds and interpretations tried to modify the story, but the Jacoba myth appears to be too strong: even today guided tours of castles and at medieval fairs and events it is brought up as story to whet the appetite – and naturally it is a gripping piece of history, even if false, and is worth mentioning and contributes to the historiography of archaeology.


Alkemade, K van en P. van der Schelling, Nederlands Displegtigheden, vertoonende de plegtige gebruiken aan den dis, etc., Rotterdam 1732-1735, Vol. 2, p. 466-.

Brugge, J.P. ter ‘Jakoba’s Kruikjes. De historiografie van de gelijknamige Siegburg-kan., in: D. Kicken, A.M. Koldeweij en J.R. ter Molen; ‘Gevonden Voorwerpen/Lost and Found. Opstellen over middeleeuwse Archeologie voor/ Essays on medieval Archaeology for H.J.E. van Beuningen’, Rotterdam 2000, pp. 62-72.

Cannegieter, H., Eerste brief over byzondere Nederlandsche Oudheden, Arnhem 1757.

Craandijk, J., Wandelingen door Nederland’, Haarlem 1885.

Hasselt, G. van, Over Vrouw Jacoba’s Kannetjes, Amsterdam 1780.

Heemskerk, J. van, Batavische Arcadia, Amsterdam 1637.

Houve, M. van der, Hantvest of Chartre Chronyk, etc., Leiden 1636.

Janse, A., Een pion voor een dame; Jacoba van Beieren (1401-1436), Amsterdam 2009.

Pars, A., Catti Aborigines Batavorum, Leiden 1697.

Schotel, G.D.J. ‘Iets over het Slot Teilingen en de bezigheden van Jacoba van Beijeren

op hetzelve, in: Hollandsche Magazijn van letteren, wetenschappen en kunsten,

Amsterdam 1832, p. 289-318.

Schotel, G.D.J. ‘Vrouw Jacoba Kannetjes’ in: De Oude Tijd, Haarlem 1869.