A Brief History of the ‘Trou Moet Blycken’ Association in Haarlem

The history of ‘Trou Moet Blycken’ - which means fidelity must be shown or loyalty on proof - fades into the shades of the fifteenth century.

Nobody knows exactly when it was established but old documents make it absolutely certain that the fraternity already existed in 1503, so for practical reasons that year is taken as the year of birth. Originally the club was a ‘chamber of rhetoric’, a kind of society for practising literature, lyrics and drama, according to strict rules. The heyday of the chambers of rhetoric was in the second half of the fifteenth and the first half of the sixteenth centuries. A chamber renowned for its rhetorical skills was an asset to its city or town.

Tournaments where a number of chambers would compete were organised from time to time. In 1606 ‘Trou Moet Blycken’ hosted such an event for fourteen other fraternities whose blazons still decorate the club’s premises. 

Even before the start of the Dutch Revolt against Spain (1568-1648) the Spanish king Philip II had banned all literary productions that might offend orthodox religious feelings or the clergy. In 1568 one of the members of Trou who had been found guilty of trespassing was put to death.

When the Earl of Leicester, who had been sent by Elizabeth I to help the Dutch, visited Haarlem in 1586 Trou put together ‘tableaux vivants’ portraying the Duke of Alva’s reign of terror in The Netherlands. 

When the Northern Netherlands converted to Protestantism, Calvinist fundamentalists often clashed with the chambers of rhetoric whose liberal frivolities they vehemently condemned. But in 1606 the municipal authorities of Haarlem gave generous financial support to the tournament mentioned above. A lottery was also held to raise funds for the establishment of an old men’s home, the present-day Frans Hals museum.

In the second half of the seventeenth century the association underwent a metamorphosis to become a gentlemen’s club. Towards the end of the eighteenth century many members participated in the anti-Orangist Patriot movement which adopted the ideas of the Enlightenment.

The movement was suppressed in 1787 by Prussian troops whose help had been summoned by Wilhelmina of Prussia, the wife of Stadholder William V. The Patriots fled or went underground. They rose to power when the French conquered Holland in 1795. When the French came they were hailed by many as liberators. When they went away in 1813 the ‘Factor’ (poet) of Trou celebrated their leaving the country and the arrival of the former Stadholder’s son as a great liberation.

During the German occupation (1940-1945) the club provided a refuge for its members where they could exchange and read the writings of the underground press.
Quite a few were imprisoned as hostages or for other reasons. Scrutinous ballotage procedures helped in avoiding the proposal of pro-German persons as members. 

Besides its premises in the centre of Haarlem, the fraternity had from 1840 to 1922 an out-of-town annexe in a wooded park one mile to the South of the city. Ladies were admitted here although some members consented only grudgingly to this modernist whim. When the annexe was abandonned in 1922 this daring intermingling of the sexes came to an end but the club still celebrates its ladies’ nigths from time to time.

Some of the traditions from the old days of the chambers of rhetoric still survive, for example in the extravagant names of the members of the Committee, the president being called ‘Emperor’, as well as in the personage of the ‘Factor’.

The latter has to produce two poems in his year of office: one to add lustre to the annual dinner on the name day of Catherine of Alexandria, the club’s patron saint; the other is read to the brotherhood on the evening of January 1st, when they assemble to hear the Factor’s review of the past year. 

On official occasions the ‘knegt’ (servant) is in green tails, wearing a deep-red velvet shoulderbelt from which hang the silver shields brought to Haarlem by the visiting chambers in 1606.

Following the successful celebrations around the quincentenary in 2003, after a pause of some 350 years the brotherhood resumed its theatrical activities. Recently, a play and tableaux vivants were produced, the latter also for a public performance. There is plenty of amateur musicians amongst the membership, amusing both lovers of classical music and jazz fans at a recent event.

The present club building, an eighteenth century patrician mansion, was acquired in 1922. Two huge pelicans (the club’s symbol) crown its facade. In 1978 a cosy but acoustically disastrous little bar was built in the basement. The caricatures of nineteenth century members which decorate its walls are noteworthy. They were made by Pim Mulier who was a man of many gifts: journalist, painter, drawer and writer of short stories, as well as a great promotor of sports such as soccer, cricket, tennis, baseball and long-distance skating. 

On foggy days the open fire in the front room heightens the spirits of the brothers who are one in their wish to give Trou the true atmosphere of a good club. As Anthony Lejeune puts it in his treatise on the gentlemen’s clubs of London ‘a good club is more than a mere catering establishment. It should be a refuge from the vulgarity of the outside world, a reassuringly fixed point, the echo of a more civilised way of living, a place where (...) people still prefer a silver saltcellar which doesn’t pour to a plastic one which does’. 

Frans Limburg