Shot In Her Coffin: Lady Van Dorth

On May 7th 1747, Johanna Magdalena Catharina Judith Van Dorth was baptized in the small church of a village named Warnsveld, in the east of the Netherlands. She died in 1799 after a most remarkable life, after literally being shot in the coffin that became her final resting place.

There is not much certainty about Johanna’s early life, however, it seems that after she turned thirteen she attended boarding school. At a young age, she developed a doubtful reputation. Judith never married, although she dabbled in shameful affairs. In 1766, the young noble woman embarked on a forbidden affair with Engelbert Crookceus, a lawyer and a friend of the family. Her parents forbade her to see him, but she escaped her house at night to see her lover.

Van Dorth Coat of ArmsThe respectful Van Dorth Family Coat of Arms, which Johanna tarnished


There were constant fights with her parents about her indecent behavior. Her parents eventually had enough; they had her locked away in a house for naughty, young women and she lost her inheritance.

But it was certainly not this particular episode which led to her death…let’s just say, this lady was out of control!

During her life, the French Revolution took place, and threatened to spread across Europe. In the Dutch Republic, Patriots called for more democratic rights. The simply demanded a different attitude, or the resignation of Prince William of Orange the V; the most important leader of the Dutch Republic. The Patriots gained support, but certainly none from Lady Johanna. She was a fanatic supporter of the Prince of Orange, or an ‘Orangist’.  Following her return from the ‘naughty, young ladies home’, she began to pick up the pieces of her life.

William of Orange VPrince William of Orange the V; the most important leader of the Dutch Republic


However, Johanna’s reputation became more embroiled with scandal, following rumours of indecent relations with her brother, and typically of great ladies, she overspent; leading to bankruptcy and debt. Following the Bataafse Revolution in 1795, Johanna and her family were stripped of their jobs and possessions and had to fight hard against the Patriots. Judith owed several people copious amounts of money, and she attempted to flee to Germany.

On November 23rd  1797, she was caught. The passionate Lady Van Dorth was locked away in the County House in Zutphen. She managed to bribe her way out five months later. It is unknown  what happened after that. Apparently the charges were dropped.  We just know that by August 1799, she was back at home in Harreveld.

The English-Russian allied army arrived in the Republic, on August 27th 1799. They wanted to teach the Patriots a lesson. Johanna passionately displayed her respect for the Orange-Party. She drove around in a carriage decorated in orange ribbons, and passed orange favours to all who showed their support to the Prince; an outright, rebellious act against the Patriots.  She fervently believed the Patriots would give up their plans to follow in the footsteps of the French Revolution.

The Patriots fought hard against the Orangists and proclaimed to punish resistance hard. Johanna was pushing her luck; and as it goes, the rebellious Lady Van Dorth rubbed the Patriots up the wrong way. When a well-known patriot, Frederik Resink, was stabbed; Judith couldn’t hide her enthusiasm, and she referred to Resink as ‘just a Patriot’.

On September 19th, the allied army lost whilst the Patriots sounded a victory. Bad luck for Johanna, who had expected a different outcome. The patriots sought to arrest Johanna for her part in the rebellion against the Patriots. On October the 5th, she appeared in front of a military court in Winterswijk. Never before was a Dutch woman brought to justice in a military court!

On Friday the 22nd of November, Lady Van Dorth met her maker in a muddy field. She was shot by a platoon of six soldiers, and after she fell she was naturally placed in a coffin. Not one to conform, Johanna wasn’t dead yet; her body twitched back to life. To make sure the rebellious lady would never move again, a soldier ended her life with one single shot. It wasn’t until 1947she had the doubtful honour to be the only Dutch woman who was ever sentenced by a military court.

A rebellious woman in life, and death!


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