Susanna and Cornelia Teelinck – Inspiring Courage and Faith During the Dutch Reformation

Susanna and Cornelia Teelinck – Inspiring Courage and Faith During the Dutch Reformation

Largely unknown today, Susanna and Cornelia Teelinck inspired two generations of Dutch Christians to trust God to deliver them from Spanish domination.

They were born in 1551 and 1553 respectively into a distinguished family from Zierikzee, in the Dutch province of Zeeland. Their father Eewoud Teellinck (d. 1561) was a brewer who also served as an alderman and treasurer in the City Council. Judging by the statues of saints and the crucifix found among Eewoud’s belongings, the family was probably Roman Catholic. It was also a cultured family, who owned a small but rich library of French, Latin and German books. All four children, however, converted to the Reformed faith.

Eewoud died in 1561 and his wife Helena Willem Jansdr followed him four years later, leaving their oldest son Joos to act as a guardian to his siblings.

Around 1573, nineteen-year-old Cornelia, the youngest, requested admission to the Lord’s Supper from her local Reformed church. She marked the occasion by writing a confession of faith which she presented to her consistory. While not innovative (it was modeled after the approved confession of Guido de Brès), her confession was simple and to the point, inspiring many to copy it by hand and distribute it to others.

It was a heartfelt confession, which she concluded with a bold statement: “Here I have written the foundation of my belief based on the examination of Holy Scripture, and as a sign that I am not ashamed, I have also included my name.”[1]

It was a courageous stand because at that very moment Spanish troops were terrorizing Netherlandish cities in what contemporaries called the “Spanish Fury," taking particular aim at Reformed Christians.

How to Face Violent Opposition

Although Cornelia didn't witness the violent sack of her hometown (by then, she lived with her husband Anthonie Limmens in Antwerp), she was deeply affected by the news and became a victim of the unruly raids of unpaid and hungry Spanish mutineers who roamed the country in the aftermath.

She responded with four poems where she thundered against Spain and called God to action: "Stand up O Lord; show that you are a mighty, blessed God, who out of nothing shaped heaven, Earth, and all that lives. Will you also now complete your unfinished work by your very strong hand?"[2]

Seeing the Spanish as God’s tool to bring his people to repentance, Cornelia exhorted all believers to call on God and place their trust in him: “Stand up Jerusalem, God’s City…God will be your comfort and your help and he shall put an end to your destruction…You need not fear sword or enemy for the Lord shall take up your case himself and show all that he is a God of vengeance over those who have persecuted the pious. They will taste his cup of wrath and no longer exalt in their inequities. But he shall approach the pious and return the sweet inheritance to the pious and turn away all tyranny…from them.”[3]

While she didn’t call the people to arms, she did exhort the rulers, who are authorized by Scripture to punish evil, to act. But they should ask God for wisdom (despising their own) and be an example of godliness to their people: “For it is you who should serve as a beacon for your subjects…to warn them to fear God and to serve according to his word…You need to love the fear of the Lord more than you love gold. … The God of glory and of eternity will hold you solely accountable for your government according to his wondrous justice.”[4]

Amanda Pippin, author of Dissenting Daughters: Reformed Women in the Dutch Republic, 1572-1725, believes that Cornelia’s attitude towards earthly leaders distinguishes her from other Dutch patriotic poets of her time, who praised almost uncritically William of Orange as a savior of his people. Without naming him, she exhorts all leaders to remember they are ultimately responsible to God and will judged by him.

Another important feature in Cornelia’s writings is the call to Christian unity, which is evident in how she chose to conclude her confession of faith: an exhortation to Reformed believers to “walk in a brotherly and Christian manner, and help others in their need, … strengthen the weak, and love the fallen brothers, and admonish them according to the rules and institutions of our Lord Jesus Christ. The … reason we are moved to do these things is to maintain the unity of belief … to preserve the peace, joy, fortification, and unity of the body of Christ in honor of God.”

Cornelia’s husband died in 1576, possibly as a result of a plague. They had been married two years. In spite of her pain, she spoke at his funeral to encourage other believers. She also composed a poem for the occasion, which was sung to the tune of the Lord’s Prayer. She followed him in death five weeks later, possibly from the same cause. She was only 23 years old. Her daughter Katrijnken, one year old, was brought back to her family in Zierikzee. Katrijnken too, however, died young.

Susanna described Cornelia as one whose “greatest, or rather only joy and desire was to speak of Godly affairs, to exalt God’s omnipotence, his goodness, his wisdom, his prudence, and above all his heartfelt love for humanity, to exhaust herself in bringing people to God, and in educating them on the righteous path of sanctity.”[5]

First Published Reformed Woman in the Netherlands

Cornelia’s writings continued to be transcribed by hand and passed around privately until 1607, when Susanna decided to publish them for a wider audience. Susanna combined Cornelia’s twelve-page confession with nine of Cornelia’s poems in a collection entitled A Short Confession of Faith. She prefaced the book with her own seven-page biography of her sister and a short poem by Susanna’s son, statesman and author Adrian Hoffer, who heartily recommended the book - the first book in Dutch authored by a Reformed woman.

The timing was right, because the Netherlands were going through another wave of attacks by Spain. But the book remained popular after the war for at least twenty more years, with a fifth edition published in 1625. It was praised by Cornelia’s nephew Willem Teellinck, a renowned pastor and theologian of what has become known as the Further Reformation. Willem never met Cornelia, who died three years before he was born, but knew Susanna (he was 46 when she died), and upheld her as an example of piety, dedicating to her his A Garden of Christian Prayer, where he praised both her prayer life and her dedication to the needy.

Both Cornelia and Susanna Teelinck continued to set an example to other believers for generations, while they opened the way for other Dutch women writers to use their talents for the edification of Christ’s church.[6]


[1] Amanda C. Pipkin, Dissenting Daughters: Reformed Women in the Dutch Republic, 1572-1725, Oxford University Press, 2022, 70.

[2] Ibid., 83

[3] Ibid., 82

[4] Ibid., 83

[5] Ibid., 93

[6] All the data in this article is taken from Amanda C. Pipkin, Dissenting Daughters: Reformed Women in the Dutch Republic, 1572-1725, Oxford University Press, 2022, a highly recommended volume which is currently the only English source of information on the Teelinck sisters (and other valuable women of the Dutch church).


Simonetta Carr