An example of the human experience from history.
These were people like you and I.
The years following Philip II’s ascension to the throne of a united Spain and the Seventeen Provinces of the Low Countries saw a dramatic rise in tension across all layers of society.
Confrontations with the Habsburg government grow more frequent while religious agitation by both Reformed Protestants and Roman Catholics grew in fervor. By 1566-1567, dissent had grown into rebellion and revolt.
Philip II ordered the “Iron Duke” of Alva to the Low Countries to restore order. His draconian efforts temporarily succeeded in quelling the rebellion, but at a high cost. His “council of blood” summoned more than ten thousand and lead to the deaths of a great many – both humble city folk and powerful nobles.
Many fled rather than submit themselves to a nearly-certain execution. By 1570, England and the neighboring cities and towns of the Rhine river region, Westphalia, and Huguenot-controlled France were common centers for the tens of thousands of Dutch and Flemish refugees.
Often, families were separated. Wives and children and parents left behind. Worldly goods, mementos, and valuables left behind – and often confiscated – in a frantic flight to more tolerant places.
A network of clandestine couriers developed to keep separated friends and families in touch.
Here we see an example of concerns that we see in our modern selves when writing – or Facetiming! – family members separated by many miles and a global pandemic.
Dated 1 February 1570, to a Walloon husband and father who had taken refuge in Calais. Writing by a friend on behalf of his wife and family:
This letter was never delivered to Martin Plennart. The courier, Henri Fléel, was captured in a small boat, where his cargo of illicit letters was discovered in a hidden compartment.
Poor Henri was sentenced as a “obstinate heretic” and likely executed. The letters were confiscated by the Council, where they remained in storage until uncovered by a Belgian scholar centuries later.
Letters from families and contacts in Wallonia and Flanders to their Protestant relatives and acquaintances in south-east England, 11 November 1569 -25 February 1570
Susan Broomhall, “Cross-Channel Affections: Pressure and persuasion in letters to Calvinist refugees in England, 1569–1570” in Feeling Exclusion: Religious Conflict, Exile and Emotions in Early Modern Europe
Geert H. Janssen, “Exiles and the Politics of Reintegration in the Dutch Revolt” in History, Vol. 94, No. 1