Pieter van Woensel (1747–1808)

image: Portrait of Pieter van Woensel, Franciscus Sansom, after Pieter Wagenaar, (Jr.), 1790 (via Rijksstudio, publ. dom.)


Pieter van Woensel (1747–1808).

One of the most fascinating figures in the Dutch Republic’s final days, was the writer, world traveller, cartoonist and medical man Pieter van Woensel. As a satirist and critic he was without equal in the Dutch-speaking world, and his Remarks on his travels to Turkey, Russia and the Crimea hold a universal appeal. For the first time, Aanteekeningen I (1791) is now available in English translation, accompanied by a copious commentary.

For sample pages of Laban Kaptein’s edition of Remarks I (1791), click here for Part I: Translation (PDF), and here for Part II: Commentary (PDF), as well as the Cumulative Index.

(Remember, these book are self-published, so please order through this website only. Thank you for your consideration.)


The son of a physician, Van Woensel grew up in his native town of Haarlem, in the milieu of a Remonstrant, latitudinarian family. After finishing the Latin School, he enrolled in the Remonstrant Seminary in Amsterdam, but dropped out after two years. (Eventually, he developed strong anticlerical views, and his atheism features prominently in his publications.) He took up Medicine at Leiden University, crowning his studies with a dissertation in Latin in 1770.
A year later, he made his first visit to St. Petersburg, where he became acquainted with the future Admiral Jan Hendrik van Kinsbergen. Upon returning to the Republic in 1780, he was appointed in the Navy as a Medical Officer.

Apart from his medical publications, Van Woensel made a name for himself as (satirical) publicist. In 1780 he published the weekly series Monitor of vertoogen, betrekkelijk tot de staatkundige en zedelijke huishouding der Nederlandsche Republiek, en tot andere gewichtige onderwerpen, and, one year later, a monograph titledDe Tegenwoordige staat van Rusland (The present state of Russia).
Click here for a comprehensive bibliography of Pieter van Woensel.



image: cartoons by Pieter van Woensel (via Rijksstudio)