October 21, 2013 by Pierre the Author
ust two weeks before his twenty-fifth birthday, local attorney Pieter van Scheer has been selected by the French conscription ballot, along with twenty others from Delft, to serve in the French army.
To date this year, about 400 men from the area have been conscripted in this manner, and they have generally been away for a year. Most have come back, many have been killed in battle, and a few have deserted. This conscription ballot was first conducted in Holland in 1809, and is also currently happening in occupied Spain and Germany. Not surprisingly, this manner of conscription for the French Army is highly unpopular across Europe, has brought grief to many families, and is avoided at all costs. It is common for those with the means to pay someone else to serve in their place.
Mister van Scheer is from a well known Delft family. He is the second son of the late Mister Johan van Scheer who was a well known merchant and importer, and a director of the VOC, and his grandfather was a city councillor for many years. He is married to Cornelia, younger daughter of Mister Willem de Brug, a leading importer in the city, and they have two children aged five years and three years. This family would be without their husband and father for at least a year, and without the breadwinner to provide for them. Many families caught up by the conscription ballot have been left destitute, and have had to be supported by parish funds and wider family.
After studying at Leiden, Mister van Scheer began working as an attorney in the city, specialising in civil and business contracts, and shipping matters. Enquiries in the city about him have brought out two interesting and contradictory stories. On the one hand, he was known in his youth as rather wild, and associated with a group of young men of well-to-do families who were often in trouble with the city for their over-boisterous activities. While they were never involved in anything criminal, many of their activities did raise eyebrows and cause complaints from some respectable citizens. Most people we spoke to about him dismissed these past activities as “youthful exuberance”.
Perhaps the people of the city are so willing to forgive past transgressions because Mister van Scheer seems to have redeemed himself in the eyes of his fellow citizens. Since his return from university at Leiden, the energy and devotion which he has given to the work of an attorney has gone a long way to developing a quite different reputation. A number of people spoke highly of his work on behalf of the poorer citizens of Delft, and his willingness to guide these people through the complexities of the French legal system. It seems that his dual qualifications in the recently imposed French civil law and the old Roman-Dutch law are proving very beneficial for many.
When asked about changes in his life, Mister van Scheer confessed, “There are many things about my youth that I regret, particularly my rebellious attitude against my parents. I found being the second son very difficult, and some of the things I said and did must have hurt and embarrassed them. The death of my father was a real shock to me. I suddenly realised that he was gone and that I could not change my relationship with him. It made me stop and think about what I was doing.”
In regard to his studies at Leiden, he said, “My father wisely made provision for me to study at university for a career. He knew that I would grow up one day, and need a helping hand, as the family business is now run by my older brother. He gave me an opportunity to change my life.”
It seems that Mister van Scheer has used that opportunity well, for his reputation as an attorney has grown quickly, and it has certainly been of benefit to many in the city who are open in their praise of his integrity and generosity.
So, apart from the impact on his family, what will be the cost to the city to lose so valuable a citizen to the dangers of the army? When approached for comment, the French administrator, Monsieur du Bois gave only this curt reply: “Monsieur van Scheer is liable for conscription, just like any other citizen of the Empire, and cannot expect to be excused because of his supposed standing in the community.”
Mister van Scheer indicated that he would seek a substitute to serve in his place, as some have done in the past. However, recent news of the serious defeats and catastrophic losses suffered by the French Grande Armee in Russia may make finding such a willing substitute difficult. If that is the case, Mister van Scheer has few choices open to him.
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