Cornelia van Nijenroode

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Cornelia van Nijenroode was the daughter of Dutch East India Company (VOC) factor Cornelis van Nijenroode and a Japanese courtesan known only as Surishia. Cornelia was born on Dejima but raised in Batavia.

Following her father's death in 1633, Cornelia and her half-sister Esther van Nijenroode were taken in by the Company, who paid their mothers substantial sums in exchange for being permitted to take the girls out of the country, and to Batavia in 1636. Both were there placed in an orphanage, and raised as Protestant Christians. Esther left the orphanage in 1644 and married an English lieutenant, who died several years later. Cornelia did similarly in 1652, marrying a Dutchman named Peter Cnoll, or Knoll. Her husband later became Director General of Batavia, and Cornelia rose to considerable status in local society.

She had ten children with Knoll, only one of whom survived into adulthood, however. Knoll died in 1672, and left Cornelia all his considerable property and wealth, as well as legal guardianship over their surviving son, more than a widow would normally be able to retain under Dutch law at the time.

In 1676, at the age of 46, she re-married. Her new husband was a 38-year-old lawyer named Johan Bitter. An abusive husband, he used his judicial position to cheat Cornelia out of much of her wealth; she finally obtained a partial divorce, however, in 1679 (three years into the marriage), thus protecting her home and remaining assets from him. Bitter traveled to Holland, however, where he pursued legal action against her, winning decisions which declared that she had no right under Dutch marriage law to keep any wealth or property from her husband; these decisions also obliged her to resume and consummate the marriage, and to cohabit with Bitter. He resumed his abusive behavior quite soon afterwards, and the couple spent the next fifteen years fighting one another in Dutch courts - including taking the case to the High Court at The Hague. When a decision was finally handed down in 1691, declaring that Cornelia had to live with Bitter and give over to him half her assets, she refused. She died the following year, in Holland, and her descendants continued to fight to retain their inheritance; in the end, Bitter got little more than he had expropriated originally.


  • Matt Matsuda, Pacific Worlds, Cambridge University Press (2012), 80.
  • Gary Leupp, Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900, A&C Black (2003), 117-119.