Penelope Van Princes Stout
The life of Penelope Van Princes Stout (c1622-1732) is steeped in romantic legend. So well-known and seemingly fanciful is the traditional account of her violent ordeal and subsequent rescue that it is often not easy to ascertain what is indeed fact and what belongs more properly to the realm of fiction. Some claim she was of Dutch origin, while others assert that she was of English stock, the daughter of a Baptist preacher from Sheffield who had fled to Holland, perhaps for reasons of religious persecution. All seem to agree, however, that she was born in Amsterdam, in the Netherlands, though there is still some divergence with regard to her date of birth (1602? 1620? 1622?). The very name “Van Princes” is controversial. Variously rendered as “Van Princes,” “Van Princis,” “Van Princess,” “Van Prinzis,” “Van Prinzen,” “Van Princen”and even “Prince,” it is thought by some to have been her maiden name, while others assume it to be the surname of her first husband. The former, however, is sometimes identified instead as “Thompson” or “Thomson,” while others insist that she was born a “Kent” or “Lent.” Still others maintain that “Kent Van Princes” was instead the legal name of her ill-fated first spouse. The facts of Penelope’s life are hard to come by for another reason as well. Unlike her husband, who was a public figure and, by virtue of his gender, much more visible with regard to legal questions, Penelope Van Princes Stout, except in the matter of her fabled tribulations, appears to have been an essentially private individual. According to the subsequent accounts of family members who knew her, she always wore a scarf or headdress to cover the marks of her terrible head wound. Nonetheless, it is reported that she did not hesitate in later years to display the prominent scars she bore on her abdomen to many a family member who professed interest in her predicament.
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