Maria Catharina Dierkens (1747-1826), the mother of Baron van Westreenen, was a beautiful woman. In a portrait painted by Guillaume de Spinny in 1770, we see her with her brown hair worn up, dressed in a fur-trimmed silk dress.
In 1776 she married Johan Adriaan van Westreenen (1742-1820). As a result of miscarriages the marriage remained childless for several years. In 1783 a pregnancy was successful and on 2 October of that year she gave birth to Willem Hendrik Jacob – later the Baron van Westreenen.
In order to facilitate the satisfactory completion of her pregnancy Maria had worn an object known as an eagle stone. The eagle stone – also called rattling stone – is a nugget of clay ironstone, yellow or black-brown in colour, of globular or oval shape and usually hollow on the inside. The name derives from the belief that eagles carried such stones to their nests to facilitate the hatching of the eggs.
Inside the eagle stone the ‘rattling’ of loose stone nodules could sometimes be heard and thus it was reminiscent of a womb containing a foetus. In 1822, four years before her death, Maria Dierkens attached a note to this stone. In it she wrote that she had worn the stone ‘under the left arm right in the crook’ from ‘fourteen days after the overdue period […] until the first half of pregnancy’ as prescribed at the time.
We read that before Maria the stone had already been worn by – among others – the Princess of Orange, Princess Royal of England, who after two stillborn daughters became pregnant with Princess Carolina (born in 1743). ‘This stone has been in the family for many years’, Maria Dierkens concludes, ‘it was presented to me by my mother when I was pregnant with my son.’