Low Countries Histories - Social/Cultural

TeBrake, William. Medieval Frontier: Culture and Ecology in RijnlandCollege Station: Texas A & M Press, 1985.

In this environmental history, Te Brake took an interdisciplinary approach, drawing from a variety of disciplines, including geology, archaeology, pedology, and history.  Emphasizing the themes of continuity and change, Te Brake concluded that the “increase in agricultural activity that lay behind the other great changes of the High Middle Ages was made possible by a massive reclamation and colonization movement that drastically extended the scale of agrarian activity and irrevocably altered the physical appearance of Europe” (10).

Verhulst, Adriaan. The Rise of Cities in North-West Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

In this coherent and wide-ranging argument, the distinguished Flemish historian, Adriaan Verhulst, focused his attention on the history of the urban settlements and towns in the region between the Somme and Meuse Rivers from the fourth century to the twelfth century.  He concluded that the major towns of the southern Low Countries experienced a complex evolution, retaining very little in the way of continuity from the Roman era.  He credited their upsurge in the ninth century to the patronage of abbeys and churches and, in the tenth century, to the backing of the Count of Flanders, the breakdown of manorialism, and the growth of long-distance trade.  The work also included fourteen urban maps as well as one map of North-West Europe.

Brake, Wayne te. Shaping History: Ordinary People in European Politics, 1500–1700. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Te Brake’s synthesis examines popular reformations in Germany and Switzerland, popular actions during the Comunero Revolt in Castile, “princely” reformations in England and Scandinavia, the “Second Reformation” in France and the Low Countries in which religious repression sparked religious and civil war, and the cluster of revolts in Iberia, Italy, Britain, and France during the seventeenth century.  His analysis determined that ordinary people—the subjects or those excluded from the realm of officialdom—actively participated in the events that fundamentally reshaped early modern politics and culture.

Davis, Natalie Zemon. Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995.

Davis’s analysis of the stories of Glikl bas Judah Lieb, a Jewish merchant widow from Hamburg, Marie de l’Incarnation, a Catholic Ursuline widow from Tours, and Maria Sibylla Merian, a Protestant artist-scientist from Frankfurt, revealed the importance and variety of religion and religious transformation occurring in seventeenth century Europe.  Their religion, Davis argued, gave them a sense of opportunity, identity, and influence.  “Their stories,” Davis wrote, “reveal the other possibilities in the seventeenth century, as they carved out their novel ways of living on the margins” (209).  Following a stay in a Labadist community in Friesland and her subsequent divorce, for example, Maria left Amsterdam with her daughter to study and paint the insects of Suriname.  Upon her return to Amsterdam, Maria published her major work Metamorphosis insenctorum Surinamensium in 1705.

Deursen, A. Th. van. Plain Lives in a Golden Age: Popular Culture, Religion, and Society in Seventeenth-Century Holland. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991.

Van Deursen’s detailed analysis of popular culture in the Dutch Republic led him to conclude that although life was hard at the bottom of Dutch society, the crying poverty encountered in other European countries was not found in Holland as money flowed into municipalities and churches.  Consequently, the poor of Holland, though they may have been dissatisfied, were neither rebellious nor did they die of hunger because they had options for rescue: begging, pawnshops, deacons, and civic poor relief (320).

Duke, Alistair. Reformation and Revolt in the Low Countries. London: Hambledon Press, 1990.

Duke submitted this collection of eleven articles—eight of which first appeared in print between 1969 and 1985—as his doctoral dissertation at the University of Leiden.  Based on lay inquisitorial records, Duke’s analysis asserted that the inchoate evangelical movements that developed in the Low Countries during the sixteenth century remained inchoate a great deal longer in the northern provinces.  In the end, it was Calvinism rather than Lutheranism that proved best suited to the scattered Protestant congregations.  In other words, Duke argued the Reformation in the Low Countries took place through a process of de-Catholicisation by degrees rather than Calvinisation by an edict of the majority.

Eire, Carlos M. N. War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986.

In this work Eire set out to not only trace the evolution of Protestant iconoclastic theology and practice, but also offer a survey and synthesis of its development from Erasmus to Calvin.  According to Eire, iconoclasm was central to Reformed Protestantism.  In defending the heritage of the Reformed attitude toward idolatry, Eire wrote, the French reformer Jean Calvin created “a new, scripturally- based, theological metaphysics in which the boundaries between the spiritual and material were more clearly drawn than ever.”  This “reaffirmation of the ‘spiritual’ worship,” he continued, “with its consequential denial of compromise, provided a solid ideological foundation for much of the social and political unrest that accompanied the spread of Calvinism,” which, of course, included the Low Countries (3).

Grell, Ole Peter. “Exile and Tolerance.” In Tolerance and Intolerance in the European Reformation, edited by Ole Peter Grell and Bob Scribner, 164–181. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.

Grell argued that when the Dutch Walloons, who had been expelled during the reign of Mary Tudor, returned to London upon Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne, they were more eager to persecute their compatriot refugees, the Dutch Anabaptists.  Their experience of traumatic displacement had, it seemed, little effect in creating a more tolerant mindset.

Hsia, R. Po-Chia and Henk van Nierop, eds. Calvinism and Dutch Religious Toleration in the Dutch Golden Age. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

In this collection of essays, the authors debated the history of religious toleration in the Dutch Republic.  Willem Frijhoff, for example, argued that the Dutch Republic became a model for the rest of Europe.  According to Frijhoff, the desire for a unified public church was transplanted to the secular community.  As a result, “Concordia” more than unity became the basic principle of the state and public order. Hsia’s essay went on to show how the longing for social peace, discipline, and order were the values underlying toleration in the Dutch Republic while Van Nierop maintained that the toleration of Catholics—despite anti-Catholic legislation—was due to the existence of a strong legal culture that emphasized civic rights and civic privileges.  Judith Pollmann, however, described a tension that existed between the intolerant discourse of confessionalism and the a-confessional religious culture.  It was, she asserted, a sophisticated code of behavior that allowed Netherlanders to operate in these two religious modes.  Circumstances determined the mode that was adopted at any given time.  Christine Kooi also noted that the degree of toleration extended to Roman Catholics varied according to national politics and local circumstances, something Maarten Prak highlighted in his essay which described how some cities outside of the province of Holland, at least in theory, denied citizenship to Catholics due to the strong guild traditions that characterized these cities.  Jonathon Israel’s essay emphasized the fact that tolerance was not extended to the field of radical philosophy.  The ideas of Baruch Spinoza and his followers, for example, were considered subversive and disturbing because it was believed that their goal was to undermine the hegemony of theology in society and culture.  Finally, Benjamin Kaplan argued that the idea of Dutch tolerance is a myth while Joke Spaans maintained that there was nothing distinctive in the basic mechanism of Dutch toleration.  According to Spaans, it was only the method of application that was distinctive.  Rigidly defined minority communities were carefully monitored by local magistrates and strictly supervised by a board of lay elders.  This pillarization resulted, Spaans asserted, in a harmonious yet highly authoritarian society.

Jacob, Margaret C. The Radical Enlightenment: Pantheists, Freemasons, and RepublicansLondon: Unwin Hyman, 1981.

In this work Jacob explored the world of English and Dutch radicals in the early eighteenth century.  After describing the background and significance of the Scientific Revolution among English republicans Jacob highlighted the impact of René Descartes and Benedict de Spinoza upon the Radical Enlightenment.  Whereas Descartes articulated a mechanical understanding of the universe, Spinoza wrestled with Descartes’ mechanical philosophy, producing a philosophy of an animated universe, which offered a deterministic view of man and nature that supported a republican form of government.  Each of these elements, Jacob noted, would become the central themes of eighteenth-century radicals.  Jacob also asserted that the ideological and political legacies of the English Revolution shaped the contours of the Enlightenment more profoundly than Newton's science.  Whereas Newtonian thinkers supported a moderate, liberal Christianity that, once wedded to the new science, supported a strong, constitutional monarchy, Republicans challenged both Christian orthodoxy and the concept of a court-centered government, offering instead a religion of nature and a republican form of government.  Having gained momentum in England in the 1690s, the English philosophers John Toland and Anthony Collins helped establish a private Masonic lodge in The Hague in 1710.  The lodge was composed largely of booksellers and publishers, many of whom were Huguenot refugees who questioned both absolutism and traditional Christian doctrine.  Their Masonic social network, Jacob explained, stretched  from England to The Hague, and, from at least 1711, on to the Austrian Netherlands.  Using their affiliation with the book trade to publish texts such as Toland’s Letters to Serena and Jean Rousset de Missy's Traité des trios imposteurs, the lodge members were able to  disseminate their pantheistic views. Then, during the Dutch Revolution of 1747–1748, Rousset, who sided with the Orangists against a Dutch government increasingly dominated by an oligarchy of two-hundred extended families, rallied artisan and small merchant classes around a series of demands for reform, which included a demand for universal suffrage for all men registered in a guild.  In the end, then, it was in the radicalism of French Huguenot exiles like Rousset that Jacob perceived a significant link between the English Revolution and the democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth century.

———, and Wijnand Mijnhardt, eds. The Dutch Republic in the Eighteenth Century: Decline, Enlightenment, and Revolution. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1992.

This collection of essays examined the "culture of the Enlightenment" that flourished in the eighteenth-century Netherlands amid “economic decline and political inertia” (15).  In the first essay, Ernst Kossmann argued that the government of the United Provinces foundered in "interminable discussion, bickering, and delay" during the eighteenth century (21).  Dutch stadhouders, he maintained, struggled to reverse the economic and political spiral of decline by reverting to strategies from the previous century.  Here Kossmann struck a chord that revertebrated throughout the volume: the stadhouders failed to innovate because they would not accept   the “state’s new status as a minor power” (31).  In fact, as John Pocock concluded in his essay, "“central and coordinating powers [in the Republic] lacked a clear theory of sovereignty” (189).  Eco Haitsma Mulier's analysis of the historiography of the period goes on to show that in their attempt to understand the precipitous decline of their nation from the Golden Age, eighteenth-century Dutch historians became obsessed with the particularity of their society.  Wijnand Mijnhardt's contribution to the volume asserted that deep-rooted Dutch humanist traditions rendered the early religious and political debates of the Enlightenment largely irrelevant in the Dutch Republic while Willem Frijhoff characterized the Dutch Enlightenment as distinctly moral due to the upper and middle class rejection of “depraved French taste” (24). Margaret Jacob also contributed an essay on the Dutch Enlightenment, concluding that the radicalism of the Dutch Enlightenment betrayed English and French influences.  In this transitional period between commercial and industrial capitalism, Jacob argued, members of Masonic Lodges and scientific circles looked to the future rather than the past.  Wayne te Brake emphasized the future-orientation of Patriot slogans in 1787 as well.  In fact, he contended that locally-based revolutionaries in cities and towns throughout the United Provinces “were able to mount the first major revolutionary challenge to Europe’s old regime precisely because  their fragmented sovereignties, their divided oligarchies, and their traditions of popular protest opened real, if variable, opportunities for the formation of a viable revolutionary coalition” (90).  Franz Grijzenhout and Jan de Jongste, on the other hand, emphasized the influences of the past upon eighteenth-century Dutch artists and reformers.  Grijzenhout asserted that revolutionary Dutch art was influenced by neo-classical and seventeeth century styles while De Jongste stated that the reformers of 1747 were “dazzled by the ostensible splendor of an idealized past” (54).  In their essays, Nicolaas C. F. van Sas underscored the fact that militia groups developed an alternate political structure during the eighteenth century while Willem van den Berg detailed flourishing literary societies that tolerated the diversity of political sentiments in their midst.  Still, despite the fact that the largely urban Dutch population came within easy reach of books and newspapers at the end of the eighteenth century, Jeremy Popkin argued that the Dutch Republic lacked an “intellectual class capable of using print as a means of transforming society” (286).  Without a new political language, Popkin continued, the extensive print culture served as a precondition for political unrest, but it did not necessarily favor the triumph of new political ideas.  Indeed, as Wyger Velema and I.J.H. Worst concluded, Dutch revolutionaries in the late eighteenth century were conservatives who upheld the glory of the sixteenth-century revolutionaries in order to defend the status quo of the late eighteenth century.  They preferred not to risk a reasonable order for political innovation.  Dutch novelists were also conservative in their subject matter, according to Christine van Boheeman-Saaf, focusing their work on marriage and childbirth rather than delving into political debates.  Meanwhile, as Henricus A. M. Snelders pointed out, pharmacists, booksellers, merchants, and physicians and their wives were pursuing their curiosity in the natural sciences.

Kaplan, Benjamin K. Calvinists and Libertines: Confession and Community in Utrecht, 1578–1620. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

In this urban case-study, Kaplan analyzed the struggle between the Calvinists who desired to create an organized, disciplined church— and the Libertines who were influenced by the ideas of the Dutch Reformed pastor Hubert Duifhuis who began a reformation in the Jacobskerk in Utrecht.  Duifhuis practiced open communion—admitting anyone who presented themselves to partake in the Lord’s Supper—and did not establish a consistory or use a catechism.  As a result, the Reformed community in Utrecht was divided.  Ultimately, the city government asked Duifhius to remain.  Kaplan concluded his study by asserting that Dutch society rejected Calvinist  confessionalism just as they had rejected the Catholic confessionalism of Philip II in an earlier phase of the Dutch Revolt.

Marnef, Guido. Antwerp in the Age of Reformation: Underground Protestantism in a Commercial Metropolis, 1550-1577. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.

Marnef described Antwerp in the third quarter of the sixteenth century as a city awash with people as well as goods on the move.  Foreign merchants, native immigrants, fugitives, and exiles made there way to Antwerp, so many of them bearing new beliefs.  As a result, he asserted, Antwerp was a ferment of religious cultures that would play a central role in the religious developments that would engulf the Netherlands.

Nierop, Henk F. K. van. The Nobility of Holland: From Knights to Regents, 1500–1600 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993).

Van Nierop assessed the evolution of the demographic, social, economic, and political position of the nobility in the Low Countries during the sixteenth century.  In the end, he claimed that the nobility neither declined nor faded away in the seventeenth-century “bourgeois” Republic, even in the province of Holland.  Instead, the nobility skillfully adapted themselves skill to the changing circumstances of the day.

———. “Similar problems, different outcomes: The Revolt of the Netherlands and the Wars of Religion in France.” In A Miracle Mirrored: The Dutch Republic in European Perspective, edited by Karel Davids and Jan Lucassen, 26–56. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.

In this comparative essay, Van Nierop concluded that the response of Netherlandic Catholics to the emergence of Calvinism was passive and hesitating since choosing to be politique might put you on the side of the rebels, whereas the response of French Catholics was very aggressive given the support they could count on from the monarchs.

Velema, Wyger R. E. Enlightenment and Conservatism in the Dutch Republic: The Political Thought of Elie Luzac, 1721-1796. Assen: Van Gorcum, 1993.

Velema detailed the life and political philosophy of one of the most prominent figures of the Enlightenment.  He maintained that Elie  Luzac, who was born into a Huguenot family that emigrated to the Dutch Republic, was representative of the moderate enlightenment of the first half of the eighteenth century.  Luzac was appalled by what he saw as the superficial anti-rationalism of the philosophes.  Attracted to the abstract and rational moral philosophy of Christian Wolff, he considered the rhetorical and emotive style of Rousseau to be regressive and a threat to all the progress European civilization had made over the previous hundred years.  He was also conservative politically, articulating his support for the princes of Orange.  Luzac maintained that the only way to reverse the Dutch economic decline was to maintain the power of the stadhouder.  He claimed that he periods of greatest economic prosperity  under the Republic had coincided with the political dominance of the princes of Orange.  He also insisted that the very nature of a modern commercial society, with its far-reaching economic specialization, made the republican ideals of the ancient world anachronistic.  Then, when the Dutch Patriot movement emerged in the 1780s, he focused his criticism upon the patriots who he regarded as essentially democratic and thus practically and theoretically iniquitous.

Return to Index