The Netherlands in the Context of European and Global History
Das Goldene Zeitalter (The Golden Age), Phönix aus der Asche (A Phoenix out of the Ashes), A Miracle Mirrored or The Enigma of the Republic – these are some of the titles and chapter headings in important studies on the history of the Netherlands which are not sparing in their use of superlatives.1 Already in 1932, Johan Huizinga (1872–1945) asked in his cultural history of the Netherlands how it was possible "daß ein so kleines und ziemlich abgelegenes Gebiet, wie Holland im Europa des 17. Jahrhunderts es war, als Staat, als Handelsmacht und als Quelle der Kultur so sehr im Vordergrund hat stehen können".2 And indeed even in the 17th century this development was perceived and observed with amazement far beyond the republic's borders. For example, in 1669 the Briton William Aglionby (died 1705) wrote in the preface to his history of the Netherlands:
Scarce any Subject occurs more in the learned discourse of ingenious man than that of the marvelous progress of this little state … which has grown to a height infinitely transcending all the ancient Republicks of Greece but not much inferior in some respects even to the greatest Monarchies of these latter Ages.3
In his attempt to explain this phenomenon Aglionby pointed to a series of reasons: the political constitution, success in trade, a perfect infra-structure based on numerous waterways, canals and the sea, religious freedom, prosperity and the zeal for work. "[They] are rather given to Trade and getting, and they seem as if they had suck'd in with their milk the insatiable desire of acquiring".4 In his bestseller, Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands, Sir William Temple (1628–1699), the English ambassador to The Hague during the 1660s, attributed the success of the small republic to similar factors and expressed the judgment that the country had not grown rich
by any native commodities, but by force of Industry; by Improvement and Manufacture of all Foreign Growth; by being the general magazine of all Europe, and furnishing all parts with whatever the Market wants or invests; and by their Seamen, being, as they have properly been called, of the World.5
But even if contemporary images and judgments must be considered in the context of underlying mental and intellectual pre-conceptions and attitudes, and with regard to specific political and social constellations, still a number of tendencies in the perception of the Netherlands in the 17th century can be generalized. In the early modern era observers from all over Europe were generally impressed by the variety of novelties and inventions found in almost all areas of life, and they admired the Netherlands' technical innovations and economic success, as well as its cleanliness and order, its art and architecture, poor-relief and religious diversity.6
It was not uncommon that such admiration was mixed with consternation about the unfamiliar manners and customs that struck visitors as eccentric, if not indeed ridiculous or simply wrong. Thus Aglionby describes the proverbial cleanliness of the Dutch in an amused tone:
The married Women and maids are very fair and chaste. They have a great care of their house, and keep all their Cupboards, Cabinets, even the Floors, extream neat: some of them are so curious, as not to let you come into their rubb'd Rooms, without putting on a pair of Slippers, or making your own Shoes very clean.7
And, finally, admiration could turn into its opposite, when, for example, the commercial success of the Dutch Republic collided with England's economic ambition and its claim to political domination.8 An anonymous London broadsheet abused the "Hogg-lander" as "Lusty, Fat, Two Legged Cheese Worms"9 and accused them of having achieved prosperity at the expense of others; a ballad with the title The Dutch Bribe sang of their "ill gotten Wealth".10 The commercial conflict in Asia between the Dutch Republic and the English also influenced contemporary perceptions. An English pamphlet decried "the most Villanous and Barbarous Cruelties used on the English Merchants … in the East Indies".11 Although religious tolerance was praised repeatedly, the consequences of this religious diversity were harshly criticized, nonetheless. Thus an anonymous author ridiculed the Netherlands' religious diversity by praising it like a market crier:
If you be unsettled in your Religion, you may here try all, and take at last what you like best; If you fancy none, you have a Pattern to follow of two that would be a Church to themselves: It's the Fair of all the Sects, where all the Pedlars of Religion have leave to vend their Toyes, their Ribbands, and Phanatique Rattles: their Republick is more to them than Heaven; and God may be more safely offended there than the States General.12
The blurring of social boundaries met with incomprehension. Contemporary observers noted with astonishment that maids dressed like their mistresses13 and in the age of absolutism and the reign of princes, a state without a monarch and without clear hierarchical structures seemed quite peculiar. With contempt it was said that "where every Burger is a King, its fit every Minister should be a Bishop".14 But, despite critical remarks on the young republic, admiration and sympathy prevailed. The Frenchman Jean-Nicolas de Parival (1605–1669), having lived in the Netherlands for over 40 years, was surely not alone in his opinion: "Indeed, he who never saw Holland, cannot boast to have seen anything at all."15
Aglionby makes in his overall positive description another observation and attributes the reputation and success of the Dutch Republic in the 17th century to its networks of commerce and migration, both within Europe and world-wide. The Dutch, who had long been decried as "Block-Heads" and "eaters of Cheese and Milk" and who had been thought stupid, were now regarded as being as sensitive and intelligent as other Europeans.16
This I think proceeds from that Commerce they drive through all the world, and from the mixture made amongst them by divers Strangers that have setled in these parts; for above half those that do inhabit the Towns are either Strangers, or descended from them.17
Recent studies have confirmed this judgment.18 In comparison to northern Europe the Dutch Republic had the highest rate of immigration in the 17th century – primarily Calvinists from the Spanish dominated southern Netherlands and Sephardic Jews who, beginning in the late 16th century, had begun to settle in Amsterdam and in the province of Holland. Along with seasonal workers from the neighbouring German territories, the Calvinists from the southern Netherlands and the Jews constituted the largest group of foreigners working in the Netherlands.19 Within the Republic the province of Holland experienced the highest rate of immigration and the greatest economic and cultural growth.20 Due to its maritime location and the privileges and extensive religious freedom that it awarded to immigrants, Amsterdam registered the greatest growth in population.21 In 1616 the English ambassador Dudley Carlton, Viscount of Dorchester, (1573–1632) very accurately described the changing image of the future metropolis:
I saw the whole town and observed this difference from Antwerp, that there was a town without people and here a people as it were without a town. Such are the numbers of all nations, of all professions and all religions there assembled, but for one business only, of merchandise.22
Many contemporaries believed that religious tolerance played an important part in the rise of Amsterdam. Thus, the author of an amusing English treatise on the Netherlands commented:
they countenance only Calvinisme, but for Trades sake they Tolerate all others, except the Papists, which is the reason why the treasure and stock of most Nations is transported thither, where there is full Liberty of Conscience: you may be what Devil you will there, so you be but peaceable: for Amsterdam is an 'University of all Religions', which grow here confusedly without either Order or Pruning.23
This tolerance was also perceived by immigrants. One of the most famous Jewish scholars of Amsterdam, Baruch de Spinoza (1632–1677), gave the following positive assessment of religious freedom and its effect on economic prosperity:
Amsterdam reaps the fruit of this freedom in its own great prosperity and in the admiration of all other people. For in this most flourishing state, and most splendid city, men of every nation and religion live together in the greatest harmony, and ask no questions before trusting their goods to a fellow-citizen, save whether he be rich or poor, and whether he generally acts honestly, or the reverse. His religion and sect is considered of no importance: for it has no effect before the judges in gaining or losing a cause, and there is no sect so despised that its followers, provided that they harm no one, pay every man his due, and live uprightly, are deprived of the protection of the magisterial authority.24
The migratory movements, which were not confined to the northern Netherlands, were closely linked to political, economic and social changes in Europe. By the end of the 16th century these developments had transformed northern Europe with its world-wide commercial relations, into one of the most important economic regions. In this way northern Europe attained the economic supremacy that had formerly belonged to south-western Europe.25 Recent research has interpreted the rise of the Dutch Republic in the context of this pan-European process and thus qualified the older perspective in which the Netherlands appeared to be a special case, and a miracle.
Even before the creation of the republic, the Netherlands as part of the "Baltic and North Sea regions" were intertwined in a transnational economic culture, the dynamics of which were manifested in the exchange of ideas and knowledge as well as by:
The expansion of economic and social networks, commercial and technical innovation, the mobility of goods, capital and labour force, and even in diplomacy and the mobilization of coercive means.26
When Antwerp ceased to be the commercial and economic centre, Amsterdam immediately took over and the conditions changed:
To put it baldly, the merchants who flocked to Amsterdam brought capital, expertise, and contacts with them, but they now used these assets differently than before, as they came into direct contact with new resources, institutions, and opportunities.27
One of the fundamental differences was Amsterdam's decided maritime orientation which had a profound impact on the entire republic. As a part of the "Atlantic World"28 and as a participant in the trade with Asia the Netherlands were involved in a closely knit network of global commercial relations. Based on an aggressive trade policy and innovations in ship building and trade organization, on the turn of the 17th century the Dutch Republic curtailed Spain's and Portugal's domination of the seas. Between 1595 and 1601 a total of eight Vorcompagnien of the Dutch East India Company (VOC) sent 65 ships to the Spice Islands (Moluccas) in the Indian Ocean. With the founding of the VOC in 1602 the republic supplied Europe with spices and dominated trade between Europe, India and Asia in the 17th century, until England became a maritime super power and a serious competitor. The VOC's success was based on various factors: in part it was due to the fact that it was organised as a capital-intensive joint stock company, but also contingent to the establishment of world-wide trading bases and the creation of inner-Asian trade networks.29 In contrast to the trade with Asia, Atlantic commerce was not dominated by the privileged state trading companies but was in the hands of individual private companies,30 among whom the trade networks of Sephardic Jews played an important role.31
Crucial pre-conditions for the rise of Amsterdam were the economic infrastructure and the very effective information system that had been developed at the beginning of the 17th century. The establishment of the Bank of Amsterdam in 1609 made it possible to process cashless payments quickly and securely. In 1612 a municipal chamber for maritime insurance was set up, and in 1614 the corn exchange was created. Around 1612 there were already 300 specialised and licensed brokers who kept registers of all commodities, the state of supply and demand, and price lists; in a manner of speaking, they co-ordinated the activities of both domestic and foreign traders. The year 1613 saw the beginning of the publication of official weekly price lists that could be taken by subscription.
These trade links and their structural pre-requisites, were not a "national phenomenon", but rather led to a hitherto almost unknown mobility of commodities and, above all, of people. The great trading companies of the 17th century, the Dutch East India Company and England's East India Company – taking into account shareholders, directors, and ships' crews with their entourage of doctors, clergy, artisans, bakers, and interpreters – consisted of Europeans and of people from all over the world. The ships' crews acted as agents of cultural transfer and their travel reports, letters and pictures, demonstrate this international composition and document the perception and construction of the world in a process of interaction between images of the self and "the other". These processes of integration are presented in a particularly vivid way in the reports of travellers in pursuit of education and business and in the reports of migrant labourers. Thus, Johann Jacob Saar (1625–1664), a German sailor on one of the merchant ships of the Dutch East India Company whose crew was made up of many nationalities, wrote:
Unser Provoß [Aufpasser/Vorgesetzter] auf unserm Schiff war ein Christlich und von vielen Sprachen gebohrner Mohr: aber aus West-Indien / einem Ort / Angola Namens / und der erste / den Ich mein Tag gesehen hatte / gantz schwartz / von kleinen grausen Haaren / grosser breiter Nasen / von zimlichen Lippen / und so roth als Blut / schneeweisen Zähnen … Zu Middelburg war Er zum Christlichen Glauben gebracht / auch daselbst getauft / und mit einer Seeländischen Frauen verheyrathet / mit welcher Er zwey Kinder … Er hat sieben Sprachen reden können … Welche Sprachen Er / durch Sein Reisen hin und wieder an solche Ort / erlernet hatte. Ich habe Mich sonderlich an Ihn gemacht / und Freundschaft gesucht / ein und anders zu erfahren / die Er Mir auch so getreu / so beständig / und redlich erwiesen / als meine rechte Blutverwanten können und mögen.32
But even if some studies still cling to the notion of a special position of the Dutch economy as "the first modern economy",33 the bulk of research supports the findings that explain the 17th century rise of the Netherlands in the context of intertwining cross-border economic, social and cultural processes.34
Studies devoted to the political structure of the Dutch Republic have been more restrained regarding revisions of commonly held historical views. Historiography was long dominated by the 19th and early 20th century interpretations that viewed the republic, as they did the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, as an inadequately developed state and as a constitutional monstrosity. But this negative image has now been replaced by a more neutral emphasis on the Netherlands' otherness. Thus, its republican constitution is described as being outside the European norm,35 the Dutch Republic is said to have had a "conspicuously anomalous position as a mercantile republic squeezed between absolutist monarchies",36 or indeed one, that measured against the "standards of the modern state, with its centralized decision making and bureaucratic apparatus", was a "political freak".37 In the Netherlands the formation of the state was not characterised by central rule with a strong monarch at the top, a centralized bureaucracy, and a unified system of laws and taxes but by the political and legal independence of the seven provinces and individual communities, and by the overarching political structure of the States-General in The Hague. Regarding this background the birth of the Republic of the Netherlands was described as "a contradiction in terms since they had come into being as a nation expressly to avoid becoming a state".38 Only with the critique of absolutism in recent years and the re-discovery of republican traditions in the political theory of the early modern period did it become possible to see the political structure of the Netherlands in the context of the 17th century history of ideas, instead of interpreting it as an exotic special case.39 Although contemporaries often criticised the Netherlands' political structure, they also discovered many positive aspects.40
A reassessment of the formation process of the Netherlands stresses that:
the Republic had been a unique combination of old and new: unique, not because similar combinations did not occur elsewhere, but because of the period of history in which it manifested itself.41
Like the economic and cultural rise of the Dutch Republic, the creation of the state, beginning with its liberation from Habsburg Spain's domination and ending with the establishment of a republic without a ruling monarch, was closely intertwined with European history. In the process of national self-definition, on the one hand the new republic sought its roots in the myths of Batavia, and on the other it depicted the republic as a Protestant, freedom-loving nation. Quite in contrast to Catholic Spain which, in accord with the colonial "Black Legend", was depicted as tyrannical and brutal in opposing the Netherlands' struggle for freedom.42
In the following sections the process of integration that has been sketched above – the images and perceptions of the Dutch Republic – will be explained in more detail with a focus on the creation of the republic, its political culture, migration and society, globalisation and commerce, and finally on the early Enlightenment.
The Formation of the Dutch Republic and its Political Culture
The heartland of the Netherlands was formed in the 16th century by the prosperous and populous provinces of Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut and Artois with their numerous cities. In the north, separated by lakes and rivers, were the provinces of Friesland, Zeeland, Holland and Utrecht; in the east and north east were the sparsely populated provinces of Overijssel, Limburg, Gelderland, Namur, Luxemburg and Groningen. In addition, there were the city-states of Tournai and Mechelen; in the south the region was bounded by the Habsburg possessions of Franche-Comté and Lorraine. At the beginning of the early modern period northern Italy and the urban landscape of the southern Netherlands were the most culturally and economically developed areas of Europe.43 With a total of 17 provinces and an area of 90,000 square kilometres, the Netherlands, due to dynastic connections, were part of the Habsburg empire until the northern seven provinces seceded in the revolt against the rule and religious policy of Habsburg Spain and in 1579 laid the foundation for the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands with the Union of Utrecht.
Although the formation of the republic appears to have proceeded in a straightforward manner, in the beginning no such development was intended. Originally, the Union of Utrecht had merely been a military alliance of convenience for the purpose of driving Spanish troops from the country; politically it had been motivated by the desire to be more independent from Spain. This demand was theoretically supported by the Monarchomach doctrine of the right to resist tyranny. Based on this position, in 1581 the States-General (assembly of the estates) of the seven provinces deposed the Spanish king Philip II (1527–1598) and his Governor-General as ruler of the northern Netherlands. This step marked the final separation of two politically, culturally and denominationally very different spheres of power within the Netherlands – the southern provinces were under the leadership of Brabant and the northern provinces under the leadership of Holland – which during the revolt had formed two rival alliances, so that scholars speak of a "Holland style revolt" and a "Brabant style revolt".44 The overall policy objective of the southern provinces was to have Catholic Netherlands with a strong estates representation under the Spanish crown. The North however fought under the leadership of the stadholder William I, Prince of Orange (1533–1584) for a Protestant North, for religious tolerance in the predominantly Catholic South, for removal of the Spanish king and his Governor-General, for a constitutional monarchy with a strong political position for the States-General and, finally, for the unity of the Netherlands under the leadership of Brabant.45 The Pacification of Ghent in 1576 was supposed to lay the basis for these aims. The Pacification which was preceded by the unauthorized calling of the States-General, by-passing the king, demanded the return of the refugees (which amounted to a de facto recognition of the Reformed denominations) and the withdrawal of the Spanish troops. As the vision of a Netherlands united under these terms was shattered due to the resistance of the Spanish crown and the disunity of the southern provinces, William, Prince of Orange placed himself at the head of the revolt of the northern provinces.
However, merely deposing the Spanish king did not bring about the republican structure in the northern Netherlands. Instead, an intensive search began for a new monarch to rule the seven united provinces. In 1580 the estates that were united in the union had offered the crown to the Duke of Anjou, a brother of the French king, and at the same time stipulated that the estates should have a strong voice in the political decision making process. Following the death of the duke and the murder of William I, Prince of Orange in 1584 the monarchy was offered first to Henry III, King of France (1551–1589), and then to Elizabeth I, Queen of England (1533–1603), however both declined. Elizabeth I did not want to unnecessarily exacerbate the conflict with Spain, for Henry III rule over the Protestant Netherlands would have created domestic political problems. Elizabeth, however, recommended her favourite Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester (ca. 1532–1588) as Governor-General of the Netherlands and simultaneously tried to secure English influence by appointing important political positions. The "Council of State" as the supreme organ of the assembly of the estates was to be complemented with two English members. The English crown secured the right to have a say in the appointment of future stadholders (representatives of the seven provinces). But the estates did not honour these agreements and named Maurice, Prince of Orange (1567–1625) to succeed the murdered William without obtaining the consent of the English crown. Already by 1587 Leicester's time as stadholder came to an end and the States-General finally gave up the attempt to find a successor. At no point was the existence of the new state proclaimed; between 1580 and 1609 the Dutch Republic simply became a reality.
The seven provinces formed the political foundation of the new republic, each with its own estates assembly. Most political decisions were made at this level. The States-General in The Hague was responsible for questions of foreign policy, national defence and military administration, as well as for the administration of the Generality Lands which were predominantly Catholic and which were not permitted to have their own estates assembly. The executive body was led by the stadholder in conjunction with the Council of State.46 Not until the Peace of Westphalia brought an end to the Eighty Years' War between Spain and the Netherlands (1568–1648) was the Dutch Republic internationally recognized as an independent state. In 1798 the first constitution of the republic came into force. Following a tumultuous political history – since 1651 a period without stadholders, ambitious regents and the re-introduction of the stadholderate in 1672 – the Republic of the Netherlands became a constitutional monarchy in 1814 and the republican constitution was revised.
The process of the formation of the republic at the turn of the 17th century was accompanied by public debate and reflection on the legitimacy and the cultural and historical foundations of political action. In connection with this scholars also debate the question whether, at the beginning of the republic, one can speak of the northern and southern Netherlands under Spanish rule as a unified cultural area, in which case the subsequent division was artificial and unnatural, or whether major differences had existed between the north and the south before separation that simply became manifest when separation took place.47 The application of the "Black Legend" to the war between Spain and the Netherlands and the depiction of Spanish acts of violence in written and pictorial propaganda were done in order to justify the break with Spain. Beyond this, the political protagonists and theoreticians of the time made every effort to demonstrate the republic's historical roots in order to suggest continuity, or indeed, to suggest that the young republic's birth was actually a renaissance of a previously existing republican structure. Thus, what took place was not a "Selbsterfindung der Republik" (the invention of the republic) as has sometimes been argued,48 but the tracing of continuities and inter-connections.49 The result was, firstly, to raise the idea of freedom to an absolute that left its stamp on the political culture of the Netherlands. Secondly, the stylization of the liberty loving and heroic Batavian Prince Claudius Civilis (Batavian rebellion against the Romans 69–70 AD) that portrayed him and his tribe as the immediate predecessors and models for the qualities that the Netherlands wished to realise, and, thirdly, Calvinism. In chronicles, the daily press, plays and epics the central elements of Batavian history were woven into a proto-nationalist text and offered to the extremely heterogeneous society of the northern Netherlands as a common platform upon which to build a cultural identity. Interestingly, here the qualities appear that observers attributed to the inhabitants of the Dutch Republic in the 17th century.50 Thus, an analysis of the relevant documents reaches the following conclusion:
According to this preformation version of national identity, most of the special characteristics by which the Dutch differentiated themselves from other peoples were present in embryonic or incipient form in ancient Batavia.51
Another reason for Batavia's attractiveness was its location which, under the condition that it could be defined at all, extended well beyond the borders of the Dutch Republic and thus provided the immigrants from the southern Netherlands with historical points of reference. Nevertheless, the search for a "proto-national text"52 overlooks the dissonance that arose from the heterogeneity of Dutch society and culture and from the fact that it bore the stamp of immigrants, an aspect that was also treated in the press and literature. As a representative text of this tendency we can point to the sonnet Fürstliche Präsentation der Tiere published in 1617, in which Joost van den Vondel (1587–1679), himself the scion of an immigrant family, described the situation in the northern Netherlands that the immigrants had created:
Veel volvkren zijn zoo wilt, zoo woerst en onbesuyst, Dat d'arme vreemdling niet bij haet magh zijn gehuyst. Al hebben zij een land tot haet behoef ghewonnen, Een ander zullen zij het aerdrijck noch misgonnen.53
Next to the re-awakening of Batavian virtues and the special role that freedom and religion played, water – its constant threat and the ceaseless struggle against it– played an important role in the search for aspects of identification in which the heterogeneous society of the Netherlands could identify with. In a variety of literary and political texts and pictures the victory over the water was equated with the defeat of foreign enemies. Even a critical observer like the Englishman Owen Felltham (1602–1668), who not only described the Netherlands geographically as a "general Sea-land", as an "Aequilibrium" consisting of "mud and water" and as a place where one lives in constant danger of being drowned, conceded that the people of the Netherlands are "in some sort Gods, for they set bounds to the Ocean and allow it to come and go as they list."54
But even if the main lines of conflict in the history of the growth of the Dutch Republic ran between Spain and the northern provinces, other European states and regions were in various and differing ways involved in the revolution and liberation of the Netherlands from the rule of Habsburg Spain.55 Such involvement ranged from concrete military help and propagandistic support of the Protestants who were in rebellion against Spain's "Catholic rule of terror", to the flight, migration and remigration of thousands of people from the southern Netherlands to northern Europe. In 1672 an anonymous English pamphlet recalled these connections in detail, and underlined England's intimate involvement with the fate of the Netherlands:
Long after, when you were all overwhelmed with the Superstitions of Rome, and began to desire a Reformation and for that were sorely persecuted by the Spanish Inquisition, insomuch that five thousand families left their houses, and fled out of the Countrey; this our Nation received most of them, appointed Churches for them, and allowed them many noble priviledges here. … In the year 1585, when the Spaniard pressed your Countrey very sore on every side, that you began to be in a most desperate condition, England took pity upon them, took them into protection, sent over to their assistance 5000 Foot, and 1000 Horse, lent them great sums of money, obtained great aids for them from the Prince Elector Palatine …56
It is noteworthy that in this description an active role is attributed to England in the economic rise of the new republic. According to the presentation of the anonymous author English textile merchants moved the market in textile staples from Antwerp to Delft, thereby laying the foundation for its later wealth:
[England] removed the great Staple of English Clothe from Antwerp to Delft in Holland, which occasioned the great wealth and many fair Buildings there to be seen at this day.57
In times of crisis – for example during wars between European powers and trade rivalries on the world's oceans – this support was kept alive in collective memory in order to accuse the Dutch also of ingratitude:
They forgot all former Kindnesses and Friendships, and began not onely to undermine us treacherously and wickedly to supplant us in our Trade there, but also utterly to exclude us out of those parts.58
In addition it was also held against the Dutch that they were indulging in violence in their trading colonies "in a more cruell and horrible manner then ever Turcks used Christians".59
Another dimension of European intertwining was created when William III of Orange (1650–1702), stadholder of the Netherlands, became King of England in 1689, following the "Glorious Revolution" that had successfully deposed the Catholic heir of the Stuart dynasty. At first many Englishmen regarded William, who came to the throne as the result of dynastic connections, as a political hope, the "Protestant Champion" from the Republic of the Netherlands. But this image changed in the English press during his 14-year reign. His opponents in particular portrayed him as "landes- und dynastiefremder Ausbeuter britischer Finanzen und Soldaten" ("an exploiter of British finances and soldiers who came from a strange country and from a strange dynasty") who was suspected of being a tyrant.60 In the Netherlands, William III of Orange, who was the first stadholder after a long vacancy of this position (1651–1672), was also viewed critically. Since these times, without a stadholder, had been described as "ware vrijheid" (true freedom) by many people. His opponents accused him of ruling in the Republic like a monarch and in England like a stadholder, rather than vice versa. On the other hand, at the same time, the House of Orange's quasi-monarchical claim of the right to rule was part of the Netherlands' political culture, and veneration of the House of Orange was an aspect of everyday civic life.61
A particularly great transnational impact was made by the printing industry and by the Netherlands' extensive freedom of the press which, at least indirectly, also shaped the political culture of other countries, especially England's, during the first half of the 17th century. At the same time it provided the fundamental pre-requisite for the Netherlands' and Amsterdam's economic rise to the position of an "Information Exchange".62 Press censorship in England induced many authors to have their political and religious-political writings and pamphlets printed anonymously or under a pseudonym in Amsterdam, which were then brought to England. The surviving hand written notes of the printer and writer Matthew Simmons, "Notes of somethinges I have observed in the Low Countries", describe the hidden paths of commerce in unauthorized printed works between the Dutch Republic and England.63 These processes of exchange refer not only to artifacts; they were also a result of people who were on the move.
Migration and Society
Both 17th century contemporaries as well as present day scholars agree that migration to the northern Netherlands had a decisive influence on the economic and cultural development of the republic, even if recent research has corrected the percentage of the immigrant part of the population downward.64 This influence was based on the, not seldom, high economic potential of the immigrants or their large number – around the year 1600, in some cities, for example in Haarlem or Leiden, immigration led to a doubling of the population.65 It was likewise resting upon the fact that they were entrepreneurially very well linked and that the wealthy among them cultivated a way of life that was attractive to the urban middle classes of the northern republic and was imitated by them. Many of the immigrants had access to extensive networks of economic and familial relationships, the centre of which they transferred from their places of origin in the southern Netherlands, Portugal or France, to northern Europe and Scandinavia, and thus established new networks outside the corporative trade structures such as the Hanseatic League or those of the large trading companies. At the same time they continued to take advantage of already existing economic contacts and networks.66 Partly due to the immigrants, partly independently of them, commercial houses came into existence that were active trans-nationally and which developed into regular commercial dynasties.67
Considering itself the leading social class the old and the new economic elite expressed its wealth in ostentatious architecture, in book and art collections, in fashion and in a great variety of status symbols.68 Because of the mobility and wide ranging contacts, many trans-nationally linked entrepreneurs became "cultural agents" and trend-setters in matters of taste for the whole of Europe.69 One of these was the "Engraver and Art Agent" Michel Le Blon (1587–1656), who was in the service of the chancellor of Sweden Axel Oxenstierna (1583–1654). Le Blon relayed not only the latest political news to Sweden but, acting on the chancellor's behalf, also sent paintings, books, sculptures, coins, maps and so forth, and rapidly became the coveted agent of the Swedish court.70 But smaller courts in more rural areas also had their agents in Amsterdam. It comes as no surprise (although the matter has hardly been investigated) that the dominion of Jever and the principality of Anhalt-Zerbst, the East Frisian princes, the Oldenburg court, and the smaller territories and principalities, maintained ties with individual merchants and agents who were generally located strategically in Bremen, Hamburg or Amsterdam. The agents were to supply the various courts with luxury items, keep them up to date on the latest trends, and use their wide ranging trade contacts to further these ends. In this regard the regular correspondence containing the orders that Johann Ludwig II, Prince of Anhalt-Zerbst (which belonged to Jever) (1688–1746) placed with the merchant Diederich Garlich in Amsterdam in 1744 is most informative. Garlich used his many contacts in Amsterdam and Leiden to put together a catalogue of books, to have unusual ribands made to a set pattern, or to obtain a "lodestone" for the prince, and kept him up to date on the "advertisements" in Dutch newspapers.71
Contemporary observers reveal that the influence of Amsterdam's innovations in art, fashion and curiosities was no secret. Jean le Laboureur (1623–ca. 1675), secretary to Louisa-Maria Gonzaga (1611–1667) who was later to become queen of Poland, kept a journal during her first Grand Tour in 1648 in which he described the cultural attraction of Amsterdam in the following words: "Le Marché du Monde, e la Boutique des Raretez de tout l'Univers."72
This judgment referred not merely to the trade in goods. Inspired by the influx of painters from the southern Netherlands the republic developed an art market, the quantity and quality of which surpassed by far all the art markets that had hitherto been known.73 The number of paintings produced between 1580 and 1800 is calculated to have been between eight and nine million. It has been determined that between 1640 and 1659, at the height of Dutch Art, between 1,300,000 and 1,400,000 paintings were produced, with a yearly production of 63,000 to 70, 000 made by up to 750 painters.74 Not only did the paintings show a variety of topics, including everyday life, social life at all levels, consumption and luxury, world-wide trade relations and the representative desires of the urban elite, but also those, who purchased the paintings were various, coming from nearly all social strata and from all parts of Europe.75 The art that stylised everyday life became a part of everyday life. Travellers, full of admiration, described houses richly decorated with paintings, including middle class dwellings.
Some contemporaries observed the ostentatious way of life of many immigrants from the southern Netherlands with concern and mocking condescension.76 Particularly the immigrants from Brabant who were criticised in plays and satires for their reputed luxurious life style, fraud, hypocrisy, and closeness to the hated Spaniards. One passage in Gerbrand Adriaenszoon Bredero's (1585–1618) Spanischem Brabanter (Spanish Brabantian) from 1610 reads:
This is what it's like among the people of Brabant, men as well as women. They put on airs like cosmopolitan gentlemen and ladies, but they haven't a penny in their purse.77
Dutch women were ridiculed for having fallen under the influence of fashionable ladies from Brabant so that they now changed their clothes daily.78 But if the immigrants regarded the Dutch women as being without grace (bot), the women of Brabant were accused of being careless, licentious and unpredictable.79 Regarding the United Netherlands the thesis has been advanced that acculturation processes took place between the urban ruling classes and the immigrants as bearers of the culture of the more highly developed southern Netherlands, and that this process was also one of social segregation and exclusivity on the part of the upper classes. Thus, the extensive criticism regarding the immigrants and their life of luxury expressed in sermons, plays and pamphlets was likewise directed against the own upper class which was adopting the immigrants' way of life – in a manner of speaking, a "cultural alchemy" was taking place.
In studies of the Netherlands the question concerning the real extent of the role that the immigrants played in the culture and economy of the Dutch Republic is controversial.80 Recent research has demonstrated that in many areas the economic success of the Netherlands was the result of a successful co-operation between old and new economic elites.81 But it is incontestable that the social and cultural changes that took place in the northern Netherlands were the result of immigration and the perception of the different life styles and attitudes that were linked to economic changes. The contemporary observer Aglionby, who has already been quoted, also referred to these changes when he pointed out that the Dutch "Cheeseeaters" had now become a sophisticated people.82 A contemporary insight into the life style of wealthy merchants and entrepreneurs in the Dutch Republic is provided by the 17th century travel calendar of the chancery director of the Palatinate, Christian Knorr, Freiherr von Rosenroth (1636–1689), who visited nearly all the collections and the private homes of Amsterdam's wealthy merchants and took inventories of the art objects and described them in detail.83
In addition to the so-called bourgeois patricians, the wealthy merchants, major ship-owners, entrepreneurs and senior government officials, there was a relatively large urban middle class consisting of preachers, teachers, doctors, city officials, master craftsmen, mariners and the wealthier traders. They benefited from the economic rise of the Netherlands in varying degrees, depending on the province they lived in, and were part of a society in which consumption was growing and education expanding.84 The dynamics that can develop in an urban middle class', intent on attaining wealth and exclusiveness, is illustrated by the "tulip mania" of the early 17th century.85 After tulips had been introduced into the Netherlands from the Ottoman Empire in ca. 1550 and successful cultivation had produced endless varieties, the flower became a coveted status symbol due to its rarity, which triggered a widespread mania for tulips in the 1630s. A flourishing trade in tulips and tulip stocks developedand demand drove prices to extraordinary heights until the speculative bubble burst in 1637 and set off one of the first great financial and economic crises of modern times.
The class of subaltern civil servants, clerks, artisans, shopkeepers, mariners and the self-employed, as well as day labourer, sailors, soldiers and various craftsmen played a relatively small part in the rapid economic growth, although they had enjoyed a primary education. The lowest social class was made up of beggars, invalids and migratory workers.86 By the 17th century almost 50 percent of the population lived in cities, and only one third in rural areas.
The nobility which, with the regents, stood at the pinnacle of the social pyramid, made up only a small percentage of the population that in the course of the 17th century continued to decline, due primarily to the fact that the practice of elevating individuals to nobility had ceased. Among the important noble families of the 17th century are the Wassenaers van Duvenvoirde, Brederodes, van Ulrum and van der Myle. They were primarily big landowners who were able to maintain their status at a distance from the large urban centres in the provinces of Gelderland and Overijssel where they continued to enjoy feudal privileges and in some instances owned up to one third of the land.87 Also the rural population was differentiated in itself and included simple day labourers as well as large farmers who, due to peasant ownership rights, where in a position to match the nobles in wealth, and social and political status.88
Religion, Education and Science
A phenomenon that was broadly discussed as early as the 17th century was religious plurality, which both fascinated and unsettled contemporaries – "truth can be hardly distinguished from falsehood nor Christ from the Devil".89 Historians have traditionally described the Netherlands as "a prototypical society of plural worlds, of confessional coexistence, and of religious toleration".90 The legal foundation of this plurality was the freedom of religion established by Article 13 of the Union of Utrecht (1579) that prohibited the denominations from forcing individuals to become members, a prohibition that also included the official Reformed Church. Yet religious freedom was confined to the private practice of faith; the public sphere was reserved for Calvinism. In addition to this legal foundation the religious plurality in individual cities and provinces was the result of various other factors. On the one hand it was induced by migration, on the other it was the result of the religious-political and social changes and of the conflicts triggered by the Reformation. Religious privileges and financial incentives were part of the fundamental strategies of Dutch cities that competed for well-educated immigrants. Haarlem, for example, after suffering defeat at the hands of Spain in 1573, sent agents to the southern Netherlands and in particular recruited weavers, but also members of other skilled professional groups, offering them premiums to settle, starting capital and religious privileges. By 1622 the population had grown from 14,000 (1570) to over 39,000.91 By the beginning of the 17th century 20 percent of the population belonged to the Reformed churches, 12 percent were Catholic, 14 percent belonged to the religious community of the Mennonites and 2 percent were Lutheran.92 The rest of the population was undecided or belonged to the so-called followers of the Reformed Church. They participated in the life of the church and attended services, but were not officially recognized as members of the church community, which exempted them from the Lord's Supper but also from church discipline.93
The geographical distribution of the large denominations and the individual communities of faith in the 17th century Dutch Republic were very unbalanced.94 Nor it is possible to unequivocally assign denominational membership along lines of social class, gender or profession. In all seven of the republic's provinces as well as in the States General – divided internally by the conflict between Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants – Calvinism was established as the official religion, without however developing into a state church or introducing denominational coercion. In addition Catholics, Lutherans, Mennonites and Jews were tolerated, although they were not permitted to practice their religion openly or to hold a public office.95 Numerically the Reformed Church became dominant only in the early 18th century while, despite restrictions, the other denominations became increasingly institutionalised.
As a "public church" the Dutch Reformed Church took on an interesting role in religious and secular life. Reformed rituals and ceremonies were transferred to the public sphere and often made up the framework of political events and constituted the code of values that governed social life, "the religious design of civic life."96 Nevertheless, only gradually did society and the public sphere come under denominational control. The everyday life of religions living together was determined less by denominational boundaries or clear cut denominational membership but rather by the perception and experience of religious pluralism.97 In addition, recent scholarship has noted the variety of forms of religious dissimulation as well as the uncertainties that people had regarding their own denominational or religious affiliation. Case studies show that the forms of religious co-existence that took place in everyday life had to be continually renegotiated.98 These new findings have also led to re-framing the questions concerning the relationship of society, culture and religion. Can one discern a specific Calvinist character in the 17th century Netherlands?99 It has been shown that certain peculiarities of Calvinism were adapted by other denominations and religious communities, then freed of denominational ties and turned into conventions without religious foundations.
Although the Calvinist Church was an integral part of the Dutch Republic's political and social identity, yet the Dutch civic community and its culture was at the same time broader and different.100
The school system was also characterised by this religious and cultural variety. Only after the Synod of Dort in 1619 a rigorous school authority was introduced nationwide and the pre-requisite for an individual being accepted into the teaching profession became the individual's clear commitment to the "basis of unity".101 However, in many places people resisted and tried to avoid the requirement, especially in private schools which were financed by the students' families and which were frequently denominational. In addition there were French schools that had been founded in the 16th century, primarily for the sons of merchants, and which in the course of the 17th century spread due to immigration from the southern Netherlands. As in other European countries, the low educational level of teachers was a problem, and their generally low salaries made it necessary for them to earn a supplementary income. Among other measures, this issue was dealt with by hiring well educated immigrants who in some cities made up more than half of the teaching staff.102
In addition to the denominational and private school curricula, educational textbooks were created that were tailored to the interests of city patricians and to the needs of particular professions. Among the most important of these were the foreign language textbooks for English, German, Dutch or Spanish that had been written since the late Middle Ages as a consequence of the growing importance of the vernacular languages.103 Recent research has emphasised their importance for processes of cultural transfer.104 The foreign language textbooks were written for the court, solicitors' offices, the urban middle and upper classes eager for education, and especially for diplomats, merchants and entrepreneurs engaged in transnational activities who needed to be polyglot in order to communicate. In the 17th century a series of English-Dutch textbooks were written from which we may infer that dual language skills were considered to be a necessity. In some textbooks we find passages concerning everyday school life that give advice on studying and practising English and French along with the obligatory Latin. In the textbooks, that frequently make use of dialogues, we find conversations between merchants of different nationalities that convey particular cultural peculiarities as well as entrepreneurial know-how. As a rule, these foreign language textbooks were bi-lingual. The textbook, Den Engelschen School-Meester – The English Schole-Master, published in Amsterdam in 1646, is addressed to English and Dutch readers.105 It contains a complete grammar section with notes on phonetics, bilingual exercise texts taken from church history and the Bible, proverbs, rules of etiquette and, finally, a section with "Dialogues and ordinary discourses among men – T'samen-sprekingen en gemeyne coutingen onder de menchen". Here one finds such varied themes as "The diligence of a learned father in teaching his children at home" (with information on everyday life in school and family), "A meal of ten persons" (including buying the ingredients, setting the table, welcoming the guests, etc.) or "How to learne to buy and sell", "How to demand a debt", "The forme of writing letters, and making obligations, acquitances, and other such like things" and, finally, "One friend counseleth another howe to proceed wel in merchandizing which he has newly begun". In addition to the growing system of education, universities and various teaching and research institutions were established that were intended to serve the interests of the citizens and to foster freedom.
The universities of the Dutch Republic shaped the intellectual life of the Netherlands and the rest of Europe. Even during the uprising against Spanish rule the first university was founded in Leiden in 1575 by the States-Provincial at the initiative of William of Orange "as an intellectual bulwark against tyranny and religious oppression".106 In his proclamation to the estates he formulated the goals of the university and emphasised its importance for the liberal arts and sciences as well as for the theological search for truth.107 During the course of the 17th century other universities followed – Franeker in 1585, Groningen in 1614 and Utrecht in 1636. In addition, a number of so-called Illustre Scholen or Athenaea were established, among other places in Amsterdam, Utrecht, Dordrecht, Middelburg and Rotterdam, which did not include all of the faculties and which did not have the right to award doctorates. Some of these schools were soon transformed into universities, for example Utrecht. And, finally, there was a widespread network of seminaries, private and public institutions for theology, law, or medicine, and learned circles that carried knowledge and intellectual life well beyond the university into society itself. Leiden in particular enjoyed a reputation that went far beyond the borders for being a place of scholarly disputation and excellent education. A particular role in this educational landscape was played by the Athenaeum Illustre in Amsterdam. This Schola was not dedicated to the strengthening of Calvinism; instead its faculties included philosophy, history, mathematics and astronomy, law and oriental languages. Only later medicine was taught, and the faculty was able to draw on the long-standing tradition of anatomical research which in the 17th century was connected with the name of Nicolaes Tulp (1593–1674).
The intention of this Amsterdam institution was to have an effect on society which was clearly expressed by Caspar Barleus (1584–1648) in his inaugural lecture. In pursuit of his goal of awakening the love of philosophy among the city's merchants, this scholar, who originally came from Leiden, gave his public lecture the title The Educated Merchant. On the Relationship between Trade and Philosophy.108 It has already been pointed out that the major entrepreneurs and merchants played an active role in the intellectual and cultural life of their time and the direct appeal of Barleus' address is a particular expression and example of this fact.
In general it can be said that during the 17th century European students enjoyed a relatively high level of mobility, a state of affairs from which the Netherlands also profited. The so-called peregrinatio academica that served the people's interest in education and the increase of knowledge found broad support. Of particular importance was the direct dialogue with famous scholars, and young academics set out on their journey with letters of recommendation in hand.
When we attempt to sketch the scientific accomplishments of the Netherlands and their European dimensions, in addition to the European composition of the universities and scholarly circles, we should note, among other things, innovations in cartography, medicine and the natural sciences. It has been shown that the scientific success in medicine and the natural sciences in the middle of the 17th century was inextricably linked to the Netherlands' worldwide connections, especially to its ties with Asia, and to the role played by the interplay of materiality, the intellectual penetration of reality, and the global exchange of information. In this way the focus of research has shifted from one oriented on universities and science to one concerned with a global network, which has established the connection between knowledge and the "first" globalisation.
The economic transformations of the first age of global commerce placed a high value on careful descriptive information about objects [which] shaped priorities for knowing about nature.109
The journey of the doctor Jakob de Bondt (1592–1631) to India, for example, illustrates how new knowledge was gathered, underwent change, and was exchanged within a world-wide information network.110 The Netherlands' open culture of discussion, the fundamental idea of religious tolerance and, last but not least, the integration of science into the Netherlands' global network provided important stimuli for the early Enlightenment.111