Outline and Notes on Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall, 1477-1806

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Outline and Notes on Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall, 1477-1806 (Oxford: 1995).
Gerard Koot, History Department, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth

Israel agrees with Pieter Geyl “that there was no specifically Dutch or northern Netherlands identity before 1572, nor any specifically southern Netherlands awareness…Yet, despite this, political, economic, and geographical factors had rendered north and south separate entities long before the ‘Revolt of 1572.’ Seen against the backcloth of the later Middle Ages, and early sixteenth century, there is an important sense in which 1572, and the final separation of north and south, merely completed—were the logical outgrowth of—a duality which had, in reality, existed for centuries” (p. vi).

--“During most of the history of the United Provinces, allegiance and identity were based on provincial, civic, and sometimes also local rural sentiment rather than attachment to the Republic as a whole” (p., vi).

-Thus the loose federal structure that evolved was well suited to prevailing attitudes.

--The Dutch speaking provinces, including Flanders, Brabant and Limburg, constituted a single culture in language, art, and literature, which was broken by the Calvinist Reformation in the North. Catholic and Protestant cultures were antagonistic to each other.

--There was no hard and fast boundary between Germany and the Netherlands until the 18th century.


--Contemporaries were impressed by the Republic’s innovations but not by its multiplicity of religions, the excessive liberties of women, servants and Jews, and the bourgeois flavor of its culture. Moreover, many saw the Republic’s culture as a seedbed of theological, intellectual and social promiscuity.

--Important features of the Dutch Republic

-1590 to 1740—primacy in world shipping and trade

-Technological leader in Europe

-Agricultural innovation

-Low levels of crime

-Military revolution from 1590s o 1648, and then from 1672 to 1713

-Many visitors came for intellectual and artistic pursuits—such as Descartes, Locke, Bayle, Lipsius, Spinoza, Grotius, Rembrandt, Vondel, Huygens, and Vermeer

-Freedom of thought and religion

-Freedom was the banner of the Revolt under William the Silent and freedom, Vryheid, was the reason given for the Perpetual Edict of 1667 that banished the hereditary Stadholder in Holland
The Rise of Holland

Before about 1200, the principal towns north of the big rivers were Utrecht, Kampen, Deventer, Zwolle, Nijmegen and Zutphen. The low-lying areas from the Scheldt to the Ems estuary were thinly populated.

The Low Countries, showing main rivers and areas reclaimed from the sea, river estuaries, and lakes in medieval and early modern times (p. 11)
The Rise of Holland dates only from the early 13th century with diking and drainage schemes. The main schemes took place between 1590 and 1650 and then again after about 1850.

--Heemraadschappen—local boards with representatives of villagers, towns and local nobles arose to manage land reclamation and defense. Above these were hoogheemraadschappen overseen by a dijkgraaf, or dike count, usually nominated by a count.

--Holland’s expansion began with the annexation of West Friesland and control over Zeeland in the late 13th c.

--By the late 15th c. Holland’s population was 44% urban, but Brabant and Flanders were still the most populous and highly developed.

--Holland’s maritime trade in the 15th c was confined to the bulk carrying trade, grain in the Baltic and salt in France and Portugal, and herring, using fully rigged ships.

Holland in the 15th and 16th centuries (p. 17)
--Flanders and Brabant depended on the Hansa towns such as Kampen, Deventer and Zwolle, for their ‘rich’ trade with the Baltic.

--Political conflict of Cabeljauwen (cod) and Hoeks went on in Holland from 1350 to 1500, with the former eventually becoming identified with the upper classes,

Under the Burgundians

Duke Philip the Good acquired Holland in 1428. Burgundy became the overwhelming power in the Low Countries.

--Created the States General, central Chamber of Accounts, and the order of the Golden Fleece.

--Built a ducal palace in Brussels in 1451 and a university in Leuven in 1425.

--Holland and Zeeland were placed under stadholders who served as provincial governors.

--Towns dominated Holland and Zeeland. The States of Holland, with no prince, served as cohesive governments for the six main towns—Dordrecht, Haarlem, Leiden, Amsterdam, Delft and Gouda.

-By the mid 15th century, the more democratic elements of town government were repressed and the urban patricians became dominant.

-The Burgundian state reached its zenith under the harsh rule of Charles the Bold, 1467-77.

-Succeeded by Mary of Burgundy (1477-82), who was forced to grant the Grand Privilege, 1477, which allowed the Estates General to meet without her consent. This was accompanied by another Great Privilege, which excluded ‘strangers,’ chiefly Flemish and Brabanters, from office in Holland and Zeeland. The States of Holland also used only Dutch as their official language while the Habsburgs used French.

--Mary married Maxmillian of Habsburg (1459-1519), who sought to claw back some central authority with the support of some of the great nobles.

-Maxmillian was recalled to Vienna to be the Holy Roman Emperor. His son Philip, a Netherlander, was installed in Brussels in 1493.

-Upon Philip’s death, his son Charles was installed as Duke of Brabant and Habsburg ruler in the Netherlands in 1515. In 1516 he became king of Spain after the death of his maternal grandfather, Ferdinand of Aragon.

The provinces of the Netherlands under Charles V (p. 36)
-Margaret of Austria was installed as a regent in Brussels and served from 1517-30. Mary of Hungary followed her from 1530 to 1540.

-Charles set up Council of State, whose members were 12 great magnates, a Secret Council run by professional bureaucrats, and Stadholders who served as the crown’s governors in each of the Provinces.

-The greatest of the Stadholders was Hendrik of Nassau’s son, who became Rene de Chalons, when he inherited the principality of Orange (in the south of France) in 1538. He was the first to have the title of Prince of Orange and was the uncle of William the Silent.

-The administration of the Netherlands was chiefly done with links between the central councils and the provincial high courts, the baljuws or drosten. In Holland, they gradually ceased to be nobles in the 16th century and were the links between the provincial courts and rural districts. The schout served as the local agent, or police. In towns, the raad, or vroedschap, was headed by a burgomeester.

-Above these local officials were the provincial States and, for the Netherlands as a whole, the States General.

--Charles V’s revenues quintupled during his reign in a period when prices doubled.

Thus, the Netherlands constituted a formidable adjunct to Habsburg wealth and power.

North European Christian Humanism was one of the crucial cultural shifts in western history. It began in circa 1470 as the Devotio Moderna in Overijsel and Groningen. It originated with Geert Groote, a devout burgher in Deventer, during the late 14th century. It stressed the inner development of the individual and did not involve itself in church dogma or organization.

-Thomas á Kempis (1379-1471), The Imitation of Christ, paved the way for Erasmus. The Devotio Moderna emphasized literacy and schooling but did not challenge conventional religious forms.

-Rudolph Agricola, born in Groningen, was the founder of northern humanism by spreading Italian humanist exegesis of scripture in the north.

-Christian humanism pervaded the civic Latin Schools in the northeast. Erasmus attended the Latin School in Deventer, 1475-84. He completed his education at the Latin School in s’Hertogenbosch. He stayed in Holland until 1493. He believed that a preoccupation with the ancients could lead to paganism and argued that a humanist scholar could only be purified with a zealous commitment to Christ. His Greek New Testament was published at Basel in 1516.

-Humanism captured the schools and found many adherents in civic government. In art, a passionate absorption with Christ emphasized the crucifixion of Christ, the Virgin and popular saints. The Northern Humanistic artistic tradition continued with Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, who depicted a world of sacred happenings and gestures.

-In Haarlem, the first important center of painting in the North, Lucas van Leyden, Jan van Scorel, and Maarten van Heemskerk, rejected the emphasis on the old religious scenes and turned to biblical scenes of moral education during the 16th century.

-Erasmus initially secretly supported Luther’s attacks, especially on monasticism, but feared his radicalism and to Christian humanist scholarship. In 1519 he deplored the anti-Luther campaign in Holland. He left Holland for good in 1521 and settled in Basel. His insistence that the that the exposition of scripture lay with the Christian humanist scholar had in fact usurped the claim of the Church that it had the sole authority to interpret scripture. His views had immense influence among the educated.

-Erasmus’ open break with Luther spread his influence in the Netherlands because its reformation was much more varied than that of the increasingly dogmatic and authoritarian Lutherans.

Habsburg policy was to concentrate power in the Low Countries in Brussels. Flanders would not allow its resources to be used militarily north of the great rivers. Thus, it was Holland that led the consolidation of territory north of the rivers.

--The Batavian myth, described by Tacitus, told that Claudius Civilis had successfully led the revolt of the Batavians against Rome in the name of freedom north of the rivers. It became popular in Dutch Humanism around 1500 and became a potent cultural factor in the creation of a new identity in the north.

The separate sovereignties and autonomous lordships of the Netherlands after 1543 (p. 71)

--A series of wars saw the Habsburgs, using mainly Holland resources, annex Friesland, Groningen, Gelderland, Overijsel, Drenthe, Utrecht and Cleves by 1548.

--The Pragmatic Sanction of 1548 recognized the Habsburg Netherlands as a separate entity and that this sovereignty would pass down through the Holy Roman Empire’s heirs. The articles were passed and sworn to by all the provincial assemblies.

--There remained a number of counties, mostly in the east, that were not fully integrated and retained separate jurisdictions within the Empire, especially the bishopric of Liege’s holdings.

--Geography remained important. Neither Flanders nor Brabant south of the rivers had participated in this Hapsburg effort of unification. Charles had hoped to centralize authority in Brussels, had used Holland’s resources, but had not been able to limit the relative political autonomy of Holland.

---The language of the Empire’s court in Brussels was French. In the late middle ages there were five variants of Dutch—Flemish, Brabants, Hollands, Limburgs and Oosters (northeast). In the north it was Hollands that was gaining ground. This was greatly aided by its printing industry, especially of the Bible.


The Netherlands Church on the even of the Reformation

--The early Dutch reformation was a bottom-up phenomenon. Calvinism was not a major factor before 1550.

-Roman Catholic ecclesiastical authority was weak for three million people with five bishops, only two of which, Liege and Utrecht, were in Dutch speaking areas and all were under the archbishop-elector of Cologne, a vassal of Charles V.

-The Church remained wealthy in 1500 but its influence and number of clergy were diminishing. Absenteeism was rampant and scandals were numerous,

The Impact of Luther

--Luther’s works circulated widely in the Netherlands with its high level of literacy, urbanization, and the prevalence of Christian humanism. About 50 of Luther’s works quickly appeared in Dutch. Antwerp was one of Europe’s chief printing centers.

--The Emperor responded with public book burnings and the setting up of an Inquisition. By 1525, repression had limited Lutheranism and had driven the Reformation underground. By the late 1520s many areas in Germany had an organized Lutheran Church structure but not in the Low Countries.

The distinctiveness of Dutch Protestantism was its intense spiritual outlook and its decentralization. It was not primarily undogmatic and Erasmian, as has often been claimed, but “pluriform and radically decentralized” (p. 85).

--Only the Dutch Anabaptists separated themselves from the wider community. They were small fractious groups and were mercilessly persecuted for three decades. Dutch Anabaptism began in the northeast with the arrival of Melchior Hoffman in Emden from Zurich.

--Jan of Leyden in Munster, 1534, was famously radical but there were also zealots in Amsterdam, Haarlem, Delft, and in the north.

--The pacifist strain of Anabaptism, exemplified by Menno Simons, who fought with the pen in Dutch, became its main expression in the Netherlands by the 1540s. In Friesland, perhaps a quarter of the population was Anabaptist.

--By the 1550s the broad response of the Netherlands elites was to attempt a theological via media while outwardly conforming to Catholicism. Only in the Walloon part of Liege and French speaking areas was support for Catholicism strong.

Spiritualism and the Impact of Persecution

The position of William the Silent on religion was fairly common among the elite. He argued that the state had no right to interfere with individual consciences. The State should support toleration of freedom of conscience. This was the politique position. Dutch religion by 1560 emphasized personal spiritualism and mysticism combined with outward conformity with the established church.

--Internalization of the Reformation flourished as the repression of heresy intensified. In 1545 Charles V set up regional tribunals to repress the reformation. Between 1523 and 1565 1,300 people were executed for heresy in the Netherlands.
The Rise of Calvinism in the Netherlands

The organizers of Calvinism in the Netherlands chiefly came from Dutch Protestant exiles in London and Germany. It was organized around Calvin’s Institutes and its clear exposition of doctrine, discipline and organization. By the 1550s a Dutch Calvinist organizational structure appeared in the Netherlands, first in the exile churches. In 1561 a Netherlands Confession of Faith, Confession Belgica, was approved at a clandestine synod in Antwerp.

Calvinism, however, never fully replaced the looser and more diffused religious tendencies of the past, creating a deep tension between tightly controlled and ‘libertine’ tendencies in Dutch Protestantism that remained to the modern era (p. 105).

Land, Rural Society and Agriculture

--From the 12th century onwards, the Low Countries gradually freed the peasantry from feudal ties and obligations. Land reclamation and colonization led the Church and the nobility to offer attractive terms for free status. Thus, earlier than in France or England, it became usual in the Low Countries, north and south, to lease land for money terms without seigniorial control.

--The Prince of Orange was the largest landowner in the Netherlands, mostly south of the big rivers. The nobility in Holland consisted of about 200 families who owned just 5% of the land. The Church owned 10%. About a third of the land was owned by town dwellers and leased as family farms. The peasantry owned about 45% of the land in the maritime areas. In the sandy and wooded areas of the east, the nobility and church owned more of the land, in some areas more than half.

--The maritime zones had the highest crop yields in Europe and by 1500 had already experienced an agricultural revolution, chiefly through sophisticated drainage, extensive use of manure, and high urban demand for dairy products, cereals, meat and beer, as well as industrial crops such as hops, flax, hemp and madder. Baltic grain imports rose by five times between 1500 and 1560 but arable farming also expanded.

-A large proletarian rural population engaged in fishing and the maritime sector.

Up to 1500, a thinly settled north had the highest percentage of urban dwellers in Europe, about 50% in Holland.

-A population of about one million in 1500 in the area of what would become the Dutch Republic

-In the south the urban economy was based on the ‘rich trades’—textiles, spices, metals, and sugar-and associated industries, including woolen cloth, linen, tapestries, sugar refining and metalworking. The latter was based in Liege. In the north, the wealth of the towns was based on the bulk trades in grain and timber, salt, fishing, and old style cloth production. Shipbuilding was a major industry.

--Fluit ships were an important innovation. They were relatively small, but sturdy, cheap, and required a small crew.

--Another important early industry in Holland was brewing, e especially in Haarlem, Delft and Gouda.

Institutions of Civic Life

--Importance of urban guilds—they restricted entrance to the trades, enforced adherence to stipulated work practices, and provided welfare to its members.

--Guilds resulted in a highly town regulated urban economy.

--Militia companies, schutterijen, maintained order, defended the town, and were part of social life.

--Chambers of Rhetoric, Rederijkskamers, were culturally important. They were quite common and heavily influenced by humanism and were characterized by a generic low-key Protestantism.

-Perhaps a third to 40% of the population was too poor to pay property taxes in the early 16th century. Traditional poor relief was designed to deal with local problems and to exclude strangers. Because of a growing urban population, a critique of charity developed because of an unrestricted giving to beggars, the humanist criticism of monks and nuns, and the decline of church wealth, Instead of seeing charity as a sacred value, the emphasis shifted to reducing idleness, vagrancy and poverty. In some Flemish towns, endowment funds for the relief of poverty were transferred to civic institutions. Despite the sweeping away of church connected charities and endowments, no major reorganizations of charity took pace in the north until after the Revolt.


Regents were the urban elite who participated in civic government as members of the vroedschappen, or town councils in Holland, the raad in the eastern provinces, and magistraat or wet in Brabant. It was never an oligarchy strictly defined by birth or social status, although they worked at becoming a closed patrician oligarchy. What defined them was holding office in civic government. They were natives of the province and often of the town. They were officially appointed by the Burgundian dukes, or the Habsburg Stadholders, from a double list of candidates submitted by town governments. Generally, they were appointed for life.

--The schepenen, town magistrates, were elected for one-year terms by the town council.

--The regent class was drawn from the wealthy and prominent but generally did not constitute the wealthiest merchants and industrialists since town government was quite time demanding.

The Seeds of the Revolt

The Habsburgs were relatively successful in creating an integrated governing bureaucracy run by university-trained officials during the first half of the 16th century.

--In Holland turning the Hof into a central government staffed by university trained lawyers ended the earlier practice of relying on the local nobility.

-Brussels also deliberately placed officials from lesser provinces in important government positions.

--The anti-heresy campaigns increased social tension.

--During the 1540s the Netherlands was drawn into war with France as the Hapsburg-Valois competition turned from Italy to France and the Low Countries, This produced new demands for taxation, recruiting, billeting and provisioning.

--The economic success of the Netherlands tempted the Habsburg to make greater demands on the region as its strategic European base, serving as the bridle to control France.

--In the 1540s only Ghent openly rebelled against Hapsburg demands. Charles came in person to suppress the revolt.

--During the 1840s Charles demanded that the provincial governments create a funded debt—Renten, state issued interest-paying bonds--to pay for wars in which the Low countries had little interest.

--Charles’ abdication in 1555 created turmoil in government. His son Philip arrived in Brussels in 1555 and stayed for four years. Father and son disagreed on a number of strategic issues. He appointed the Duke of Savoy, a trusted general, as lieutenant governor.

--In 1556 Philip demanded the huge sum of three million guldens as a levy on wealth, a 100th penny on fixed property and 2% on liquid assts. It took the Council two years to provide the money and then on the terms of paying it over nine years. It was he last issue the Crown, Council of State, and the provincial governments would agree on.

--In 1557 Philip achieved victory over France, ratified by the Peace of Cateau-Cambresis in 1559. This greatly increased the prestige of the Spanish crown in Europe, and allowed Philip to focus on his battles with Islam and Protestantism. All this was to be symbolized by the building of his palace, the Escorial in Spain.

Crisis 1559-1566

Philip named his illegitimate half-sister, Margaret of Parma, a Habsburg without political experience, as Regent. He left Perrenot Granville, a bureaucrat of non-noble background from Franche-Comte, as his right hand man to run the Council and government. He named several of the great magnates, including William of Orange and the Duke of Egmond as Stadholders.

--The fiscal problems were fundamental but equally problematic was the division between the power structure and patronage in the Netherlands.

--Granville was convinced that the cause of the civil wars in France was the power of the great magnates.

--William the Silent, who was in fact quite outgoing, acquired his moniker by not saying what he thought. His growing opposition to Philip was, on the one hand, natural between a distant and aloof centralizing king and a young and ambitious great lord. On the other hand, he openly proclaimed his religious liberty by marrying Anna of Saxony, a Protestant, as his second wife in 1561.

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