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Republicanism in Practice

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Part of the European History in Perspective book series (EUROHIP)

Abstract

The Dutch Republic has had a bad press in one respect at least: the seventeenth century may have been a golden age in culture and an outstanding success economically, but the Dutch political arrangements of the time have not been admired. The central government is regarded as being so weak a system and so torn between competing provincial interests that it could hardly hold the state together, let alone pursue effective national policies. There have been two main strands to this criticism: Dutch nationalist historiography of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and historians who have taken the centralising, absolutist state as the norm for the early modern period and have seen more traditional systems as anachronistic and necessarily doomed. The newly founded Kingdom of the Netherlands of the nineteenth century needed to justify its existence in opposition to the memory of the greatness of the Republic, and it did so by claiming that the centralised state and monarchy expressed the needs and interests of the Dutch nation far better than the fragmented Republic, where all-powerful provincial egotism had triumphed over national purpose. Such attitudes were reinforced by an interpretation of early modern European history which saw any resistance to absolutism as outdated and inefficient. From either point of view the political system of the Dutch Republic was an anomaly.1

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Notes

  1. 1.
    See on this question, J. L. Price, ‘A State Dedicated to War? The Dutch Republic in the Seventeenth Century’, in The Medieval Military Revolution, ed. Andrew Ayton and J.L. Price (London, 1995 ), pp. 183–200.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    I much prefer a Republic, content with its possessions, seeking only to conserve them, and to secure for its inhabitants a tranquil and peaceful life.’ Quoted in W.R.E. Velema, Enlightenment and Conservatism in the Dutch Republic. The Political Thought of Elie Luzac (1721–1796) (Assen/Maastricht, 1993 ), p. 70.Google Scholar
  3. 4.
    Sir William Temple, Observations upon the United Provinces of the Netherlands ed. Sir George Clark (Oxford, 1972), p. 53;Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    O. Mörke, ‘Sovereignty and Authority. The role of the court in the Netherlands in the first half of the seventeenth century’, Ronald G. Asch and Adolf M. Birke (eds), Princes, Patronage, and the Nobility. The Court at the Beginning of the Modern Age (c.1450–1650) (Oxford, 1991 ), pp. 455–77.Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    J.L. Price, Holland and the Dutch Republic in the Seventeenth Century. The Politics of Particularism (Oxford, 1994), p. 285 and Part III in general.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. 7.
    J.L. Price, ‘Restoration England and Europe’, in The Restored Monarchy,1660–1688, ed. J.R. Jones (London, 1979 ), p. 121.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    Cf. Johannes Althusius, Politica methodice digesta (1603) which is essentially an analysis of the constitution of the Empire, but has also been used as a way of understanding the Dutch political system.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Brian M. Downing, The Military Revolution and Political Change (Princeton, NJ, 1992), esp. pp. 74–83, presents a rather more subtle variation on this theme.Google Scholar
  9. 12.
    Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic (Oxford, 1995), pp. 276–7, asserts that such incidents prove that provincial autonomy was not an effective rule of the Dutch political system. However, it is clear that majority voting in the States General was never accepted in principle nor could it be, given the disparity between the provinces.Google Scholar
  10. 13.
    H. Gerlach, Het proces tegen Oldenbarnevelt en de ‘Maximen in den Staet’ (Haarlem, 1965 ).Google Scholar
  11. 14.
    Marjolein ‘t Hart, The Dutch Republic: the urban impact on politics’, in A Miracle Mirrored. The Dutch Republic in European Perspective, ed. Karel Davids and Jan Lucassen (Cambridge, 1995 ), pp. 58–9.Google Scholar
  12. 16.
    James D. Tracy, Holland under Habsburg Rule 1506–1566 (Berkeley, CA, 1990); see also the remarks in J.I. Israel, The Dutch Republic p. 16.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    Cf. J.L. Price, ‘The Dutch Nobility in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries’, in The European Nobilities in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries vol. 1: Western Europe ed. H.M. Scott (London, 1995), pp. 85–6. The ridderschappen were formal organisations of the nobles of a province controlling their representation in the provincial estates. Their increasingly exclusive character was an important element in the general process of oligarchisation of Dutch politics in this period.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    H. Feenstra, De bloeitijd en het vernal van de Ommelandse adel,1600–1800 (Groningen, 1981 ).Google Scholar
  15. 21.
    See the discussion of this point in H.H. Rowen, Johan de Witt: Grand Pensionary of Holland ( Princeton, NJ, 1978 ), pp. 137–4h.Google Scholar
  16. 23.
    H.F.K. van Nierop, The Nobility of Holland. From Knights to Regents, 1500–1650 (Cambridge, 1993), pp. 203–7.Google Scholar
  17. 25.
    It must be admitted that not all historians see this episode as a failure for the prince, cf. H.H. Rowen, ‘The Revolution that Wasn’t: the Coup d’Etat of 1650 in Holland’, European Studies Review, 4 (1974), 99–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. 28.
    P. Geyl, Het stadhouderschap in de partijliteratuur onder De Witt (Amsterdam, 1947 ).Google Scholar
  19. 29.
    Peter J.A.N. Rietbergen, ‘Beeld en zelfbeeld. “Nederlandse identiteit” in politieke structuur en politieke cultuur tijdens de Republiek’, Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden, 107, 4 (1992), 635–56.Google Scholar
  20. 31.
    See G.N. van der Plaat, ‘Lieuwe van Aitzema’s kijk op het stadhouderschap in de Republiek’, Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden, 103 (1988), 341–72.Google Scholar
  21. H.H. Rowen, The Princes of Orange. The Stadholders in the Dutch Republic (Cambridge, 1988), chs 9, 11.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. See, for example, Craig E. Harline, Pamphlets, Printing and Political Culture in the Early Dutch Republic (Dordrecht, 1987).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. M.P. Christ, De Brabantsche Saecke. Het vergeefsche streven naar een gewestelijke status voor Staats-Brabant 1585–1675 (Tilburg, 1984).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© J. L. Price 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of HullUK

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