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Welcome | Introduction to the document

This pack is for self-study, and for use in seminars or classes.

It is aimed at students who have some knowledge and understanding of the history of the Low Countries and who would like to explore some of the intricacies of one particular and hugely important episode in this history. No knowledge of Dutch is required.

The pack is designed to help you understand aspects of the Dutch Revolt better, using a historical document from this period. You can check out an original edition of the document, read four fragments of it, get help with historical background, proper names and specific concepts, analyse certain themes, and study related pictorial material. The pack is part of a set of two. >>In the companion pack you can read other fragments of the same document, explore more complex concepts, and analyse themes in greater depth. Each of the two packs is self-contained and can be used individually.Although each pack has been designed for self-study, you may wish to follow things up in class.

The study pack aims to be as interactive as possible. You will be invited to answer questions. First test yourself - sometimes you'll be given a hint before having to answer the question - and then check your answer through the hyperlink.

The contents are listed on the left banner and can be used to move from screen to screen. Start on this page and then follow the links through the site. Alternatively, if you have little time, just check out one or two fragments of the text and the visual material.

Introduction to the document:

The document which we will study is the Act of Abjuration (26 July 1581), a milestone in the ##Dutch Revolt and in the history of the Low Countries. The Dutch revolt against Spanish rule in the sixteenth century was also a formative event in European history. The revolt broke out in the 1560s against attempts by Philip II, king of Spain and ruler of the Netherlands, to raise extra taxation, to impose Catholicism by means of the Inquisition, and to maintain a Spanish army of occupation in the Low Countries. By the time of his death in 1598 his policy of destroying any manifestation of political or religious dissent had clearly failed and his successor was faced with a revolt which lasted a total of eighty years. The northern part of the Low Countries succeeded in gaining its independence (formally recognised by the Treaty of MYŽnster in 1648), whilst the southern Netherlands remained under Spanish rule. To remind yourself of the main dates in the Revolt of the Netherlands, click >here.

The Dutch Republic owed ##its inception to the Union of Utrecht (1579) and to the Act of Abjucation (1581) formal alliance between the northern provinces and Flanders and Brabant, and to the Act of Abjuration (1581). Through this Act the >States-General of the United Provinces of the Netherlands repudiated Philip II and his heirs in perpetuity. The provinces joined in the Union of Utrecht turned to foreign monarchs for protection to prevent total defeat. This meant that the States General no longer felt bound to Philip II and logic required now that they discarded the old sovereign, Philip II, Europe's most powerful sovereign. The Revolt had become a war of independence.

The document brings forward prominently the great idea that rulers are responsible to the people and can be deposed by them. The growth of this idea is centre to the development of constitutional and republican government. The document was to inspire similar actions and documents in seventeenth-century England (the 'Glorious Revolution' and the 'Bill of Rights' [1689]) and in eighteenth-century North America (the 'War of Independence' and the 'Declaration of Independence' [1776]).

The Act of Abjuration is a sober document, reiterating views which had become commonplace in the political literature of the Revolt. It may not be a piece of bitter propaganda, yet it is a highly effective combination of fact and fiction. The core issues addressed in this document are what had happened and why these events had for a considerable time made it illegitimate for the inhabitants of the Netherlands to regard Philip II as their sovereign any longer.

To go on to an original edition of the front page of the document, click >here.

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