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HISTG050

From Renaissance to Republic: The Netherlands c.1555-1609

Ben Kaplan

15 credits

Mondays 4-6, term 1 only

This course examines the extraordinary religious and political upheavals that rocked the Low Countries in the sixteenth century – the Protestant Reformation and the Revolt against Spain. It pays special attention to what was distinctive about the religious scene in the Low Countries: the protean character of the early Reformation there, the mass following that Anabaptism won, the influence of Erasmus, the unparalleled harshness of religious persecution, the ambitious `new bishoprics’ scheme for reforming the Catholic Church, the mass flight of Protestants into exile, the uncompromising selectivity of the Dutch Reformed churches, the `Libertine’ resistance to Calvinist discipline, the controversy over predestination, and the practice of toleration.

The course also looks for patterns behind the complex course of political events: the attachment of Netherlanders to their `privileges’, their goals and justifications for rebellion, the swing vote cast by the so-called `middle groups’, the dilemmas posed by the question of sovereignty, and the functioning of the new republican polity that formed in the northern provinces. The course concludes with a consideration of the Remonstrant Controversy of the 1610s.

In approaching these subjects, the course combines a close examination of selected primary sources with a broad consideration of issues, debates, and historiography. While most of the primary sources are of a traditional, textual kind, some are visual: prints and paintings.


Format & Requirements

Students are not expected to have any background in Dutch history. It is assumed, though, that they have previously taken some other class in early modern history, so that the period is not entirely new to them. Students who have never studied this period in the history of the Low Countries are advised to read Geoffrey Parker’s The Dutch Revolt or another work listed in Section IV below prior to, or at the very beginning of, the term.


Assessment: one assessed essay of approximately 4000 words (100%). While the instructor will suggest some possible topics for these essays, students are free and encouraged to develop, in consultation with the instructor, their own topics.

General Readings

The following is a list of some general works on early modern Dutch history and art history. If you have little background in the history of the Low Countries, you should read carefully the relevant sections of at least a couple of them, and even if you do have such background, you may wish to consult them for orientation:

Arblaster, Paul. A History of the Low Countries (Basingstoke, 2006), ch. 3.

Benedict et al., Philip, eds. Reformation, Revolt and Civil War in France and the Netherlands, 1555-1585. Amsterdam, 1995.

Blom, J.C.H. & E. Lamberts, eds., History of the Low Countries (Oxford, 1999), chs. 3/3 and 4/1-3.

Clark, G. N. The Birth of the Dutch Republic (London, 1975)

Darby, Graham, ed. The Origins and Development of the Dutch Revolt (2001)

Duke, Alastair. Reformation and Revolt in the Low Countries (1990)

Geyl, Pieter. The Revolt of the Netherlands, 1555-1609 (London, 1932)

Israel, Jonathan I. The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall, 1477-1806 (Oxford, 1995), chs. 1-20.

Kistemaker, Renee. Amsterdam: The Golden Age, 1275-1795, chs. 2-3

Limm, Peter. The Dutch Revolt, 1559-1648 (London, 1989)

Nierop, Henk van. `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, ed. K. Davids and J. Lucassen (Cambridge, 1995), 26-56

Smit, J.W. `The Netherlands Revolution’, in Preconditions of Revolution in Early Modern Europe, ed. R. Forster and J. Greene (Baltimore, 1970)

Parker, Geoffrey. The Dutch Revolt (1977).

Parker, Geoffrey. Spain and the Netherlands, 1559-1659: Ten Studies (1979)

Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age (1987), Part I

You may wish to consider purchasing Parker’s The Dutch Revolt and/or Israel’s The Dutch Republic, as well as Darby’s The Origins and Development of the Dutch Revolt. All are available in paperback and give much-needed overviews (Parker and Israel chronological, Darby thematic) of a long series of complicated events.

Page last modified on 17 jul 13 12:13 by Joanna Fryer