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History of the United Netherlands, 1598-99
Historische Klimatologie Mitteleuropas. News Distribution. Warfare — In the seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic witnessed its Golden Age. The reasons for this phenomenon are diverse, but it impacted all branches of Dutch society, including the production, distribution and consumption of printed media.
Waves of religious and economic immigrants provided the necessary manpower, skills and creativity. Following the workings of a stable market economy, printers and publishers turned imported raw materials, including news and information, into finished products — books, newspapers, magazines — which they sold wherever there was a demand for them, at home as well as abroad. High rates of literacy and education encouraged a thriving book culture.
The ascendency, however, was shortlived, as it also depended on the temporarily weak position of neighbouring countries.
By the middle of the eighteenth century, with Britain, France and the German states on the rise, the 'Dutch miracle' was over, in the world of books as well as in any other. One of the most striking outcomes of the religious and political conflicts in 16th-century Europe was the creation of the Republic of the Seven United Dutch Provinces.
This new state, officially founded in , had its origin in the revolt of the increasingly Protestant Low Countries against their autocratic Catholic overlord Philip II — , king of Spain [ ]. For a long time the future of the young nation hung in the balance, as the Spanish Habsburg empire continued to wage war against its rebellious subjects. Only in , at the Peace of Westphalia, was the Dutch Republic finally recognized as an independent state. Compared to its neighbours, the Dutch Republic was an extraordinary political entity.
Not only did it lack a crowned head — the Princes of Orange who acted as hereditary stadtholders governors were in essence servants of the state —, it also was a federal state, a union of seven independent provinces, which were willing to hand over their authority only on matters of foreign relations and warfare. The position of central government, the States General, which met irregularly in The Hague , thus was weak. Moreover, within each province power was shared by various political bodies.
In the largest and richest province, Holland , the cities were the predominant political power. The largest and wealthiest of them was Amsterdam , which at times acted like an independent city state. In spite, or perhaps because of its exceptional political system, the Dutch Republic witnessed an unparalleled flourishing in almost every aspect of society in the 17th century.
A driving force in this development was the influx of large numbers of immigrants , many of them religious and economic refugees, coming first and foremost from the Southern Netherlands modern Belgium , which remained under Spanish control, but also from other regions such as France , Germany and Eastern Europe , the Iberian peninsula and the British Isles. These newcomers brought with them knowledge and experience in trade and industry and, equally important, a zeal to rebuild their lives. The economy was further stimulated by Dutch maritime superiority and commercial expansion across the globe, which made the republic a trading place for goods from all over the world.
At the same time, a financial market was developed, which provided cheap investment capital and insurance. In addition, the authorities on the whole were reluctant to interfere with the economy. Other factors contributed to the flourishing of the young state as well. Literacy was on the rise, particularly among the expanding middle classes in the cities, thanks to the availability of various forms of primary education.
The Revolt of the Spanish Netherlands - History Learning Site
Around about half of the young adult population, male and female, in the cities was able to read and write. Many families were also able to send their children to secondary education, at the Latin and French schools which proliferated all over the country. In addition, five of the seven provinces could boast institutions for higher education, of which Leiden University, founded in , was the oldest and most important. As these universities were young, they were able to offer a modern teaching programme and good facilities, which attracted many foreign students as well. Leiden even had a school of engineering, where classes were given in Dutch instead of Latin.
Education stimulated cultural and intellectual life. The 17th century saw a blossoming of various genres of Dutch literature, in the traditional chambers of rhetoric rederijkerskamers , in the municipal playhouses and theatres, in more or less formalized literary societies such as Nil Volentibus Arduum , founded in Amsterdam in , and in religious circles. In the visual arts there was an unprecedented explosion of talent, particularly in painting, drawing and printmaking, the most famous exponent of which was Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn — , who excelled in all three art forms.
Intellectual exchange was stimulated by a remarkable tolerance in Dutch society, partly the result of idealistic notions concerning freedom of thought and religion, partly the pragmatic outcome of so many people with diverse backgrounds having to live in close proximity of each other.
Why did this block occur?
Although Dutch 17th-century society shows signs of an early "pillarization" of the religious segments among the population, these groups were never cut off from each other. Even the Portuguese and German Jews enjoyed relatively large freedoms. Amsterdam had its Jewish quarter, but it was not a ghetto.
Research was primarily conducted at the universities, but there were quite a few amateurs, collectors and private scholars, who were particularly active in the fields of history and the natural sciences. All these factors — political, social, demographic, economic, religious, cultural and intellectual — equally provide the key to an understanding of the remarkable success the Dutch Republic had in the sphere of publishing, printing and bookselling. According to the Short-Title Catalogue, Netherlands STCN; the Dutch national bibliography , between and hundreds of printer-publishers were active, producing well over 67, titles.
But books were printed all over the Netherlands, in The Hague, the centre of national government, as well as in the provincial capitals such as Middelburg , Zwolle and Leeuwarden ; in industrial towns like Delft , Haarlem and Alkmaar and in sea ports such as Vlissingen Flushing , Rotterdam , Maassluis , Enkhuizen and Harlingen ; and of course in the university cities Leiden, Franeker , Groningen , Utrecht and Harderwijk. Even in some of the larger villages, like De Rijp in North Holland, a bookshop or printing establishment could be found, while hawkers and other itinerant salesmen and women roamed the countryside with a variety of cheap printed matter, pamphlets, almanacs, songbooks, prints and the like.
How then did printing and bookselling profit from these favourable circumstances? One of the most important social factors benefitting the Dutch book trade was the constant arrival of newcomers. Many of them came to the country as religious exiles, others were lured by the promising economic prospects. In the decades around a veritable exodus of human capital occurred from the Southern Netherlands to the North as a result of the Spanish persecution of Protestants. Among them were numerous printers and booksellers, who brought with them professional skills and expertise in typefounding, printing and publishing as the Southern Netherlands had been an important region for book production.
One of the cities that received them with open arms was Leiden, home of the first university of the Dutch Republic.
In they appointed Willem Sylvius ca. Sylvius, however, died within three years of his appointment, after which his son Carel briefly took over. He in turn was succeeded by the most famous printer of the era, Christopher Plantin ca. Later in the 17th century another substantial wave of refugees arrived, consisting of large numbers of Huguenots who had been expelled from France following the revocation by Louis XIV — of the Edict of Nantes in Among them were, again, many printers and booksellers, most of whom set up business in Amsterdam and The Hague.
Their publications, including innovative genres such as scholarly journals and newspapers , are mainly in French and written and edited by prominent Huguenot intellectuals. The federal and particularist political system of the Dutch Republic meant that the government was not able to exercise the same degree of control over the book trade as existed in centralized monarchies like France or England. Although the States General, and in its wake the provincial States, regularly issued decrees and proclamations against the publication of texts that were deemed seditious , blasphemous or otherwise harmful to the state and the public interest, such works could still appear without much difficulty.
Sometimes they sympathized with the contents of the work, as was the case with certain factional publications or the writings of political or religious exiles. Sometimes they were unwilling to act because they were all too aware of the economic benefits such publications brought. The Amsterdam publisher Willem Jansz Blaeu — [ ] , who is renowned for his production of a great variety of high quality publications — from books on navigation, maps and multi—volume atlases to classical editions and literary and scholarly works 11 —, was also active in the mass production of Catholic church books intended both for the use of Dutch Catholics and for export abroad.
More often the authorities simply lacked the instruments to control this sort of activity. In the Dutch cities so many printers were at work, that it was virtually impossible to check if they complied with the rules and regulations.
Moreover, it was easy to hide behind a facade of false imprints — the most famous one being "A Cologne , Chez Pierre Du Marteau" — and antedated years of publication, or to use worn-out type, making identification of the printer very difficult. Only in periods of acute political crisis, as occurred in the years —, and , were serious attempts made by the authorities to curb the printing press.
It is telling, however, that it was precisely in these periods that the production of pamphlets, which gave a voice to public opinion, exploded. In economic terms the book trade profited greatly from the flourishing industrial and mercantile climate.
A good infrastructure of roads and waterways, which included newly-dug canals between the major cities, made transport quick, safe and reliable, while the Rhine and Meuse rivers and the North Sea gave easy access to other European markets, particularly in France, the British Isles, the German states, Scandinavia and the Baltic region.