Tag Archives: Netherlands

Weighing the witches at Oudewater

Heksenwaag, Oudewater

The Heksenwaag, Oudewater – image Geschiedkundige Vereniging Oudewater, http://www.geschiedkundigeverenigingoudewater.nl/

This month the walking historian marches again! In July I visited the tiny town of Oudewater, a city in the southwest corner of the province Utrecht. In the beautiful old city of Oudewater the historic Heksenwaag, the Witches Weigh-House is not to be missed. However, in fact I did almost overlook it due to the fact that in my memory the building was much larger. As a kid I had visited the Heksenwaag, and I even received the certificate stating my weight was normal. Coming back to this town things seemed different, but the degree of change was really surprisingly low. Afterwards I could not help questioning what I had seen and doubting my assumptions and conclusions. Moreover, the Heksenwaag is not just a building which any tourist has to visit, but it is a veritable Dutch lieu de mémoire. It links directly to the history of European witchcraft and the ways law and justice dealt with this phenomenon. The results are interesting enough to include in this post which has as its second focus the perception of Oudewater’s history.

Hard facts and shallow assumptions

The scales in the Heksenwaag, Oudewater

In De canon van Nederland, “The canon of Dutch history”, the Heksenwaag at Oudewater is connected to emperor Charles V. He is said to have granted Oudewater in 1545 a privilege to weigh persons suspected of witchcraft and to issue certificates of normal weight. The vogue for historic canons in the Netherland has led to several regional canons. In the canon for the southwest corner of Utrecht the story of the Heksenwaag is strongly qualified. Legend had preserved a tale of Charles V doubting in 1545 a witch trial at Polsbroek where a woman had been weighed and found too light. He ordered a second weighing at Oudewater, showing her to have a weight of 100 pounds, which saved her, As a sign of gratitude for the correctness of the staff at the weigh-house he granted the privilege. However, there was no weigh-house at all in the village of Polsbroek. The scene of the false weighing could have been the town of IJsselstein. There is no trace of any privilege from 1545 for Oudewater.

Where do we find sources on the medieval and Early Modern history of Oudewater? This very question does bring you quickly to sources touching upon legal history. Joost Cox published in 2005 for the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law a repertory of Dutch medieval city charters with grants of specific rights, bylaws and ordinances, the Repertorium van de stadsrechten in Nederland (The Hague 2005). At the accompanying website you will find only lists of cities and dates. With some caution Cox traces such a charter for Oudewater said to be given in 1257 by Hendrik I of Vianden, bishop of Utrecht from 1249 to 1267 (Cox, p. 190). The Institute for Dutch History has recently digitized the major modern editions of medieval charters for the county of Holland and the diocese of Utrecht. The Oorkondenboek van het Sticht Utrecht tot 1301, S.Muller Fz. et alii (eds.) (5 vol., Utrecht 1920-’s-Gravenhage 1959) does contain an item for this charter (OSU III, 1428) which shows a short reference in a chronicle as the ultimate source of all later information. The chronicle places the gift of a city charter in 1257. Some later authors misread the chronicle and placed it in the year 1265. Nevertheless the city of Oudewater prepares the celebration of 750 years Oudewater in 2015. A celebration in 2007 would have been equally justifiable…

Map of Oudewater by Jacob van Deventer, around 1557

Map of Oudewater by Jacob van Deventer, around 1557

The remarkable insistence on some presumed historical facts in the history of Oudewater comes in a different perspective when looking at a number of events that most certainly determined its history. During a war between the bishop of Utrecht and the count of Holland Oudewater was severely damaged during a siege in 1349 (see for example the Divisiekroniek of Cornelius Aurelius (Leiden 1517) fol. 212 recto). Oudewater held a strategic position a the junction of the rivers Linschoten and Hollandse IJssel. In 1281 the bishop of Utrecht pledged Oudewater and some other possessions for 6000 livres tournois to the counts of Holland (OHZ IV, 1938 (1281 January 24)). The bishops of Utrecht never were able to repay this sum, and thus Oudewater remained until 1970 a town in Holland. On June 19, 1572, Oudewater was captured by Adriaen van Zwieten, and it became one of the earliest cities in Holland to side with William of Orange. On July 19, 1572 Oudewater participated with sixteen other cities in the first independent session of the States of Holland at Dordrecht, a landmark in the long struggle of the Low Countries with Spain, the Eighty Years War that lasted until the Westphalian Peace (1648).

Oudewater 1575

Engraving by Frans Hogenberg of the atrocities in Oudewater, 1575 – Amsterdam, Rijksmuseum, collectie Historieplaten Frederik Muller – see http://www.geheugenvannederland.nl/

The change of sides in June 1572 and the presence of Oudewater at the historic session in Dordrecht a month later had undoubtedly been noted by the Spanish authorities in the Low Countries. The locations of Dutch cities had been chartered quite recently by Jacob van Deventer, the cartographer charged by the Spanish king Philipp II with a large-scale cartographical project. The surviving maps have been digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica. When Spanish forces approached Oudewater in August 1575, an ultimatum was sent urging the city council to surrender. By sheer misfortune this ultimatum was not properly understood. On August 7, 1575 the city was set to fire and many citizens were ruthlessly murdered. Only the church of St. Michael’s and a monastery did escape the devastations. These events clearly affected also the survival of historical records. With much support from nearby cities such as Gouda Oudewater was quickly rebuilt. The results of this building campaign are still visible in the center of the city which looks indeed rather unified if you look closely enough. The destruction of the original buildings, and presumably also of many historic records, explains the tendency to stick to some acclaimed stories and events. Archival records concerning Oudewater can in particular be found at the Regionaal Historisch Centrum Rijnstreek in Woerden and at Het Utrechts Archief in Utrecht. The survival of written records plays a role, too, in the project of Sophie Oosterwijk and Charlotte Dikken on the floor slabs of St. Michael’s at Oudewater.

Of witches, historians and tourists…

Perhaps I had start here better with stating my relative unfamiliarity with the history of witchcraft. As a historian I have kept this subject on purpose on a safe distance, but in the end there is no escape from it, in particular because the subject of persecution and trials is not far away from the main territories of legal historians.

Debunking some part of history is nothing special, nor is it my aim to expose any mystification. Others have done this thoroughly for the Witches Weigh-House. Under the pseudonym Casimir K. Visser the exiled German journalist and historian Kurt Baschwitz (1886-1968) published the study Van de heksenwaag te Oudewater en andere te weinig bekende zaken (Lochem, [1941]; online at the Dutch Royal Library). Baschwitz pointed to an inspection in 1547 of the weights used at the weigh-house, a fact adduced by earlier historians, but actually a normal procedure which says nothing about any special use. He notes the careful avoidance in the certificates of any reference to a belief in witches, witchcraft, sorcery and similar things. Baschwitz referred to Johannes Wier (around 1515-1588), the famous Dutch physician who fought against superstitions, Wier did not mention Oudewater at all in his 1563 treatise De praestigiis daemonum nor in his De lamiis (1577). Both books were often reprinted and appeared in translations. Balthasar Bekker (1634-1698), too, did not credit Oudewater with any special role in his famous book De betoverde weereld (1691). Baschwitz published in 1963 his great study Hexen und Hexenprozesse. Die Geschichte eines Massenwahns und seiner Bekämpfung (Munich 1963)Hans de Waardt reviewed the historiography concerning Oudewater and witches in his article ‘Oudewater. Ein Hexenwaage wird gewogen – oder: Die Zerstörung einer historischen Mythe’, Westfälische Zeitschrift 144 (1994) 249-263. De Waardt wrote his Ph.D. thesis on sorcery and society in the province of Holland, Toverij en samenleving in Holland, 1500-1800 (diss. Rotterdam; The Hague 1991).

For the study of Johannes Wier Dutch readers can benefit from the marvellous recent study by Vera Hoorens, Een ketterse arts voor de heksen : Jan Wier (1515-1588) [A heretic physician for the witches, Jan Wier (1515-1588)] (Amsterdam 2011). On Balthasar Bekker Johanna Maria Nooijen published in 2009 “Unserm grossen Bekker ein Denkmal”? : Balthasar Bekkers ‘Betoverde Weereld’ in den deutschen Landen zwischen Orthodoxie und Aufklärung (Münster 2009).

It might be useful to mention the special website of the main Dutch historical journal Bijdragen en Mededelingen betreffende de Geschiedenis der Nederlanden / Low Countries Historical Review where you can search online in the issues from 1970 to 2012. As for searching literature for European history you will no doubt gain information and insights at the portal European Historical Bibliographies maintained by the Berlin-Brandenburgische Akademie der Wissenschaften. A number of current historical bibliographies presented at this portal can be consulted online. For the history of the city and province of Utrecht you can use the online bibliography at SABINE which in a number of cases provides also links to digital versions of articles and books.

Researching the history of witchcraft

When it comes to studying the history of witches and witchcraft I must confess to start at almost zero. It is years ago that I read a monographic study on witchcraft, and this particular study, Lène Dresen-Coenders, Het verbond van heks en duivel : een waandenkbeeld aan het begin van de moderne tijd als symptoom van een veranderende situatie van de vrouw en als middel tot hervorming der zeden [The pact of witch and devil: an Early Modern fallacy as a symptom of a changing situation for women and as a means to reform morals] (diss. Nijmegen; Baarn 1983) did not convince me at all. Perhaps I was simply wrong in choosing to read this book with its overlong title and its hypotheses which still seem to me farfetched. In fact I kept away from a whole group of Dutch historians doing maatschappijgeschiedenis, “history of society” who favored studies of minorities to detect changes in mentality. Any exclusive focus still makes me frown, but the history of mentalities and cultural history in general is of course fascinating and most valuable.

If I was to start nowadays doing research on this theme I would look first at such fine guides as the section on Hexenforschung at the German history portal Historicum.net. Klaus Graf is the moderator of a useful mailing list on witchcraft research. You can also point to a succinct thematic bibliography provided in Dresden, the Dresdener Auswahlbibliographie zum Hexenforschung, which unfortunately has not been updated since 2004. In Tübingen the Arbeitskreis interdisziplinärer Hexenforschung sets an example of bringing several disciplines together. Unfortunately Jonathan Durrants’ online Witchcraft Bibliography was not available when writing this post. Older literature up to the end of the twentieth century can be found for example in a bibliography preserved at a website of the University of Texas. For Flanders Jos Monballyu (Kortrijk) has created a fine online bibliography and a selection of relevant sources concerning witch trials. He has written many studies about witches and traced many criminal sentences concerning them in Flemish archives. The Cornell University Witchcraft Collection is most useful with its bibliography and digital library.

In American history the Salem Witch Trials (1692) offer a fascinating window on early American society. You can find many documents online, in particular at the Salem Witch Trials Documentary Archive and Transcription Project (University of Virginia), at Douglas Linder’s Famous Trials website and at a portal dedicated to the events in 1692 with a digital collection of books and archival records. The perceptions of behavior and the attempts at dealing with such behavior in courts of justice, not to forget the changing perceptions of justice, are among the elements which make the persecution of witches, witchcraft and sorcery interesting for legal historians.

Of course these examples can be multiplied, but this would far exceed the boundaries of a blog post. Here I have sketched only the outlines of things worth exploring further. I called Oudewater a Dutch lieu de mémoire. In the book series Plaatsen van herinnering sofar five volumes have appeared since 2005 which follow for my country – albeit somewhat belated – the example of Pierre Nora’s seminal Les lieux de mémoire (3 vol., Paris 1984-1992). This interest in historical places and the ways events are remembered at particular places help us to remember history and legal history, too, happened to people in particular times and places, and not just somewhere as a part of a supposed or real historical process. Even a small building in a dreamlike preserved old town can relate to larger events. The scenic old streets of Oudewater was the scene of some very real events, but they are the background, too, for a very stubborn tradition of perceived history. The living memory and the construction or even invention of (parts of) history related to a particular place tell us the fascinating history of the uses of history, changes in perceptions and the construction of identity in time and space.

One of the things that make me uneasy in writing about witchcraft is the sheer proliferation of literature on this subject. Many scientific disciplines occupy themselves with sorcery and witchcraft and its history. It is very easy to miss a whole range of interpretations stemming from a particular corner or country. The road of using bibliographies is long. Sometimes it seems attractive to take a shortcut which in the long run does not bring you much further. Legal history should pay due attention to colored perceptions and distortions of historical facts and events in order to keep an open eye for its own pitfalls, shortcomings and blind corners.

A temple of peace: 100 years Peace Palace in The Hague

The Peace Palace in The Hague - image Tha Hague Academic Coalition, http://www.haguecoalition.org/

The Peace Palace in The Hague – image The Hague Academic Coalition, http://www.haguecoalition.org/

In several posts on this blog you can find information from or about the Peace Palace Library. The Peace Palace in The Hague opened its doors on August 28, 1913, yet another anniversary calling this year for attention. Its role and place in the history of international law are surely interesting. On a special website you can find more on the activities around this centenary. One of these activities is a congress on The Art of Peace Making where the tercentenary of the Peace of Utrecht (1713), too, will be commemorated, a theme that figured here earlier this year.

The Peace Palace is home to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), since 1945 the highest judicial organ of the United Nations. On its website the second name, Cour Internationale de Justice, reminds you of the fact that French was and still is an important language in international affairs. You can consult the website of the Peace Palace in Dutch, English or French. The Permanent Court of Arbitration, too, was founded in 1899 with a French name, Cour Permanente d’Arbitrage. Since 1923 the The Hague Academy for International Law has its premises also at the Peace Palace.

At the blog of the Peace Palace Library R. Steenhard wrote in April a fine post on the founding of the Peace Palace. In The Hague two peace conferences had been held in 1899 and 1907. Among the most substantial results in 1907 were the Laws and Customs of War on Land. At Yale’s Avalon portal you can quickly find other laws of war, where the two Hague Conventions hold a substantial place. The contacts of lawyers with Andrew Carnegie proved in the end invaluable to get this philanthropic millionaire to donate a very substantial sum for the new building from his Carnegie Foundation. Among the special collections of the Peace Palace Library is a major collection on the peace movement between 1900 and 1940. Many items in it have been digitized, but they have no yet been published online as a digital collection. The variety of subjects on which the Peace Palace Library collects books is reflected in a great series of some fifty (!) nutshell research guides. They guide you not only to the courts at the Peace Palace, but to international law in a very wide sense, including guides on legal history, comparative law, Islamic law, international watercourses, and for example the League of Nations. The collection of works on and by Hugo Grotius at the Peace Palace Library has often been noted here.

The building itself of the Peace Palace is a marvel. Its architecture is remarkable for the combination of influences from many countries and periods. In my opinion the tower and the main building remind you foremost of a large European medieval town hall. The tower looks like the belfry of a Dutch or Flemish town hall. Inside the building you will find elements from all over the world. Many countries contributed gifts to enhance the building. Margriet van Eikema Hommes studied the four large-scale paintings by Ferdinand Bol (1616-1680) in Art and Allegiance in the Dutch Golden Age. The Ambitions of a Wealthy Widow in a Painted Chamber by Ferdinand Bol (Amsterdam 2012).

No doubt the presence of the Peace Palace helped the city of The Hague to become a capital of international law. At the The Hague Justice Portal you could find until January 2013 the courts at the Peace Palace, the International Criminal Court and other UN special courts, but this website is no longer updated. The website of the The Hague Academic Coalition guides you to academic institutions in the field of international law in the city which is the residence of the Dutch king. The links section helps you to find quickly the most important international courts in The Hague. By the way, the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden, the modern Dutch Supreme Court, is also at home in The Hague.

Today I read by chance on Iurisdictio-Lex Malacitana, the blog of José Calvo González (Malaga), a notice about the yearly international itinerant seminar on the architecture of justice organized by the Institut des Hautes Études sur la Justice in Paris. This year’s seminar focuses on courts in two cities, Montreal and New York. The international courts in The Hague and their very different buildings would be an excellent subject for another edition of this program.

Art at the service of justice: the old townhall of Kampen

Map of Kampen by Jacob van Deventer (around 1500-1575)

Map of Kampen by Jacob van Deventer (Kampen, around 1500-Cologne, 1575) – from database NRCD/KB, The Hague

Along the river IJssel in the east of the Netherlands a number of towns still have a more or less medieval inner city, with both civil and ecclesiastical buildings. Cities such as Kampen, Zwolle, Deventer and Zutphen are not completely unfamiliar to historians thanks to their place in the history of the fourteenth-century reform movement in the Catholic Church, the Devotio Moderna. They played a subordinate but not neglectable role, too, within the Hanseatic league. The famous series of maps of cities in the Low Countries by Jacob van Deventer, a cartographer from Kampen, came into existence thanks to a request in 1558 by the Spanish king Philipp II. The surviving maps have been digitized in the Biblioteca Digital Hispánica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España in Madrid.

The townhall at Kampen, exterior

Kampen is the city closest to the end of the IJssel river. Five medieval city gates have survived the centuries. The town-hall from 1350 was hit by a fire in 1543. The courtroom had to be completely refurbished, and this was done in an indeed lavish way. Its rare unharmed survival makes this rather small building more important than you would guess from the outside. Until 2001 it was used by the city, and now it is part of the Stedelijk Museum Kampen. The way justice and city power are represented in the main room at the first floor, which was both court room and council room, is exemplary. A visit to this space amounts to a kind of pilgrimage for legal iconography. Within the space of a short post I can only focus on a few aspects of a building that deserves close inspection and study.

Sculptures at the outside of Kampen Town Hall

From the outside one can immediately notice the double function of the building. Barred windows give the building an austere image. On one side six sculptures kept a watch. Alas the figures of Charlemagne and Alexander the Great and allegoric personifications of Justice, Charity, Temperance and Fidelity had to be replaced by modern sculptures; the remains of the original sculptures can be seen at the Koornmarktspoort, one of the city gates. Wim van Anrooij, a reknown medievalist and specialist on the history of the Nine Best, doubted the identification of Charlemagne in ‘Beeldvorming in taal en steen ten stadhuize: Alexander en Karel de Grote (of Julius Caesar?) in Kampen’, Kamper Almanak (2002) 50-65.

Inside the town-hall much more is to be seen than I will present here. In a room adjacent to the Main Room you will find a fine exhibition of numerous objects from the history of Kampen as a proud city which could keep its independence until 1795.

The mantelpiece at Kampen Town Hall by Colijn de Nole, 1545

The Main Room of Kampen’s town-hall is rather dark, and perhaps thus the white mantelpiece created in 1545 by Colijn de Nole from Cambrai attracts even more attention than it does already on its own. To the left an elaborate wooden structure with a painting of the Last Judgment is almost insignificant. I will point out its beautiful elements later on.

The centre of the mantelpiece

Central to the superb mantelpiece are a number of allegorical figures. In the midst you can see from the left to the right the figures of Spes, Caritas and Fides, hope, charity and fidelity, the three central virtues of faith. The Latin text below the central statue states that kingdoms fall due to luxury, cities prosper because of their virtues, the public interest grows by peace, and perishes by folly. Between the top part and the main part a scroll with another text in Latin focuses on justice, “The violence of Mars cedes before the sword of justice”. Four smaller statues represent Justice, Peace, Prudence and Temperance, four cardinal virtues. The eagle, symbol of the Holy Roman Empire and their Habsburgian rulers, crowns the very top of the mantelpiece in splendid Renaissance style.

The judgment of Solomon by Colijn de NoleThe freezes show both scenes from Roman history and from the Bible. The left freeze pictures the Judgment of king Solomon (1 Kings 3,16-28). By now it should be clear that by focusing on the main elements I skip the very details which make this object so stunning. The putti, the two lions with the city blazons, the smaller heads, the use of perspective in the niches, the way persons are dressed, and the smaller reliefs all deserve, nay, need attention if you want to interpret the iconographic program of this showpiece convincingly.

To mention just one element that has to be considered, you cannot understand this mantelpiece properly without acknowledging the fact that specifically in the city of Utrecht late medieval mantelpieces used to be adorned by elaborate freezes. Colijn de Nole had connections with Utrecht. The medieval diocese of Utrecht covered large parts of the Netherlands, including the cities on the IJssel. The recent exhibition Ontsnapt aan de beeldenstorm [Escaped from the Iconoclastic Tempest] at Museum Catharijneconvent in Utrecht showed a surprising number of mantelpiece freezes, many of them from the Centraal Museum in Utrecht, see the exhibition catalogue Middeleeuwse beeldhouwkunst uit Utrecht 1430-1528 [Medieval sculptural art from Utrecht 1430-1528] (Utrecht: Museum Catharijneconvent; Antwerp 2012). Some of De Nole’s work is charted in Medieval Memoria Online, a new database at Utrecht University on medieval memorial and funeral art in the Netherlands.

A double room

However, apart from an exhaustive inspection of all details, it is necessary to look at the other objects, and to view the mantelpiece as a part of a room with a double function, both court room and council room.

Painting of the Last Judgment

The wooden structure – in fact it is the seat of the judges – with at its top a painting of the Last Judgment by Ernst Maler can boast some fine carpentry by Meester Frederik, but it is not up to the standards set by Colijn de Nole. Its dimensions are really small compared to the mantelpiece. In fact the wooden edifice prevents you to have a good look at the right side of the mantelpiece, where you can only guess that the statue must represent Temperance.

Allegory of Justice, Kampen Town Hall

Another detail of the woodwork is also relatively small, a finely detailed relief with an allegory of Justice. I could point out its position below a canopy or the way Renaissance style does influence even a lesser artist, but all these things can speak only when you bring them into a coherent view of all objects in this room. The most recent monograph on Kampen town-hall was published almost 25 years ago, A.J. Gevers and J. ten Hove, Raadhuis van Kampen (Zwolle 1988). At least one art historian has looked recently in close detail at the materials De Nole used for the mantelpiece [Trudy Brink, ‘Spiegel voor stadsbestuur nader onderzocht : over de schouw van Colijn de Nole in Kampen’, Bulletin KNOB 108 (2009) 183-193, 222-223 (with a summary in English)]. The title of this article states the mantelpiece formed a kind of mirror for the city council. I was not able to find more recent studies on it in the database of the former Dutch center for legal iconography at the Royal Library in The Hague. You can find some eighty images concerning Kampen from this collection at The Memory of The Netherlands, the portal to more than hundred Dutch digital collections.

kampen-courtroom1

Let’s turn to the other half of the room. Spectators were allowed to watch the proceedings of a trial from this part of the room. Along the walls you find a mass of spears, a graphic reminder of the city’s power. The door in the center opens to the Tower of the Échevins (Schepentoren), the oldest part of the building.

The wooden screen in the courtroom

The wooden screen has large openings for viewing the proceedings in the other half of the room. In a way it is a reminder of the choir screens in medieval churches. Here by lending forms from Classical Antiquity it suggests powerfully that justice is being administered in a classic and therefore just way. The sixteenth-century city council of Kampen was clearly aware that their power had to be framed, to borrow an anachronistic term…

“Looking at legal history”

In 2014 the Dutch legal history journal Pro Memorie, published by the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law will publish as a special issue a volume on legal iconography with the title Rechtsgeschiedenis in beeld, “looking at legal history”. In the call for papers legal historians are invited to write contributions on legal iconography from the widest possible perspectives, be it artists’ contracts, the use of colors or forbidden art. Every year Pro Memorie has space for some contributions from the field of legal iconography. I look forward to the volume that will be published in 2014 for the fifteenth anniversary of this journal. No doubt Dutch and Flemish town-halls and their interiors, too, will figure in the new book. Kampen with its rich municipal archive would be a wonderful example to marvel at and to study again.

The tercentenary of the Treaty of Utrecht (1713)

Logo Vrede van Utrecht - Peace of Utrecht

In 2012 I wrote twice about the Peace of Utrecht, the series of treaties which ended the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713). The first post looked in great detail at the textual tradition of the Westphalian Peace of 1648, the Peace of Utrecht and the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748). The post contains an overview of treaty collections and relevant websites for historical treaties. In my second post I looked at Early Modern peace treaties more generally and I tried to summarize the results of my first post and to bring together some elements for a search strategy. One of my main points was these peace treaties are indeed treaties in the plural. The Peace of Utrecht consists of 22 treaties, counting also the treaties concluded at Baden (1714) and Rastatt (1715). On April 11, 1713 seven separate treaties were concluded. Last week it was exactly 300 years ago that Utrecht was at the center of contemporary international politics.

For the commemoration in 2013 some 150 events will take place in Utrecht. In this post I want to inform you briefly about the more scholarly events such as congresses, lectures and exhibitions. It seemed useful and sensible not to present information on a number of related congresses only in a chronological order at the congress calendar of this blog. I will skip the publicity in the media which incidentally had to battle against other Dutch festivities, such as 125 years Concertgebouw and Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the re-opening of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam after ten years of renovation. In this post I will benefit from a posting in Dutch on the Treaty of Utrecht at the website of the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law.

A scholarly approach of the Peace of Utrecht

The peace treaty between France and the Dutch Republic - The Hague, National Archives

The peace treaty between France and the Dutch Republic, signed in Utrecht, April 11, 1713 – The Hague, National Archives

Among the festivities in 2013 surrounding the commemoration scholarly events are not absent, but it took quite some time before one could notice them at the official website for the tercentenary, and eventually they are somewhat tucked away between concerts and other artistic events. A kind of filter would make it more easy to select particular events. The choice of one of the related themes, the commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Suriname in 1863, can be discussed. The treaty between Great Britain and Spain in which the Asiento de Negros, the concession for the Atlantic slave trade, was transferred to Great Britain, has conspicuously been signed March 26, 1713 in Madrid. However, the first major commemorating congress is called Performances of Peace: Utrecht 1713-2013 (Utrecht, March 24-26, 2013). The second main congress includes the history of slavery by focusing on colonial history, The Colonial Legacy: The Treaty of Utrecht 1713-1863-2013 (Utrecht, June 21-22, 2013). A one-day conference – which I normally would not include on my blog’s event calendar – looks at the long time influence and consequences of 1713, The 1713 Peace of Utrecht and its enduring effects (Utrecht, September 19, 2013).

Not only in Utrecht scholars will meet to discuss aspects of the Peace of Utrecht. The Peace Palace in The Hague and the University of Utrecht will organize a two-day conference The Art of Peace Making: Lessons Learned from Peace Treaties (September 19-20, 2013). In Paris the conference Une paix pour le monde: Utrecht 1713 will take place from October 24 to 26, 2013. In Canada a conference will be held in Montreal, 300 years of collective security since the treaty of Utrecht (1713-2013) (November 22, 2013). On November 29, 2013 the city archive of Ypres will host a one-day conference on the history of the Franco-Belgian border.

Some scholarly events have already been held. In Baden scholars met in November 2012 to study the efforts in the field of translation in diplomacy and publicity concerning the treaties of Utrecht, Baden and Rastatt. The German calendar website for the humanities H-Soz-u-Kult provides a report on this congress. In Madrid a three-day conference was hosted from June 7 to 9, 2012, on the theme 1713-2013: The Peace of Utrecht revisited. Historiographical Debate and Comparative Studies. A preparatory workshop on Rethinking the Peace of Utrecht 1713 for the conference in Madrid took place in Osnabrück on May 5-7, 2011. Two scholars participating in Madrid, Ana Crespo Solana and David Onnekink, will lecture together in Utrecht on April 23, 2013 on Los españoles, Europa y los Tratados de Utrecht.

Museums and the Peace of Utrecht

Some of the events commemorating the Peace of Utrecht enlist the services of modern art to bring home the importance of this peace treaty today. This year museums in Utrecht organize a number of activities, for which they have developed a special website, alas only in Dutch. For people who like to stick to history the safest choice is to visit the main exhibition In Vredesnaam [In the Name of Peace] at the Centraal Museum (April 12 to September 22, 2013). The archives at Utrecht have created an exhibition with the title Hoge pruiken, plat vermaak [High wigs, mean pleasure] at the visitor center located in the old provincial court, the building from which the header image of my blog stems. Clearly the imagery of the peace conference and the boost to city life for Utrecht in the early eighteenth century is at the heart of this exhibition (March 16 to September 25, 2013).

It was only by chance that I found information about another small exhibition at Utrecht – not mentioned at the special museum website – which documents in its own way the history and impact of the Peace of Utrecht. At the former guild hall of the blacksmiths, the St. Eloyengasthuis, an exhibition focuses on eighteenth century damask with images celebrating the peace treaty (April 24 to May 23, 2013).

New publications concerning the Peace of Utrecht

The peace negociations at the city hall of Utrecht, 1712 - Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam - image from  The Memory of the Netherlands, Historical Engravings from the Frederik Muller Collection

The peace negotiations at the city hall of Utrecht, 1712 – Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam – image from The Memory of the Netherlands, Historical Prints from the Frederik Muller Collection

As for recent scholarly publications concerning the Peace of Utrecht I have looked for them, but the harvest until now is meagre, and their language is mainly Dutch. In my contribution in Dutch I have listed also a few less recent publications. David Onnekink and Renger de Bruin have published De Vrede van Utrecht (1713) [The Peace of Utrecht (1713)] (Hilversum 2013), a very concise book which explains in its short compass successfully the importance of the peace that ended eleven years of war. Even the earlier commemorations in 1813 and 1913 are not forgotten. Scholars will take advantage from the list of pamphlets, printed correspondences and a up-to-date overview of the main relevant scholarly literature. I enjoyed the splendid choice of illustrations in this book. Onnekink and De Bruin do not forget to tackle the question why Utrecht was chosen. Several reasons have been mentioned, but none of them was mentioned by contemporaries. Surely the reception of the French king in 1672 by the city of Utrecht was quite favorable, and the States of Utrecht had advocated a peaceful solution against opposition from other Dutch provinces, but other cities could have hosted the negotiating parties, too. The two steps at the front of the old city hall did indeed nicely solve the problem of precedence among diplomats. The story of the streets and squares of Utrecht offering plenty space to coaches is a just a story. The city of Utrecht still lacks large squares!

In his new book historian Donald Haks studies the theme of publicity in the Dutch Republic during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, with a particular focus on pamphlets, Vaderland en vrede, 1672-1713. Publiciteit over de Nederlandse Republiek in oorlog [Fatherland and peace. Publicity about the Dutch Republic at war] (Hilversum 2013). Haks offers a broad perspective at all cultural aspects and forms of communication and information about the period of war which marked the slow decline of the Dutch Republic as an European power. Daan Bronkhorst looks at the early Enlightenment, political theory, colonial history and the role of monarchies in his volume of essays with the title Vrijdenkers, vorsten, slaven. Een nieuwe blik op de Vrede van Utrecht [Free minds, princes, slaves. A new look at the Peace of Utrecht] (Breda 2013).

Stefan Smid (Universität Kiel) wrote Der Spanische Erbfolgekrieg : Geschichte eines vergessenen Weltkriegs (1701-1714) [The War of the Spanish Succession. The history of a forgotten world war [1701-1714)] (Cologne 2011). At H-Soz-u-Kult Axel Flügel criticized the old-fashioned treatment of the subject by Smid who failed to put events and developments in broad perspectives, and at Sehepunkte Josef Johannes Schmid had even heavier remarks for Smid’s book. Hopefully other scholars will this year succeed in creating convincing, interesting and fitting new views of a war ended by a series of landmark peace treaties at Utrecht, Baden, Rastatt and Madrid.

A postscript

At The Memory of the Netherlands I found a slightly augmented version of the print showing the city hall of Utrecht in 1712 from the collection of the Atlas Van Stolk in Rotterdam, with below the picture a list of all negotiators and the houses where they were lodged.

Viewing Dutch books at home

Logo Boeken 1700-1870This week the Dutch Royal Library (Koninklijke Bibliotheek) in The Hague launched a new digital library, Boeken 1700-1870. In this digitization project some 160,,000 titles will eventually appear. On this blog digital libraries have often been the subject of posts. In this post I offer an extended version of my review in Dutch for the portal of the Foundation for Old Dutch Law.

A large Dutch digital library

In discussions of Dutch digitization projects the absence of any large project for old books has often been noted. On my blog, too, I discusses this in a number of posts, for example this post in 2011, and in another post that year about projects focusing on pamphlets. The Royal Library did develop substantial projects for old newspapers, journals and its illuminated manuscripts. For the project Early Dutch Books Online on eighteenth-century books it cooperated with the university libraries at Leiden and Amsterdam. However, with 10,000 books this digital collection is relatively small compared to projects elsewhere. Dutch viewers have free access to the digitized books from the Royal Library in the project Early European Books of Chadwick. Pamphlets from the rich collections of the Dutch Royal Library are present in Brill’s The Early Modern Pamphlets OnlineDigital libraries at other Dutch institutions and many Dutch digital repositories can be searched using the BASE portal of the Universitätsbibliothek Bielefeld. It is common knowledge to use the Karlsruher Virtueller Katalog to trace books in any language in major libraries all over the world, including digitized works.

For this new project the Dutch Royal Library has started a cooperation with Google. It follows the example of several major public and national libraries worldwide. Of the scheduled 160,000 titles some 80,000 are already available. A first notable feature is the rather restricted search functionality, just for author, title and a free search possibility. The website opens with this general search feature; with Uitgebreid zoeken (Advanced search) you get three search fields. Searches for a particular period, place of publication or a publisher are not (yet) possible. One can enter in the author field the full name in its normal word order to retrieve titles by a particular author, and this feature is certainly distinctive. The free text search enables you to search in all digitized texts. One can combine the search fields, and even add an extra search field, in order to narrow search results. The language of the search interface is Dutch. One can save pages either as an image or as a PDF. Buttons with links to social media can help you to alert others on the books digitized in this Dutch project.

Looking for legal history

It helps very much to make a review both readable and useful when you can include clear examples. Dutch legal history furnishes enough to have a good look at the workings of this digital library. For an author search I took the name of Cornelis Willem Opzoomer (1821-1892). At first I used only Opzoomer, but of course other people do have the same name. I was happy to find that you can enter his name in its entirety to get only the books he wrote. One of the things to notice is the great variety of subjects this prolific lawyer wrote about. With the word wetboek, “code of law”, I checked for both codes of law and commentaries on them. Boeken 1700-1870 contains a great range of both commentaries on particular codes, and it brings you also to subjects as military law, and codes for the former Dutch Indies and Suriname. In particular the digitization of books on Suriname is a major asset. Until now you would have to turn for Suriname to the digitized texts in the Digitale Bibliotheek voor de Nederlandse Letteren (Digital Library of Dutch Literature). The digital collections contains printed collection of arresten, verdicts of the Dutch Supreme Court, the Hoge Raad. I did not find many books on particular trials (proces). For subjects such as legal consultations (consultatieadvies) I did not find many titles. However, the typical Dutch kind of official consultation by lawyers on new or proposed legislation, often in their quality as member of the Nederlandse Juristenvereniging, the Dutch association of lawyers, now known as pre-advies (preliminary consultation), was also called advies during the nineteenth century.

Beyond Dutch borders

Using the general Dutch term for law as a subject, recht, I was surprised to find some fifty books in German. If you search for penal law, strafrecht, you will even find just one Dutch books and ten German titles, because both languages share the same word. One should consider this as a useful reminder of the great influence of German law and lawyers all over Europe during the nineteenth century. The Dutch code of private law that came into force in 1838 was adapted from the French Code civil, but this did not diminish the attention of Dutch lawyers for German law. When checking for titles in other languages – using the term civil – I encountered nearly 200 titles, and surely more is to be found, for example six titles of works by Alexis de Tocqueville.

It is still early to pronounce either completely positive or negative judgments on this new digital library. At this moment Boeken 1700-1870 forms already a substantial addition to the number of Dutch digitized books. The search possibilities are restricted, but search results yielded for authors and titles are promising. The full searchability of texts is a major quality. The contents for the field of legal history do seem alluring, especially when they clearly transcend the frontiers of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the borders of the Dutch language. Hopefully the comments and wishes of users in my country and abroad help to strengthen the qualities of this project.

At the death of two leading Dutch legal historians

Tom de SmidtLast month Dutch legal historians were saddened to hear about the death of Jacobus Thomas de Smidt (December 19, 1923-February 18, 2013). In several obituaries, for instance by Arthur Elias for Leiden University, by Joke Roelevink for the Huygens Institute of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, and at the website of the Dutch National Archives, the great efforts and merits of Tom de Smidt for the study of Dutch legal history and the organization between Dutch legal historians are commemorated. Among the major projects he initiated are the project on the history of the Great Council of Malines, a project for the edition of the Dutch codifications in the period around 1800, and for example the West Indisch Plakaatboek, a multivolume edition of legal sources for Dutch colonial history in the Caribbean. De Smidt also helped Dutch archives to modernize, and helped the Indonesian government to deal with the records of the Dutch East India Company in the Indonesian National Archives. People remember his warm personality, his sense of humour and his encouragement to young scholars, and I can testify myself for this. In fact his words “Ja, moet je doen!” [Yes, do it!] are for me among his most characteristic utterances.

Robert Feenstra 1920-2013On March 2, 2013, Robert Feenstra passed away at the age of 92. For legal historians abroad he was without any doubt the best known and most respected Dutch legal historian. This week John W. Cairns (Edinburgh) is one of the first legal historians to commemorate Feenstra. If you want to mention major themes and projects with which Feenstra dealt during his long scholarly life you are faced with a very great variety. The history of Roman law in Europe after the end of the Roman Empire and Dutch legal history give only the boundaries of his research interests. Let it suffice here that only four years ago he published with Jeroen Vervliet a new edition of Hugo Grotius’ Mare Liberum (Hugo Grotius, Mare Liberum 1609-2009 (Leyden 2009)), and that in 2011 he witnessed the completion of the project for the Dutch translation of the Corpus Iuris Civilis. He continued the research started by Eduard Maurits Meijers (1880-1954) on the history of the School of Orléans, and many scholars from Leiden have followed him on this path. Feenstra published a number of volumes with articles by Meijers.

For six decades Feenstra was on the editorial board of the Tijdschrift voor Rechtsgeschiedenis. Feenstra helped fostering the relations between Belgian and Dutch scholars. Just like Tom de Smidt he served for many years on the board of the Foundation for the Study of Old Dutch Law. Today Paul Brood (Nationaal Archief) wrote a brief obituary for both scholars on the website of this foundation. Surely its own journal Pro Memorie will contain longer obituaries on both scholars in its coming issue. Luckily this journal published in its series Rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen [Legal historians from the Low Countries] interviews with both scholars on their scholarly lives and careers (Pro Memorie 5 (2003) 3-38 (Feenstra); with De Smidt in the special issue Prominenten kijken terug. Achttien rechtshistorici uit de Lage Landen over leven, werk en recht [Prominent scholars look back. Eighteen legal historians from the Low Countries on life, work and law] (Pro Memorie 6 (2004) 313-329). Feenstra founded a circle of scholars studying the reception of Roman law in the Low Countries – convening either in Leiden or in Antwerp – where young scholars, too, often got and get a chance to present their doctoral research. I remember how I presented the first results of my doctoral research for this circle. The austere company listened patiently, asked questions on subjects I had neglected or problems which I had not yet grasped, and encouraged me to pursue my research. Robert Feenstra had a keen interest in people and he did not fail to help scholars with practical advice and suggestions for sources and literature. One of the things that impressed me always was the way Feenstra corrected his own views expressed in earlier articles. It makes you realizes how Feenstra’s career spanned almost half a century, his tenacity about cherished subjects, and the high scientific standards he applied to scholars and to himself. His presence at scholarly meetings all over the world expressed the continuity of Dutch legal history.

It is sad that both scholars are no longer with us to respond to our ideas, questions and emerging publications, but we can remain faithful to their memory by remembering their tireless efforts, smiling presence and amazing wide interests in contemporary life and legal history, and by following the paths and roads they paved for present-day scholars and future generations.

A postscript

On March 6, 2013, the Max-Planck-Institut für europäische Rechtsgeschichte in Frankfurt am Main published an obituary of Robert Feenstra. On March 28, 2013 the blog of the Peace Palace Library publshed an in memoriam on Robert Feenstra by Laurens Winkel.

Remembering slavery

How to deal with major questions, problems and conflicts in history? How should one write about them as a blogger? Subjects such as the abuse of power, law and justice, the undeniable role of violence, wars, the exclusion of people from society, and the outright systematic persecution of people for whatever reason, cry out for probing questions and research from many perspectives. Here I have promised several times not to avoid such themes and problems. One of the reasons that my first posting of 2013 occurs only late in January is exactly devoting time to one of the subjects which cannot be excluded from legal history. In my country the abolition of slavery in Suriname in 1863 will be commemorated. In this post I will look at some publications and websites dealing both with slavery as a general subject and with the history and aftermath of slavery in Suriname. Until 1975 Suriname, situated between British and French Guyana, was a Dutch colony. I will not aim at any kind of exhaustive treatment of the abolition of slavery in this country.

Slavery and Suriname

The commemoration of the abolition of slavery in Suriname in the year 1863 has thus far in particular received attention on Dutch television in the NTR-VPRO series De slavernij [Slavery] broadcasted in 2011. The series centered around the search of the Dutch singer Roué Verveer for his ancestry. The very fact that background information was presented by a well-known Dutch anchorwoman was criticized by some people complaining she figured as a kind of all-knowing presenter high above the black singer who seemed only to ask questions which he could not answer himself. Whatever the value of this critique, in the book accompanying the series, De slavernij. Mensenhandel van de koloniale tijd tot nu [Slavery. Human traffic from colonial times until the present] (Amsterdam 2011) edited by Carla Boos and a team of scholars, his quest for the history of his family is barely touched upon.

The website of the series presents a very well equipped nutshell guide to genealogical research for Surinam ancestors. In fact it is a model of its kind, and I have searched in vain for a similar comprehensive treatment of the subject at other websites. Surely, the Dutch Nationaal Archief offers a guide to its own online databases concerning slavery in Suriname, even in English. It is one thing to have access to digitized manumission and emancipation registers, but knowing how to use them is a prerequisite dealt with very clearly at the TV series website. A possible complaint about the website is much more a request, the need for translation of the Dutch version into English and Papiamento. The book by Carla Boos offers a very readable and lavishly illustrated introduction to the history of slavery in general, the slave trade in Africa, the Dutch Atlantic slave trade, slavery in Suriname and its living memory. The choice of documents written by all kind of people to tell stories from inside is excellent. The only things missing are a good overview of the images, and registers for subjects and names.

On a website for Dutch history on television and radio you can find several earlier items in a dossier on slavery, for example on the slave trade between Vlissingen (Flushing) in Zeeland, the Dutch fortress Elmina in Ghana, and Tobago in the Caribbean. Some digitized books about the history of Suriname can be found in the project Early Dutch Books Online (EDBO) which focuses on the period 1780-1800. In its digital collection Suriname 1599-1975 the library of the University of Amsterdam has digitized several old maps of Suriname and a small number of books, including the Dutch translation of Johan Gabriel Stedman’s book about his travels. You can also view an abridged version of this translation on a separate website – using Shockwave – but you can use more easily the complete version at EDBO. In the Digital Library for Dutch Literature you can find not only novels concerning Suriname and books in Dutch by authors from Suriname, but also the text of several editions of the Surinaamsche Almanak from 1820 onwards. This yearbook contains for example lists of plantations, their locations, owners and administrators. Documentation about the sea voyages made by slaves and their traders can be found in particular in the online database concerning the Trans-Atlantic slave trade of Emory University.

Slave traders and slaves

Slave traders and slaves – image from http://www.ninsee.nl

The activities for this year’s commemoration of the abolition of slavery can be followed most easily using the website of the NinSee in Amsterdam, the Dutch central institute for the study of the Dutch slavery past and heritage. The NinSee publishes studies and source editions in its own publication series. However, in my opinion it is a failure this website offers its information only in Dutch. If I have learned just one thing from the 2011 tv series it is exactly you cannot isolate the history of slavery from general history. The selection of scholarly literature about Dutch and Atlantic slavery on the website does redress this imbalance a bit. The NinSee institute is housed almost next door to the municipal archive of AmsterdamDigitized old maps of Suriname are abundantly present on the website of the Dutch Royal Tropical Institute. At the Memory of the Netherlands portal for digitized collections concerning the Dutch cultural heritage you will find many thousand digitized objects related to Suriname from a number of Dutch collections. Among them are apart from the Royal Tropical Institute the Tropical Museum in Amsterdam – its main website can be viewed in seven languages, and the collection can be searched at a separate subdomain – and the Royal Netherlands Institute of South East Asian and Caribbean Studies in Leiden, with its own digital image library. Six Dutch ethnological museums work together for a portal website where you can search their collections, but you can still search online separately in the collections of the Museum voor Volkenkunde in Leiden or its library catalogue. Perhaps it is wise to mention here also the project Caribisch Erfgoed [Caribbean Heritage] for the digitization of photographs taken between 1886 and 1970 by the Brothers of Tilburg, a Catholic educational congregation long active in Suriname.

At the start of a commemoration year leading up to the first of July, the very day on which in 1863 the abolition of slavery in Suriname was formally proclaimed, it becomes increasingly clear for me how important it is to view this history from many perspectives. While reading about Suriname I had also on my desk Eric Foner’s The Fiery Trial. Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (2011). Last year I wrote a post about the Athenian democracy, and I am sure I will learn more about it when taking the role of slavery in ancient Greece into account. Learning about slavery also sheds light on the practice of commemorations in contemporary society. One of the commemorations I will surely write about here in 2013 is the bicentenary of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

A postscript

At the website of the Stichting Oud-Vaderlands Recht, the Foundation for the History of Old Dutch Law, Dutch readers can find an overview of exhibitions, symposia, recent publications and websites concerning Suriname and slavery.