1. The Reformed Church firmly established
The upshot of the story, as related until 1590, is that the Netherlands Reformed Church was firmly established in the core provinces of the Revolt, and later also in the provinces and regions that were reconquered by the armies of Maurits and of his half-brother Frederik Hendrik, Stadtholder from 1625 to 1647. "By late 1573", states Israel, "Orange's attempts to steer the Revolt towards acceptance of the public practice of both faiths had conclusively failed ... In all places held by the rebels, churches were seized, the Catholic clergy fled, or were driven off, and within a short time, without significant protest, Catholic practice was forbidden." The States instructed the Stadtholder to maintain `the practice of the Reformed evangelical religion, ending and prohibiting the exercise of the Roman religion.'[i] It must, however, be remarked that the Reformed Church, although being the privileged and only allowed one, never became the official public Church, such as the Church of England was and still is.
2. Problematic Catholic loyalty
Given this state of affairs, it became very problematic for the Catholics to be loyal subjects of the new state and to support the cause of the Revolt. Their situation was made more difficult by a decree of Pope Gregory XIII (1572-1585), issued in July 1578, which stated that King Philip II was the legitimate ruler of the Netherlands, as decreed by God; in consequence the Pope threatened the Catholic supporting the Revolt with excommunication.[ii] This meant that Catholics had to be content with the position of second-rank citizens of the Republic. The Calvinists were still a minority everywhere, but so were the convinced Catholics. A very large part of the population was `undecided'.
The triumph of the Reformed Church also spelled the end of all Catholic institutions. No Catholic schools were left in existence; the new University of Leiden was from the very first, if not a Protestant, then at any rate a non-Catholic institution. Capable boys who wanted a university education had to go to a foreign university, to Louvain, for instance. The fate of loyal Catholics was far from enviable. The Mass was celebrated nowhere any longer; it lasted a long time before they could get into contact with the first clandestine priests, so that they could have their children baptized by a priest and go to confession. Moreover, Catholics were not allowed to fullfil jobs, from the highest to the lowest.[iii] It was a typical dualistic situation.
3. Ongoing Protestantization
It will suprise nobody that in this situation Protestantism made rapid progress. In 1587 the membership of the Reformed Church in Holland was estimated at about ten percent of the total population. There were, however, also Protestants of other denominations, Lutherans and Mennonites, but these nowhere formed the bulk of the Protestant body. In the main cities of Holland the Calvinists stood around 1590 at about twenty percent of the population. In Delft the Reformed Church numbered in 1583 no more than two hundred housefathers, with their families not yet ten percent of the citizenship; by 1608 this number had risen sixteen hundred, this being half of the town's population.[iv]
In 1572 the position of the Reformed Church had become stable enough for holding its first national synod, at Edam, followed by two provincial synods in Holland in 1573. Each province, later also the reconquered provinces, had its own provincial synod, meeting annually; a second national synod met in Middelburg in 1583. After this one there was no other nagtional synod before 1618, of which more later on. Lower down we find the classes. Amsterdam, for instance, was a classis; a very large one was the island of Walcheren. The classis was (and still is) the meeting-point of the pastors of the local Churches, a forum where they could (and can) discusss theological and practical matters and exchange experiences. The hub of the ecclesiastical organization was, as in Geneva, the consistory, the kerkeraad; these bodies consisted of the elders, the ouderlingen, who, together with the pastors, the dominees, had the supervision over the affairs of the local Church and over the moral behaviour of the faithful.[v] This organization of the Reformed Church is still in place.
4. Tension between regents and preachers
The Reformed Church, often called the `great Church', never came to comprise the majority of the population. At least a third of it or more remained Roman Catholic. From the start there was tension between the regents and the pastors, between politics and the Church, a tension that could and sometimes did assume dualistic proportions. It should be stated beforehand that all those concerned were Calvinists, but not to the same degree. The pastors and preachers wanted to impose the Calvinistic model, that of Geneva, on society, with religion as the paramount concern of all, with all believers confessing the same well-defined Calvinistic orthodoxy on the lines of the Heidelberg Cathechism, and with a very strict lifestyle.
The pastors wanted the Reformed Church to have an important, even a dominant position in the state, which implied that they would have a large,a decisive say in public and social affairs. The regents did not see this way; their model was and remained Erasmian. Politics and the regulation of the public and social life were their affairs, not that of the a-political preachers, whom they often found to be ignorant or fanatical. These proud, wealthy members of the haute bourgeoisie did not want to be overruled, not even be admonished by pastors who came from several social strata lower down. Israel defines the opposition between regents and preachers in these words. "This clash of principles expressed itself also in a clash of interpretations of the Revolt. For the Calvinists it was above all a struggle for the `true faith'. For the regents it was a struggle for freedom from oppression and tyranny."[vi]
Naturally, they sustained the privileged Church, but they also had other interests in mind. They knew very well that a considerable part of the population did not belong to the Reformed Church. Whereas the preachers wanted to destroy Catholicism (and other denominations) root and branch, the regents looked the other way when after some time Catholic priests began to arrive and private houses and warehouses were adapted as churches, the so-called schuilkerken.[vii] They also realized that many members of the great Church were not pleased to be so strictly controlled, and they themselves least of all. And then there were the commercial interests, something the regents of Amsterdam and other harbour cities never lost from view. A too `holy' society might shy off foreign merchants.
5. Catholic revival
In 1629 there were forty-six priests in Utrecht, forty in Amsterdam, but in Rotterdam only seven, in Dordrecht, a Calvinistic bastion, three, in Zutphen two.[viii] Where no priests or only very few were available, the Catholic population dwindled to minuscule proportions. In Middelburg, a city with thirty-five thousand inhabitants in 1629, there were only one hundred and fifty Catholics left, in Kampen with seven thousand inhabitants six hundred, in Zutphen four hundred on six thousand.[ix]
However, in Amsterdam, with a population of one hundred and five thousand, a number that was rapidly grewing, harboured fourteen thousand Catholics in 1635 and thirty thousand in 1658, when the total number of inhabitants had risen to one hundred and sixty thousand. Utrecht, with its twenty-five thousand in 1622, saw its Catholic population grow from four thousand eight hundred in 1622 to ten thousand in 1656; Gouda, fourteen thousand five hundred in 1622, went from two thousand Catholics in 1616 to six thousand in 1656.[x] These swelling numbers were the result of the Catholic revival, sustained by a new race of dedicated and well-instructed priests.[xi]
6. The antagonists of the Twelve Years' Truce
In 1609, with both parties being tired of the war, the hostilities were temporarily suspended. Peace was not possible, because Spain was not yet prepared to recognize the Netherlands as a sovereign state. Instead, a truce was concluded, the so-called `Twelve Years' Truce', 1609-1621. It did not become a period of quiet, of enjoying the newly won freedom. The tension between the regents and the preachers grew to the most dangerous proportions, almost to the point of civil war breaking out. This conflict was closely bound up with another one in the bosom of the Reformed Church itself. Four names dominate the scene, of the politicians Maurits and Oldenbarnevelt, and of the theologians Arminius and Gomarus.
Maurits, Prince of Orange, Count of Nassau, had an enormously strong power position. Born in 1567, he was forty-two in 1609. The States of Holland and Zeeland made him their Stadtholder in 1585; he acquired the same function in Utrecht and Overijssel in 1590, in Gelderland in 1591, and finally in Groningen in 1620. The one province of the seven where he did not become Stadtholder was Friesland, but there another member of the House of Nassau occupied the same function: Willem Lodewijk, count of Nassau (1560-1620), Stadtholder of Friesland (and Groningen) from 1584 to 1620.
Prince Maurits was not really a pleasant man. He was dour and coolly distanced. According to van Deursen, the Prince's most recent biographer, "he was incapable of distinctly seeing what moved others. To him mankind was divided into friends and enemies. To this latter group he reckoned everyone who, in his view, threatened the country, the Church and his House."[xii] In other words, he had a dualistic disposition. He never married, but he had three illegitimate sons with an aristocratic lady, Margaretha of Mechelen (ca. 1581-1662); she was a Catholic and a renowned beauty, who lived in Rijswijk.
As Stadtholder of so many provinces he was also commander-in-chief of their armies and navies. He became a national hero and internationally famous as a brilliant general; in collaboration with his cousin Willem Lodewijk he reconquered the larger part of Parma's conquests. His political situation was not easy: he belonged to the highest nobility of Europe, he was a brilliant general, but, nonetheless, he was the `servant' of the States of the provinces. Yet for a long time no problems arose; the Prince was not primarily interested in politics (nor in ecclesiastical affairs), and he was often far from the centres of power on his campaigns. He followed the line Dutch politics had mapped out: the conduct of the war and the further development of the Republic must have pride of place. To this end he collaborated harmoniously for decades with the leading statesman of the Republic, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt.
Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was born on September 14, 1547, in Amersfoort in the province of Utrecht.[xiii] He was baptized as a Catholic. Although this man became one of the greatest figures of Dutch national history, we hardly know anything about his younger years. He himself was very ecumenical with biographical details.[xiv] It is certain that his parents remained true to the Roman Catholic Church. It is less certain, but at least probable, that the family belonged to the gentry; in any case Johan sported a scutcheon. However, the family was far from well-to-do. Johan's bond with his parents cannot have been very close: he attended the burial of his mother, but not that of his father.
There were two brothers and four sisters; none of them enjoyed a good reputation, and neither did his father. "Seldom did a Dutch statesman originate from a so little promising nest," writes Den Tex, his modern biographer. And he adds that some of his unpleasant character traits may have been a consequence of this disreputable background. His rage was unbridled and he could be `coldly revengeful'. Here too I suspect a tendency towards dualism. There was yet another thing from which he would suffer later: he was a miser with an inordinate love of money.[xv]
Oldenbarnevelt, a tall and stately man with a long beard, was the born ruler, gifted with a strong sense of duty and with an incredible energy. His overall aim, determining all his activities, was to achieve the sovereign status for the Republic. He was really a superior man, very intelligent and with an ever growing experience of political and military affairs. Yet he was not a sympathetic person. He was haughty and arrogant, imperious and convinced of his superiority, a man who knew how to be obeyed. He did not only love money, he also loved power, ambitious as he was. If he was contradicted, he could become extremely angry, hurling insults at his opponent.[xvi]
We may assume that young Oldenbarnevelt attended the Latin school of his city. His Latin was fairly good, but he had no Greek. In 1562, when the young man was sixteen, he migrated to The Hague, but we have no notion why. What we know, however, from his own mouth, that he became in 1564 an enemy of every form of moral constraint. He became a student of the University of Louvain on June 8, 1566. In the register he mentioned his father as nobilis; all his life he displayed a tendency to pose as an aristocrat. His subject was law.
Oldenbarnevelt was always sloppy with dates. It is certain that he studied law in Bourges in France for some time, perhaps in 1567. This study lasted only a few months, perhaps because of the civil wars in France. On October 30, 1567. he was immatriculated in the University of Cologne as a student of the facultas artium. Once again he did not stay long, for in the spring of 1568 he was immatriculated in the University of Heidelberg. This city and its university were hotbeds of Calvinism.
Oldenbarnevelt was not a deeply devout Catholic. His stay in Heidelberg became very important for him. Perhaps the anti-clericalism (and anti-monarchism) for which the citizenry of Amersfoort was renowned, was an element in his mental make-up. In Heidelberg he made a decisive move in the direction of the Reformation. Although he did not yet join the Reformed Church, he can no longer be considered to be a Roman Catholic.
Perhaps he did not become a member, because, as he himself testifies, he had his problems with the tenet of predestination. He noted that Protestants did not agree on this point. This problem caused him much heart-searching, until he remembered that he had found a display in his great-grandfather's house. On this display was written `with very big letters': NIL SCIRE TUTISSIMA FIDES, knowing nothing is the safest faith. Taking this to heart, he resolved that predestination was a mystery too high for ordinary mortals. He decided that all believing Christians were chosen by God's grace and were destined to eternal bliss, "in which faith he resolved to live and die".[xvii] Perhaps we may dub Oldenbarnevelt's stance as `Erasmian'; it certainly was rationalistic and anticlerical.[xviii]
He was never an inspired student and did not become an erudite or learned person, although he doubtless was intelligent, a man with an acute mind. We know him as the practical politician, a Macher, as the Germans say, one who loves to achieve things. From Heidelberg he went to Padua, a renowned centre of juridical studies. He was there in 1569; it seems that he (probably) completed his studies with acquiring a licentiate in both kinds of law. There is a legend - perhaps more than a legend - that a female soothsayer in Venice prophesied to him that he would die a violent death; the moment would be there, when `the mirror of prudence' would be shattered. Later, when Oldenbarnevelt lived on the Kneuterdijk in The Hague, two statues stood on the top of his house, one of Constantia, and one of Prudentia, with a mirror in her hand. When he was arrested in 1619, the mirror fell down.[xix]
In the spring of 1570 Oldenbarnevelt, then twenty-two years old, was home again in Amersfoort. Needing a job, he had himself inscribed as a lawyer at the bar in The Hague. We know almost nothing of him in these years. It seems, however, that he prospered in his career, because one of his clients was Sabina of the Pfalz, the widow of count Egmond. She was a very wealthy lady, so that the connection must have been lucrative for the young lawyer.
7. Oldenbarnevelt on the road to power and wealth
On March 2, 1575, Oldenbarnevelt got an unofficial appointment as advocate of the States of Holland, accredited at the Court of Holland. It is evident that he was making a name for himself. During these years he joined the Revolt, although he was a declared opponent of mob violence. With Alva campaigning in the country, the situation of The Hague as an open city was deemed too dangerous, so that the Court of Holland was transferred to Delft, a walled town; Oldenbarnevelt, then still a non-commissioned advocate, accompanied it.
Sparing as he was with details about his personal life, we do not know where he lived in Delft. What we know is that he was a successful `networker', who made many useful connections in the city. Thus he became the lawyer of an inordinately wealthy old man, Jacob Jansz van Utrecht, a Catholic. Jacob was unmarried and lived with his equally celibate brother Pouwels. Their housekeeper was a young niece, the illegitimate daughter of Jacob's sister; her name was Maria van Utrecht.
Jacob wished to see his niece married, and well provided at that. In order to arrange this, he made his brother Pouwels his sole heir; from him the whole heritage would go to Maria. Juridically, it was a complicated affair, because the rest of the family, with which he was embroiled, also coveted the heritage. Therefore a good lawyer was needed, who was found in the person of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Jacob died on September 19, 1575. The able lawyer arranged it that the heritage was divided between Pouwels and another brother, on the condition that both made Maria their sole heir. Part of the arrangement was that the lawyer would marry Maria. She was illegitimate, which constituted a problem. But the father was found, and on November 14 the Court of Holland declared Maria `capable of inheriting'.
The couple remained married for thirty-three years, always faithful to each other. For this we have to use an argumentum e silentio. Oldenbarnevelt was an exposed person and as such the object of the most vicious slander in pamphlets. Yet we never find even the slightest allusions to extramarital affairs. Maria was a nondescript woman, very reserved, always in the shadow of her husband. On his part we do not find a trace of love or tenderness for her. In his large correspondence we have only two letters to her, both headed with ma femme - not ma chère femme - and written in conventional terms. He unashamedly expressed what this union meant to him: in due time money and possessions would come to her and through her to him. There were five childeren, three sons, of whom one died at a tender age, and two daughters. The youngest of these was presented at the font by Prince Maurits.
8. Pensionary of Rotterdam and of the States General
At the end of 1576 Oldenbarnevelt was invited to become pensionary - pensionaris - of the city of Rotterdam. He accepted and was appointed in this function on December 28. It was not really an important appointment. It was still a long way off that Rotterdam would possess the greatest harbour in the world;[xx] with its four thousand inhabitants it was hardly more than a fishing village. Yet this function was the first rung on the political ladder. The principal task of a pensionary was to be the juridical adviser of the city council. There was, however, more to it. Oldenbarnevelt was the delegate of the city to the States of Holland; just during the period that the Revolt was getting wings, he was in the thick of politics. He travelled frequently and came to know everyone of consequence, first of all the Prince of Orange. He played his part in the preparation of the Union of Utrecht.
In the long run Rotterdam, only the seventh in the order of the twelve cities of Holland, became too small for the ambitions of its pensionary. In July and August 1585 he was a member of a very important embassy to England. Then the great chance arrived. Always retreating before Parma's advancing armies, the States General definitively established themselves on January 15, 1595, in The Hague, where they assemble and deliberate until this day. The States General too had a juridical adviser, not called `pensionary', but `advocate'; the post was vacant. One of the four applicants for this function was Oldenbarnevelt. He got the appointment on February 11, 1586 - not than after some heart-searching by the members of the States General. As Den Tex expresses it, they feared that "they were giving themselves a master in the guise of a servant"[xxi] - in which they were not mistaken.
The nature of the office of Advocate of the States General was, mutatis mutandis, identical to that of pensionary of the States: he was their juridical adviser. In reality it was a political function. How powerful an advocate would become depended of the incumbent. Oldenbarnevelt became very powerful: to use modern terms, he combined the functions of prime minister, foreign minister, and minister of the interior.
It is not my intention to describe the history of the Netherlands under Oldenbarnevelt's leadership. Our subject is and remains the impact of Calvinism on Dutch history of this period. Let it be sufficient to state that the Advocate and Prince Maurits, who became Stadtholder of Holland and Zeeland on November 1, 1585, closely collaborated in the conduct of the war. It helped that the Prince was not interested in politics. The two men did not become friends - neither of them had a talent for friendship -, but they appreciated each others's qualities and capacities.
9. The Truce concluded
After forty years of warfare both parties wanted peace. A powerful peace party in the Republic pleaded for ending the hostilities. No end of the war was in sight, because most of the southern Netherlands were still in enemy hands. They had still to be conquered, but the enthusiasm of the regents to regain these provinces with their Catholic populations was minimal. And then, conducting wars is expensive, too expensive to the taste of the economical regents. Oldenbarnevelt did not belong to the peace party, but he had to reckon with its growing influence. Maurits was mordicus against ending the war; in his view the peace loving regents were bad patriots. He was only forty at the time, in the full vigour of his life. The war was his one and all. What would he be without it?
Oldenbarnevelt opted for negotiations with Spain, which lasted for several years. Peace might have been concluded already then, if only Spain had been ready to renoune all claims on the Republic, so that it would become a sovereign state. But Madrid had not yet reached this point of no return. Instead of a peace treaty there came a truce for twelve years, beginning on April 9, 1609. This affair caused friction between the leaders of the Republic, for the first time. For a short while they were not even on speaking terms. A formal reconciliation was arranged by Pierre Jeannin, the French ambassador. In his presence the two men spoke with one another in the Prince's quarters in The Hague. The Advocate assured Maurits that he had nothing else in mind but the interest of the state. The Prince accepted this, but it is the question whether he was really convinced.[xxii]
However this may be, the two men kept collaborating for some time, although their relationship had become very cool. Den Tex says that they were now "two poles in the state around which the budding parties self-evidently would crystallize."[xxiii] The term `poles' suggests dualism. The situation would assume really dangerously dualistic proportions, when the religious question began to play its role.
Let us not forget that the subject of this chapter is not the war against Spain, but the religious troubles of the period. These troubles, however, were closely interwoven with the political events, and particularly with the stances of the two leading men of the Republic, Maurits and Oldenbarnevelt. In this context it is intriguing to state that, although he inwardly stood on the side of the Reformation since 1568, Oldenbarnevelt did not become a regular member of the Dutch Reformed Church until in the first decade of the seventeenth century. This means that he formally remained a Roman Catholic until then.
10. The States Bible and the unity of the Reformed
An important moment in the history of the Reformed Church was the publication of an authorized version of the Bible, destined to replace all former versions in the vernacular that were current at the time. It was an initiative of the Reformed Synod of Dordrecht in 1618. Many translators were put at the task, under the supervision of a team of six chief translators. Since the States General found it important that there would be only one generally accepted translation, they collaborated in the plan. For this reason the book that came from the press is known as the Statenbijbel, the States Bible. Because there was then not yet a common Dutch vernacular, the language used became `a carefully crafted compromise, especially between Brabants and Hollands'.[xxiv]
The States Bible remained in use as the official translation of the Reformed Church, only to be replaced by a modernized version after World War II. For almost three-and-a-half centuries its stately and sonore phrases were heard from the pulpits and read in the homes of pious Calvinists. When Rembrandt portrayed his devout mother, the bulky volume the miller's widow holds in her hands is the States Bible.
11. Strict Calvinistic theology
The States Bible was meant to be, and to a large extent also was, the expression of the unity of the Reformed Church. Yet reality was refractory. There had always been opposition in the Church against the prevailing strict interpretation of Calvinistic theology. About 1600 this opposition seems to have died out, soon to be rekindled however. Let me shortly recapitulate what this strictly orthodox theology taught.[xxv]
Man has nothing good in himself; he is utterly sinful and lost, labouring under God's rage. There is nothing in him, no dignity, no virtue, no natural goodness, no good works, to which he can appeal before God. Doomed to eternal punishment as he is, only God's grace can save him. Yet God does not give his saving grace to all people; he is absolutely free to give it or not to give it. However, those who receive it are saved and redeemed. They are the elect.[xxvi] It is a sombre theology, which takes a deeply pessimistic view of human nature and of man's relationship with God. It will not surprise us that not only many outside the Church, but also members of it, even pastors and theologians, objected to it.
DEURSEN, A.Th. van
1. Bavianen en slijkgeuzen. Kerk en kerkvolk ten tijde van Maurits en Oldenbarnvelt. Serie: Van Gorcum's Historische Bibliotheek. No.92. Assen, 1972.
2. Maurits van Nassau. De winnaar die faalde. Amsterdam, 2000.
ISRAEL, Jonathan, The Dutch Republic. Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806. Oxford, 1995.
TEX, J. den, Oldenbarnevelt. 3 vols. Haarlem, 1960-1972.
[i].. Israel, Dutch Republic 361/362.
[ii].. Israel, Dutch Republic 362.
[iii].. At least this was the theory. In some towns there were not always sufficient capable reformed persons available; then a Catholic might be asked.
[iv].. Israel, Dutch Republic 365.
[v].. The Italian composer Pietro Antonio Locatelli (1695-1764), who lived in Amsterdam on the Prinsengracht 506 - a plaquette marks his house -, had a child with his housekeeper. For this fact he was, although a Catholic, cited before the kerkeraad.
[vi].. Israel, Dutch Republic 369.
[vii]..In Amsterdam several Roman Catholic parish churches are still known, not by the name of the saints to whom they are dedicated, but by those of the schuilkerken they have replaced: the Parrot, the Dove, the Sower, the Posthorn, the Chalkmountain, etc.
[viii].. See the table in Israel, Dutch Republic 389.
[ix].. See the table in Israel, Dutch Republic 381.
[x].. See the table in Israel, Dutch Republic 380.
[xi].. When I was a boy in the Thirties, 17 % of the population of Amsterdam was Roman Catholic.
[xii].. Van Deursen, Maurits van Nassau 290.
[xiii].. For the following paragraphs I am mainly relying on the still authoritative biography of Oldenbarnevelt by Jan den Tex, Oldenbarnevelt (see Bibliography). An abridged version of this work, with the same title, appeared in 1980. There is also an (abridged) English translation with the same title (for both see Bibliography).
[xiv].. He was not ready to give people insight into the workings of his mind. His almost illegible handwriting may perhaps serve as proof of his extreme reserve. It used to be said among Dutch historians that there were only three historians who could decipher it. His biographer Den Tex became the fourth, although, in a letter to me, dated 25.V.1955, he confessed that he was still struggling with it.
[xv].. Den Tex, Oldenbarnevelt I, 45.
[xvi].. Bok-van Bork, Bijdrage tot de psychologie van den staatsman, 17-26 Johan van Oldenbarnevelt.
[xvii].. Quoted by Den Tex, Oldenbarnevelt I, 60/61.
[xviii].. Den Tex, Oldenbarnevelt I, 63.
[xix].. Den Tex, Oldenbarnevelt I, 68.
[xx].. A position it lost in 2004.
[xxi].. Den Tex, Oldenbarnevelt I, 241.
[xxii].. Den Tex, Oldenbarnevelt II, 660.
85. Den Tex, Oldenbarnevelt II, 661.
[xxiv].. Israel, Dutch Republic 463.
[xxv].. For a more ample discussion I refer the reader to my Vol. XXIII, Ch. IV.
[xxvi].. Van Deursen, Bavianen en Slijkgeuzen 227.