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«Exiles and the Politics of Reintegration in BlackwellAND THE DUTCH REVOLT EXILES History H. Oxford, UK JANSSEN GEERT 1468-229X OriginalThe ...»

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Exiles and the Politics of Reintegration in



History H.




OriginalThe HistoricalLtd

© 2009

HIST Article


0018-2648Publishing Association and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

the Dutch Revolt


University of Cambridge


The civil war in the sixteenth-century Low Countries, generally known as the Dutch

revolt, generated dramatic streams of refugees. Whereas scholars in the past have devoted much attention to the exile experience of Protestants in particular, the circumstances surrounding the return of these refugees to the Netherlands have remained largely unexplored. This article focuses on the repatriation and reintegration of Protestant exiles in the province of Holland in the years 1572–80. It seeks to assess what strategies returning exiles developed to regain their possessions and respectability in local communities and shows how they adopted rituals of cleansing to reinforce their social rehabilitation. It can be demonstrated that the exiles consciously used the houses and properties of their Catholic enemies to mark their re-entry in Holland society. By appropriating possessions of escaped Catholic citizens, the former ‘victims’ of the Habsburg regime sought material compensation and styled themselves as members of a new civic elite. In this way two contrasting streams of refugees became symbolically connected because it was fugitive Catholics who provided returning Protestants with the tools to turn themselves from outlaws into the icons of the nascent Dutch Republic.

H ow could a criminal conviction be an asset for public office in early modern Holland? The citizens of Amsterdam must have pondered this question when in 1578 their local city council was renewed and more than fifteen sentenced individuals were appointed to the new body.1 As former outlaws the men had much in common. They had all previously been banished by the Habsburg government and most of them had spent their exile in the German town of Emden. The outbreak of the Dutch revolt, however, had resulted in a change in the exiles’ fortunes. As soon as Amsterdam switched to the side of the rebels, the exiles returned in large numbers, as happened in many Holland towns which joined the rebellion after 1572. From being outcasts and personae The research for this article was generously supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO). I am grateful to audiences in Amsterdam and Cambridge, as well as to Alastair Duke, Andrew Spicer and James Tracy for their comments on earlier versions of this article.

1 J. Elias, De vroedschap van Amsterdam (2 vols., Haarlem, 1903–5).

© 2009 The Author. Journal compilation © 2009 The Historical Association and Blackwell Publishing.

Published by Blackwell Publishing Ltd., 9600 Garsington Road, Oxford OX4 2DQ, UK and 350 Main

–  –  –

non gratae, the returning refugees quickly transformed themselves into the icons of the new rebel regime, and ultimately into the self-proclaimed founding fathers of the nascent Dutch Republic.

The paradoxical tale of the Protestant exiles in the Dutch revolt is not unknown to historians, yet their shifting experiences have only received partial study. A good deal of research has been carried out in recent decades into the refugee movement from the Habsburg Low Countries on the eve of the revolt. This historiography has generally focused on the magnitude of these migrations in the 1540s, 1550s and 1560s, on the subsequent development of Reformed exile churches abroad, and on the role played by these refugee communities in local economies in England and the Holy Roman Empire.2 It was generally supposed that most exiles had tried to return after 1572 once the Dutch revolt seemed to be successful.

Indeed, in the following years a wave of remigration became conspicuous in rebel-controlled areas.

While scholars have devoted much attention to the exiles’ residence abroad, the circumstances surrounding their return have remained largely unexplored.3 Historians of the early modern Netherlands have traditionally stressed the formative role of returning exiles in the emerging Reformed churches and have pointed to their political and military agency in the revolt.4 Yet none of these studies provides an idea of the practical consequences of this process of remigration, of the possible tensions that came with the reintegration of exiles in local communities, let alone of the way in which these former outlaws articulated and negotiated their newly adopted role in society. How, for example, did those who had been criminalized by the Habsburg government actually mark their re-entry in the towns which they had been forced to leave several years earlier? And how did local citizens respond to their 2 See for example M. Backhouse, The Flemish and Walloon Communities at Sandwich during the Reign of Elizabeth I 1561–1603 (Brussels, 1995) [hereafter Backhouse, Flemish and Walloon Communities];

A. Dünnwald, Konfessionsstreit und Verfassungskonflikt. Die Aufnahme der niederländischen Flüchtlinge im Herzogtum Kleve 1566–1585 (Bielefeld, 1998); Raingard Esser, Niederländische Exulanten im England des 16. und frühen 17. Jahrhunderts (Berlin, 1996) [hereafter Esser, Niederländische Exulanten]; Ole Grell, Calvinist Exiles in Tudor and Stuart England (Aldershot, 1996) [hereafter Grell, Calvinist Exiles]; Andrew Pettegree, Foreign Protestant Communities in Sixteenth-Century London (Oxford, 1986) [hereafter Pettegree, Foreign Protestant Communities]; Andrew Pettegree, Emden and the Dutch Revolt: Exile and the Development of Reformed Protestantism (Oxford, 1992) [Pettegree, Emden]; Heinz Schilling, Niederländische Exulanten im 16. Jahrhundert: Ihre Stellung im Sozialgefüge und im religiösen Leben deutscher und englischer Städte (Gütersloh, 1972) [hereafter Schilling, Niederländische Exulanten]; Andrew Spicer, The French-speaking Reformed Community and their Church in Southampton, 1567–c.1620 (Stroud, 1997) [hereafter Spicer, French-speaking Reformed Community].

3 Compare Gustaaf Janssens, ‘Verjaagd uit Nederland. Zuid-Nederlandse emigratie in de zestiende eeuw, een historiografisch overzicht (ca.1968–1994)’, Nederlands archief voor kerkgeschiedenis, lxxv (1995), 102–19.

4 General overviews are offered in J. I. Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall, 1477–1806 (Oxford, 1998) [hereafter Israel, Dutch Republic], pp. 158–60; A. C. Duke, Reformation and Revolt in the Low Countries (1990) [hereafter Duke, Reformation and Revolt], pp. 199–226;

Andrew Pettegree, ‘Coming to Terms with Victory: The Upbuilding of a Calvinist Church in Holland, 1572–1590’, Calvinism in Europe 1540 –1620, ed. A. Duke et al. (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 160 –80.

© 2009 The Author. Journal compilation © 2009 The Historical Association and Blackwell Publishing.


unforeseen return? The property and homes of the outlaws had generally been confiscated during their absence and even the physical memory of their existence had often been erased by the authorities. What strategies did the returning exiles develop to regain their possessions and respectability and how did they express their changing status in a community challenged by the experience of civil war?

Such questions are relevant, not only because patterns of reintegration in early modern society have received little study so far, but also because the case of the Dutch Protestants may shed important light on the nature of the conflict in the Low Countries. In recent years, historians have become increasingly aware that the Dutch revolt may best be approached in terms of a civil war, yet the broader implications of that shifting view still await further assessment.5 The perspective of refugee movements may be a rewarding starting-point in this respect as they can illuminate internal divisions in Netherlands society. More specifically, this article seeks to assess the rituals of cleansing which returning exiles used in order to rehabilitate themselves in local communities, and identify the models and traditions on which these were based. In so doing, it will be argued that the reintegration of Protestant outlaws was intrinsically connected to the simultaneous flight of loyalist, Catholic citizens whose houses and physical possessions were appropriated, purged and used as an instrument of rebel propaganda. Two contrasting streams of refugees thus became symbolically connected, as it was loyalist Catholics who provided exiled Protestants with the tools to turn themselves from outcasts into the protagonists of a new regime. To show precisely how this process worked, this article will concentrate on the reintegration of Protestant exiles in the Holland towns in the crucial early years of the conflict: 1572–80.

I The Protestant exodus from the Low Countries had largely been the result of Habsburg confessional policies. From the 1540s onwards, small groups of evangelical believers started to escape the Catholic Habsburg Netherlands and settled in Protestant safe havens abroad. After the uprisings of 1566 and subsequent rumours about the arrival of Spanish troops under the leadership of the duke of Alva, a vast and more mixed stream of religious, political and economic migrants left the provinces of the Netherlands, including Holland.6 The destinations of these various 5 Peter Arnade and Henk van Nierop, ‘The Political Culture of the Dutch Revolt’, Journal of Early Modern History xi (2007) [hereafter Arnade, Van Nierop, ‘The Political Culture’], 253–61; Compare Reformation, Revolt and Civil War in France and the Netherlands 1555–1585, ed. Philip Benedict et al. (Amsterdam, 1999); The Origins and Development of the Dutch Revolt, ed. G. Darby (2001);

Anton van der Lem, De opstand in de Nederlanden, 1555–1609 (Utrecht, 1995).

6 It is estimated that in 1566 –7 between 30,000 and 60,000 people left the Low Countries. See Israel, Dutch Republic, p. 160.

–  –  –

groups of refugees differed, yet large concentrations of Netherlandish migrants were soon to be found in refugee centres such as Emden and Wesel in the Holy Roman Empire and London and Norwich in England. 7 Going into exile was a decision with dramatic consequences not least because of the draconian responses of the Habsburg government at home. When the duke of Alva actually arrived in the Low Countries, in the autumn of 1567, he installed a ‘Council of Troubles’, which was set to prosecute those responsible for the disturbances of the previous year.

Among its victims were several hundred exiles. Most of them were sentenced to death in absentia, or to eternal banishment with the confiscation of their goods.8 Alva’s measures thus turned ‘voluntary’ refugees, who may have hoped to repatriate at some point, into criminals and permanent personae non gratae.

A number of historians have shown how the experience of displacement and the loss of possessions forced many Netherlanders abroad to redefine their position in society. Alastair Duke in particular has pointed out that the exile experience created a sense of mutual solidarity among the diverse Netherlandish communities abroad and encouraged the development of a common ‘Hispanophobic’ agenda. In this way, repressive Habsburg policies seem to have triggered the emergence of some sort of ‘national’ identity in exile circles.9 This process was simultaneously shaped by the activism of the refugee churches. There is ample evidence that these Reformed congregations played a vital role in accommodating exiles, and also provided them with a new, more militant confessional programme. It was in places such as Emden and London that many with eclectic evangelical views gradually transformed into fixed Calvinists.

As Andrew Pettegree has demonstrated, the experience of flight and displacement fostered a new religious mentality among exiles, which converted their passive victimhood into confessional militancy. 10 The exiles’ radicalization, a paradoxical by-product of Alva’s policies, also made the émigré community receptive to the propaganda vocabulary of William of Orange (1533–84), himself an exile. Orange had escaped 7 For England see Esser, Niederländische Exulanten; Backhouse, Flemish and Walloon Communities;

Pettegree, Foreign Protestant Communities; Spicer, French-speaking Reformed Community. For the Holy Roman Empire see R. van Roosbroeck, Emigranten: Nederlandse vluchtelingen in Duitsland (1550–1600) (Leuven, 1968); Schilling, Niederländische Exulanten; Pettegree, Emden.

8 Overviews of sentences are collected in Le conseil des troubles: Liste des condamnés (1567–1573), ed. A. L. E. Verheyden (Brussels, 1961) [hereafter Verheyden, Le conseil]. Specific for Holland is Sententiën en indagingen van den hertog van Alba, ed. J. Marcus (Amsterdam, 1735) [hereafter Marcus, Sententiën]. Alva’s punishment policy was in line with his royal instructions. See Violet Soen, ‘C’estoit comme songe et mocquerie de parler de pardon. Obstructie bij een pacificatiemaatregel (1566– 1567)’, Bijdragen en mededelingen betreffende de geschiedenis der Nederlanden cxix (2004), 309–28.

9 Duke, Reformation and Revolt, pp. 186 –8, as well as: Alastair C. Duke, ‘The Elusive Netherlands:

The Question of National Identity in the Early Modern Low Countries on the Eve of the Revolt’, Bijdragen en mededelingen betreffende de geschiedenis der Nederlanden, cxix (2004), 36.

10 Pettegree, Emden, pp. 237, 245; also Grell, Calvinist Exiles, p. 113. Compare Jonathan Wright, ‘Marian Exiles and the Legitimacy of Flight from Persecution’, Journal of Ecclesiastical History, lii (2001), 220–43.

© 2009 The Author. Journal compilation © 2009 The Historical Association and Blackwell Publishing.


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