1686: Dutch Crowds Gather to Praise Jan III Sobieski (NL Embassy in PL)

Hermanus Petrus Schouten (possibly), ‘Interior of the Athenaeum Illustre of Amsterdam’, (1770-1783)

On this day in 1686, people in Amsterdam gathered to praise King Jan III Sobieski of Poland. In the city’s Athenaeum Illustre, the forerunner of the University of Amsterdam, the Dutch professor of ancient rhetoric Petrus Francius delivered a public reading of a poem he had written in Sobieski’s honour. The cause for this event was the Siege of Buda, which took place in the summer of 1686. The armies of the so-called Holy League at that time reclaimed the city of Buda, ending almost 150 years of Ottoman rule. Francius subsequently wrote four elaborate poems about the Holy League’s wars against the Ottomans, which he published and recited in the Athenaeum Illustre and the New Church of Amsterdam. Sobieski played no part in the Siege of Buda, but he had made a name for himself as a grand Christian champion, especially after his actions at the Battle of Vienna in 1683.

The poem by Francius is an overwhelming appraisal covering nineteen pages, which pulls out all the stops. The Polish king’s bravura and success on the battlefield is sensationally described and contrasted with the supposed shame and infamy of his enemies. Moreover, Francius compared Sobieski with mythological figures like Mars and Hercules, but also with historical rulers such as Charlemagne and Gustav II Adolph of Sweden. In addition, the Dutchman extolled Sobieski’s sons, Jakub and Aleksander. This part of the eulogy aligns with Sobieski’s contemporary propaganda, which after 1683 pushed his (failed) agenda of establishing a royal dynasty. The published version of the poem shows that Francius used various sources, including the words of a Polish diplomat who resided in Holland.

Most of the people in the Athenaeum Illustre that day must have been educated: the poem was written in Latin. One of them was Joan Pluimer, the director of the Amsterdam Schouwburg, who responded to Francius’s performance with a Dutch poem of his own. According to Pluimer, the entire audience stood in amazement:

Who would not stammer, stray, faced with the virtue of a god [Sobieski],
Besides only Francius? He portrays the war hero [Sobieski];
The high school [Athenaeum Illustre] then seems a bulwark in the field;
His eyes shoot lightning, while he thunders with words.
Learned and unlearned, all stand amazed,
And see nature and art in the highest form.

Furthermore, letters by and to Francius reveal that he sent his poem to other people who appreciated his work, both in the Dutch Republic and abroad. The composition may even have reached Poland: in early 1687, the aforementioned Polish diplomat sent an unspecified panegyric of Sobieski from Holland to Gdańsk. The Polish king was an avid book collector. Perhaps he read Francius’s poem himself?

The case of Francius is the most telling literary example of the fame Sobieski enjoyed in the Northern Netherlands: ever since his royal election in 1674, numerous Dutch artists, artisans and authors had celebrated Sobieski through prints, poems, pamphlets, theatre plays and other means. I briefly wrote about some of these instances here and here, and I have dedicated this article to the Dutch reception of Sobieski prior to his victory at Vienna. My PhD thesis offers even more elaborate information, and also discusses Dutch reactions to Sobieski after 1683, including the poems by Petrus Francius and Joan Pluimer.

*I originally wrote (a different version of) this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 48.

PhD Thesis Defended!

On 24 October, I successfully defended my PhD thesis entitled Heretical Heroes and Savage Saviours. The Dutch and Poles in each other’s imaginations during the long seventeenth century. I thoroughly enjoyed the ceremony and subsequent celebrations: a reception, dinner and party with family and friends! My thanks go out to all those who made the day’s festivities possible, especially my supervisors prof. dr. Lotte Jensen and prof. dr. Johan Oosterman, the members of the manuscript committee, and my paranymphs dr. Lieke Verheijen-van Wijk and dr. Alan Moss.

My PhD thesis can be downloaded for free here. Interested in a summary? This video shows a recording of the brief presentation I gave at the start of the defence ceremony (in Dutch).

Dutch and English Introductions to my PhD Thesis

Radboud University has published a text on my PhD thesis, which offers an introduction to my research and discusses some of my main conclusions. It forms the result of a conversation I had with Wies Bakker, who works at the university’s Marketing and Communications department. An English translation was published here by Radboud Recharge.

The Dutch version was subsequently republished here by the website Historiek.nl.


1654: A Polish Poet Mourns a Dutch Disaster (NL Embassy in PL)

On 12 October 1654, the Delft Thunderclap took place. At approximately 10:30 a.m., a quarter of the town was wiped away by an explosion in the gunpowder magazine of Holland, which was located in or near a former monastery. The cause of the explosion has never been established, but the story goes that a clerk entered the magazine carrying a burning lantern, sparks of which may have set fire to the highly flammable stash of gunpowder inside. The disaster elicited numerous responses by authors and artists from the Northern and Southern Netherlands, but it also inspired a reaction from Poland: in Gdańsk, the local historian, doctor, and teacher Joachim Pastorius showed solidarity with the Dutch victims by writing a mournful Latin poem, which he published in 1657. Pastorius had many Dutch contacts and likely based his verses on Dutch sources, specifically a famous poem by Joost van den Vondel. He probably sent it to his Dutch friends as a sign of compassion. Pastorius’s composition thus forms a fine example of the literary relations between Poland and the Dutch Republic. Moreover, the disastrous Delft Thunderclap provided him with the opportunity to shape an emotional community which bridged the two countries.

Egbert van der Poel, ‘The Delft Thunderclap’, 1654.

For a detailed analysis of Pastorius’s engagement with the disaster, see my Open Access chapter ‘Early Modern Community Formation Across Northern Europe. How and Why a Poet in Poland Engaged with the Delft Thunderclap of 1654’, in: H. van Asperen and L. Jensen (eds.), Dealing with Disasters from Early Modern to Modern Times. Cultural Responses to Catastrophes (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press 2023) 61-81.

*I originally wrote (a different version of) this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 47.

PhD Thesis Finished!

This is it: Heretical Heroes and Savage Saviours. The Dutch and Poles in each other’s imaginations during the long seventeenth century, the final version of my PhD thesis! Almost 600 pages and over 150 illustrations which together tell a story about how the Dutch and Poles imagined each other during the long seventeenth century, and how we can explain these representations. From the United Provinces as a natural and cultural marvel and school of warfare to the Dutch population as Calvinist, freedom-loving peasants, and from Poland as a grain-rich trading partner and champion of Christendom to the Poles themselves as northern savages and inhabitants of Europe’s Orient. The book will be available in Open Access after my defence on 24 October!


Scroll down for an impression of the book’s contents:

Dutch-Polish Relations During the “Deluge” (NL Embassy in PL)

Every Pole has learned about the ‘Potop’ or ‘Deluge’: the Swedish invasion of Poland, part of the Second Northern War, which started in 1655. What is less well known, however, is that the Dutch Republic played a part in that war as well. On 10 July 1656, the States-General and the representatives of Gdańsk and Poland signed a concept treaty in The Hague, which stipulated that the Dutch (together with the Danes) would come to the city’s aid in case it were attacked. The States furthermore considered offering Gdańsk financial and military assistance in the form of loans and soldiers. In turn, the Dutch demanded the same freedom of commerce as merchants from Gdańsk itself. The city’s authorities still needed to ratify the treaty, however.

In late July, a large Dutch fleet was sent to the Baltic in order to lend support to Gdańsk and put pressure on the Swedes. Meanwhile, a Dutch diplomatic delegation tried to include Gdańsk in an agreement with Sweden, which would force the town to adopt a neutral position in the conflict. As this would violate the city’s fealty to Poland, however, its officials did not approve. Moreover, they refused to ratify the concept treaty signed on 10 July. The Dutch ambassadors subsequently left Gdańsk in early October, together with the bulk of the fleet. As a final token of support, several hundred Dutch soldiers were temporarily stationed in Gdańsk. A local author thanked the Dutch with a Latin poem, expressing the hope for future cooperation.

Herman Padtbrugge, ‘The Battle of Nyborg’, late 17th century.

In 1658, a Dutch fleet defeated the Swedes during the Battle of the Sound. The success prompted numerous celebratory reactions from Dutch writers and artists, who applauded the Dutch victory and deplored the sorry state of Poland, which had been ravaged by Swedish armies. One year later, in November 1659, the Poles and Dutch together with Danish and Prussian troops defeated the Swedes at the Battle of Nyborg, in Denmark. The Dutch naval force was commanded by admiral Michiel de Ruyter, while the Polish armies were led by general Stefan Czarniecki. Several poets pictured the Dutch and Poles as close allies, including the famed Joost van den Vondel, who wrote: “See how the eagles and proud lions strike their talons and claws in the heart of the Swedes.”

In 1660, the death of king Karl X Gustav of Sweden hastened the end of the Second Northern War.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 46.

Polish Treasures near Texel? (NL Embassy in PL)

You may have heard of the Palmwood wreck: a shipwreck from the middle of the seventeenth century, found near the Dutch island of Texel. What is less well known, is that the wreck has an exciting link with Poland! In 2014, local enthusiasts began to dive up objects from the wreck, which proved full of seventeenth-century treasures. The most eye-catching example is a silk dress, which survived in remarkably good condition. The cargo also included a kaftan, book covers, jewellery, and many other precious objects. However, the wreck itself has not been recovered, and much of its cargo still lies buried in the seabed near Texel.

Researchers have carefully studied the objects which have been found so far, trying to piece together the history of the ship: where did it come from, where was it going, who did the objects belong to? One interesting theory pertains to Poland. At least one of the book covers recovered from the wreck came from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: it carries the arms of the Ostrogski family. In the sixteenth century, the Ostrogski’s were a powerful and influential noble family, which owned large estates in Ukraine (the male line ended in 1620). The book in question must have come from their library.

Dutch journalists travelled to Warsaw, where they spoke with Polish historians about the Ostrogski’s and early modern Polish fashion: could the dress and kaftan belong to a family from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, perhaps to descendants of the Ostrogski family? Their answer: it’s possible, since similar eastern-style kaftans were popular with noblemen, while noblewomen preferred western-style dresses. However, since there is no hard proof to support this theory, it is merely conjecture. Still, the book cover carrying the arms of the Ostrogski’s is exciting in itself, since it shows that books from their collection travelled across seventeenth-century Europe, and also reached the Northern Netherlands. Now, the book cover is part of one of the most fascinating maritime treasures ever discovered.

A recent documentary series about the wreck is nominated for the prestigious Nipkowschijf award. Dutch journalists also recorded a podcast about their investigations. See this link for the episode about the Ostrogski’s and Polish fashion.

The image shows the book cover with the arms of the Ostrogski family. The photograph was made by historian dr. Janet Dickinson, who published this article on the various book covers found in the wreck.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 45.

1633: A Polish Ambassador Praises Amsterdam (NL Embassy in PL)

Emanuel de Witte, ‘The courtyard of the Amsterdam exchange’, 1653.

390 years ago, in May 1633, the Polish ambassador Jan Zawadzki visited the Northern Netherlands. In the name of King Władysław IV Waza, who had recently been elected to rule the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Zawadzki addressed the Dutch States-General. He sought to convince the Dutch to side with Poland against Sweden, which he accused of threatening Dutch-Polish trade relations. In addition, he argued that an alliance between Poland and the United Provinces would bolster their ‘ancient friendship and trade relations’. His Latin speech was even published in Dutch translation. Unfortunately for the Polish diplomat, however, the States-General were displeased with the titles Zawadzki gave to them, and they answered only in general terms.

Nevertheless, the Polish account of Zawadzki’s mission, possibly written by a secretary, suggests that the ambassador was fascinated by the Dutch Republic, especially Amsterdam. The text states:

‘The beautiful buildings of this city, the canals that cut through it, the streets lined with linden trees, the forests of ship masts, the rich merchant storehouses, the ubiquitous traffic, activity and work, and their reward: abundant wealth, pleasantly enraptured our spirits and bid us to say with a sigh: if only we could see all this back home!’

The account also mentions several popular tourist attractions in Amsterdam, such as homes for the elderly, the trade exchange and the headquarters of the East India Company (VOC), where foreigners could marvel at exotic goods and spices. As such, the account mirrors many other seventeenth-century texts about Amsterdam, written in prose and poetry by local and foreign authors alike, who thus created a canonical image of the city.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 44.

Vermeer and Polish Poetry (NL Embassy in PL)

Have you been to the Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam? The exhibition includes 28 of the 37 known paintings by the 17th-century Dutch master: the largest collection of Johannes Vermeer’s works ever brought together in a museum. His paintings have long since captured peoples’ imaginations, however.  For example, several Polish poets have been inspired to write verses about Vermeer’s works. Two well-known authors who did so are Adam Czerniawski and Adam Zagajewski. The latter wrote a number of poems about or featuring Vermeer, such as “Vermeer’s Little Girl”, which describes the famous “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.

Johannes Vermeer, ‘View of Delft’, ca. 1660-1661.

Moreover, both Czerniawski and Zagajewski composed poems about Vermeer’s “View of Delft”: a panorama of the city where the painter lived and worked, made in ca. 1660-1661. Czerniawski’s poem dates from 1969. It begins as follows:

“In The Hague there is a view of Delft,
In The Hague there is a perspective of Delft,
All it takes to see Delft,
Is to reach the first floor of the Mauritshuis,
Where the panorama is not obstructed by
A hill or a broad chestnut tree.”

The poet speaks of two views of Delft: the modern one, which is made of “steel and glass”, and the 17th-century one, captured on canvas. In the rest of the poem, Czerniawski considers his own relationship with – and desire to witness – these two “Delfts”, and tries to describe both the painting and the city itself.

The poem by Zagajewski dates from 1983. It is much shorter:

“Houses, waves, clouds, and shadows
(dark-blue roofs, brown bricks):
at last, you have become but a glance.

The uncontrolled, calm eyes of objects,
glittering with blackness.

You will outlive our admiration, our tears,
and our noisy, despicable wars.”

In but a few sentences, Zagajewski presents the painting as an everlasting ideal, which observes the ever-changing, cruel world.

We wish a lovely time to those of you who are fortunate enough to have a ticket for the exhibition, where you can see Vermeer’s “View of Delft” for yourselves. Don’t worry if you didn’t get a ticket: you can see the painting in the Mauritshuis in The Hague after the exhibition in Amsterdam ends. And who knows, maybe you will be inspired to write your own poems!

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 43.

An Enslaved Pole in 17th-Century Amsterdam

Historians keep finding new sources and telling new stories, which enrich our views of the past and of the present. One recently uncovered tale concerns a young enslaved Pole, who came to Holland in the seventeenth century. Fragmentary traces of his life are preserved in the city archives of Amsterdam, which house countless old documents. Notary deeds from November 1656 introduce him as “a young man called Huvedi Dimitri, born in Poland and about 18 years of age”. He called upon the local notary Adriaen Lock and in the presence of several merchants and interpreters revealed that he had been living in slavery in the Ottoman Empire. Dimitri had been enslaved when he was about 10 years old. Some 15 months ago, a merchant from Aleppo called Joan Elias had bought him in Smirna (Izmir).

A fragment of the manuscript which mentions Huvedi Dimitri (shared by Mark Ponte on Twitter).

Dimitri had come to Holland as Elias’s slave, but had heard that there was no such thing as slavery in Amsterdam. A Greek merchant named Augustus de Miter had convinced him that Holland was “a free country”. He urged Dimitri to leave his master, and was willing to reimburse Joan Elias for Dimitri’s freedom. De Miter even wanted to give the Polish boy some money, so that he might travel home to his family. Just to be sure, he “violently” dragged him to a church and made him swear his tale was true. Some time later, Joan Elias visited another notary in Amsterdam, declaring that he would “set his slave free once more, relieving him of all servitude and slavery”. This may be a reference to Dimitri.

Much remains unclear about Huvedi Dimitri. The sources say he was “born in Poland”, and he may have identified himself as Polish as well, but what that would mean and where exactly he came from is uncertain. Dutch definitions of “Poland” could refer to the eponymous Kingdom or to the entire Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and notions of nationality were fuzzier than they are now. Perhaps Dimitri was born in the southern lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In those territories, most of which belong to modern-day Ukraine, Tatars frequently performed raids and enslaved the local population. Dimitri may have been captured during such a raid and then sold on to someone in the Ottoman Empire. His name, which of course is not Polish, may have been given to him in captivity.

To this day, most of what we know about the presence of Poles in seventeenth-century Holland focuses on free and wealthy noblemen. The notary deeds from Amsterdam offer a valuable new perspective on less fortunate individuals from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, who could also reach Holland, but had entirely different experiences. In addition, Dimitri’s story shows that slavery in Amsterdam was not condoned.

The notary deeds were found by historian Mark Ponte. For more information, see his blog post.