I am happy to announce a new peer-reviewed paper, entitled ‘De Poolse Hercules. Romeyn de Hooghe en de Nederlandse receptie van Jan III Sobieski voorafgaand aan het Ontzet van Wenen’ (The Polish Hercules. Romeyn de Hooghe and the Dutch reception of John III Sobieski before the Battle of Vienna), published in Neerlandica Wratislaviensia.
The paper explores the Dutch perceptions of the Polish king John III Sobieski before his famous victory over the Turks at the 1683 Battle of Vienna. Sobieski’s military triumphs and rise to power in the 1670s elicited various favourable responses from the Dutch Republic, most notably several prints by the etcher and engraver Romeyn de Hooghe. His prints laid the foundation for Sobieski’s image as a great European and Christian military leader, but also a specifically Polish and Catholic hero. Sobieski’s war efforts and the image formed of him by De Hooghe cohered with the negative Dutch perceptions of the Turks, as well as with Poland-Lithuania’s reputation as a bulwark of Christendom. The countless glorifying prints, poems and other European responses to Sobieski after his victory at Vienna were in many cases inspired by the image of the Polish monarch created in the Northern Netherlands during the 1670s.
The paper is in Dutch. An English version will be included in my dissertation.
I am very excited to have published a new peer-reviewed article, in Legatio: The Journal for Renaissance and Early Modern Diplomatic Studies, entitled ‘Diplomats as Poets, Poets as Diplomats: Poetic Gifts and Literary Reflections on the Dutch Mediations between Poland-Lithuania and Sweden in the First Half of the Seventeenth Century’.
The article examines two Dutch diplomatic missions, in 1627-28 and 1635, by which the United Provinces intervened in a Polish-Swedish armed conflict in Prussia. The focus is on ‘diplomatic poetics’: the ways in which literature functioned within diplomatic practice, and how that practice (or the ‘diplomatic moment’) was in turn envisioned in literature. The Polish-Swedish conflict was of great interest to the United Provinces, and was elaborately discussed in various Dutch media, as well as in the correspondences of merchants and politicians. The Dutch embassies to Polish territories themselves, meanwhile, inspired a number of literary works, published mostly in the Republic, but also in for example Danzig and Königsberg. These sources demonstrate how early modern literary and diplomatic practices in Europe overlapped and influenced each other. Firstly, German, French and Dutch poems by Johannes Plavius, Simon van Beaumont and Joost van den Vondel illustrate the blurring of the lines between the realms of diplomacy and literature. Poems could function as diplomatic gifts, enabling both personal, intellectual communication and the widespread transmission of political messages. Moreover, Latin and German plays by Johannes Narssius and Simon Dach, and more importantly Latin poems by Simon van Beaumont and Caspar Barlaeus, as well as an illustrated Dutch account of the first mission by Abraham Booth, reveal that the Dutch envoys featured in literary narratives as both wise peace bringers and travelling poets, and their missions to Poland as both arduous ordeals and epic adventures. Much like poetic gifts, these literary reflections on ‘the diplomatic moment’ had public diplomatic agency, simultaneously voicing political opinions and crafting artistic images of the diplomats themselves.
From 2 to 15 December, I am a guest researcher at The Tadeusz Manteuffel Institute of History of the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, which is located at the city’s Old Town Market Square. Besides doing research in Warsaw’s archives and libraries, I gave a presentation for members of the institute, entitled Polski Herkules:Północno-niderlandzka recepcja Jana III Sobieskiego w późnym siedemnastym wieku (The Polish Hercules: The reception of John III Sobieski in the Northern Netherlands during the late seventeenth century). I discussed the international importance of a series of prints made for the Polish king by the Dutch engraver Romeyn de Hooghe after Sobieski’s election in 1674, as well as the main characteristics of the wide range of poems and prints produced in the Northern Netherlands following his victory at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. The comments and questions I received were extremely helpful! My research stay is funded by an Erasmus+ scholarship.
On 15 November, I gave a paper presentation at Radboud University’s international conference Is Europe Inclusive? Together with prof. dr. Marguérite Corporaal, I organised a panel on conceptions of European centres and peripheries throughout the ages. In my paper, entitled Peripheral Polish Prussia? Contrasting Dutch Perceptions of Prussia and the Polish Lithuanian Commonwealth during the seventeenth century, I argued that notions of centres and peripheries are ever changing and dependent on the observer. I used the case of Prussia, which during the nineteenth century was framed as the centre of Germanness, but which nowadays no longer exists as a geographic entity.
In my presentation, I posed the question how Prussia was perceived before its rise to power as an independent state, when during the seventeenth century it was under Polish rule. Royal Prussia, with Danzig as its most important port, was an integral part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth from 1569 to 1772, while Ducal Prussia was a vassal of the Polish king from 1525 until 1660. The observers I chose, the Dutch, had strong economic and cultural ties with Prussia. Did the Dutch view Prussia, which was culturally similar to the Low Countries and of great economic importance to the Dutch Republic, as a centre, or rather as a periphery and a mere province within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth?
Using a variety of sources, I made clear that the Dutch had differing opinions about the region: while some sources preferred Prussia to Poland proper, saying that Prussian houses and grain were superior to Poland’s, other sources paint a different picture. Abraham Booth, who wrote the first Dutch eyewitness account of Poland-Lithuania, printed in Amsterdam in 1632, wrote an unflattering report of his journey through both Prussia and Poland. Negative elements were, for example, vast forests, cruel Polish soldiers, bad roads and shabby accommodations. This presentation is hardly surprising, as Booth wrote his account during a diplomatic mission to Prussia, in which the Dutch mediated between the Swedes and Poles after the Swedes had invaded Polish territory. The Dutch were officially allied with the Swedes, however. On the other hand, Poland and Prussia always feature favourably in the works of Joost van den Vondel, the most prominent Dutch poet of the seventeenth century. Vondel saw Prussia as belonging to Poland, and repeatedly praised the Commonwealth for its fertility and the role it played as a bulwark of Christendom. This no doubt had to do with Vondel’s Catholic sympathies. In this way, I hope to have shown that what constitutes a centre or a periphery is not fixed and easily measurable, but rather depends on the historical context and background of the observer.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. For the aptly named website Over de Muur (‘Over/Concerning the Wall’), I wrote a piece on the wall that still divides Europe today: the mental wall between East and West. I argue that ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western Europe’ are merely concepts or frames, which do not reflect a geographic reality. Rather, they serve as catch-alls of various images and stereotypes, which hardly do justice to the complex relations between East and West, or to the differences within East and West themselves.
In addition, I explain how the divide is kept alive by western historians, for whom ‘European history’ often means ‘Western European history’. Countries like Hungary, Poland and Ukraine are regularly overlooked by western scholarship, partly because historians seldom know the languages required. Instead, they often make use of publications written in for example English or German, which tend to neglect the East and/or give an unflattering view of Eastern European history.
I state that historians can overcome these difficulties by being aware of the fact that ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western Europe’ are frames, which are furthermore anachronistic when discussing the period before the Enlightenment, as that is when these concepts first came into use. In addition, scholars can visit eastern conferences, or invite speakers from Eastern Europe. But most importantly, they can try to incorporate the lands east of Germany into their research and their classes. This will help to gain a better understanding of Europe’s history as a whole, and thus to tear down the mental wall dividing the continent.
The piece was also posted on Radboud Recharge, in both Dutch and English.
On 7 November, Alan Moss and I gave a paper presentation in Utrecht, at an international conference entitled Memory and Identity in the Learned World: Community Formation in the Early Modern World of Science and Learning. The conference was organised by the members of the ERC-funded SKILLNET project. Our paper was entitled The Graves of Learned Men: Scholarly Identity on the Grand Tour, and discussed the ways in which seventeenth-century Dutch and Polish travellers gave expression to a scholarly identity by reflecting on so-called lieux de savoir, places of knowledge. While journeying through Europe, travellers would often visit such places and describe them in their travelogues. Popular destinations were the universities at Oxford, Leiden and Leuven, and so were the graves, birth places and statues of learned men like Erasmus, Lipsius, Grotius or the Scaligers. Some of these scholars also left behind ‘relics’, like a pen, a last will or even a skull. Alan and I gave various examples of Poles and Dutchmen describing such lieux de savoir, including the Dutch poet Caspar van Kinschot (1622-1649), who wrote several Latin compositions when visiting the house of the Scaligers in Agen.
On 24 October, humanities scholars gathered at Radboud University for the biennial Moving Humanities conference. PhD candidates and Research Master students from various humanities disciplines gave presentations on a topic important to all: finding meaning, be it in a specific source, sound or word, a historical development, or humanities research for society itself. Keynote speeches were given by prof. dr. Leonie Cornips, who spoke about the language of cows, and by prof. dr. Bas Haring, who shared his thoughts on how humanities research and the natural sciences can fruitfully engage with each other. The conference was funded by the Radboud Graduate School for the Humanities and was organised by Merijn Beeksma, Marc Colsen, Marieke van Egeraat, Aurélia Nana Gassa Gonga, Tara Struik and myself.
Romeyn de Hooghe, Sobieski conquers the Turkish standard, 1683
On 12 September 1683, the Polish king Jan III Sobieski led a Christian coalition army to a glorious victory at the Battle of Vienna, defeating the Turkish troops which had laid siege to the city. In recent years, this event has started to play a significant role in right-wing, islamophobic rhetoric. In a piece I wrote for Over de Muur, I disclose how far-right terrorists such as Anders Breivik, as well as Dutch right-wing politicians such as Geert Wilders and Frits Bolkestein, appropriate the Battle of Vienna in their speeches and manifestos. I argue that this appropriation manipulates history, as it falsely implies that Europe in 1683 was on the brink of ‘islamification’. Moreover, I explain that this kind of rhetoric stems directly from the ideas expressed by Samuel Huntington, who in the 1990s launched the notion of the so-called ‘clash of civilizations’, and how it strengthens a dangerous islamophobic worldview, in which there appears to be an ongoing struggle between Christendom and Islam, which are presented as irreconcilable forces of Good and Evil.
Tijdens de Historicidagen, die dit jaar van 22 t/m 24 augustus werden georganiseerd in Groningen, heb ik een paper gepresenteerd met als titel Een Ander Europa: De scheiding tussen Oost en West voorbij. Het thema van het congres was ‘inclusieve geschiedenis’. In mijn presentatie legde ik daarom uit waar de mentale scheiding tussen West- en Oost-Europa vandaan komt, hoe die ook nu nog wordt bestendigd en wat wij daar als historici aan kunnen doen, om zodoende tot een meer inclusieve geschiedenis van heel Europa te komen. Eén van de manieren: heb het in publicaties over de tijd vóór de Verlichting niet over ‘West-‘ of ‘Oost-Europa’, want die concepten ontstonden pas in de achttiende eeuw.
On 31 July 1667, the Second Anglo-Dutch War was concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Breda. Two years of naval warfare resulted in a Dutch victory. In the Republic, celebrations included fireworks and festivals, and numerous poets eulogised their country’s achievement.
Yet the peace was not only celebrated within the Dutch Republic. In Gdańsk (or Danzig, if you will), I found two Latin poems relating to the Treaty of Breda. Why were the authors interested in this topic, what did they write about it, and what did they hope to achieve?
International Gdańsk Occasional poetry was a common phenomenon in Early Modern Europe, and Gdańsk was no exception. Its poets produced countless compositions, for example applauding the Polish king’s victories, celebrating newly wedded couples, or honouring the deceased.
Still, one might wonder why poets from Gdańsk, a Baltic port situated in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, would care about the goings-on of a war fought between the Dutch and English. The answer lies in the fact that Gdańsk was a highly cosmopolitan city and a thriving hub of international trade, inhabited by Poles, Germans, Jews, Scandinavians, Dutchmen, Englishmen, Scotsmen and many others. The Polish Academy of Sciences Library in Gdańsk houses a wealth of occasional poetry discussing all sorts of European topics, such as the deaths of monarchs (for example those of Philip IV of Spain, Charles I or Gustav II Adolph), royal marriages (for example between William II of Orange and Mary Henrietta Stuart), or the many wars fought on the continent. Due to the particularly strong economic, cultural and diplomatic ties between the city and the Dutch Republic, a relatively high number of poems has a ‘Dutch flavour’. For example, I found Latin compositions in honour of the poetess Anna Maria van Schurman, the admirals Michiel de Ruyter and Jacob van Wassenaar Obdam, and the De Witt brothers. The two compositions relating to the Treaty of Breda thus fit into a far broader context of internationally oriented Gdańsk poetry.
“Eternal laurel wreaths” The poems were written by two of the most prolific authors of the city: Joachim Pastorius (1611-1681) and Johannes Petrus Titius (1619-1689), both born Silesians who settled in Gdańsk and went on to have impressive scholarly and literary careers (both were professors at the city’s Gymnasium Academicum, for example). Pastorius’s poem is preserved in two versions: one printed as a pamphlet and one preserved in a large handwritten collection of Latin, German and Polish poetry. Titius’s poem I found in an edition of his poetical oeuvre, printed in Gdańsk in 1670. It was probably circulated as a pamphlet as well – the title says that it was written in September 1667 –, but I have not found any such copy.
While the Dutch responses to the end of the war generally celebrate the newfound peace and applaud the Dutch regents or war heroes, Pastorius and Titius treat ‘Breda’ as an opportunity to start a new war: against the Turks. In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which battled the Ottoman Empire on multiple occasions, the conflict with the country’s southern neighbour formed a popular theme among many poets. Furthermore, a new Polish-Ottoman struggle had in 1666 broken out over the Ukraine, making it a ‘hot topic’ once more. More importantly, however, 1667 saw the final stages of the Cretan War, fought between the Turks and Venetians since 1645, and also involving, for example, the Papal States and France. According to Pastorius and Titius, the peace between the Dutch and English meant that the Christian forces could unite against the common foe.
Pastorius’s short composition ends with the subtle suggestion that the ‘Lion’ (the Dutch) and the ‘Rose’ (the English) continue fighting somewhere (and someone) else:
The beautiful Rose has felt the Lion, threatening with its claws, And the Lion has felt the Rose, sharp because of its thorns. When Peace intervened, it said: let the Lion lick his wounds, Let the Rose stop this immense red slaughter. Both sides have seen enough fighting; if Mars still pleases you, Crete will provide a battlefield, Crete will provide trophies.
Titius’s poem is much longer, but much less subtle: according to him, the Ottoman “Crescent Moon” shuddered when receiving word of the Treaty of Breda, because its “Christian seat” thrived during Europe’s disunity. Peace between the English and the Dutch now means that the “Tirant”, who “gobbles up kingdoms” like “a barbarian thief”, must fear for his life. Titius appears to address the whole of Europe, trying to convince its leaders to reap eternal glory in the struggle against the Turks:
That is where you must send your troops, your battle flags, your fleets! The people support these weapons, God himself supports them! These wars promise palm branches, and beautiful trophies! Through this effort, true virtue is procured! Here, a sacred victory binds eternal laurel wreaths! No head wears a nobler crown.
Sending a message
What did Pastorius and Titius hope to achieve by their poems? Did they really think that the Dutch and English would be swayed to fight the Turks? It is not unthinkable. In the handwritten version of Pastorius’s composition, a sentence is added, informing us that the poem was handed out during a festive banquet organised in Gdańsk on 28 September by the Dutch diplomat Philips Pels (1623-1682), in order to celebrate the Treaty of Breda. As the Republic’s official resident, Pels answered to the States-General. It is possible, therefore, that someone (Pastorius himself, perhaps, or some other prominent resident of the city) tried to influence the Dutch through the poem. Something similar is at work in Titius’s case: according to its title, the composition was dedicated to Nicolaas Heinsius (1620-1681), the famous Dutch poet and scholar. Both texts may thus have travelled to the Northern Netherlands. Whether they had an English audience, I do not know, but it seems evident that they were primarily intended for a Dutch readership – aside from the people of Gdańsk themselves. At the very least, the poems were meant to gain Dutch support against the heathen enemy, and to create a sense of Christian unity.
Perhaps more important, however, is the broader context of occasional poetry I discussed earlier. Through their poems, Pastorius and Titius assured that they were part of the intellectual life of Gdańsk, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and even Christian Europe as a whole. Indeed, we might say that they entered a poetical dialogue with other authors who supported the anti-Turkish cause. For example, Joost van den Vondel (1587-1679), the most prominent seventeenth-century poet of the Northern Netherlands, had in 1649 written a eulogy of a Venetian victory over the Turks, in which several Dutch vessels had also taken part (nota bene, Pastorius and Titius probably read Dutch). What is more, by tying into international events such as the Treaty of Breda, Pastorius and Titius strengthened their city’s and their country’s place on both the cultural and political stage of Europe.
To me personally, the poems are a testament to the rich and fascinating literary production of Gdańsk and Poland-Lithuania, so often forgotten by Western scholarship.