History in Service of Diplomacy: Foreign Affairs Minister References my Research

Historical Droste effect: I found out that the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Wopke Hoekstra referenced a paper of mine – on poetry as a diplomatic tool in 17th-century Dutch-Polish relations – in a speech he gave at a modern Dutch-Polish diplomatic event, last April:

Hoekstra placed himself in that same 17th-century tradition by quoting the famed Dutch poet Joost van den Vondel, who praised Gdańsk in 1635 to boost the grain trade. Almost 400 years later, Vondel’s poem thus once again served to bolster Dutch-Polish relations. Also, Vondel’s definition of Gdańsk as “queen of the northern region” is a translation of a Latin verse about Gdańsk by the Polish poet Sarbiewski/Sarbievius, published in 1634. In other words: Hoekstra quoted Vondel quoting Sarbiewski. This is some serious intertextuality! Moreover, my own paper on early modern diplomacy has become part of the modern diplomatic process. And so have I: the fact that I’m a “Dutch historian” is especially relevant in this context (Hoekstra missed the opportunity to say that I’m also Polish, however).

In conclusion, the speech shows how the study of history and literature can be used to pursue political and economic interests via international diplomacy. “Valorisation” of humanities research doesn’t get much more explicit than this.

My paper was published here, in Legatio: The Journal for Renaissance and Early Modern Diplomatic Studies in 2019.

Hoekstra’s speech can be found here.

Amsterdam 1928: Gold Medal for Polish Poetry (NL Embassy in PL)

Recently, I wrote about Dutch-Polish sporting history, specifically regarding the Summer Olympics of 1928 in Amsterdam. Another fascinating anecdote from that event concerns poetry and art. Back then, the Olympics also included cultural contests. Medals were awarded for artistic works inspired by sport, in several categories: architecture, literature, music, visual arts and sculpture. The gold medal in the category of literature was won by the Polish author Kazimierz Wierzyński, who had written a series of fifteen poems entitled Laur olimpijski (the Olympic Laurel). The poems discuss several sporting disciplines, such as the 100 meters sprint and discus throwing, but also applaud specific contestants. One of the poems describes a race by female athletes. Furthermore, the Polish artist Władysław Skoczylas won a bronze medal in the category of drawing.

The picture shows the front and back of the gold medal as awarded during the 1928 Olympics. Wierzyński won a similar medal.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 40.

Opinie in de Volkskrant: Solidariteit met Oekraïne vereist ook meer waardering voor Oost-Europa

Herwaardeer Oost-Europa en reken af met de stereotype negatieve, neerbuigende beeldvorming, want die speelt Poetin in de kaart, stel ik in een opiniestuk in de Volkskrant. Ik ga in op de geschiedenis en invloed van die beeldvorming, en waarom die moet veranderen: “Oekraïne en de andere landen in het oosten van het continent vormen geen koloniale ruimte, speelbal of buffer, maar zijn volwaardige, autonome staten met rijke geschiedenissen en eigen culturen. Deze nieuwe beeldvorming is cruciaal voor de westerse solidariteit met Oekraïne op de lange termijn en de democratische toekomst van heel Europa.”

Wie er online niet bij kan, leze de papieren versie:

Amsterdam 1928: The First Olympic Polish Gold (NL Embassy in PL)

Poland and the Netherlands share a rich history in sports. Right now, for instance, the two countries together host the Volleyball World Championship for women. An interesting older Dutch-Polish connection relating to women’s sports dates from 1928, when Amsterdam hosted the Summer Olympics. It was the first time women were allowed to participate in athletic and gymnastic events at the Olympic competition. The world champion in the field of discus throwing, the Polish Halina Konopacka, won the gold medal in that discipline, smashing both her personal and the world records. In addition, it was the first Olympic gold medal ever won on behalf of Poland. Konopacka was considered a beautiful athlete, which earned her the nickname “Miss Olympia”.

The picture shows a colorized photograph of Konopacka in action during the 1928 Olympics.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 39.

Groningen 1869: Recreating Sobieski’s Entry into Vienna in 1683 (NL Embassy in PL)

On this day in 1869, the city of Groningen witnessed a wondrous spectacle: the re-enactment of the entrance of King Jan III Sobieski of Poland into Vienna, in September 1683. At 7 pm, a masquerade of over seventy lavishly clad Dutch students began its passage through the city center, both on foot and on horseback. Such student masquerades were a common phenomenon in the nineteenth-century Netherlands, and they often portrayed specific historical events. An accompanying booklet enthusiastically relates Sobieski’s victory over the Turks at the Battle of Vienna, on 12 September 1683, and it also lists the masquerade’s participants, the roles they played, and the route they took through Groningen. Moreover, the booklet contains a small print based on a larger, colored illustration by the local artist Otto Eerelman. It depicts the masquerade as a long string of men in historical costumes of Polish and Austrian or German soldiers and clergymen, many wielding sabers, war hammers, lances, and flags. At the center of the print stands the masquerade’s main figure: Sobieski. Naturally, the print gives a fictional impression of the event, but one can imagine the excitement the masquerade must have caused in Groningen, which for one evening in 1869 played the role of Vienna welcoming Jan III Sobieski in 1683.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 38.

Dutch Praise for Jan III Sobieski (NL Embassy in PL)

On 12 September 1683, King Jan III Sobieski of Poland achieved a decisive victory at the Battle of Vienna. In July that year, Turkish forces had laid siege to the imperial city as part of a campaign designed to strengthen the Ottoman Empire’s influence in Europe. Emperor Leopold I allied himself with Sobieski, who rode to Vienna’s aid and took command of the city’s relief. After the final battle took place, the Turks were routed and forced to retreat, eventually losing their foothold in Hungary and Transylvania.

As news of the battle travelled across Europe, authors and artists in many countries sought to congratulate Sobieski, celebrating his victory as a grand Christian achievement. Perhaps surprisingly, this also happened in the Northern Netherlands: Calvinism was the state’s so-called public religion, but that did not stop the Dutch from eulogizing the Catholic Sobieski. In fact, numerous poets praised the Polish sovereign as an acclaimed general and saviour of Christendom, and the Dutch Republic even became an international hub for the production and proliferation of prints in honour of Sobieski. The example shown here was printed by Pieter Schenk, an originally German artist who spent much of his life in Amsterdam. The poem beneath was written by the little-known author Jan Norel, who compared Sobieski’s “brave deeds of war” with those of Alcides, another name for the mythical Greek hero Herakles/Hercules.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 37.

Lezing in Nijmegen: Tweetaligheid, Poëzie en Diplomatie in de 17e eeuw

Momenteel vindt het 21e Colloquium Neerlandicum plaats: een groot, internationaal congres van en voor neerlandici uit de hele wereld, georganiseerd door de IVN (Internationale Vereniging voor Neerlandistiek). Dit jaar is het congres neergestreken in de Radboud Universiteit in Nijmegen. Ik verzorgde er een lezing over een onderdeel van mijn promotieonderzoek.

Mijn lezing ging over de Satyr Belgo-Polonus (Nederlands-Poolse Sater): een tot nog toe niet onderzocht, handgeschreven gedicht uit 1656, dat ik een aantal jaar geleden vond in het archief in Gdańsk. Het gedicht is geschreven door Nicolaus Arnoldus, een uit het Poolse Leszno afkomstige calvinist die werkte als predikant en hoogleraar theologie in Franeker. In 1656 nam hij deel aan een diplomatieke missie naar Polen, die o.a. tot doel had een verdrag tot stand te brengen tussen de Republiek en de Baltische havenstad Gdańsk, die hoorde bij het Koninkrijk Polen, maar ook veel vrijheden genoot. Dat verdrag stipuleerde bijvoorbeeld dat de Republiek militaire en financiële hulp zou bieden aan Gdańsk, maar voorzag er ook in dat Nederlandse handelaren aldaar evenveel rechten zouden krijgen als de lokale kooplieden zelf. Daarnaast zou de stad neutraal moeten worden in de oorlog tussen Zweden en Polen, die op dat moment gaande was. In 1655 waren de Zweden namelijk Polen binnengevallen, wat negatieve gevolgen had voor de Nederlandse graanhandel met Gdańsk. De situatie leek nog erger te worden toen de Zweden dreigden Gdańsk in te nemen. Arnoldus moet zijn meegestuurd op de missie vanwege zijn kennis van de Poolse taal en cultuur.

De titelpagina van het gedicht vermeldt dat de tekst in september 1656 op een schip voor Gdańsk is geschreven “door een Hollandisch Domine gebooren tot Polnisch Liss [Leszno]”. Die aanduiding wijst op Arnoldus. Het Poolse gedicht wordt voorafgegaan door een voorwoord in het Nederlands, waarin de auteur bescheiden stelt geen van beide talen goed te beheersen: “van alles kan ik een beetje, maar niks beheers ik volledig”. Bovendien maakt het voorwoord duidelijk dat Arnoldus betaald kreeg door een Nederlandse “admiraal” – vermoedelijk een van de scheepsvoogden die een paar maanden daarvoor met een vloot naar Gdańsk waren gevaren. Met andere woorden: Arnoldus handelde onder patronage van de Nederlanders.

Het gedicht zelf beslaat ruim negen pagina’s en probeert de Pools lezende autoriteiten in Gdańsk ervan te overtuigen het verdrag te ondertekenen. Daarvoor gebruikt de auteur allerhande argumenten, bijvoorbeeld dat de Nederlanders competente en betrouwbare partners zijn, die steun krijgen van God. Belangrijk is ook dat het gedicht aansluit bij zogenaamde “satirische” Poolse poëzie, een genre dat destijds redelijk populair was en teruggreep op een werk van de immens invloedrijke 16-eeuwse dichter Jan Kochanowski.

Nicolaus Arnoldus op een prent uit 1654 door Jacob van Meurs.

Doorgaans spreekt in “satirische” gedichten een sater (een mythologisch wezen dat half-mens, half-bok is) een monoloog uit, waarin hij commentaar levert op de Poolse maatschappij. Als halve buitenstaander heeft hij enige afstand tot de realiteit, maar hij bezit ook kennis van Polen en haar inwoners. Vandaar dat Arnoldus zich afficheerde als “Nederlands-Poolse Sater”: als dominee en hoogleraar in Franeker was hij voor de Polen een buitenstaander, maar vanwege zijn Poolse afkomst en kennis van het Pools achtte hij zich goed in staat advies te geven aan Gdańsk. De lokale lezers zullen bovendien direct hebben herkend dat het gedicht aanhaakte bij het genre van de “satirische” poëzie – iets wat sympathie kan hebben gewekt.

Helaas voor Arnoldus en de Nederlanders had zijn gedicht echter niet het gewenste effect: het verdrag kwam er niet. Gdańsk wilde trouw blijven aan de Poolse koning en was niet van zins om extra rechten te geven aan Nederlandse handelaren. Misschien is het gedicht van Arnoldus overigens niet eens gedrukt. De enige bekende versie is te vinden in een enorme collectie handgeschreven gedichten over allerhande internationale thema’s, die destijds werden verzameld en gekopieerd door een inwoner van Gdańsk. Van een diplomatiek instrument verwerden Arnoldus’ verzen zodoende tot een dichterlijk spoor van de actualiteit, vermoedelijk bedoeld ter lering en vermaak. Toch biedt de tekst een fascinerende en tot nog toe onbekende case study van zeventiende-eeuwse tweetaligheid, de verwevenheid tussen poëzie en diplomatie in vroegmodern Europa, en de complexe geschiedenis van Pools-Nederlandse relaties.

In mijn proefschrift ga ik nader in op de inhoud van de Satyr Belgo-Polonus. Na de afronding van mijn dissertatie ben ik van plan er een artikel over te schrijven, inclusief een becommentarieerde uitgave en vertaling van het gedicht.

Dutch Carillons in Gdańsk (NL Embassy in PL)

At this moment, the city of Gdańsk is busy hosting its annual Carillon Festival. An interesting example of the cultural relations between the Netherlands and Poland concerns the carillons in Gdańsk. In 1561, a carillon consisting of 14 bells was installed in the new tower of the Main Town Hall. The bells had been cast the previous year in ’s-Hertogenbosch, Brabant, by the bell-founder Johannes Moor. Together, they made up the oldest carillon outside the Low Countries. Each bell was adorned with the coat of arms of Gdańsk, Prussia and Poland, and carried a Latin sentence: “Time covers the whole world and everything under heaven passes in its spaces. Johannes Moor from ’s-Hertogenbosch made me in the year 1560.” Every hour, the carillon played two alternating melodies, which were changed weekly according to the liturgical calendar. Furthermore, a second carillon from the Northern Netherlands was installed in St. Catherine’s Church during the eighteenth century. It was cast by Johann Nicolaus Derck in Hoorn, Holland.

Sadly, most bells from the original carillons have been destroyed, respectively during World War II and by a fire in 1905. Only a few original bells survive. However, new carillons were installed both in the Town Hall and in St. Catherine’s Church. Once again, they were made by bell-founders from Brabant: the Royal Eijsbouts Bell Foundry in Asten, not far from ’s-Hertogenbosch. This year, the Carillon Festival features several Dutch performers: Paul Maassen, Richard de Waardt and Boudewijn Zwart.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 36.

Queen Beatrix in Poland (NL Embassy in PL)

Twenty-five years ago, in July 1997, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands visited Poland. It was the first official state visit to the Rzeczpospolita by Dutch royalty. Together with her husband, Prince Claus, Queen Beatrix spent three days in Poland, journeying to Warsaw, Wrocław, and Gdańsk. In Poland’s capital, the royal pair was welcomed at the Presidential Palace by president Aleksander Kwaśniewski. That day, the Queen admired Warsaw’s city centre and the Royal Castle, and she paid her respects at three war memorials: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Warsaw Uprising Monument, and the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. Wrocław also provided several interesting sights, including the Town Hall, the university, and the Racławice Panorama: a monumental cycloramic painting showing the Battle of Racławice, one of the first battles of the Polish Kościuszko Uprising against Russia in 1794. In Gdańsk, finally, Queen Beatrix and Prince Claus made a tour of the old city, visited a number of museums, and met with the former Polish president Lech Wałęsa. Apparently, the Queen felt right at home in Gdańsk, as she knew much about the city’s close historic ties with the Netherlands.

Queen Beatrix at the Racławice Panorama in Wrocław.

Seventeen years later, in June 2014, Beatrix’s son King Willem-Alexander and his wife, Queen Máxima, made Poland the destination of their first state visit as the new Dutch royal couple.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 35.

Sigismundus: A Famous Dutch Play about a Polish Prince (NL Embassy in PL)

In the 1650s, a play set in Poland won the hearts of Dutch audiences: Sigismundus, Prinçe van Poolen (Sigismundus, Prince of Poland), also known as ’t Leven is een droom (Life is a dream). The piece is a translation of La vida es sueño from 1635, by the famed Spanish playwright Pedro Calderón de la Barca. The Dutch version premiered in Amsterdam in 1654. Sigismundus attracted large crowds until well into the eighteenth century and was also performed by travelling theatre companies, both in Holland and abroad. All in all, Sigismundus became one of the best-loved plays of the early modern United Provinces. But what is it about, and why was it so popular?

The plot can be summarized as follows. The Polish king Basilius keeps his son Sigismundus locked in a tower, as he believes in a prophecy which states that his son will bring the country to ruin. One day, Sigismundus is set free and claims his father’s throne, but his behaviour is so beastly that he is once again imprisoned. He is released by Polish rebels, however, who prefer him to his rival, a Muscovite prince. Bloodshed follows, but when Sigismundus realizes the cruelty of his actions, he offers his father his services. Impressed, Basilius surrenders the crown to Sigismundus.

Spanish drama was vastly popular in Dutch theatres at the time. One of the reasons why Sigismundus in particular took off, however, may lie in the fact that during the 1650s, Poland was making headlines. Ever since 1648, the Polish gentry had been at war with the Cossacks, who were joined by Russian forces in 1654. That same year, Sigismundus made its premiere in Amsterdam. The play tells a fictional tale, but the fact that parts of its plot – such as the Muscovite threat – showed similarities with the time’s events, undoubtedly aided its popularity.

The image shows the frontispiece of the 1647 translation from Brussels. The play is still performed today. For example, the Dutch theatre company Toneelschuur staged an adaptation in 2017.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 34.