All posts by Paul Hulsenboom

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.

Dutch Poetry Against Russian Aggression in 1794 (NL Embassy in PL)

Many Dutchmen and -women strongly support the Ukrainians in their fight against Russian aggression. A comparable situation occurred over two hundred years ago, in 1794, when the young Dutch poet David Jacob van Lennep spoke out in support of the Poles, who fought for freedom and independence. The Polish general Tadeusz Kościuszko at that time led an armed uprising to defend his country’s territorial integrity and autonomy, a year after the Second Partition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth by the Russian Empire and the Kingdom of Prussia. The image shows Kościuszko’s Proclamation, a painting by Franciszek Smuglewicz depicting a speech Kościuszko gave in Cracow in March 1794, which is considered the beginning of the uprising.

Van Lennep responded to the uprising with two long poems. One celebrates an important Polish victory in September 1794, when the Siege of Warsaw by Russian and Prussian forces was lifted. The other composition carries the title “Lyre Song to the Poles”, and is dated May 1794. Van Lennep rejoices in the Polish uprising and slanders the Russian and Prussian oppressors. He enthusiastically describes how the Poles defend their freedom, which is threatened by the “tigress of the north” – Catherine II of Russia, known as the Great – and the “treacherous” Prussians, who lay waste to Polish lands and murder and enslave the population. “Legitimizing violence with the appearance of justice / Strengthens tyrants’ crowns, / And accusing innocent people of terrible deeds / Solidifies the foundations of their thrones,” Van Lennep wrote – words which would be just as appropriate today.

Furthermore, Van Lennep compares the Polish uprising with the Dutch fight against Spain during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. He heralds “the crowds of Polish heroes” as the bringers of freedom for all oppressed peoples and foreshadows that the aggressors will flee, thus “trampling Russia’s honor in the dust”. Lastly, Van Lennep expresses the certainty that Poland will once again prosper, and he asks God for universal peace and freedom.

Portrait of David Jacob van Lennep by Hendrik Hollander Cz.

Kościuszko’s uprising sadly did not end well for the Poles, who were eventually defeated by Russian and Prussian forces. The following year, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth was conclusively partitioned out of existence by Russia, Prussia, and Habsburg Austria. Van Lennep, meanwhile, went on to become professor of Latin and Greek in Amsterdam, as well as a respected poet. Years later, he wrote that he never regretted supporting the Poles, who had been “treated with terrible injustice, which filled me with indignation”.

Just as Van Lennep did in 1794, we must continue to speak out against Russian aggression.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 33.

The Earliest Maps of Ukraine (NL Embassy in PL)

Dutch cartographers and publishers played vital parts in the production and dissemination of the earliest maps of Ukraine. In 1648, the Dutch printer Willem Hondius, who worked in Gdańsk, published the so-called “general map” of Ukraine. This map was designed by the Frenchman Guillaume le Vasseur de Beauplan, who worked for the Polish court. At that time, it was the most detailed map of Ukrainian lands ever produced, showing 1293 distinct objects, such as settlements, rivers, forests and marshes across various Ukrainian territories both inside and outside the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. While Le Vasseur de Beauplan visited many of these regions himself, not all of the elements on the map were based on first-hand observation. Still, the map corrected several false notions about Ukraine, for example concerning its span, or the flow of the Dniepr river.

The 1648 “general map” of Ukraine, with North at the bottom.

Moreover, Le Vasseur de Beauplan produced a so-called “special map” of Ukraine, which was once again published by Willem Hondius in Gdańsk. This map is even more detailed than the “general” one. It was commissioned by the Polish king Władysław IV Waza in 1645, who planned to use the map during a war he meant to wage against the Turks. However, as these plans did not come to fruition and Władysław himself died in 1648, the “special” map wasn’t printed until 1650.

Both maps were reproduced multiple times by seventeenth-century Dutch printers, such as Joan Blaeu and Joannes Janssonius, who used them in the atlases they published in Amsterdam. According to cartography experts, the maps of Le Vasseur de Beauplan and Hondius thus revolutionized the image of South-Eastern Europe, contributed to the propagation of the name “Ukraine”, corrected numerous older errors, and added significantly to knowledge about both Ukrainian territories and the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth as a whole.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 32.

A Royal State Visit to Poland (NL Embassy in PL)

Last Wednesday was King’s Day in the Netherlands, which celebrates the birthday of His Majesty King Willem-Alexander. Interestingly, the king chose Poland as the destination for his first ever state visit, where he travelled together with his wife, Her Majesty Queen Máxima. The visit took place on 24 and 25 June 2014. The royal couple was kindly received at the presidential palace in Warsaw by president Bronisław Komorowski and his wife, Anna Komorowska. Amongst other things, the king and queen paid their respects at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, visited the Warsaw Rising Museum, and met with Polish veterans at the monument of the 1st Armoured Division of general Stanisław Maczek, which played a vital role in the liberation of the Netherlands during the Second World War. King Willem-Alexander personally thanked Marian Słowiński, at that time the oldest surviving liberator of Breda. On the second day of their visit, the king and queen travelled to Poznań, where they had meetings concerning transport, agriculture, and other industries.

In a speech held during a banquet in Warsaw, the king expressed his admiration for Poland’s historical struggle for freedom and independence, and called Poland an important partner in many respects. Together with president Komorowski, he toasted to the close cooperation between Poland and the Netherlands.

The photograph shows King Willem-Alexander, Queen Máxima, president Bronisław Komorowski, his wife Anna Komorowska, and Marian Słowiński at the meeting with Polish veterans (source: ANP).

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 31.

KNHG lezing: Gedichten uit Gdańsk over het Rampjaar

Op 22 april vond het jaarlijkse KNHG Voorjaarscongres plaats in het BHIC (Brabants Historisch Informatie Centrum) te ‘s-Hertogenbosch. Het congres had als titel ‘Bloed, kruit en tranen: Betekenis en herdenking van het Rampjaar 1672’ en werd georganiseerd ter gelegenheid van 350 jaar Rampjaar. Historici, erfgoedprofessionals, museummedewerkers, onderwijzers en andere geïnteresseerden kwamen bijeen om te praten over verschillende aspecten van het jaar 1672. Ter sprake kwamen o.a. onderbelichte perspectieven uit binnen- en buitenland, de herinneringscultuur vandaag de dag, en zelfs de geur van het Rampjaar.

Ikzelf verzorgde een lezing in de sessie ‘Het Rampjaar in woord en beeld: Reacties en representaties uit de Republiek, Gdańsk en Aleppo’. Mijn presentatie droeg de titel ‘Baltische betrokkenheid tussen schrik en scherts: Gedichten uit Gdańsk over het Rampjaar’.

De gebeurtenissen van het Rampjaar trokken internationaal de aandacht. Zo ook in de Baltische havenstad Gdańsk (Danzig), waar ik gedurende mijn promotieonderzoek zeker 10-15 gedichten heb kunnen vinden die reageren op de rampspoed die de Republiek in 1672 ten deel viel. Uiteindelijk heb ik om meerdere redenen besloten om het bronmateriaal uit Gdańsk grotendeels uit mijn proefschrift te laten en te bewaren voor een toekomstig onderzoeksproject. Met mijn lezing liet ik zien wat de mogelijkheden zijn van een dergelijk onderzoek. Mijn doel was om te achterhalen wat de gedichten ons kunnen leren over de vraag hoe en waarom men in Gdańsk het Rampjaar beleefde. De meeste gedichten zijn geschreven in het Latijn en zijn te vinden in zogenaamde sylvae: grote poëzieverzamelingen met verzen over allerhande internationale onderwerpen. Ze laten grofweg drie perspectieven zien: pro-De Witt, anti-de Witt en meer algemeen pro-Republiek. Van al die perspectieven besprak ik één voorbeeld.

Johannes Petrus Titius op een gravure uit 1690.

Wellicht het meest bijzondere gedicht is een werk van de plaatselijke docent en geleerde Johannes Petrus Titius (1619-1689), die een gloedvol grafschrift schreef voor de gebroeders De Witt. Zijn gedicht is uitgesproken positief over de broers, spreekt vol walging over hun tragische dood en bevat een algemene les voor de lezers: pas op voor het wisselvallige lot! Een gedrukt pamflet met zijn Latijnse gedicht – inclusief Duitse vertaling en portretten van Johan en Cornelis de Witt – was reeds bekend, maar de auteur en plaats van uitgave nog niet. Aangezien ik in Gdańsk twee handschreven, gesigneerde kopieën van het gedicht heb kunnen vinden, is het aannemelijk dat Titius voor de compositie verantwoordelijk was en het pamflet in Gdańsk werd gepubliceerd. Kennelijk waren meerdere mensen ter plekke bereid om tijd en geld te investeren in de verspreiding van dit pro-De Witt geluid.

Van de meeste andere gedichten heb ik kunnen achterhalen dat ze kopieën zijn van elders gedrukte teksten, met name afkomstig uit de Republiek. Tussen Gdańsk en de Noordelijke Nederlanden bestond veel verkeer van mensen en goederen, dus is het niet verwonderlijk dat ook nieuws en literatuur van de Republiek naar de Baltische havenstad reisde. Tussen de anti-De Witt gedichten zit o.a. een lang, anoniem Nederlands grafschrift van Johan de Witt, dat oorspronkelijk gedrukt was in de Republiek. Het bevestigt het idee dat velen in Gdańsk het Nederlands machtig waren – al heeft de kopiist de tekst her en der ‘verduitst’, bijvoorbeeld door naamvallen aan te passen. Interessant is ook dat zowel pro- als anti-De Witt gedichten soms in één en hetzelfde manuscript te vinden zijn: dat men een gedicht kopieerde, betekent dus niet per definitie dat men het eens was met het sentiment dat het gedicht vertolkt. Helder is in ieder geval wel dat de retorische en ideologische strijd die in de Republiek woedde tussen de staats- en prinsgezinden ook actief werd gevoerd in Gdańsk.

De bibliotheek van Gdańsk in Reinhold Curicke, ‘Der Stadt Danzig Historische Beschreibung’ (1687).

Ik eindigde door te speculeren over de mogelijke redenen die men in Gdańsk kon hebben om gedichten te schrijven en verspreiden over het Rampjaar. Ten eerste benoemde ik een spanningsveld tussen persoonlijke en ‘gemaakte’ motivatie: iemand kon oprechte betrokkenheid voelen bij de gebeurtenissen van 1672, maar kon ook betaald worden om gedichten (over) te schrijven, bijvoorbeeld door de autoriteiten van Gdańsk. Daarnaast is er een spanningsveld tussen plaatselijk en transnationaal belang: auteurs of kopiisten konden bijvoorbeeld schrijven om de publieke opinie te beïnvloeden in zowel binnen- als buitenland. Sommige gedichten bevatten immers boodschappen die ook lokaal belangwekkend zullen zijn geweest, omdat ze betrekking hebben op correct staatsbestuur of religieuze tolerantie. Tot slot was er wellicht sprake van literair gemotiveerde interesse: mensen genoten ervan om gedichten te schrijven en te lezen, en een goedgevulde sylva kon dienen als een dichterlijk archief van de actualiteit, waarin allerhande, ook tegenstrijdige geluiden konden worden samengebracht.

Mijn lezing wierp zodoende licht op zowel de inhoud als de wordingsgeschiedenis van de contemporaine, internationale verbeelding van het Rampjaar, dat klaarblijkelijk bijzonder de aandacht trok in Gdańsk. Ik hoop mijn onderzoek over de literaire banden tussen de Republiek en Gdańsk ooit verder te kunnen uitwerken: de archieven in Gdańsk liggen vol met tot dusverre onbekende gedichten en prozateksten, die een belangrijke literaire dimensie vormden van de culturele verwevenheid tussen de Baltische havenstad en de Noordelijke Nederlanden. Deze kant van de betrekkingen tussen vroegmodern Polen en Nederland verdient meer aandacht in de toekomst.

Ukraine in 17th-Century Dutch Poetry (NL Embassy in PL)

Dutch interest in Ukraine is not something new. As early as the seventeenth century, Dutch media reported on political developments in lands that were already known as Ukrainian territories. At that time, the lands which currently lie within Ukraine’s borders were a bone of contention for Poles, Russians, Cossacks, and Tatars. Dutch poets also wrote about these struggles, especially if they were important to the Dutch economy.

In 1649, for example, the renowned poet Joost van den Vondel commented on Tatar raids in Ukrainian territories, which “laid Poland in ashes” and “threatened us here with famine”: a clear reference to the grain trade between Poland and the Dutch Republic. Vondel obviously knew that large amounts of grain were produced in Ukraine, which at the time formed part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. From the south, the grain was then transported to Gdańsk, where it was bought in bulks by Dutch merchants.

A few years later, in 1657, the anonymous author of a Dutch pamphlet reacted to the many wars which crippled the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth: it was fighting the Cossacks, Tatars, Russians, and Swedes all at once – and was facing heavy losses. According to the author, the proud Polish nobles themselves were to blame:

Ukraine is the beginning of the game,
The Polish nobility, proud and fierce
Is the cause of these disasters;
Who knows how the game will end,
Pride comes before a fall,
Everyone comes to fight here.

These verses obviously refer to the 1648 Cossack Uprising, led by Bohdan Khmelnytsky, who according to the poem aimed to lift “the proud Polish nobility from its saddle”. Later on, the focus shifts to the Swedish invasion of Poland, and the Dutch author argues in favor of sending aid to Gdańsk in order to protect the grain trade.


One final example dates from 1671. The poet Joannes Antonides van der Goes once again linked the ongoing fighting in Ukrainian territories with threats to the Dutch grain trade. Poland could feed the whole world, he wrote, if the country were not involved in wars with the Tatars, Turks, and Cossacks, led this time by hetman Petro Doroszenko. Echoing the earlier poem, Van der Goes stated that the Cossacks threatened to “lift the Polish nobility from its saddle”.

These examples make clear that Dutch readers and writers had a keen interest in political developments in Ukraine, which was essential to the Dutch economy due to the grain it produced. To this day, Ukraine is one of the largest grain exporters in the world.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 30.

New publication: Memory culture on the Dutch and Polish Grand Tour

I am proud to have contributed – with my friend and colleague Alan Moss – to a fascinating Open Access book, published by Brill and edited by Koen Scholten, Dirk van Miert, and Karl Enenkel, entitled Memory and Identity in the Learned World. Community Formation in the Early Modern World of Learning and Science. Our chapter, ‘Tracing the Sites of Learned Men. Places and Objects of Knowledge on the Dutch and Polish Grand Tour’, concerns memory culture on seventeenth-century Dutch and Polish educational journeys across Europe.


Specifically, we study how places of knowledge (i.a. universities and the homes, tombs, and monuments of scholars), or objects of knowledge (i.a. a scholar’s personal belongings), strengthened a visitor’s scholarly persona and connected him to a large, academic community. Applying a transnational approach, we use multiple handwritten travelogues and printed poems by both Dutch and Polish travellers, thus offering a fresh perspective on two widespread phenomena: the Grand Tour and the European learned world, the Republic of Letters. While most studies on the Grand Tour have a British focus, we present Polish and Dutch experiences. Also, we cast a wide net on the learned world, defined not only by correspondences, but by the shared appreciation and remembrance of scholars and places of knowledge.


First, we focus on Dutch and Polish travellers’ responses to Oxford and Leiden. By reflecting on these cities, itinerants helped construct their reputations as hubs of knowledge and as the common ground of a larger academic community, with which the voyagers identified. Next, we discuss sites and artefacts connected to Lipsius, Grotius, and Erasmus, ranging from Lipsius’s silver pen in Halle to Erasmus’s statue in Rotterdam and the grave of Grotius in Delft, all of which inspired travellers to relate to these famed men of letters. Lastly, we investigate how these and other locations and artefacts feature in the Latin poetry of two travellers: the Silesian-Polish Joachim Pastorius and the Dutch Caspar van Kinschot. Their verses show how they creatively engaged with universities and academic forebears.


In our conclusion, we consider the various ways in which both Polish and Dutch travellers constructed an academic community via places and objects of knowledge, and we explain that, while some sites and artefacts were transconfessional, others inspired religious controversy. Also, we assert that the learned imagined community not only transcended national and (to an extent) religious boundaries, but chronological ones as well, since places and objects of scholarly memory were portals through which generational borders could be crossed.

The chapter includes some highly interesting finds, such as the earliest known published catalogue of rarities in Leiden’s hortus botanicus: an apparently unique document, dated 1653, which a Polish Jesuit added to his travelogue.

Our thanks go out to the editors!

Travelling Through Ukraine in the 1590s (NL Embassy in PL)

Let us tell you a story which testifies to the old bonds between the Netherlands and the lands of Ukraine. A few weeks ago, we already wrote about the seventeenth-century Volhynian nobleman Samuel Korecki, who journeyed to the Netherlands and studied in Leiden. This time, we follow a Dutch student who travelled in the opposite direction.

In the 1590s, a young man named Joris van der Does/Georgius Dousa (1574-1599) rode from Leiden across Europe to Constantinople, where he hoped to study ancient Greek manuscripts and inscriptions. In 1599, a Latin book about his travels was published in Leiden. We wrote about Joris’s favourable descriptions of the Polish cities of Cracow and Zamość a few months ago. However, Joris also passed through lands which currently lie in western Ukraine. What did he see and who did he meet?

Leaving Cracow in September 1596, Joris travelled south-east via Jarosław, before passing the current Polish-Ukrainian border. The first town in modern Ukraine along his route was Yavoriv, where he met a friend of his father’s, the Polish politician Jan Szczęsny Herburt (1567-1616). Joris then travelled onwards to nearby Lviv, one of modern-day Ukraine’s largest and most resplendent cities. He observed that Lviv was a commercial centre of Cretan wine and Turkish merchandise, as well as the home of four religious groups: Greek Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Armenian Christians, and Jews. While in Lviv, Joris was received most amicably by the well-known poet Szymon Szymonowicz (1558-1629), whose Latin works the young Dutchman greatly admired. Szymonowicz was also a friend of Joris’s father, and his poems were published in Leiden in 1619.

Finally, Joris left Lviv and travelled on to Kamianets-Podilskyi, a city and castle near the current Ukrainian-Moldavian border. On his way there, Joris saw many people with their hair in a so-called kołtun or plica polonica: a kind of thick, clotted braid, which at that time was considered a disease, commonly associated with Poles. Kamianets-Podilskyi itself was described by Joris as surrounded by a huge cliff, which looked like “walls made by the hands of Cyclopes”. Tying in with literary commonplaces about Poland, however, Joris concluded that the Poles who owned the castle were not keen on walls and fortifications, but rather preferred to defend their territory with “cavalry, arms, and a powerful spirit”.

The courageous people of modern Ukraine certainly have a powerful spirit as well. The fascinating history of their country deserves to be better known, especially at a time when that history is itself contested and the people and cultural heritage of Ukraine are under attack.

*I originally wrote this post for the social media outlets of the Dutch Embassy in Poland. This was post no. 29.