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The Dutch Revolt through Italian eyes

Italian historiographers in the 16th and 17th centuries wrote remarkably often about the Dutch Revolt, better known as the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648). Their works influenced public opinion both in Italy and in the Netherlands. This is the conclusion reached by historian Cees Reijner in his dissertation. PhD defence 8 October.

Whole libraries have been written about the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish King Philip II, who was responsible for the bloody persecution of Protestants. The role played by Italian historiographers in this conflict is less well known. The Italians were very interested in the political and religious problems in the Netherlands because Italy also belonged to the Spanish part of the Habsburg monarchy, historian Cees Reijner explains. This is why there were so many Italian publications about the Revolt in the 16th and 17th centuries (historians prefer the term 'Revolt' to the Eighty Years' War). For his PhD research, Reijner used many Italian primary sources, including unpublished manuscripts, diplomatic reports, treatises, letters, pamphlets, biographies, memoirs, chronicles and, of course, historical works.  

Rebellious Dutch as source of inspiration

Some Italian works were written for local political objectives in Italy itself, Reijner discovered. History writing about the Dutch conflict gave the Italian authors - historiographers, military authors, the clergy, noblemen - the opportunity to express criticism of local debates or support the ambitions of a local aristocratic family. The city republics of Florence and Genoa were a case in point here. In Genoa, some of the nobility resisted the dominance of the Spanish Habsburg rulers. Gerolamo Conestaggio and Giovanni Costa, both from Genoa, wrote about the Revolt, taking the rebellious Dutch as a source of inspiration for their city. 

Sensitive information

Conversely, Italian authors like Guido Bentivoglio and Famiano Strada influenced public opinion in the Netherlands, according to Reijner. Dutch historiographers and opinion-makers referred to Bentivoglio and Strada in their publications to add weight to their own arguments. In his works, for example, Strada was highly critical of Alva's political activities in the rebellious Netherlands. Strada had access to the family archives of Spanish General Alexander Farnese and so was able to include sensitive information in his publications. The Dutch authors made grateful use of this.  

International exchange of political ideas

Italian historiography about the Revolt is more political and influential than was previously thought, Reijner concludes. The relatively large number of Italian  publications about the Revolt fostered the international exchange of political ideas. Reijner's dissertation confirms that history writing and political-historical publications - even in the 16th and 17th centuries - had an impact internationally that should not be underestimated.      

Cees Reijner, De Nederlandse Opstand, 1585-1650 Een transnationale geschiedenis
Banner image (Wikimedia): The Battle of the Downs in 1639, by Reinier Nooms (ca. 1623-1664)


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