Het ontstaan van het Nederlandse Statenbewind. Monarchomachistische import of product van eigen bodem?
The establishment of a government by the States. An original Dutch idea or the fruit of Monarchomachist inspiration?
Dutch historians generally take it for granted that, after Leicester’s departure from the Netherlands, Oldenbarnevelt and his fellow-regents decided in 1587 to commit the government of the rebellious provinces to the assembly of the States-General. In their view, this solution was the natural outcome of a long, historical process. I oppose this view. If Balthazar Gerard’s attempt on the 10th of July 1584 upon William of Orange’s life — just three weeks before the prince’s inauguration as Count of Holland — had failed, then Dutch history would have taken a different turn. The inauguration would have inevitably led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy in the rebellious provinces.
The answer to the question why Oldenbarnevelt and his friends decided to settle the constitutional issue along republican lines three years later is, as I see it, primarily due to the fact that between 1572 and 1587 they adopted the monarchomachist view of kings as the natural oppressors of the people. The tyrannical propensity of kings could only be kept in check by them as members of the assemblies of the lower magistrates, the meetings of States-Generals and Parliaments. This fact alone greatly enhanced the Dutch regents’ already exalted view of representative institutions and themselves as the guardians of the Dutch political order. It was their duty to protect society against the tyranny of kings from above and the chaos of democracy from below.
Democracy had become especially dangerous in the great towns of Flanders and Brabant and, by 1587, also in Utrecht where the gullible common man had become an easy target for the radical Calvinist ministers and their theocratic ideas. This situation differed greatly from the one that prevailed in the decades preceding the Revolt. Then the States-General of the Netherlands lived in great fear for its existence which led to bouts of obstructionism when Charles V and Philip II needed their support in their ongoing struggle with the king of France, which again widened the gulf between them and their rulers. However, in 1587, armed with the aristocratic ideology of monarchomachism, the regents around Oldenbarnevelt were able to envisage the republican alternative as the best solution for the political and military problems which the rebellious provinces had to deal with.
This article is part of the special issue 'Parlementen in de Nederlanden'.
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