Treason in the Northern Quarter: War, Terror, and the Rule of Law in the Dutch Revolt

Treason in the Northern Quarter: War, Terror, and the Rule of Law in the Dutch Revolt

Treason in the Northern Quarter: War, Terror, and the Rule of Law in the Dutch Revolt

Treason in the Northern Quarter: War, Terror, and the Rule of Law in the Dutch Revolt

Excerpt

This book grew out of an article written in 1995, in which I attempted to give a brief explanation of what the Revolt of the Netherlands was actually about. I wrote that the Revolt was a conflict about two issues: liberty and religion. The struggle was so complex and ultimately insoluble because contemporaries attached different meanings to these concepts, and because they were inextricably intertwined. That conclusion was far from original. From the very beginning the rebels had been unable to agree if they were fighting for liberty or for religion, and the debate continued among historians until well into the twentieth century.

That article appeared in two versions, the earlier of which concluded: “But these motives must not make us forget that for most contemporaries the Revolt was probably not about anything at all. For them the war was simply a disaster, a nightmare from which they hoped to awake as soon as they could.” In the later version these sentences were omitted. On reflection I felt that it was not very helpful to close an article that tried to explain what the Revolt was about, by suggesting that in fact it was not really about anything.

Yet the idea continued to preoccupy me. It was fed by press reports of the civil wars of the last decade of the twentieth century that tore apart the former Yugoslavia, the former Soviet Union, and several African countries, with their mass slaughter and unmanageable floods of refugees. The impression was confirmed when I read Wouter Jacobszoon's journal, a blood-curdling eyewitness account of everyday life during the Revolt written by one who was himself a fugitive from war.

And so I came to the idea of writing a book on the Revolt that would not see the struggle as the heroic birth of the Dutch nation, but as the miserable ordeal it must have been for most of those who lived through it. My research very soon showed me that for some the Revolt was a far more horrible nightmare than I could initially have imagined. But it also became clear to me that I would have to qualify my original idea: that the Revolt was not about anything for most of its contemporaries. The poor vagrants and peasants whom Sonoy's commission of inquiry sentenced to death probably had hardly any notion of what the conflict was about, but

Van Nierop, “Om de vrijheid” and “Troon van Alva,” the latter translated into English
as “Alva's Throne.”

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