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The conclusion summarizes the book’s interpretive synthesis, highlighting the major features of the Reformation in the Low Countries. It also offers a short comparative section in which the Netherlandish Reformation is placed in a wider European context and compared to other experiences of religious change in the sixteenth century.
This chapter examines the wars that broke out in the Netherlands, at least partly because of reformation, during the final third of the sixteenth century. Militant Reformed Protestantism established itself in the Low Countries, especially in the western provinces, by the early 1560s. In 1566, the “wonderyear,” political and religious protest erupted into the open, as nobles protested Habsburg religious policy and Reformed militants sacked churches in an iconoclastic fury. This in turn caused Philip II to install a military regime, led by the Duke of Alba, in order to suppress rebellion and heresy. In 1572 the rebels won territory in the north, and by 1580 gained control of the northwestern half of the region, where Reformed militants instituted a revolutionary reformation to root out Catholicism. Sectarianism in turn caused a breakdown of the rebel alliance, and by the mid-1580s the Habsburg had successfully retaken most of Flanders and Brabant. By 1590 a military stalemate had bifurcated the Netherlands, with the rebels in control of the seven northern provinces and the Habsburgs in control of the ten southern provinces. Each region would follow its own religious trajectory.
This chapter introduces the setting and context of the narrative. The Low Countries were a heavily urbanized corner of Europe situated at the delta of several of the continent’s major river systems. The region was economically prosperous, thanks to well-developed systems of trade, manufacturing and agriculture. Its three million inhabitants were linguistically and ethnically diverse and ranged from high-ranking nobles to middling business to hardscrabble farmers. The region was divided economically between an urban, commercial, maritime west and a rural, agricultural east. Political power was local and decentralized, although the Habsburg dynasty, especially Charles V, was engaged in an ongoing effort to centralized and consolidate their dynastic power at the expense of local nobles and city governments. The chapter also describes the vibrant state of late medieval Christianity in the region, including lay enthusiasm for devotional practice and the emergence of Christian humanism.
This chapter traces the evolution of reformist ideas in the Netherlands during the middle decades of the sixteenth century. It describes a confessional turn – that is, the gradual emergence of three principal streams of religious reform: Mennonite, Reformed and Catholic. The Mennonite or Doopsgezinde stream arose out of Anabaptism; after the judicial reaction to the Muenster kingdom, Menno Simons and his followers eschewed the radicalism of the Melchiorites and turned inward, creating self-segregated communities focused on internal piety and moral reform. Meanwhile Reformed Protestantism made its way into the Low Countries and gained a substantial following by the 1560s. Both Mennonites and Reformed would develop confessional identities distinct from each other, including their own martyrologies and Bible translations. Meanwhile, Catholic reform came to the region through the Tridentine canons and the reorganization of the region’s bishoprics.
This chapter examines the most important religious consequence of the Revolt of the Netherlands, the splitting of the Low Countries into two confessional states: the Catholic Southern Netherlands and the Protestant Dutch Republic. In the Southern Netherlands Catholic reformation would pick up speed, as church, state and laity worked together to re-catholicize the region and marginalize its small Protestant minority. This would prove in the long term to be a successful effort, and the Southern Netherlands became a bulwark of Baroque Catholicism. The Dutch Republic would be an officially Protestant state with one public church, the Dutch Reformed, but its population was multiconfessional. A regime of toleration was put in place that managed both the privileged church and the private confessions. Thus the legacy of reformation continued in both states, but under very different guises.
The introduction describes the book’s major themes, including the distinctive features of reformation in the Low Countries: a reformation from below, the sustained judicial persecution it underwent, its entanglement with the political contest between the Habsburg government and local powers, the wars it helped spark, and its contribution to the emergence of two separate Netherlandish states by the end of the sixteenth century. It also includes a brief discussion of the historiography of the Netherlandish Reformation since the nineteenth century.
This chapter describes the earliest stirrings of religious dissent in the Low Countries during the period 1520–1540. Reformist ideas coming out of the Holy Roman Empire and Swiss cities, especially the protests of Luther and Zwingli, followed continental trade routes to circulate in the Netherlands by 1520. Combined with long-standing humanist criticisms of the church, these reform ideas quickly gained a small but significant audience among the urban, literate populations of the region, first among clergy and intellectuals and then among the broader middling sort. By the mid-1520s a vocal minority was espousing religious ideas the Catholic Church deemed heretical. By the 1530s an even more radical evangelical movement, Melchiorite Anabaptism, found a broad following, especially in the northern provinces. This radicalism climaxed in 1535 with the Anabaptist kingdom of Muenster and Anabaptist attempts to overthrow the government of Amsterdam. By this time Charles V had instituted a new judicial apparatus of laws and courts to suppress heresy. This judicial regime proved at least temporarily successful in staunching the spread of heresy in the region after the Muenster debacle.
This accessible general history of the Reformation in the Netherlands traces the key developments in the process of reformation – both Protestant and Catholic – across the whole of the Low Countries during the sixteenth century. Synthesizing fifty years' worth of scholarly literature, Christine Kooi focuses particularly on the political context of the era: how religious change took place against the integration and disintegration of the Habsburg composite state in the Netherlands. Special attention is given to the Reformation's role in both fomenting and fuelling the Revolt against the Habsburg regime in the later sixteenth century, as well as how it contributed to the formation of the region's two successor states, the Dutch Republic and the Southern Netherlands. Reformation in the Low Countries, 1500-1620 is essential reading for scholars and students of early modern European history, bringing together specialized, contemporary research on the Low Countries in one volume.