In 1683 John Locke fled into exile in Holland, after being connected to a scheme to assassinate Charles II. While there he denied involvement or knowledge in such a plot and refused to implicate his friends. His excuse, which amuses me, was that he was simply in Holland because he preferred the beer! It seems pretty plausible to me.
(Unfortunately, I haven’t actually been able to find a primary source for that; it was mentioned in the introduction of my Penguin Classics’ collection of his Political Writings, and I have found mention elsewhere online. Annoyingly many of his letters have been collected by a fellow called E.S de Beer, so google searches have been pretty difficult. The man did seem to know his beer – as noted in this beer blog, with John Locke organising various types of British ale into categories.)
If you’ve ever (as an english speaker) listened to someone speaking dutch, you might be surprised to find much common links between the two countries. In the 17th century however, there was a huge crossover of ideas and culture – eventually culminating in William of Orange taking the British throne. Lisa Jardine argues in Going Dutch that William’s Glorious Revolution was more of a hostile military occupation than the standard portrayal. William brought tens of thousands of men, his personal guard patrolled the streets of London. He was easily assimilated however, because of a long recent history of shared culture between the two nations.
Jardine goes through each aspect of this shared culture in detail – letters and collaboration between scientists, taste in artwork, styles of landscaping gardening, and the roles of prominent families like the Huygens family. The detail is fascinating, if often overwhelming, occasionally repetitive and sometimes over-reliant on the aforementioned Huygens family (and on Robert Hooke, who Jardine had also written a biography of).
I did have a few other issues with the book, the tone suggests a groundbreaking change in how we should view the Glorious Revolution but the actual content is much more grounded. While the extent of the dutch connection might be forgotten, I’m not sure anyone really believes William’s propaganda as fact. The subtitle “How England Plundered Holland’s Glory” is also over the top, and not really justified by the content of the book.
Ignoring this, it’s an enjoyable overview of cross-channel culture during the 17th century. There’s plenty to enjoy and it does point towards art, architecture*, landscape and more for anyone wanting to explore their dutch heritage.
*It reminded me of this documentary by Jonathan Meades, which investigates the same topic with a slightly different tone.