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49 posts categorized "Netherlands"

29 March 2016

The early illustrated editions of Don Quixote: the Low Countries tradition

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The first complete illustrated edition of Cervantes’s novel of Don Quixote appeared not in the original Spanish but in a Dutch translation, printed in Dordrecht in 1657. It contained as many as 24 illustrations, plus two frontispieces. Jacob Savery, the printer, was most probably also responsible for the engravings. In 1662, 16 of his illustrations were then reused in a Spanish edition printed by Jan Mommaert in Brussels. Then in 1672/73, Hieronymus and Johannes Baptista Verdussen of Antwerp printed an edition with the two frontispieces and 32 engravings of which the 16 were retained from the 1662 edition and 16 were new. These latter were engraved by Frederik Bouttats; the artist is unknown.

The illustrations of the three editions focus inevitably on narrative action with an emphasis on the more physical episodes. This supports the argument that in the 17th century Don Quixote was read largely as a work of entertainment. Limitations of space have restricted the current display in the British Library’s Treasures Gallery  to just two examples from this important tradition. Savery’s illustration of the unfortunate Sancho being tossed in a blanket is common to all three editions. One feature of these illustrations is the inclusion of more than one incident in a single image. Here, two incidents in chapters 17-18 of Part 1 are combined: the tossing of Sancho in a blanket (ch. 17) and Don Quixote’s attack on the flock of sheep in the background (ch. 18).


 Sancho Panza is tossed in a blanket in the inn yard; Don Quixote attacks the flock of sheep (Background). Miguel de Cervantes, Den verstandigen vroomen ridder Don Quichot de la Mancha (Dordrecht, 1657) Cerv.114. facing p. 58.

The same technique can be seen also in Savery’s illustration in all three editions depicting the concluding moments of Part 1 chapter 8. The narrative ends abruptly with Don Quixote and the ‘brave Basque’ confronting each other with swords raised ready to strike. The interruption occurs because, so it is claimed, the source text ended at this point. (The ‘discovery’ of a continuation is subsequently described in chapter 9.). Don Quixote and the Basque are placed in the foreground, in front of a coach and its lady passenger whom the Basque is escorting. In the background we can see also the preceding incident of chapter 8, Don Quixote’s disastrous charge against the windmills.


 Don Quixote and the vizcaíno with raised swords; the charge against the windmills (background). Miguel de Cervantes, Vida y hechos del ingenioso cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha (Brussels, 1662), vol. 1. 1074.i.5., facing p. 52.

The illustrations added to the Antwerp edition of 1672/73, engraved by Fredrick Bouttats, are technically superior to those in the editions of 1657 and 1662. Don Quixote’s meeting with the enchanted Dulcinea, the result of Sancho’s stratagem, includes the same characters, but is livelier and more expressive. Both the knight and his squire are shown kneeling in homage to the ‘lady’ Dulcinea. Moreover, unlike Savery’s 1657 illustration, it illustrates in the background the subsequent action when Dulcinea rides off and is unseated by her donkey. Quixote and Sancho come to her aid.


Don Quixote and Sancho greet the supposedly enchanted Dulcinea; Dulcinea is thrown from her mount (background). Miguel de Cervantes, Vida y hechos del ingenioso cavallero Don Quixote de la Mancha (Antwerp, 1672-73), vol. 2, 1074.i.8. facing p. 80.

On their own the images of the 1657 edition had limited subsequent circulation except in Dutch versions, but those in the 1672/73 Antwerp edition were widely used in versions in French, English, German and Spanish until well into the 18th century.

Geoff West, former Curator Hispanic Collections

References/further reading:

Patrick Lenaghan, Imágenes del Quijote: modelos de representación en las ediciones de los siglos XVII a XIX (Madrid, 2003). LF.31.a.88

José Manuel Lucía Megías. Leer el ‘Quijote’ en imágenes. Hacia una teoría de los modelos iconográficos. (Madrid, 2006). YF.2007.a.12503

Centro de Estudios Cervantinos. Quijote Banco de imágenes 1605-1915:

25 February 2016

Strike!! Strike!! Strike!!

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In the poem Razzia (‘Manhunt’) the narrator is awake at night. He listens to the sounds around him, thinking about his family lying asleep in the house. Suddenly he hears a lorry driving down the street and coming to a halt.  Listening intently, his heart racing, he tries to gauge where the lorry has stopped. Then, the lorry moves on and they are safe- for now.  We do not get to know the fate of a neighbour family who may not have been so lucky. The British Library’s copy of this poem is one of only 25 made, clandestinely printed by Fokke Timmermans and donated to the Library in 1969 by Mr. Timmermans himself.

, anonymous poem. (The Hague, 1944). British Library Cup.406.d.9

Manhunts happened up and down occupied countries, as a way to arrest and deport Jewish citizens.

When, on 22 and 23 of February 1941 the German Ordnungspolizei  sealed off part of the Jewish quarter in Amsterdam and rounded up 425 Jewish men, aged between 20 and 35, in the first major manhunt on Dutch occupied territory during the war, the people of Amsterdam sprang into action.

Plan, showing the sealed off area in the Jewish quarter in Amsterdam, with the Jonas Daniël

Meijerplein.  Reproduced in:  B. A. Sijes, De Februaristaking. (Amsterdam, 1978) X:702/3672

Jewish men held by Ordnungspolizei on the Jonas Daniel Meijerplein. Photos taken by a German onlooker, of which the developer made extra copies. Reproduced in: Gerard Maas, Kroniek van de Februari-staking 1941. (Amsterdam, 1961)

On Monday 24 February members of the clandestine Communist Party Netherlands held a public meeting at the Jonas Daniël Meijer Plein. This was where the Jewish men had been brought together to be transported to the camps Buchenwald and Mauthausen, via the oldest transit camp on Dutch soil, Schoorl. Most did not return. 

The Communists called all workers in Amsterdam to a general strike, to begin on the following day, 25 February.

FebStak04 1941
Pamphlet calling a strike. Reproduced in: Gerard Maas, 1941 bloeiden de rozen in februari. (Amsterdam, 1991) YA.1994.a.8919.

Tram drivers from the municipal transport company were the first to answer this call, so when no trams were running Amsterdam citizens knew the strike was on. Workers from the dockyards soon followed.

Civil servants were not allowed to strike, but at least 4,400 employees of the Amsterdam city council defied this rule.  Surrounding cities as far as Utrecht joined in.

Once the Germans had recovered from their surprise they declared that anyone who would continue to strike would face the death penalty. Still, the following day the strike went on. The Ordnungspolizei mercilessly struck down the strike. Nine people were shot dead, more than 40 were wounded and 200 people, some strikers, some not, were arrested and many mistreated whilst under arrest. By 27 February the strike was over.

Both individuals and institutions were severely punished for their actions. Amsterdam civil servants suffered a pay-cut and city councils were fined between 500,000 and 2,500,000 guilders.  Some paid the ultimate price, in particular the men commemorated in the most famous resistance poem of the war, De Achttien Dooden ( ‘The Eighteen Dead’), by Jan Campert, journalist and poet. These were the leaders and members of the resistance and the Communist Party who had called for the strike. They were arrested and executed by firing squad on 13 March 1941.

Jan Campert,  De Achttien Dooden, first published anonymously 1941/42. The British Library’s edition (Cup.406.d.28) dates from 1943 and has the illustration by Coen van Hart (‘Braveheart’), pseudonym of Fedde Weidema.

The February strike was the first, and some say only, open mass protest by non-Jewish people in Europe against the deportation of the Jews. 

In 1946 the first memorial for the victims of the February strike took place at the Jonas Daniël Meijer Plein, as it is still done.  In 1952 Queen Wilhelmina unveiled the memorial ‘The Dock worker’ by Mari Andriessen and tonight people will gather there for the 75th anniversary of the February strike. This will be broadcast live by the NPO. Lest we forget.

The Dock Worker (image from

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections.

References and further reading:

L. de Jong, De Bezetting, Tekst en beeldmateriaal van de uitzendingen van de Nederlandse Televisie-Stichting over het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden in de Tweede Wereldoorlog. 1940-1945  (Amsterdam, 1966). X.702/378.

O.C. A. van Lidth de Jeude, Londense dagboeken van O.C.A. van Lidth de Jeude januari 1940 - mei 1945, bewerkt door A.E. Kersten, met medewerking van Eric Th. Mos. (the Hague, 2001). 9405.p [Kleine Ser No.95-96] (A digital edition is freely available at:

J. Presser, Ondergang (The Hague, 1965) W.P.2258/10. (English translation by Arnold Pomerans : Ashes in the Wind (London, 1968).  X.709/7096.

B.A. Sijes, De februari-staking (Amsterdam, 1978). X:702/3672 (With English summary)

A. Simoni, Publish and be free:  a catalogue of clandestine books printed in the Netherlands, 1940-1945, in the British Library (London, 1975. 2725.aa.1

On the web:

On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the February strike the National Institute for War-Holocaust and Genocide Studies ( NIOD ) is running a special website on the event:

The Amsterdam City Archives is calling for the general public to send in photographs of family members and friends who took part in the strike, to put faces to numbers:

Dutch Public Broadcasting Company (NPO) runs a feature on the strike and will broadcast the commemoration live tonight (25 February 2016):

The memorial De Dokwerker has its own website with a treasure trove of information (in Dutch only):

29 December 2015

The Big Dictation: the Excitement of Spelling.

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On Saturday 19 December, two teams of 30 Dutch and Flemish spelling aficionados went head to head in the 26th edition of Het Groot Dictee, or The Big Dictation. This spelling contest is broadcast live on television in the Netherlands and Belgium, from the chamber of the Dutch Senate in The Hague, no less. In its 26 years the Big Dictation has become an institution, with its own website, Twitter feed,  and a version for children. 

So, what is it about? Now you’re asking. Is it simply about spelling, or competition, or national identity, with a (friendly!) rivalry between the Dutch and the Flemish?

Who knows? It’s probably a bit of all three. One of the attractions is probably that everyone can participate, albeit unofficially, from their own living rooms. It probably also helps that  weeks before the contest the organizing newspapers, the Dutch De Volkskrant (The People’s Paper) and the Flemish De Morgen (The Morning) as well as language organizations offer practice exercises to get people in the mood. Schools participate, too, since children can do the children’s version. Isn’t this a fun way of learning how to spell? Words you’ve always struggled with will stick for ever in your mind, once it featured in the Groot Dictee.

Dutch spelling is formalised in the standard dictionary of the Dutch language: The ‘Dikke’ (Fat) Van Dale, a commercial title and in the Woordenlijst der Nederlandse Taal (Word list of the Dutch Language), or Het Groene Boekje (The Little Green Book) as it is better known. The latest edition of the Little Green Book was published in October this year, for the first time also by Van Dale.  It is compiled by De Taalunie the body that oversees policies in the area of the Dutch language, and there is a free online edition.  

Woordenlijst 1872
Second edition (1872) of Matthias de Vries and L.A. te Winkel Woordenlijst voor de spelling der Nederlandsche taal, the predecessor of today’s Groene Boekje  (British Library 1608/2709.)

This formalised approach to the Dutch language is similar to that of the French. It should therefore come as no surprise that the French were the first to come up with the idea for a Big Dictation.  There it is held in the Bibliothèque nationale de France, which is where Philip Freriks, Paris correspondent for De Volkskrant in the 1980s and 90s, first saw it and subsequently brought it over to the Netherlands.

Philip Freriks . Photo by Maurice Vink from Wikimedia Commons

Freriks has presented the Big Dictation for many years and other journalists have contributed by writing the text, such as this year’s author Lieve Joris, journalist and travel writer. Originally from Flanders, she now lives in Amsterdam, when she is not travelling the world. She is known for her award-winning travel writing about the Middle East, for example The Gates of Damascus (London, 1996; YC.1997.a.94)

Lieve Joris at the 2015 Big Dictation. Photo by Ruud Hendrickx from

Although it was the Dutch team that won this year, overall the Flemish contestants made the least mistakes. 31 Dutch participants made 747 mistakes, against 620 by the 29 Flemish.
This year saw a few ‘firsts’:

  1. The contest was between the Dutch and the Flemish teams, whilst before the participants selected from the readers of De Volkskrant and De Morgen were pitted against the Dutch and Flemish celebrities. 
  2. There was a final. After writing the Dictation the best Dutch reader and celebrity and best Flemish reader and celebrity battled it out over ten very difficult words. 
  3. There was a Polish participant; a ‘wild card’ added to the Dutch team. 

Needless to say any use of electronic spellcheckers is strictly forbidden, although the words for these devices pop up in the Dictation; such as ‘spellingchecker’. Now there’s a fine example of how the Dutch incorporate English words into Dutch. That aside, it doesn’t look as if spelling checkers have taken the fun out of spelling, so it is to be hoped that ‘The Big Dictation’ will see many more episodes. It is a true celebration of the richness of the Dutch language.

Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections

Further reading
(This is a small selection of the many titles about Dutch spelling which can be found in the British Library catalogue.)

Henriëtte Houët, Grammatica Nederlands : woorden, zinnen, spelling. (Houten, 2011). YF.2012.a.14746.

F.J.A. Mostert, ‘Dutch Spelling Reform’,  Language International, vol. 8, no 2, 1996, pp. 18-20. 5155.709680

G.C. Molewijk & Vic de Donder, De citroen van de gynaecoloog : de sitroen van de ginekoloog : de nieuwe spelling: pro of contra (Amsterdam, 1994) YA.1995.a.7045.

G.C. Molewijk, Spellingverandering van zin naar onzin (1200-heden). (The Hague, 1992) YA.1993.b.9041.

21 December 2015

World proverbs in speech, text and image

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All the world over, wise people say “Nobody knows his own defects” and “What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over”. 

You may find this an inspiring indication of the oneness of mankind, or alternatively depressing proof of the lack of originality of the human mind.

The current BL exhibition “West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song” includes some small figures which are thought to refer to popular proverbs.

  African proverbs weightAs described in the exhibition catalogue, “The gold-weight [above, from the collections of the British Museum] depicting two crocodiles with one stomach embodies the Asante proverb Funtufunefu, denkyemfunefu, won efuru bom, nso woredidi a na woreko, meaning that even though they have one stomach, they fight over food when eating.” (p. 123).

It’s from Ghana, and dated somewhere in the 18th to 20th centuries.

I’m reminded of European  misericords, carvings under the seats in the choir stalls of medieval churches. These often show motifs which can  be matched to popular tales or sayings. The examples below from the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam show a man banging his head against a brick wall and another falling between two stools.  (These two images also occur in Bruegel).  

  Proverbs misericords 1            Proverbs misericords 2

 European popular proverbs are written down, in the context of Latin literature, as early as the 13th century. The most common contexts are sermons and grammar books.

Arabic proverbs (more properly learned than popular) made their entrance in the West in 13th-century Spain, and were printed in erudite bilingual Arabic-Latin collections from the early 17th century on.

African proverbs, at least in those parts which were occupied by Britain and France, were not printed until the 19th century (see Moll’s bibliography).

The BL recently acquired a book which I think is typical of the first printing of African proverbs:

Elementos Grammaticaes tp
Elementos grammaticaes da lingua Nbundu  offerecidos a S.M.F.O. Senhor D. Luis I por Dr. Saturnino de Sousa e Oliveira e Manuel Alves de Castro Francina (Loanda, 1864) YF.2015.a.25009

The context is a grammar of the Nbundu (Kimbundu) language, spoken in Angola. Early printed grammars of French (etc.)  for English (etc.)  speakers regularly included an anthology of proverbs.  And so it is in this book of 1864.

Here the Nbundu original is given followed by the literal Portuguese translation, and then the Portuguese equivalent.

  Elementos Grammaticaes proverbs
Elementos Grammaticaes proverbs

The monkey doesn’t look at his tail

Often the ant dominates the elephant

What the eyes see, causes envy

The rat is an expert in his hole

One who makes water often cannot lie down in a wet place

The witchdoctor starts with his own house and ends up outside


 Barry Taylor, Curator Romance Studies

References/further reading:

Walter S. Gibson, Figures of speech : picturing proverbs in renaissance Netherlands (London, 2010) YC.2010.a.7023

Otto E. Moll, Sprichwörterbibliographie (Frankfurt am Main, [1958]) Humanities 1 Reading Room HLR 398.9

Barry Taylor, ‘Los Libros de proverbios bilingües: disposición e intención’, in Corpus, genres, théories et méthodes: construction d’une base de données, ed. Marie-Christine Bornes-Varol and Marie-Sol Ortola (Nancy, 2010), pp. 119-29. YF.2012.a.22372

Barry Taylor, ‘Éditions bilingues de textes espagnols’, K výzkumu zámeckých, měšťanských a cirkevnich knihoven, ‘Jazyk a  řeč knihy’, Opera romanica, 11 (2009), 385-94. ZF.9.a.4837

West Africa : word, symbol, song / general editors, Gus Casely-Hayford, Janet Topp Fargion and Marion Wallace. 2015.


16 October 2015

The Truth about Waterloo?

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A few days ago I attended a talk by Belgian author Johan Op De Beeck, who specialises in the Napoleonic Wars. His latest book Waterloo: De laatste honderd dagen van Napoleon focuses on the roles played by Dutch, Belgian and Nassau troops before and during the battle of Waterloo on 18 June 1815.

Photo1OdBcover (2)Johan Op de Beeck, Waterloo: de laatste honderd dagen van Napoleon. (Antwerp, 2013). British Library YF.2015.a.14916; the cover shows 1814 by Jean-Philip-Ernest Meisionier (The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore)

It is often said that the truth is the first casualty in war and Waterloo is no exception. Op de Beeck’s view is, that all parties involved created their own ‘truth’ and that future historians have been all too gullible in accepting highly one-sided accounts from mainly the British. After all, ‘history is written by the victor’, as Winston Churchill observed. For nearly 200 years the accepted narrative has been that the British army, under command of the Duke of Wellington secured victory practically singlehandedly. No-one contests the fact that Wellington’s army won the battle of Waterloo, but there has been a distinct lack of acknowledgement of the major and sometimes decisive contributions and sacrifices the Dutch, Belgian, Nassau and Prussian armies made on the battlefield. Wellington’s own account of affairs does not mention that it was the Dutch, Belgian and Nassau armies who held the French at bay at Quatre-Bras until British reinforcements arrived on 16 June. Nor does the Duke mention the Dutch actions that proved instrumental in securing the victory during the final stages of the battle at Waterloo.

The Dutch King William I and his son, the Prince of Orange, who had fought in the front line and was wounded, were outraged. They demanded acknowledgment of the sacrifices the European allies of the Brits had made, but to no avail.

Prince William of Orange (later King William II), from Het leven van Koning Willem II (Amsterdam, 1849) 10760.d.8.

Things did not get any better for the Dutch and Belgians when William Siborne (1797–1849) published his History of the War in France and Belgium in 1844. In it, Siborne dismisses the Dutch and Belgians as deserters. He particularly attacks the Prince of Orange, whom he describes as ‘incompetent’ and ‘inexperienced’ , a bit of a loose cannon. Siborne’s book had such an impact that it was simply accepted as the truth by future British historians, until far into the 20th century: Jac Weller criticizes the Dutch in his 1992 book Wellington at Waterloo.

Siborne’s account was challenged as early as 1846, amongst others by Dutch Lieutenant-General and military historian W.J. Knoop (1811-1894). His reaction to Siborne appeared as a pamphlet, entitled Beschouwingen over Siborne’s Geschiedenis van den oorlog van 1815 in Frankrijk en de Nederlanden. Knoop strongly objected to Siborne’s view that practically the whole Dutch army deserted at Waterloo. The same year his pamphlet was translated into German, (M.L.df.1) and French ( 9076.ff.41) and met with great approval. In Britain it was merely noted.

W.J. Knoop, Beschouwingen over Siborne’s Geschiedenis van den oorlog van 1815 in Frankrijk en de Nederlanden (Breda, 1847). 1435.g.4.

The Dutch government did not give up and sent Knoop’s pupil François de Bas to Britain to research Siborne’s archives. De Bas found that Siborne had been rather selective in choosing his resources, but he did not get anywhere with the Brits. On the contrary, the British views were only reinforced when Siborne’s son Major-General Herbert Taylor Siborne (1826-1902) published Waterloo Letters in 1891.

So strong was support for Siborne that the Scottish historian Sir Herbert Maxwell was accused of being ‘anti-British’, when he dared point out how important the Dutch, Belgian and Nassau contributions to the victory had been in his 1899 Life of Wellington.

However, the Brits weren’t the only ones to exaggerate their role in events. The Dutch and Belgians did the same for their sides, mainly inspired by a desire to strengthen the position of the very young new Kingdom of the Netherlands, which was only established two years earlier.

Throughout the 19th century commemorations and celebrations of Quatre-Bras and Waterloo were held at every opportunity, which led to a flood of highly patriotic songs, poems and other publications, such as those illustrated below.

Photo3Triomftogt (1)Programma van den triomftogt, te houden binnen ... Amsterdam, op den 19 Junij 1865 ... ([Amsterdam, 1865]) 1871.e.1.(108*.)

 Vooruit maar! Feestliedje ter herdenking aan den strijd bij Quatre-Bras en Waterloo.(Utrecht. [1865]) 1871.e.1.(111.) 

1815-1865 Waterloo-lied (Leiden, [1865]) 1871.e.1.(124.)

It wasn’t until well into the 20th Century that more balanced views started to be aired, both within and outside Britain. When written in English, the latter are better picked up by British scholarship, which promotes a more critical approach of earlier studies, such as Siborne’s. Jeremy Black’s The Battle of Waterloo (2010) and Alan Forrest’s Waterloo (2015) are good examples of this less biased approach.

There is of course no one real truth about Waterloo and so researchers will have plenty of work to do unpicking the truth and debunking the myths surrounding Waterloo. What better place to start than at the British Library?! Very few libraries in the country can rival our holdings published both within and outside Britain, expressing many different views, in various languages and forms.

Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

References/further reading:

William Siborne, History of the War in France and Belgium, 1815; containing minute details of the battles of Quatre-Bras, Ligny, Wavre, and Waterloo. (London, 1844) 1435.g.7-8, and online:

Jac Weller, Wellington at Waterloo. (Greenhill, 1992). YK.1992.a.7961.

Herbert Taylor Siborne, Waterloo Letters: a Selection from Original and hitherto Unpublished Letters bearing on the Operations of the 16th, 17th, and 18th June 1815, by Officers who served in the Campaign (London, 1891), and online:

Sir Herbert Maxwell, The Life of Wellington: the Restoration of the Martial Power of Great Britain ... (London, 1899) 010817.k.14.

Jeremy Black, The Battle of Waterloo (New York, 2010) m10/.15369

Alan I. Forrest, Waterloo. (Oxford, 2015) (awaiting shelfmark)

Jeroen van Zanten, ‘Hoe dapper was ‘Silly Billy’?’ Historisch Nieuwsblad, Vol. 24, no. 6 (June 2015) pp 33-39. []

Ruscombe Foster, Wellington and Waterloo: the Duke, the Battle and Posterity. (Stroud, 2014) YC.2015.a.2532


02 October 2015

Michiel Adrianenszoon de Ruyter (1607-1676) Navigates the British Library

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Last week Thursday the Dutch Centre screened the film ‘Michiel de Ruyter’, or ‘Admiral’ in the English version, about the 17th-Century admiral Michiel Adriaenszoon de Ruyter, the Dutch Horatio Nelson. 

Photo1MAdR220px-Bol,_Michiel_de_RuyterMichiel de Ruyter portrait. Painting by Ferdinant Bol 1667 (From Wikimedia Commons)

I had been invited to give a short introduction about De Ruyter. Not being an expert on this topic I delved into the British Library’s collections to look for suitable material. The film’s main focus is on the three Anglo-Dutch wars (1652-1654, 1665-1667, 1672-1674). De Ruyter fought in all of them.

One of the battles during the First Anglo-Dutch war was at Scheveningen on 10 August 1653. The Dutch High Admiral Maarten Tromp (played by Rutger Hauer ) was killed and De Ruyter was the only commander to make it to Tromp’s cabin. On his orders Tromp’s death was kept secret to keep morale up.

After the battle De Ruyter wrote a letter to the Grand-Pensionary of the States General, Johan de Witt. This letter got printed and we hold a copy within a so-called ‘tract-volume’, where you will find other publications from the period about the First Anglo-Dutch War gathered and bound together.

Photo2 MAdRtoSG11081653                                 Netherlands, Proclamations, etc. 1652-1655. The Hague, 1653. British Library D.N.2/1.(29)

In the hastily-written letter De Ruyter gives an account of the battle, which lasted two days and resulted in great losses on both sides, in both men and ships. De Ruyter describes his sorrow over the death of Admiral Maarten Tromp, the chase of the English and the battle. De Ruyter’s own ship The Lamb was so badly damaged it could hardly sail and had to be towed to safety by one of the other ships.  At one point he says he is too busy to report on everything that happened. His foremast is broken and he has 40 dead and 48 injured men. That gives an amazing glimpse in the state of mind De Ruyter must have been in. Here he is, sitting in his cabin, frantically writing his letter whilst anxious to get back on deck where his crew and ship need his attention.  Note how he meticulously records the date and place where he signs off.

The death of Maarten Tromp led to the publication of many pamphlets and poems. In another collection of tracts about the First Anglo-Dutch war there is this one (published in Dutch) A Little Conversation on the Old and the New Admiral, being a defence of M.H. Tromp against several false accusations, by a true Dutch seaman.  It is a fierce defence of the old admiral's actions during the battle, presented in the form of a dialogue between two men.

Photo3 MAdRT1720Praatje
Een Praatje van denouden en nieuwen Admiraal ...  door een oprecht Hollands zeeman.
Amsterdam, 1653. T.1720.(14)

After De Ruyter’s great victory on the Medway of June 1667, one of the greatest Dutch poets of the time, Joost van den Vondel  wrote a poem in which he called De Ruyter ‘The Lion of the Seas on the Thames’. Vondel relates how God brought down Charles II, sitting on his throne in his ‘haughtiness’  (with a swipe to his executed father Charles I) and thinking the chain across the Medway will ward off the Dutch.  Vondel exaggerates a bit here by saying that the chain spans from Dover to Calais. However, God sends his very own fleet, the States Generals’ with The Lion slashing and burning its way up the Thames and Medway to thrash the English fleet. ‘What do you say now, heh, Charlie?’ continues Vondel. He ends with how at Breda (where peace was made quickly after the Raid) three men were knighted: ‘Ruiter, Gent en Ruwaert Wit.’


De Zeeleeu op den Teems, J. V. Vondel. Amsterdam, 1653 (Image taken from from 258 C 53 [76]], Plano’s en plakkaten, Koninklijke Bibliotheek)

The best English contemporary source on the Anglo-Dutch Wars are the diaries of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703).  The diaries are available online at

If you prefer print editions do consult our catalogue, where you will find hundreds of titles concerning Pepys, his diaries and his role at the Royal Navy. The early 20th Century children’s series ‘World Heroes’ includes a volume about Michiel de Ruyter. It has various coloured plates depicting scenes from De Ruyter’s life and career. 

Photo5MAdR10600aa6AHHillyardDSCF4468Front cover of : Michael Adriaanszoon de Ruyter: the famous Dutch admiral ..., by H. Hillyard. (London, 1908)

Last year Robin Jacobs wrote a guest blog  about the prelude to the Raid on Chatham: Holmes Bonfire. Newly-published titles are added to the collection, so do keep coming back here to see what’s new.

 Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic Collections

References and further reading

P.J. Blok, The Life of Admiral De Ruyter. Translated by G. J. Renier. (London, 1933). 010760.f.37.

C.R. Boxer, The Anglo-Dutch wars of the 17th century, 1652-1674. (London,1996). [2nd ed.] YK.1996.a.20068

D.R. Hainsworth & Christine Churches, The Anglo-Dutch naval wars, 1652-1674. (Stroud, 1998). YC.2000.b.684

Ronald Prud’homme van Reine, De Ruyter : Dutch admiral. (Rotterdam, 2011). YD.2015.b.526. This is the modern standard biography of De Ruyter.


11 September 2015

Joost Zwagerman (1963-2015)

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On Tuesday of this week Joost Zwagerman, one of three most read Dutch authors of our generation, took his own life. 

696px-Joost_Zwagerman01Joost Zwagerman in 2010 (picture by Jost Hindersmann from Wikimedia Commons CC BY 3.0) 

Zwagerman was a prolific author, poet, commentator, art critic and polemicist. In 2010 he was awarded De Gouden Ganzenveer  (The Golden Quill) for his whole oeuvre, one of several literary awards during his career. In the same year he wrote the Boekenweekcadeau the annual ‘gift’ for the Dutch National Book Week. Being invited to write this is considered one of the biggest accolades in the literary world.

Zwagerman very much engaged with his readers and the general public in the Netherlands and abroad. He spent two weeks as author-in-residence at the University of Sheffield. Whilst his work is not (yet) translated into English, English speakers can get a real flavour of his wonderful style from the account he wrote of his experiences in Sheffield on (click on ‘Engels’ for the translation).

He frequently appeared on television, where he talked about art and culture, a topic he wrote about in many of his works. A better advocate for art and literature will be hard to find. His enthusiasm was inspiring.

He also wrote about suicide (his father attempted suicide and a close friend of his died by assisted suicide). In ‘Door eigen hand: zelfmoord en de nabestaanden’, freely translated as ‘By one’s own hand: suicide and next of kin’ he strongly argued against it, which makes his own suicide all the more poignant.

His work was translated into German, French, Czech, Hungarian and Japanese, but as already stated,  does not appear in English. That is a shame. Joost Zwagerman deserves to be translated into the world language that is English and reach a much wider audience.

JZ books 2
Some of Jost Zwagerman's books from the British Library's collections

The British Library holds most of his works, which can be found by using our catalogue Explore.

Marja Kingma, Curator Low Countries collections

A brief selection of titles by Joost Zwagerman, held by the British Library:

De Houdgreep (Amsterdam, 1986). YA.1994.a.3152

Gimmick! (Amsterdam, 1992) YA.1990.a.3895

Vals Licht (Amsterdam, 1992) YA.1993.a.27376

Collegas van God (Amsterdam, 1993) YA.1993.a.25914

De Mooiste Vrouw ter Wereld: gedichten (Amsterdam, 1993) YA.1993.b.8597

Duel (Amsterdam, 2010;  Gift for the National Book week) YF.2010.a.9478

Alles is gekleurd: omzwervingen in de kunst (Amsterdam, 2011) YF.2013.a.7001

De wereld is hier: een keuze uit eigen werk (Amsterdam, 2012) YF.2012.a.34077

Kennis is geluk: nieuwe omzwervingen in de kunst (Utrecht, 2013) YF.2013.a.22414

02 September 2015

Happy 60th Birthday Miffy!!

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 Who are the two most famous rabbits in British literature? Do I hear “Peter Rabbit”? Sure, Beatrix Potter’s mischievous rabbit in his blue coat is so famous, he features in our ‘Animal Tales’  exhibition that opened on the 6th of August. “The White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll!” Absolutely, and what’s more,  it celebrates its 150 anniversary this year. (Watch this space for the Library’s commemorations) But there is a third famous little white rabbit who celebrates a big birthday in 2015. Born Dutch in 1955, as main character of a story told by the author/artist Dick Bruna to his son, ‘Nijntje’ appeared in the English language as ‘Miffy’. 

Miffy60Dick_BrunaDick Bruna (Photo by Dolph Kohnstamm (2007) from Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0 licence).

Miffy is known the world over, especially in Japan. She inspired ‘Hello Kitty’ and Japanese artist Atsuhiko Misawa  praises her as having the perfect form. He is one the 60 artists who made Miffy sculptures as part of the Miffy Art Parade. This major event takes place all over the world and is in support of UNICEF.

In the Netherlands celebrations concentrate in Amsterdam, The Hague and Utrecht, birthplace of Bruna. A row of six-foot tall Miffy statues graces the Museumplein in Amsterdam.


Above and below, sculptures from the Miffy 60 parade in Amsterdam  (Photos:  Marja Kingma)


The Rijksmuseum has just opened an exhibition on Dick Bruna, who celebrated his 88th birthday on 23 August. It shows half a century of graphic art in international context.

The British Library holds most Miffy titles published in the UK since 1964, via legal deposit. There is a Welsh translation of one,  Miffi yn yr ysbyty (‘Miffy in Hospital’; British Library X.990/23246), but no Dutch language ones! We normally do not purchase children’s literature from abroad, certainly not if an English edition is already available. Maybe an exception should be made on this occasion?

Marja Kingma, Curator Dutch Language Collections

31 July 2015

The Following Story as a Matter of Life and Death

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Cees Nooteboom’s 1991 novella Het volgende verhaal (The Following Story) attempts to narrate death as a process of becoming imperceptible, and the action in the novel takes place when the narrator is neither alive nor dead but somewhere in-between. The novel ends at the beginning: it is a story within a story, a cyclical narrative that does not have a clear-cut beginning or end. It portrays a world in which the states of life and death are not limited or quantifiable. Instead, the normally measurable dimensions of time and space become stretched and malleable in the strange and endless moment between living and dying.

Cees Nooteboom in 2007 (Photo by HPSchaefer via Wikimedia Commons

The philosopher Rosi Braidotti has strong words regarding the foregrounding of death as the ultimate other that has haunted much postmodern theory, writing that it “fuels an affective political economy of loss and melancholia at the heart of the subject”. She offers an alternative, freeing death from its anthropocentric perspective by conceptualising it as the experience of “becoming-imperceptible”. Rather than remaining in a static state of being, the subject is always undertaking a series of processural changes and is thus always becoming. A focus on the in-between spaces between one thing and another means, that the boundary between life and death itself becomes blurred.

Gilles Deleuze and Félix  Guattari write that a writer must “become a nomad and an immigrant and a gypsy in relation to one's own language”. Nooteboom’s works do this: they are widely available in translation, which is relatively unusual for the often domestic world of Dutch literature. Dutch is sometimes perceived as a small language and culture occupying a minority position within the majoritarian location of the European Union and its hegemonic languages. The Netherlands even has a difficult relationship with its own writing: a 2008 study of Dutch reading habits revealed that over half of books read in the Dutch language were translations, suggesting that Dutch literature had become minoritarian even in its country of origin.  As a successful travel writer as well as novelist, Nooteboom has escaped these intimate national, linguistic, and canonical borders.

 RCLemensHetVlgdVrhl  RClemensFollStory
Het volgende verhaall
in the original Dutch and in English translation

In Het volgende verhaal, systems of naming are playfully sabotaged. The self is no longer fixed and static; instead, identities become multiple and nomadic. The novella’s narrator has three names: his legal name, Herman Mussert, his pen name, Dr Strabo, and his nickname, Socrates. In all cases, the names do not singularly refer to the one bounded body of the narrator. Nooteboom shares Strabo’s occupation of a travel writer: nebulous identities can be passed from organic to literary body and exist within and without each other.

Even something as seemingly empirically stable as physical matter becomes open-endedly fluid in the novella. Herman remembers a pillar in a Spanish cathedral on which the touch of many pilgrims over many years had eroded the shape of a hand. The resulting relief in the marble is sculpted not by a sculptor but through the differing repetitions of a gesture, making imperceptible changes perceptible. The hand is perceptible despite it being “not there” from Herman’s perspective. It is both there and not there, remaining in a fixed state only until another pilgrim places their hand on it: human affective connective potential.

The dissolving matter and fragmented identities are part of Herman’s process of death, although it only becomes evident later in the narrative. Herman leaves his physical body in Amsterdam and embarks on a journey of becoming-imperceptible, eventually finding himself on a boat with other passengers who share their story of dying. Finally, Herman has to share “the following story”, bringing the reader back to the start of the book. Herman says that this is what remains of his subjectivity after it leaves his body: it exists as a story, or different stories to be told by the people he connected with. In Braidotti’s words, even though our nebulous selves die “we will have been and nothing can change that”, the present perfect continuous asserting the enduring continuum of life beyond the “I”.

Ruth Clemens


Cees Nooteboom, Het volgende verhaal : roman (Amsterdam, 2011) YF.2013.a.986 (English translation by Ina Rilke: The Following Story (London, 2014). H.2014/.7727)

Rosi Braidotti, , ‘The Ethics of Becoming Imperceptible’, in Deleuze and Philosophy, ed. Constantin Boundas (Edinburgh, 2006) pp. 133-159. YC.2007.a.12470

Rosi Braidotti, The Posthuman (Cambridge, 2013) YC.2013.a.7861

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka : pour une littérature mineure (Paris, 1975) X.900/17435 (English translation by Dana Polan: Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (Minneapolis, 1986) 8814.628200)

Marc Verboord and Susan Janssen, ‘Informatieuitwisseling in het huidige Nederlandse en Vlaamse literaire veld. Mediagebruik en gelezen boeken door literaire lezers en bemiddelaars’, in Ralf Grüttermeier and Jan Oosterholt (eds.), Een of twee Nederlandse literaturen? Contacten tussen de Nederlandse en Vlaamse literatuur sinds 1830 (Leuven, 2008). Awaiting shelfmark

Ruth Clemens is a Postgraduate student in Comparative Literature at University College London. She won the Essay prize in the category Post Graduates, awarded by the Association for Low Countries Studies  for her essay ‘Becoming-Imperceptible in Cees Nooteboom’s The Following Story and Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman.

30 June 2015

Never use your employer’s printing office for your own writings

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The Treaty of Amiens which ended the war between Britain, France, The Batavian Republic and Spain, prompted the Dutch to attempt to reclaim, amongst others, the Cape Colony in Southern Africa.

A former possession of the Dutch East India Company,  it had been taken by the British in 1795. The government of the Batavian Republic sent Commissioner General J. A. de Mist as head of a  new administration to rule the Cape according to the principles of the French revolution: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity!

One of the officials was a young nobleman from Ommen in the province of Overijssel  Andries van Pallandt van Eerde, whose father had lost his privileges in the new Batavian Republic.

AvPallportraitAndries van Pallandt pictured on the cover of Siem van Eeten,   Andries van Pallandt van Eerde, belevenissen van een 19e-eeuwse klokkenluider (Zutphen, 2015) YF.2015.a.11274

Upon arrival in the Cape, Andries was appointed private secretary to the Governor. He started his work full of enthusiasm, quickly establishing good relations with the English, among them probably John Barrow, the author of Travels into the Interior of South Africa. Barrow had a Dutch wife.

View of Cape Town from John Barrow, Travels into the Interior of South Africa (London, 1806) 10094.g.10.

Andries soon realized that the reality on the ground differed from the ideas of the Dutch policy makers and concluded that the Colony would never be self-supporting. What’s more, it would be extremely difficult to defend the Cape against the British enemy with the small number of Dutch troops, without support from indigenous people. However, the Dutch colonists, the Afrikaners, had treated the local tribes so badly, that they were considered more likely to support the English who treated them far better.  

Van Pallandt found it impossible to discuss his ideas with his superiors, so in 1803 he wrote a pamphlet, entitled Remarques générales sur le Cap de Bonne Espérance (English translation General remarks on the Cape of Good Hope; Cape Town, 1917;  09061.ff.55; picture below)  He had the pamphlet printed in the Government’s printing-office at his own expense, to be sent to the Netherlands in order to trigger a debate.

When De Mist found out about the pamphlet he was furious. He ordered an investigation by the Attorney General, Beelaerts van Blokland. To avoid a public shaming, which would mean the end of his career, Van Pallandt signed a confession and was found guilty of using the Government’s printing office without permission. All printed copies of the pamphlet were confiscated, apart from the three he had already sent to important people in the Republic.

Disappointed, Van Pallandt returned home. In the meantime, war had resumed between Britain and the Batavian Republic and on 1 January 1804 his ship was taken by a Guernsey privateer.  Andries was held captive on Guernsey for several months. There he wrote a journal about his adventures, which has now been translated from French into Dutch  as  Andries van Pallandt van Eerde, belevenissen van een 19e-eeuwse klokkenluider; a launch event for the book was held in the Castle of Eerde (Netherlands), the former home of the Van Pallandt family, on 29 April 2015, and the book is available for  consultation in the British Library.

Siem van Eeten, independent researcher.

References and further reading:

A. van Pallandt’s diary of his time on Guernsey:  Free online resource

Interrogation of Andries van Pallandt at St. Peters Port, Guernsey on 17 January 1804.
Free online resource

Eeten, S. van, ‘A captured Dutch nobleman in Guernsey: a chance discovery’, In: Report and transactions / Société Guernesiaise, Vol XXVII (2013) , Part III. DSC7638.242000.