Historical story

Maurits and the File Disputes

The exams are back in full swing. Thousands of students toil over difficult questions, including history. Monday 21 May it will be the turn of the VWO students. A difficult part of their learning material about the Republic are the Truce disputes.

While in the European countries around us the kings ruled as absolute monarchs, the Dutch regions formed a joint government without a head of state. This did not mean that the Dutch wanted nothing to do with kings and nobles and believed in Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. This slogan would only become fashionable at the end of the 18th century.

Power of the governor

In our country the stadtholders occupied a special place. This important official was employed both by the national government, the States General, and at the head of the army. The stadtholders came from the most important family of nobles, namely the Oranges. As the generations passed on, the stadtholders also started to behave more like kings.

Especially William III, stadtholder from 1672 until his death in 1702, has taken a lot of power to himself. In this way he managed to get the provinces to declare the stadtholdership hereditary. This does have royal features. But son of an English crown princess and king of England, you can't really blame Willem for his royal slant. Maurits, the son of William of Orange, behaved a lot less royally. The stadtholdership had been offered to him after the murder of his father in 1584. The Republic was at war with Spain and it was therefore not the time to play the king:the governors would never have tolerated this. However, the obliging role of the stadtholder does not mean that they had no power. Maurits makes this clear during the File disputes.

Civil war?

The Truce disputes started as a difference of opinion between the theologians Fransiscus Gomarus and Jacobus Arminius, but almost unleashed a civil war due to political interference by, among others, Grand Pensionary and State Attorney Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Just start at the beginning. Both the Netherlands and Spain were exhausted from the war and nearly broke. Van Oldenbarnevelt, the most important political player in the Republic at the time, arranged a ceasefire from 1609 to 1621, called the Twelve Years' Truce. The Republic was able to recover, certainly economically and militarily. Trade, especially by sea, flourished and things went well in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile the theologians were busy with other matters. Within Leiden University a difference of opinion had arisen about the doctrine of predestination, an important part of Protestant Calvinism. Gomarus adhered to the conservative teaching that God had chosen the true believers for eternal life before they were born and that you did not reach heaven by living virtuously. Believers live virtuously as a result of their election and not of their free will. Arminius disagreed. According to him, your believing life would show whether God had chosen you. So your own free choice is a result of faith and not a gift given by God. This difference of opinion was initially fought within the lecture halls, where students sided with one of the two theologians. But as soon as these students had graduated and entered the pulpit, they proclaimed the opinion they held. Thus it could happen that a split occurred among the population. Families quarreled with each other because mother adhered to Arminius and father Gomarus. Riots broke out and in Leiden even the town hall was entrenched to protect the Arminian city officials.

The Gomarists labeled this new movement and its adherents as heretics who should be banned from the church and pulpit. In response, the supporters of Arminius submitted a remonstrance or protest letter to the States of Holland in 1610, after which they were given the name remonstrants. The Dutch administrators did not want splits but an open church for everyone. They therefore responded to the protest:the two groups should only be able to pass through one door. Both the conservative supporters and the Remonstrants had to proclaim their message in the same pulpit and listen to each other's sermons.

The conservatives alone could not do this:they would then also have to admit adherents of the heretical teachings during the Lord's Supper who they deem unworthy to participate. They submitted a counter-remonstrance, hence their name the counter-remonstrants, but the States stuck to its earlier decision. Thereupon the counter-remonstrants decided not to stay among those sinners any longer and the dreaded split came after all. Pastors began to defect to more conservative congregations or preach in barns and sheds.

Maurits deploys army

Now that the ministers openly ignored the decisions of the States about the correct doctrine, Van Oldenbarnevelt tried to keep them in line by force. In August 1617, the States of Holland allowed the towns to recruit their own soldiers, known as 'waargelders', who had to quell irregularities. This measure, drawn up by Van Oldenbarnevelt, was called the Sharp Resolution. The garrisons commanded by Maurice that were stationed in the cities therefore had to obey the urban administrators.

Now Maurice thought it was enough. He showed his true power, but gradually. He openly sided with the Counter-Remonstrants by sitting pontifically in the church during their church services. In addition, he tried to undermine Oldenbarnevelt's power wherever he could. The idea that Van Oldenbarnevelt was a traitor who wanted to use soldiers to suppress the true religion so that he could then let the Spaniards back in again gained support. But Maurice's greatest asset was the army:his men obeyed him unconditionally and did not listen to the magistrates. With an army-supported coup d'état he managed to have Van Oldenbarnevelt's supporters removed from their important political posts. Instead, his own supporters mounted the administrative seats. As icing on the cake, Maurits was ordered by the States General to arrest Van Oldenbarnevelt.

Synod of Dordt

While Van Oldenbarnevelt was in prison, the National Synod met in Dordrecht in 1618. This ecclesiastical meeting was only allowed to take place with the consent of the States General. They wouldn't do that again in the future. But now it had to be decided once and for all who was right, Gomarus or Arminius, and thus what the correct doctrine would be. As expected, the Remonstrants were not proved right:the majority consisted of Counter-Remonstrants and they condemned the other party. This would initially lead to persecution, but about ten years later both movements would coexist fairly harmoniously.

In the meantime it had become 1619. Van Oldenbarnevelt was convinced of his innocence but was found guilty of crimes against the state by a specially appointed court after a 7-month trial. At the age of 71, the politician lost his head on the Binnenhof in The Hague. Maurits had pushed his way through and achieved what he wanted. However, he had lost not only a political opponent but also an experienced counselor. And once he followed in the footsteps of the country's former political leader, it would cause him many headaches. Maurits was an excellent soldier, but he had to recognize his superior in the strategic politician Van Oldenbarnevelt.

Also on Kennislink: The Reformation:religion is politics Calvin was not so strictUnion of Utrecht (1579)Father of the Fatherland