475.Man in Blue – The Mughal & Habsburg Empire

I have written in previous articles about similarities between Phillips II, the second Habsburg King of Spain and ruler of a huge European and South and Middle American Empire, and the last Great Mughal, Aurangzeb.

Phillips II was a bigoted Roman Catholic who because he could not allow any form of accommodation with the Protestant rebels of the Netherlands, did enormous damage to his empire. The Kings who ruled after him inherited a debt-ridden country and Spain never recovered its former strength.

Aurangzeb was not willing to accommodate the defeated Hindu rulers of the south of India, and was therefore forced to fight the same battles again and again as the southern royal families kept producing able commanders to lead

rebellions. This also gave an opportunity to rebels in the north (not just the Sikhs). Aurangzeb exhausted the resources of his mighty empire and after him it went all the way down until its inglorious end during the 1857 mutiny.

In the five columns that precede this one I have given the readers who are interested in matters not directly related to Panjab or the Sikhs a fuller account of the rebellion in the Netherlands and the reaction of Phillips to it.

One thing that struck me was the ‘apology’ that Willem van Oranje wrote for the rebellion. Willem’s reasoning, simplified, is that there is a contract between the ruler and the ruled. That contract is partly formal; various groups within the 17 semi-independent states that made up the Netherlands had formal rights, which that the ruler promised to respect at his swearing-in.

But there is also an underlying idea that the ruler has to be a just ruler. What made a just ruler during the 17th century in Europe is not what we would now expect, but this reasoning contradicts both the concept that the lands ruled by the high noblemen are their personal property, to dispose of at will, and the idea that the rulers have absolute power granted by God.

I do not know whether such an idea of a compact between ruler and ruled existed in Central Asia, where India’s Mughal rulers had their origin. But within the Hindu Dharm there are notions of just rulers. Again I must emphasise that these notions would not lead to the sort of government that would be acceptable in 2011.

I think that most of the Great Mughals had a notion of being just rulers, but that Aurangzeb, because he thought that he had unlimited absolute powers, did not show any care for the vast majority of the people in his empire.

One final note: in Muslim countries religious minorities were often better respected than in Christian countries. Aurangzeb was not the only intolerant Muslim ruler, but Akbar was most definitely not the only tolerant one. Too many people’s view on Islam is distorted by Osama bin Laden, but he was not a Muslim.

473.The Man in Blue – The Conflict in the Netherlands under Philips II (IV)

We are getting near to the reign of Philips II. In this article I will discuss the arrival of the reformation in the Netherlands during the rule of his father Charles V.

From about 1520s Martin Luther’s teachings reached the Southern Netherlands, from about 1530s the first Anabaptists arrived and Calvinism, the teachings of the French reformer Jean Calvin, came to the Netherlands from about 1540. 

Calvinism turned out to be the dominant Protestant religion in most of the Netherlands.

The Roman Catholics were absolutely convinced that theirs was the only right Church. Equally most Protestants, and especially the Calvinists, were absolutely convinced that they were right. More Protestants ended up martyred than Catholics in this religious conflict, but there were definitely Catholic martyrs too.

During the religious conflict in Flanders periods of relative peace were followed by periods of violent conflict. The persecuted Protestants attacked Catholic churches to remove the statues (Iconoclasm). They were strongly against any statutes of Jesus and the saints. They also killed priests who were suspected of betraying them to the authorities.

In periods when the Protestants had the upper-hand in certain areas, the Catholics did not have an easy time, and that included Catholics being killed. In the decrees issued against Protestants the punishment for those who did not want to return to the Catholic Church was to be buried alive (women) or to be burnt alive (men).

I have statistics for Protestant martyrs for the period from 1523 till 1556 in Antwerpen, Aalst, Brugge, Brussel, Doornik, Gent, Ieper, Kortrijk, Nieuwpoort and Oudenaarde. Most of these cities are in Flanders, some are in Brabant.

Philip II succeeded his father as Lord of the Netherlands in 1555 and left for Spain in 1559. From 1523 till 1559 289 Protestants were executed because of their faith. In March 1564 Cardinal Granville, an enthusiastic persecutor of Protestants, was forced to leave his post in the Brussel’s government.

From 1559 till March 1564 122 Protestants were martyred. In August 1556 systematic attacks on Catholic Churches started, destroying statues and other Catholic paraphernalia, and also killing priests and other functionaries of the church. From 1564 till the 1556 Iconoclasm 19 Protestants were martyred.

Harsh punishments were common, and both sides were convinced they were absolutely right, and that the other side was absolutely wrong.

And although Willem van Oranje tried to mediate, neither side listened to him.   

1) Geuzen in de Westhoek; Roger~A.Blondeau; Uitgeverij Reinaert-Het Volk NV; ISBN 90 6334 108 3 p. 41
2) De Beeldenstorm, Unieboek bv, Bussum, Nederland. ISBN 90 228 4520 6 p.14

472.The Man in Blue – The Conflict in the Netherlands under Philips II (III)

Before we start discussing the reformation in the Netherlands I want to have another look at the early industrial cities in Flanders. First a technical matter : the laken that was produced in these cities was made of wool, first of Flemish wool, but when the production increased most of the wool was imported from England.

The situation in Flanders in the early 14th century was complicated. The Counts of Flanders had two conflicts on their hands: French King Philippe le Bel wanted to regain control over the County of Flanders. The industrial cities, ruled by a new élite, tried to be as independent as possible of the Counts.

The final complication was that the craftsmen, who actually made the wool into the precious laken, also wanted a say in the running of the cities.

The French King supported the city’s élite against the Count of Flanders and the Count supported the craftsmen against the city rulers. These rulers were also the guild masters, or in modern terms, the industrialists.

Whatever Flemish nationalists might tell you, this was not about Flemish or Netherlands’ nationalism, nationalism was invented in the 19th century. The Count thought of Flanders as a possession of him and his family, and the King thought of the Count as somebody who on his behalf ruled over part of his property.

Within the cities, or between the cities and the count, the issue was not democracy. These industrial cities were a new power in the land, and they were looking for privileges and influence. When the craftsmen realised their power (no craftsmen no laken) they also demanded a share of the influence and wealth.

The development of powerful industrial and trading cities brought new groups into the political process, which made it more difficult to control areas like Flanders and later Holland and Zeeland. Cities like these did not just exist in Flanders, Holland and Zeeland. Antwerpen and Bergen-op-Zoom (Dukedom of Brabant) at the mouth of the river Schelde were good examples of non-Flemish trading cities.  

In most of their country the Kings of France regained full control, but Flanders went its own way, and ended up under the rule of the Habsburgs, together with almost all the other states of the Netherlands.

The Habsburg Netherlands were like a confederation linked to each other by a personal union, as each of the component parts had the same ruler.

But each county or dukedom had a different set of rights and duties for the ruler and the ruled. There was also not a standard set of privileges and duties for the cities, neither within the Netherlands as a whole, nor within each state.

The King of Spain was the Lord of the Netherlands, but he did not have absolute power. But King Philips II was convinced that he had a God-given right to decide all aspects of life in the countries he ruled, regardless of his legal position. 1)

1) Het Klauwen van de Leeuw p 57-61 en 61-62; 1995, Uitgeverij Van Halewyck, Leuven; ISBN 90 5617 004 x 

470.Man in Blue – The Conflict in the Netherlands under Philips II (I)

This discussion has been caused by reading books by Belgian authors on the subject, especially ‘Geuzen in de Westhoek’ by Roger-A. Blondeau (1).

The Dutch history books that I studied in primary school contained too much protestant propaganda, but some of the books by Roman Catholic Belgian authors are equally biased. I am not trying to deny that both sides in the conflict used extreme violence, what I am trying to do is to present a balanced view.  

The Netherlands that I write about included the present countries ‘Nederland’, ‘België’ and ‘Luxemburg’, plus a substantial part of Northern France. To illustrate this I will reproduce one of the old maps of the area that I have used before.

I these articles I will try to describe some of the processes that led to the armed conflict between the western counties of the Netherlands and the central authority, formally based in Brussel, but in reality in Madrid.

The first conflict I will describe were the complicated relations between the élite of Flemish cities like Gent and Brugge, supported by the King of France, and the count of Flanders, who was supported by the craftsmen of the guilds.

The second conflict was between the various states that made up the Netherlands and the central authority in Brussel. Brussel (Madrid) wanted to unify and centralise, the various states wanted to retain or even expand their autonomy.

The third conflict was related to the religious reform movements started by people like Martin Luther, Menno Simonsz and Jean Calvin. Philips II demanded absolute obedience to the Roman Catholic Church, some of the reformers wanted to transfer this absolute authority to the Calvinist church, while people like William of Orange wanted to allow a degree of religious freedom.

One of the features of the period under discussion is that the County of Flanders in the 1300s already had a good numbers of cities whose wealth was based on trade and industry and not on agriculture.

The other relevant process is that through inheritance and conquest the states that made up the Netherlands became part of the Burgundian ‘empire’, which in the 1500s was inherited by Charles V of Habsburg. Although there was a ‘States General’ (representation of the burghers, nobility and clergy) for the whole area, Charles was the ruler of about 17 small states, each with its own laws and traditions, and not of one country with a strong central government.

I think that reading these articles might also enable a better understanding of some of the conflicts between the Sikhs and the Moghul Empire at the time.

(1) Reinaert – Het Volk, Gent 1988 ISBN 90 6334 108 3

459.The Man in Blue – The Netherlands

Map of the Netherlands showing the states that made up the area

As history is my hobby, and ignorance about the ‘lowlands by the sea’ is widespread, I will attempt to bring some light in your historical darkness.

The Netherlands is a term that dates back to the European middle ages, describing an area that includes parts of what is now northern France, parts of what is now north-western Germany and all of what is now the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, the Kingdom of the Belgians and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

Around 1500 most of these Netherlands were part of the Habsburg Empire. This was also the period of the reformation, the reform movement of the Roman Catholic Church that ended up setting up its own churches and its own states.

The Netherlands in those days were made up of 17 small states and most of them had through conquest, inheritance and marriage politics come to be ruled by one man. During the religious war (80 years war) caused by the reformation 7 of these small states became the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands.

The remaining area came to be ruled by the Austrian branch of the Habsburg family. In 1815 the countries that had defeated Napoleon wanted a strong buffer state north of France and created the Kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of what are now Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxemburg.

This kingdom of the Netherlands lasted only from 1815 to 1830 when a new Kingdom was created in the south, the Kingdom of the Belgians. The new King Leopold von Sachsen Coburg was a relative of Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria. The kings of the new smaller Kingdom of the Netherlands were until 1890 also the grand-dukes of Luxemburg.

The old 17 Netherlands are now three countries : 1) The Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, a very small independent country. 2) The Kingdom of the Belgians, divided in a French, a Dutch, a German-speaking region and the bilingual Brussel/Bruxelles area.  3) The Kingdom of the Netherlands, which people often wrongly refer to as Holland. Holland was the most important area of the Dutch republic and still is the most densely populated and economically most important part of the Netherlands, but Holland is not the name of the country.

The Dutch speaking region in Belgium is now officially called Flanders, which is equally incorrect, as Flanders is the west of Belgium, while the other Dutch speaking provinces of Antwerpen, ‘Flemish’ Brabant and (Belgian) Limburg all have a very interesting history, but not as a part of Flanders (Vlaanderen).

Finally, west of the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg is the Belgian province of Luxemburg and east of the Belgian province of Limburg is the Dutch province of Limburg ! And to add to the confusion there are three provinces called Brabant : Brabant-Wallon and ‘Vlaams’ Brabant in Belgium, Noord Brabant in the Netherlands.

More schematic map showing in brown the states involved in the protestant rebellion
Flanders was in the forefront of the rebellion and the reformation, but ended up under Roman Catholic Habsburg rule
The red line shows the border Dutch and French speaker areas and in Luxemburg between French and German

Published in: on February 14, 2011 at 9:58 am  Leave a Comment  
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444.The Man in Blue – Amersfoort 24 September & conclusion

This is the last of the illustrated articles on my September visit to the Netherlands. I used my time well and managed to do all I wanted to do. My last excursion from Den Haag was to Amersfoort where I visited a friend of very long-standing, Yvo Meihuizen and his wife Petie van Santen.

I went by single-decker intercity from Den Haag CS via Utrecht to Amersfoort. The service pattern is typical for services from the west of the Netherlands to the east and north-east. The train serves both Leeuwarden and Groningen in the north and in Utrecht the train from Den Haag is joined with a train from Rotterdam. Amersfoort offers a cross-platform connection to the east of the country.

In Zwolle the train is split, one part goes to Groningen, one part to Leeuwarden. This system of joining and splitting trains and cross-platform connections is wonderful as long as trains run more or less on time. My train was a little delayed, but I still had time in Amersfoort to take a few pictures of the bus stand outside the railway station. Bus 4 took me to very near my friends’ house.

I met with Yvo and his cats, we had a good chat and went for a walk in the neighbourhood. We talked about our shared interest in public transport, town planning and conservation of historical buildings.

When his wife came home we talked even more and then walked to a local restaurant. I had a nice vegetarian meal and enjoyed the informal atmosphere of the place. After the meal I walked back to the station along a small river and via an old city gate (Koppelpoort) and past the old station building.

At the station I had a look at a local train operated by the Connexxion bus company and went back to Den Haag in a delayed intercity train. I had a pleasant talk with an intelligent young man. On arrival in Den Haag it was raining hard and I had to run for cover. Once I was under cover I walked to the high-level stop of tram 6 without getting wet.

These excursions to the Netherlands are important to me. It is not just about seeing old friends and family members, although I do value those contacts. But I am a Netherlander and even if I never go back to live there, I have been formed by the culture and the history of that country and it is good to keep in touch.

Going to Zeeland where my father’s family comes from felt very good. Travelling and walking about in Amsterdam was great, Amsterdam still feels very good, even without bars and ‘coffee shops’. Being in Belgium Limburg reminds me of my youth in Dutch Limburg but it is not the same.

I am a Sikh, my fatherland is God’s wide world, but it does you no good to deny your background. A Sikh, a world citizen and a Netherlander is how I see myself. Being part of the one human race is very important to me.

442.The Man in Blue ~ Rotterdam – Den Haag

Travelling by public transport from Vlissingen to Rotterdam is usually by train, and similarly when travelling from Rotterdam to Den Haag the train is the norm. But I liked my trip by bus and coach going from island to island via dikes, bridges and tunnel and I liked my trip by RandstadRail from Rotterdam to Den Haag.

The Randstad is the densely populated area between Rotterdam, Den Haag, Amsterdam and Utrecht. The RandstadRail project connects a suburban railway line to the east of Den Haag with the Den Haag tram system, using tram-trains, and connects a suburban railway line from Den Haag to Rotterdam with the Rotterdam Metro system.

The tram-trains in the Den Haag area are running and passengers travel from the suburbs into central Den Haag without changing. In Rotterdam the RandstadRail metros leave from the Central Station through a new tunnel to connect with the suburban line to Den Haag CS. Eventually the RandstadRail metros will leave from metro station Slinge and run to Den Haag via Zuidplein and Rotterdam CS.

The two services share the same tracks in the Den Haag area between Leidseveen and Den Haag NOI, which is also served by Netherlands’ Railways (NS). See the diagram on one of the pictures that illustrate this article.

After arriving by coach at Zuidplein I took the metro to Central Station where I took some pictures and got a RandstadRail metro to Den Haag. The trip was very pleasant, we ran on schedule and the train had seats that were sufficiently comfortable for the relatively short journey (about 30 minutes).

From Zuidplein to Rotterdam Centraal the metro runs about 8 times an hour, from there to Den Haag 4 times an hour. In the Netherlands there are usually good connections and easy transfers between trains, metro, tram and bus or coach.

The bus, coach and metros to Den Haag were punctual, but when later in the week I went from Den Haag to Amsterdam, Amersfoort and Antwerpen all my trains were running behind schedule.

From Den Haag Central Station I took tram 6 from the high tram and RandstadRail tram-train platform to Hobbemaplein, near the house of my friend Jatinder Singh.

UK trains are not designed for long legged gents like me, in Belgium and the Netherlands even ordinary IC or semi-direct trains offer more legroom than long distance Virgin or East Coast trains.

In the Netherlands ProRail looks after tracks and stations and NS after the train operation. This has increased the number of closures of sections of the track exponentially. Some of the rural lines are now operated by the same companies that run the buses in those regions and this seems to be quite successful.

440.The Man in Blue – Vlissingen – Domburg – Middelburg

Before travelling to Vlissingen I had agreed with my cousin Marie that we would go for walks on the sandy beaches on the west side of Walcheren, the island on which Vlissingen is situated. The beaches and dunes are a great asset for walkers, horse riders and ‘beach bums’. They also protect the island against flooding.

I arrived in Vlissingen on the Saturday at about 1 pm and as the weather forecast for Sunday and Monday was not good we decided to have a quick lunch and then make for the nearest beach.

South of Walcheren the Westerschelde, the estuary of the river Schelde, joins the North Sea. The shipping lane used by vessels going to and from the Belgian port of Antwerp runs here near the beach. Across the Westerschelde you can see Zeeuws Vlaanderen, the part of Zeeland that is on the Flemish mainland.

We walked and talked. We walked along the beach, enjoyed the sunshine and the views across the Westerschelde. We talked, and talked and then talked even more. Due to my 14 years outside the Netherlands we had a lot to catch up on.

The three days with cousin Marie showed how important a family member can be.  Marie and I can talk so easily because we know each other’s background, we understand each other because we have known each other virtually from birth.

On the Sunday the weather was not as bad as predicted. It was windy (it often is in Zeeland) and cloudy but it did not rain. Together with Marie’s eldest daughter we went to Domburg, the oldest resort on the Walcheren coast, where various venues hosted a jazz festival.

It was good to meet Karen, who I had seen a couple of years ago but did not really get a chance to talk to. She fits in the musical tradition of her side of the family. I enjoyed listening to Karen playing violin and her mother accompanying her on the piano. In Domburg we listened to jazz, had chips, went for another walk on the beach and then left Karen at the restaurant where she works.

On the Monday morning I walked along the Westerschelde to Vlissingen station. It was very windy ! On the way I met a young black man who wanted to know who and what I was. We came to the conclusion that we both try the serve the One.

The bus driver who took me back to Vlissingen also asked me questions about my traditional outfit, and we had a nice conversation. During my three days on Walcheren nobody called me Osama Bin Laden and nobody gave me hostile looks.

In the afternoon I took the bus to Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland. I walked through the old city on to where we were having dinner. I met Marie’s husband and her younger daughter and after the meal I went with Marie to attend a session of the small orchestra that she and Karen are part of (To be continued).

417.The Man in Blue – Moving to St Truiden

Since February I have been living in West London for ten years, on the 6th of May I will be 63 and on 14 July I will be a 14 year old Amritdhari Sikh.

Somewhere around June 15 I plan to move from Southall to St Truiden in the Belgian province of Limburg.

I will miss wonderful Southall, I will miss the choice of ten Gurdwaré to visit, I will miss the many people in the UK Sikh community who have become my friends and I will miss my many friends of different faiths and beliefs who I met in the course of my interfaith/multi faith work.

In Belgium and the Netherlands together there are about ten Gurdwaré. In those Gurdwaré you rarely hear the sort of kirtan that takes you to a spiritual high, the sort of kirtan that you often hear in the Southall Singh Sabha Gurdwaré.

I was born in and lived my first seventeen years in Roermond, in the Dutch province of Limburg, which is to the east of Belgian Limburg. The culture of St Truiden is similar to the culture I grew up with. St Truiden is nearer to French speaking territory and further from German speaking territory than Roermond, and that does make a difference.

I look forward to represent the Sikh community in St Truiden, in Limburg and in Belgium. I hope to be able to contribute to improving the already good relations with local government.

Hopefully the Sikhs in Belgium will be able to improve their profile in the country and to get more recognition from the Flemish regional and the Brussel based national government.

I also want very much to be part of the Sikh community in and around St Truiden and play a part in the life of the Gurdwara. But I might not stay in St Truiden for the rest of my life as I have always been a bit of a gipsy. Belgium will be my fifth country. I do not think I will match the time I spent in Amsterdam, about 25 years with an interruption of three years in Dublin.

I have thought beyond being in Belgium, but as we all know my speculations are all in vain, as I have no idea what God has in store for me. I like the idea of going to Barcelona or Valencia, an area of the world that I know quite well and feel at home in. These cities now have small Sikh communities.

Another obvious option would be to come back to the UK, with its vibrant Sikh community and its rotten climate. Financially things should be easier after I reach the magic 65 and will get small state and private pensions. But you never know what will happen, God will steer me, I will follow.

Appeal to stop the use of violence

All Sikhs, Sikh organisations and Gurdwaré should undertake never again to use violence as a means to settle differences of opinion. There is no precedent from Guru’s days for this bad practice, the Guru taught us to stand up against injustice, not against opinions that we do not agree with.

384.The Man in Blue – Dutch Islamophobia (I)

The Islamophobic Dutch MP Geert Wilders is obviously not quite right in the head. He cannot have read Al Qur’an, as its values are no more anti-western than those of the Old Testament of the Bible.

The story of the Netherlands and its minorities is rather sad. When I lived in the Netherlands (I left in 1996) there were three main groups of post 1945 immigrants : Moroccans, Turks and Afro-Caribbeans from Suriname (‘Dutch’ Guyana) and the 6 ‘Dutch’ Caribbean Islands.

For the purpose of this article the Moroccans and Turks and other more recent Muslim immigrants like the Somalis are the most relevant.

On the whole the Netherlands was a liberal and tolerant country, much more open minded than the UK. That liberalism included respect for homosexuals. Amsterdam was full of refugees from homophobic Britain, as especially in the western cities like Amsterdam, Den Haag, Utrecht and Rotterdam, you can be openly homosexual without there being a stigma.

What many Dutch people thought, including politicians and bureaucrats dealing with minorities, was that immigrants would gradually imbibe this wonderful liberal culture, and become like the rest of us. Many Dutch people, for the Netherlands is a very secular country, also thought that Muslims would gradually become less Muslim, just like Dutch Christians gradually became less Christian.

The man who started the Dutch Islamophobic movement was not some deeply conservative person from the Dutch ‘back-of-beyond’. Pim Fortuijn was a homosexual from the liberal urban west.

Of course the Dutch Islamophobes do not all oppose Islam because they are opposed to the discrimination of homosexuals. But it does demonstrate the clash between the liberal culture of many of the Dutch and the extreme conservatism of many of the Muslims in the Netherlands. Most Dutch people will far prefer the company of homosexuals of whatever ethnic background to that of conservative homophobes.

Just like most Sikhs in the UK do not come from towns and cities but from Panjab villages, most Turks and Moroccans come from Turkish and Moroccan  villages.

The Dutch authorities for too long thought that the immigrants would go back home or spontaneously would absorb ‘Dutch values’. There was less engagement with the minorities, there was no CRE.

Next week I will further discuss the present situation and possible remedies.