The Dutch Forty Years War (1672-1713): a reinterpretation
by David Onnekink
Dr. David Onnekink is Assistant Professor of the early modern history of international relations at the University of Utrecht (UU). He studied at the Universities of Utrecht, York and London, and received his doctorate from the University of Utrecht in 2004. Currently he is finishing a book manuscript on Dutch foreign policy leading up to the Peace of Utrecht. He is mainly interested in international relations in the early modern age, and has a sustained publication record on this subject.
This paper proposes a radical departure from existing narratives of the so-called Forty Years War, a cluster of wars between France and the Dutch Republic (1672-1713) which were of pivotal importance in the development of Europe as an international system. Usually, the Forty Years War has been interpreted as a heroic struggle by the Dutch to resist the aggressive foreign policy of Louis XIV and restore the Balance of Power in Europe.
"I criticise this view which is based on a Realist perspective of international relations. Inspired by specialists in International Relations Theory, I propose an alternative which focuses on foreign policy discourses. These were based upon the construction of identities and interests and rooted in both political as well as popular-cultural texts. I will analyse Dutch foreign policy discourses at key moments in the war (1672, 1688 and 1702). These discourses will be tracked through a range or primary sources, which can be classified into three categories: official policy sources (government statements, declarations of war), practical political sources (political and diplomatic correspondence) and popular sources (pamphlets, newspapers).
I will argue that the period cannot simply be seen as a ‘period of French expansion’, as one historian has put it. These discourses were highly malleable, based upon a continuously evolving and mutating construction of Dutch and French identities. Interests were not fixed and material, as Realists have it, but were constructed through discourse. This leads to a more subtle understanding of the Forty Years War. It is also a call for a new perspective on international relations in the early modern age."
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