Friday, 9 July 2010

Are the Dutch still loyal to the King of Spain?

It's been too hot to blog! Temperatures here in Belgium have been hovering around 32°C (90°F), which I know doesn't seem like a lot for those of you sitting in 102°F in New York, but 90° is very hot for us here! Most offices here don't have air conditioning because it rarely gets this hot. It is just not the right weather for blogging.

But I thought I'd share one quick little factoid. As soon as Spain beat Germany Wednesday night in the World Cup semi-final (boo!) and I realised it was going to be a Spain-Holland final, I thought of the interesting historical implications of such a game. It wasn't until the next day though that I remembered that those historical implications are going to be brought to the fore by the Netherlands' very own national anthem (which is, by the way, the oldest such anthem in the world). When the Dutch team lines up on the field to sing their national anthem, they will sing "To the King of Spain I've granted a lifelong loyalty." Awkward! What if the Juan Carlos orders them to lose the game?

So what's the reason behind this curious little lyric? Well Spain is to Holland what Britain is to America. That is, it is the 'oppressive empire' that was thrown off in a war of independence. The seeds of modern Holland as we know it today were essentially planted by the Spanish Hapsburgs. There wasn't much of anyone living there before The Burgundian Dukes took it over along with what is today Belgium in 1433. Before long the Burgundian lands passed over the the Habsburg king of Spain, Charles V. It was under Charles and his son Philip II that the main Dutch cities of today were founded and came of age, and Holland became a lucrative part of the Spanish empire.

However the Dutch soon caught the protestant fever that was spreading across Europe, and they adopted Calivinism. The fervently Catholic Philip tried to re-impose Catholicism on them. This, along with the perceived economic exploitation of their imperial overlords, caused the Dutch to revolt. The result was the 80 Years War begining in 1579, a long drawn-out war of independence in which the Dutch, through sheer perseverence, eventually triumphed in 1648. The Spanish were only able to reconquer their low country territories up the the modern border between the Netherlands and Belgium. And that border remains today, an ancient armistice line and a sheer accident of history. The Netherlands became an independent republic, and the Spanish Netherlands (today's Belgium) remained part of the Spanish empire.

So why would the Dutch choose to insert a lyric about their loyalty to the King of Spain in the anthem they developed after rebelling from Spain? After all, that would be like the American national anthem including a line about loyalty to the King of England. But note that the line is in the past tense. The song is sung from the perspective of William of Orange, who is explaining why he is fighting against the King of Spain. Here he is emphasising the initial loyalty of the leading figures of the Dutch Revolt. He's saying that at first they merely objected to some of the aspects of Spanish rule over The Netherlands such as taxation, political opression and religious persecution. It is similiar to the line taken by the leaders of the American Revolution, who stressed they initially they just had grievances about taxation and representation, but because those grievances were not heard they were forced to take up arms. It is essentially making the case for why a violent revolt was necessary.

Now I doubt any of this history will be mentioned by commentators at the World Cup final on Sunday. After all, these events were a long time ago and the fact that the low countries used to be part of the Spanish Empire is now a long-forgotten quirk of history. And sadly national anthem lyrics aren't usually translated so the amusement of the lyric about the king of Spain will be lost to all but Dutch-speakers (and maybe some Afrikaans-speaking spectators?). Either way, it's an interesting little historical curiosity isn't it?

1 comment:

Annie said...

Great blog! It was good to know this while watching the match yesterday, I looked very smart to all my friends