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Exhibition The Intolerant Republic

The Dutch Revolt or Eighty Years’ War and the Dutch Golden Age have traditionally been described in the national historiography as glorious periods; with the Dutch Revolt being depicted as a heroic battle for independence and the Dutch Golden Age as an unparalleled political, economic and cultural success story. In recent decades, however, critical historians have begun to adjust this rosy image. Leiden University Libraries (UBL) follows suit with an exhibition on ‘The Intolerant Republic’.

New viewpoints

The Dutch Revolt is no longer simply regarded as a national struggle for independence and freedom of conscience and religion. Nowadays, historians mainly stress the civil war character of the conflict and the consequences of the violence. Attention now also focuses on the position of Roman-Catholic citizens and the many farmers and civilians who were victims of the war, especially in the border area between the Dutch Republic in the north and the Spanish Netherlands in the south.


So many strongly critical reservations are now being expressed with respect to the term The Golden Age that the Amsterdam Museum, to name one, has decided to scrap it. The ‘glorious deeds’ of the East and West India Companies (VOC & WIC), unreservedly celebrated in the past, are now regarded in a different light. Violent conquests in the East were accompanied by massacres and economic warfare. People from Africa were enslaved and in South America people were subjected to forced labour. It is particularly acts like these, committed by the Dutch Republic in these areas, which will feature prominently in the exhibition.

Opening of the exhibition

The Intolerant Republic will be inaugurated by Leiden University’s Rector Magnificus Carel Stolker on 23 January from 4 pm in the University Library on Witte Singel 27 in Leiden. The maximum number of registrations has been reached.

Programme of the opening (in Dutch)

  • Word of welcome by Kurt De Belder – Director Leiden University Libraries (UBL)
  • Helmer Helmers – University lecturer, University of Amsterdam and co-editor of the recently published The Cambridge Companion to the Dutch Golden Age (2019)
  • Loet Schledorn – Head of Collections and Exhibitions, Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar and curator of the exhibition 'De Houtman, best fout man?'
  • Anton van der Lem – Curator Special Collections, UBL and co-curator of the exhibition
  • Opening of the exhibition by Carel Stolker – Rector Magnificus of Leiden University

Tolerance and Intolerance

The Dutch Republic provided shelter for Protestants and Jews who had been expelled elsewhere. Freedom of conscience was cherished in the Dutch Republic, but Roman Catholics, Mennonites and Remonstrants were not allowed to practise their religion freely. Works by free thinkers such as Spinoza could not be printed and distributed under their own name. All this happened in a century in which the Dutch Republic knew only eight years of peace.

Back to the Source

The new exhibition ‘The Intolerant Republic’ by Leiden University Libraries (UBL) returns to the source, with new questions issuing from societal changes currently taking place. Based on the findings of recent historical research, visitors are offered a wide selection of Leiden’s prints, editions and manuscripts. The exhibition shows how the past, when faced with new questions, is still able to come up with new answers.

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