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In the context of the 2016 funding round for humanities, referred to as ‘Vrije Competitie Geesteswetenschappen’, NWO awarded € 750,000 to ‘Monarchy in Turmoil: Rulers, Courts and Politics in the Netherlands and Germany, c.1780 – c.1820′, a joint research project of  Leiden University and the Huygens Institute for the History of the Netherlands.

Redefining the royal court

The approved project examines how the royal court in the Northern Netherlands and in German states can be redefined in the period 1780-1820, when revolutions and wars drastically altered the existing relationships in Europe. How did monarchs shape their court in this turbulent transition period? How did the rulers try to convince themselves, their elites, subjects and fellow monarchs of the legitimacy of their acquired position? How did they fit in with the modernised regime, which not only supported them but also limited their personal claim to power? Was the monarch and his court actually still at the centre of the political system in the way he used to be? Or did he gradually fade into the sidelines of the well-oiled state bureaucracy? Where were the decisions made, and which groups tried to influence the decision-making? In short: how, during the different phases of the transition period 1780-1820, did the claims to legitimacy and practical political decision-making in the vicinity of the monarchs shift both in the Low Countries and in the neighbouring German states?

Boven de drie Noord-Nederlandse vorsten: v.l.n.r. erfstadhouder Willem V, koning Lodewijk Napoleon en koning Willem I. Onder de drie Duitse vorsten: v.l.n.r. Wilhelm IX, landgraaf van Hessen-Kassel, Jérôme Napoleon, koning van Westfalen, en Friedrich Wilhelm III, koning van Pruisen.

Top row, the three kings of the Northern Netherlands: from left to right: hereditary stadtholder William V, king Louis Napoleon and king William I. Bottom row, the three German monarchs: from left to right William IX, landgrave of Hesse-Kassel, Jérôme Napoleon, king of Westphalia and Frederick William III, king of Prussia.

Three comparative sub-projects

By studying six cases in the Northern Netherlands and in the (former) Holy Roman Empire from a comparative perspective, both diachronically in one region and synchronically juxtaposing nearby regions, the project will try to assess how monarchical power took shape. Each of the three sub-projects focuses on one distinct phase of the transition period: i.e. the late Ancien Régime, the Napoleonic period and the early Restoration. In each case, the same questions are raised about the changes in legitimisation and shifts in decision-making close to the throne.

As far as the late Ancien Régime is concerned, the court of William V, the last stadtholder of the Dutch Republic, is compared to that of William IX, landgrave of Hesse-Kassel. This sub-project is carried out as a doctoral thesis at Leiden University by Quinten Somsen MA. The imperial brothers Louis and Jérôme Bonaparte, who respectively ruled in the kingdoms of Holland and Westphalia, are the obvious examples from the Napoleonic period. This sub-project is carried out by dr Jos Gabriëls as post-doctoral researcher at Huygens ING. Lastly, William I as the monarch of a restored and expanded United Kingdom is compared with another ruler from the Restoration period, Frederick William III, king of a Prussia that was battered and bruised by war and occupation, and that was the smallest state to get around the Vienna conference table. This sub-project will be carried out by dr Joost Welten as post-doctoral researcher at Leiden University.

The project is led by Prof. dr Jeroen Duindam, the main applicant on behalf of Leiden University, and Prof. dr Ida Nijenhuis, co-applicant on behalf of the Huygens ING.

The project will run from 1 September 2017 to 31 August 2021.

See also the project page of Leiden University.

Contact

dr Jos Gabriëls