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“They were not humans, but devils in human bodies”: Depictions of Sexual Violence and Spanish Tyranny as a Means of Fostering Identity in the Dutch Republic

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image of Journal of Early Modern History

From 1609 to 1648, the inhabitants of the nascent Dutch Republic faced various challenges as they worked to justify and ensure its continued existence. Many authors and artists deployed depictions of sexual violence as a potent tool to patch over political and religious disagreements among the Dutch by encouraging them to focus on the larger threat—their Spanish enemy. They propagated stories that vilified the Spanish in two ways: focusing on the literal raping women of the Low Countries as Phillip II's troops attempted to reassert his control there and the metaphoric violence of a people ruled by a tyrant who violated the traditional rights of the Dutch nation imagined as a vulnerable woman. Through depictions of rape, these authors and artists not only created an enemy against whom the Dutch could unite; they also generated the idea that treating women with proper care and respect was part of a Dutch (male) national character.

Affiliations: 1: University of North Carolina at Charlotte


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