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Princely Auctoritas or the Freedom of Europe: Justus Lipsius on a Netherlands Political Dilemma

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Like not a few of his compatriots, Justus Lipsius changed his allegiance more than once during the long civil war between the Spanish crown and the Dutch rebels. What makes him unusual is that this noted classical scholar was also a voracious and critical consumer of reports about events of his own time and place; Lipsius' voluminous correspondence thus opens a rare window into what the Dutch Revot looked like to an anxious and well-informed citizen of the Low Countries. Unable to live under the tyranny of the duke of Alba, he accepted a post at the University of Leiden; from here he viewed the rebel provinces of the north as a bulwark against a Spanish hegemony that threatened to engulf Europe. Yet, as a devoted adherent of the monarchical principle of government, he found that he also could not live under a "polyarchy" of provicial parliaments, in which, as Lipsius saw things, wealthy burghers governed in their own interest. Hence he took a new position at the University of Louvain, in his native Brabant. It was not at first a fortunate choice, for just as Lipsius moved the military fortunes of the Dutch government changed for the better, while Philip II was distracted by plans to put a Spanish princess on the French throne. Only when Spain's ambitions in France were thwarted by the successes of Henry IV did Lipsius's hopes revive: in Albert and Isabella, 'natural' princes who intended to focus on the southern Netherlands, he seems to have found at last a government he could accept.

Affiliations: 1: University of Minnesota


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