Renaissance and Reformation Amsterdam
by
Henk van Nierop
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 January 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0106

Introduction

Amsterdam was the biggest and the most important commercial metropolis of 17th-century Europe. Its wealthy merchants provided a booming market for luxury industries, making Amsterdam a European-wide production center and market for art and other luxury products, as well as books, prints, maps, and atlases. The largest, richest, and most powerful city in the Dutch Republic by far, it often played an independent role in international politics and diplomacy. Promotion of trade interests prompted Amsterdam’s burgomasters to tolerant policies toward Catholics, Jews, Mennonites, and other religious minorities. Originating as a modest settlement near a dam built in the river Amstel (hence its name), Amsterdam soon became the most important port in the Low Countries for trade with the Baltic, importing mainly grain and timber. The Reformation gave rise to fierce controversies. Anabaptist and Reformed risings in 1535 and 1566 provoked brutal repression by the Catholic city government. During the Dutch Revolt, Amsterdam initially remained loyal to church and king but switched allegiance in 1578 and adopted the Protestant Reformation. The capture of Antwerp by the Spanish army in 1585 heralded Amsterdam’s age of greatness. With Antwerp’s harbor closed and the southern provinces wracked by warfare, Amsterdam took over Antwerp’s function as the center of the highly integrated economy of the Low Countries. Amsterdam enlarged its one-sided mercantile economy with new trade routes to Russia, the Mediterranean and the Levant, the Atlantic world, and the Indies. Its newly found wealth led to an unprecedented wave of immigration, increasing its population from about 30,000 in 1578 to over 200,000 by the end of the 17th century. The urban government facilitated trade by the institution of an exchange bank and a commodity exchange, the construction of dockyards, and two bold and ambitious town-planning projects including Amsterdam’s celebrated ring of canals. This article contains only works specifically dedicated to the history of the city of Amsterdam. Only a few of them are in English. Since Amsterdam was by far the biggest, wealthiest, and most powerful city of the Dutch Republic, much valuable information about Amsterdam is to be found in general works about the Dutch Republic listed in the Oxford Bibliographies articles on The Netherlands (Dutch Revolt / Dutch Republic) and Reformations and Revolt in the Netherlands, 1500–1621. For studies on artists working in Amsterdam and the Amsterdam art market, see the Oxford Bibliographies article on 17th-Century Dutch Art.

General Overviews

The place to start is the first three volumes of Geschiedenis van Amsterdam (history of Amsterdam) edited by Marijke Carasso-Kok and others (Carasso-Kok 2004–2007), authored by several specialists in the field and based on original research. Knegtmans 2011 provides a concise summary of this work. The older multivolume histories of Amsterdam, Brugmans 1972–1973 and ter Gouw 1879–1893, remain useful because they provide a mass of detailed information, although their interpretations cannot always be trusted. Kistemaker and van Gelder 1983 still offers a very good general and short introduction, while Mak 2001 is advisable for general reading only but not for research or teaching purposes. Kistemaker and van Gelder 1983 and Mak 2001 are the only general introductions available in English.

  • Brugmans, Izaak Johannes. Geschiedenis van Amsterdam. 6 vols. Utrecht, The Netherlands, and Antwerp, Belgium: Het Spectrum, 1972–1973.

    E-mail Citation »

    Aiming at a broad audience, this is a revised edition of the work by the author’s father, Hajo Brugmans, Geschiedenis van Amsterdam: Van den oorsprong af tot heden (8 vols., Amsterdam: Uitgeverij Joost van den Vondel, 1930–1933). The first four volumes take the history to 1795. Although the interpretation of historical events and institutions is sometimes outdated, this book offers a more detailed view than Carasso-Kok 2004–2007.

  • Carasso-Kok, Marijke, ed. Geschiedenis van Amsterdam. 5 vols. Amsterdam: SUN, 2004–2007.

    E-mail Citation »

    This richly illustrated work is the most recent as well as the most scholarly overview of the history of Amsterdam. Vol. 1 covers the period until 1578; Vols. 2.1 and 2.2, 1578–1650 and 1650–1813, respectively. On the basis of secondary readings as well as archival research, and with extensive references, this is the place to start research into all aspects of Amsterdam’s history.

  • Kistemaker, Renée, and Roelof van Gelder. Amsterdam: The Golden Age, 1275–1795. Translated by Paul Foulkes. New York: Abbeville, 1983.

    E-mail Citation »

    Lavishly illustrated and covering the period up to c. 1800, this is a useful short introduction to almost all aspects of the history of the medieval and early modern city. English translation of Amsterdam 1275–1795: Buon governo e cultura in una metropoli di mercanti (Milan: Arnoldo Mondadori, 1982). The original text in Dutch has been published as Amsterdam 1275–1795: De ontwikkeling van een handelsmetropool (Amsterdam: Meulenhoff Informatief, 1983).

  • Knegtmans, Peter Jan. Amsterdam: Een geschiedenis. Amsterdam: SUN, 2011.

    E-mail Citation »

    The first three chapters of this concise summary of Carasso-Kok 2004–2007 cover the period up to 1813.

  • Mak, Geert. Amsterdam: A Brief Life of the City. Translated by Philipp Blom. London: Harvill, 2001.

    E-mail Citation »

    This is a smoothly written introduction aimed at a broad audience, full of lively detail and without scholarly pretension. English translation of Een kleine geschiedenis van Amsterdam (Amsterdam: Atlas, 1994).

  • ter Gouw, Jan. Geschiedenis van Amsterdam. 8 vols. Amsterdam: Scheltema & Holkema, 1879–1893.

    E-mail Citation »

    This history in eight volumes by Amsterdam’s 19th-century municipal archivist covers the period only up to 1578. Indispensable for minute details and references to archival sources, but outdated in terms of interpretation and analysis.

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