Mirroring Seapower: A Cultural History of Dutch-British Naval Relations
Dr. Gijs Rommelse (The Netherlands National Maritime Museum / Utrecht University)
Naval policies and strategies are usually perceived and represented by historians as the outcome of rational decision-making processes regarding real, tangible interests. Princes, politicians and bureaucrats, they tend to argue, logically weigh interests, practical constraints and available resources. The calculations might turn out well or not but, it is assumed, they were always based on logic. This lecture takes issue with this paradigmatic assumption, arguing instead that naval strategies are essentially cultural constructs and, as such, could be considered short-lived cultural events within a longer socio-political dialogue concerning military power at sea.
The English/British and Dutch navies, the interests they were meant to serve, and the strategies that were devised to this end, were all politico-cultural constructs, springing from ‘imagined communities’ and related to national identities. A particularly potent mechanism of identity-formation is ‘othering’, the creation of positive or negative mirror images of 'the other'. In times of peace and friendship, the tone is often positive; shared positive qualities are then emphasized. In times of strife, however, these same qualities are denied to the ‘other’, strengthening positive self-image whilst deepening an ideological rift. In early modern Anglo/British-Dutch relations, there was a particularly strong tradition of 'othering'. Both nations perceived the other as close relatives, fellow Protestants, freedom-loving and maritime trade-oriented. These political, religious, economic and cultural similarities, however, actually meant that mutual relations were ideologically very complex, with interactions between them playing a crucial role in the formation of both British and Dutch naval identities.
Gijs Rommelse is Dr. Ernst Crone Fellow at the Netherlands National Maritime Museum in Amsterdam and an affiliate researcher at Utrecht University. He is also head of history at the Haarlemmermeer Lyceum in Hoofddorp. His current projects include, The Dutch in the Early Modern World: The Rise and Fall of a Global Power (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming 2018) and an edited volume, Ideologies of Western naval power, c. 1500-1815 (Ashgate/Routledge, forthcoming 2018).