- Neptune and the Netherlands: State, Economy and War at Sea in the Renaissance
Professor Sicking's contribution to the History of Warfare series has the admirable objective of including broad cultural concerns in its discussion of the development of unified military institutions. Given the great disparities and intense localism within the provincial life of the Netherlands, his task was arduous. He insists on approaching the Netherlands as a whole, distancing himself from the historians such as Jonathan Israel, who feels that the north-south division of the provinces existed long before the military frontier that now marks their boundaries. However, he is also keenly aware of the issues separating the individual provinces and divides his text to respect the different views and interests of Flanders, Holland, and Zeeland.
The clear and precise work presents the results of voluminous research into the archival sources of the Netherlands and Belgium, and the organization of material [End Page 661] is exceptional. An informative definition of terms begins the text and the book is concluded with a more detailed glossary, fine illustrations, a comprehensive bibliography, and an index. All are of great value in understanding the complex terms and institutions which he discusses at length in the seven chapters of the study, all of which are grounded on comprehensive examination of primary documents enhanced by careful evaluation of secondary sources. Professor Sicking develops his ideas patiently and creatively, never abandoning his goal of connecting provincial economic and political needs and objectives to the aspirations of the Burgundian-Hapsburg rulers between 1488 and 1561. He stresses the significance of seaborne commerce, fishing, shipbuilding, and control of trade routes in each of the provinces. Efforts to impose a unified policy from Brussels that would give the Lord of the Netherlands a monopoly on violence at sea through the agency of an appointed admiral provide the center for the study. Professor Sicking focuses on developments following the Maritime Ordinance of 1488 and the consequent influence of the office of admiral once it was vested in the Lords of Veere of Zeeland. The admiral's task of implementing a single policy was formidable, for the Hapsburgs were trying to impose change over provinces and towns with large fleets and a long tradition of maritime independence.
The organization of the study follows the circuitous path of these efforts. The first chapter details the principles of maritime policy, the second explains the provisions of the administrative ordinances of 1488 and 1540, and the third considers how the plans meshed with actual maritime activity. The subsequent chapters explain how the various policies of the provinces necessitated individual responses to protection and expansion, thus introducing the strategic aspects of maritime reorganization. The practical problems of putting a fleet to sea and of controlling armed merchant vessels, privateers, and piracy are also covered in discussions of the uncertain distinction between legitimate and unlawful violence at sea. The book also considers the issues raised by independent cities, particularly in Holland, which honored free enterprise in naval affairs as well as in commerce. The demands for submission by the Hapsburg rulers collided with local initiative and, in the absence of a tradition of obedience, the ruler had to agree to include local interests in the foundations of policy. The Ordinance of 1488 was a part of state building, but Professor Sicking clearly shows how the creation of the office of Admiral General actually added yet another powerful independent force in the Netherlands. The admiral attempted to control the arming of ships and claimed jurisdiction over all goods and vessels seized at sea. Some cities which traditionally had competence over such cases simply refused to promulgate the ordinance. However, the admiral managed to become so important that in 1540 Charles V had to revise the Ordinance to limit the office's prerogatives. The emperor, Lord of the Netherlands, expanded the provinces to the...