- The Low Countries in the Sixteenth Century: Erasmus, Religion and Politics, Trade and Finance
One of the most prolific, versatile, and creative historians of the sixteenth-century Netherlands, and more generally of Renaissance and Reformation Europe, is undoubtedly James Tracy. Having begun his long career with a dissertation, and then a book, on The Politics of Erasmus (1978), he became interested in the history of the Habsburg Netherlands as the backdrop to the great humanist's thinking, which eventually resulted in a monograph on the political and religious history of the county of Holland before the Revolt, Holland under Habsburg Rule (1990). While working in the archives at The Hague, he became interested in Holland's public debt system, which apparently predated England's famous "Financial Revolution" of the 1690s by at least one century and a half. This resulted in a long article (republished in the volume under review) and another book, A Financial Revolution in the Habsburg Netherlands (1985). Professor Tracy's interest in financial matters was broadened in a study of Emperor Charles V, Impresario of War (2002), which focuses on the ways the emperor paid for his wars in Europe and North Africa. As director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Early Modern History he also became involved with the history of long-distance trade, editing two volumes on the rise, and the political economy, of merchant empires in the early modern world (1990, 1991). In the meantime he continued to publish on Erasmus (Erasmus of the Low Countries, 1996), and produced a textbook on Europe's Reformations 1450–1650 (1999). His latest book The Founding of the Dutch Republic came out in January 2008, focusing on how the province of Holland largely on its own paid for the initial stages of the Revolt, thereby safeguarding its own vital interests at the expense of the peripheral Dutch provinces. In between, he dabbles with fields as diverse as the correspondence of Justus Lipsius (thus combining his interests in early Dutch Humanism and sixteenth-century Dutch politics), and relations between the Low Countries and the Ottoman Empire.
Unsurprisingly, James Tracy's research over many years has resulted in a great number of articles in various journals and volumes of conference papers. Fourteen of these have been published in the present volume of essays. Its structure reflects the author's interests: there is a section on "Erasmus" (five essays), a section on "Religion and Politics in the Low Countries" (four essays), and a section on "Finance and Trade: Netherlands Perspectives" (five essays). Two essays have been published previously in The Catholic Historical Review ("Erasmus and the Arians" and "With and Without the Counter-Reformation"). Since many of these essays have been published in various journals and volumes not readily available, this volume will undoubtedly find a wide readership. All papers in this volume have retained their original pagination, as is customary in Ashgate's Variorum series. While this practice undoubtedly facilitates [End Page 156] the retrieval of references, the bewildering variety of lay-outs and type-sets has resulted in a volume less handsome than the author deserves, for a price that may be called rather stiff.