By Januschka Veldstra
This year marks the 300th anniversary of the Vrede van Utrecht, the Peace of Utrecht; a series of treaties signed when we were still the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. Ending the War of the Spanish Succession and Queen Anne’s War, what makes them so special is that peace was made around a table, rather than on the battlefield.
The 11th of April, 1713, was a turning point in our world history. From then on, peace and freedom were not only fought for in combat with bloodshed, but also through diplomacy and negotiation. This year, the Netherlands celebrates this important development with an international program titled ‘The Art of Making Peace’. It is all about art and culture that deals with current affairs of our society.
Since the early 1700s, after Charles II of Spain died childless, Western Europe was troubled by constant conflict and battle, as well as parts of North America. Louis XIV, the Sun King, saw Charles II’s death as an opportunity to expand the French empire, while opponents feared that an even bigger French rule would dangerously tip the scales of the European power relations. Particularly the Kingdom of England, and later the Kingdom of Great Britain, was opposed to any increase in France’s power, simultaneously fighting the French over the colonies in North America.
Long story short, it was a pretty unhappy time for Europe, and people were getting desperate for peace. Negotiations started on the 29th of January, 1712, in the city hall of our beloved Utrecht. One reason that this was such a great place for business were its two entrances, allowing King Louis and Queen Anne to make their fabulous entrees simultaneously. No need to play favourites by letting either one enter first.
During these negotiations, the city hosted spectacles, open brothels, dinner parties, and countless other festivities. The stage ban that had been in effect was especially lifted during this time to allow for theatre, and the hospitality and entertainment industries were booming.
If you are going to negotiate peace, it might as well be done decadently and in style, as was all the rage in Versailles at the moment.
While festivities these days are not nearly as lavish as they were 300 years ago, there is still a lot to be experienced in celebration of peace in Utrecht during the coming months. For some interesting, thought-provoking, and educational activities surrounding the Peace of Utrecht, see ‘Five Times Peace of Utrecht’ on the next page.