Francophone or Francophobe ? Ambivalent Attitudes Towards French in the Sixteenth-Century Low Countries

Alisa van de Haar
Leiden University

Histories of the Dutch language generally describe the sixteenth century as the time in which the Dutch-speaking Low Countries shook off the yoke of the French tongue that had been imposed on them by foreign rulers. They point at the creation of the first dictionaries and grammars of Dutch as a sign of patriotism, and at the supposed widespread rejection of French loanwords as a marker of rebellion. Throughout the sixteenth century, however, the Low Countries continued to be one bilingual whole in which both Dutch and French were used as mother tongues. While there were, indeed, calls to avoid French influences on Dutch, there were as many voices arguing that Dutch should be modelled after the French example in order to reach the same level of quality. The bilingual situation was certainly not considered a problem by everyone, but some suggested that one particular form of Dutch should be chosen as transregional language. The same solution was also brought forward, however, for French, but these Francophile voices have not been heard by scholars trying to unearth the roots of Dutch proto-nationalism. Patriotism was an important factor in sixteenth-century language developments, but it should not be forgotten that the Low Countries constituted a bilingual patrie. Using French could, therefore, be just as patriotic as using Dutch. 

The proposed paper will start off by describing the language situation in the sixteenth-century Low Countries in relation to the term francophonie. It will then sketch a brief overview of the pro- and anti-French movements and their interconnectedness before zooming in on two key representatives of each side: philosopher and poet Hendrik Laurensz. Spiegel, a well-known defender of Dutch, and Eduard Mellema, a schoolteacher whose pro-French writings have received much less attention in past studies. An attempt will then be made to draw up the balance: were the sixteenth-century Low Countries Francophone or Francophobe? It will come as no surprise that there is no clear-cut answer to this question.