chapter  2
20 Pages

National Flags as Essential Elements of Dutch Naval Ideology, 1570–1800

ByGijs Rommelse

The seventeenth century witnessed, with the development of a separate identity in the Northern Netherlands, also the emergence of a naval ideology. The concept of ‘Dutchness’ provided a contextual framework for deliberations of the financing, composition, command, and operational deployment of the fleet. Participation in this discourse was not confined to the States General, the town magistrates, and the admiralties; artists also made their own contributions. It was clear that the continued existence of the Republic depended on its prowess in naval warfare. Equally obvious to the authorities and to officers was that their own positions could be strengthened by emphasising their importance to the national fleet. In this ideology, the flag played a crucial role. The manifestation of the Dutch state in the self-confident flying of the colours was regularly alluded to in discourses, while artists also made frequent reference to the honour of the flag. Their public’s respect for the flag was clear to them, as was also how this could be exploited for financial gain. Even when, as the eighteenth century progressed, the Dutch fleet was clearly in decline, naval ideology and the place of the flag within it retained their symbolic potency.