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Calvinists and Libertines

After the Reformation, the Dutch Republic emerged as the most religiously tolerant country in seventeenth-century Europe. Benjamin Kaplan examines the reasons behind this phenomenon, focusing on the struggle of Calvinist reformers to realize their theocratic aspirations in the Netherlands, and the fierce opposition offered to them by a large, amorphous group of people known as 'Libertines'. Nowhere was this struggle more intense than in Utrecht, a city at the heart of the Dutch Reformation. The author illuminates the nature of this conflict through a study of the city and people of Utrecht, examing social relations, popular piety, civic culture, and state formation. This urban case-study shows how Dutch religious developments fitted into the wider European framework. Offering a fascinating microcosm of religious tensions in Europe around 1600, Kaplan shows how the Calvinist-Libertine conflict in the Netherlands was in fact a local manifestation of a broader European phenomenon: the struggle between champions and opponents of 'confessionalism'. He thus combines a new interpretation of the Dutch Reformation with a presentation that makes this largely unknown phenomenon accessible to students of other countries. As the first case-study in English of the Dutch Reformation, Calvinists and Libertines fills an important gap in our knowledge of Dutch history and in our understanding of the European Reformation as a whole.

Important places

Utrecht (16)


Utrecht (24)


Netherlands (1,293)

Other geographical areas

Benelux (1,495)