When you travel, you can sometimes feel cosmopolitan, sometimes Dutch, sometimes European. This was already the case in the seventeenth century, when wealthy young Dutchmen made the grand tour for their personal development, a journey of months or even years through countries such as France and Italy.
In France, they were amazed at the poverty of the countryside, and how dirty it was there. Holland will be cleaner. Then such a boy suddenly felt very Dutch.
But when he then stayed for a while in a town on the Loire, to practice horseback riding, fencing and dancing, and indulge in an international elite of wealthy young Europeans, he felt like a true cosmopolitan.
Alan Moss, a historical writer, studied the travel accounts of these young travelers in the seventeenth century for his doctoral research. He looked especially at what travel did to these boys’ “identities”: their sense of who or what they were.
“On the one hand, they had to be global citizens, for example, to come to terms in peace with the other faith that they saw all around them in France and Italy: Catholicism. On the other hand, they were also not allowed to think about it. They had to remain Calvinists. “.
Because the term “Grand Tour” itself was used so little in the 17th century, Moss prefers to talk about “educational trips”. It was a European tradition. Young people from the Nordic countries (England, Germany, Scandinavia and the Seven United Republic of the Netherlands) went to the south. France and Italy were the main destinations.
The trip was part of their upbringing. “You can master some noble skills abroad. However, you also had to remain a little more Dutch in this regard. If you go back and acquire a lot of manners, society will judge you for it. Then they say: He’s all French, androgynous man, we don’t want that.” “. The trip was also a good preparation for their future career: a merchant, diplomat, senior civil servant, and regent. “And of course it also brought prestige,” Moss says. “A trip like this would look great on your resume. It has contributed to your status and your family’s reputation.”
For his research, Moss read 107 handwritten travel accounts from 1648 to 1713, written by 52 boys between the ages of 16 and 30. Travel reports are usually in Dutch, sometimes in French, sometimes in Latin. Adrianus van Overschie always wrote in the language of the country he was in: French, Spanish and Italian.
“Those news tapes are treacherous texts,” Moss says. “They seem to be eyewitness accounts. But most of the time they did not write it for themselves, but for their parents and sometimes for friends as well. They want to present themselves in this text in a certain way.”
According to Moss, travel had all kinds of consequences for the identity of travelers. “Identity” is a word that is used a lot today, but in the 17th century they did not know the term. what does that mean? Moss: “Identity relates to the question: To what social group do you belong or want to belong?” This is quite evident with these young people: the elite, the Dutch, the Calvinists, the male.
For example, when traveling through the Alps, they can act like a macho. And on the dance floor they suddenly became a sophisticated elite man
“During their journey, they often take on multiple and alternating identities. They can be complementary – complementary – but also contradictory. For example, when traveling through the Alps, they can act like a macho. And on the dance floor they suddenly become the man of the sophisticated elite. Their identity is fluid and changing. and ambiguous. But as soon as they encounter the “other”—the French, the Italians, and the Catholics—that confrontation is suddenly experienced as a binary contradiction, as something very black and white.”
You see this, for example, when the Dutch around the Loire visit villages where many Huguenots still live – French Protestants, who will be expelled from France later in the seventeenth century. These Huguenots cultivated a faith very different from Dutch Calvinism. But in France, where Catholicism was dominant, those differences abruptly disappeared and the Huguenots were embraced as “honor of religion” (people of the same religion).
During their grand tour, the young Dutchmen systematically encountered Catholicism for the first time. There were also Catholics in the republic, but they were not allowed to celebrate their faith publicly. So you didn’t notice that much. Catholicism in Italy has manifested itself as a colorful spectacle for the traveler to admire.
feet of the pope
This was certainly the case in the sacred year, which used to happen once every 25 years. Then many Catholic pilgrims came to Rome to be forgiven of their sins. This was also an excellent moment for Dutch Calvinist travel to Rome. Even PC Hooft’s son kissed the Pope’s feet in 1650.”
People visited churches, admired architecture and art, but as soon as a Calvinist traveler encountered images of saints and relics, they were written with unease, skepticism, ridicule, or even ridicule.
The Dutch also believed that Catholicism was detrimental to economic development. They have seen greatness, but also a lot of poverty. Therefore – as someone says – one is not seen as two kinds of people in the street, that is, monkeys and beggars, both of which are useless beasts to make the republic prosper.
Meanwhile, travelers saw many confirmed prejudices. Moss: “Society of the seventeenth century was awash in cultural clichés. The traveler knew in advance what to expect abroad.” The Germans were heroic and hospitable, but they were also alcoholics. The French were depraved, jealous, eclectic and prone to gambling. And in Italy you had a lot of homosexuality.
There was also something perfect about the Grand Tour: Take in all the good you come across, and reject all the bad. A text in Amsterdam addressed to future travelers says: “For example, I want him to do [de jonge reiziger] Duytsche [Duitsers] imitation like her [hen] Yamant comes to see him, and offers him a glass of wine, but not because he forces him to drink more when he pleases, and sends him home inappropriately.”
Travelers were also given a kind of homework. They had to describe the places they visited on the basis of a diagram: what is the natural location of the city, what economic activities stand out, how the city is run, etc. characteristics and customs of other countries. Are we still learning from that? “
This idea faded into the background in the mid-17th century. Then it comes to practical skills: learn to speak foreign languages, and train yourself in such noble skills as horseback riding, fencing and dancing. It wasn’t until the end of the seventeenth century that places appeared in Holland where you could learn it.”
Bed bugs and off-road
And of course, the journey was also part of the transition from young adult to adult. Moss: “What we now call a rite of passage. The young traveler temporarily encounters a different environment, a different culture, and as a result he also has to think about his own culture, his country, his identity. “
France was the main destination. This was nearly twice as many times as he was on the show as Italy. France was cheaper and safer, and wealthy Dutch families had numerous connections mainly in France. The trip to Italy was expensive, hence the real elite.
The practical details of travel at the time are often colorful. There are many complaints about the inconvenience: bad hostels with bad food, cold rooms and bed bugs, bad horses, expensive carts, very bumpy roads, customs officials who confiscated things or extorted money. The path was determined in part by plagues and wars, which naturally traveled in a wide arc around it.
It could get robbed on the way. It is therefore preferable for people to travel in groups, with as little cash as possible in their pockets. You had “bills” with you: checks you could cash on the road with a banker or a merchant friend. What business contacts was your family in, which also partly determines the path.
Maybe it was part of it. The idea that you are sexually mature during this trip
A traveler spends at least ten times the daily wage of a craftsman per day. Welfare? “It’s not that bad,” Moss says. “The German nobles often spent ten times that amount during the Great Round, a hundred times the daily wage of a craftsman. The Dutch did it in a slightly more economical way.” One fifth of the travel budget was spent on clothes. “You had to show you had money and you had to dress just right to be ‘seen’ in the literal sense of the word, to get to the local elite.”
Itinerant youths have also engaged in sex tourism, although this is mentioned marginally in travel reports. They had adventures with folk girls and visited prostitutes. In a few cases it is reported secretly. For example, Constantijn Huygens Junior wrote in his travel magazine: “Silcnkukbonsttpnoigeftrvgomgpesliean”. If you cross out one letter at a time and leave one out, it will read: “Ick doesn’t cost a bird” (I couldn’t get it).
“Maybe he was a part of it,” Moss says. “The idea that you also become sexually mature during this journey. You were supposed to keep this a secret. It only becomes a problem if it results in damage to the family’s reputation, if pregnancy is involved.”
Young Matisse van der Merweyi wrote a collection of poems in Italy containing pornographic poems about sex with underage girls. After returning to Holland, he wrote enlightening poetry. This is also a good example of how a well-to-do young man at the time could take on multiple identities.
Thesis Made on a tripIt will be published this fall as a book by Verloren Publishing.