Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Over the course of several centuries during the High and Late Middle Ages the people of Holland developed a vast water-management infrastructure to protect themselves against flooding. Enormous sections of the province lay at or below sea-level, so it was only through constant diligence that they kept their lands dry. They found that the best way to maintain these flood defenses was through cooperation and consensus forming at the local and regional level. Those who would be affected an inundation were given a chance to participate in the decision-making process about how to prevent floods from occurring. These environmental influences led those in Holland to develop a culture based on discussion, debate, compromise, and consensus forming. In the historiography this approach is known as the poldermodel. In the late sixteenth century a series of natural and human-made floods would test the limits of the poldermodel in Holland. In November 1570 the All Saints Day Flood struck the province and several others located along the North Sea. This natural disaster was arguably the worst flood ever to hit Holland, devastating the flood defenses across the province. Before they had time to repair all the damages, war erupted in 1572 as those in Holland revolted against their Spanish Habsburg sovereign. Since the rebel forces in Holland were outmatched by the Habsburg forces they frequently used floods for strategic ends. These military inundations were carried out almost indiscriminately and with little to no regard of the long-term consequences. During the siege of Leiden in 1574 the rebels set roughly half of the province temporarily underwater so they could reach the city with ships and prevent it from falling into Spanish hands. That the rebels adopted the motto “better broken lands than lost lands” demonstrates how far they were willing to go with the use of the military inundations. These floods essentially broke the poldermodel in Holland. Many of the different cities represented in the provincial assembly the States of Holland placed civic priorities above all else. The city of Gouda in particular simply refused to send delegates to the meetings until the Leidschendam was repaired which had been breached during the siege of Leiden. In the end the city sent out its militia and closed the opening itself, without the States’ permission. This civic particularism prevented discussion, debate, and the ability to form consensus. It was the individuals with water-management experience which ultimately repaired the poldermodel. They developed a number of ways to satisfy the civic interests and rebuild the discussion culture in the province. When the war resumed following a short truce from 1576 to 1579 known as the Pacification of Ghent, the States of Holland maintained the poldermodel by shifting the burden of the inundations onto neighboring provinces, and constructing fortifications to keep the enemy out of Holland.



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Committee Chair

Kooi, Christine



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