Feature Archive: French History in the Netherlands: Traces of a Complicated Relationship

Each month, a researcher shares their experiences of using a particular archive. The overall aim of this section is to create a database of the different archives available to those working on French and Francophone studies that will be of help particularly to students just starting out in research.

Jelle Lammerts van Bueren is a Dutch graduate student at Utrecht University. Here he talks about archives in the Netherlands of interest to historians of France.

The Netherlands and France share an interesting bilateral history. The relationship between the two countries was fragile due to religious, cultural, and geopolitical differences, however, nowadays, the framework of the European Union has bound the two countries together. Nevertheless, traces of a complicated relationship with the French are still findable in the country. In this blog post, I will, therefore, present some insights on the different archival institutions that contain pieces on French history that are present in the Netherlands, namely the Dutch National Archives and the archives of the Netherlands Institute for War and Genocide Studies (NIOD).

Dutch National Archives (Wikimedia Commons)

The first archival institution is perhaps the most famous one in the Netherlands, the Dutch National Archives in The Hague. Although the city is mostly known for its government buildings and the International Court of Justice, the National Archives contain information on Dutch governmental decisions as well as on Dutch diplomatic traffic. Sometimes, however, these documents are intrinsically bound to French history. For example, during the age of the French Revolutionary Wars, the Netherlands were among the first countries to be occupied by revolutionary forces. In the Napoleonic heyday, the country was even integrated into the First Empire. The archives of the French administration of this period, led by Stedehouder Gouverneur-Generaal der Hollandse Departementen Ch. F. Lebrun, can still be found in the Dutch National Archives. An interesting piece within this collection is the assemblage of Imperial Decrees that were sent from Paris to the Dutch departments. Besides the documents from the short period of time during which the Netherlands were integrated into the First Empire, the National Archives also contain documents that can shed a light on Franco-Dutch diplomatic interaction. A concrete example of such documents is the correspondence of Dutch embassy and consulate personnel in Nice and Paris during the bigger part of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

A more unexpected link to French history can be found in an archive that I have used frequently myself, namely that of the NIOD in Amsterdam. Although the archive is mainly focused on Dutch activity during the Second World War, there are also certain links to resistance and collaboration activities abroad. Some examples of these links are connected to Germany, like in the case of Dutch volunteers in the Waffen-SS, however, another link is a number of documents that reconstruct the Franco-Dutch refugee escape route to Switzerland. An interesting dossier of this network is a file that deals with the Dutch-Paris Group. A resistance network, led by Johan Hendrik (Jean) Weidner, which used to smuggle refugees through occupied France into the Zone Libre and from there onwards to Spain and Switzerland.

Jelle Lammerts van Bueren is a Dutch graduate student at Utrecht University. His research is mostly focused around the postwar history of European democratization, with a special interest in the French case and French history in general.

Thank you very much for this, Jelle!

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