Skip to ContentSkip to Navigation

University of Groningen Library


Not Relieved, But Seized: the Reduction of Groningen (1594)

by Chris Zeeman

In 2022, Groningen celebrates the 350th anniversary of ‘Bombing Bernard’ a.k.a ‘Groningen’s Relief’. In addition to the traditional annual festivities on 28 August, this anniversary year is celebrated with several exhibitions and symposia dedicated to the events of the Year of Disaster, 1672. From the early-modern days of thanks and prayer to the contemporary fireworks display, the celebration of Groningen’s Relief has always been a popular event. Unlike the Reduction of Groningen: as in previous years, the anniversary of the Reduction on 24 July went by unnoticed. Not for want of trying: in the past, many consecutive city councils have tried to successfully celebrate the Reduction, for example with the so-called jubilee sermons, in which once every fifty years the eldest pastor of the public Reformed Church in Groningen focussed on the historical and religious significance of the Reduction. The department of Special Collections in the University of Groningen Library has several of these sermons in its collection. Maybe an analysis of these sermons can shed light on why the Reduction, in contrast with the Relief, has never turned into a popular, local holiday.

The name ‘Reduction’ refers to the capture of the city by the troops of stadtholder Maurits during the Dutch Revolt or Eighty Year’s War (1568–1648). Initially, the city of Groningen had joined the Union of Utrecht but in 1580 defected to the Catholic, Spanish side under the Count of Rennenberg. After Maurits’ successful siege in July 1594, the city was ‘guided back’ into the bosom of the reformed Union, and from then on, 24 July was known as the day of the Reduction of Groningen. Pastor Johannes Martinus delivered the first jubilee sermon on 24 July 1644. In his sermon, Martinus describes the capture, which took place fifty years earlier, as de genade des opgaenden lichts (the mercy of the rising light), a hopeful moment after a long period of duysternis (darkness) under Catholic leadership. ‘t Licht in de Duysternisse der Stadt Groningen (The Light in the Darkness of Groningen City) is by no means a political treatise on the social, political, or societal consequences of the capture of Groningen but almost exclusively a theological address. This does not seem surprising, considering the author’s profession, but Martinus’ successors clearly chose a different perspective.

UBG uklu EN 'DE 3
Title Page of Martinus' Jubilee Sermon (UBG uklu EN 'DE 3)

Martinus’ son-in-law, Abrahamus Trommius, mainly known as the author of Nederlandse Concordantie van de Bijbel (Dutch Concordance of the Bible), was responsible for the second jubilee sermon in 1694. Trommius repeated the Reduction’s religious consequences that Martinus had mentioned but also placed the event in a national-political context. In the opening sentence, Trommius offers his undisguised opinion on the relationship between the state and the Protestant belief: ‘Gelijkerwijs religie ende Vryheyt twee dierbare ende onweerdeerlicke panden zijn van een Staet (...)’ (‘Like religion and freedom are two precious and invaluable parts of the State (...)’), according to the author. He continues: ‘ende dat is ook in de voorleden eeuwe de gront-reden geweest, waerom dese onse Stadt door den Geunieerden Staet (...) weder onder de Unie [is] gebracht, om namelyk ook hier Religie ende Vryheit te planten’ (‘and this has also been the main reason, in the past century, why our city was brought back into the Union by the Unified State, namely to create religion and freedom here as well’). Anyone who interprets ‘freedom’ here as an early form of freedom of religion, by the way, will be disappointed: years of Catholic tyranny were mercilessly replaced with a Protestant monopoly on the public space. This very limiting interpretation of freedom only offered the Reformed the right to publicly practise their faith. Whereas Martinus still implicitly linked the prosperity of Groningen to its Reformed character, Trommius made it perfectly clear that a dominant Protestant public church was essential in the Republic. The new rulers had no intention to turn the other cheek to the Roman Catholics.

Trommius’ successors continued this narrative about the state and the public Reformed Church. According to Cornelius van Velzen, ‘de verlossing dezer Stadt uit de handen der Paapse Spanjaarden en de invoering van den Hervormden Godtsdienst’ (‘the deliverance of this city from the hands of the popish Spaniards and the introduction of the Reformed Religion’) constituted the most important aspects of the Reduction, as he wrote in his commemoration speech in 1744. Pastor Melchior Corstius expressed his joy on the ‘wederbrenging dezer Stad’ (‘return of this city’) as well, an event that was inextricably linked to the ‘geschiedenis van de Hervorming’ (‘history of the Reformation’). Time and again, the pastors stressed the Reformed-Christian character of the commemoration. More than that, the Reduction seemed to be solely commemorated because of its religious consequences for the Stad and Ommelanden (city and surrounding lands)—in contrast to the speeches held on the occasion of the Relief of Groningen. Although the latter were sprinkled with Christian language and themes, too, they also contained many worldly (albeit allegorical) references to, for example, urban freedom, unity, and courage. Commemorations of the Reduction did not contain any such allegories.

Maybe this focus on the Reformed character of the Reduction is the reason why it was hardly celebrated publicly after the 19th century. This may have had something to do with the religious multiformity of the citizens of Groningen. The census of 1899 showed that about 60% of the urban population belonged to the Reformed Church, while 15% identified as Catholic. The remainder belonged to one of the many other religious denominations or was irreligious. In a society with such confessional diversity, it seems natural that a commemoration with a less Reformed character, such as the Relief of Groningen, is more popular than a more confessional celebration, such as the Reduction. Furthermore, the history of the Relief, characterized by courageous citizens who bravely fought an aggressive enemy, is the perfect source for gripping prose and touching plays. The Reduction, on the other hand, was in fact no more than the rough correction by Dutch troops of a deviation of Groningen towards Catholicism. Finally, the Relief was not the last time Groningen saw itself, directly or indirectly, threatened by hostile armies. From the Anglo-Dutch Wars, via Napoleon and World War II, up until the Russian invasion of Ukraine—time and again, the Relief offers a perfect contemporary political message of freedom that is still very relevant. A similar interpretation of the Reduction is less logical. After all, the political separation of Groningen never forced it to reunite with the Republic, or the later Kingdom. After the 19th century, the Reduction had not only lost its societal relevance but also the enthusiasm and financial support of the city council. These days, the Reduction can only be found in the margins of Groningen’s historical consciousness.

Last modified:18 August 2022 12.19 p.m.
View this page in: Nederlands
Follow us onfacebook twitter instagram