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038 – Groningers are obstinate and independent

03 April 2007

Groningers have a noticeably self-assured attitude and a great need for independence. These characteristics are the result of the geographical and psychological distance between the city and the rest of the country, according to PhD student Jan van den Broek. Particularly remarkable is that ‘ordinary Groningers’ have always exercised a great deal of influence on the city council. Van den Broek will be awarded his PhD on 12 April 2007 at the University of Groningen.

Groningen is further away from The Hague than The Hague is from Groningen. Van den Broek is able to state this based on his research into Groningen during the Middle Ages and Early Modern Era. ‘At that time, a hundred kilometres was a huge distance. For the overlords, the city was simply too far away to be closely governed.’

Political centre

This physical distance away from the rest of the country also created a mental distance. This was strengthened by the fact that Groningen was the only large city in the north of the Netherlands. It was virtually an island in the middle of a lot of ‘nothing’. Thus Groningen automatically developed into the centre of the north, not only in the business and cultural arenas, but also politically. This independence is unmistakeably reflected in the way that the people were involved in the day-to-day affairs of the municipality. Van den Broek: ‘It is remarkable how long the inhabitants were able to exercise influence on the city council. Everywhere in the country, aldermen were appointed by the powers that be to get to grips with the regions. That never worked in Groningen. An alderman from outside the region was just not accepted.’

Keys to the city

A typical example of this is that the Groningen guilds had their own keys to the city gates – something that was unthinkable in other parts of the country. ‘Whoever had these keys was able to determine who could or could not enter the city. This was thus extremely politically important,’ says Van den Broek. ‘Various archive records reveal that the city council could not avoid consulting the guilds on difficult decisions.’ Most Groningers, whatever their class, were convinced that their continued existence and prosperity depended on the autonomy of their city. Thus the city aldermen were only prepared to follow the orders of the central government if they thought that that was in the interests of the city. ‘Incidentally, the opposite was also the case,’ according to Van den Broek. ‘If the city was threatened, the government only sent help if they needed something from the city.’

Modern obstinacy

The extraordinary governing role of the Groningen people came to an end in 1594, when Stadtholders Willem Lodewijk and Maurits conquered the city. In Groningen, too, the municipal government fell into the hands of a small number of powerful men. However, Van den Broek does risk making a careful link with the Groningen of later times: ‘In the 1970s, Groningen had one of the first leftwing city councils. That obstinacy and strong desire for independence has always been a typical characteristic of the people here. Although Groningen is not as out of line as it used to be!’

Curriculum Vitae

Jan Frans Joseph van den Broek (‘s-Hertogenbosch, 1945) studied classics at the University of Nijmegen. From 1971-1977 he worked for the National Archives in the province of Groningen. He then became the municipal archivist for the city of Groningen, a post he filled until 2002. Van den Broek will be awarded his PhD by the Faculty of Arts. His supervisors are Prof. D.E.H. de Boer and Prof. P. Kooij. The title of his PhD is ‘Groningen, een stad apart. Over het verleden van een eigenzinnige stad (1000-1600).’ [Groningen, a unique city. The past of an obstinate city (1000-1600).] Van den Broek is associated with the Regional Historical Centre Groningen Archives.

Note for the press

- The title of the PhD is: Groningen, een stad apart and is published by Koninklijke Van Gorcum, ISBN 978 90 232 4323 6.

- The book presentation will take place on Thursday 26 April 2007 in the old council chamber of Groningen town hall. It will begin at 4 p.m.

Last modified:15 September 2017 3.26 p.m.
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