The Social, Political and Cultural History of an International Prestige Language
6. The Use of French among the Dutch Elites in Eighteenth-Century Holland
In order to show how French was used among the Dutch elites in the eighteenth century, it will be useful to begin by defining the broader historical and linguistic context in which this phenomenon should be seen.1 The use of French was not confined to the elites – in fact, the so-called ‘French schools’, which developed from the end of the sixteenth century, reached the merchant classes – but it did, in the case of the elites, take on particular features which we shall bring to light below.
The use of French in the Low Countries (hereafter the Netherlands) goes back a very long way, for the language penetrated Dutch linguistic space from the fourteenth century through the Court of Burgundy, which increasingly contrived to seize the Dutch provinces. In the sixteenth century, during the reign of Charles V (1515–55), the territorial grouping which ← 145 | 146 → brought the northern and southern Netherlands back together numbered seventeen provinces and thus restored the territorial unity that had disappeared with Charlemagne.
At the end of the sixteenth century the northern Netherlands, which had joined the Protestant Reformation, rebelled against their Catholic sovereign, the King of Spain, Philip II. In signing the Union of Utrecht in 1579 (which represents the legal foundation of a new state), they gave birth to the Republic of the [Seven] United Provinces, which was officially recognized in 1648 at the Peace of Westphalia2 and which foreigners who travelled through its territory often referred to as Holland,...
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