Fagel Fine Bindings (2): Political Power

The fine bindings in the Fagel collection make up only a small part of the library. In an earlier blogpost we have considered some of the works from the field of natural history in the Fagel collection. Other fine books in the collection can be related to their position as respective greffiers of the States General. These copies are material manifestations of political power.

Commemoration and Legitimacy

Commissioning a fine binding can be a way to commemorate a special occasion. This may be a private event, such as a wedding or a doctorate, or a celebration of national importance. An example is the commemoration of the Unie van Utrecht in 1779. The Union of Utrecht is the treaty that unified the northern provinces of the Netherlands, signed on 23 January 1579. It is regarded as the foundation of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces and lead up to the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe (‘Act of abjuration’) which is the declaration of independence on 26 July 1581.

On 28 August 1777 a resolution by the Raad van State (‘Council of State’) declared that ‘there are no more important documents than the ones relating to the original constitution of this Republic’. Even though the text was widely dispersed, read and commented upon, no official edition had ever been published. The Raad van State ordered that this should be done at once, in a size similar to the original and with all sixteenth century signatures reproduced as engravings. Furthermore, printer Johannes Enschede stated in the colophon that he had used the type of Aelbrecht Hendriksz, printer to the States General in 1578.

Documents concerning the Union of Utrecht
There is no title-page, the opening page of the collection is: ‘Extract uit de resolutien van de Edele Mogende Heeren Raaden van Staate der Vereenigde Nederlanden. Donderdag den 28 augusti 1777’

Type, size and engravings all added a sense of authenticity to the publication. It codified the Union of Utrecht as the only true constitution, and at the same time helped to legitimize the ruling order of the Dutch Republic. The book was not for sale in bookshops, at least, not advertised as such. The copies were presumably presented to magistrates, jurists, burgomasters and other high officials in the Dutch Republic. Many copies were bound in gold-tooled morocco and consequently, a lot of them survive. The corresponding record in the Short-Title Catalogue, Netherlands locates over fifty(!) copies of the book.

Presentation copies

The copy in the Fagel collection (Fag.I.4.26) was presented to Hendrik Fagel the Elder, the greffier at the time. It is bound in red morocco with the gilded lion of the Dutch Republic stamped on the boards. The decoration is similar to a copy in dark carmine-brown morocco in the Koninklijke Bibliotheek (1757 A 117), and the same rolls and stamps seem to have been used on another copy in the KB (KW 1757 A 115), more luxuriously bound in red morocco, with green morocco laid in, by the so-called ‘Second Stadholder Bindery’.

The uniformity of its design makes it tempting to suggest that this was one of the very first publisher’s bindings. Closer inspection shows, of course, that there are numerous variations. The other two images above demonstrate that different rolls were used and, moreover, that more than one lion-stamp was used by various binderies across the Republic. The divergent lion on the carmine-brown binding (1793 A 20) was used by the so-called Zwamstempel bindery in Rotterdam. More copies were bound in Haarlem, Middelburg and other places.

These variations are technical. In an ideological sense there must have been some sort of consensus what the book should look like and how this commemorative publication should be presented to high officials around the Dutch Republic. After all, it is not a coincidence that there is such a striking visual resemblance. It seems as if the bicentennial celebrations of the Union of Utrecht were used to strengthen the bonds, confirm the power balance and legitimize the juridical basis of the Republic. The question is, why was this necessary?

Pieter Paulus

The cause of much of the discussion about the legal base of government was the young jurist Pieter Paulus (1753-1796). He made a name for himself in 1772 when he published a treatise about Het nut der stadhouderlyke regering (The utility of the stadholder system). Notwithstanding the apparent praise in the title, in this work Paulus opposes both the stadholder system and the role of the duke of Brunswijk. This affected many magistrates in office, certainly Hendrik Fagel the Elder. Even though Paulus downplayed allegations in the prelims of a second edition and assured his loyalty to the House of Orange, the damage was done.

When Paulus published the first volume of his master piece Verklaring der Unie van Utrecht (Elucidation of the Union of Utrecht) in 1775, alarm bells were presumably ringing in The Hague. The work was advertised in the Haarlemse Courant with the note that it was printed in the same size and with the same type as Jan Wagenaar’s best-selling work on Dutch history. Again, we see an example where form (size, type-matter) was used to legitimize the content.

Advertisement for Pieter Paulus’ Verklaaring der Unie van Utrecht in: Haarlemse Courant 30-03-1775.

By the time that the Raad van State commissioned the publication of all authentic pieces in 1777, the first three volumes of Paulus’ elucidation had been published. The work was highly praised in Vaderlandsche letteroefeningen, but criticized by the likes of Laurens van der Spiel and François Adriaan van der Kemp. The main argument of Paulus was that the Union of Utrecht was the only true constitutional base for the Dutch Republic, in opposition to Christian Heinrich Trotz, who had argued that other treaties were part of a larger corpus of ‘Dutch constitution’, but much in line with the point of view of the Raad van State.

Fagel and Foucault

Hendrik Fagel had a copy of Paulus’ Verklaring der Unie van Utrecht in his library, as well as the works by Trotz, Van der Spiegel and Van der Kemp. He was an observer in this discussion. The presentation copy of the Unie van Utrecht is just one of the books in the Fagel collection were the materiality of the book can be connected with contemporary politics.

One other curious example is Le Mirror Politique, a sixteenth century work by Guillaume de La Perrière (1499/1503-1565) on the art of government. It raises questions on government rationality, organization and how an administration can produce the citizens best suited to fulfill the governments’ policies. The work received renewed attention in 20th century political theory when Michel Foucault argued that the work foreshadows discourses of governmentality.

The Fagel copy is bound in gold-tooled red morocco, just like so many other fine bindings in the collection. Why would anyone in the 18th century have gone trough the trouble of rebinding a 16th century treatise? We do not know when the book was acquired by the Fagels, who commissioned the binding, and whether it was a gift or a purchase. However, judged by the binding, the work was important to one of the Fagels, or someone in their circle.

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