‘Sa splendeur et sa décadence sont également célèbres’ - Het Scheldeverhaal als politiek instrument tijdens de Franse periode | Amsterdam University Press Journals Online
Volume 123, Issue 4
  • ISSN: 0040-7518
  • E-ISSN: 2352-1163


After more than a hundred years of mourning for past splendour, and dreams of a reopening, the blockade of the river Scheldt was finally lifted in 1792. The French authorities, who were responsible for the reopening, did not hesitate to exploit the political potential of the local historical narrative concerning the river. During the twenty years of French occupation, the Scheldt narrative was used as a means to legitimize French rule in the eyes of the local population. The French were represented as liberators who came to reverse the historical injustice perpetrated by the Treaty of Münster. During the revolutionary phase of the occupation, the French went so far as to retroject their ideals of freedom and equality onto the Antwerp of the sixteenth century, ideals which they said would be restored by their intervention. This projection was strikingly at odds with revolutionary orthodoxy, in which the old regimes were rejected as despotic. To make their message even more recognisable, administrators integrated meaningful elements of the narrative into their political culture. These included visual representations, historically charged places, and symbolic objects. Moreover, the artistic history of the city, the traditional counterpart of its commercial splendour, was actively appropriated. After Napoleon’s ascent to power in 1799, the Scheldt narrative kept its central place in official discourse, although it was rewritten to suit the new regime. During the Empire the former stress on the Scheldt as a commercial river was replaced by an emphasis on its military function. The Scheldt story was therefore an ideal theme to be appropriated for the purposes of legitimation, although its effect may have been limited.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
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