". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Admiral (2015)

English title: Admiral - Dutch title: Michiel de Ruyter (2015) Dutch film about their great hero of the Anglo-Dutch naval wars of the 17th century, Michiel de Ruyter.  I watched this via netflix streaming.

Michiel de Ruyter painted by Ferdinand Bol in 1667
Admiral was an admirable distraction from my congestion and coughing last night. O, those ships were gorgeous. But it does seem the writers could have done a bit more to identify the causes for these conflicts beyond Charlie 2 being such another feckless Stuart of the fully feckless Stuart dynasty. It would have been nice if the English adversaries at sea, such General Monck (made Duke of Albemarle), had been identified. As Walter Jon observed, this isn’t a film that is likely to appeal to anyone who isn’t interested in the history of the matter or in pitched naval battles per se. 

That said, it was a terrific pleasure to watch de Ruyter's fleet's invasion via the Medway River, which concludes with the burning of the English fleet anchored off Kent at Chatham -- particularly if one recalls those entries in Pepys's diary, where he views the aftermath with the Duke of York and other notables.

This was the Embarrassment of Riches century for the Dutch. Global marine trade had made them even more wealthy than their previous control of Europe’s textiles trade and manufacture. They were also aggressive privateers, successfully taking the mercantile ships of the French, Spanish and English, all of whom had designs on protestant Netherlands’ territory on the Sea, and their global trade dominance. 

Beyond this, however, slavery in the new world and the Dutch slave trade out of Africa to supply slaves to Caribbean and North American colonies This is a huge economic resource over which the Dutch and the English are fighting now — control of the slave entrepots on the West African coast, above the Portuguese controlled Kongo. The Dutch first managed to push the Portugese out of the upper coasts pretty much all the way down to the equator by then. Now it was the Dutch and English fighting for control. Charlie II and his cronies had started the Royal African Company specifically to get into the African slave trade and thus Charlie could have some cash to jingle in his always cash-poor privy pockets.

The English ultimately won this one, initiating the gloriously wealthy-from-the-slave-trade-18th-century for Liverpool, Bristol, London and to a degree some other British cities, particularly in Scotland. Beyond the sale of bodies of Africans themselves, the African slave trade required so much out of which to get fabulously wealthy, from ships and financing, to insurance, to all those shackles and manacles, supply, etc.  There were no qualms in England for supplying these services to the British slave trade – though this was also the century in which the movement to abolish the African trade got started and the century in which slavery as a condition in the British Isles was abolished.

None of these matters concerning the African slave trade rivalry or any of the European powers, including the Dutch, are matters for this film.  This is just background information that I brought to the watching of it, and which made it work for me.  So did memories of reading about the aftermath the defeat of the conjoined French and English naval invasion in a volume of Dumas's Musketeers chronicles, and with the Spanish invasion in the Altriste novels,  1672 was called in Dutch history, "rampjaar" -- the Disaster Year.  Among other things the Dutch deliberately broke their dikes in the Spanish held territory and flooded out everyone, citizen and invader alike.  The Spanish soldier's point of view of the aftermath is admirably brought to life in the historical novel series, Las aventuras del capitán Alatriste by Arturo Pérez-Reverte via his novel (1968 in Spain; 2007 in U.S.), Sun Over Breda.  As this is about the Dutch, however, the rampjaar is dealth with via time lapse from an ever higher altitude camera so we see no details of that horrific period.

Nor is there any mention in this film that attempts to deal with the Anglo-Dutch wars how the Dutch traded the Nieuw Amsterdam colony to England. These are the sorts of things that only somebody like me though, would be thinking about while watching this lush action-adventure, that is mostly on the sea.

There was probably another reason why the English — or at least the Lords — were so hot to go to war with the Dutch during Charles II’s reign. So many of the protestants in the reigns of both the Catholic supporters, Kings James and Charles I were given refuge in the protestant Netherlands, from where they plotted to take down the crown and, from which others escaped their majesties’ pursuit to the New World — from where they returned in droves to support Cromwell and the execution of Charles I — and, of course, get places in the administrative structure and return of their properties.  Charles II and the other returned-to-power nobility had not forgotten any of this.

Like the slave trade which the Royal African Company was about (though he writes so often about going the Company’s house ‘on the king’s business”, this was something else that Pepys was too discreet to put details down on paper, even in his own most private diaries.

The Admiral film presumes its Dutch audience knows all these historical matters. Its focus is Dutch political conflicts between the Republic and the forces that want a king* like other European nations -- as well as on the several great battles that Michiel de Ruyter won for them.

Warning: there is a prolonged sequence of horrific violence that includes the torture and mob dismemberment of Michiel de Ruyter's patrons, Johan and Cornelius de Witt, brothers.  Johan had been the prime minister of the Dutch Republic for 20 years, and successfully brought them through the wars -- not least by backing commoner Michiel de Ruyter over his aristo rivals.


*  They got as their king, the Dutch stadtholder William III of Orange-Nassau (William of Orange), who had married James II's daughter, Mary Stuart. Not long after he invaded England, bloodlessly dethroned his father-in-law -- the final feckless Stuart, in what is known as "The Glorious Revolution" of 1688, and took the crown for himself. Along the way, William betrayed many, as royalty, would-be and otherwise, does.

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