Friday 19 January 2018

For quite some time, Leuven — in what is currently known as Belgium — was the only university in the Netherlands. It is still (barely, some argue) a Catholic university, and after the Protestant revolt sealed its rule over the northern part of the Dutch realms, William the Silent founded a university at Leiden as a Calvinist academy in 1575.

Leiden University has had strong links with South Africa from the earliest days. Ds. Johannes de Vooght — in the 1660s, the second leraar of Cape Town’s Dutch Reformed congregation — studied here, as did numerous predikante of that period and onwards, including Ds. Petrus van der Spuy, the first NGK minister to be born in South Africa.

South African politicians studied here aplenty: Sir Christoffel Brand (first Speaker of the Cape Parliament); Jan Brand (fourth president of the Orange Free State); Marthinus Steyn (sixth and final president of the O.F.S.); and Nicolaas Diederichs (third staatspresident of the Republic of South Africa).

Probably the first South African to be granted an honorary degree by Leiden (c. 1830) was Antoine Changuion, the founder of the Dutch language movement which advocated preserving Dutch as the cultural language of the Afrikaners against the emerging Afrikaans.

It was in 1948 that Leiden granted the greatest Afrikaner — Field Marshal Smuts — a Doctorate of Law honoris causa. Smuts was on his way back from Cambridge where he had been granted the honour of being installed as Chancellor of the University. Even Die Burger, a Nationalist paper opposed to his Verenigde party, found the event worthy of a caustic near-compliment:

“We may differ from him on many issues, but the honour which he has won for the Afrikaner does not leave us untouched.”

5 February 2016 9:25 am | Permanent Link | 5 Comments »

5 Feb 2016 9:37 pm

A correction needed here: Changuion was given his degree while he was still entirely a Nederlander. Born in the Hague, he was the son of a prominent member of the Leiden ruling class, who was later ambassador to the USA in 1814, and who was himself a Leiden graduate. Remarkably, his patent of nobility, awarded in 1815, was revoked in 1825. Nevertheless his descendants born before 1823 were allowed to keep the title of Jonkheer, so your Antoine was actually a nobleman of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
He married a Boer (whose mother, remarkably, was a Smuts), but returned to Europe and died in Switzerland in 1891.
His father’s brother, Pierre Jean, also a Leiden J.U.D., was governor of Curacao, and later a leading figure in Suriname. His second wife was a van Lelyveld, perhaps the grandest of the historic families of Leiden, and one which still flourishes.

Rory O'Donnell
6 Feb 2016 10:24 am

The (Catholic) University of Louvain/Leuven although claiming some continuity with that of the Middle Ages and the subsequent Habsburg rule did survive the Josephite and then the French Revolutions. Its re-foundation as the Catholic University if part of the post 1814 & 1830 story.

6 Feb 2016 12:04 pm

If you will indulge a tartan tangent, the University of Leiden also, as you will know, had a strong influence on many generations of young Scots – and they on it, no doubt. Those aspiring to (or whose fathers insisted that they should) practise at the Scottish bar in the 17th and 18th centuries nearly always spent the equivalent of a gap year or two at a Dutch university – almost invariably Leiden or Utrecht – to study Roman (i.e., civil) law. Whilst there, they learned also some of the finer social arts: speaking polite French (the social lingua franca) and ice-skating, for example.

Utrecht seems to have developed a reputation as being something more of a diverting place that dour old Leiden, though neither enjoyed nor perhaps deserved the accolade of “party central”. Even Utrecht was represented in advance to one young Scots law student (James Boswell, as it happens) as a place in which he would find his “fund of patience and affectation was too small to bear living among a set of Dutch professors in tartan nightgowns”. It took good old Lord Hailes, who had thoroughly enjoyed his own short residence in Utrecht half a generation before, to persuade Bozzy that the town was no “cave of Trophonius” and that: “If you should chance to be fixed upon Utrecht, you will be among my friends male & female, as if you were at Edinburgh, & though my Ladys may be too old for your acquaintance yet their daughters are I suppose as agreeable as their mothers were.”

This swung it for Utrecht, and thus poor old Leiden was spared poor young Bozzy’s rampaging and remorsing.

Andrew Cusack
9 Feb 2016 10:19 am

Atticus, many thanks for this Caledonian diversion! This would also explain the adoption of the word ‘dominie’ in Scots to mean a minister (or, more rarely I believe, a schoolmaster). Hollando-Scottish links are too underexplored!

Dr O’Donnell, indeed matters of university continuity can be very tricky. My general guide is that if a university is refounded within a hundred years then it is possible to grant it some level of continuity, particularly if there is no competing successor institution, and particularly if teaching ceased due to conflict.

Such has been the success of greedy monarchs and fideophobic republics nationalising old universities that if KUL (1425) disaffiliates from the Church, then the oldest Catholic university in the world will be Santo Tomas (1611, I think) all the way in Manila, the Philippines.

10 Feb 2016 9:59 pm

Speaking of de Leidse Universiteit (at which I am proud to be a student – prouder yet, having read this post), I have long been wondering why the university’s seal features the arms of Holland the wrong way around (with a lion rampant sinister). Have you any idea?

Leave a comment

Name (required)

Email (required)



Home | About | | © Andrew Cusack 2015-present (unless otherwise stated)