These rhymes are translated from a Dutch pamphlet titled De Nederlandsche Nijptang (The Dutch Pincher, 1653). The anonymous author builds on a five-century long tradition of the slander of the “English tail”. This most curious stereotype was apparently so widespread that John Bale declared that an honest English trader could not travel abroad without being bothered by it. At one time, a French nobleman even dared to attach fake tails to the behinds of fellow guests at the English court. This practical joke was not well received.
Words can be deadly weapons, sometimes even more lethal than your average gunshot or stab. Words directed at an entire group of people may have a huge impact, and their echoes can resonate in the hearts and minds of those against whom they are directed for a long time. When in March 2014 Geert Wilders made his hurtful remark against Moroccans and people of Moroccan descent living in the Netherlands, both national and international politicians and members of the press reacted vehemently against his statement, with some of them drawing a parallel between Wilders's attitude towards Moroccans and Hitler's stance on Jews.
In May 1593, 'The Dutch Church Libel' appeared on the walls of the Dutch churchyard in London. This vicious and spiteful piece of writing was directed against the Dutch and French strangers in the city of London, most of whom had come to England to find a safe haven against economic hardship, war, and religious prosecution. The libel warned the refugees to to 'Fly, Flye, & never returne', threatening them with harsh repercussions if they dared to stay. At the time, unemployment was widespread, inflation was rising, the theatres of an overcrowded London were closed due to an outbreak of the plague, and fear of a Spanish invasion haunted the streets. A looming economic crisis, worries about health, safety, and livelihood, and a large number of strangers: all the ingredients for anti-immigrant sentiments were present. Sounds familiar?
There is a proverb that says, 'sticks and stones can break your bones, but words can break your heart'. Personally, I would rather have a simple, clear-cut fracture than being verbally abused as, overall, broken bones heal quicker than a broken heart. Words in the sixteenth century quite possible sounded different, were distributed through different media, and may have had a different meaning from today's terms and phrases. Yet, their underlying intentions and motivations do not necessarily differ all that much, despite all the good resolutions that so many of us have at the beginning of each new year.
Would you like to learn more about this 'Dutch Church Libel'? Bianca Seinen will be happy to tell you all about her research during the conference next week. Please register here to secure your seat.
This blog is run by the students who organise the CMEMS Conference. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, one of the students will post a small sneak preview indicating the content of their conference presentation.