The European Peace Makers

Henri Gascard (1635-1701). The Peace of Nijmegen, 1679. Photo: Museum Het Valkhof Nijmegen.

The commemorations of the beginning of the Second World have just taken place. Another armed conflict, two thousand years earlier, 9 AD, the battle of the Teutoburg forest or the Varian disaster, is still the subject of many exhibitions, discussions and debates. Both conflicts should change the map of Europe forever. Europe is not only about war. Europeans, since 1918 supported by the economic and military aid of the United States, always managed to revive the peace. The price was often very high, in numbers of casualties, material damage and devastations and human suffering by the twentieth century totalitarian regimes.

In the last quarter of the seventeenth century, Nijmegen was for a short while the centre of Europe and European peacemaking. In 1678 and 1679, the city hosted the signing of a series of important treaties between various European states, collectively known as the Peace of Nijmegen. The peace ended a long period of conflict about the division of power and land in Europe and is one of the defining moments in European history. The city, a small garrison town with a population of around 20 000 citizens, was chosen on account of its central location.

In 1672, Nijmegen had come under siege by the army of Louis XIV of France and a total of 7 223 cannon balls were fired into Nijmegen. The damage was relatively limited compared to the damage and destruction in 1944. The ambassadors of the European powers expected the locations hosting the negotiations to reflect the status of the peace talks and discussions and the city bought magnificent works of art to decorate the rather sober city. Two series of tapestries were bought, featuring the seven scenes of metamorphoses and the Aeniad of Virgil.

The arrival of the delegations of the European powers had a huge impact on the city and artists took advantage of the commissions. Medals, coins, paintings, books, sculptures and other works of art were commissioned by the locale elite and European rulers. The peace talks consisted of many meetings and resulted in eleven parallel peace treaties, which were signed between 1678 and 1679 by France, Spain, the Republic of the Netherlands, the German Empire and other European powers. Although the talks did not bring eternal peace, the next conflicts were about to begin, the Europeans were still able to control the scale of warfare and to regionalize armed conflict.

This should change by the Seven Years war from 1756-1763 and the Napoleonic wars afterwards, which mark the beginning of total warfare on global scale, affecting other continents as well. The battle of the Teutoburg forest was a local conflict, although the Roman Empire was a global player.  The first traces of global warfare are the wars of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Peace making is subsequently more complicated and globalized, ideological differences replacing the old dynastic rivalries. (source: Museum Het Valkhof and Municipality of Nijmegen).