Revue d’Anvers: Reads as brilliantly as a novel by Hilary Mantel
Antwerp: the glory years
Michael pye Allen Street £ 25
In the 1500s, the only place for a brilliant young Englishman was Antwerp. Located a leap, a jump and a leap over the North Sea, Antwerp was almost as big as Paris, bigger than London, and had long given Venice a run for its money.
By law, all wool produced in Britain had to first be exported to this medieval town at the mouth of the Scheldt, before being sent to North Africa and the Middle East.
In return, Antwerp supplied England with Rhine wine, oats, furs, turbot, grapes and live hawks. “The city,” explains Michael Pye in this marvelous book, “operated like a department store.
Antwerp supplied England with Rhine wine, oats, furs, turbot, grapes and live falcons. “The city”, explains Michael Pye in this wonderful book, “functioned like a department store”
Indeed, Antwerp was an outpost of London but with the added advantage, for young Englishmen, of being socially free and easy. It was a city where middle-class girls could go out without a hood, and even end the evening with a good night kiss.
You could eat whatever you wanted during Lent and there was a lot of money to be made on a variety of side activities, from trading diamonds to printing textbooks to finding curiosities such as elk hooves and elk hooves. musk balls.
No one cared much about which place of worship you attended or not – Lutherans, Calvinists, Catholics, or the synagogue were all right. If you were young, ambitious, and had a light conscience, Antwerp was a remarkably friendly base.
No one cared much about which place of worship you attended or not – Lutheran, Calvinist, Catholic or the synagogue were all right
Of course, there were downsides to all this back and forth. With so many bodies crammed into medieval wooden buildings, it wasn’t long before the plague hit.
What is fascinating here is how the authorities tried to protect the citizens. Laws were introduced that prohibited more than ten people from meeting. If you had been in contact with a deceased person, you were forced to be home alone, even though you could ask a neighbor to leave groceries outside your door.
Schools were closed and hospitals were overflowing. Later, when things started to calm down, you were encouraged to wear a certificate to show that you were not a threat to anyone.
IT’S A FACT
Antwerp is the diamond capital of the world. Over 80% of the world’s raw gemstones pass through the city.
The only reason Antwerp’s decimated population recovered was through immigration. The city was a place of refuge for Jews and Protestants who were both fleeing the Spanish Inquisition.
From Antwerp, Jews could move to eastern cities like Constantinople and Salonika, where a warm welcome was assured. Protestants, on the other hand, could rejoice in knowing that Antwerp was home to the first English Bible, recently translated to the city by William Tyndale and which was now to be smuggled into Britain.
It couldn’t go on. During the last quarter of the 16th century, Antwerp found itself plunged into exactly those kinds of historical realignments that it had always been careful to avoid.
The Spaniards invaded and suddenly the city of tolerance and free thought became a hotbed of religious fundamentalism. The Jewish population accelerated its departures to the east, while the Protestants moved north.
Antwerp was no longer the only unregulated hub it had once been – Amsterdam, further up the coast, was busy rebranding itself as the capital of the world.
Pye can’t help but sound sad and, indeed, he communicates this feeling of deeply lost paradise. The result is an imaginative historical reconstruction book that reads as brilliantly as a Hilary Mantel novel.