Was the 18th century really the Age of Reason? In this engaging and artfully constructed book, Benjamin Kaplan tells a small historical story with large ramifications, both for the protagonists involved and for the ways we should approach the history of the period.
Kaplan’s micro-history involves a series of events from the early 1760s that took place in and around the village of Vaals, at the far southeastern point of the Netherlands. Vaals, indeed, is the place where modern-day Holland, Belgium and Germany meet, and the significance of borders – political, jurisdictional and cultural – is a dominant theme of Cunegonde’s Kidnapping. Vaals lay just across the border from the German Imperial Free City of Aachen in the east and the Duchy of Limburg, part of the Austrian-ruled Southern Netherlands, to the west and south. These political boundaries were also religious frontiers: Limburg and Aachen were Catholic territories, while the Dutch state, to which Vaals belonged, was officially Calvinist.
But these frontiers of faith were messy and porous. The inconclusive religious wars of the preceding centuries had left a generous sprinkling of Protestants in Catholic cities like Aachen. Vaals, though dominated by Calvinists, in fact had a Catholic majority, as did the rest of the so-called ‘Generality Lands’ in