Netherlands Church History
Since the doctrines and teachings of the French Reformed Church and the Dutch Reformed Church were so similar, it was not uncommon for French Protestants to have their children christened in either of these two churches.
Effective research in church records requires some understanding of your ancestor’s religion and of the events that led to the creation of church records.
The Roman Catholic faith was accepted in the Netherlands from the fifth century after Christ onward. It became the predominant faith until the 1500s, when the Reformation movements of Martin Luther, John Calvin, and Menno Simons began to take hold.
There was much conflict between Catholics and Protestants. In the 1550s the Catholic Church began a counter reformation movement. The Protestants united and fought the Eighty Years’ War against the Spanish, who were Roman Catholics. The Dutch Reformed Church became the state church of the Dutch Republic.
Roman Catholics have remained more predominant in the southern provinces of Limburg and Noord-Brabant.
Based on the doctrine of John Calvin, the Reformed Church was the state church from 1588 to 1795. In 1814 it became known as the Dutch Reformed Church. In 1834, dissenters left the Dutch Reformed Church and established a new church, called the Christian Reformed Church.
Those of the Dutch Reformed religion have remained predominant in all provinces except for Limburg and Noord-Brabant.
Huguenots (French Protestants or Walloons)
Natives of northern France and southern Belgium (known at that time as the Southern Netherlands) who accepted Calvinism were persecuted by Catholics, many of them fleeing to the Northern Netherlands. The oldest Walloon congregation, dating from 1571, is in Middelburg.
Because of their residence in the Netherlands, French immigrants began to adopt the language and customs of their new homeland, and through intermarriage they became integrated into Dutch society. Since the doctrines and teachings of the French Reformed Church and the Dutch Reformed Church were so similar, it was not uncommon for French Protestants to have their children christened in either of these two churches.
Information about Huguenots has been extracted from the parish registers of the French Protestant and Dutch Reformed Churches and entered, in abbreviated form, on cards that now comprise the Collection des Fiches, a section of the Walloon Library now housed in the Central Office for Genealogy. Because it was formerly at Leiden, it is also referred to as the Leiden Collection.
Anabaptist doctrines were first preached in Zurich, Switzerland. They spread to southern Germany and then to the Netherlands, where, by 1543, the movement had gained a large following. They were called Mennonites after one of their most influential leaders, Menno Simons. Mennonites believed that only adults should be baptized, so baptism records of infants do not exist. They did keep birth records of those in their congregations.
Originally, many Mennonites belonged to the social classes of small craftsmen, storekeepers, and farmers, but due to their industriousness and frugality they became people of means. Their religious doctrines did not allow them to hold government positions or bear arms. In time, however, the majority of the Mennonites became politically active and joined the Dutch Reformed Church.
The first Lutheran congregations were founded in the late 1500s. They were, in large part, the result of substantial numbers of German and Scandinavian immigrants. While few people in the Netherlands accepted Luther’s teachings, the doctrine of the Lutheran Church had considerable influence on the doctrines of the other Protestant churches.
The Remonstrant religion grew out of intense ideological debates within the Dutch Reformed Church. The Remonstrant Church, or Brotherhood, was founded in 1619 in Belgium. The religion was slowly tolerated by the state church in the 13 Netherlands, and nearly 50 congregations were established by 1700.
Other Christian Groups
Episcopalians, Greek Catholics, Presbyterians, Puritans, and other groups have existed in the Netherlands since the 1600s.
For more information about the history of the Presbyterians and Puritans, see the following source:
Sprunger, Keith L. Dutch Puritanism: A History of English and Scottish Churches of the Netherlands in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth 'Centuries. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1982. (FHL book 949.2 K2s.)
Many books about church history of the Netherlands are available. Look in the Place search of the Family History Library Catalog under:
NETHERLANDS – CHURCH HISTORY
NETHERLANDS, [PROVINCE] – CHURCHHISTORY
NETHERLANDS, [PROVINCE], [TOWN] –