What is Dutch Courage?

Timo Janse called his cocktail bar “Dutch Courage”? Where does that term come from?

Jong meisje springende van steen tot steen (voorbeeld dutch courage) & een musketeer

The relationship between “Dutch Courage” and jenever is historically and culturally rooted. Jenever, as a traditional Dutch spirit, has played an important role in the origin of the term “Dutch Courage”.

Origin Dutch Courage
To understand the origins of ‘Dutch Courage’, we must travel back to the 17th century, when the expression first emerged. During this time, the Dutch Republic was a prominent naval power, engaged in numerous battles and conflicts. Their reputation as formidable sailors and warriors was known far and wide.

The term ‘Dutch Courage’ originally referred to the supposed bravery or confidence individuals gained from consuming alcoholic beverages, especially spirits such as jenever, before entering combat or challenging situations. This idea was rooted in the belief that alcohol could temporarily boost self-confidence and quell anxiety.

In the 17th century, when the term “Dutch Courage” first emerged, jenever was a popular and widespread drink in the Netherlands. It was often drunk by citizens and sailors alike. Jenever has a high alcohol content and is known for its warming and calming properties. It was often associated with temporarily increasing courage and self-confidence.

During wars and conflicts, especially at sea, Dutch sailors and soldiers were known for their bravery and determination. Jenever was sometimes consumed prior to battle to boost a sense of self-confidence and reduce anxiety. This led to the emergence of the phrase “Dutch Courage”. The idea was that drinking jenever would increase courage and reduce fear, giving people the courage to act in challenging or dangerous situations.

One theory suggests that the term “Dutch Courage” arose during wars and conflicts between English and Dutch armies, such as the Anglo-Dutch Wars in the 17th and 18th centuries. During this period, English and Dutch armies often faced each other, and the idea was that Dutch soldiers would sometimes drink jenever to overcome their fear before going into battle. English soldiers are said to have noticed this practice and coined the term “Dutch Courage” to refer to the courage gained from drinking alcohol.

Another older theory is that there are indeed cases of English and Dutch soldiers who, during the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648), collaborated against the Spanish troops, who tried to put down the Dutch revolt. In addition, the English soldiers saw that their Dutch colleagues took a large gulp of jenever before the battle or naval battle to boost their courage. This behavior was adopted by the English.

However, it is important to note that the term is not necessarily based on historical fact and may rather be a stereotype used to belittle the enemy i.e., the Dutch. There is little concrete evidence to show that Dutch soldiers systematically consumed jenever before battle, nor that they consumed alcohol remarkably more often than other armies of the era.

Culture and Dutch Courage
It is true that jenever played a part in the culture of the Low Countries (the Netherlands and Belgium) during this period, and it was popular among different layers of the population, including soldiers.

Soldiers at the time often faced intense fear and tension in the face of battle. As in many armies around the world, some soldiers in the Eighty Years’ War were able to consume alcohol to calm their nerves before going into battle. However, this was not a unique feature of Dutch soldiers and is rather a common human behavior that has occurred in different times and cultures.

The idea that Dutch soldiers drank jenever for bravery is more of a stereotype than a historically accurate fact. This stereotype may have arisen as part of wider cultural portrayals and propaganda directed against the opposing side of the war. So, while there may be some truth to the idea that jenever played a role in the military culture of the time, we should be careful about over-romanticizing or stereotyping this behavior.

However, with time, the connotation of “Dutch Courage” changed. Particularly in the English-speaking world, it came to refer to an apparent courage that came from drinking alcohol, often resulting in thoughtless and reckless actions. Thus, the term took on a more negative connotation, with the self-confidence that came from alcohol seen as misplaced or deceptive.

The term “Dutch Courage” is therefore mainly an example of stereotyping and cultural prejudice. The stereotype of Dutch soldiers who drink jenever to overcome their fear can be originated as a way to belittle and denigrate the opponent. The term has spread in the English language and continues to be used to describe someone who displays alleged bravery under the influence of alcohol.

In short, jenever, as a powerful and popular drink in the Netherlands, played a role in the formation of the term “Dutch Courage”. It was first associated with increasing self-confidence and reducing anxiety, but over time the term took on a more critical meaning, with the courage that came from alcohol consumption seen as false and insincere.

What explanation for “Dutch Courage” would Timo have had in mind when he named his bar after it? I think that story about courage. But I’ll ask him.

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