No ‘Spanish blood’ in short dark-haired Dutch, say researchers

The siege of Alkmaar in 1573: Beeldbank Stedelijke Museum Alkmaar

Short, dark-haired Dutch and Flemish people are often told they must have ‘Spanish blood’ following ‘sexual agression’ during the 80 years war with Spain, but there is no basis in fact, according to research by the University of Leuven.

According to the geneticists at the Flemish university, whose paper The black legend on the Spanish presence in the Low Countries:  Verifying shared beliefs on genetic ancestry, was recently published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, genetic testing among 1,300 Dutch and Flemish men showed they had no more Spanish DNA variants than their French or British counterparts.

Or as the researchers say, ‘sexual aggression did occur in the 16th century, but these activities did not leave a traceable “Spanish” genetic signature in the autochthonous genome of the Low Countries’.

‘It’s not to say that Dutch and Flemish women did not have children by Spanish soldiers but not so many as to influence the population’s DNA,’ geneticist Maarten Larmuseau said in an interview with the NRC.

So why, from the sixteenth century on, has the idea of ‘Spanish blood’ been so pervasive? The myth lives on because of a very effective propaganda exercise, Larmuseau says. Painting the Spanish as a band of rampaging rapists helped create a national identity and the label stuck.

It is not battles and kings that leave their trace in human DNA but migration, he claims. The Viking colonisation of Northern England and the Phoenician trade colonies along the coast of the Mediterranean, for instance, have left their mark on the genetic make-up of the present day population.

It seems people like the idea of having Spanish ancestors, however they came to be. Larmuseau, who lectures on the subject, is often asked by people if they could be of Spanish descent. ‘The French, the Austrians and the Germans also occupied Flanders but no one is interested in them,’ he told the NRC.

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