The Nassaus and the Family Business of Power in Early Modern Europe


Since the 1990s scholars of early modern Europe have convincingly demonstrated the resilience of the European nobility’s political influence over time. Yet they continue to approach the ‘family’ as an irrational social system for the exercise of power. This project turns that assumption on its head and explores the crucial importance of the wider family for the exercise and transmission of power. Using a conceptual framework developed in business studies, I will explore the ‘corporate culture’ of the Nassau family in the period 1550-1815 and, in doing so, develop a new model for writing dynastic history. The working hypothesis of ‘The Nassaus’ is that the Nassau dynasty cultivated a corporate culture as a family, which in the most ideal circumstances: 1) created continuity and loyalty, 2) ensured the transmission of social, cultural and economic capital, and 3) facilitated the transmission of important networks. Conversely, failure to integrate all voices of the family beneficiaries in this corporate culture jeopardized the future of the dynasty. To test this hypothesis, I will explore the corporate strategies that the Nassaus developed and deployed for the transmission of power, property, titles, know-how, religion and networks, and ask why and under what circumstances these strategies contributed, or failed to contribute, to the long-term survival of the different Nassau branches. ‘The Nassaus’ is innovative in adopting the concept of corporate culture as a new model to understand princely power in the early modern period, taking a long-term transnational perspective with attention to the ‘dead ends’ rather than just presenting the family as a Dutch ‘success’, and deploying little-used source material in a new way to explore the dynasty’s failures and successes.


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. J.A. van der Steen BA

Affiliated with

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Team members

H.M. Kooij, Dr. J.A. van der Steen BA


01/02/2018 to 31/01/2022