Portrait drawing by Willem Steelink, Jr.
Paul Fredericq was born in the Sleepstraat in Ghent, Belgium. A student at the 'Koninklijk Atheneum' of Ghent, where Max Rooses and Jacob Heremans influenced him. He became a Protestant in his youth, and his tendencies in religion, as in politics, were liberal. In 1871 he graduated as a high school teacher from the University of Liège and started working as a teacher in Mechelen and Arlon. In 1875, Fredericq got a special doctorate in historical sciences, with his study Essai sur le rôle politique et social des ducs de Bourgogne dans les Pays-Bas, and he became professor of history at the University of Liège.
After Jacob Heremans became emeritus, Paul Fredericq became professor of history at Ghent University in 1883. His courses included Dutch literature and practical exercises about Belgian history. Characterizing his sociability: Fredericq also taught in the relaxed surroundings of his home, while drinking a good glass. It's probably during this period that he befriended the students of 't zal wel gaan.
Fredericq was very active in the liberal wing of the Flemish Movement. During the period of 1891-1895, he was a liberal member of the city council, and became president of the local Willemsfonds organization and editor in chief of the liberal magazine Het Volksbelang. Then founded the Hooger Onderwijs voor het Volk (“higher education for the people”) in 1894, an experiment to close the education-gap between the elites and the workforce. However, Fredericq was especially important during the struggle to include Dutch into the Belgian education system. His activism culminated with his Schets eener Geschiedenis der Vlaamsche Beweging (1906-1909), a short history of the Flemish Movement.
During World War I, on the invasion of Belgium by the Germans, Fredericq was active in encouraging the patriotic feelings of his countrymen and urging every sort of moral resistance to the invader, being in consequence deported to Germany on March 16, 1916, in company with his colleague Henri Pirenne. He was interned successively at Gütersloh, Jena and Bürgel. The ordeal weakened him both physically and mentally.
After the war, he became rector at Ghent University in 1919. But quickly resigned after only a few weeks, disappointed by the aggressive anti-Flemish reactions. He died shortly thereafter.
Besides the works mentioned above, he wrote:
- De Nederlanden onder Keizer Karel, vol. i. (1885)
- Verzameling van stukken betreffende de pauselijke en bisschoppelijke Inquisitie in de Nederlanden (1889–96)
- Onze historische volksliederen van voor de zestiende eeuw (1894)
- Corpus documentorum inquisitionis haereticae pravitatis Neerlandicae : Verzameling van stukken betreffende de pauselijke en bisschoppelijke inquisitie in de Nederlanden. - Gent : Vuylstekes'Gravenhage : Nijhoff, 1889. Digital ed.
- "Literair Gent". Fredericq, Paul. Retrieved 14 October 2007. (Dutch)
- "Fredericq, Paul". New International Encyclopedia. 1906.