History of the Netherlands

History of the Netherlands
History of the Netherlands
Coat of Arms of the Netherlands
This article is part of a series
Early History
Germanic tribes
Roman Era
Migration Period
Frankish Realm/The Franks
Middle Francia
Holy Roman Empire
Burgundian Netherlands
Seventeen Provinces
Eighty Years' War
United Provinces
The Golden Age
The Batavian revolution
Batavian Republic
Kingdom of Holland
First French Empire
United Kingdom of the Netherlands
Modern History
Netherlands in World War II
Military History
Dutch Language
Dutch literature
Naval influence
Inventions and discoveries
Luctor et Emergo
Dutch heraldry

Netherlands Portal
v · d · e

The history of the Netherlands is the history of a maritime people thriving on a watery lowland river delta at the edge of northwestern Europe. When the Romans and written history arrived in 57 BC, the country was sparsely populated by various tribal groups at the periphery of the empire. Over four centuries of Roman rule had profound demographic effects, resulting afterwards in the establishment of two primary Germanic peoples: the Frisians and the Franks. Hiberno-Scottish and Anglo-Saxon missionaries led both to adopt Christianity by the 8th century. The Franks came to dominate the area and from their speech the Dutch language arose.

Carolingian rule, loose integration into the Holy Roman Empire and Viking depredation followed, the local noblemen being left relatively free to carve out highly independent duchies and counties. For several centuries, Brabant, Holland, Zeeland, Friesland, Gelre and the others fought intermittently amongst themselves, but at the same time trade continued and grew, land was reclaimed, and cities prospered. Forced by nature to work together, over the centuries they built and maintained a network of polders and dikes that kept out the sea and the floods, in the process transforming their desolate landscape, mastering the North Sea and the high seas beyond, and emerging out of the struggle as one of the most urban and enterprising nations in Europe.

Leo Belgicus by Claes Jansz. Visscher (II), 1609

By 1433, as a result of the defeat of the last countess of Holland in the Hook and Cod Wars, the Duke of Burgundy had assumed control over most of the Dutch-speaking territories and the concept of a nation of Dutch-speaking people was conceived. Eventually, however, under Charles V and then Philip II, the Burgundian Netherlands became part of the Habsburg empire ruled from Spain. The Reformation inflamed passions. In 1566 William of Orange, a convert to Calvinism and the father of his people, started the Eighty Years' War to liberate the Dutch from the Catholic Spaniards and the brutality of the Duke of Alba. There followed an epic struggle against the Spanish that did not end until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The Dutch Republic was born, a nation with Protestants, Catholics and Jews and an unusual policy of tolerance. However, the southern provinces (present day Belgium) remained under Habsburg rule, Holland benefiting greatly from the resulting eclipse of Flemish cities and massive influx of refugees.

During this struggle, commerce continued and the United Provinces prospered. Amsterdam became the most important trading centre in northern Europe. In the Dutch Golden Age, which had its zenith in 1667, there was a remarkable flowering of trade, industry (especially shipbuilding), the arts (especially painting) and the sciences. The Dutch Republic, particularly Holland and Zeeland, became a veritable Dutch empire, a maritime power with a commercial, imperial and colonial reach that extended to Asia, Africa and the Americas — but not without slavery and colonial oppression.

By the mid-18th century decline had set in because of several economic factors. There was a series of wars with the English and the French. The country's political system was dominated by wealthy regents and (sometimes) by stadtholders drawn from the House of Orange. Eventually, Amsterdam lost its leading position to London. In 1784 a war with Great Britain ended particularly disastrously. There was growing unrest and conflict between the Orangists and the Patriots inspired by the French Revolution, and finally conflict with France itself. A pro-French Batavian Republic was established (1795–1806) and then the country was invaded by, and integrated into, the First French Empire as the Kingdom of Holland (1806–1815).

After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the Netherlands was restored as a nation by the Vienna Congress and the House of Orange was elevated to a monarchy. King William I was also given rule over Belgium, but this lasted only around two decades. After an initially conservative period, strong liberal sentiments arose, so that in the 1848 constitution the country was made a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch.

The Netherlands were neutral during the First World War, but it was unable to stay out of the Second. After destroying Rotterdam on 14 November 1940, the Nazis invaded the country and occupied it. Around 100,000 Dutch Jews died in the Holocaust and many others died as well. On 5 May 1945, the war ended after liberation by mainly Canadian forces. The post-war years were a time of hardship, natural disaster and mass emigration, followed by rebuilding, large-scale public works programmes (especially the Delta Works), economic recovery, European integration and the gradual introduction of a welfare state. There was also a conflict with Indonesia, which ended with the Dutch withdrawing completely from their former colonies there in 1961. Suriname declared independence in 1975. Many people from Indonesia and Suriname, and later from other countries as well, moved to the Netherlands, which resulted in the transformation of the country into a vibrant, multicultural society.

The second half of the 20th century was marked by relative peace and prosperity. By the 21st century, the Netherlands had become a modern, dynamic country with a successful, internationally oriented economy (the 16th largest in the world in 2010) and a high standard of living.

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Prehistory (before 800 BC)

Historical changes to the landscape

The prehistory of the area that is now the Netherlands was largely shaped by its constantly shifting, low-lying geography.

The Netherlands in 5500 BC
The Netherlands in 3850 BC
The Netherlands in 2750 BC
The Netherlands in 500 BC
The Netherlands in 50 AD
  beach ridges and dunes
  tidal sand flats, tidal mudflats, salt marshes
  peat marshes and floodplain silt areas
(including old river courses and riverbank breaches which have filled up with silt or peat)
  Valleys of the major rivers (not covered with peat)
  River dunes (Pleistocene dunes)
  open water (sea, lagoons, rivers)
  Pleistocene landscape (> −6 m compared to NAP)
  Pleistocene landscape ( -6 m – 0 m)
  Pleistocene landscape ( 0 m – 10 m)
  Pleistocene landscape ( 10 m – 20 m)
  Pleistocene landscape ( 20 m – 50 m)
  Pleistocene landscape ( 50 m – 100 m)
  Pleistocene landscape ( 100 m – 200 m)

Earliest groups of hunter-gatherers (before 5000 BC)

An oak statue found in Willemstad, The Netherlands, dating from around 4500 BC. On display in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden.

The area that is now the Netherlands has been inhabited since the last ice age. The oldest known artifacts date from the Hoogeveen interstadial of the Saalian glaciation. During the last ice age, the Netherlands had a tundra climate with scarce vegetation. The first inhabitants survived as hunter-gatherers. After the end of the ice age, various Paleolithic groups inhabited the area. It is known that around 8000 BC a Mesolithic tribe resided near Burgumer Mar (Friesland). Another group residing elsewhere is known to have made canoes. The oldest recovered canoe in the world is the canoe of Pesse.[1][2] According to C14 dating analysis it was constructed somewhere between 8200 BC and 7600 BC.[2] This canoe is exhibited in the Drents Museum in Assen.

Autochthonous hunter-gatherers from the Swifterbant culture are attested from around 5600 BC onwards.[3] They are strongly linked to rivers and open water and were genetically related to the southern Scandinavian Ertebølle culture (5300 BC–4000 BC). To the west, the same tribes might have built hunting camps to hunt winter game, including seals.

The arrival of farming (around 5000 BC-4000 BC)

Agriculture arrived in the Netherlands somewhere around 5000 BC with the Linear Pottery culture, who were probably central European farmers. Agriculture was practised only on the loess plateau in the very south (southern Limburg). Farms did not develop in the rest of the Netherlands, probably because of the lack of animal domestication and appropriate tools.

There is also some evidence of small settlements in the west of the country. These people made the switch to animal husbandry sometime between 4800 BC and 4500 BC. Dutch archaeologist Leendert Louwe Kooijmans wrote, "It is becoming increasingly clear that the agricultural transformation of prehistoric communities was a purely indigenous process that took place very gradually."[3] This transformation took place as early as 4300 BC–4000 BC[4] and featured the introduction of grains in small quantities into a traditional broad-spectrum economy.[5]

Funnelbeaker and other cultures (around 4000 BC-3000 BC)

Hunebed D27, the largest dolmen in the Netherlands, located near Borger in Drenthe.

The Funnelbeaker culture was a farming culture extending from Denmark through northern Germany into the northern Netherlands. In this period of Dutch prehistory the first notable remains were erected: the dolmens, large stone grave monuments. They are found in Drenthe, and were probably built between 4100 BC and 3200 BC.

To the west, the Vlaardingen culture (around 2600 BC), an apparently more primitive culture of hunter-gatherers survived well into the Neolithic period.

Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures (around 3000 BC-2000 BC)

Around 2950 BC there was a transition from the Funnelbeaker farming culture to the Corded Ware pastoralist culture. The cause of this transition is a matter of debate, but it was a quick, smooth and internal change in culture and religion that occurred in just two generations, probably because of developments in eastern Germany and without immigration.[6]

The Bell Beaker culture was also present in the Netherlands.[7][8]

The Corded Ware and Bell Beaker cultures were not indigenous to the Netherlands but were pan-European in nature, extending across much of northern and central Europe.

The first evidence of the use of the wheel dates from this period, about 2400 BC. This culture also experimented with working with copper. Evidence of this, including stone anvils, copper knives and a copper spearhead, was found on the Veluwe. Copper finds show that there was trade with other areas in Europe, as natural copper is not found in Dutch soil.

Bronze Age (around 2000 BC-800 BC)

A bronze ceremonial object (not a sword, but called the "Sword of Jutphaas"), dating from 1800-1500 BC and found south of Utrecht

The Bronze age probably started somewhere around 2000 BC and lasted until around 800 BC. The earliest bronze tools have been found in the grave of a Bronze Age individual called "the smith of Wageningen". (Typical Dutch Bronze Age items.) More Bronze Age objects from later periods have been found in Epe, Drouwen and elsewhere. Broken bronze objects found in Voorschoten were apparently destined for recycling. This indicates how valuable bronze was considered in the Bronze Age. (Typology of Dutch Bronze Age axes.) Typical bronze objects from this period included knives, swords, axes, fibulae and bracelets.

Location of the Elp

and Hilversum cultures in the Bronze Age.]] Most of the Bronze Age objects found in the Netherlands have been found in Drenthe. One item shows that trading networks during this period extended a far distance. Large bronze situlae (buckets) found in Drenthe were manufactured somewhere in eastern France or in Switzerland. They were used for mixing wine with water (a Roman/Greek custom). The many finds in Drenthe of rare and valuable objects, such as tin-bead necklaces, suggest that Drenthe was a trading centre in the Netherlands in the Bronze Age.

The Bell Beaker cultures (2700–2100) locally developed into the Bronze Age Barbed-Wire Beaker culture (2100–1800). In the second millennium BC, the region was the boundary between the Atlantic and Nordic horizons and was split into a northern and a southern region, roughly divided by the course of the Rhine.

In the north, the Elp culture (ca. 1800 to 800 BC)[9] was a Bronze Age archaeological culture having earthenware pottery of low quality known as "Kümmerkeramik" (or "Grobkeramik") as a marker. The initial phase was characterized by tumuli (1800–1200 BC) that were strongly tied to contemporary tumuli in northern Germany and Scandinavia, and were apparently related to the Tumulus culture (1600 BC – 1200 BC) in central Europe. This phase was followed by a subsequent change featuring Urnfield (cremation) burial customs (1200–800 BC). The southern region became dominated by the Hilversum culture (1800–800), which apparently inherited the cultural ties with Britain of the previous Barbed-Wire Beaker culture.

The pre-Roman period (800 BC – 58 BC)

Iron age

A reconstruction of an iron age dwelling on the Reijntjesveld near Orvelte in Drenthe.

The Iron Age brought a measure of prosperity to the people living in the area of the present-day Netherlands. Iron ore was available throughout the country, including bog iron extracted from the ore in peat bogs (moeras ijzererts) in the north, the natural iron-bearing balls found in the Veluwe and the red iron ore near the rivers in Brabant. Smiths travelled from small settlement to settlement with bronze and iron, fabricating tools on demand, including axes, knives, pins, arrowheads and swords. Some evidence even suggests the making of Damascus steel swords using an advanced method of forging that combined the flexibility of iron with the strength of steel.

In Oss, a grave dating from around 500 BC was found in a burial mound 52 metres wide (and thus the largest of its kind in western Europe). Dubbed the "king's grave", it contained extraordinary objects, including an iron sword with an inlay of gold and coral.(Iron age finds in the Netherlands)

In the centuries just before the arrival of the Romans, northern areas formerly occupied by the Elp culture emerged as the probably Germanic Harpstedt culture[10] while the southern parts were influenced by the Hallstatt culture and assimilated into the Celtic La Tène culture. The contemporary southern and western migration of Germanic groups and the northern expansion of the Hallstatt culture drew these peoples into each other's sphere of influence.[11] This is consistent with Caesar's account of the Rhine forming the boundary between Celtic and Germanic tribes.

Arrival of Germanic groups

Distribution of the primary Germanic groups ca. 1 AD.

The Germanic tribes originally inhabited southern Scandinavia, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg,[12] but subsequent Iron Age cultures of the same region, like Wessenstedt (800 BC–600 BC) and Jastorf, are also in consideration.[13] A deteriorating climate in Scandinavia around 850 BC to 760 BC and a later and more rapid one around 650 BC might have triggered migrations. Archeological evidence suggests around 750 BC a relatively uniform Germanic people from the Netherlands to the Vistula and southern Scandinavia.[12] In the west the coastal floodplains were populated for the first time, since in adjacent higher grounds the population had increased and the soil became exhausted.[14]

By the time this migration was complete, around 250 BC, a few general cultural and linguistic groupings are seen to have emerged.[15][16]

One grouping is today called the "North Sea Germanic", inhabiting the northern part of the Netherlands (north of the great rivers) and extending along the North Sea and into Jutland. This group is also sometimes referred to as the "Ingvaeones". Included in this group are the peoples who would later develop into, among others, the early Frisians and the early Saxons.[16]

A second grouping is now called the "Weser-Rhine Germanic" (or "Rhine-Weser Germanic"), extending along the middle Rhine and Weser and inhabiting the southern part of the Netherlands (south of the great rivers). This group, also sometimes referred to as the "Istvaeones", consisted of tribes that would eventually develop into the Salian Franks.[16]


The suspected location of tribes in the Netherlands in the 1st century AD. The exact boundaries are unknown, however, and H through M in particular should not be considered exact representations.

When the Romans arrived, various tribes were located in the area of the Netherlands, residing in the inhabitable higher parts, especially in the east and south. These tribes did not leave behind written records. All the information known about them during this pre-Roman period is based on what the Romans would later write about them.

The tribes shown in the map on the right:

Other tribal groups not shown on this map but associated with the Netherlands are:

Celts in the south

Diachronic distribution of Celtic peoples, showing expansion into the southern Netherlands:
  core Hallstatt territory, by the 6th century BC
  maximal Celtic expansion, by 275 BC
  Lusitanian area of Iberia where Celtic presence is uncertain
  the "six Celtic nations" which retained significant numbers of Celtic speakers into the Early Modern period
  areas where Celtic languages remain widely spoken today

The Celtic culture had its origins in the central European Hallstatt culture (c. 800–450 BC), named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria.[17] By the later La Tène period (c. 450 BC up to the Roman conquest), this Celtic culture had, whether by diffusion or migration, expanded over a wide range, including into the southern area of the Netherlands. This would have been the northern reach of the Gauls.

In March 2005 17 Celtic coins were found in Echt (Limburg). The silver coins, mixed with copper and gold, date from around 50 BC to 20 AD. In October 2008 a horde of 39 gold coins and 70 silver Celtic coins was found in the Amby area of Maastricht.[18] The gold coins were attributed to the Eburones people.[19] Celtic objects have also been found in the area of Zutphen.[20]

Although it is rare for hoards to be found, in past decades loose Celtic coins and other objects have been found throughout the central, eastern and southern part of the Netherlands. According to archaeologists these finds confirmed that at least the Maas river valley in the Netherlands was within the influence of the La Tène culture. Dutch archaeologists even speculate that Zutphen (which lies in the centre of the country) was a Celtic area before the Romans arrived, not a Germanic one at all.[20]

Scholars debate the actual extent of the Celtic influence.[14][21] The Celtic influence and contacts between Gaulish and early Germanic culture along the Rhine is assumed to be the source of a number of Celtic loanwords in Proto-Germanic.[citation needed] But according to Belgian linguist Luc van Durme, toponymic evidence of a former Celtic presence in the Low Countries is near to utterly absent.[22] Although there were Celts in the Netherlands, Iron Age innovations did not involve substantial Celtic intrusions and featured a local development from Bronze Age culture.[14]

The Nordwestblock theory

Some scholars (De Laet, Gysseling, Hachmann, Kossack & Kuhn) have speculated that a separate ethnic identity, neither Germanic nor Celtic, survived in the Netherlands until the Roman period. They see the Netherlands as having been part of an Iron Age "Nordwestblock" stretching from the Somme to the Weser.[23][24] Their view is that this culture, which had its own language, was being absorbed by the Celts to the south and the Germanic peoples from the east as late as the immediate pre-Roman perod.

Roman era (57 BC – 410 AD)

Rhine Frontier of the Roman Empire around 70 AD.

During the Gallic Wars, the area south and west of the Rhine was conquered by Roman forces under Julius Caesar in a series of campaigns from 57 BC to 53 BC.[24] The approximately 450 years of Roman rule that followed would profoundly change the Netherlands.

Starting about 15 BC, the Rhine in the Netherlands came to be defended by the Lower Limes Germanicus. After a series of military actions, the Rhine became fixed around 12 AD as Rome's northern frontier on the European mainland. A number of towns and developments would arise along this line. The area to the south would be integrated into the Roman Empire. At first part of Gallia Belgica, this area became part of the province of Germania Inferior. The tribes already within, or relocated to, this area became part of the Roman Empire. The area to the north of the Rhine, inhabited by the Frisii and the Chauci, remained outside Roman rule but not its presence and control.

Roman settlements in the Netherlands

1st century mask of a Roman cavalryman, found near Leiden (ie near the Roman settlement of Matilo

Romans built military forts along the Limes Germanicus and a number of towns and smaller settlements in the Netherlands. The more notable Roman towns were at Nijmegen (Ulpia Noviomagus Batavorum) and at Voorburg (Forum Hadriani).

Perhaps the most evocative Roman ruin is the mysterious Brittenburg, which emerged out of the sand at the beach in Katwijk several centuries ago, only to be buried again. These ruins were part of Lugdunum Batavorum.

Other Roman settlements, fortifications, temples and other structures have been found at Alphen aan de Rijn (Albaniana); Bodegraven; Cuijk; Elst, Overbetuwe; Ermelo; Esch; Heerlen; Houten; Kessel, North Brabant; Oss, i.e. De Lithse Ham near Maren-Kessel; Kesteren in Neder-Betuwe; Leiden (Matilo); Maastricht; Meinerswijk (now part of Arnhem); Tiel; Utrecht (Traiectum); Valkenburg (South Holland) (Praetorium Agrippinae); Vechten (Fectio) now part of Bunnik; Velsen; Vleuten; Wijk bij Duurstede (Levefanum); Woerden (Laurium or Laurum); and Zwammerdam (Nigrum Pullum).


Throughout Dutch history, but especially during the Eighty Years' War, the Batavians have been romantically portrayed as the heroic ancestors of the Dutch people. "The Batavians Defeating the Romans on the Rhine", ca.1613, by Otto van Veen.
The Conspiracy of Julius Civilis, 1661, by Rembrandt, depicts a Batavian oath to Gaius Julius Civilis, the head of the Batavian rebellion against the Romans in 69.

The Batavians are the most famous of the early Germanic tribes inhabiting the Netherlands during the Roman era. Since at least the 17th century the Dutch have identified with the rebellious Batavians, seeing in this tribe a precursor of their own historic struggle for freedom. Even today "Batavian" is a term sometimes used to describe the Dutch people. (This is similar to use of "Gallic" to describe the French and "Teutonic" to describe the Germans.)

About 38 BC a pro-Roman faction of the Chatti (a Germanic tribe located east of the Rhine) was settled by Agrippa in an area south of the Rhine, now thought to be the Betuwe area. They took on the name of the people already living there—the Batavians.[24] The relationship between the Romans and the Batavians was generally quite good. Many Batavians even served in the Roman cavalry. The Batavians were regarded as loyal and courageous soldiers by the Romans[25] and fought in many important wars, for instance the conquest of Dacia (Romania) by the emperor Trajan. Batavian culture was influenced by the Romans, resulting among other things in Roman-style temples such as the one in Elst, dedicated to local gods. Trade between the Batavians and the Romans also flourished.

However, the Batavians rose against the Romans in the Batavian rebellion of 69 AD. The leader of this revolt was Batavian Gaius Julius Civilis. One of the causes of the rebellion was that the Romans had taken young Batavians as slaves. A number of Roman castella were attacked and burnt. Other Roman soldiers in Xanten and elsewhere and auxiliary troops of Batavians and Canninefatae in the legions of Vitellius) joined the revolt, thus splitting the northern part of the Roman army. In April 70 AD, a few legions sent by Vespasianus and commanded by Petilius Cerialis eventually defeated the Batavians and negotiated surrender with Gaius Julius Civilis somewhere between the Waal and the Maas near Noviomagus (Nijmegen), which was probably called "Batavodurum" by the Batavians.[26] The Batavians later merged with other tribes and became part of the Salian Franks.

Dutch writers in the 17th and 18th centuries saw the rebellion of the independent and freedom-loving Batavians as mirroring the Dutch revolt against Spain and other forms of tyranny. According to this nationalist view, the Batavians were the "true" forefathers of the Dutch, which explains the recurring use of the name over the centuries. Jakarta was named "Batavia" by the Dutch in 1619. The Dutch republic created in 1795 on the basis of French revolutionary principles was called the Batavian Republic.[27]

Emergence of the Franks

Map showing roughly the distribution of Salian Franks (in green) and Ripuarian Franks (in red) at the end of the Roman period.

Modern scholars of the Migration Period are in agreement that the Frankish identity emerged at the first half of the 3rd century out of various earlier, smaller Germanic groups, including the Salii, Sicambri, Chamavi, Bructeri, Chatti, Chattuarii, Ampsivarii, Tencteri, Ubii, Batavi and the Tungri, who inhabited the lower and middle Rhine valley between the Zuyder Zee and the river Lahn and extended eastwards as far as the Weser, but were the most densely settled around the IJssel and between the Lippe and the Sieg. The Frankish confederation probably began to coalesce in the 210s.[28]

The Franks eventually were divided into two groups: the Ripuarian Franks (Latin: Ripuari), who were the Franks that lived along the middle-Rhine River during the Roman Era, and the Salian Franks, who were the Franks that originated in the area of the Netherlands.

Franks appear in Roman texts as both allies and enemies (laeti and dediticii). By about 320, the Franks had the region of the Scheldt river (present day west Flanders and southwest Netherlands) under control, and were raiding the Channel, disrupting transportation to Britain. Roman forces pacified the region, but did not expel the Franks, who continued to be feared as pirates along the shores at least until the time of Julian the Apostate (358), when Salian Franks were granted to settle as foederati in Toxandria, according to Ammianus Marcellinus.[28]

Disappearance of the Frisii


Three factors contributed to the disappearance of the Frisii from the northern Netherlands. First, according to the Panegyrici Latini (Manuscript VIII), the ancient Frisii were forced to resettle within Roman territory as laeti (i.e., Roman-era serfs) in ca. 296.[29] This is the last reference to the ancient Frisii in the historical record. What happened to them, however, is suggested in the archaeological record. The discovery of a type of earthenware unique to 4th century Frisia, called terp Tritzum, shows that an unknown number of them were resettled in Flanders and Kent,[30] likely as laeti under Roman coercion. Second, the environment in the low-lying coastal regions of northwestern Europe began to deteriorate ca. 250 and gradually worsened over the next 200 years. Tectonic subsidence, a rising water table and storm surges combined to flood some areas with marine transgressions. The situation was aggravated by a shift to a cooler, wetter climate in the region. If there had been any Frisii left in Frisia, they would have fallen victim to the whims of nature.[31][32][33][34] Third, after the collapse of the Roman Empire, there was a decline in population as Roman activity stopped and Roman institutions withdrew. As a result of these three factors, the Frisii and Frisiaevones disappeared from the area. The coastal lands remained largely unpopulated for the next two centuries.[31][32][33][34]

Early Middle Ages (411–1000)


Map showing roughly the distribution of Franks and Frisians ca. 716 AD

As climatic conditions improved, there was another mass migration of Germanic peoples into the area from the east. This is known as the "Migration Period" (Volksverhuizingen). The northern Netherlands received an influx of new migrants and settlers, mostly Saxons, but also Angles and Jutes. Many of these migrants did not stay in the northern Netherlands but moved on to England and are known today as the Anglo-Saxons. The newcomers that stayed in the northern Netherlands would eventually be referred to as "Frisians", although they were not descended from the ancient Frisii. These new Frisians settled in the northern Netherlands and would become the ancestors of the modern Frisians.[35][36] (Because the early Frisians and Anglo-Saxons were formed from largely identical tribal confederacies, their respective languages were very similar. Old Frisian is the most closely related language to Old English[37] and the modern Frisian dialects are in turn the closest related languages to contemporary English.) By the end of the 6th century, the Frisian territory in the northern Netherlands had expanded west to the North Sea coast and, by the 7th century, south to Dorestad. During this period most of the northern Netherlands was known as Frisia. This extended Frisian territory is sometimes referred to as Frisia Magna (or Greater Frisia).

Dorestad and main traderoutes

In the 7th century and 8th century, the Frankish chronologies mention this area as the kingdom of the Frisians. This kingdom comprised the coastal provinces of the Netherlands and the German North Sea coast. During this time, the Frisian language was spoken along the entire southern North Sea coast. The 7th century Frisian Kingdom (650734) under King Aldegisel and King Redbad, had its centre of power in Utrecht.

Dorestad was the largest settlement (emporia) in northwestern Europe. It had grown around a former Roman fortress. It was a large, flourishing trading place, three kilometers long and situated where the rivers Rhine and Lek diverge southeast of Utrecht near the modern town of Wijk bij Duurstede.[38][39] Although inland, it was a North Sea trading centre that primarily handled goods from the Middle Rhineland.[39][40] Wine was among the major products traded at Dorestad, likely from vineyards south of Mainz.[40] It was also widely known because of its mint. Between 600 and around 719 Dorestad was often fought over between the Frisians and the Franks.


Expansion of the Franks from 481 to 870 AD.

When the Roman Empire collapsed, there were already Franks and other groups in the southern Netherlands on Roman soil.[28] In the 5th century Frankish rulers extended their territories to the south[41] until numerous small Frankish kingdoms existed, among them the ones in Cologne, Tournai, Le Mans and Cambrai. The kings of Tournai eventually came to subdue the other Frankish kings. By the 490s, Clovis I had conquered all the Frankish kingdoms to the west of the Meuse, including the Frankish terroritories in the southern Netherlands. He continued his conquests into Gaul.

After the death of Clovis I in 511, his four sons partitioned his kingdom amongst themselves, with Theuderic I receiving the lands that were to become Austrasia (including the southern Netherlands). A line of kings descended from Theuderic ruled Austrasia until 555, when it was united with the other Frankish kingdoms of Chlothar I, who inherited all the Frankish realms by 558. He redivided the Frankish territory amongst his four sons, but the four kingdoms coalesced into three on the death of Charibert I in 567. Austrasia (including the southern Netherlands) was given to Sigebert I. The southern Netherlands remained the northern part of Austrasia until the rise of the Carolingians.

The Franks who expanded south into Gaul settled there and eventually adopted the Vulgar Latin of the local population.[16] During this expansion to the south, many Frankish people remained in the north (i.e. southern Netherlands, Flanders and a small part of northern France). A widening cultural divide grew between them and the rulers far to the south.[41] They continued to reside in their original homeland and the area directly to the south and to speak their original language, Old Frankish, which by the 9th century had evolved into Old Dutch.[16] A Dutch-French language boundary came into existence (but this was south of where it is today).[16][41] In the Maas and Rhine areas of the Netherlands, the Franks had political and trading centres, especially at Nijmegen and Maastricht.[41] These Franks remained in contact with the Frisians to the north, especially in places like Dorestad and Utrecht.

Modern doubts about the traditional Frisian, Frank and Saxon distinction

In the late 19th century, Dutch historians believed that the Franks, Frisians, and Saxons were the original ancestors of the Dutch people. Some went further by ascribing certain attributes, values and strengths to these various groups and proposing that they reflected 19th century nationalist and religious views. In particular, it was believed that this theory explained why Belgium and the southern Netherlands (i.e. the Franks) had become Catholic and the northern Netherlands (Frisians and Saxons) had become Protestant. The success of this theory was partly due to anthropological theories based on a tribal paradigm. Being politically and geographically inclusive, and yet accounting for diversity, this theory was in accordance with the need for nation-building and integration during the 1890–1914 period. The theory was taught in Dutch schools.

Saint Willibrord, Anglo-Saxon missionary from Northumberland, Apostle to the Frisians, first bishop of Utrecht.

However, the disadvantages of this historical interpretation became apparent. This tribal-based theory suggested that external borders were weak or non-existent and that there were clear-cut internal borders. This origins myth provided an historical premise, especially during the Second World War, for regional separatism and annexation to Germany. After 1945 the tribal paradigm lost its appeal for anthropological scholars and historians. When the accuracy of the three-tribe theme was fundamentally questioned, the theory fell out of favour.[27]

Due to the scarcity of written sources, knowledge of this period depends to a large degree on the interpretation of archaeological data. The traditional view of a clear-cut division between Frisians in the north, Franks in the south and Saxons in the east has proven historically problematic.[42][43][44] Archeological evidence suggests dramatically different models for different regions, with demographic continuity for some parts of the country and depopulation and possible replacement in other parts, notably the coastal areas of Frisia and Holland.[45]

The emergence of the Dutch language

The language from which Old Dutch (also sometimes called Old West Low Franconian) arose is not known with certainty, but it is thought to be Old Frankish, the language spoken by the Salian Franks. Even though the Franks are traditionally categorized as Weser-Rhine Germanic, Dutch has a number of Ingvaeonic characteristics and is classified by modern linguists as an Ingvaeonic language. Dutch also has a number of Old Saxon characteristics. There was a close relationship between Old Frankish, Old Saxon, Old English and Old Frisian. Because Old Frankish texts are almost non-existent and Old Dutch texts scarce and fragmentary, it is difficult to determine when the transition from Old Frankish to Old Dutch occurred, but it is thought to have happened by the end of the 9th century AD. and perhaps occurred before then. Old Dutch made the transition to Middle Dutch around 1150.[16]


The Christianity that arrived in the Netherlands with the Romans appears not to have died out completely (in Maastricht, at least) after the withdrawal of the Romans.[41]

The Franks became Christians after their king Clovis I converted to Catholicism, an event which is traditionally set in 496. Christianity was introduced in the north after the conquest of Friesland by the Franks. The Saxons in the east were converted before the conquest of Saxony, and became Frankish allies.

Hiberno-Scottish and Anglo-Saxon missionaries, particularly Willibrord, Wulfram and Boniface, played an important role in converting the Frankish and Frisian peoples to Christianity by the 8th century. Boniface was martyred by the Frisians in Dokkum (754).

Frankish dominance and incorporation into Holy Roman Empire

An early 16th century tapestry depicting the near baptism of Redbad, King of the Frisians, who died in 719.

In the early 8th century the Frisians came increasingly into conflict with the Franks to the south, resulting in a series of wars in which the Frankish Empire eventually subjugated Frisia. In 734, at the Battle of the Boarn, the Frisians in the Netherlands were defeated by the Franks, who thereby conquered the area west of the Lauwers. The Franks then conquered the area east of the Lauwers in 785 when Charlemagne defeated Widukind.

The linguistic descendants of the Franks, the modern Dutch-speakers of the Netherlands and Flanders, seem to have broken with the endonym "Frank" around the 9th century. By this time Frankish identity had changed from an ethnic identity to a national identity, becoming localized and confined to the modern Franconia and principally to the French province of Île-de-France.[46]

Although the people no longer referred to themselves as "Franks", the Netherlands was still part of the Frankish empire of Charlemagne. Indeed, because of the Austrasian origins of the Carolingians in the area between the Rhine and the Maas, the cities of Aachen, Maastricht, Liege and Nijmegen were at the heart of Carolingian culture.[41] Charlemagne maintained his palatium in Nijmegen at least four times.

The Carolingian empire would eventually include France, Germany, northern Italy and much of Western Europe. In 843, the Frankish empire was divided into three parts, giving rise to West Francia in the west, East Francia in the east, and Middle Francia in the centre. Most of what is today the Netherlands became part of Middle Francia; Flanders became part of West Francia. This division was an important factor in the historical distinction between Flanders and the other Dutch-speaking areas.

Middle Francia (Latin: Francia media) was an ephemeral Frankish kingdom that had no historical or ethnic identity to bind its varied peoples. It was created by the Treaty of Verdun in 843, which divided the Carolingian Empire among the sons of Louis the Pious. Situated between the realms of East and West Francia, Middle Francia comprised the Frankish territory between the rivers Rhine and Scheldt, the Frisian coast of the North Sea, the former Kingdom of Burgundy (except for a western portion, later known as Bourgogne), Provence and the Kingdom of Italy.

Middle Francia fell to Lothair I, the eldest son and successor of Louis the Pious, after an intermittent civil war with his younger brothers Louis the German and Charles the Bald. In acknowledgement of Lothair's Imperial title, Middle Francia contained the imperial cities of Aachen, the residence of Charlemagne, as well as Rome. In 855, on his deathbed at Prüm Abbey, Emperor Lothair I again partitioned his realm amongst his sons. Most of the lands north of the Alps, including the Netherlands, passed to Lothair II and consecutively were named Lotharingia. After Lothair II died in 869, Lotharingia was partioned by his uncles Louis the German and Charles the Bald in the Treaty of Meerssen in 870. Although some of the Netherlands had come under Viking control, in 870 it technically became part of East Francia, which became the Holy Roman Empire in 962.

Viking raids

Rorik of Dorestad, Viking conqueror and ruler of Friesland, a romantic 1912 depiction by Hermanus W. Koekkoek.

In the 9th and 10th centuries the Vikings raided the largely defenceless Frisian and Frankish towns laying on the coast and along the rivers of the Low Countries. Although Vikings never settled in large numbers in these areas, they did set up long-term bases and were even acknowledged as lords in a few cases. In Dutch and Frisian historical tradition the trading centre of Dorestad declined after Viking raids from 834 to 863; however, since no convincing Viking archaeological evidence has been found at the site (as of 2007), doubts about this have grown in recent years.[47]

One of the most important Viking families in the Low Countries was that of Rorik of Dorestad (based in Wieringen) and his brother the "younger Harald" (based in Walcheren), both thought to be nephews of Harald Klak.[48] Around 850 Lothair I acknowledged Rorik as ruler of most of Friesland. And again in 870 Rorik was received by Charles the Bald in Nijmegen, to whom he became a vassal. Viking raids continued during this period. Harald’s son Rodulf and his men were killed by the people of Oostergo in 873. Rorik died sometime before 882.

Buried Viking treasures consisting mainly of silver have been found in the Low Countries. Two such treasures have been found in Wieringen. A large treasure found in Wieringen in 1996 dates from around 850 and is thought perhaps to have been connected to Rorik. The burial of such a valuable treasure is seen as an indication that there was a permanent settlement in Wieringen.[49]

Around 879 Godfrid arrived in Frisian lands as the head of a large force that terrorised the Low Countries. Using Ghent as his base, they ravaged Ghent, Maastricht, Liège, Stavelot, Prüm, Cologne, and Koblenz. Controlling most of Frisia between 882 and his death in 885, Godfrid became known to history as Godfrid, Duke of Frisia. His lordship over Frisia was acknowledged by Charles the Fat, to whom he became a vassal. Godfried was assassinated in 885, after which Gerolf of Holland assumed lordship and Viking rule of Frisia came to an end.

Viking raids of the Low Countries continued for over a century. Remains of Viking attacks dating from 880 to 890 have been found in Zutphen and Deventer. In 920 King Henry of Germany liberated Utrecht. According to a number of chronicles, the last attacks took place in the first decade of the 11th century and were directed at Tiel and/or Utrecht.[50]

These Viking raids occurred about the same time that French and German lords were fighting for supremacy over the middle empire that included the Netherlands, so their sway over this area was weak. Resistance to the Vikings, if any, came from local nobles, who gained in stature as a result.

High Middle Ages (1000–1432)

The Holy Roman Empire in 1000

Part of the Holy Roman Empire

The German kings and emperors ruled the Netherlands in the 10th and 11th century. Germany was called the Holy Roman Empire after the coronation of King Otto the Great as emperor. The Dutch city of Nijmegen used to be the spot of an important domain of the German emperors. Several German emperors were born and died there. (Byzantine empress Theophanu died in Nijmegen for instance.) Utrecht was also an important city and trading port at the time.

Political disunity

The Holy Roman Empire was not able to maintain political unity. In addition to the growing independence of the towns, local rulers turned their counties and duchies into private kingdoms and felt little sense of obligation to the emperor who governed over large parts of the nation in name only. Large parts of what now comprise the Netherlands were governed by the Count of Holland, the Duke of Gelre, the Duke of Brabant and the Bishop of Utrecht. Friesland and Groningen in the north maintained their independence and were governed by the lower nobility.

Chapel of St Nicholas (Sint Nicolaaskapel or Valkhofkapel) in Nijmegen, dating from ca. 975, the oldest building in the Netherlands.

The various feudal states were in a state of almost continual war. Gelre and Holland fought for control of Utrecht. Utrecht, whose bishop had in 1000 ruled over half of what is today the Netherlands, was marginalised as it experienced continuing difficulty in electing new bishops. At the same time, the dynasties of neighbouring states were more stable. Groningen, Drenthe and most of Gelre, which used to be part of Utrecht, became independent. Brabant tried to conquer its neighbours, but was not successful. Holland also tried to assert itself in Zeeland and Friesland, but its attempts failed.

The Frisians

The language and culture of most of the people who lived in the area that is now Holland were originally Frisian. The sparsely populated area was known as "West Friesland" (Westfriesland). As Frankish settlement progressed, the Frisians migrated away or were absorbed and the area quickly became Dutch. (The part of North Holland situated north of the 'IJ' is still colloquially known as West Friesland).

The rest of Friesland in the north continued to maintain its independence during this time. It had its own institutions (collectively called the "Frisian freedom") and resented the imposition of the feudal system and the patriciate found in other European towns. They regarded themselves as allies of Switzerland. The Frisian battle cry was "better dead than a slave". They later lost their independence when they were defeated in 1498 by the German Landsknecht mercenaries of Duke Albrecht of Saxony-Meissen.

The rise of Holland

Dirk VI, Count of Holland, 1114-1157, and his mother Petronella visiting the work on the Egmond Abbey, Charles Rochussen, 1881. The sculpture is the Egmond Tympanum, depicting the two visitors on either side of St Peter
Two wings of an altar piece, ca. 1500, depicting the St Elizabeth Flood of 18–19 November 1421, with Dordrecht at the front left.

The center of power in these emerging independent territories was in the County of Holland. Originally granted as a fief to the Danish chieftain Rorik in return for loyalty to the emperor in 862, the region of Kennemara (the region around modern Haarlem) rapidly grew under Rorik's descendants in size and importance. By the early 11th century AD, Dirk III, Count of Holland was levying tolls on the Meuse estuary and was able to resist military intervention from his overlord, the Duke of Lower Lorraine. In 1083, the name "Holland" first appears in a deed referring to a region corresponding more or less to the current province of South Holland and the southern half of what is now North Holland. Holland's influence continued to grow over the next two centuries. The counts of Holland conquered most of Zeeland but it was not until 1289 that Count Floris V was able to subjugate the Frisians in West Friesland (that is, the northern half of North Holland).

Expansion and growth

Around 1000 AD there were several agricultural developments (described sometimes as an agricultural revolution) that resulted in an increase in production, especially food production. The economy started to develop at a fast pace, and the higher productivity allowed workers to farm more land or to become tradesmen.

Much of the western Netherlands was barely inhabited between the end of the Roman period until around 1100 AD, farmers from Flanders and Utrecht began purchasing the swampy land, draining it and cultivating it. This process happened quickly and the uninhabited territory was settled in only a few generations. They built independent farms that were not part of villages, something unique in Europe at the time.

Guilds were established and markets developed as production exceeded local needs. Also, the introduction of currency made trading a much easier affair than it had been before. Existing towns grew and new towns sprang into existence around monasteries and castles, and a mercantile middle class began to develop in these urban areas. Commerce and town development increased as the population grew.

The Crusades were popular in the Low Countries and drew many to fight in the Holy Land. At home, there was relative peace. Viking pillaging had stopped. Both the Crusades and the relative peace at home contributed to trade and the growth in commerce.

Cities arose and flourished, especially in Flanders and Brabant. As the cities grew in wealth and power, they started to buy certain privileges for themselves from the sovereign, including city rights, the right to self-government and the right to pass laws. In practice, this meant that the wealthiest cities became quasi-independent republics in their own right. Two of the most important cities were Brugge and Antwerp (in Flanders) which would later develop into some of the most important cities and ports in Europe.

Hook and Cod Wars

Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut, 1401-1436, known to the Dutch as "Jacoba of Bavaria"

The Hook and Cod Wars (Dutch: Hoekse en Kabeljauwse twisten) were a series of wars and battles in the County of Holland between 1350 and 1490. Most of these wars were fought over the title of count of Holland, but some have argued that the underlying reason was because of the power struggle of the bourgeois in the cities against the ruling nobility.

The Cod faction generally consisted of the more progressive cities of Holland. The Hook faction consisted for a large part of the conservative noblemen. Some of the main figures in this multi-generational conflict were William IV, Margaret, William V, William VI, Count of Holland and Hainaut, John and Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. But perhaps the most well known is Jacqueline, Countess of Hainaut.

The conquest of the county of Holland by the Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy was an odd affair. Leading noblemen in Holland invited the duke to conquer Holland, even though he had no historical claim to it. Some historians[who?] say that the ruling class in Holland wanted Holland to integrate with the Flemish economic system and adopt Flemish legal institutions. Europe had been wracked by many civil wars in the 14th and 15th centuries, while Flanders had grown rich and enjoyed peace.

Burgundian and Habsburg period (1433–1567)

The Low Countries in the late 14th century

Burgundian period

Most of what is now the Netherlands and Belgium was eventually united by the Duke of Burgundy in 1433. Before the Burgundian union, the Dutch identified themselves by the town they lived in, their local duchy or county or as subjects of the Holy Roman Empire. The Burgundian period is when the Dutch began the road to nationhood.

Holland's trade developed rapidly, especially in the areas of shipping and transport. The new rulers defended Dutch trading interests. The fleets of Holland defeated the fleets of the Hanseatic League several times. Amsterdam grew and in the 15th century became the primary trading port in Europe for grain from the Baltic region. Amsterdam distributed grain to the major cities of Belgium, Northern France and England. This trade was vital to the people of Holland, because Holland could no longer produce enough grain to feed itself. Land drainage had caused the peat of the former wetlands to reduce to a level that was too low for drainage to be maintained.

Habsburg rule from Spain

Influential Utrecht theologian Adriaan Florenszoon Boeyens, 1459-1523, was Pope Adrian VI in 1522 and 1523.

Charles V was born in the Flemish city of Ghent in 1500. The culture and courtly life of the Burgundian Low Countries were an important influence in his early life. He was tutored by William de Croÿ (who would later become his first prime minister), and also by Adrian of Utrecht (later Pope Adrian VI). In 1506, Charles inherited his father's Burgundian territories. In this way the Netherlands became part of the Spanish Empire ruled by the Habsburgs. Charles would become the most powerful man in Europe, his sprawling empire being controlled from Seville. The Low Countries held an important place in the Holy Roman Empire. Because of trade and industry and the wealth of the cities, they also represented an important income for the treasury.

Charles extended the Burgundian territory with the annexation of Tournai, Artois, Utrecht, Groningen and Guelders. The Seventeen Provinces had been unified by Charles's Burgundian ancestors, but nominally were fiefs of either France or the Holy Roman Empire. When he was a minor, his aunt Margaret acted as regent until 1515 and soon she found herself at war with France over the question of Charles's requirement to pay homage to the French king for Flanders, as his father had done. The outcome was that France relinquished its ancient claim on Flanders in 1528.

Desiderius Erasmus, 1466-1536, Rotterdam Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest and theologian, by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1523.

In 1548, eight years before his abdication, Charles granted the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands status as an entity separate from both the Holy Roman Empire and from France with the Transaction of Augsburg. It was not full independence, but it allowed significant autonomy. In the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 it was stated that the Seventeen Provinces could only be passed on to his heirs as a united entity.[51]

From 1515 to 1523, Charles's government in the Netherlands had to contend with the rebellion of Frisian peasants (led by Pier Gerlofs Donia and Wijard Jelckama). Gelre attempted to build up its own state in northeast Netherlands and northwest Germany. Lacking funds in the 16th century, Gelre had its soldiers provide for themselves by pillaging enemy terrain. These soldiers were a great menace to the Burgundian Netherlands. One notorious event was the pillaging of The Hague.

Charles was succeeded by his son Philip II of Spain. Unlike his father, who had been raised in Ghent (Belgium), Philip had little personal attachment to the Low Countries (where he had only stayed for four years), and thus was perceived as detached by the local nobility. When Philip left the Netherlands on 7 August 1559, he appointed Margaret, Duchess of Parma as the governor of the Netherlands in his place.[52] Margaret was the illegitimate daughter of Charles V and Johanna Marie van der Gheynst.[53] Being appointed governor-general to the Netherlands was nothing new to her family. Both Margaret's great-aunt, Archduchess Margaret of Austria and Margaret's aunt Marie of Austria had served in the post of governor general of the Netherlands—serving from 1507 to 1530 and from 1530 to 1555, respectively.

The Reformation

Title page of the 1637 Statenvertaling, the first Bible translated from the original Hebrew and Greek into Dutch, commissioned by the Synod of Dort, used well into the 20th c.

The Protestant Reformation, which greatly influenced the history of the Netherlands, especially in western and northern areas of the country, started in the 16th century. The first wave of Reformation, initiated by Martin Luther, did not come to the Netherlands.

The second wave of the Protestant Reformation, Anabaptism, became very popular in the counties of Holland and Friesland. Anabaptists were very radical and believed that the apocalypse was very near. They refused to live the old way, and began new communities, creating considerable chaos. A prominent Dutch anabaptist was Menno Simons, who initiated the Mennonite church. Another Anabaptist, Jantje van Leyden became the ruler of a newly founded city, New Jerusalem. Anabaptists survived throughout the centuries and they were recognized by the States-General of the Netherlands in 1578. Institutionalized Dutch baptism stood for a model for both English and American Baptists.

The third wave of the Reformation, Calvinism, arrived in the Netherlands in the 1560s, converting both parts of the elite and the common population, mostly in Flanders. The Spanish government, under Philip II started harsh persecution campaigns, supported by the Spanish inquisition. In reaction to this persecution, Calvinists rebelled. First there was the Beeldenstorm in 1566, which involved the destruction of religious depictions in Churches. Also in 1566 William the Silent, a convert to Calvinism, started the Eighty Years' War to liberate the Calvinist Dutch from the Catholic Spaniards. The counties of Holland and Zeeland were conquered by Calvinists in 1572. A considerable number of people were Calvinist in Holland and Zeeland at that time already, while the other states remained almost entirely Catholic.

Prelude to war

The Netherlands was a valuable part of the Spanish Empire, especially after the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis of 1559. This treaty ended a forty-year period of warfare between France and Spain conducted in Italy from 1521 to 1559.[54] The Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis was somewhat of a watershed—not only for the battleground that Italy had been, but also for northern Europe. Spain had been keeping troops in the Netherlands to be ready to attack France from the north as well as from the south.

1595 painting by Isaac van Swanenburg illustrating Leiden textile workers

With the settlement of so many major issues between France and Spain by the Treaty of Cateau-Cambresis, there was no longer any reason to keep Spanish troops in the Netherlands. Thus, the people of the Netherlands could get on with their peacetime pursuits. As they did so they found that there was a great deal of demand for their products. Fishing had long been an important part of the economy of the Netherlands.[52] However, now the fishing of herring alone came to occupy 2,000 boats operating out of Dutch ports.[52] Spain, still the Dutch trader's best customer, was buying fifty (50) large ships full of furniture and household utensils from Flanders merchants.[52]

Additionally, Dutch woolen goods were desired everywhere. The Netherlands bought and processed enough Spanish wool to sell four million florins of wool products through merchants in Bruges.[52] So strong was the Dutch appetite for raw wool at this time that they bought nearly as much English wool as they did Spanish wool.[52] Total commerce with England alone amounted to 24 million florins. Much of the export going to England resulted in pure profit to the Dutch because the exported items were of their own manufacture.[52] The Netherlands was just starting to enter its "Golden Age." Brabant and Flanders were the richest and most flourishing parts of the Dutch Republic at the time.[52] No wonder then that Spain could not let this very valuable property go off on its own while not sharing its wealth with the mother country. However, the economic issues tended to be cloaked in religious rhetoric.

William I, Prince of Orange, called William the Silent

A devout Catholic, Philip was appalled by the success of the Reformation in the Low Countries, which had led to an increasing number of Calvinists. His attempts to enforce religious persecution of the Protestants and his endeavours to centralise government, justice and taxes made him unpopular and led to a revolt. Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba, was sent with a Spanish Army to punish the unruly Dutch.[53] Alba began his march across the Netherlands on May 5, 1567.[52]

The only opposition the Duke of Alba faced in his march across the Netherlands were the nobles, Lamoral, Count of Egmont; Philippe de Montmorency, Count of Horn and others. With the approach of Alba and the Spanish army, William the Silent of Orange fled to Germany with his three brothers and his whole family on April 11, 1567.[52] On July 26 & 27, 1567 the Duke of Alba sent a letter to the nobles that now faced him with armies.[53] In the letter, Alba expressed the desire to meet with the nobles in Brussels on September 9, 1567 and negotiate their differences, peacefully.[53] However, when the nobles arrived in Brussels they were all arrested.[52] Egmont and Horn were transported to the prison fortress in Ghent.[52] On 5 June 1568, Egmont and Horn were executed in the grand square of Brussels.[53] Alba then revoked all the prior treaties that Margaret, the Duchess of Parma had signed with the Protestants of the Netherlands and instituted the Inquisition to enforce the decrees of the Council of Trent.

The Eighty Years' War (1568–1648)

The Dutch War for Independence from Spain is frequently called the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648). However, only the first fifty years (1568 through 1618) were uniquely a war between Spain and the Netherlands. During the last thirty years (1618–1648) the conflict between Spain and the Netherlands was submerged in the general European War that became known as the Thirty Years War.[55] The seven rebellious provinces of the Netherlands were eventually united by the Union of Utrecht in 1579 and formed the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (also known as the "United Provinces"). The Act of Abjuration or Plakkaat van Verlatinghe was signed on 26 July 1581, and was the formal declaration of independence of the northern Low Countries from the Spanish king.

Prince Maurits at the Battle of Nieuwpoort, 2 July 1600, by Paulus van Hillegaert, ca. 1621-1630


William of Orange (Slot Dillenburg, 24 April 1533 – Delft, 10 July 1584), the founder of the Dutch royal family, led the Dutch during the first part of the war, following the death of Egmont and Horn in 1568. The very first years were a success for the Spanish troops. However, the Dutch countered subsequent sieges in Holland. The Spanish king lost control of the Netherlands after the sack of Antwerp by mutinous Spanish soldiers killing 10,000 inhabitants.[53] The conservative Catholics in the south and east supported the Spanish. The Spanish recaptured Antwerp and other Flemish and Dutch cities. Most of the territory in the Netherlands was recaptured, but not in Flanders, leading to the historical split between the Netherlands and Flanders. Flanders was the most radical anti-Spanish territory. Many Flemish fled to Holland, among them half of the population of Antwerp, 3/4 of Bruges and Ghent and the entire population of Nieuwpoort, Dunkerque and countryside. The war dragged on for another 60 years, but the main fighting was over. The Peace of Westphalia, signed on 30 January 1648, confirmed the independence of the United Provinces from Spain and Germany. The Dutch didn't regard themselves as Germans any more since the 15th century, but they officially remained a part of the Holy Roman Empire until 1648. National identity was mainly formed by the province people came from. Holland was the most important province by far. The republic of the Seven Provinces came to be known as Holland in foreign countries.

These events formed part of a wider turmoil. See Spanish Armada for a view of some of the history from further west.

Golden Age

Map of Dutch Republic by Joannes Janssonius

During the Eighty Years' War the Dutch provinces became the most important trading centre of Northern Europe, replacing Flanders in this respect. During the Golden Age, there was a great flowering of trade, industry, the arts and the sciences in the Netherlands. In the 17th and 18th centuries, the Dutch were arguably the most economically wealthy and scientifically advanced of all European nations. This new, officially Calvinist nation flourished culturally and economically, creating what historian Simon Schama has called an "embarrassment of riches".[56] Speculation in the tulip trade led to a first stock market crash in 1637, but the economic crisis was soon overcome. Due to these developments the 17th century has been dubbed the Golden Age of the Netherlands.

The invention[57] of the sawmill enabled the construction of a massive fleet of ships for worldwide trading and for defence of the republic's economic interests by military means. National industries such as shipyards and sugar refineries expanded as well.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp, by Rembrandt van Rijn, 1632

The Dutch, traditionally able seafarers and keen mapmakers,[58] obtained an increasingly dominant position world trade, a position which before had been occupied by the Portuguese and Spaniards. In 1602 the Dutch East India Company (Dutch: Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC) was founded. It was the first-ever multinational corporation, financed by shares that established the first modern stock exchange. It became the world's largest commercial enterprise of the 17th century. To finance the growing trade within the region, the Bank of Amsterdam was established in 1609, the precursor to, if not the first true central bank.[59]

Dutch ships hunted whales off Svalbard, traded spices in India and Indonesia (via the Dutch East India Company) and founded colonies in New Amsterdam (now New York), South Africa and the West Indies. In addition some Portuguese colonies were conquered, namely in Northeastern Brazil, Angola, Indonesia and Ceylon. In 1640 by the Dutch East India Company began a trade monopoly with Japan through the trading post on Dejima.

The Dutch also dominated trade between European countries. The Low Countries were favorably positioned on a crossing of east-west and north-south trade routes and connected to a large German hinterland through the Rhine river. Dutch traders shipped wine from France and Portugal to the Baltic lands and returned with grain destined for countries around the Mediterranean Sea. By the 1680s, an average of nearly 1000 Dutch ships entered the Baltic Sea each year.[60] The Dutch were able to gain control of much of the trade with the nascent English colonies in North America and following the end of war with Spain in 1648, Dutch trade with that country also flourished.

Renaissance Humanism, of which Desiderius Erasmus (c. 1466–1536) was an important advocate, had also gained a firm foothold and was partially responsible for a climate of tolerance. Overall, levels of tolerance were sufficiently high to attract religious refugees from other countries, notably Jewish merchants from Portugal who brought much wealth with them. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes in France in 1685 resulted in the immigration of many French Huguenots, many of whom were shopkeepers or scientists. Still tolerance had its limits, as philosopher Baruch de Spinoza (1632–1677) would find out. Due to its climate of intellectual tolerance the Dutch Republic attracted scientists and other thinkers from all over Europe. Especially the renowned University of Leiden (established in 1575 by the Dutch stadtholder, William of Oranje, as a token of gratitude for Leiden's fierce resistance against Spain during the Eighty Years War) became a gathering place for these people. For instance French philosopher René Descartes lived in Leiden from 1628 until 1649.

Dutch lawyers were famous for their knowledge of international law of the sea and commercial law. Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) played a leading part in the foundation of international law. Again due to the Dutch climate of tolerance, book publishers flourished. Many books about religion, philosophy and science that might have been deemed controversial abroad were printed in the Netherlands and secretly exported to other countries. Thus during the 17th Century the Dutch Republic became more and more Europe's publishing house.

Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring

Christiaan Huygens (1629–1695) was a famous astronomer, physicist and mathematician. He invented the pendulum clock, which was a major step forward towards exact timekeeping. He contributed to the fields of optics. The most famous Dutch scientist in the area of optics is certainly Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who invented or greatly improved the microscope (opinions differ) and was the first to methodically study microscopic life, thus laying the foundations for the field of microbiology. Famous Dutch hydraulic engineer Jan Leeghwater (1575–1650) gained important victories in The Netherlands's eternal battle against the sea. Leeghwater added a considerable amount of land to the republic by converting several large lakes into polders, pumping all water out with windmills.

Painting was the dominant art form in 17th century Holland. Dutch Golden Age painting followed many of the tendencies that dominated Baroque art in other parts of Europe, such as Caravaggesque and naturalism, but was the leader in developing the subjects of still life, landscape, and genre painting. Portraiture were also popular, but History painting — traditionally the most-elevated genre struggled to find buyers. Church art was virtually non-existent, and little sculpture of any kind produced. While art collecting and painting for the open market was also common elsewhere, art historians point to the growing number of wealthy Dutch middle-class and successful mercantile patrons as driving forces in the popularity of certain pictorial subjects.[61] Today, the best-known painters of the Dutch Golden Age are the period's most dominant figure Rembrandt, the Delft master of genre Johannes Vermeer, the innovative landscape painter Jacob van Ruisdael, and Frans Hals, who infused new life into portraiture. Some notable artistic styles and trends include Haarlem Mannerism, Utrecht Caravaggism, the School of Delft, the Leiden fijnschilders, and Dutch classicism.

The Dutch Classicist Mauritshuis, named after Prince Johan Maurits and built 1636-1641, was designed by Jacob van Campen and Pieter Post.

Due to the thriving economy, cities expanded greatly. New town halls, weighhouses and storehouses were built. Merchants that had gained a fortune ordered a new house built along one of the many new canals that were dug out in and around many cities (for defence and transport purposes), a house with an ornamented façade that befitted their new status. In the countryside, many new castles and stately homes were built. Most of them have not survived. Starting at 1595 Reformed churches were commissioned, many of which are still landmarks today. The most famous Dutch architects of the 17th century were Jacob van Campen, Pieter Post, Pieter Vingbooms, Lieven de Key, Hendrick de Keyser. Overall, Dutch architecture, which generally combined traditional building styles with some foreign elements, did not develop to the level of painting.

The Golden Age was also an important time for developments in literature. Some of the major figures of this period were Gerbrand Adriaenszoon Bredero, Jacob Cats, Pieter Corneliszoon Hooft and Joost van den Vondel. Since Latin was the lingua franca of education, relatively few men could speak, write, and read Dutch all at the same time.

Music did not develop very much in the Netherlands since the Calvinists considered it an unnecessary extravagance, and organ music was forbidden in Reformed Church services, although it remained common at secular functions.

The Dutch in the Americas

New Amsterdam in 1664

The Dutch West India Company was a chartered company (known as the "GWC") of Dutch merchants. On 2 June 1621, it was granted a charter for a trade monopoly in the West Indies (meaning the Caribbean) by the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands and given jurisdiction over the African slave trade, Brazil, the Caribbean, and North America. The area where the company could operate consisted of West Africa (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Cape of Good Hope) and the Americas, which included the Pacific Ocean and the eastern part of New Guinea. The intended purpose of the charter was to eliminate competition, particularly Spanish or Portuguese, between the various trading posts established by the merchants. The company became instrumental in the Dutch colonization of the Americas.

Dutch trading posts and plantations in the Americas precede the much wider known colonisation activities of the Dutch in Asia. The first forts and settlements on the Essequibo River in Guyana and on the Amazon date from the 1590s. Actual colonization, with Dutch settling in the new lands, was not as common as with other European nations. Many of the Dutch settlements were lost or abandoned by the end of that century, but the Netherlands managed to retain possession of Suriname and a number of Dutch Caribbean islands.

Peter Stuyvesant, Director-General of New Netherland, unknown painter (attributed to Hendrick Couturier), ca. 1660

New Netherland, or Nieuw-Nederland in Dutch, was the 17th-century colonial province of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands on the East Coast of North America. The claimed territories were the lands from the Delmarva Peninsula to extreme southwestern Cape Cod. The settled areas are now part of the Mid-Atlantic States of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Connecticut, with small outposts in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The provincial capital, New Amsterdam, was located at the southern tip of the island of Manhattan on upper New York Bay.

The colony was conceived as a private business venture to exploit the North American fur trade. New Netherland was slowly settled during its first decades, partially as a result of policy mismanagement by the Dutch West India Company (WIC), and conflicts with Native Americans. The settlements of New Sweden developed on its southern flank and its northern border was re-drawn in recognition of early New England expansion. During the 1650s, the colony experienced dramatic growth and became a major port for trade in the North Atlantic. The surrender of Fort Amsterdam to the British control in 1664 was formalized in 1667, contributing to the Second Anglo–Dutch War. In 1673 the Dutch re-took the area, but later relinquished it under the 1674 Treaty of Westminster ending the Third Anglo-Dutch War.

The inhabitants of New Netherland were Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans, the latter chiefly imported as enslaved laborers. Descendants of the original settlers played a prominent role in colonial America. For two centuries New Netherland Dutch culture characterized the region (today's Capital District around Albany, the Hudson Valley, western Long Island, northeastern New Jersey, and New York City). The concepts of civil liberties and pluralism introduced in the province became mainstays of American political and social life.

Slave trade

Although slavery was illegal inside the Netherlands it flourished in the Dutch Empire, and helped support the economy.[62] In 1619 The Netherlands took the lead in building a large-scale slave trade between Africa and Virginia, by 1650 becoming the pre-eminent slave trading country in Europe. It was overtaken by Britain around 1700. Historians agree that in all the Dutch shipped about 550,000 African slaves across the Atlantic, about 75,000 of whom died on board before reaching their destinations. From 1596–1829, the Dutch traders sold 250,000 slaves in the Dutch Guianas, 142,000 in the Dutch Caribbean islands, and 28,000 in Dutch Brazil.[63] In addition, tens of thousands of slaves, mostly from India and some from Africa, were carried to the Dutch East Indies[64] and slaves from the East Indies to Africa and the West Indies.

The Dutch in Asia

Logo of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or "VOC" in Dutch, literally "United East Indian Company").

The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch, literally "United East Indian Company") was a chartered company established in 1602, when the States-General of the Netherlands granted it a 21-year monopoly to carry out colonial activities in Asia. It was the first multinational corporation in the world and the first company to issue stock.[65] It was also arguably the world's first megacorporation, possessing quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts,[66] negotiate treaties, coin money, and establish colonies.[67]

Statistically, the VOC eclipsed all of its rivals in the Asia trade. Between 1602 and 1796 the VOC sent almost a million Europeans to work in the Asia trade on 4,785 ships, and netted for their efforts more than 2.5 million tons of Asian trade goods. By contrast, the rest of Europe combined sent only 882,412 people from 1500 to 1795, and the fleet of the English (later British) East India Company, the VOC’s nearest competitor, was a distant second to its total traffic with 2,690 ships and a mere one-fifth the tonnage of goods carried by the VOC. The VOC enjoyed huge profits from its spice monopoly through most of the 17th century.[68]

Dutch Batavia built in what is now Jakarta, by Andries Beeckman ca. 1656

Having been set up in 1602, to profit from the Malukan spice trade, in 1619 the VOC established a capital in the port city of Batavia (now Jakarta). Over the next two centuries the Company acquired additional ports as trading bases and safeguarded their interests by taking over surrounding territory.[69] It remained an important trading concern and paid an 18% annual dividend for almost 200 years. Weighed down by corruption in the late 18th century, the Company went bankrupt and was formally dissolved in 1800,[70] its possessions and the debt being taken over by the government of the Dutch Batavian Republic. The VOC's territories became the Dutch East Indies and were expanded over the course of the 19th century to include the whole of the Indonesian archipelago, and in the 20th century would form Indonesia.

The Dutch in Africa

In 1647, a Dutch vessel was wrecked in the present-day Table Bay at Cape Town. The marooned crew, the first Europeans to attempt settlement in the area, built a fort and stayed for a year until they were rescued. Shortly thereafter, the Dutch East India Company (in the Dutch of the day: Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) decided to establish a permanent settlement. The VOC, one of the major European trading houses sailing the spice route to the East, had no intention of colonising the area, instead wanting only to establish a secure base camp where passing ships could shelter, and where hungry sailors could stock up on fresh supplies of meat, fruit, and vegetables. To this end, a small VOC expedition under the command of Jan van Riebeeck reached Table Bay on 6 April 1652.[71]

Painting of an account of the arrival of Jan van Riebeeck, by Charles Bell.

To remedy a labour shortage, the VOC released a small number of VOC employees from their contracts and permitted them to establish farms with which they would supply the VOC settlement from their harvests. This arrangement proved highly successful, producing abundant supplies of fruit, vegetables, wheat, and wine; they also later raised livestock. The small initial group of "free burghers", as these farmers were known, steadily increased in number and began to expand their farms further north and east.

The majority of burghers had Dutch ancestry and belonged to the Calvinist Reformed Church of the Netherlands, but there were also numerous Germans as well as some Scandinavians. In 1688 the Dutch and the Germans were joined by French Huguenots, also Calvinists, who were fleeing religious persecution in France under King Louis XIV. The Huguenots in South Africa were absorbed into the Dutch population but they played a prominent role in South Africa's history.

From the beginning the VOC used the Cape as a place to supply ships travelling between the Netherlands and the Dutch East Indies. There was a close association between the Cape and these Dutch possessions in the far east. Van Riebeeck and the VOC began to import large numbers of slaves, primarily from Madagascar and Indonesia. These slaves often married Dutch settlers, and their descendants became known as the Cape Coloureds and the Cape Malays.

De Tafelbaai by Aernout Smit, 1683

During the 18th century, the Dutch settlement in the area of the Cape grew and prospered. By the late 1700s the Cape Colony was one of the best developed European settlements outside Europe or the Americas.[72] The two bases of the Cape Colony's economy for almost the entirety of its history were shipping and agriculture. Its strategic position meant that almost every ship sailing between Europe and Asia stopped off at the colony's capital Cape Town. The supplying of these ships with fresh provisions, fruit, and wine provided a very large market for the surplus produce of the colony.[72]

Some free burghers continued to expand into the rugged hinterlands of the north and east, many began to take up a semi-nomadic pastoralist lifestyle, in some ways not far removed from that of the Khoikhoi they had displaced. In addition to its herds, a family might have a wagon, a tent, a Bible, and a few guns. As they became more settled, they would build a mud-walled cottage, frequently located, by choice, days of travel from the nearest European settlement. These were the first of the Trekboers (Wandering Farmers, later shortened to Boers), completely independent of official controls, extraordinarily self-sufficient, and isolated from the government and the main settlement in Cape Town.

An account of the first trekboers.

Dutch was the official language, but a dialect had formed that was quite distinct from Dutch. The Afrikaans language originated mainly from 17th century Dutch dialects.[73][74]

This Dutch dialect, sometimes referred to as the "kitchen language" (kombuistaal),[75] would eventually in the late 19th century be recognised as a distinct language called Afrikaans and replace Dutch as the official language of the Afrikaners.

As the 18th century drew to a close, Dutch mercantile power began to fade and the British moved in to fill the vacuum. They seized the Cape Colony in 1795 to prevent it from falling into French hands, then briefly relinquished it back to the Dutch (1803), before definitively conquering it in 1806. British sovereignty of the area was recognised at the Congress of Vienna in 1815. By the time the Dutch colony was seized by the British in 1806, it had grown into an established settlement with 25,000 slaves, 20,000 white colonists, 15,000 Khoisan, and 1,000 freed black slaves. Outside Cape Town and the immediate hinterland, isolated black and white pastoralists populated the country.

Dutch interest in South Africa was mainly as a strategically located VOC port. Yet in the 17th and 18th centuries the Dutch created the foundation of the modern state of South Africa. The Dutch legacy in South Africa is evident everywhere, but particularly in the Afrikaner people and the Afrikaans language.

Dutch Republic: Regents and Stadholders (1649–1784)

'Skating fun' by 17th century Dutch painter Hendrick Avercamp.

The Netherlands gained independence from Spain as a result of the Eighty Years War, during which the Dutch Republic was founded. As the Netherlands was a republic, it was largely governed by an aristocracy of city-merchants called the regents, rather than by a king. Every city and province had its own government and laws, and a large degree of autonomy. After attempts to find a competent sovereign proved unsuccessful, it was decided that sovereignty would be vested in the various provincial Estates, the governing bodies of the provinces. The Estates-General, with its representatives from all the provinces, would decide on matters important to the Republic as a whole. However, at the head of each province was the stadtholder of that province, a position held by a descendant of the House of Orange. Usually the stadtholdership of several provinces was held by a single man.

After having gained its independence in 1648, the Netherlands tried in various coalitions to help to contain France, which had replaced Spain as the strongest nation of Europe. The end of the War of the Spanish Succession (1713) marked the end of the Dutch Republic as a major player. In the 18th century, it just tried to maintain its independence and stuck to a policy of neutrality.

Anonymous 17th-century watercolor of the Semper Augustus, famous for being the most expensive tulip sold during the tulip mania.

The Netherlands sheltered many notable refugees, including Flemish Protestants, Portuguese and German Jews, French Protestants (Huguenots) (including Descartes) and English Dissenters (including the Pilgrim Fathers). Many immigrants came to the cities of Holland in the 17th and 18th century from the Protestant parts of Germany and elsewhere. The amount of first generation immigrants from outside the Netherlands in Amsterdam was nearly 50% in the 17th and 18th century. Indeed, Amsterdam's population consisted primarmily of immigrants, if one includes second and third generation immigrants and migrants from the Dutch countryside. People in most parts of Europe were poor and many were unemployed. But in Amsterdam there was always work. Tolerance was important, because a continuous influx of immigrants was necessary for the economy. Travellers visiting Amsterdam reported their surprise at the lack of control over the influx.


By the mid-1660s Amsterdam had reached the optimum population (about 200,000) for the level of trade, commerce and agriculture then available to support it. The city contributed the largest quota in taxes to the States of Holland which in turn contributed over half the quota to the States General. Amsterdam was also one of the most reliable in settling tax demands and therefore was able to use the threat to withhold such payments to good effect.[76]

Amsterdam was governed by a body of regents, a large, but closed, oligarchy with control over all aspects of the city's life, and a dominant voice in the foreign affairs of Holland. Only men with sufficient wealth and a long enough residence within the city could join the ruling class. The first step for an ambitious and wealthy merchant family was to arrange a marriage with a long-established regent family. In the 1670s one such union, that of the Trip family (the Amsterdam branch of the Swedish arms makers) with the son of Burgomaster Valckenier, extended the influence and patronage available to the latter and strengthened his dominance of the council. The oligarchy in Amsterdam thus gained strength from its breadth and openness. In the smaller towns family interest could unite members on policy decisions but contraction through intermarriage could lead to the degeneration of the quality of the members.

Dam Square in the late 17th century: painting by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)

In Amsterdam the network was so large that members of the same family could be related to opposing factions and pursue widely separated interests. The young men who had risen to positions of authority in the 1670s and 1680s consolidated their hold on office well into the 1690s and even the new century.[77]

Amsterdam's regents provided good services to residents. They spent heavily on the water-ways and other essential infrastructure, as well as municipal almshouses for the elderly, hospitals and churches.

Amsterdam's wealth was generated by its commerce, which was in turn sustained by the judicious encouragement of entrepreneurs whatever their origin. This open door policy has been interpreted as proof of a tolerant ruling class. But toleration was practiced for the convenience of the city. Therefore the wealthy Sephardic Jews from Portugal were welcomed and accorded all privileges except those of citizenship, but the poor Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe were far more carefully vetted and those who became dependent on the city were encouraged to move on. Similarly, provision for the housing of Huguenot immigrants was made in 1681 when Louis XIV's religious policy was beginning to drive these Protestants out of France; no encouragement was given to the dispossessed Dutch from the countryside or other towns of Holland. The regents encouraged immigrants to build churches and provided sites or buildings for churches and temples for all but the most radical sects and the native Catholics by the 1670s (although even the Catholics could practice quietly in a chapel within the Beguinhof).[78]

First Stadtholderless Period and the Anglo-Dutch Wars (1650–1674)

Johan de Witt (born 1625, died 1672), Grand Pensionary of Holland, painted between 1643-1700 after Jan de Baen

In 1650, the stadtholder William II, Prince of Orange suddenly died of smallpox; his son, the later stadtholder and subsequent king of England, William III, was born only eight days later, hence leaving the nation without an obvious successor. Since the conception of the Republic, there had been an ongoing struggle for power between the regents, an informal elite of affluent citizens on the one hand and the House of Orange on the other hand, whose supporters, Orangists, were mainly to be found among the common people. For now, the regents seized the opportunity: there would be no new stadtholder (in Holland) for 22 years to come. Johan de Witt, a brilliant politician and diplomat, emerged as the dominant figure.

Princes of Orange became the stadtholder and an almost hereditary ruler in 1672 and 1748. The Dutch Republic of the United Provinces was a true republic only from 1650–1672 and 1702–1748. These periods are called the First Stadtholderless Period and Second Stadtholderless Period.

The Republic and England were major rivals in world trade and naval power. Halfway through the 17th century the Republic's navy was the most powerful navy in the world.[79] The Republic fought several wars against England in the second half of the 17th century.

In the year 1651, England imposed its first Navigation Act, which severely hurt Dutch trade interests. An incident at sea concerning the Act resulted in the First Anglo-Dutch War, which lasted from 1652 to 1654, ending in the Treaty of Westminster (1654), which left the Navigation Act in effect.

"The Second Day of the Four Day Battle of 1666"

After the English Restoration, Charles II tried to serve his dynastic interests by attempting to make Prince William III of Orange, his nephew, stadtholder of The Republic, using some military pressure. This led to a surge of patriotism in England, the country being, as Samuel Pepys put it, "mad for war".

The Second Anglo-Dutch War, started in 1665, were marked by a number of great English victories, such as James II's taking of the Dutch colony of New Netherland (present day New York). There were also Dutch victories, such as the capture of the Prince Royal during the Four Days Battle in 1666, an event that was the subject of a famous painting by Willem van de Velde. However, the Raid on the Medway, in June 1667, ended the war with a Dutch victory. A flotilla of ships led by Admiral de Ruyter broke through the defensive chains guarding the Medway, burned part of the English fleet docked at Chatham and towed away the Unity and the Royal Charles, pride and normal flagship of the English fleet. The greatly expanded Dutch navy was for numerous years after the world's strongest. The Dutch Republic was at the zenith of its power.

Franco-Dutch War and Third Anglo-Dutch War (1672–1702)

Willem III, Prince of Orange, born 1650, died 1702, reigned as William III of England from 1689 to 1702 after the Glorious Revolution

The year 1672 is known in the Netherlands as the "Disaster Year" (Rampjaar). England declared war on the Republic, (the Third Anglo-Dutch War), followed by France, Münster and Cologne, which had all signed alliances against the Republic. France, Cologne and Münster invaded the Republic. Johan de Witt and his brother Cornelis, who had accomplished a diplomatic balancing act for a long time, were now the obvious scapegoats. They were lynched, and a new stadtholder, William III, was appointed. ` An Anglo-French attempt to land on the Dutch shore could only just be repelled in three desperate naval battles under command of admiral Michiel de Ruyter. The advance of French troops from the south could only be halted by a costly inundation of its own heart land, by breaching river dykes. With the aid of friendly German princes, the Dutch succeeded in fighting back Cologne and Münster, after which the peace was signed with both of them, although some territory in the east was lost for ever. Peace was signed with England as well, in 1674 (Second Treaty of Westminster (1674)). In 1678, peace was made with France, although its Spanish and German allies felt betrayed by them signing the Treaty of Nijmegen.

In 1688, the relations with England reached crisis level once again. Stadtholder William III decided he had to take a huge gamble when he was invited to invade England by Protestant British nobles feuding with William's father-in-law the Catholic James II of England. This led to the Glorious Revolution and cemented the principle of parliamentary rule and Protestant ascendency in England. James fled to France and William ascended to the English throne as co-monarch with his wife Mary, James' eldest daughter. This manoeuvre secured England as a critical ally of the United Provinces in its ongoing wars with Louis XIV of France. William was the commander of the Dutch and English armies and fleets until his death in 1702. During Williams reign as King of England his primary focus was leveraging British manpower and finances to aid the Dutch against the French. The combination continued after his death as the combined Dutch, British, and mercenary army conquered Flanders and Brabant, and invaded French territory before the alliance collapsed in 1713 due to British political infighting.

Second Stadtholderless Period (1702–1747)

The Inspectors of the Collegium Medicum in Amsterdam, by Cornelis Troost, 1724. This period is known as the "Periwig Era".

The Second Stadtholderless Period (Dutch: Tweede Stadhouderloze Tijdperk) is the designation in Dutch historiography of the period between the death of stadtholder William III on March 19[80] 1702 and the appointment of William IV, Prince of Orange as stadtholder and captain general in all provinces of the Dutch Republic on 2 May 1747. During this period the office of stadtholder was left vacant in the provinces of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht, though in other provinces that office was filled by members of the House of Nassau-Dietz (later called Orange-Nassau) during various periods.

During the period the Republic lost its Great-Power status and its primacy in world trade, processes that went hand-in-hand, the latter causing the former. Though the economy declined considerably, causing deindustralization and deurbanization in the maritime provinces, a rentier-class kept accumulating a large capital fund that formed the basis for the leading position the Republic achieved in the international capital market. A military crisis at the end of the period caused the fall of the States-Party regime and the restoration of the Stadtholderate in all provinces. However, though the new stadtholder acquired near-dictatorial powers, this did not improve the situation.

Economic decline in the 18th century

After the Dutch fleet declined, merchant interests became dependent on the goodwill of Britain. The main focus of Dutch leaders was reducing the country's considerable budget deficits. Dutch trade and shipping remained at a fairly steady level through the 18th century, but no longer had a near monopoly and also could not match growing English and French competition. The Netherlands lost its position as the trading centre of Northern Europe to London.

Although the Netherlands remained wealthy, investors for the nation's money became more difficult to find. Some investment went into purchases of land for estates, but most went to foreign bonds and Amsterdam remained one of Europe's banking capitals. Dutch culture also declined both in the arts and sciences. Literature (for example) largely imitated English and French styles with little in the way of innovation or originality.

Life for the average Dutchman became slower and more relaxed than in the 18th century. The upper and middle classes continued to enjoy prosperity and high living standards, although laborers remained locked in poverty and hardship. The large underclass of unemployed beggars and riffraff required government and private charity to survive.

Religious life became more relaxed as well. Catholics faced greater tolerance despite still having no part in the political system. They became divided by the feud between Jansenists (who denied free will) and orthodox believers. The former split into a separate body known as the Old Catholic Church. The upper classes willingly embraced the ideas of the Enlightenment, although the liberalism of Dutch society resulted in relatively little hostility to organized religion compared to France.

William IV, Prince of Orange, stadholder from 1747-1751

The Orangist revolution (1747-1751)

Willem V of Orange, stadholder from 1751-1806, and Wilhelmina of Prussia with three of their five children. From left to right: the future William I of the Netherlands, Frederick, and Frederica Louise Wilhelmina.

During the term of Anthonie van der Heim as Grand Pensionary from 1737 to 1746, the Republic slowly drifted into the War of Austrian Succession. This started as a Prusso-Austrian conflict, but eventually all the neighbours of the Dutch Republic became involved. On one side were Prussia, France and their allies and on the other Austria, Britain (after 1744) and their allies. At first the Republic strove to remain neutral in this European conflict, but it maintained garrisons in a number of fortresses in the Austrian Netherlands. French grievances and threats spurred the Republic into bring its army up to European standards (84,000 men in 1743).[81]

In 1744 and 1745 the French attacked Dutch fortresses at Menen and Tournai. This prompted the Dutch Republic in 1745 to join the Quadruple Alliance, but this alliance was severely defeated at the Battle of Fontenoy in May 1745. In 1746 the French occupied most of the large cities in the Austrian Netherlands. Then, in April 1747, apparently as an exercise in armed diplomacy, a relatively small French military force occupied Zeelandic Flanders, part of the Dutch Republic.[81]

This relatively innocuous invasion fully exposed the rot underlying the Dutch defences. The consequences were spectacular. Still mindful of the French invasion in the "Disaster Year" of 1672, many fearful people clamored for the restoration of the stadtholderate.[81] William IV, Prince of Orange, had been waiting impatiently in the wings since acquiring his princely title in 1732. Over the next year he and his supporters engaged in a number of political battles in various provinces and towns in the Netherlands to wrest control from the regents. The aim was for William IV to obtain a firm grip on government patronage and place loyal officials in all strategic government positions. Eventually he managed to achieve this aim in all provinces.[81]

William Bentinck, 1st Earl of Portland was a prominent Orangist. People like Bentinck hoped that gathering the reins of power in the hands of a single "eminent head" would soon help restore the state of the Dutch economy and finances. The regents they opposed included the Grand Pensionary Jacob Gilles and Adriaen van der Hoop. This popular revolt had religious, anti-Catholic and democratic overtones and sometimes involved mob violence. It eventually involved political agitation by Daniel Raap, Rousset de Missy and the Doelisten, attacks on tax farmers (pachtersoproer), religious agitation for enforcement of the Sabbath laws and preference for followers of Gisbertus Voetius and various demands by the civil militia.[81]

The war against the French was itself brought to a not-too-devastating end for the Dutch Republic with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748). The French retreated of their own accord from the Dutch frontier. William IV died unexpectedly, at the age of 40, on 22 October 1751.[81]

Regency and indolent rule (1752-1779)

His son, William V, was only 3 years old when his father died, and a long regency characterised by corruption and misrule began. His mother delegated most of the powers of the regency to Bentinck and her favorite, Duke Louis Ernest of Brunswick-Lüneburg. All power was concentrated in the hands of an unaccountable few, including the Frisian nobleman Douwe Sirtema van Grovestins.[81] Still a teenager, William V assumed the position of stadtholder in 1766, the last to hold that office. In 1767, he married Princess Wilhelmina of Prussia, the daughter of Augustus William of Prussia, niece of Frederick the Great.

The position of the Dutch during the American War of Independence was one of neutrality. William V, leading the pro-British faction within the government, blocked attempts by pro-independence, and later pro-French, elements to drag the government to war. However, things came to a head with the Dutch attempt to join the Russian-led League of Armed Neutrality, leading to the outbreak of the disastrous Fourth Anglo-Dutch War in 1780. After the signing of the Treaty of Paris (1783), the impoverished nation grew restless under William's rule.

An English historian summed him up uncharitably as "a Prince of the profoundest lethargy and most abysmal stupidity."[82] And yet he would guide his family through the difficult French-Batavian period and his son would be crowned king.

Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780-1784)

The Fourth Anglo–Dutch War (1780–1784) was a conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and the Dutch Republic. The war, tangentially related to the American Revolutionary War, broke out over British and Dutch disagreements on the legality and conduct of Dutch trade with Britain's enemies in that war.

Although the Dutch Republic did not enter into a formal alliance with the United States and their allies, U.S. ambassador (and future President) John Adams managed to establish diplomatic relations with the Dutch Republic, making it the second European country to diplomatically recognize the Continental Congress in April 1782. In October 1782, a treaty of amity and commerce was concluded as well.

Most of the war consisted of a series of largely successful British operations against Dutch colonial economic interests, although British and Dutch naval forces also met once off the Dutch coast. The war ended disastrously for the Dutch and exposed the weakness of the political and economic foundations of the country.[83] The Treaty of Paris (1784), according to Fernand Braudel, "sounded the knell of Dutch greatness."[84]

The French-Batavian period (1785–1815)

After the war with the Great Britain ended disastrously in 1784, there was growing unrest and a rebellion by the anti-Oranist Patriots. The French Revolution resulted first in the establishment of a pro-French Batavian Republic (1795–1806), then the creation of the Kingdom of Holland, ruled by a member of the House of Bonaparte (1806-1810), and finally annexation by the French Empire (1810-1813).

Patriot rebellion and its suppression (1785–1795)

Firefight on the Vaartse Rijn at Jutphaas on 9 May 1787. The pro-revolutionary Utrecht Patriots are on the right; the troops of stadholder William V, Prince of Orange on the left. Painted by Jonas Zeuner, 1787

Influenced by the American Revolution, the Patriots sought a more democratic form of government. The opening shot of this revolution was the 1781 publication of a manifesto called "Aan het Volk van Nederland" (To the People of the Netherlands) by Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol, the founder of the Patriots. The aim of the Patriots was to reduce corruption and the power held by the stadtholder, William V, Prince of Orange.

Support for the Patriots came mostly from the middle class. They formed a militia called the "Free Corps". In 1785 there was an open rebellion by the Patriots, which took the form of an armed insurrection by local militias in certain Dutch towns, "Vrijheid" being the rallying cry. Herman Willem Daendels attempted to organise an overthrow of various municipal governments (vroedschap). The goal was to oust government officials and force new elections. "Seen as a whole this revolution was a string of violent and confused events, accidents, speeches, rumours, bitter enmities and armed confrontations", wrote French historian Fernand Braudel, who saw it as a forerunner of the French Revolution.

In 1785 the stadholder left The Hague and moved his court to Guelders, a province remote from the heart of Dutch political life. In June 1787 his energetic wife Wilhelmina (the sister of Frederick William II of Prussia) tried to travel to The Hague. Outside Schoonhoven, she was stopped by militiamen and taken to a farm near Goejanverwellesluis. Within two days she was forced to return to Nijmegen, an insult not unnoticed in Prussia.

The House of Orange reacted with severity, relying on Prussian troops led by Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick and a small contingent of British troops to suppress the rebellion. Dutch banks at this time still held much of the world's capital. Government-sponsored banks owned up to 40% of Great Britain's national debt and there were close connections to the House of Stuart. The stadholder had supported British policies after the American Revolution.

This severe military response overwhelmed the Patriots and put the stadholder firmly back in control. A small unpaid Prussian army was billeted in the Netherlands and supported themselves by looting and extortion. The Free Corps continued urging citizens to resist the government. They distributed pamphlets, formed "Patriot Clubs" and held public demonstrations. The government responded by pillaging those towns where opposition continued. Five leaders were sentenced to death (but fled first). Lynchings also occurred. For a while, no one dared appear in public without an orange cockade to show their support for Orangism. Many Patriots, perhaps around 40,000 in all, fled to Brabant, France (especially Dunkirk and St. Omer) and elsewhere. However, before long the French became involved in Dutch politics and the tide turned.

Batavian Republic (1795–1806)

Liberty tree erected in Dam Square in Amsterdam, 1795; by H. Numan

Against this background it is not surprising that, after the French Revolution, when the French army invaded and occupied the Netherlands in 1795, the French encountered so little united resistance. William V of Orange fled to England. The Patriots proclaimed the short-lived Batavian Republic, but government was soon returned to stabler and more experienced hands. The Batavian Republic (Dutch: Bataafse Republiek) was the successor of the Republic of the United Netherlands. It was proclaimed on 19 January 1795, and ended on 5 June 1806, with the accession of Louis Bonaparte to the throne of the Kingdom of Holland.

Shortly after his flight to England Stadtholder William V sent the Kew Letters in which he gave the Dutch colonies in "safekeeping" to Great Britain and ordered the colonial governors to surrender to the British. This helped put an end to much of the Dutch colonial empire. Guyana and Ceylon never returned to Dutch rule, though other colonies were initially returned by the Treaty of Amiens. The Cape Colony, which had changed hands several times, remained British after 1806. Other colonies, including what is today Indonesia, were returned to the Netherlands under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. Ten years later there was another treaty—the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.

The new Republic enjoyed widespread support from the Dutch population and was the product of a genuine popular revolution. Nevertheless, it clearly was founded with the armed support of the revolutionary French Republic. The Batavian Republic became a client state, first of that "sister-republic", and later of the French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte, and its politics were deeply influenced by the French. Nevertheless, the process of creating a written Dutch constitution was mainly driven by internal political factors, not by French influence—until Napoleon forced the Dutch government to accept his brother as monarch.

Coat of arms of the Batavian Republic

The political, economic and social reforms that were brought about during the relatively short duration of the Batavian Republic had a lasting impact. The confederal structure of the old Dutch Republic was permanently replaced by a unitary state. The constitution adopted in 1798 had a genuinely democratic character (despite the fact that it was pushed through after a coup d'état). For a while the Republic was governed democratically, though the coup d'état of 1801 put an authoritarian regime in power, after another change in constitution. A type of ministerial government was introduced for the first time in Dutch history and many of the current government departments date their history back to this period.

Though the Batavian Republic was a client state, its successive governments tried their best to maintain a modicum of independence and to serve Dutch interests even where those clashed with those of their French overseers. This perceived obduracy led to the eventual demise of the Republic when the short-lived experiment with the (again authoritarian) regime of Grand Pensionary Rutger Jan Schimmelpenninck was insufficient docile in Napoleon’s eyes.

Kingdom of Holland and annexation by the French Empire (1806–1815)

Administrative divisions of the First French Empire in 1812, illustrating the incorporation of the Netherlands and its internal reorganisation.

In 1806 Napoleon restyled the Netherlands (along with a small part of what is now Germany) into the Kingdom of Holland, with his brother Louis (Lodewijk) Bonaparte (1778–1846), on the throne. The new king was unpopular, but he was willing to cross his brother for the benefit of his new kingdom. Napoleon forced his abdication in 1810 and incorporated the Netherlands directly into the French empire, imposing economic controls and conscription of all young men as soldiers.

On 30 November 1813, the son of former stadholder William V, invited by the Driemanschap (Triumvirate), landed in Scheveningen and was proclaimed by the Driemanschap as William I, Sovereign Prince of the United Netherlands (Dutch: Soeverein Vorstendom der Verenigde Nederlanden).

After the unification in 1815 of the northern Netherlands with the Austrian Netherlands William proclaimed himself king of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands.

United Kingdom of the Netherlands (1816–1839)

The French occupation of the Dutch Republic ended on the defeat of Napoleon. In a secret convention called the Eight Articles of London, and then later ratified by the Congress of Vienna, the Great Powers agreed on the unification of the Dutch Republic, the Austrian Netherlands (approximately modern-day Belgium) and the former Prince-Bishopric of Liège into a single constitutional monarchy called the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, with the House of Orange-Nassau elevated to royal status and providing the king. A stronger country on France's northern border was considered (especially by the Russian tsar) to be an important part of the strategy to keep France's power in check.

William I, the son of the last stadtholder, William V, was crowned king. He also became the hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. The newly created country had two capitals: Amsterdam and Brussels. Except for the Cape Colony, the Dutch colonies were returned to the Netherlands.

Constitutional monarchy

William I, who reigned from 1815–1840, had almost unlimited constitutional power, the constitution having been written by a number of notable people chosen by him. An enlightened despot, he had no difficulty in accepting some of the changes resulting from the social transformation of the previous 25 years, including equality of all before the law. However, he resurrected the estates as a political class and elevated a large number of people to the nobility. Voting rights were still limited, and only the nobility were eligible for seats in the upper house.

William I was a Calvinist and intolerant of the Catholic majority in the newly created United Kingdom of the Netherlands. He promulgated the "Fundamental Law of Holland", with some modifications. This entirely overthrew the old order of things in the southern Netherlands, suppressed the clergy as an order, abolished the privileges of the Catholic church, and guaranteed equal protection to every religious creed and the enjoyment of the same civil and political rights to every subject of the king. It reflected the spirit of the French Revolution, but it did not please the Catholic bishops in the south, who had detested the Revolution.[85]

William I actively promoted economic modernization. His position as monarch was ambivalent, however; his sovereignty was real, but his authority was shared with a legislature elected partly by himself and partly by the wealthy citizens under a constitution granted by the king. Government was in the hands of ministries of state. The old provinces were reestablished in name only. The government was now fundamentally unitary, and all authority flowed from the center.

The first 15 years of the Kingdom showed progress and prosperity, as industrialization proceeded rapidly in the south, where the Industrial Revolution allowed entrepreneurs and labor to combine in a new textile industry, powered by local coal mines. There was little industry in the northern provinces, but most overseas colonies were restored, and highly profitable trade resumed after a 25 year hiatus. Economic liberalism combined with moderate monarchical authoritarianism to accelerate the adaptation of the Netherlands to the new conditions of the 19th century. The country prospered until a crisis arose in relations with the southern provinces.

Belgium breaks away

Protestants were only a quarter of the population, being a majority in the North (population 2 million), but were few among the 3.5 million South-Netherlanders, who were overwhelmingly Catholic. Nevertheless Protestants totally controlled the government and army. The Catholics did not consider themselves an integral part of the united Netherlands, preferring instead to identify with medieval Dutch culture. The French-speaking elite in the southern Netherlands felt like second-class citizens. The primary factors that contributed to this feeling were religious (Protestant North versus Catholic South), economic (the South was industrializing, the North had always been a merchants' nation) and linguistic (the French-speaking South was not just Wallonia, but also extended to the French-speaking bourgeoisie in the Flemish cities).

In the Catholic South,[86] William's policies were unpopular. The French-speaking Walloons strenuously rejected his attempt to make Dutch the universal language of government. Flemings in the south spoke a Dutch dialect ("Flemish") and welcomed the encouragement of Dutch with a revival of literature and popular culture. Other Flemings, notably the educated bourgeoisie, preferred to speak French. Although Catholics possessed legal equality, after centuries as the state church in the south, they resented their subordination to a government that was fundamentally Protestant in spirit and membership. Few Catholics held high office in state or army. Political liberals in the south complained as well about the king's authoritarian methods. All southerners complained of underrepresentation in the national legislature. Although the south was industrializing and was more prosperous than the north the accumulated grievances allowed the multiple opposition forces to coalesce. The outbreak of revolution in France in 1830 was a signal for action, at first on behalf of autonomy for Belgium, as the southern provinces were now called, and later on behalf of total independence. William dithered and his half-hearted efforts to reconquer Belgium were thwarted both by the efforts of the Belgians themselves and by the diplomatic opposition of the great powers.

At the London Conference of 1830–31, the chief powers of Europe ordered (in November, 1830) an armistice between the Dutch and the Belgians. The first draft for a treaty of separation of Belgium and the Netherlands was rejected by the Belgians. A second draft (June, 1831) was rejected by William I, who resumed hostilities. Franco-British intervention forced William to withdraw Dutch forces from Belgium late in 1831, and in 1833 an armistice of indefinite duration was concluded. Belgium was effectively independent but William’s attempts to recover Luxembourg and Limburg led to renewed tension. The London Conference of 1838–39 prepared the final Dutch-Belgian separation treaty of 1839 and divided Luxembourg and Limburg between the Dutch and Belgian crowns. The Kingdom of the Netherlands thereafter was made up of only the 11 northern provinces.[87]

Democratic and Industrial Development (1848-1939)

1848 Constitutional reform

In 1848 unrest broke out all over Europe. Although there were no major events in the Netherlands, these foreign developments persuaded king William II to agree to liberal and democratic reform. That same year the liberal Johan Rudolf Thorbecke was asked by the king to rewrite the constitution, turning the Netherlands into a constitutional monarchy. The new document was proclaimed valid on 3 November of that year. It severely limited the king's powers (making the government accountable only to an elected parliament), and it protected civil liberties. The relationship between monarch, government and parliament has remained essentially unchanged ever since.

The personal union between the Netherlands and Luxembourg ended in 1890 when William III of the Netherlands, the last Dutch male head of state so far, died, as ascendancy rules in Luxembourg prevented a woman from becoming ruling Grand Duchess.

Social change

Street in Amsterdam in 1891 (Vijzelstreet looking towards Muntplein).

As in the rest of Europe, the 19th century saw the gradual transformation of the Netherlands into a modern middle-class industrial society. The number of people employed in agriculture decreased while the country made a heroic effort to revive its stake in the highly competitive shipping and trade business. The Netherlands began to develop various industries such as textiles and (later) the great Philips industrial conglomerate. Rotterdam became a major shipping and manufacturing center. Poverty and begging also largely disappeared along with steadily improving working conditions for the population.

The Netherlands remained one of the most tolerant countries in Europe towards religious belief, although conservative Protestants objected to the liberalization of the Dutch Reformed Church during the 19th century and faced opposition from the government when they tried to establish separate communities (Catholics and other non-Protestants were left unmolested by Dutch authorities). Some moved to the United States as a consequence, but as the century drew to a close, religious persecution had totally ceased.

A number of skilled Impressionist painters emerged, although none achieved international recognition except for Vincent van Gogh, who spent most of his life in France.

During this period the Netherlands also produced a few notable scientists, including Hugo de Vries and Hendrik Lorentz.

Colonial focus

By the end of the 19th century, in the New Imperialism wave of colonisation, the Netherlands extended their hold on Indonesia. In 1860 Multatuli wrote Max Havelaar, one of the most notable books in the history of Dutch literature, criticizing the exploitation of the country and its inhabitants by the Dutch, although the indigenous princes as their proxies were not spared either.

Queen Wilhelmina, queen of the Netherlands from 1890 to 1948.

The Netherlands had not fought a major military campaign since the Seven Years War, and the strength of its armed forces had gradually dwindled. No longer a significant force in European politics, the country devoted most of its effort to the overseas colonies in Indonesia, where a large, powerful military was not needed to subdue backwards native populations. This resulted in a long, costly campaign against the Indonesian Achin state. The Dutch were unable to defend themselves from the major powers in case of war and therefore chose the policy of neutrality, a choice that would influence the Dutch involvement in the wars to come.[88]

Neutrality during the First World War

Marshal Count Alfred von Schlieffen designed the Schlieffen Plan in 1905, a plan to invade France while passing through neutral Belgium and neutral Netherlands. In 1908 Von Schlieffen's successor Helmuth von Moltke the Younger changed the plan, and chose not to invade the Netherlands in case of war but instead to conserve Dutch neutrality, the simple reason being that the Netherlands supplied many goods to Germany and would be a vast resource of raw materials such as rubber, tin, quinine and oil, and of course food, all of which came through the port of Rotterdam. Some 50% of Dutch agricultural imports before 1916 came through Rotterdam. In 1917 the United States joined the war and the Dutch suffered from the blockade, although to a lesser extent than Germany. Therefore the economic importance of Dutch neutrality was lost.[88]

Electrified fence along the border between the Netherlands and Belgium during the First World War.

However, there were other factors that made it valuable for both the Allies and the Central Powers for the Netherlands to remain neutral. The Netherlands controlled the mouths of three rivers, the Scheldt, the Rhine and the Meuse river. Germany had an interest in the Rhine since it ran through the industrial areas of the Ruhr and connected it with the Dutch port of Rotterdam. Britain had an interest in the Scheldt River, and the Meuse flowed into France. All countries had an interest in keeping the others out of the Netherlands, so that no one's interests could be taken away or be changed. If one country were to have invaded the Netherlands, another would certainly have counterattacked to defend their own interest in the rivers. It was too big a risk for any of the belligerent nations, and none wanted to risk fighting on another front.[88] Nevertheless, the Dutch were not unaffected by the war. Troops were mobilized and conscription was introduced in the face of harsh criticism from opposition parties. In 1918, mutinies broke out in the military. Food shortages were extensive, due to the control the belligerents exercised over the Dutch. Each wanted their share of Dutch produce. As a result, the price of potatoes rose sharply because Britain had demanded so much from the Dutch. Food riots even broke out in the country.[88]

The Afsluitdijk, the dike closing off the Zuiderzee, was constructed between 1927 and 1933. Public works projects like this were one way to to deal with high unemployment during the Great Depression.

A big problem was smuggling. When Germany had conquered Belgium, the Allies saw it as enemy territory and stopped exporting to Belgium. Food became scarce for the Belgian people, since the Germans seized all food. This gave the Dutch the opportunity to start to smuggle. This, however, caused great problems in the Netherlands, including inflation and further food shortages. The Allies demanded that the Dutch stop the smuggling, and the government took measures to remain neutral. The government placed many cities under 'state of siege'. On 8 January 1916, a five-kilometre zone was created by the government along the border. In that zone, goods could only be moved on main roads with a permit.[88] In addition, an electrified fence was erected all along the Belgian – Dutch border that caused many fugitives to lose their lives.

Interwar period

Although both houses of the Dutch parliament were elected by the people, only men with high incomes were eligible to vote until 1917, when pressure from socialist movements resulted in elections in which all men were allowed to vote. In 1919 women also obtained the right to vote.

The worldwide Great Depression of 1929 and the early 1930s had crippling effects on the Dutch economy, lasting longer than in most other European countries. The long duration of the Great Depression in the Netherlands is often explained by the very strict fiscal policy of the Dutch government at the time, and its decision to adhere to the Gold Standard for much longer than most of its trading partners. The depression led to high unemployment and widespread poverty, as well as increasing social unrestn

The rise of Nazism in Germany did not go unnoticed in the Netherlands, and there was growing concern at the possibility of armed conflict, but most Dutch citizens expected that Germany would again respect Dutch neutrality.

The Second World War (1939-1945)

Nazi invasion and occupation

Rotterdam was destroyed by German bombers on 14 May 1940. 814 people died in the Rotterdam Blitz.

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Netherlands once again declared its neutrality. However, on 10 May 1940, Nazi Germany launched an attack on the Netherlands and Belgium and quickly overran most of the country. Fighting against the Dutch army proved more of a burden than foreseen; the northern attack was stopped dead, the one in the middle came to a grinding halt near the Grebbeberg and many airborne assault troops were killed and taken prisoner in the west of the country. More than 2,000 of General Student's elite troops were brought as POWs to England; Student himself was shot and taken out of action for years. Only in the south, defenses broke but the one passage over the river Maas at Rotterdam was held by the Dutch. By May 14, fighting in many locations had ceased and the German army could make little or no headway, So the Luftwaffe bombed Rotterdam, second largest city of the Netherlands, killing about 900 people, destroying the inner city and leaving 78,000 people homeless.

Following the bombing and German threats of the same treatment for Utrecht, the Netherlands capitulated on 15 May, except for the province of Zeeland where French and French Moroccan troops stood side by side with the Dutch forces. Still, the royal family and some armed forces fled to the United Kingdom. Some members of the royal family eventually moved to Ottawa, Canada until the Netherlands was liberated; Princess Margriet was born in Canadian exile.

Holocaust in the Netherlands

Yellow Star of David with the Dutch word for "Jew".

About 140,000 Jews lived in the Netherlands at the beginning of the war. Persecution of Dutch Jews started shortly after the occupation. At the end of the war, only 40,000 Jews were still alive. Of the 100,000 Jews who did not go in to hiding, only about 1,000 survived the war.

One who perished was Anne Frank, who gained worldwide fame posthumously when her diary, written in the achterhuis ('backhouse') while hiding from the Nazis, was found and published by her father, Otto Frank, the only survivor of the family.

Resistance and collaboration

Identification papers issued to Dutch people during the war.

Resentment of the Germans grew as the occupation became more harsh, prompting many Dutch in the latter years of the war to join the resistance. But collaboration was not uncommon either; many thousands of young Dutch males volunteered for combat service on the Russian Front with the Waffen-SS and many companies worked for the Germans.

The war in the Dutch East Indies

On 8 December 1941, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Netherlands declared war on Japan.[89] The Dutch government in exile in London had for long been working with London and with Washington to cut off oil supplies to Japan. Japanese forces invaded the Dutch East Indies on 11 January 1942. The Dutch surrendered March 8 after Japanese troops landed on Java. Dutch citizens and everybody with Dutch ancestry, the so-called "Indo's" were captured and put to work in labour camps or intered. As in the homeland, many Dutch ships, planes and military personnel managed to reach safe territory, in this case Australia, from where they were able to fight again.

False hopes and the Hunger Winter

In Europe, after the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944, progress was slow until the Battle of Normandy ended in August 1944. German resistance collapsed in western Europe and the allied armies advanced quickly towards the Dutch border. The First Canadian Army and the Second British Army conducted operations on Dutch soil from September onwards. On 17 September a daring operation, Operation Market Garden, was executed with the goal of capturing bridges across three major rivers in the southern Netherlands. Despite desperate fighting by American, British and Polish forces, the bridge at Arnhem, across the Neder Rijn, could not be captured.

Areas south of the Rhine river were liberated in the period September–December 1944, including the province of Zeeland, which was liberated in October and November in the Battle of the Scheldt. This opened Antwerp to allied shipping. The First Canadian Army held a static line along the river Meuse (Maas) from December 1944 through February 1945.

The rest of the country remained occupied until the spring of 1945. In the face of Dutch defiance the Nazis deliberately cut off food supplies resulting in near-starvation in the cities during the Hongerwinter (Hunger winter) of 1944–45. Soup kitchens were set up but many fragile people died.[90] A few days before the Allied victory the Germans allowed emergency shipments of food.


Liberation celebration

The First Canadian Army launched Operation Veritable in early February, cracking the Siegfried Line and reaching the banks of the Rhine in early March. In the final weeks of the war in Europe, the First Canadian Army was charged with clearing the Netherlands of German forces.

The Liberation of Arnhem began on 12 April 1945 and proceeded to plan, as the three infantry brigades of the 49th Division leapfrogged each other through the city. Within four days Arnhem, now a ruined city, was totally under Allied control.[91]

The Canadians then advanced immediately further into the country, encountering and defeating a German counterattack at Otterlo and Dutch SS resistance at Ede. On 27 April a temporary truce came into effect, allowing the distribution of food aid to the starving Dutch civilians in areas under German control (Operation Manna). On 5 May 1945, Generaloberst Blaskowitz agreed to the unconditional surrender of all German forces in the Netherlands, signing the surrender to Canadian general Charles Foulkes at Wageningen.[92] (The fifth of May is now celebrated annually in the Netherlands as Liberation Day.) Three days later Germany unconditionally surrendered, bringing the war in Europe to a close.

Immediate aftermath

After the euphoria and settling of scores had ended, the Dutch were a traumatized people with a ruined economy, a shattered infrastructure and several destroyed cities (including Rotterdam, Nijmegen, Arnhem and part of The Hague.

Artur Seyss-Inquart, Nazi Commissioner of the Netherlands, was tried at Nüremberg.

In the early post-war years the Netherlands made continued attempts to expand its territory by annexing neighbouring German territory. The larger annexation plans were continuously rejected by the United States, but the London conference of 1949 permitted the Netherlands to perform a smaller scale annexation. Most of the annexed territory was returned to Germany on 1 August 1963.[93]

Operation Black Tulip was a plan in 1945 by Dutch minister of Justice Kolfschoten to evict all Germans from the Netherlands. The operation lasted from 1946 to 1948 and in the end 3691 Germans (15% of Germans resident in the Netherlands) were deported.[94] The operation started on 10 September 1946 in Amsterdam, where Germans and their families were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and given one hour to collect 50 kg of luggage. They were allowed to take 100 guilders. The rest of their possessions went to the state. They were taken to concentration camps near the German border, the biggest of which was Mariënbosch near Nijmegen.[95]

Prosperity and European Unity (1946-today)

Flooding and flood control

A town in Zuid Bevelandinundated in 1953.

The last major flood in the Netherlands took place in early February 1953, when a huge storm caused the collapse of several dikes in the southwest of the Netherlands. More than 1,800 people drowned in the ensuing inundations. The Dutch government subsequently decided on a large-scale programme of public works (the "Delta Works") to protect the country against future flooding. The project took more than thirty years to complete. According to Dutch government engineers, the odds of a major inundation anywhere in the Netherlands are now ones in 10,000 year. Following the disaster with hurricane Katrina in 2005, an American congressional delegation visited the Netherlands to inspect the Delta Works and Dutch government engineers were invited to a hearing of the United States Congress to explain the Netherlands' efforts to protect low-lying areas.


The European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC), was founded in 1951 by the six founding members: Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg (the Benelux countries) and West Germany, France and Italy. Its purpose was to pool the steel and coal resources of the member states, and to support the economies of the participating countries. As a side effect, the ECSC helped defuse tensions between countries which had recently been enemies in the war. In time this economic merger grew, adding members and broadening in scope, to become the European Economic Community, and later the European Union. In recent years the Dutch have often been a driving force behind the integration of European countries in the European Union. It participated in the introduction of the euro in 1999.


Indonesia, the former Dutch East Indies, had been a very valuable resource, and the Dutch feared its independence would lead to an economic downfall.

Two days after the surrender of Japan, Indonesian nationalists declared Indonesian independence. The Indonesian National Revolution followed as Indonesia attempted to secure its independence in the face of Dutch diplomatic and military opposition. Increasing international pressure led the Netherlands to eventually withdraw and it formally recognised Indonesian independence on 27 December 1949.[96] Part of the former Dutch East Indies, namely the western part of New Guinea, remained under Dutch control as Netherlands New Guinea until 1961, when the Netherlands transferred sovereignty to Indonesia. About 300,000 Dutch colonists left the land where most of them were born, and settled in the Netherlands; very few of the native population did.[citation needed]

Although it was originally expected that the loss of the Dutch East Indies would contribute to an economic downfall, the Dutch economy experienced an exceptional growth (partly because a disproportionate amount of Marshall Aid was received) in the 1950s and 60s. In fact, the demand for labour was so strong that immigration was actively encouraged, first from Italy and Spain then later on, in larger numbers, from Turkey and Morocco.

Suriname was decolonised on 25 November 1975, this time encouraged by the Dutch government, partly because it wanted to stem the flow of immigrants from Suriname, partly because the very possession of colonies had become politically embarrassing; however, hundreds of thousands of inhabitants of Suriname voted with their feet against it, creating a Suriname community in the Netherlands, now roughly as large as the population of the motherland.

Because of immigration from the Netherlands Antilles, and from many other parts of the world, the Netherlands became a multicultural country.


The 60s and 70s were a time of great social and cultural change, such as rapid ontzuiling (literally: depillarisation), a term that describes the decay of the old divisions along class and religious lines. Youths, and students in particular, rejected traditional mores, and pushed for change in matters like women's rights, sexuality, disarmament and environmental issues. Today, the Netherlands is regarded as a liberal country, considering its drugs policy and its legalisation of euthanasia. Same-sex marriage has been permitted since 1 April 2001.

Following the election of 1994, in which the Christian-democratic CDA lost a considerable portion of its representatives, the social-liberal Democrats 66 (D66) doubled in size and formed a coalition with the labour party (Netherlands) (PvdA), and the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). This purple (government) coalition, so-called because of the mixing of socialist red with liberal blue, marked the first absence of the CDA in decades. During the Purple years, a period lasting until the rise of the populist politician Pim Fortuyn, the government addressed issues previously viewed as taboo under the Christian-influenced cabinet. At this time the Dutch government introduced a series of unprecedented legislations based on a principles of toleration (gedoogbeleid). Abortion and euthanasia became decriminalized, while stricter guidelines were set for their implementation. Drug policy, especially in regards to the regulation of marijuana was reformed. Prostitution was legalized, but confined to brothels in which the health and safety of those involved could be properly monitored. With the Same-sex Marriage Act of 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize gay marriage. In addition to social reforms, the Purple coalition also marked a period of remarkable economic prosperity.

Recent politics

Pim Fortuyn (1948–2002)

The power of the coalition waned with the introduction of List Pim Fortuyn in the Dutch general election of 2002, a populist party, which ran a distinctly anti-immigration and anti-purple campaign, citing "Purple Chaos" (Puinhopen van Paars) as the source of the countries economic and social woes. In the first political assassination since the Second World War, Fortuyn was murdered with little over a week left before the election. In the wake of his death, LPF swept the elections, entering parliament with one sixth of the seats, while the PvdA (Labour) lost half of its seats. The ensuing cabinet was formed by CDA, VVD and LPF, led by Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende. Though the party succeeded in displacing the rival purple-coalition, without the charismatic figure of Pim Fortuyn at its helm, it proved to be short-lived lasting only 87 days in power.

Two events changed the political landscape:

  • On 6 May 2002, the assassination of Politician Pim Fortuyn, calling for a very strict policy on immigration, shocked the nation, not at all used to political violence in peace time. His party won a landslide election victory, partly because of his perceived martyrdom, However, internal party squabbles and blowing up the coalition government they had helped to create, resulted in the loss of 70% of their support in early general elections in 2003.
  • Another murder that caused great upheaval took place on 2 November 2004, when film director and publicist Theo van Gogh was assassinated by a Dutch-Moroccan youth with radical Islamic beliefs, because of Van Gogh's alleged blasphemy. One week later, several arrests were made of several would-be islamist terrorists, who have later been found guilty of conspiracy with terrorist intentions, this verdict was however reversed on appeal. All this sparked a debate on the position of radical Islam and of Islam generally in Dutch society, and on immigration and integration. The personal protection of most politicians, especially of the Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali, was stepped up to unprecedented levels.

Dutch monarchs in modern times


See also


  1. ^ Van Zeist, W. (1957), "De steentijd van Nederland", Nieuwe Drentse Volksalmanak 75: 4–11 
  2. ^ a b "The Mysterious Bog People – Background to the exhibition". Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation. 2001-07-05. http://www.civilization.ca/media/docs/pr148beng.html. Retrieved 2009-06-01. [dead link]
  3. ^ a b Louwe Kooijmans, L.P., "Trijntje van de Betuweroute, Jachtkampen uit de Steentijd te Hardinxveld-Giessendam", 1998, Spiegel Historiael 33, pp. 423–428
  4. ^ Volkskrant 2007-08-24 "Prehistoric agricultural field found in Swifterbant, 4300–4000 BC"
  5. ^ Raemakers, Daan. "De spiegel van Swifterbant", University of Groningen, 2006.
  6. ^[Full citation needed],[page needed], in J.H.F. Bloemers & T. van Dorp (Eds), Pre- & protohistorie van de lage landen. De Haan/Open Universiteit, 1991. ISBN 90 269 4448 9, NUGI 644
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