The Dutch Golden Age: Rise and Fall in 700 words

Welcome to another Blog post, and one about the history of the Netherlands, a country with a very interesting history. In the 20th century, we could assume that it has always been a weak country compared to those around it, France and Germany have seemed to have swamped the country in stature and power. But this was not always the case. The Dutch have a past full of power, trade, money and respect. I will take you back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and briefly explain what the Dutch Golden Age was.

The Netherlands started out as the United Provinces (which included Belgium at this point), well actually from an Early Modern Perspective (sorry my knowledge of Pre-Early modern is a bit hazy, so I won’t try and go back any further!), the country starts from a rebellion against the Spanish. Yes the Spanish used to control what we now know at Belgium and the Netherlands! Why is this, well to sum it up shortly, marriages and inheritance meant that they came part of the great Hapsburg empire, and when that was divided, it became part of the new Spanish empire.

So what we now know as the Netherlands revolted, again to sum up the entire reason….the reformation had taken place in the sixteenth century and those in the northern areas of the United provinces became Protestant. They wanted toleration and did not get any and therefore after many attempts of negotiating, revolt happened. Now during this time, the United Provinces was split, what we know as Belgium and the southern territories were still heavily Catholic and remained loyal to Spain. This would lead to political problems as well as succession from the United Provinces later on.

This happened during the thirty years war, from 1618-48, but for the Dutch it started in 1568, and is often called the eighty years’ war. They were at the end finally recognised as their own country, with their own monarch, William of Orange. But how did they become a great power and when did this happen? Well the seventeenth century saw the Dutch become one of the greatest powers in Europe. The main cause of this is economic. The Dutch took a lot off the Spanish when they succeeded, but unlike the Spanish, who would enter an economic crash, the Dutch were clever merchants would make a vast fortune and at the same time, a formidable navy. One that even the English could not defeat.

This new-found power, would lead the Dutch into a vast amount of problems. Nearby countries such as France and England became jealous of their new-found power and wealth, which would lead to three wars with the English from 1652-78 and the French. This could be argued that it happened because the Netherlands was a republic, something repulsive to the monarchy’s of Europe, but if you look into it deeper, economic tensions was the main reason the nations would come to war.

The decline of the United Provinces happened at the end of the seventeenth centuries. Some historians state it was the power of England and France that forced them to their knees figuratively speaking, I would disagree with that thesis, rather their decline was steady, they could not increase what they already have and so were superseded by England whom invested much into their navy. It was not that the Dutch declined, but more that others just improved.

I can imagine some Marxist historian being repulsed by the government of the United Provinces, after all it was run by the bourgeoisie, but as a historian, the Dutch Golden Age should be studied as one of the first modern states. A remarkable state.  It was unique, it was powerful, it was dangerous to those around it.  It gave birth to some of the greatest statesmen in modern times.  It also saw the rise of one of greatest admirals, Michiel De Ruyter.  The Dutch Golden Age was short-lived, but it was an interesting time and one that should have more attention.  It could be argued that the rise of the Dutch, meant that the English themselves felt threatened,  and therefore the Dutch contributed to the construction of the English Empire.  So I encourage you to go and learn more about this time period, it is certainly very interesting.

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