Charles V succeeded his father Philip the Handsome as ruler of the Low Countries in 1506. His predecessors had tried to unite the loosely connected territories. Charles V completed this task. In so doing, he laid the foundations for a prosperous, centrally governed state.
The Dutch Revolt, or Eighty Years War, is the term given to the armed struggle of the Northern Netherlands to shake off Spanish rule. In addition to fighting against foreign dominion, the revolt was also a desperate civil war between two key sections of the Dutch population. The Dutch Republic emerged from the conflagration as a robust sovereign state and the economic powerhouse of Europe.
In the 16th century, the Dutch were Europe’s premier cargo shippers. Then they followed Spain and Portugal far beyond Europe to areas in the Far East and the West where Spain and Portugal had for the past century held a monopoly on the lucrative trade there.
Where else in the world can one enjoy all the comforts of life and all the interesting things that a person might wish to find? What other country is there in which one can enjoy such perfect freedom ...?
That is what French philosopher René Descartes wrote in 1631. He often visited the Dutch Republic and his words speak for themselves.
The Dutch Republic often found itself at loggerheads with surrounding countries. Maritime wars with England were not a great problem for the Dutch: Holland had its naval heroes. But the Republic was also drawn into major European land wars, and often against the French.
In the late 18th century, economic crises raised tensions in the Republic to new heights. Political movements such as the Patriots questioned the ability of Stadholder William V to govern. Unrest culminated in 1786 in civil war, revolution, coups, foreign intervention and eventually in 1810 in annexation by France. These turbulent years laid the foundations for a fresh start for the country, with a centralised state and a monarchy.
Under the Republic (1588-1795) the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and West Indies Company (WIC) had gained footholds around the world. When these companies collapsed, their overseas possessions fell to the Dutch state. It was only in the 20th century that the main Dutch colonies - the East Indies and Surinam - gained political independence.
When Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated at Leipzig in 1813, the Netherlands shook off its French yoke. A new constitution was adopted - a monarchy - and until 1831 a union with Belgium. The country was ruled by a king with absolute power. In 1848, revolutionary reforms set up a constitutional monarchy instead, and this remained so.
On 10 May 1940, German troops invaded the Netherlands. In the years that followed over 100,000 Dutch Jews were murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps. While some Dutch people collaborated with the Germans, there were others who resisted. In the Dutch East Indies, the war began with the Japanese invasion of Java in March 1942. The Japanese imprisoned some of the Dutch and mixed race population in internment camps where conditions were appalling.
The Industrial Revolution came to the Netherlands in the second half of the 19th century. New heavy industry, railways and other technical innovations transformed everyday life. Overseas, slavery was abolished in 1863. While in the Netherlands, the long struggle for universal suffrage ended in 1922 in elections in which men and women were able to vote.n.
By the time the Second World War ended in 1945, Dutch society had utterly changed. Apart from the tremendous personal losses and material damage, the economy was all but destroyed. What had once been taken for granted, the Dutch East Indies for example, was gone, and a new catastrophic war seemed imminent between the communist East and the capitalist West. Yet the Netherlands recovered with surprising rapidity.