Arrival of agriculture in the Netherlands

Arrival of Farming

5000 BCE Jan 1 - 4000 BCE
, Netherlands

Agriculture arrived in the Netherlands somewhere around 5000 BC with the Linear Pottery culture, who were probably central European farmers. Agriculture was practiced only on the loess plateau in the very south (southern Limburg), but even there it was not established permanently. Farms did not develop in the rest of the Netherlands.

There is also some evidence of small settlements in the rest 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." This transformation took place as early as 4300 BC–4000 BC and featured the introduction of grains in small quantities into a traditional broad-spectrum economy.

Dolmen in Mols, Denmark

Funnelbeaker Culture

4000 BCE Jan 1 - 3000 BCE
, 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.

Bronze Age Europe

Bronze Age

2000 BCE Jan 1 - 800 BCE
, Drenthe

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". 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. Typical bronze objects from this period included knives, swords, axes, fibulae and bracelets.

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 (c. 1800 to 800 BC) 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 (1600–1200 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.

Iron Age

Iron Age

800 BCE Jan 2 - 58 BCE
, Oss

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" (Vorstengraf (Oss)), it contained extraordinary objects, including an iron sword with an inlay of gold and coral.

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 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. This is consistent with Caesar's account of the Rhine forming the boundary between Celtic and Germanic tribes.

Arrival of Germanic groups

Arrival of Germanic groups

750 BCE Jan 1 - 250 BCE
, Jutland

The Germanic tribes originally inhabited southern Scandinavia, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg, but subsequent Iron Age cultures of the same region, like Wessenstedt (800–600 BC) and Jastorf, may also have belonged to this grouping. The climate deteriorating in Scandinavia around 850 BC to 760 BC and later and faster around 650 BC might have triggered migrations. Archaeological evidence suggests around 750 BC a relatively uniform Germanic people from the Netherlands to the Vistula and southern Scandinavia. In the west, the newcomers settled the coastal floodplains for the first time, since in adjacent higher grounds the population had increased and the soil had become exhausted. By the time this migration was complete, around 250 BC, a few general cultural and linguistic groupings had emerged.

One grouping – labelled the "North Sea Germanic" – inhabited 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.

A second grouping, which scholars subsequently dubbed the "Weser-Rhine Germanic" (or "Rhine-Weser Germanic"), extended along the middle Rhine and Weser and inhabited 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.

Celts in the south

Celts in the south

450 BCE Jan 1 - 58 BCE
, Maastricht

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. 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.

Scholars debate the actual extent of the Celtic influence. 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. But according to Belgian linguist Luc van Durme, toponymic evidence of a former Celtic presence in the Low Countries is near to utterly absent. 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.

Netherlands in the Roman era | ©Angus McBride

Roman Period

57 BCE Jan 2 - 410
, Netherlands

For around 450 years, from around 55 BC to around 410 AD, the southern part of the Netherlands was integrated into the Roman Empire. During this time the Romans in the Netherlands had an enormous influence on the lives and culture of the people who lived in the Netherlands at the time and (indirectly) on the generations that followed.

During the Gallic Wars, the Belgic area south of the Oude Rijn and west of the Rhine was conquered by Roman forces under Julius Caesar in a series of campaigns from 57 BC to 53 BC. He established the principle that this river, which runs through the Netherlands, defined a natural boundary between Gaul and Germania magna. But the Rhine was not a strong border, and he made it clear that there was a part of Belgic Gaul where many of the local tribes were "Germani cisrhenani", or in other cases, of mixed origin. The approximately 450 years of Roman rule that followed would profoundly change the area that would become the Netherlands. Very often this involved large-scale conflict with the "free Germans" over the Rhine.

Ancient Frisii | ©Angus McBride


50 BCE Jan 1 - 400
, Bruges

The Frisii were an ancient Germanic tribe living in the low-lying region between the Rhine–Meuse–Scheldt delta and the River Ems, and the presumed or possible ancestors of the modern-day ethnic Dutch.

The Frisii lived in the coastal area stretching roughly from present-day Bremen to Bruges, including many of the smaller offshore islands. In the 1st century BC, Romans took control of the Rhine delta but Frisii to the north of the river managed to maintain some level of independence. Some or all of the Frisii may have joined into the Frankish and Saxon peoples in late Roman times, but they would retain a separate identity in Roman eyes until at least 296, when they were forcibly resettled as laeti (i.e., Roman-era serfs) and thereafter disappear from recorded history. Their tentative existence in the 4th century is confirmed by archaeological discovery of a type of earthenware unique to 4th-century Frisia, called terp Tritzum, showing that an unknown number of Frisii were resettled in Flanders and Kent, likely as laeti under the aforementioned Roman coercion.

The lands of the Frisii were largely abandoned by c. 400, probably due to climatic deterioration and flooding caused by sea level rise. They lay empty for one or two centuries, when changing environmental and political conditions made the region habitable again. At that time, settlers that came to be known as 'Frisians' repopulated the coastal regions. Medieval and later accounts of 'Frisians' refer to these 'new Frisians' rather than to the ancient Frisii.

Revolt of the Batavi | ©Angus McBride

Revolt of the Batavi

69 Jan 1 - 70
, Nijmegen

The Revolt of the Batavi took place in the Roman province of Germania Inferior between AD 69 and 70. It was an uprising against the Roman Empire started by the Batavi, a small but militarily powerful Germanic tribe that inhabited Batavia, on the delta of the river Rhine. They were soon joined by the Celtic tribes from Gallia Belgica and some Germanic tribes.

Under the leadership of their hereditary prince Gaius Julius Civilis, an auxiliary officer in the Imperial Roman army, the Batavi and their allies managed to inflict a series of humiliating defeats on the Roman army, including the destruction of two legions. After these initial successes, a massive Roman army led by the Roman general Quintus Petillius Cerialis eventually defeated the rebels. Following peace talks, the Batavi submitted again to Roman rule, but were forced to accept humiliating terms and a legion stationed permanently on their territory, at Noviomagus (modern day Nijmegen, The Netherlands).

Emergence of the Franks | ©Angus McBride

Emergence of the Franks

320 Jan 1
, Netherlands

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.

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 allowed to settle as foederati in Toxandria, according to Ammianus Marcellinus.

The Wedding Dance | ©Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Old Dutch language

400 Jan 1 - 1095
, Belgium

In linguistics, Old Dutch or Old Low Franconian is the set of Franconian dialects (i.e. dialects that evolved from Frankish) spoken in the Low Countries during the Early Middle Ages, from around the 5th to the 12th century. Old Dutch is mostly recorded on fragmentary relics, and words have been reconstructed from Middle Dutch and Old Dutch loanwords in French.

Old Dutch is regarded as the primary stage in the development of a separate Dutch language. It was spoken by the descendants of the Salian Franks who occupied what is now the southern Netherlands, northern Belgium, part of northern France, and parts of the Lower Rhine regions of Germany. It evolved into Middle Dutch around the 12th century. The inhabitants of northern Dutch provinces, including Groningen, Friesland, and the coast of North Holland, spoke Old Frisian, and some in the east (Achterhoek, Overijssel, and Drenthe) spoke Old Saxon.

Christianization of the Netherlands

Christianization of the Netherlands

496 Jan 1
, Netherlands

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 in about 411. 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).

Frisian Kingdom | ©Angus McBride

Frisian Kingdom

650 Jan 1 - 734
, Dorestad

The Frisian Kingdom, also known as Magna Frisia, is a modern name for the post-Roman Frisian realm in Western Europe in the period when it was at its largest (650–734). This dominion was ruled by kings and emerged in the mid-7th century and probably ended with the Battle of the Boarn in 734 when the Frisians were defeated by the Frankish Empire. It lay mainly in what is now the Netherlands and – according to some 19th century authors – extended from the Zwin near Bruges in Belgium to the Weser in Germany. The center of power was the city of Utrecht.

In medieval writings, the region is designated by the Latin term Frisia. There is a dispute among historians about the extent of this realm; There is no documentary evidence for the existence of a permanent central authority. Possibly, Frisia consisted of multiple petty kingdoms, which transformed in time of war to a unit to resist invading powers, and then headed by an elected leader, the primus inter pares. It is possible that Redbad established an administrative unit. Among the Frisians at that time, there was no feudal system.

Rorik of Dorestad, Viking conqueror and ruler of Friesland. | ©Johannes H. Koekkoek

Viking raids

800 Jan 1 - 1000
, Nijmegen

In the 9th and 10th centuries, the Vikings raided the largely defenceless Frisian and Frankish towns lying on the coast and along the rivers of the Low Countries. Although Vikings never settled in large numbers in those 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.

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. 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 that period. Harald's son Rodulf and his men were killed by the people of Oostergo in 873. Rorik died sometime before 882.

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. 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.

The Hunters in the Snow | ©Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Part of the Holy Roman Empire

900 Jan 1 - 1000
, Nijmegen

The German kings and emperors ruled the Netherlands in the 10th and 11th century, with the assistance of the Dukes of Lotharingia, and the bishops of Utrecht and Liège. 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, including for example Byzantine empress Theophanu, who died in Nijmegen. Utrecht was also an important city and trading port at the time.

Peasant Wedding | ©Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Expansion and growth

1000 Jan 1
, Netherlands

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, when 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 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 Bruges and Antwerp (in Flanders) which would later develop into some of the most important cities and ports in Europe.

Dike Construction started

Dike Construction started

1000 Jan 1
, Netherlands

The first dikes were low embankments of only a meter or so in height surrounding fields to protect the crops against occasional flooding. After about AD 1000 the population grew, which meant there was a greater demand for arable land but also that there was a greater workforce available and dike construction was taken up more seriously. The major contributors in later dike building were the monasteries. As the largest landowners they had the organization, resources and manpower to undertake the large construction. By 1250 most dikes had been connected into a continuous sea defense.

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 Saint Peter.

Rise of Holland

1083 Jan 1
, Holland

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, 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).

Jacqueline of Bavaria and Margaret of Burgundy before the walls of Gorinchem. 1417 | ©Isings, J.H.

Hook and Cod Wars

1350 Jan 1 - 1490
, Netherlands

The Hook and Cod wars comprise 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. The origin of the name "Cod" is uncertain, but is most likely a case of reappropriation. Perhaps it derives from the arms of Bavaria, that look like the scales of a fish. The Hook refers to the hooked stick that is used to catch cod. Another possible explanation is that as a cod grows it tends to eat more, growing even bigger and eating even more, thus encapsulating how the noblemen perhaps saw the expanding middle classes of the time.

Jean Wauquelin presenting his 'Chroniques de Hainaut' to Philip the Good, in Mons, County of Hainaut, Burgundian Netherlands.

Burgundian Period

1384 Jan 1 - 1482
, Mechelen

Most of what is now the Netherlands and Belgium was eventually united by the Duke of Burgundy, Phillip the Good. 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. These collections of fiefs were ruled under the personal union of the House of Valois-Burgundy.

Trade in the region developed rapidly, especially in the areas of shipping and transport. The new rulers defended Dutch trading interests. 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 the region as they could no longer produce enough grain to feed themselves. Land drainage had caused the peat of the former wetlands to reduce to a level that was too low for drainage to be maintained.

Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor | ©Bernard van Orley

Habsburg Netherlands

1482 Jan 1 - 1797
, Brussels

Habsburg Netherlands was the Renaissance period fiefs in the Low Countries held by the Holy Roman Empire's House of Habsburg. The rule began in 1482, when the last Valois-Burgundy ruler of the Netherlands, Mary, wife of Maximilian I of Austria, died. Their grandson, Emperor Charles V, was born in the Habsburg Netherlands and made Brussels one of his capitals.

Becoming known as the Seventeen Provinces in 1549, they were held by the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs from 1556, known as the Spanish Netherlands from that time on. In 1581, in the midst of the Dutch Revolt, the Seven United Provinces seceded from the rest of this territory to form the Dutch Republic. The remaining Spanish Southern Netherlands became the Austrian Netherlands in 1714, after Austrian acquisition under the Treaty of Rastatt. De facto Habsburg rule ended with the annexation by the revolutionary French First Republic in 1795. Austria, however, did not relinquish its claim over the province until 1797 in the Treaty of Campo Formio.

Martin Luther, pioneer of the Protestant Reformation

Protestant Reformation in the Netherlands

1517 Jan 1
, Netherlands

During the 16th century, the Protestant Reformation rapidly gained ground in northern Europe, especially in its Lutheran and Calvinist forms. Dutch Protestants, after initial repression, were tolerated by local authorities. By the 1560s, the Protestant community had become a significant influence in the Netherlands, although it clearly formed a minority then. In a society dependent on trade, freedom and tolerance were considered essential. Nevertheless, the Catholic rulers Charles V, and later Philip II, made it their mission to defeat Protestantism, which was considered a heresy by the Catholic Church and a threat to the stability of the whole hierarchical political system. On the other hand, the intensely moralistic Dutch Protestants insisted their Biblical theology, sincere piety and humble lifestyle was morally superior to the luxurious habits and superficial religiosity of the ecclesiastical nobility. The rulers' harsh punitive measures led to increasing grievances in the Netherlands, where the local governments had embarked on a course of peaceful coexistence. In the second half of the century, the situation escalated. Philip sent troops to crush the rebellion and make the Netherlands once more a Catholic region.

In the first wave of the Reformation, Lutheranism won over the elites in Antwerp and the South. The Spanish successfully suppressed it there, and Lutheranism only flourished in east Friesland. The second wave of the Reformation, came in the form of Anabaptism, that was popular among ordinary farmers in Holland and Friesland. Anabaptists were socially very radical and equalitarian; they 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. The movement was allowed in the north, but never grew to a large scale. The third wave of the Reformation, that ultimately proved to be permanent, was Calvinism. It arrived in the Netherlands in the 1540s, attracting both the elite and the common population, especially in Flanders. The Catholic Spanish responded with harsh persecution and introduced the Inquisition of the Netherlands. Calvinists rebelled. First there was the iconoclasm in 1566, which was the systematic destruction of statues of saints and other Catholic devotional depictions in churches. In 1566, William the Silent, a Calvinist, started the Eighty Years' War to liberate all Dutch of whatever religion from Catholic Spain. Blum says, "His patience, tolerance, determination, concern for his people, and belief in government by consent held the Dutch together and kept alive their spirit of revolt." The provinces of Holland and Zeeland, being mainly Calvinist by 1572, submitted to the rule of William. The other states remained almost entirely Catholic.

William the Silent | ©Adriaen Thomasz Key

Dutch Revolt

1568 Jan 1 - 1648 Jan 30
, Netherlands

The Eighty Years' War or Dutch Revolt was an armed conflict in the Habsburg Netherlands between disparate groups of rebels and the Spanish government. The causes of the war included the Reformation, centralisation, taxation, and the rights and privileges of the nobility and cities. After the initial stages, Philip II of Spain, the sovereign of the Netherlands, deployed his armies and regained control over most of the rebel-held territories. However, widespread mutinies in the Spanish army caused a general uprising. Under the leadership of the exiled William the Silent, the Catholic- and Protestant-dominated provinces sought to establish religious peace while jointly opposing the king's regime with the Pacification of Ghent, but the general rebellion failed to sustain itself. Despite Governor of Spanish Netherlands and General for Spain, the Duke of Parma's steady military and diplomatic successes, the Union of Utrecht continued their resistance, proclaiming their independence through the 1581 Act of Abjuration, and establishing the Protestant-dominated Dutch Republic in 1588. In the Ten Years thereafter, the Republic (whose heartland was no longer threatened) made remarkable conquests in the north and east against a struggling Spanish Empire, and received diplomatic recognition from France and England in 1596. The Dutch colonial empire emerged, which began with Dutch attacks on Portugal's overseas territories.

Facing a stalemate, the two sides agreed to a Twelve Years' Truce in 1609; when it expired in 1621, fighting resumed as part of the broader Thirty Years' War. An end was reached in 1648 with the Peace of Münster (a treaty part of the Peace of Westphalia), when Spain recognised the Dutch Republic as an independent country. The aftermath of the Eighty Years' War had far-reaching military, political, socio-economic, religious, and cultural effects on the Low Countries, the Spanish Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, England as well as other regions of Europe and European colonies overseas.

The signing of the Act in a 19th-century painting

Dutch Independence from Spain

1581 Jul 26
, Netherlands

The Act of Abjuration is the declaration of independence by many of the provinces of the Netherlands from the allegiance to Philip II of Spain, during the Dutch Revolt. Signed on 26 July 1581 in The Hague, the Act formally confirmed a decision made by the States General of the Netherlands in Antwerp four days earlier. It declared that all magistrates in the provinces making up the Union of Utrecht were freed from their oaths of allegiance to their lord, Philip, who was also King of Spain. The grounds given were that Philip had failed in his obligations to his subjects, by oppressing them and violating their ancient rights (an early form of social contract). Philip was therefore considered to have forfeited his thrones as ruler of each of the provinces which signed the Act.

The Act of Abjuration allowed the newly independent territories to govern themselves, although they first offered their thrones to alternative candidates. When this failed in 1587 by, among other things, the Deduction of François Vranck the provinces became a republic in 1588. During that period the largest parts of Flanders and Brabant and a small part of Gelre were recaptured by Spain. The partial recapture of these areas to Spain led to the creation of Staats-Vlaanderen, Staats-Brabant, Staats-Overmaas and Spaans Gelre.

Syndics of the Drapers' Guild by Rembrandt, depicting wealthy Amsterdam burghers.

Dutch Golden Age

1588 Jan 2 - 1646
, Netherlands

The Dutch Golden Age was a period in the history of the Netherlands, roughly spanning the era from 1588 (the birth of the Dutch Republic) to 1672 (the Rampjaar, "Disaster Year"), in which Dutch trade, science, and art and the Dutch military were among the most acclaimed in Europe. The first section is characterized by the Eighty Years' War, which ended in 1648. The Golden Age continued in peacetime during the Dutch Republic until the end of the century, when costly conflicts, including the Franco-Dutch War and War of the Spanish Succession fuelled economic decline. The transition by the Netherlands to becoming the foremost maritime and economic power in the world has been called the "Dutch Miracle" by historian K. W. Swart.

Return of the second Asia expedition of Jacob van Neck in 1599 by Cornelis Vroom

Dutch East India Company

1602 Mar 20 - 1799 Dec 31
, Netherlands

The United East India Company was a chartered company established on the 20th March 1602 by the States General of the Netherlands amalgamating existing companies into the first joint-stock company in the world, granting it a 21-year monopoly to carry out trade activities in Asia. Shares in the company could be bought by any resident of the United Provinces and then subsequently bought and sold in open-air secondary markets (one of which became the Amsterdam Stock Exchange). It is sometimes considered to have been the first multinational corporation. It was a powerful company, possessing quasi-governmental powers, including the ability to wage war, imprison and execute convicts, negotiate treaties, strike its own coins, and establish colonies.

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.

Having been set up in 1602 to profit from the Malukan spice trade, the VOC established a capital in the port city of Jayakarta in 1609 and changed the city name into 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. It remained an important trading concern and paid an 18% annual dividend for almost 200 years.

Weighed down by smuggling, corruption and growing administrative costs in the late 18th century, the company went bankrupt and was formally dissolved in 1799. Its possessions and debt were taken over by the government of the Dutch Batavian Republic.

This painting, Action between ships in the First Dutch War, 1652–1654 by Abraham Willaerts, may depict the Battle of the Kentish Knock. It is a pastiche of popular subjects of naval painting of the time: on the right Brederode duels Resolution; on the left the enormous Sovereign.

First Anglo-Dutch War

1652 Jan 1 - 1654
, English Channel

The First Anglo-Dutch War was fought entirely at sea between the navies of the Commonwealth of England and the United Provinces of the Netherlands. It was largely caused by disputes over trade, and English historians also emphasise political issues. The war began with English attacks on Dutch merchant shipping, but expanded to vast fleet actions. Although the English Navy won most of these battles, they only controlled the seas around England, and after the tactical English victory at Scheveningen, the Dutch used smaller warships and privateers to capture numerous English merchant ships. Therefore, by November 1653 Cromwell was willing to make peace, provided the House of Orange was excluded from the office of Stadtholder. Cromwell also attempted to protect English trade against Dutch competition by creating a monopoly on trade between England and her colonies. It was the first of the four Anglo-Dutch Wars.

Allegory of the Disaster Year by Jan van Wijckersloot (1673).

Rampjaar - Disaster Year

1672 Jan 1
, Netherlands

In Dutch history, the year 1672 is referred to as the Rampjaar (Disaster Year). In May 1672, following the outbreak of the Franco-Dutch War and its peripheral conflict the Third Anglo-Dutch War, France, supported by Münster and Cologne, invaded and nearly overran the Dutch Republic. At the same time, it faced the threat of an English naval blockade in support of the French endeavor, though that attempt was abandoned following the Battle of Solebay. A Dutch saying coined that year describes the Dutch people as redeloos ("irrational"), its government as radeloos ("distraught"), and the country as reddeloos ("beyond salvation"). The cities of the coastal provinces of Holland, Zealand and Frisia underwent a political transition: the city governments were taken over by Orangists, opposed to the republican regime of the Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt, ending the First Stadtholderless Period.

By late July however, the Dutch position had stabilised, with support from Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, Brandenburg-Prussia and Spain; this was formalised in the August 1673 Treaty of the Hague, which Denmark joined in January 1674. Following further defeats at sea at the hands of the Dutch navy, the English, whose parliament was suspicious of King Charles's motives in his alliance with France, and with Charles himself wary of French domination of the Spanish Netherlands, settled a peace with the Dutch republic in the Treaty of Westminster in 1674. With England, Cologne and Münster having made peace with the Dutch and with the war expanding into the Rhineland and Spain, French troops withdrew from the Dutch Republic, retaining only Grave and Maastricht. To offset these setbacks, Swedish forces in Swedish Pomerania attacked Brandenburg-Prussia in December 1674 after Louis threatened to withhold their subsidies; this sparked Swedish involvement in the 1675–1679 Scanian War and the Swedish-Brandenburg War whereby the Swedish army tied up the armies of Brandenburg and some minor German principalities plus the Danish Army in the north.

From 1674 to 1678, the French armies managed to advance steadily in the southern Spanish Netherlands and along the Rhine, defeating the badly coordinated forces of the Grand Alliance with regularity. Eventually the heavy financial burdens of the war, along with the imminent prospect of England's reentry into the conflict on the side of the Dutch and their allies, convinced Louis XIV of France to make peace despite his advantageous military position. The resulting Peace of Nijmegen between France and the Grand Alliance left the Dutch Republic intact and France generously aggrandized in the Spanish Netherlands.

A portrait of William V of Orange-Nassau.

Batavian Republic

1795 Jan 1 - 1801
, Netherlands

The Batavian Republic was the successor state to the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. It was proclaimed on 19 January 1795 and ended on 5 June 1806, with the accession of Louis I to the Dutch throne. From October 1801 onward, it was known as the Batavian Commonwealth. Both names refer to the Germanic tribe of the Batavi, representing both the Dutch ancestry and their ancient quest for liberty in their nationalistic lore.

In early 1795, intervention by the French Republic led to the downfall of the old Dutch Republic. The new Republic enjoyed widespread support from the Dutch populace and was the product of a genuine popular revolution. Nevertheless, it clearly was founded with the armed support of the French revolutionary forces. The Batavian Republic became a client state, the first of the "sister-republics", and later part of the French Empire of Napoleon. Its politics were deeply influenced by the French, who supported no fewer than three coups d'état to bring the different political factions to power that France favored at different moments in its own political development. 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, Louis Bonaparte, as monarch.

The political, economic, and social reforms that were brought about during the relatively short duration of the Batavian Republic have had a lasting impact. The confederal structure of the old Dutch Republic was permanently replaced by a unitary state. For the first time in Dutch history, the constitution that was adopted in 1798 had a genuinely democratic character. For a while, the Republic was governed democratically, although the coup d'état of 1801 put an authoritarian regime in power, after another change to the constitution. Nevertheless, the memory of this brief experiment with democracy helped smooth the transition to a more democratic government in 1848 (the constitutional revision by Johan Rudolph Thorbecke, limiting the power of the king). 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 overlords. 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 produced insufficient docility in the eyes of Napoleon. The new king, Louis Bonaparte (Napoleon's brother), refused to slavishly follow French dictates either, leading to his downfall.

King William I

United Kingdom of the Netherlands

1815 Jan 1 - 1839
, Netherlands

The United Kingdom of the Netherlands is the unofficial name given to the Kingdom of the Netherlands as it existed between 1815 and 1839. The United Netherlands was created in the aftermath of the Napoleonic Wars through the fusion of territories that had belonged to the former Dutch Republic, Austrian Netherlands, and Prince-Bishopric of Liège in order to form a buffer state between the major European powers. The polity was a constitutional monarchy, ruled by William I of the House of Orange-Nassau.

The polity collapsed in 1830 with the outbreak of the Belgian Revolution. With the de facto secession of Belgium, the Netherlands was left as a rump state and refused to recognise Belgian independence until 1839 when the Treaty of London was signed, fixing the border between the two states and guaranteeing Belgian independence and neutrality as the Kingdom of Belgium.

Episode of the Belgian Revolution of 1830 | ©Gustaf Wappers

Belgian Revolution

1830 Aug 25 - 1831 Jul 21
, Belgium

The Belgian Revolution was the conflict which led to the secession of the southern provinces (mainly the former Southern Netherlands) from the United Kingdom of the Netherlands and the establishment of an independent Kingdom of Belgium.

The people of the south were mainly Flemings and Walloons. Both peoples were traditionally Roman Catholic as contrasted with Protestant-dominated (Dutch Reformed) people of the north. Many outspoken liberals regarded King William I's rule as despotic. There were high levels of unemployment and industrial unrest among the working classes.

On 25 August 1830, riots erupted in Brussels and shops were looted. Theatregoers who had just watched the nationalistic opera La muette de Portici joined the mob. Uprisings followed elsewhere in the country. Factories were occupied and machinery destroyed. Order was restored briefly after William committed troops to the Southern Provinces but rioting continued and leadership was taken up by radicals, who started talking of secession.

Dutch units saw the mass desertion of recruits from the southern provinces and pulled out. The States-General in Brussels voted in favour of secession and declared independence. In the aftermath, a National Congress was assembled. King William refrained from future military action and appealed to the Great Powers. The resulting 1830 London Conference of major European powers recognized Belgian independence. Following the installation of Leopold I as "King of the Belgians" in 1831, King William made a belated attempt to reconquer Belgium and restore his position through a military campaign. This "Ten Days' Campaign" failed because of French military intervention. The Dutch only accepted the decision of the London conference and Belgian independence in 1839 by signing the Treaty of London.

A military exercise during the war | ©Jan Hoynck van Papendrecht

Netherlands in World War I

1914 Jan 1
, Netherlands

The Netherlands remained neutral during World War I. This stance arose partly from a strict policy of neutrality in international affairs that started in 1830 with the secession of Belgium from the north. Dutch neutrality was not guaranteed by the major powers in Europe, nor was it a part of the Dutch constitution. The country's neutrality was based on the belief that its strategic position between the German Empire, German-occupied Belgium, and the British guaranteed its safety.

The Royal Netherlands Army was mobilized throughout the conflict, as belligerents regularly attempted to intimidate the Netherlands and place demands on it. In addition to providing a credible deterrence, the army had to house refugees, guard internment camps for captured soldiers, and prevent smuggling. The government also restricted the free movement of people, monitored spies, and took other wartime measures.

Flooding of the Wieringermeer following damage to the dykes during World War II

Zuiderzee Works

1920 Jan 1 - 1924
, Zuiderzee

Queen Wilhelmina's 1913 throne speech urged the land reclamation of the Zuiderzee. When Lely became Minister of Transport and Public Works that year, he used his position to promote the Zuiderzee Works and gained support. The government started developing official plans to enclose the Zuiderzee. On January 13 and 14, 1916 the dikes at several places along the Zuiderzee broke under the stress of a winter storm, and the land behind them flooded, as had often happened in previous centuries. This flooding provided the decisive impetus to implement the existing plans to tame the Zuiderzee. In addition, a threatening food shortage during the other stresses of World War I added to widespread support for the project.

On June 14, 1918, the Zuiderzee Act was passed. The goals of the Act were threefold:

  • Protect the central Netherlands from the effects of the North Sea;
  • Increase the Dutch food supply by development and cultivation of new agricultural land; and
  • Improve water management by creating a freshwater lake from the former uncontrolled salt water inlet.

Unlike earlier proposals the act intended to preserve part of the Zuiderzee and create large islands, as Lely warned that rerouting the rivers directly to the North Sea might cause inland flooding if storms raised the sea's level. He also wanted to preserve the Zee's fisheries, and for the new land to be accessible by water. The Dienst der Zuiderzeewerken (Zuiderzee Works Department), the government body responsible for overseeing the construction and initial management, was set up in May 1919. It decided against building the main dam first, proceeding to construct a smaller dam, the Amsteldiepdijk, across the Amsteldiep. This was the first step in rejoining the island of Wieringen to the North Holland mainland. The dike, with a length of 2.5 km, was built between 1920 and 1924. As with dike building, polder construction was tested on a small scale at the experimental polder at Andijk.

A line of unemployed people in Amsterdam, 1933.

Great Depression in the Netherlands

1929 Sep 4
, Netherlands

The worldwide Great Depression which began after the tumultuous events of Black Tuesday in 1929, that continued into 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 Great Depression led to high unemployment and widespread poverty, as well as increasing social unrest.

Amsterdam in April 1944

Netherlands in World War II

1940 May 10 - 1945 Mar
, Netherlands

Despite Dutch neutrality, Nazi Germany invaded the Netherlands on 10 May 1940 as part of Fall Gelb (Case Yellow). On 15 May 1940, one day after the bombing of Rotterdam, the Dutch forces surrendered. The Dutch government and the royal family relocated to London. Princess Juliana and her children sought refuge in Ottawa, Canada until after World War II.

The invaders placed the Netherlands under German occupation, which lasted in some areas until the German surrender in May 1945. Active resistance, at first carried out by a minority, grew in the course of the occupation. The occupiers deported the majority of the country's Jews to Nazi concentration camps.

World War II occurred in four distinct phases in the Netherlands:

  • September 1939 to May 1940: After the war broke out, the Netherlands declared neutrality. The country was subsequently invaded and occupied.
  • May 1940 to June 1941: An economic boom caused by orders from Germany, combined with the "velvet glove" approach from Arthur Seyss-Inquart, resulted in a comparatively mild occupation.
  • June 1941 to June 1944: As the war intensified, Germany demanded higher contributions from occupied territories, resulting in a decline of living-standards. Repression against the Jewish population intensified and thousands were deported to extermination camps. The "velvet glove" approach ended.
  • June 1944 to May 1945: Conditions deteriorated further, leading to starvation and lack of fuel. The German occupation authorities gradually lost control over the situation. Fanatical Nazis wanted to make a last stand and commit acts of destruction. Others tried to mitigate the situation.

The Allies liberated most of the south of the Netherlands in the second half of 1944. The rest of the country, especially the west and north, remained under German occupation and suffered from a famine at the end of 1944, known as the "Hunger Winter". On 5 May 1945, total surrender of all German forces led to the final liberation of the whole country.

Netherlands lose Indonesia

Netherlands lose Indonesia

1945 Aug 17 - 1949 Dec 27
, Indonesia

The Indonesian National Revolution, or the Indonesian War of Independence, was an armed conflict and diplomatic struggle between the Republic of Indonesia and the Dutch Empire and an internal social revolution during postwar and postcolonial Indonesia. It took place between Indonesia's declaration of independence in 1945 and the Netherlands' transfer of sovereignty over the Dutch East Indies to the Republic of the United States of Indonesia at the end of 1949.

The four-year struggle involved sporadic but bloody armed conflict, internal Indonesian political and communal upheavals, and two major international diplomatic interventions. Dutch military forces (and, for a while, the forces of the World War II allies) were able to control the major towns, cities and industrial assets in Republican heartlands on Java and Sumatra but could not control the countryside. By 1949, international pressure on the Netherlands, the United States threatening to cut off all economic aid for World War II rebuilding efforts to the Netherlands and the partial military stalemate became such that the Netherlands transferred sovereignty over the Dutch East Indies to the Republic of the United States of Indonesia.

The revolution marked the end of the colonial administration of the Dutch East Indies, except for New Guinea. It also significantly changed ethnic castes as well as reducing the power of many of the local rulers (raja).

Protest in The Hague against the nuclear arms race between the U.S./NATO and the Warsaw Pact, 1983 | ©Marcel Antonisse

ECSC formed

1951 Jan 1
, Europe

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 fighting each other during 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 (EU).

The Netherlands is a founding member of the EU, NATO, OECD and WTO. Together with Belgium and Luxembourg it forms the Benelux economic union. The country is host to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and five international courts: the Permanent Court of Arbitration, the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the International Criminal Court and the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. The first four are situated in The Hague, as is the EU's criminal intelligence agency Europol and judicial co-operation agency Eurojust. This has led to the city being dubbed "the world's legal capital".


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