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Prehistory: A World of WaterEdit
During the last Ice Age, the territory we now call Northern Europe was locked under the polar ice of the North Pole. Evidence for this Ice Age can be found in throughout the northern regions of the Netherlands. Just outside Amsterdam, one can clearly see remains of those glaciers, and their moraines, consisting of higher sandy ground with gravel and boulders, slowly changing into low hills, when going east and north.
It was not until around 10,000BCE that the ice began to falter, and even so only ragged bands of hunter-gatherers would colonise the area. The end of the Ice Age did not change things instantly for the better — as the ice retreated and sea levels rose, it eventually transformed the frozen tundra into a treacherous wetland, crisscrossed by many creeks and dotted by many marshes and lakes. Although it meant that mass agriculture would prove difficult, it was nevertheless a perfect habitat for communities which depended on fishing and hunting (such as those of the Vlaardingen culture who were hunter-gatherers), and the vast amounts of water ensured that what arable land existed would be extremely fertile and productive, allowing for colonists from what is know today as the Linear Pottery culture of Central Europe (named so for the ceramic wares which they left behind) to flourish around the present-day region of Limburg, as well as the Funnelbeaker culture of Northern Europe to thrive in the north.
The onset of the Metal Ages also resulted in a new role for the peoples of the Low Countries: international trade. We don't know specific details regarding events revolving around the dawn of the Bronze Age, but archaeology suggests that from the onset of the Early Copper Age to the Iron Age, the Low Countries were colonised by various different cultures.
The Vlaardingen and Linear Pottery cultures were soon succeeded by the Corded War culture of Northern Europe, which is thought to have been among the first few European cultures to engage in metalworking. Copper, the primary ingredient of bronze, isn't native to the Netherlands, however, so most Copper Age and Bronze Age artefacts discovered in the Low Countries may have been imported or had their ingredients sourced from elsewhere in the world, implying that the Netherlands was a vital outpost in the prehistoric trade network in Europe.
With the onset of the Iron Age, the Low Countries began to enjoy a hitherto unprecedented increase in sophistication and comfort. At this point in time, the Low Contries had fallen under the influence of two different cultures: the Hallstatt culture which was liked with the Celts held the southern interior, while the northern littoral reaches and the east appeared to be colonised mostly by Germanic tribes.
The Low Countries in the Middle AgesEdit
For the most part of the mediaeval era, the Dutch have been a suppressed people, living under either Burgundian, French or Spanish hegemony for several centuries. The great Dutch Rebellion that began in 1568, however, started an independence movement that could not be snuffed out even with some the greatest fleets and armies in the hands of those who would bring the Dutch to heel. The birth of the Dutch nation was also married to Dutch colonial aspirations. Trade and fishing as well as a strong navy guaranteed the Dutch the resources they would need to maintain their independence in Europe and South Africa for well over three and a half centuries.
Formation of the United ProvincesEdit
Prior to the rebellion, the Netherlands belonged to Spain as part of the Burgundian territories ceded to Charles V. The Dutch had several reasons to rebel, but the most important was that the Spanish persecuted the increasingly numerous Dutch Protestant community — with some being burned at the stake. Naturally, the Dutch were incensed, and so came the beeldenstorm or iconoclasm, which meant the retaliatory demolition of Catholic churches, statues and images of saints. In reprisal, the Duke of Alva was despatched to the Netherlands with an army to restore order. Initially, the Dutch acquiesced, but then came Willem of Oranje (his name, anglicised as "Orange" lent itself to the name of the same colour, which he used on his own colours).
It was Duke Willem who organised the rebel forces, and together with aid from German nobles fought Alva with success. Subsequently, many cities in the Netherlands and in present Belgium were brought under Oranje rule and in 1588, this resulted in the creation of a new country, "The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands" (Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Friesland, Gelderland, Drenthe, and Overijssel), the first modern republic in the world. It is also thought that Dutch jurisprudence later on inspired a second set of rebels, the Americans to eventually overthrow the British and form the United States of America.
The House of OranjeEdit
While not a monarchy in the traditional sense, the House of Orange-Nassau played an invaluable role in the history of the Netherlands. The first member of the House of Orange to earn great renown was William of Orange, known colloquially as "William the Silent." His political and military savvy helped to loosen the Spanish hold on the provinces of the Netherlands for the first time in almost a century. He eventually earned the position of Stadtholder, effectively placing the fate of the Netherlands in his hands. William would struggle valiantly, securing numerous concessions for his nation, before being assassinated in 1584. The battle for Dutch independence continued after William's death - as did control of the position of Stadtholder by the House of Orange. Finally, in 1648, the Treaty of Westphalia granted the Netherlands complete self-rule. With the passing of William II of Orange - grandson of William the Silent - not two years after the passage of the treaty, and the successor to the Stadtholdership - William III - nothing more than a babe, the position was left vacant. During this "Stadtholderless" period , the Netherlands became one of the most powerful commercial bodies in the world, creating an economy that rivaled that of Spain or Portugal. In 1672, England and France, tired of the Dutch meddling in international commerce, declared war on the Netherlands. William III, having already taken up his family's rightful position, led the Netherlands to war and was more successful than any could have expected. Not only did William defend his nation from the two of the most powerful countries in the world, but he took the throne of England as a trophy. In 1689, William III of Orange became King of England as well as the leader of the Netherlands. Following William III, the power of the Netherlands began to wane. Yet even in its diminishing global strength, the House of Orange remained among the most important in the Netherlands. When, in 1815, fear of Napoleon was running rampant across Europe, the Prince of Orange at the time, William Frederick, declared himself King of the Netherlands, becoming the nation's first actual monarch. The Dutch monarchy remains to this day, although its powers have always been considerably more limited than those of more absolute monarchies.
As Amsterdam was situated in Holland and this city became "the warehouse" of Europe, Holland became the most important of all the provinces and people came to call the Netherlands, "Holland". Dutch traders traded all over Europe and in faraway lands, and the Dutch became immensely wealthy from such prosperous trade.
Another (very important) source of income was the fishing of herring. The Spaniard Charles V was quoted to have commented, "The Dutch fish more gold and silver from the sea than other nations dig from the ground". To make herring last longer, salt was required to pickle the herring. This salt was bought in Spanish and Portuguese ports. The Spanish didn't like this since they were at war with the Netherlands, and impounded all Dutch vessels and closed harbours to all Dutch trade, forcing the Dutch to get their salt elsewhere, starting first at small islands near Brazil, later in Brazil itself and on other coasts. The Spanish did everything to stop the Dutch from getting it because South America was largely Spanish and they wanted to cripple the Dutch economy. It didn't help, as Dutch ships kept coming and this time not only for salt, but to prey on Spanish trade and colonies. In 1621, the Dutch West Indies Company was created to organise these activities. They had two main goals: encourage trade and colonistation; and capture Spanish ships and colonies (and their allies). One such mission was the capture of a Spanish silver fleet by Piet Hein, raking in silver and other products aboard of a total value of 12 million guilders (estimated around 5 million dollars today).
When Portugal "allied" with Spain, Dutch access to Brazil was cut off. Subsequently, the Dutch tried to take Brazil in 1624. After a harsh battle, Salvador was taken from Portugal but a Spanish fleet cut short Dutch control. After many battles and the continuous blocking of Brazilian harbours by ships of the Geoctroyeerde Westindische Compagnie, or Chartered West Indies Company (GWC), the Dutch finally settled on land. Within years, large parts of Brazil were colonised, including Pernambuco, Paraiba and Itamaraca. The colony was called "New Holland". Although commercially successful, the Lusitanian residents of New Holland rebelled with success and the West Indies Company finally lost New Holland in 1654 to Portugal. On the other hand, adventures in North America and Asia would prove to be more successful, culminating with the founding of Nieuw Amsterdam and the seizure of Nea Sverige from the Swedes. These areas would correspond to present-day New York City and Delaware State today, while the Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or United East India Company (VOC) would manage the spice trade in the East Indies.
However, there was a new rival. Until the ascension of William of Orange to the English throne, Anglo-Dutch rivalry was at its strongest and both factions would be involved in economic competition, which often even plunged into armed conflict. In the Americas, both factions attempted to resolve this by trading British Suriname for Dutch-held Nieuw Amsterdam, now currently New York in the United States. In Asia, the Dutch traded and fought against the locals in an attempt to secure ports of trade such as Malacca and Nagasaki, but it would not be until after the Kew Treaty that the Dutch would eventually begin to colonise what is now present-day Indonesia.
The Batavian Revolution: From Republic to RabbitEdit
Despite this seeming power and prosperity, the greatest threat to Holland came not from the Spanish, Portuguese, or the the British, but from the French. By the end of the 18th century, Holland was divided into two groups - the Orangists, who supported the stadhouder, and the Patriots, who demanded more democracy. The result was the Batavian revolution, backed by the revolutionary French government. Dutch nobility fled to England to join in exile hundreds of ther aristocrats, ruling elites, and other famous persons from many other European nations fleeing the advance of the revolution. A new republic was established, the Batavian Republic, while the rest of Belgium and some of the southern portions of the Netherlands were annexed as sovereign departments of France. The government changed hands several times before Napoleon created the Kingdom of Holland in 1805, making Louis Bonaparte, his brother, king.
Despite originally being meant to be a puppet of his elder brother, Louis proved to be a surprisingly popular ruler. Upon arriving, he went native, renouncing his French citizenship, and proclaimed himself king Lodewijk, and forced his French-born staff to speak only Dutch - despite his poor command of Dutch, which often resulted in his referring to himself as the Konijn (Dutch: "Rabbit) as opposed to Koning (Dutch for King) of Holland. Naturally, Napoleon was incensed and forced him to abdicate before subsuming Holland entirely into France.
Throughout the French occupation, the Dutch cooperated well enough with their masters, as much as one can when held at gunpoint. French troops garrisoned forts and cities throughout the Netherlands to keep an eye on both the people and the Dutch and Belgian troops in French service. The administration did what it could to meet Napoleon's expectations, especially during the years of the Consulate, before the Kingdom of Holland was created. Napoleon was planning to invade England and his naval plans were ambitious in the extreme, requiring literally thousands of vessels. Early on the Dutch fleet was stripped to skeleton status to appease Napoleon. Dutch ports of all sizes were building transports and escort ships for Napoleon's fleet around the clock with the local French naval prefects making harsher demands by the day. By and large the people were left to keep to themselves, however. French occupation was not as brutal as in Iberia or Eastern Europe and the people enjoyed the benefits of the Code Napoleon.
Not all Dutch and Belgians served with Napoleon, however. Some nine regiments of infantry were under French service circa 1810. In 1815, the Dutch and Belgian troops served with the Allied seventh coalition. The Dutch-Belgians lost over 3,400 casualties during the Waterloo campaign and fought with distinction. Once Napoleon was defeated, however, there was going to be no talk of any republics. A constitutional monarchy, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, was established with the family of the stathouder of the old republic installed as its royal family which has remained as such to this day. Despite sweeping reforms and developments, however, the kingdom was not to last - ever since the days of Spanish rule, the southern Netherlands had always been set apart culturally from the north, and so it was that in 1830 the south rose up in rebellion. The Dutch king wanted to send troops, but was compelled by the British to leave the secessionists alone, who then went on to found the kingdom of Belgium.
The Dutch Colonial Empire (1824–1945CE))Edit
Throughout the Napoleonic Wars, the seizure of Dutch ports by the British to deny the French access to Dutch assets in the Far East had shown the Dutch that more attention was required in order to secure its economic lifeline and national strength. Additionally, the loss of Belgium with its valuable coal mines also nearly bankrupted the Dutch treasury. Thus, it was decided to liquidate the hitherto insolvent VOC, and to expand Dutch interests in the East Indies. A treaty was secured between the British and the Dutch in 1824, dividing the Malay Archipelago into two different spheres of influence - the British took the commercially lucrative northern half, while the Dutch got the agriculturally productive southern half, which correspond roughly to present-day Malaysia and Indonesia. Further possessions in Africa, once vital components in the sailing ship routes of the Dutch maritime empire, were sold off in 1871 to Britain once both techonloy and foreign relations with Britain had improved.
Although the Dutch did much to improve the infrastructure of Indonesian cities, and were responsible for the creation of many cities, one must realise that Dutch investments in the Dutch East Indies were of a self-serving nature, meant to exploit the fruits of the earth and the raw labour of the indigenous peoples. It is thus unsurprising that Malays for many years would use the term bagai Belanda minta tanah ("Like a Dutchman asking for land") to describe an exceptionally avaricious individual.
The first few years, meant to replenish the coffers of the ailing Dutch state, were harsh; only until the 20th century did the Dutch begin to implement social reforms to ameliorate the condition of native citizens, but it was not enough. In 1940, the Japanese Empire declared the creation of a "Greater Asian Co-Porpspeity Sphere"; this soon led to an invasion of Indonesia in 1942. When the Dutch attempted to retake Indonesia once the Japanese were forced to surrender, they however discovered themselves facing a highly organised resistance movement, endowed with Japanese training and equipped with salvaged Japanese equipment and even assisted by renegade Japanese troops, and were compelled to quit the Malay Archipelago, their former colonies coalescing into the Republic of Indonesia by 1949.
Gregory H. Volbrecht et al, Netherlands Historical Overview, Cosscks Heaven