AN: When I made this summary, I used some abbreviatons. These are their meanings:
LC = Low Countries
WoO = William of Orange (Willem van Oranje)
Chapter 4, sections 1/5 (pp 96/109)
Section 1: The emergence of the Republic
Around 1550 (1548), the LC consisted of 17 provinces, with Brabant, Flanders and Holland as the three most important. Each province was ruled by a lord. In 1548, Charles V, the most powerful ruler in Europe, conquered Gelderland and he was now in control of all the provinces from his capital, Brussels. He wanted the LC to become one nation. Each province had its own government and justice system. The Provincial Estates was a council of nobles, clergy and citizens from the towns. To speed up the consultations with the provinces, he sent representatives from all provinces to the Estates-General in Brussels.
If the lord did not live in the LC, he appointed a governor-general.
Charles V was Sovereign of the LC from 1515 till 1555. He had two ardent ambitions:
- He wanted more centralization of power;
- He wanted to ensure all people in the LC remained loyal to the Catholic Church.
In 1555, Charles abdicated because he was disappointed in the LC. He was succeeded by his son, Philip II. He remained Charles’ policies. He took four years to arrange the LC. He made very strict rules for the governor-general, his half-sister, Margaret of Parma, because he did not trust the LC.
The nobles did not want the country to be run centrally from Brussels. They had lost their power and Margaret was ruling without consulting them. Rich citizens were also unhappy because they had less influence on how the provinces were governed.
Many went hungry in the 16th century.
The majority of the people in the LC were RC but they did not all support their persecution. They felt that the punishments were too harsh and greatly admired the Protestants for remaining true to their faith.
Philip II wanted Margaret to clamp down even harder on the Protestants. Several nobles responded by forming the League of Nobles in April 1566. They sent a letter to Margaret, pleading with her to cease persecuting the Protestants. She made a vague promise that they would be less severely punished.
Calvinists refugees came back to the LC and started organising hedge sermons.
The unrest in the LC intensified in the winter of 1565-1566, when the iconoclastic riots started. They started in Steenvoorde (now Belgium) on August 10 1566. Shocked by such violence, many people sided with the government. Margaret managed to restore law and order pretty quickly but that was not enough for Philip. She was locked up in a castle in Italy. Philip appointed the Duke of Alva as the new governor-general. He came along with an army. His mission was threefold:
- To punish the rebels;
- To make sure that only the Catholic faith was professed in the LC;
- To establish a centralized government.
He arrived in the LC in 1567.
William of Orange (1533-1584) was the ruler of the Princedom of Orange in France. He opposed the policies of Philip. He had two main goals:
- Political unity and more independence for the LC;
- Tolerance between Catholics and Protestants.
He did not wait for Alva to arrive. He fled to Nassau, where he masterminded the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648).
In 1568 and 1572 William made two attempts to invade the LC but his troops were no match for those of Alva.
The Sea Beggars (Watergeuzen) were more successful in 1572, when they seized Den Briel.
More and more cities in Holland and Zeeland were joining the rebels (WoO’s side). Amsterdam joined as last in 1578. Amsterdam did everything for money, so they stayed at the Spanish side to sell armour. They chose for the city, not for the state. Alva was succeeded by Requesens in 1573.
In 1572, Holland appointed WoO as their stadholder. Religious freedom was granted. After the Spaniards had been driven out, Zeeland followed Holland’s example.
The revolt of Holland and Zeeland and the decision by the States of Holland and Zeeland meant open opposition to Philip.
For four years, Holland and Zeeland struggled alone. The other provinces remained loyal to Philip. This all changed when Requesens suddenly died in 1576 and there was no one to replace him. The southern LC in the Estates-General took control.
When the Spanish mercenaries in Antwerp killed 6000 people because they did not get their salary in time, the provinces decided to start working together. They signed a peace treaty called the Pacification of Ghent (vredemaking van Gent/Pacificatie van Gent). They agreed to:
- Drive the Spanish troops from the country;
- Protest against the centralization policy and demand more independence for the cities;
- Pay no attention for the time being to religious differences.
The Duke of Parma, a later successor of Alva (in 1578), split the provinces again. He showed the RC that they couldn’t actually trust Protestants. He made the scared RC join the Union of Atrecht (1579). Philip II offered to reward anyone who managed to kill WoO, who – he believed – was to blame for the revolt. William was killed by a French Catholic, Balthasar Gerards. He was arrested and gevierendeeld (1584). Protestants joined the Union of Utrecht. In 1581, they publicly declared that they no longer recognized Philip as their king (Akte van Verlatinghe). They searched for a new king but when they failed to find one, they were forced to form the Republic of the United Netherlands. The Estates-General ruled the Republic. They were from now on held in The Hague.
The North and South were unable to defeat each other. By 1586 Parma was in control of almost all the land south of the main rivers.
The rebel army had been under the command of Prince Maurits since 1585. He improved the organization of the army. According to Holland, he became too powerful and he wanted to be a king. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was the Grand Pensionary at that time and tried to get rid of Maurits.
There was an armistice (wapenstilstand) from 1609 till 1621 (Het Twaalfjarig Bestand – Twelve Years’ Truce) so the Dutch could focus on each other again, instead of on the Spanish. The GP had arranged this armistice with Spain. In order to get rid of him, Maurits had him arrested and sentenced to death as a traitor for high treason (hoogverraad). They said he had cooperated with the enemy (Spain). Then, Frederik Hendrik (“de Stedendwinger”) seized some cities.
Eventually, after both had become reconciled to the situation, Spain and the Republic signed the Peace of Munster in 1648. This marked the end of the Eighty Years’ War. The terms of the Peace of Munster:
- Spain recognized the Republic as an independent state
- The southern provinces remained in the possession of Spain
- The Republic would make no more attempts to seize the South
- The River Scheldt would remain closed.
The Republic was unique:
- During the rebellion the people had resisted the king and his centralization policy.
- Most of the power ended up in the hands of the rich citizens.
The religious situation in the Republic was also different from anywhere else. Catholics were prohibited from openly practising their faith and Calvinism became the official religion. The Catholics, however, were not persecuted.
Section 2: Who was in control in the Republic?
The Province of Holland had the most influence in the Republic. It paid 58% of all the costs of the Republic. Drenthe had its of government but was not allowed to send representatives to the Estates-General, as it only paid 1% of all the costs.
The Generality Lands (Zeeland-Flanders, North Brabant and parts of Limburg) did not have their own government. They were ruled by the Estates-General and were predominantly Catholic.
The regents had almost all the power in the Republic. They formed only a small part of the population.
There were often quarrels between stadholders and GPs because the stadholders wanted more power.
Section 3: The layered structure of society
Around 1650, the population of the Republic amounted to two million. Approximately 2% of them were regents.
The only difference between the regents and the upper bourgeoisie was that the regents were in the government. Lower bourgeoisie is the middle class. They worked in their own shops. The common people were very poor and were also called “het grouw”. They accounted for around 75% of the population.
At the start of the 17th century, it was still possible to move upwards. However, as the 17th century progressed the differences between the population groups widened. It became extremely difficult to improve your social position.
Women were not allowed to hold office in city or provincial government. The women in the two upper layers of society did not work. If women did work, they were paid less than men.
Section 4: The Golden Age: great prosperity in the Republic
The 17th century in the Netherlands is often called the Golden Age. It was a period in which the Republic experienced immense economic growth and when science and painting flourished. It became one of the richest countries in Europe.
Major changes took place in agriculture:
- Lakes were pumped dry to create new land;
- Production improved thanks to better fertilization;
- Farmers started specializing
- Crops that were no longer grown in the Republic were imported from other countries.
Ever since the voyages of discovery, trade had been steadily expanding between Western Europe and the rest of the world. The Republic controlled a large part of this trade. Amsterdam became by far the largest trading centre in Europe. Many goods were transported from Amsterdam to other countries. Amsterdam became known as a staple market (stapelplaats, stapelmarkt).
Why was Amsterdam the staple market of Europe?
- It was favourably situated
- The Dutch had had a large fleet since the 15th century
- At first the Dutch had very little competition from other countries
- Antwerp could no longer function as a trading centre because the River Scheldt was closed.
The trade with Asia was especially important. In 1602 the Dutch East India Company (VOC: Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) was established. They controlled the very profitable trade in spices. Dutch merchants entered trading treaties with the natives. Sometimes they even forced them into exclusive deals.
In 1621, the West India Company (WIC: West-Indische Compagnie) was established for the trade with America. They founded New Amsterdam in North America and sent pelts to the Republic. The WIC also transported slaves from Africa to Brazil, Curacao and Surinam.
The trade led to a thriving industry. There were many shipyards and sail-making businesses in the Republic.
Many of the imported goods were processed in Amsterdam. The Republic also turned out products which were in great demand in Europe.
The prosperity was certainly not shared by everyone in the Republic. However, the employment situation was far worse in other European countries.
It was the regents and the upper bourgeoisie who profited from the prosperity.
Throughout most of the 17th century the Republic was more prosperous than England and France, which were both plagued with internal problems. By 1660 these problems had been solved and they turned their attention to protecting their trade and industry. High import duties were imposed. They also started participating more in trade and did not need to buy as many products from the Republic. This caused unemployment in the Republic and they lost their key position in industry.
Section 5: Religion, science, painting and literature
Catholics were allowed to be Catholic and freedom of conscience was a right. This was pretty exceptional at that time.
Catholics had more freedom here because many governors were against religious persecution.
Many foreign authors had their books printed in the Republic because there was political or religious suppression in their own country. These books were later smuggled back into the country of origin. All of this led to a very profitable business in banned books.
Some books were banned by law, such as Catholic books and books that criticised the government. The business in books was very important.
The Republic produced many famous scientists and scholars.
During the Golden Age, every city had a great many accomplished painters. The spectacular growth in the art of painting had a lot to do with the rising demand for pictures. The patrons fell into the two main categories.
The first category consisted of city governors and regents of orphanages and poorhouses. The painters were commissioned to paint large group portraits.
The second category was much bigger. It consisted of members of the bourgeoisie, rich artisans and shopkeepers. Some commissioned a painting as an investment, hoping to sell it at a profit at a later date, but most people wanted a work of art to adorn the inside of their home. They also liked the paintings to feature something from their own surroundings. Family portraits were also very popular.
The demand was so big that painters started specializing.
Various well-known authors appeared in the Republic, particularly in the first half of the 17th century.
Many citizens believed that books should not only be read for pleasure. You had to learn something as well.