Dutch History for the non-Dutch

(Part 2) The Golden Age & the Eighty Years War (1568 - 1648)

The Gueux

When the recall of 1564 failed in 1565 this did not inmediately lead to an open revolt. A group of members of the lower nobility among whom Louis of Nassau (a younger brother of William of Orange) and the brothers John and Philip of St. Aldegond prepared a petition for the abolition of the Inquisition. This petition was called the Compromise of Nobles and was supported by 400 nobles both catholics and protestants. It was presented to Margaret (the regent of the Spanish Netherlands) on April 5, 1566 at an audience for about 300 members of the Compromise which Margaret found rather intimidating. According to legend one of the courtiers of Margeret remarked "N'ayez pas peur Madame, ce ne sont que des gueux " (translation: don't fear my lady they are but beggars (many nobles spoke French in those days as French was then the Lingua Franca)) referring to the fact that these nobles were of the lowest ranks of the nobility. The word beggar stuck and later groups of rebels who fought for the independence of the Netherlands called themselves "Geuzen" a Dutch corruption of the French word. The Dutch word "Geuzennaampje" (translation: Gueuxname) can be translated as reappropriation and is also derived from this event and means any mockname for a person or group that is given a different more positive meaning than the original meaning of the word. The result of the petition was that Margaret suspended the socalled "Placards" of the council of Trent pending Philip's final decision.

Iconoclastic Fury

Many protestants were emboldened by this event and most returned from exile. Some Calvinists began to hold open air sermons by this time. Although many of these meetings were peaceful it nevertheless caused anxiety with the authorities, especially since some of the people attending bore arms. The situation deterioted rapidly when a force of 2000 armed Calvinists tried to force their way into the walled town of Veurne (a town in West Flanders in modern Belgium) to demand their right to hold sermon in the church. Shortly thereafter Calvinist weavers from the industrial area around Ypres (also in modern Belgium) attacked churches and destroyed religious statuary (Calvin was opposed to Idolisation of Saints). This iconoclastic fury (Dutch: Beeldenstorm) spread like wildfire across the Netherlands. What was initially a conflict with the law and about taxes now also had become a religious conflict.

Duke of Alba (1507 - 1582)

The response of the Spanish King was to send his most trusted hardliner Fernando alvarez of Toledo a.k.a. the Duke of Alba or nicknamed "the iron Duke" to the Netherlands together with an army of 10,000 Italian and Spanish mercenaries. He took over the government from Margaret and was known as a harsh and cruel ruler, widely known for his atrocities in Dutch, Belgian and even English folklore. He was a zealous opponent of protestants and established a council, called the Blood Council in an attempt to quell any further uprisings. This council condemned to death the counts of Egmont and Hoorn both of whom were catholics, but symphatetic to their protestant subjects. William of Orange was also initially to be tried at the council of blood, but managed to escape prosecution due to his good diplomatic ties. The result was that many protestants fled to places such as England, or Huguenot areas in France, or to protestant areas such as places like Emden in modern Germany.

William of Orange a.k.a. William the Silent a.k.a. Father of our Nation (1533 - 1584)

What the protestant cause needed most was a leader who would fight for their cause. Such a leader was William of Orange nicknamed the Silent socalled because he knew when not to speak in diplomatic negotiations. His title was the count of Holland, but his family was originally from Nassau a county in modern Germany and he therefore acted as a sovereign of the Holy Roman Empire fully able to wage war on Philip and able to issue letters of marquee, which now elevated the "Geuzen" to the status of privateers.

The dire financial state of the Duke of Alba

The Duke of Alba major trouble was his finances. His mercenary army required a vast sum of money to operate fulltime and money was hard to come by for Philip, who at that time was in the midst of an expensive war with the Ottoman empire.

No Taxation without Representation

The Duke of Alba attempted to raise finances to maintain the army by introducing the socalled tenth penny, but this tax proved so unpopular that it failed to get collected. Alba's high-handed attempts to collect the taxes in the provinces of Holland, Zeeland, and Utrecht, for instance, where local officials were threatened with high fines for refusing to allow collection of the taxes and also in Flanders and Brabant, put the local magistrates in personal danger of mob violence, if they complied with those attempts. Alba's policies in this way opened up a serious breach between the central government and even loyal provincial and local governments. The ultimate irony was that the taxes were never successfully implemented, but the obduracy of Alba in pursuing their introduction alienated even the ultra-loyalist Catholics, who had no objection against his other repressive measures. By the Summer of 1572, Alba finally relented, but it was too late then to repair the damage.

The Dutch Rebellion (1572 - 1576)

Meanwhile the financial state of William of Orange was no better and his problems with creditors intensified. He had made plans to invade the Netherlands via France, but ultimately decided not to continue. Nevertheless the Duke of Alba considered the plan to be genuine and moved the few loyal garrisons he had elsewhere.

The "Geuzen" had outstayed their welcome in England when they continued to attack Hanseatic shipping. When the Hanseatic ambassador complained to Elizabeth, she decided to expel them. One of these garrisons of denuded "Geuzen" moved to the port of Brill and captured the port in 1572. The news of the capture spread like wildfire and with help of Diederik Sonoy, the representative of William of Orange, other cities like: Enkhuizen, Hoorn, Medemblik, Edam, Haarlem, Alkmaar, Oudewater, Gouda, Gorinchem, Dordrecht and later Leiden (all cities within the province Holland) joined their cause. Boussu the representative of the Duke of Alba tried to stem the tide by convening the Estates General at the Hague, but he was too late.

By now the rebellion had erupted into a civil war. Fights see-sawed back and forth with ports being captured and recaptured. Part of the problem for the Duke of Alba was the nature of the countryside and the fact that the rebels had greater access to smaller, but more manouverable ships. The rebels would simply inundate the surrounding low-lying land in Holland before the Spanish troops threathened to arrive, effectively eliminating any possibility of a successful siege and invasion of the land. Disheartened the zealous Duke of Alba retired in 1573 as a broken man.

The Spanish Fury (1576)

In 1576 Spain had to declare bankruptcy. The unfortunate result for Spain was that ships carrying 400,000 florins intended as payment to the troops stationed in the Spanish Netherlands were seized by the government of Elizabeth I, when ships containing the florins sought shelter from a storm in English ports.

The lack of money led to mutiny amongst the royalist men. The end result was that the Italian and Spanish mercenaries resorted to the looting of the local countryside (nowadays in modern Belgium) and the sack of the port of Antwerp. Some 7,000 lives and a great deal of property were lost in the rampage of Antwerp. Furthermore it resulted in the ruin of the Antwerp cloth market. English traders dared not visit a warzone and by 1582 all trade had ceased down the river Scheldt towards the port of Antwerp. The city's large Jewish population was particularly hard hit and Antwerp subsequently lost its status as one of the richest cities in Europe, never quite able to recover its former glory. A large portion of the surviving population moved to ports in Holland such as the city of Amsterdam and Rotterdam, further strengthening the rebel cause.

The Spanish Fury tarnished the reputation of Philip and made him even less popular than he already was. He had already been deeply unpopular both at home and abroad. He was seen as a zealous catholic and the fact that his female courtiers had to wear chastity belts (like the ones you see in Robin Hood men in Thights) probably did not help to alter the perception of him.

The Pacification of Ghent (1576)

The States General, influenced by the sack, signed the Pacification of Ghent only 4 days later, unifying the rebellious provinces with the loyal provinces with the goal of removing all Spanish soldiers from the Netherlands, as well as stopping the persecution of heretics. This effectively destroyed every accomplishment the Spanish had made in the past 10 years, since the start of the Dutch Revolt.

The Union of Utrecht

By now more cities had joined the rebel cause including cities outside the provinces of Holland and Zeeland. Seven northern provinces of the Seventeen provinces of the Netherlands signed a treaty of mutual protection called the Union of Utrecht in 1579. These seven provinces were: Holland (nowadays the 2 provinces of North and South Holland), Zeeland, Utrecht, Friesland, Stad en Lande (nowadays the province of Groningen), Gelre (roughly corresponding to the modern province of Gelderland) and Overijssel.

This union would later become the nation known today as the Netherlands. The union was dominated by the province of Holland (the richest and most powerful member), hence why many foreigners intermittently use the name Holland to refer to the Netherlands. As if England represents the whole of the United Kingdom including Scotland and Wales. Meanwhile several southern provinces had signed their own treaty known as the Union of Arras.

The modern nation of the Netherlands today consists of twelve provinces. This is because of several reasons: (1) parts of the provinces of Brabant and Limburg were conquered during the Eighty Years War by the Union of Utrecht, later known as the Dutch Republic, (2) the province of Holland was divided in two distinct provinces in 1840, (3) The province of Flevoland was formed out of land reclaimed from the sea, (4) the province of Drenthe was part of the province of Overijssel and was intially a rural backwater populated mainly by a few peasant families and many sheep who grazed the heath, thus bringing the total, to the twelve provinces we have today.

On the initiative of Emperor Rudolph II (of the Holy Roman Empire) a final attempt was made to attain a general peace between Philip and the States-General in the German city of Cologne. As both sides insisted on mutually exclusive demands these peace talks only served to make the irreconcilability of both parties more obvious.

The Act of Abjuration (1581)

The cities and provinces who had joined the Union of Utrecht still had not made a formal declaration of independence. Even William of Orange remained in name loyal to the King of Spain. In fact the "nieu christelijk liet" (supposedly written by Philip of St. Aldegond) which later became the "Wilhelmus" or the Dutch national anthem, states "den Koning van Hispanje heb ik altijd geŽerd" that the Prince of Orange (referring to William of Orange of course) remained loyal to the Spanish King. Afterall it was a capital offense not to honour the King of Spain as the sovereign of the Netherlands. Up until now the Eighty Years War was just a rebellion. With the "Plakkaat van Verlatinghe" or the Act of Abjuration the rebel provinces restated their privileges, nowhere is it mentioned in the Act that these provinces secede from Spain. However the Act of Abjuration formally declares the right of these provinces to renounce their ruler and declare the throne vacant, which in essence is the same thing as a formal declaration of independence. You can just feel the emotion, as if the rebel United States declared the throne of England vacant and the King absent of duty. The rebel provinces also declared Philip had violated their rights and that this gave them the right to declare his throne as abandoned (hence the word Verlatinghe). This revolutionary concept is what made it a declaration of independence in reality.

With the Act signed, there was no more going back to the old days, what started out as a mere rebellion, became a war between two nations (though the newly created Dutch Republic was not formally recognised as an independent nation until 1648).

Duke of Anjou (1555 - 1584)

The territory under the control of the nominal States-General was steadily shrinking. The Duke of Parma (Parma is in modern Italy) made steady progress and took Maastricht in 1579 and Kortrijk in 1580 and by 1581 Breda had fallen too. The States-General replied by recapturing Mechelen. William of Orange feared the cause would end in defeat and by 1582 the situation looked dismal for the fledgling nation. By 1580 William returned to his old diplomatic ways to seek support with moderate Catholics within the Netherlands. The response of Philip of Spain was to brand him as an outlaw. William of Orange turned to French Huguenots for support and sought the aid of the Duke of Anjou and even went as far as to declare him the future Stadtholder of the Netherlands. The Duke of Anjou however was deeply unpopular in the Netherlands and ultimately the idea failed to continue, but it bought some respite for the time being in what became an increasingly precarious situation for the Union of Utrecht. Dunkirk and Nieuwpoort soon fell, forcing William to move to the city of Delft.

Balthasar Gerards & The Assassination of William the Silent (1584)

Things were looking bleak for the rebels, but soon a very dramatic event transpired that would bring the rebels to the brink of defeat.

Balthasar Gerards was a poor and devout Catholic born in the area of Franche-Comte inside modern France. He heard of the previous assassination attempt on William of Orange in 1582 which had failed and he decided to become an assassin himself. He sought the support of Parma and told about his plot to assassinate William of Orange to Jesuit priests.

On tuesday the 10th of july in the year 1584, William the Silent climbed the stairs to the second floor, he was spoken to by the Welsh captain, Roger Williams, who knelt before him. William put his hand on the bowed head of the old captain, at which moment Balthasar Gerard jumped out of a dark corner. Gerard drew his weapon and fired three shots at the Stadtholder (the bullet holes are still visible in the wall at the Prinsenhof in Delft today). William the Silent collapsed. His sister knelt beside him, but it was too late. His last reported words were in French: "'Mon Dieu, ayez pitie de moi et de mon pauvre peuple." ("My God, have mercy on me and on my poor people."). Now there is a piece of drama, that would make any Hollywood director want to make a movie out of it.

Gerards fled through a side door and ran across a narrow lane, pursued by Roger Williams. He had almost reached the ramparts, from which he intended to jump into the moat. On the other side a saddled horse stood ready. However, he stumbled over a heap of rubbish. A servant and a halberdier of the prince who had raced after him, caught him. Gerard was subsequently tried, tortured and executed. Afterwards Gerards family received three estates from Philip II and was raised to peerage.

Maurice of Nassau (1567 - 1625)

The Republic of Holland was in disarray for a brief period following the assassination. It needed help and it needed help soon. It sought the support of Elizabeth I of England. She may have had the body of a weak and feeble woman, but her compassion that came from her heart was nonetheless great. Fearing for the recent shift in the balance of powers, she aided the rebels by sending Leicester together with a few thousands armed soldiers to Holland. The soldiers were welcomed, however the Estates-General appointed the second legitimate son of Orange, Maurice of Nassau just before the arrival of Leicester (the nominee of Elizabeth) effectively side-lining the English appointee. So much for a warm welcome from the Dutch.

The Resurge (1588 - 1609)

Maurice proved to be a much more effective military strategist than his father had been. Capable of employing new tactics in the field such as simultaneous fire with new weapons such as muskets (up until then most battles had been fought with arquebuses). The simultaneous fire was a tactic the Dutch may have picked up from the Japanese (the Dutch formed formal trading relations with the Japanese in 1601).

The Dutch cause was further helped by an economic boom, greatly influenced by the arrival of yet more protestant migrants. Dutch ships which had a smaller draught were able to sail in shallow waters where Spanish galleons were unable to sail and this aided the Dutch in the fight on the sea. Fortunes changed even further when Breda was recaptured in a ruse in 1590.

Meanwhile France saw yet another religiously insprired civil war in 1589 in which Parma was ordered to respond to by Philip II. Not being able to fight a two front war, the Spanish lost much of their gains to Maurice and his newly drilled army.

The Dutch East India Company

Another factor that contributed to the resurge was the founding of the East India Company in 1602 and the West India company in 1621. Many Dutch towns were familiar with the formula of shareholding, due to the fact that a lot of Dutch towns such as Stavoren, Kampen en Groningen had been members of the Hanseatic League. With the Hanseatic League in decline the Dutch merchants took the matters of shareholding in their own hands and took it another step further. Usually Hanseatic merchants would purchase several shares of various trading vessels, that way the risk of bankruptcy would be minimized, if one ship sank for whatever reason. With the East India Company shares were bought of an enterprise, a whole enterprise not just a mere ship. It effectively allowed Dutch merchants to share the burden of having to purchase an escort vessel for a trading convoy.

The local Dutch governments took it yet another step further. They issued the enterprise with letters of marquee, allowing the East India company to take hold of whatever Spanish port they conquered and conquer ports they did, in the new world that is. Portugal (a member of the joint crown between Spain and Portugal) lost several ports to the Dutch, scattered all over the world, in continents like Africa, Asia and South America. In a period of 5 years the Portuguese lost 3 major ports, which dealt a serious blow to the already serious financial state of Spain.

Aside from conquering new territory in the name of the Dutch Republic, the main business of the East India Company was trade. Silks, porcelain, rubies and diamonds and later also tea, but especially spices were the main items of trade for the East India Company. The "VOC" (Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie) or the United East India Company of the Dutch turned out to be a very profitable enterprise. Profits for some trade goods turned out to be at 600% or more.

The West India company however was a much less profitable enterprise than its older counterpart. There were some profits to be made on the trade of sugar and tobacco, but competition of the English here proved to be stiff. The main focus of the West India Company was the slave trade. It is estimated that the Dutch hauled in about 20% of all the slaves in the Americas. It was a business that strangely enough only became quite profitable, when it became illegal, after it was banned centuries later. One of the main reasons for the relative unprofitability of the slave trade, when it was still legal, was due to the fact that margins were quite low due to the competition from the English, Portuguese and the Arabs and the fact that too many slaves died during the trans-atlantic voyage. In other words criminal enterprises do not pay.

To facilitate the trade in shares, bonds, obligations and later also options the Dutch merchants opened up the first stock market in the world. There was a good deal of money to be made on the stock market, but unfortunately the trade also had a downside. It was the option trade that caused the world's first market crash, called the Tulip Mania in 1637, when prices for Tulip bulbs abruptly plumeted. Within a matter of 40 years the Dutch merchants had experienced their first boom and bust cycle.

The Twelve Year Truce (1609 - 1621)

By now both sides began to notice the fiscal strain of the war. Spain was unhappy about the inroads of the Dutch East India Company and the Dutch East India Company suffered from competition of English merchants. Unlike his father Philip III had reconciled with the fact that he may lose the Netherlands no matter what, so a truce was made between the Netherlands and Spain for the duration of twelve years. It allowed the Dutch Republic to get recognised for the first time and bought respite for the Spanish monarchy. By 1609 resident ambassadors were established in France and England and soon after diplomatic relations were formed with the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire.

Privateers & Explorers

The rebels did not simply wait for the truce to end, before hostilies would begin anew, aside from strengthening diplomatic ties and building an even bigger fleet, they moved about the whole world exploring pretty much every nook and cranny for new routes to Asia to haul in more spices. Abel Tasman discovered a continent that came to be known as Australia decades before the British explorer Cook did. His name is remembered in the fact that there is now an island named after him called Tasmania (the southernmost state of Australia). Willem Barentsz tried to find a way to China, by attempting to circumnavigate Siberia. He died of starvation on the island of Nova Zembla in the Barentszsea in 1597 when his ship could not make it passed the artic ice. Henry Hudson in service of the Dutch East India Company made a second attempt to find a navigable route to China via the Americas. He discovered places like Cape Cod and sailed up the river Hudson as far as modern day Albany in the state of New York. Dutch sailors established the first colony called New Netherlands and founded the city of New Amsterdam (later known as the city of New York) in 1624.

When the truce expired in 1621 it was back to business as usual, only this time the Dutch Republic was better prepared. The army liberated numerous places and made it as far away as modern day Emden (nowadays in modern Germany). The Estates General issued letters of marquee to privateers and the new Dutch navy sailed accross the Northsea to protect Dutch fisherman fishing for herring and cod. The Dutch army got hundreds of new cannons to pound the Spanish held fortresses in the northeast to shreds.

Martin Trump & the Dunkirkers (1627)

The new Dutch navy was led by a man named Maarten Tromp (properly translated as Martin Trump, similar to Trump the famous real estate tycoon). He had risen through the ranks in the service of yet another famous privateer named Piet Heynszoon also known as Piet Heyn (properly translated as Pete Heinz, as in Heinz the brand of Tomato ketchup). The Dutch navy was tasked with the protection of Dutch fisherman. The Spanish crown had issued their own letters of marquee designed to destroy the Dutch Fishing industry in the Northsea. Dunkirk was still in Spanish hands at that time and the merchants of Dunkirk turned to piracy. Tromp effectively defeated them time and again.

The penultimate defeat for Dunkirk came in 1527 when a fleet of nearly a hundred vessels was destroyed or captured by Trump's navy. The war had made Trump a very rich man and he bought himself a home and issued himself a portrait (which still exists and can be seen till this day), where he stood in his full glory, bald as ever.

Piet Heinz & the Spanish Silver Fleet (1628)

Meanwhile Piet Heyn recieved a letter of marquee from the Estates-General. He worked for the West India Company and was tasked to intercept the Spanish Treasure Fleet creatively nicknamed "La flota" (the fleet), which was laden with Mexican silver. This fleet was destined to sail from the Spanish colonies in the Americas to Spain, but had been delayed for 3 years, which meant there was great fortune stacked inside the Ships.

Piet Heyn and his men captured half of the Spanish fleet at the bay of Matanzas in modern day Cuba, without firing a single shot, most of the Spanish sailors had panicked at the sight of so many armed vessels. Spanish morale was already low due to the fact that the sailors had already sailed through a ferocious storm (it was Hurricane season) and so the Spanish ships made very easy pickings. The Spanish galleons were also understaffed and no match for the Dutch sailors. The booty was estimated at 177,000 pounds of silver (in today's value about 120 million Euro), which instantly made a millionair out of Piet Heyn, a man who had grown up in a very poor migrant family (probably of German origin). That year the West India Company would issue a record breaking dividend of 50% to its shareholders. It took the West India Company a total of 7 weeks to unload all of the silver at Hellevoetsluis.

This act of piracy was both a financial and a moral victory for the Dutch Republic and dealt a devestating blow to the Spanish and Portuguese crown, who by now were in a desperate situation. However the victory over the Dunkirk fleet did not fully eliminate the threat that the Dunkirkers posed to Dutch shipping. Even though the Dunkirk ships had been defeated time and again, the town itself remained firmly in Spanish hands, with no Dutch army in sight to lay siege to the town. What the Dutch Republic needed most was an ally with a capable and sizeable army to lay siege to the Spanish towns. Strange though it may sound, that key ally of the Republic turned out to be a French and Catholic Cardinal.

The Dutch Republic & the Thirty Years War (1618 - 1648)

The Dutch Republic had seen a regime change in recent years. With people like the innocent Van Oldenbarneveldt tried and beheaded for treason, control was now firmly in the hands of the Stadtholder Maurice and it would stay that way under the reign of Frederick Henry (1584 - 1647). Van Oldenbarneveldt was not willing to keep the fight going in other protestant areas inside the Holy Roman Empire, but Maurice felt differently. Civil war did erupt in the Kingdom of Bohemia and this would bring much of Europe in a devestating conflict known as the Thirty Years War.

Cardinal Richelieu (1585 - 1642)

France had always been stuck between the Habsburg powers of Austria and Spain and with Spain busy fighting the Netherlands and the forces of the Holy Roman Emperor backed by Austria busy fighting Bohemian rebels, France must have seen it a too great an opportunity not to take advantage of. The only problem was France was nominally a catholic nation, however people like Cardinal Richelieu had no qualms to ally with protestants if need be and that is exactly what happened.

People nowadays know Richelieu as an opponent of the three musketeers and in the Disney films he is generally depicted as a wicked and politically shrewd man. The reality of course is different. Richelieu was an innovative man and a capable politician and in some ways ahead of his time. Richelieu invented the use of the table cloth and introduced the use of rounded off knives during dinner, apperently because he hated the fact that his guests tended to use kitchen knives as toothpicks. Many of the western table manners we have today that improve our hygiene and thus helps to prevent disease and accidents were thus invented and promoted by men like Richelieu. The three musketeers in fact is a piece of fiction written at about 1840 by Alexandre Dumas a man who wrote books like "Robin Hood", "the Count of Monte Cristo" and the "Black Tulip". Dumas was also a man who wasn't looked favorable upon by Louis Napoleon Bonaparte and suffered from censorship for various reasons. The reality of people like Richelieu allying with protestants is something that a person like Dumas could not deal with, which is probably why Richelieu is depicted as such a wicked man in his book and in the later Disney films. This is also probably why Napoleon and Dumas did not get along very well, because Dumas is more of Catholic zealout and a slanderer.

During the Thirty Years War France managed to capture places like Dunkirk and other areas in the low countries previously held by Spain. Later parts of the Spanish Netherlands would be captured by France in 1667 in an event that nowadays is know as the "War of Devolution".

Worried as ever about the balance of power, France entered the conflict in 1635. Prior to that Sweden and Denmark had already entered in favor of Bohemia and the Netherlands. In the early stages the war did not go well for France, but fortunes changed and when Louis II of Bourbon defeated the Spanish at the battle of Rocroi in 1643, things turned bitter for the Spanish, which led to negotiations in Westphalia. On the 24th of october 1648 the treaty of Munster was signed, ending both the Thirty Years War and the Eighty Years War and forced Spain to formally recognise the Dutch Republic. It was gameover for Spain.

Continue to PART 3