The area of today's Netherlands has been
conquered by a number of different people over time. In
the middle of the 16th century, Calvinists gained a
great influence and, among others, led by Wilhelm of
Orange, an 80-year-long revolt against Catholic Spain.
In the Westphalian Peace of 1648, Spain recognized the
independence of the Netherlands. The country developed
into a trading and shipping nation with colonies in
Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and Africa. During the two
world wars, the Netherlands declared itself neutral but
was occupied by Nazi Germany in 1940.
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Netherlands, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
During the Middle Ages, hunters lived in the area
that now forms the Netherlands. Agriculture was
introduced east from around 4000 BC. Just before the
beginning of our era, the Romans conquered most of the
area. Only parts of the Frisian areas in the northwest
were against the Romans. The people who then lived in
the Netherlands were called batavas. They were forced
away in the twentieth century by francs and scissors.
The following century, Christianity made its entrance
when St. Servatius established a bishopric in the city
After the disintegration of the Roman Empire, the
Dutch region became part of a Frankish empire that at
its peak under Karl the Great (Charlemagne) and his sons
stretched from the Pyrenees in the south to the North
Sea in the north. The Franks also suppressed the
Frisians in 734. When this empire was divided 843, the
Netherlands became part of the kingdom of Lotharingia,
which also included the current French region of
In the 9th century, the area was transferred to the
East Frankish Empire, the core country of the
German-Roman Empire established in 962. However, neither
Germans, Franks nor Romans were able to effectively rule
the distant Dutch provinces, which had an independent
position under the leadership of local nobles.
In the Middle Ages, the province of Holland in the
middle of the Netherlands strengthened its position at
the expense of the formerly dominant Utrecht. After a
brief but culturally and economically significant period
in the 15th century as part of the Duchy of Burgundy,
the Netherlands attacked the German-Roman emperor
Habsburg. In 1556, the Netherlands came under the
Spanish King Philip II and the Spanish branch of the
Through its geographical location and its textile
industry, based on wool from England, the Netherlands
became a trading center which had contacts with both the
German trade organization Hansan in the north and with
Italian trading cities in the south. The wealthy
provinces were heavily taxed by the Habsburg rulers.
After the Reformation in Germany and Switzerland, the
Calvinist Church had won many followers in the
Netherlands, especially among the bourgeoisie in the
cities. A number of Catholic churches were plundered by
fanatical Calvinists, so-called image stormers. The
looting led to a violent backlash from Catholic Spain.
King Philip II of Spain tried to crush the independent
Dutch nobility. In 1568, a revolt against the Spanish
rulers began and in 1579 seven Dutch provinces declared
an independent union, the United Netherlands. Under the
nobility Vilhelm of Orange and his son Moritz, an
independence struggle was fought against Spain which
came to last for almost uninterrupted 80 years.
Formally, the Netherlands was a republic, led by a
parliament, the general states, which consisted
of representatives of the seven provinces and the big
cities. The citizens of the cities had great influence
in Parliament. However, the Orange family retained a
large part of the power through a practically hereditary
standing holding, a position similar to that of a king.
In the early 1600s, despite the war against the
Spaniards, there was an open power struggle between
Moritz of Orange and Jan van Oldenbarnevelt, who
represented the rich province of Holland. The power
struggle ended with the execution of Oldenbarnevelt in
At the Westphalian Peace in Münster in 1648, Spain
recognized the independence of the Netherlands. The
original country had then been divided between a
predominantly Catholic and Spanish part in the south
(now Belgium) and a mainly Protestant part in the north.
The Dutch provinces experienced a strong economic
upswing during the war of independence. The country
mastered large parts of European trade but also the new
trade in colonies in Africa and Asia in particular. The
Netherlands acquired possessions in Africa, Southeast
Asia and the Caribbean. Enormous wealth accumulated in
the cities and culture flourished. This period of
economic prosperity is usually referred to as the
"golden age" of the Netherlands. When the governor
William II died in 1650 without any adult successor, the
bourgeoisie took power until 1672 when his son William
III was appointed governor.
The prosperity of the Netherlands depended on free
trade and open water. The country therefore wanted to
see a balance between the states that mastered important
waterways. Sweden and Denmark were supported alternately
in the wars in the Baltic Sea area. With England,
several wars were fought over the dominion over the
seas. However, that conflict was resolved when William
III of Orange, who was married to the English King's
daughter, in 1688 ascended the English throne. He ruled
over both countries until his death in 1702. During the
period, the emphasis in both trade and politics shifted
towards London. For the Netherlands, a decline began
that would last throughout the 18th century.
When French Revolutionary Armies marched into the
Netherlands at the end of the century, its weak army
could not resist. The old Union was replaced by a single
state under the name of the Batavian Republic. In 1806
the French Emperor Napoleon proclaimed his brother Louis
(Louis) king of the Netherlands. When Louis four years
later was forced to abdicate, the country was
incorporated into the French empire. After Napoleon's
fall, in 1814 the Kingdom of the Netherlands was
proclaimed with William I, son of a former governor, as
king. The kingdom also included Belgium and Luxembourg.
Religious contradictions and the Belgians'
dissatisfaction with being ruled from Amsterdam and The
Hague led to the uprising in 1830. The Belgians
immediately succeeded in establishing their own
government, but only nine years later Belgium's
independence was recognized by the Netherlands.
Luxembourg gained its independence in 1890.
During the 19th century, the Netherlands was
industrialized. The economy improved and free trade was
reintroduced. The constitution was democratized and the
government became accountable to Parliament. At the same
time, colonial empire in Southeast Asia was
strengthened. Slavery was abolished in the colonies.
When the political parties began to emerge during the
19th century, both political life and society were
largely divided into so-called pillars. These united
people of the same faith or political view. The main
groups included Catholics, Calvinists, Liberals and
Socialists. The various groups not only formed their own
political parties, but also their own schools, unions,
business organizations, youth clubs, newspapers, etc.
None of the political parties succeeded in winning their
own majority, and were thus forced to compromise.
During the 19th and the first half of the 20th
century, the Netherlands strived to stay out of
international conflicts through neutrality. The country
also managed to avoid being drawn into the First World
War, despite the occupation of Belgium. After the war, a
number of democratic reforms were implemented. Men
gained universal suffrage in 1917 and women in 1919.
At the start of World War II, the Netherlands
declared itself neutral. In May 1940, however, Nazi
Germany attacked the Netherlands without declaring war.
The Dutch resistance was defeated after just a week.
Queen Vilhelmina and the government fled to London. When
Japan entered the war in 1941, the Dutch territories of
Southeast Asia, including Indonesia, were also occupied.
In the Netherlands, a resistance movement was formed
that included everything from conservative groups to
communists. Most of the country's Jewish population was
wiped out in German concentration camps. After five
years of occupation, the Netherlands was liberated in
Following Japan's capitulation in August of the same
year, Indonesia proclaimed its independence but the
allies chose to return the area to the Netherlands. This
led to fighting between Indonesian nationalists on the
one hand and Dutch, British and Japanese on the other.
The British and the Japanese withdrew in 1946, but the
Netherlands continued the war.
The trade union movement accepts a two-year halt for wage increases in
exchange for reduced staff cuts and a deferred pension reform.
Notice of austerity
Strong cuts in the welfare programs are announced, as well as tax increases
and staff reductions in the public sector. The government is trying to cope with
the worst economic crisis that has hit the Netherlands in 20 years, with
shrinking GDP and rapidly growing budget deficits.
New government ready
After four months of negotiations, a coalition government is formed between
CDA, VVD and D66. CDA leader Jan Peter Balkenende, who has remained as acting
head of government, continues as prime minister.
Fortuyn's killer convicted
Animal rights activist Volkert van der Graaf is sentenced to 18 years in
prison for the murder of Pim Fortuyn (see May 2002). The convict says in court
that he saw Fortuyn as a threat to democracy.
New elections are held
Three months after the previous government broke, a new election is held. The
Christian Democratic CDA remains the largest party in the second chamber, with
44 seats. The Social Democratic Labor Party is strongly moving forward to 42
seats. The loser of the election will be the right-wing populist LPF, which
backs 8 seats. The VVD wins 28 seats, SP 9, GL 8 and D66 receive 6 seats. The
other five mandates go to small parties.