The Low Countries (current-day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) had been inhabited by Germanic tribes since 600 BC when the Romans conquered it around 10 BC. The best visible proof of the earliest inhabitans in found in Drenthe, where you can find "Hunnebedden" (stone burial sites). The cities of Utrecht, Nijmegen and Maastricht were the Netherlands' first major cities, built during the Roman occupation. As the Low Countries experienced more Germanic immigration, Roman culture was supplanted by three main people groups: the Frisians, the Saxons and the Franks.
The Middle Ages
Enterprising farmers from Utrecht and Flanders moved to the largely uninhabited western region of the Netherlands around 1000AD and began to cultivate the land, sparking a rapid movement into the area. It was during this period that this area first became known as "Holland", which refers to the woodlands around present-day Leiden.
The Low Countries passed in and out of foreign hands during the Middle Ages, going through a Burgundian period and a spell under the Austrian Habsburgs, before Phillip II of Spain took control in the middle of the 16th century. His suppressive regime sparked a revolt in 1568, inspiring the proclamation of one of Europe's first republics, preceded only by Venice. Led by William of Orange, this revolt was basically a Catholic versus Protestant clash. It marked the beginning of the 80 year war, which eventually ended in 1648 with the Treaty/Peace of Munster, where Dutch independence was recognized by Spain.
During "the eighty year war" the Netherlands had become an important seafaring country. Amsterdam grew in importance as a trading port. After independence, the new republic became one of the leading countries on the world seas with a colonial presence in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Japan in Asia, Angola and South Africa in Africa and parts of Brazil, and the settlement of New Amsterdam, now known as New York. Due to the wealth in that period, the 17th century, was dubbed the Golden Age. This lasted until the end of the 17th century when the Dutch economy was getting into a negative spiral, and Amsterdams leading role in the Western European economy was taken over by London. in 1672, 1701 and 1748 France invaded the Netherlands, which led to an overthrow in governments. The Netherlands became a divided country because of the tentions between "Orangists" and "Patriots", which led to a major fled of "Patriots" to mainly France.
In 1795 France again invaded the Netherlands, this time under command of Napoleon. At first the "Patriots" declared a new Dutch Republic, but it was Napoleon in 1806 who helped his brother Louis to become king, of the Kingdom of Holland. This kingdom didn't lasted long, as Napoleon was defeated in 1813. In the same year the new Dutch Kingdom was declared by William VI of Orange. During the French occupation William V in 1806, ordered to give the Dutch colonies in 'safekeeping' with the United Kingdom. Needles to say, most of the territories were never returned to the Netherlands. Only the colonies of the West-Indies (now Indonesia) were returned to the Netherlands in 1824.
The Netherlands and Belgium separated and became independent countries in 1830. Both are constitutional monarchies, meaning that the executive branch is headed by the monarch (even though in modern days, the role of the Dutch queen and Belgian king in the legislative process is confined to certain ceremonial duties). The split was a result of the division in religion between the protestant North, and the Catholic South. Also the mainly French speaking ruling class in the South, felt like they were treated like second-class citizens. It was only in 1839 that the Netherlands recognised the independence of Belgium.
In 1848 the Dutch king asked the liberal Thorbecke to re-write the constitution. This led to the Netherlands becoming a constitutional monarchy, which it still is today, and leading to many liberties for the Dutch.
The Netherlands was neutral during the 1st World War, but also suffered during these 4 years as imports coming in through the port of Rotterdam came to a hold, after the United Stated joined the war, and declaring a total blockade. As the Netherlands were neutral, and also still did business with Germany, the Netherlands were also cut-off from imports.
The great depression meant more bad news for the Dutch economy. The rise of Nazi Germany did not go unnoticed in the Netherlands, but most people believed and hoped that the Netherlands again could stay neutral in whatever was coming. A hope that was lost when Nazi-Germany invaded the Netherland in May of 1940. After four days of resistance the Luftwaffe bombed Rotterdam, and almost entire center was reduced to rubble. After the threat that the Germans would do the same to Utrecht, the Netherlands surrended on the 15th of May. Most of the Netherlands were to face 5 years of occupations. Out of the 140.000 jews living in the Netherlands before the war, only 40.000 survived the war. Among the victims was Anne Frank, which diary became one of the most-read books in literature.
The liberation of the Netherlands came to a standstill at the end of 1944, when the taking of the Rhine bridge in Arnhem (Operation Market Garden) failed and the allies couldn't cross the big rivers until Spring the next year. While most of the South was liberated, the North entered a cold winter and long winter that became known as the Hunger Winter, in which a lot of people died because of a lack of food. In the spring of 1945 the rest of the Netherlands could be liberated, and completed on the 5th of May, when Germany surrended the Netherlands to the allies.
During the war, the Netherlands also lost control of Indonesia, when Japan invaded the colony in 1942. After the war in Europe had ended, the Netherlands launched military actions in Indonesia, which by than had declared independence, to try to regain control of the country. However by 1949 it had become clear that this was a pointless goal, and also due to mounting international pressure, the Netherlands had to withdraw and recognise Indonesia as an independent country. In 1975 also Suriname gained independence from the Netherlands, but in a more peaceful way.
In February of 1953 a storm caused flooding and huge devastations, mainly in the province of Zeeland. The flood resulted in 1.800 deaths, and many more saw there house flooded, making them homeless. In the wake of this disaster the Dutch government launched the "Delta Works", which should protect the vulnerable lowland from the Northsea.
The second half of the 20th century saw the resurrection of the Dutch economy and the Netherlands started to play an active role in international organisations such as NATO and the EEC (which later became the European Union).
In the decade after the Second World War, immigrants from countries like Spain and Italy and a decade later from Turkey and Morocco came to the Netherlands. They now form an important sector of the country's multicultural society.
Recent Dutch history has been marked by two notorious killings, both of which had a political and religious aspect: the murder of politician Pim Fortuyn and film director Theo van Gogh.
In a consultative referendum held in 2005, the majority of Dutch voters rejected a proposal for a constitutional European treaty, thereby seriously marginalising the role of the Netherlands in determining the course of the European Union of which it once was one of the founders.
Dutch politics seem to move to more extreme points of view in recent years. Mainly because of a reaction after years of looking for the best comprises for everybody. Not only is there a rise on the extreme left and right of the political spectrum. Oddly enough there also is a growth for the more extreme christian parties, in the country that is often viewed upon as one of the least religious countries in the world. One of these more extreme christian parties is even part of the ruling coalition at the moment.
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