The Netherlands, lit buildings along channel of water glistening with reflection of the buildings

The Netherlands: A Captivating History

While I think about the Netherlands, the first thing that comes to my mind is Anne Frank’s house which signifies a rich and substantial history of the country. Therefore, today I am going to talk about the history of the Netherlands in this post.

The history of the Netherlands is neatly intertwined with the Low Countries until the sixteenth century when an independent state that was somewhat corresponding to the current country was developed. One interesting fact is that the modern Netherlands was mainly swamp or sea till it was the Middle Ages.

The Ancient Netherlands by P. Kaerius. 1617
The Ancient Netherlands by P. Kaerius. 1617

Historical facts of the Netherlands state that the southern portion of the present nation was occupied by the Romans which later became the part of Gallia Belgica and Roman province of the Germania Inferior respectively. During this time diverse Germanic tribes inhabited the country while the Celt did the same to the southern part. They collaborated with the newcomers who were other Germanic tribes in the times of Volkerwanderbung that followed the fall of the Roman Empire.  

In the medieval era, the Low Countries that roughly represent modern-day Netherlands and Belgium, contained various dioceses, duchies, and counties under the reign of the Holy Roman Empire. In the sixteenth century, under the rule of Habsburg, these parts were unified into a single state. Proceeding the success of Calvinism, the Counter-Reformation, the attempts to construct a central government, and the suppression of religious diversity in the Netherlands concluded into a revolt against Phillip the Second of Spain.

After the “Eighty Years’ War,” the Netherlands was declared as an independent country on 26th July 1581. These years of the war also emphasized the starting of the “Dutch Golden Age ” when the Netherlands touched the highest peaks of cultural and economic prosperity that covered the timespan of the seventeenth century. Though in the eve of the nineteenth century after the French inhabitation, the country began as a monarchy, soon the liberal thoughts couldn’t be ignored and the Netherlands turned into a “parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarchy” in the year 1848. The constitutional democracy has still remained the same with the forceful interruption of the Nazi armies of Germany. 

Nowadays, the Netherlands’ history still remains intact alongside the industrialized country that has become a large exporter of agricultural goods. The Dutch economy and its culture have always been influenced by the central aspect of the nation which is international trade that is also the cause of the strife for independence and the following wealth.

The History of The Netherlands

We have briefly discussed the history of the Netherlands. But now, here we’re going to depict the history timeline of the Netherlands starting from the prehistoric era to the late nineteenth century.  

Prehistoric Period

The Netherlands has always been inhabited by some tribes or others and they have survived the scarce climate of the Ice Age by hunting and collecting. Since the last Ice Age, there have been different paleolithic groups that have lived in the Netherlands. Around eight thousand BC, one group had created canoes while a tribe called mesolithic lived close to Bergumermeer.

Iron balls have been discovered in the South and Veluwe while red iron was found near the Brabant rivers. Thus, the smiths could travel from place to place, forging various tools like pins, swords, arrowheads, knives, and axes. There is also evidence of an advanced way of fabricating metal, namely “damast-forging” where the sword would have the strength of steel and the flexibility of iron. The Iron Age can testify to the wealth of that period as a king was buried with some objects like iron swords with the inlay of coral and gold in the largest grave in Western Europe that was 52 miles wide.

Map of the modern coastline of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, showing the Germanic peoples that lived there c. 150 AD and shipbuilding techniques they used
Map of the modern coastline of the Netherlands, Germany, and Denmark, showing the Germanic peoples that lived there c. 150 AD
Credit: Wikipedia

About 600 BC, the Germanic tribes such as the Frisians, the Tubanti, and the Canine Fates had inhabited the Netherlands. Among the Celtics, the Menapii and Eburones were settled in the South. At the dawn of Roman arrival, the Germanian formed the tribes of Batavians who were respected as the victorious soldiers. If you were to ask me who founded the Netherlands? I would have to say that it was the Batavians as they were regarded as the “true forefathers of the Dutch,” referring to the Batavian Republic.

Early Medieval Period 

For about three hundred years, the prosperity of the country blossomed under the Holy Roman Empire. But, with the weakening of the Roman state, the most powerful of the Germanic tribes, the Franks had invaded the country and the Christianity was introduced with them in the fifth century. By the 800s, the Netherlands was a part of Charlemagne’s Frank Empire. According to tradition, while the capital of the empire was in Aachen, now situated in modern Germany, Charlemagne’s favorite residence was in Nijmegen. 

The Economic Prosperity in the Medieval Era

After the descent of Charlemagne’s empire, the territories of the Low Countries were divided into small states that were reigned by the dukes and the counts. Simultaneously, the Netherlands had grown a strong economic position in the Middle Ages which rendered it to be the wealthiest country in Europe. Netherland became a place with sustained economic development with agricultural endeavors and commerce and crafts through the trade routes connecting it to as far as South Africa and Asia.

Renaissance and the Struggle for Freedom

The neighborhood authorities like the Dukes of Burgundy and then the Habsburg wanted the Netherlands under their domination. When Charles of the Habsburg in 1555 gave away the Netherlands to his son Philip II, the king of Spain. The king was oppressive and wanted to force Christianity on the protestant Dutch along with the new Taxation. The intolerance of the kingship and his Governor Prince Alba led to the war of eighty years. The Union of Utrecht proclaimed independence in the year 1581 from Spain. The new country struggled through a series of reverses until the Spanish recognized the Dutch Republic as sovereignty in 1648. The Republic remained under the ruling of the Austrian throne of Habsburg at least nominally till 1794.

The Period of Discoveries

Dutch Naval History
Dutch Naval History
Credit: YouTube

In spite of the difficulties and destruction due to the war, the Dutch continued to expand their territory over the seas and made new discoveries of lands and routes. By the middle of the seventeenth century, the Dutch Republic had the largest marine power in Europe and Amsterdam became the financial focal point of the continent. At the same time, wars with England to dominate the sea and with France to resist their developing power on the mainland continued.

18th and 19th Centuries in the History of the Netherlands 

The fall of the small Dutch Republic began at the starting of the eighteenth century with the absolute powers of big empires such as France, Prussia, Russia, and Austria on the land and the UK on the sea. A significant financial factor also began the demise of Poland that lost Ukraine to Russia and was then unable to stock grains to the Netherlands. 

In the late eighteenth century, resistance began against the ruler of the Dutch Republic in the Netherlands as the republican and liberal concepts started to grow worldwide. The Kingdom of the Netherlands was created and after Napoleon was defeated, modern-day Luxembourg and Belgium were also included in the territory.

In 1830, the provinces of Belgium revolted and separated into the independent Kingdom of Belgium. Though Luxemburg was independent, it was tied to the Netherlands by an individual of the monarchy. However, when Dutch King William III died without leaving a male heir which was one condition to rule Luxemburg, it separated from the Netherlands in 1890. The latter half of the nineteenth century slowly but thoroughly established a modern and the liberal Netherlands with vital constitutional reforms and continuous economic development. 

The History of the Netherlands in the 20th Century 

Even though Netherland was mobilized by its army when the First World War started in 1914, the country remained neutral like Switzerland. When German invaded Belgium, a large number of refugees came flowing from that nation. As the Netherlands was bordered by war-ridden states and the unsafe North Sea, food became scarce and had been distributed via coupons. The predicament became somewhat normal at the end of the war in 1918. 

World War I Refugees in the Netherlands
World War I Refugees in the Netherlands

Although both sides of the parliament were granted to vote, just the rich men with high income could vote. Until 1918, due to the constant pressure of the socialists, all men had the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1922 when women also became eligible to vote. In 1929 and early 1930, the Great Depression settled over the world and had a crippling impact on the Netherlands which resulted in poverty and unemployment. It lasted longer than other European countries that magnified the social unrest. Though there was growing concern against the rise of Nazism, they thought that German would again regard the country’s neutrality.

Second World War

The Netherlands declared its neutrality again when the Second World War had broken out in 1939 but on 10th May 1940, Nazi Germany attacked the Netherlands and Belgium and overruled them pretty rapidly. Against the poorly prepared Dutch army, the battle was only ensuing in some isolated areas. However, the bombardment at Rotterdam and the death of eight hundred people compelled Netherland to yield on 15th May except for Zeeland. The members of the Royal Family with some army fled to England and Canada.  

At the dawn of the war, around 140,000 Jews inhabited the Netherlands but at the end of the war, only forty thousand were left to see the battle-scarred world again due to the persecution of the Jews by the Nazi Germanies. Anne Frank who was later popular for her diary which is a piece of literature died just before the freedom of her camp happened on 5th May 1945. 

Children eating soup during Hunger Winter
Children Eating Soup during Hunger Winter
Credit: DutchReview

Resentment against the German presence grew more and many Dutch people joined the combat service from the Russian Front while some fought the battle from Australia. The progress against Nazy German was slow until the Battle of Normandy in 1944 but even the vigorous fighting on the parts of Polish, American, and British forces couldn’t liberate the Netherlands until 1945. The following winter was called “Hongerwinter” or hunger winter. On 5th May 1945, the defeated Nazi German finally surrendered by signing it to the Dutch people at Wageningen.

Post-War Years

  • The Dutch West Indies proclaimed its independence right after the capitulation of Japan as Indonesia.
  • At the beginning of the post-years, the Netherlands tried to expand its territory by battling two wars in Indonesia and annexing the German territory. Eventually, they withdrew and they formally identified Indonesia as an independent country in 1949.
  • As for the Germans, the Dutch Justice minister ordered Operation Tulip that demanded to evict all Germans in the middle of the night with just 50 kg of luggage from the Netherlands.

Even after the difficulties, the Netherlands prevailed in the latter half of the twentieth century with a fast and constant economic growth. Now, the modern-day Netherlands is one of the wealthiest and developed nations in the world.

For more information, you can visit this site about the history of the Netherlands that I have come across which is very informative.

Top 3 Historical Sites To See in The Netherlands 

Though there are many historical places to visit in the Netherlands, the capital Amsterdam contains the top three.

The Royal Palace

In the year 1648, the architect Jacob van Campen designed the Royal Palace in Amsterdam, intending it to work as a city hall and it did for one hundred and fifty years or so. Though it is not the largest building any more in Europe, it was at that time. 

The Royal Palace in Amsterdam
The Royal Palace in Amsterdam
Credit: TripSavy

Nowadays, it is one of the three palaces at the disposal of the Royalty of the Netherlands. When it is open to the public, the Palace provides a guided tour of the expensive paintings, the Citizen’s Hall, and the sculptures. There are sometimes audio tours available too. 

Anne Frank’s House

It is the house where the German Jewish teenager and the Holocaust victim Anne Frank, her family, the van Pels family, and a man named Fritz Pfeffer hid from the Nazi Germans.

Anne Frank's House
Anne Frank’s House

Now it’s a museum, open to all and you can see the moving bookcase, the secret annex and through this journey, you’ll be able to respect the hardships the group had endured for survival. Along with her diary, many other objects such as photos of the group are on display in the museum.

The Rembrandt House

The Rambrandt House Museum
Rambrandt House Museum
Credit: Wikipedia

This was the home of the Dutch painter called Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn who had lived here from 1639 to 1658. Eventually, it was auctioned to pay off his debt. The house is now turned into a museum that exhibits his paintings along with his life and work process at the time. Historical tours and audio tours are also available. 

Here we are at the end! I hope that I have inspired you enough that you will give it a try. With the history of the Netherlands, you can always have the natural scenery to compliment too. Maybe next time, I’ll write about that. Until then, travel well, be well. 

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