History of the Netherlands

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: General history

The Conspiracy of Julius Civilis, completed in 1661 by Rembrandt, the best-known painter of the Dutch Golden Age. It depicts a Batavian oath to Gaius Julius Civilis, the head of the Batavian rebellion against the Romans in 69.  It was to be hung in the city hall of Amsterdam, as a display of heroism analogous to that of the recent Eighty Years' War, that had led to independence from Spain. However, it was rejected because Rembrandt did not paint the figures as idealisations, but as real people.
The Conspiracy of Julius Civilis, completed in 1661 by Rembrandt, the best-known painter of the Dutch Golden Age. It depicts a Batavian oath to Gaius Julius Civilis, the head of the Batavian rebellion against the Romans in 69. It was to be hung in the city hall of Amsterdam, as a display of heroism analogous to that of the recent Eighty Years' War, that had led to independence from Spain. However, it was rejected because Rembrandt did not paint the figures as idealisations, but as real people.
The history of the Netherlands is closely related to that of the Low Countries; it was not until the 16th century that an independent state roughly corresponding to the present-day country was established. As a consequence, the geographical scope of this article sometimes extends to the southern parts of the Low Countries. Conversely, a large part of what is now the Netherlands was sea or swamp well into the Middle Ages.

If one took the oldest signs of human activity as a starting point for the history of the Netherlands, then such a history would span at least two hundred fifty thousand years. It was, however, not until the arrival of the Romans, who annexed the southern part of the present-day country, that written sources on its inhabitants became abundant.

The southern part of the current country was occupied by the Romans, and became part of Gallia Belgica, and later of the Roman province Germania Inferior. In this time the country was inhabited by various Germanic tribes, and the south was inhabited by Celts, who merged with newcomers from other Germanic tribes during the Völkerwanderung following the fall of the Roman empire.

In the medieval period, the Low Countries (roughly present-day Belgium and the Netherlands) consisted of various countships, duchies and dioceses belonging to the Holy Roman Empire. These were united into one state under Habsburg rule in the 16th century. The Counter-Reformation following the success of Calvinism in the Netherlands, and the attempts to centralise government and suppress religious diversity led to a revolt against Philip II of Spain. On 26 July 1581, independence was declared, and finally recognised after the Eighty Years' War (1568–1648). The years of the war also marked the beginning of the Dutch Golden Age, a period of great commercial and cultural prosperity roughly spanning the 17th century.

After the French occupation at the beginning of the 19th century, the Netherlands started out as a monarchy, governed by the House of Orange. However, after a conservative period, strong liberal sentiments could no longer be ignored, and the country became a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch in 1848. It has remained so to this day, with a brief interruption during the occupation by Nazi Germany.

History of the Netherlands
Ancient times
Germanic tribes
Roman Era
Migration Period
The Medieval Low Countries
Frankish Realm / The Franks
Holy Roman Empire
Burgundian Netherlands
Seventeen Provinces
Spanish Netherlands
Rise and Fall of the Dutch Republic
Eighty Years' War
United Provinces
The Golden Age
The Batavian revolution
From Republic to Monarchy
Batavian Republic
Kingdom of Holland
First French Empire
United Kingdom of the Netherlands
The Netherlands in Modern Times
Modern History of the Netherlands
Netherlands in World War II
Luctor et Emergo
The Dutch Fight against Water
The Miscellaneous Netherlands
Military history of the Netherlands
History of the Dutch language
Dutch literature
Dutch influence on military terms
Dutch inventions and discoveries

The Netherlands is now a modern, industrialised nation and a large exporter of agricultural products. International trade (literally 'overseas') has always been a central aspect of the Dutch economy (also influencing the culture) and was also an important reason for the struggle for independence and cause of the ensuing wealth.

Pre-history era

The Netherlands have been inhabited since the last ice age; the oldest remnants that have been found are a hundred thousand years old. During the last ice age, the Netherlands had a tundra climate with scarce vegetation. The first inhabitants survived as hunter-gatherers. After the end of the ice age, the area was inhabited by various palaeolithic groups. One group made canoes (Pesse, around 6500 BC) around 8000 BC, a mesolithic tribe resided near Bergumermeer ( Friesland).

Balls with iron have been found at the Veluwe, as well as in the South (red iron ore near the rivers in Brabant). The smiths could thus travel from small settlement to settlement with bronze and iron, fabricating tools such as axes, knives, pins, arrowheads, and swords. There is evidence of the use of "damast-forging", an advanced way to forge metal (swords) with the advantage of flexible iron with the strength of steel.

The wealth of the Netherlands in the Iron Age is seen at the "King's grave in Oss" (about 500 BC), where a king was buried with some extraordinary objects, including an iron sword with an inlay of gold and coral. He was buried in the largest grave mound of Western Europe, which was 52 m wide.

At the time of the Roman arrival, the Netherlands were inhabited by Germanic tribes, such as the Tubanti, the Canninefates, and the Frisians, who had settled there around 600 BC. Celtic tribes settled the South, among them the Eburones and the Menapii. Several Germanians settled south of the Rhine at the beginning of the Roman settlement, and formed the Germanic tribe of the Batavians and the Toxandri. The Batavians were regarded as good soldiers and fought in many important wars, for instance the conquest of Dacia (Romania) by the emperor Trajan. In later nationalistic views, the Batavians were regarded as the "true" forefathers of the Dutch, as reflected in the name of the later Batavian Republic.

Holy Roman Empire

The newcomers merged with the original inhabitants to create three peoples in the Low Countries: the Frisians along the coast, the Saxons in the east and the Franks in the south. The Franks became Christians after their king Clovis I converted in 496. Christianity was introduced in the north after the conquest of Friesland by the Franks. Anglo-Saxon missionaries such as Willibrord, Wulfram and Boniface were active in converting these nations to Christianity. Boniface was martyred by the Frisians in Dokkum (754). The Saxons in the east were converted before the conquest of Saxony, and became Frankish allies.

The southern part of the Netherlands belonged to the Frankish empire of Charlemagne, with its heartland in what is today Belgium and northern France, and spanning France, Germany, northern Italy and much of Western Europe. In the north the Netherlands were a part of Frisia until 734. In 843, the Frankish empire was divided into three parts, giving rise to France in the west, Germany in the east and a middle empire that lay between the two. Most of the Netherlands was part of the middle empire. Later this middle empire was split: most of the contemporary Dutch-speaking lands became a part of Germany; Flanders became part of France.

From 800 AD to 1000 AD, the Low Countries suffered considerably from Viking raids (one of which destroyed the wealthy city of Dorestad). Most of the Netherlands was occupied by the Vikings from 850 to 920. This was about the same time that France and Germany were fighting for supremacy over the middle empire. Resistance to the Vikings, if any, came from local nobles, who gained in stature as a result. Viking supremacy ended in 920 when King Henry of Germany liberated Utrecht.

The German kings and emperors dominated the Netherlands in the 10th and 11th century. Germany was called the Holy Roman Empire after the coronation of King Otto the Great as emperor. The Dutch city of Nijmegen used to be the spot of an important domain of the German emperors. Several German emperors were born and died there. (Byzantine empress Theophanu died in Nijmegen for instance.) Utrecht was also an important city and trading port at the time. German officials closely watched the count of Westfriesland (Holland) in the Rhine delta. The count rebelled in 1018. The county was destined to become a part of Utrecht after 1018, but the difficulties between the pope and the emperor saved the county.

Much of the western Netherlands was barely inhabited between the end of the Roman period and around 1100. Around 1000, farmers from Flanders and Utrecht began purchasing the swampy land, draining it and cultivating it. This process happened quickly and the uninhabited territory was settled in only a few generations. They built independent farms that were not part of villages, something unique in Europe at the time. Before this happened the language and culture of most of the people who lived in the area that is now Holland were Frisian. The area was known as "West Friesland" (Westfriesland). As settlement progressed, the area quickly became Low Franconian. This area became known as ' Holland' in the 12th century. (The part of North Holland situated north of the 'IJ' is still colloquially known as West Friesland).

Around 1000 AD there were several agricultural developments (described sometimes as an agricultural revolution) that resulted in an increase in production, especially food production. The economy started to develop at a fast pace, and the higher productivity allowed workers to farm more land or to become tradesmen. Guilds were established and markets developed as production exceeded local needs. Also, the introduction of currency made trading a much easier affair than it had been before. Existing towns grew and new towns sprang into existence around monasteries and castles, and a mercantile middle class began to develop in these urban areas. Commerce and town development increased as the population grew.

The crusades were popular in the Low Countries and drew many to fight in the Holy Land. At home, there was relative peace in Europe. Viking, Hungarian and Muslim pillaging had stopped. Both the Crusades and the relative peace at home contributed to trade and the growth in commerce.

Cities arose and flourished, especially in Flanders and Brabant. As the cities grew in wealth and power, they started to buy certain privileges for themselves from the sovereign, including city rights, the right to self-government and the right to pass laws. In practice, this meant that the wealthiest cities became quasi-independent republics in their own right. Two of the most important cities were Brugge and Antwerp which would later develop into some of the most important cities and ports in Europe.

The Holy Roman Empire was not able to maintain political unity. In addition to the growing independence of the towns, local rulers turned their counties and duchies into private kingdoms and felt little sense of obligation to the emperor who governed over large parts of the nation in name only. Large parts of what now comprise the Netherlands were governed by the Count of Holland, the Duke of Gelre, the Duke of Brabant and the Bishop of Utrecht. Friesland and Groningen in the north maintained their independence and were governed by the lower nobility.

The various feudal states were in a state of almost continual war. Gelre and Holland fought for control of Utrecht. Utrecht, whose bishop had in 1000 ruled over half of what is today the Netherlands, was marginalised as it experienced continuing difficulty in electing new bishops. At the same time, the dynasties of neighbouring states were more stable. Groningen, Drenthe and most of Gelre, which used to be part of Utrecht, became independent. Brabant tried to conquer its neighbours, but was not successful. Holland also tried to assert itself in Zeeland and Friesland, but its attempts failed.

Friesland in the north continued to maintain its independence during this time. It had its own institutions (collectively called the "Frisian Freedom") and resented the imposition of the feudal system and the patriciate found in other European towns. They regarded themselves as allies of Switzerland. The Frisian battle cry was "better dead than a slave". They later lost their independence when they were defeated in 1498 by the German Landsknecht mercenaries of Duke Albrecht of Saxony-Meissen.

History of the Low Countries

Bishopric of Liège
985– 1790

Burgundian Netherlands

Duchy of Luxembourg
integrated 1441

1384/ 1473– 1482

Habsburg Netherlands
1482– 1556
Spanish Netherlands
United Netherlands
1581– 1795
1581– 1713
Austrian Netherlands 1713– 1790
United States of Belgium 1790
Bishopric of Liège
1790– 1795
Austrian Netherlands 1790– 1794

French Republic
Batavian Republic
1795– 1806
1795– 1804
French Empire Kingdom of Holland
1806– 1810
1804– 1815

United Kingdom of the Netherlands
1815– 1830

Grand Duchy of Luxembourg

Kingdom of Belgium
since 1830
Kingdom of the Netherlands
since 1830
(in personal union with the Netherlands until 1890)

Burgundian period

Most of what is now the Netherlands and Belgium was eventually united by the Duke of Burgundy in 1433. Before the Burgundian union, the Dutch identified themselves by the town where they lived, their local duchy or county or as subjects of the Holy Roman Empire. The Burgundian period is when the Dutch began the road to nationhood.

The conquest of the county of Holland by the Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy was an odd affair. Leading noblemen in Holland in fact invited the duke to conquer Holland, even though he had no historical claim to it. Some historians say that the ruling class in Holland wanted Holland to integrate with the Flemish economic system and adopt Flemish legal institutions. Europe had been wracked by many civil wars in the 14th and 15th centuries, while Flanders had grown rich and enjoyed peace.

After a few years of conflict, the countess of Holland was deposed in favour of the Burgundian dukes. Holland's trade developed rapidly, especially in the area of shipping and transport. The new rulers defended Dutch trading interests. The fleets of Holland defeated the fleets of the Hanseatic League several times. Amsterdam grew and in the 15th century became the primary trading port in Europe for grain from the Baltic region. Amsterdam distributed grain to the major cities of Belgium, Northern France and England. This trade was vital to the people of Holland, because Holland could no longer produce enough grain to feed itself. Land drainage had caused the peat of the former wetlands to reduce to a level that was too low for drainage to be maintained.

Gelre resented Burgundian rule. It tried to build up its own state in northeast Netherlands and northwest Germany. Lacking funds in the 16th century, Gelre had its soldiers provide for themselves by pillaging enemy terrain. These soldiers were a great menace to the Burgundian Netherlands. One notorious event was the pillaging of The Hague. Gelre was allied with France, England and Denmark, who wanted to put an end to the wealth of Flanders and Antwerp and Burgundian rule over the Low Countries.

Struggle for independence and the Golden Age

Eighty Years' War

Flag of the Low Countries revolt — orange, white, blue.
Flag of the Low Countries revolt — orange, white, blue.

Through inheritance and conquest, all of the Low Countries became possessions of the Habsburg dynasty under Charles V in the 16th century, who united them into one state. The east of the Netherlands was occupied only a few decades before the Dutch struggle for independence. However, in 1548, eight years before his abdication from the throne, Emperor Charles V granted the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands status as an entity separate from both the Empire and from France. This Pragmatic Sanction of 1548 was not full independence, but it allowed significant autonomy.

Charles was succeeded by his son Philip II of Spain. Unlike his father, who had been raised in Ghent (Belgium), Philip had little personal attachment to the Low Countries (where he had only stayed for four years), and thus was perceived as detached by the local nobility. A devout Catholic, Philip was appalled by the success of the Reformation in the Low Countries, which had led to an increasing number of Calvinists. "On February 16, 1568 a sentence of the Holy Office condemned all the inhabitants of the Netherlands to death as heretics. From this universal doom only a few persons, especially named, were acquitted. A proclamation of the king, dated ten days later, confirmed this decree of the Inquisition and ordered it to be carried out into instant execution without regard to age and sex. This is the most concise death warrant that had ever been framed. Three million people—men, women and children—were sentenced to the scaffold." (The Rise of the Dutch Republic , by John Lathrop Motley, Volume 1, Part 2, Chapter 2, par. 12, p. 2.) His attempts to enforce religious persecution of the Protestants and his endeavours to centralise government, justice and taxes made him unpopular and led to a revolt. The Dutch fought for independence from Spain, leading to the Eighty Years' War (1568-1648). Seven rebellious provinces united in the Union of Utrecht in 1579 and formed the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (also known as the "United Provinces").

William of Orange, the nobleman from whom every Dutch monarch is descended (including the present Queen), led the Dutch during the first part of the war. The very first years were a success for the Spanish troops. However, subsequent sieges in Holland were countered by the Dutch. The Spanish king lost control of the Netherlands after the sack of Antwerp by mutinous Spanish soldiers killing 10,000 inhabitants. The conservative Catholics in the south and east supported the Spanish. The Spanish recaptured Antwerp and other Flemish and Dutch cities. It recaptured most of the territory in the Netherlands (but not in Flanders, leading to the historical split between The Netherlands and Flanders). Flanders was the most radical anti-Spanish territory. Many Flemish fled to Holland, among them half of the population of Antwerp, 3/4 of Brugge and Ghent and the entire population of Nieuwpoort, Dunkerque and countryside. The war dragged on for another 60 years, but the main fighting was over. The Peace of Westphalia, signed on January 30, 1648, confirmed the independence of the United Provinces from Spain and Germany. The Dutch didn't regard themselves as Germans any more since the 15th century, but they officially remained a part of Germany until 1648. National identity was mainly formed by the province people came from. Holland was the most important province by far. The republic of the Seven Provinces came to be known as Holland in foreign countries.

These events formed part of a wider turmoil. See Spanish Armada for a view of some of the history from further west.

Golden Age

During the Eighty Years' War the Dutch became the most important trading centre of Northern Europe, instead of Flanders; they hunted whales near Svalbard, traded spices with India and Indonesia (via the Dutch East India Company, the first company to issue shares) and started colonies in Brazil, New Amsterdam (now New York), South Africa and the West Indies. This new nation flourished culturally and economically, creating what historian Simon Schama has called an "embarrassment of riches". Speculation in the tulip trade led to a first stockmarket crash in 1637, but the economic crisis was soon overcome. Due to these developments the 17th century is often called the Golden Age (de gouden eeuw) of the Netherlands. As the Netherlands was a republic, it was largely governed by an aristocracy of city-merchants called the regents (regenten), rather than by a king. Every city and province had its own government and laws, and a large degree of autonomy. After attempts to find a competent sovereign proved unsuccessful, it was decided that sovereignty would be vested in the various provincial Estates (Staten), the governing bodies of the provinces. The Estates-General (Staten-Generaal), with its representatives from all the provinces, would decide on matters important to the Republic as a whole. However, at the head of each province was the stadtholder (Stadhouder) of that province, a position held by a descendant of the House of Orange. Usually the stadtholdership of several provinces was held by a single man.

Following the recognition of the independence of the Netherlands, a decline in the wealth of the Dutch set in. In 1650, the stadtholder William II, Prince of Orange died, leaving the nation without a powerful ruler. Since the conception of the Republic, there had been an ongoing struggle for power between the regents and the House of Orange, whose supporters, Orangists, were mainly to be found among the common people. For now, the dispute was decided in favour of the regents: there would be no new stadtholder (in Holland) for 22 years to come. In the year 1651, England imposed the 1651 Navigation Act, which severely hurt Dutch trade interests. An incident at sea concerning the Act resulted in the First Anglo-Dutch War, which lasted from 1652 to 1654, ending in the Treaty of Westminster (1654), by which the Navigation Act remained in effect.

Part of the wealth of the Dutch came through slavery. In 1619 The Netherlands began the slave trade between Africa and America, by 1650 becoming the pre-eminent slave trading country in Europe, a position overtaken by Britain around 1700. The port city of Amsterdam was the European capital of slavery, helping to manage the slave trade also of neighbouring nations and with up to 10,000 slaving vessels associated with the port.

1672 is known in the Netherlands as the "Disastrous Year" (Rampjaar). England declared war on the Republic, (the Third Anglo-Dutch War), followed by France, Münster and Cologne, which had all signed alliances against the Republic. France, Cologne and Münster invaded the Republic, while an English attempt to land on the Dutch shore could only just be prevented. In the meantime, a new stadtholder, William III, was appointed. With the aid of friendly German nations, the Dutch succeeded in fighting back Cologne and Münster, after which the peace was signed with both of them, and England as well, in 1674 (Second Treaty of Westminster (1674)). In 1678, peace was made with France, although the Spanish and German allies felt betrayed by the treaty signed in Nijmegen.

In the course of the Glorious Revolution, William III, landed in England at the request of notable English citizens, and dethroned James II of England.

Many immigrants went to the cities in the county of Holland in the 17th and 18th century. They came especially from Protestant Germany. The amount of first generation immigrants from outside the Netherlands in Amsterdam was nearly 50% in the 17th and 18th century. If you add immigrants from the second and third generation and immigrants from the Dutch countryside, then the city was mainly inhabited by immigrants. People in most parts of Europe were very poor, and there was a lot of unemployment. But in Amsterdam there was always work. Tolerance was important, because a continuous influx of immigrants was necessary for the economy. Travellers were surprised that the police didn't control them in Amsterdam. The Netherlands also sheltered many famous refugees, including Flemish Protestants; Portuguese and German Jews; French Protestants (Huguenots); the founder of modern philosophy, Descartes; and the Pilgrim Fathers, who were symbols for the US tradition of republicanism.

The Dutch economy stagnated from the end of the 17th century until the end of the 18th century. The Netherlands slowly lost its position as trading centre of Northern Europe. Amsterdam was a central financial market and bookmarket in Europe but lost this position to London.

In foreign affairs, the Netherlands tried to contain France, but it changed its foreign policy in the 18th century. The Netherlands was still regarded as a major state, when actual power was over. In the 18th century, the Netherlands tried to maintain its independence and kept a policy of neutrality. French invasions in 1672, 1701 and 1748 led to an overthrow of government. The prince of Orange became the most important ruler in 1672 and 1748. The Netherlands was a true republic from 1650–1672 and 1702–1748.

Batavian revolution

Napoléon turned the Netherlands into the Kingdom of Holland in 1806.
Napoléon turned the Netherlands into the Kingdom of Holland in 1806.

At the end of the 18th century, there was growing unrest in the Netherlands. There was conflict between the Orangists, who wanted stadtholder William V of Orange to hold more power, and the Patriots, who under the influence of the American and French Revolutions wanted a more democratic form of government. The opening shot of this abortive 'Batavian' revolution might be considered the manifesto published by Joan van der Capellen tot den Pol, the founder of the 'Patriots' in 1781: Aan het Volk van Nederland (To the people of the Netherlands). After the Netherlands became the second nation to recognise US independence, the British declared war. This Fourth Anglo-Dutch War (1780–1784) proved a disaster for the Netherlands, particularly economically. Its peace treaty, according to Fernand Braudel "sounded the knell of Dutch greatness." In 1785 there was a rebellion by the Patriots, an armed insurrection by local militias determined to defend municipal democracies in certain Dutch towns. "Seen as a whole this revolution is a string of violent and confused events, accidents, speeches, rumours, bitter enmities and armed confrontations." says Braudel, who sees it as a forerunner of the French Revolution, with the constant slogan "vrijheid". But the House of Orange, backed by British policy, called upon their Prussian relatives to suppress it. The Orangist reaction was severe: no one dared appear in public without an orange cockade and there were lynchings, the old burgomasters were replaced and a small unpaid Prussian army was billeted in the Netherlands supporting themselves with looting and extortion, Many Patriots fled the country to Brabant or France, perhaps 40,000 in all.

Batavian Republic and French rule

Against this background it is less surprising that, after the French Revolution, when the French army invaded and occupied the Netherlands in 1795, the French encountered so little united resistance. William V of Orange fled to England. The Patriots proclaimed the short-lived Batavian Republic, but government was soon returned to stabler and more experienced hands. In 1806 Napoleon restyled the Netherlands (along with a small part of what is now Germany) into the Kingdom of Holland, with his brother Louis (Lodewijk) Bonaparte as king. This too was short-lived, however. Napoleon incorporated the Netherlands into the French empire after his brother put Dutch interests ahead of those of the French. The French occupation of the Netherlands ended in 1813 after Napoleon was defeated, a defeat in which William VI of Orange played a prominent role.

On November 30 1813, William VI of Orange took ashore in Scheveningen and was proclaimed the Souvereign Prince of the United Netherlands (Dutch: Vereenigde Nederlanden). This state was superseded by the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815, after the unification of the northern Netherlands with the Austrian Netherlands under William VI of Orange.

During the Napoleonic occupation, the House of Orange signed a treaty with the English in which it gave to that country the Dutch colonies in 'safekeeping' and ordered the colonial governors to surrender to the British. This put an end to much of the Dutch colonial empire. Guyana and Ceylon never returned to Dutch rule. The Cape Colony, which had changed hands several times, remained British after 1806. Other colonies, including what is today Indonesia, were returned to the Netherlands under the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814. Ten years later there was another treaty—the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824.


After the Napoleonic era the Netherlands were put back on the map of Europe. The country had always been part of the precarious balance of power that had kept France in check. Particularly the Russian tsar wanted the Netherlands to resume this role and wanted the colonies to be returned. A compromise was struck with the United Kingdom at the Congress of Vienna, whereby only Indonesia was returned, but the North and South of the Netherlands reunited. In 1815 the country became a monarchy, with the son of the last stadtholder, William V, the Prince of Orange as king William I. In addition, king William I became hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. William's United Kingdom of the Netherlands originally consisted of what is now the Netherlands and Belgium with two capitals: Amsterdam and Brussels, but the French-speaking Belgian ruling minority soon began feeling like second-class citizens. The primary factors that contributed to this feeling were religious (the predominantly Roman Catholic South versus the mostly Protestant North), economic (the South was industrializing, the North had always been a merchants' nation) and linguistic (the French-speaking South was not just Wallonia, but also extended to the French-speaking bourgeoisie in the Flemish cities). In 1830 the situation exploded, the Belgians revolted and declared independence from the North. King William sent an army in 1831, but it was forced to retreat after a few days when the French army was mobilised. The North refused to recognise Belgium until 1839.

In 1848 unrest broke out all over Europe. Although there were no major events in the Netherlands, these foreign developments persuaded king William II to agree to liberal and democratic reform. That same year the liberal Johan Rudolf Thorbecke was asked by the king to rewrite the constitution, turning the Netherlands into a constitutional monarchy. The new document was proclaimed valid on November 3 of that year. It severely limited the king's powers (making the cabinet accountable only to an elected parliament), and it protected civil liberties.

The personal union between the Netherlands and Luxembourg ended in 1890 when Queen Wilhelmina ascended to the Dutch throne, as ascendancy rules in Luxembourg prevented a woman from becoming ruling Grand Duchess.

By the end of the 19th century, in the New Imperialism wave of colonisation, the Netherlands extended their hold on Indonesia. In 1860 Multatuli wrote Max Havelaar, the most famous book in the history of Dutch literature, criticising the exploitation of the country and its inhabitants by the Dutch.

20th century

Although its army mobilised when World War I broke out in August 1914, the Netherlands remained a neutral country. The German invasion of Belgium that same year led to a large flow of refugees from that country (about 1 million). Surrounded by states at war, and with the North Sea unsafe for civilian ships to sail on, food became scarce and was distributed using coupons. With the end of the war in 1918, the situation returned to normalcy.

Although both houses of the Dutch parliament were elected by the people, only men with high incomes were eligible for voting until 1918, when pressure from socialist movements resulted in elections in which all men were allowed to vote. In 1922 women also got the right to vote.

The worldwide Great Depression of 1929 and the early 1930s had crippling effects on the Dutch economy, which lasted longer than they did in most European countries. The depression led to large unemployment and poverty, as well as increasing social unrest. The rise of Nazism in Germany did not go unnoticed in the Netherlands, and there was growing concern over the possibility of armed conflict, but most Dutch citizens thought that Germany would again respect Dutch neutrality.

World War II

Two sides of a WWII 'ausweis' or 'persoonsbewijs' (identification)
Two sides of a WWII 'ausweis' or 'persoonsbewijs' (identification)

At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, the Netherlands declared their neutrality again. However, on May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany launched an attack on the Netherlands and Belgium and overran most of the country quickly, fighting against a poorly-equipped Dutch army. By May 14, fighting was only occurring in isolated locations, when the Luftwaffe bombed Rotterdam, the second largest city of the Netherlands, killing about 800 people, destroying large parts of the city, and leaving 78,000 homeless. Following the bombardment and German threats of the same for Utrecht, the Netherlands capitulated on May 15 (except the province of Zeeland). The royal family and some military forces fled to the United Kingdom. Some members of the royal family eventually moved to Ottawa, Canada until the Netherlands was liberated; Princess Margriet was born during this Canadian exile.

About 140,000 Jews lived in the Netherlands at the beginning of the war; persecution of the Jews started shortly after the invasion. At the end of the war, only 40,000 Jews were alive. Of the 100,000 Jews that didn't hide, only 1000 survived the war. Anne Frank, who later gained world-wide fame when her diary, written in the Achterhuis (backhouse) while hiding from the Nazis, was found and published, died shortly before the liberation of her camp on May 5, 1945.

Resentment about the German presence grew as the occupation regime bacame harsher, prompting many Dutch to join the resistance. However, collaboration was not uncommon either; many thousands of young Dutch males also volunteered for combat service on the Russian Front with the Waffen-SS.

Japanese forces invaded the Dutch East Indies on January 11, 1942. The Dutch surrendered on March 8, after Japanese troops landed on Java. Dutch citizens were captured and put to work in labour camps. However, many Dutch ships and military personnel managed to reach Australia, from where they were able to fight the Japanese.

In Europe, after the Allies landed in Normandy in June 1944, progress was slow until the Battle of Normandy ended in August 1944. As German resistance collapsed in western Europe, the allies advanced quickly towards the Dutch border. First Canadian Army and the 2nd British Army conducted major operations on Dutch soil beginning in September. On 17 September a daring operation, Operation Market Garden, was executed with the goal of capturing bridges across three major rivers in the southern Netherlands. Despite desperate fighting by American, British and Polish forces, the bridge at Arnhem, across the Neder Rijn, could not be captured. However, areas south of the Neder Rijn were liberated in the period September–November 1944, including the province of Zeeland which was liberated in the Battle of the Scheldt. However, the rest of the country, with a major part of the population, remained occupied until the spring of 1945. The winter 1944–1945 was very harsh, and many Dutch starved, giving the winter the name Hongerwinter (Hunger winter). On May 5, 1945, a beaten Nazi Germany finally capitulated, signing the surrender to the Dutch at Wageningen. After the war, Artur Seyss-Inquart, the Nazi Commissioner of the Netherlands, was tried at Nuremberg.

Post-war years

Indonesia, the former Dutch East Indies, had been a very valuable resource, and the Dutch feared its independence would lead to an economic downfall.
Indonesia, the former Dutch East Indies, had been a very valuable resource, and the Dutch feared its independence would lead to an economic downfall.

Two days after the surrender of Japan, most of the Dutch East Indies declared its independence as Indonesia. A confusing phase followed, known as the Indonesian National Revolution, with the Netherlands recognising the new country on the one hand, while fighting the Indonesian nationalists in two wars, named politionele acties ("police actions"). Increasing international pressure led the Netherlands to eventually withdraw and it formally recognised Indonesian independence on December 27, 1949. Part of the former Dutch East Indies, namely the western part of New Guinea, remained under Dutch control as Netherlands New Guinea until 1961, when the Netherlands transferred sovereignty to Indonesia, following Indonesian threats to invade the region.

Although it was originally expected that the loss of the Indies would contribute to an economic downfall, the reverse proved to be true, and in the 1950s and 60s, the Dutch economy experienced a near unprecedented growth. In fact, the demand for labour was so strong that immigration was actively encouraged, first from Italy and Spain; then later on, in larger numbers, from Turkey and Morocco. Combined with the immigration from (former) colonies like Indonesia, Surinam and Netherlands Antilles, the Netherlands was becoming a multicultural country.

In the early post-war years the Netherlands made continued attempts to expand its territory by annexing neighbouring German territory. The larger annexation plans were continuously rejected by the U.S., but the London conference of 1949 permitted the Netherlands to perform a smaller scale annexation. Most of the annexed territory was returned to Germany on August 1, 1963.

Operation Black Tulip was a plan in 1945 by Dutch minister of Justice Kolfschoten to evict all Germans from the Netherlands. The operation lasted from 1946 to 1948 and in the end 3691 Germans (15% of Germans resident in the Netherlands) were deported.

The operation started on 10 September 1946 in Amsterdam, where Germans and their families were taken from their homes in the middle of the night and given one hour to collect 50 kg of luggage. They were allowed to take 100 Guilders. The rest of their possessions went to the state. They were taken to concentration camps near the German border, the biggest of which was Mariënbosch near Nijmegen.

The allied forces that occupied western Germany didn't like this operation because other countries might follow suit and western Germany was in too bad a state to receive all these newcomers. The British troops in Germany reacted by evicting 100 000 Dutch citizens in Germany to the Netherlands.

The last major flood in the Netherlands took place in early February 1953, when a huge storm caused the collapse of several dikes in the southwest of the Netherlands. More than 1,800 people drowned in the ensuing inundations. The Dutch government subsequently decided on a large-scale programme of public works (the " Delta Works") to protect the country against future flooding. The project took more than thirty years to complete. According to Dutch government engineers, the odds of a major inundation anywhere in the Netherlands are now 1 in 10,000 per year. Following the disaster with hurricane Katrina in 2005, an American congressional delegation visited the Netherlands to inspect the Delta Works and Dutch government engineers were invited to a hearing of the U.S. Congress to explain the Netherlands' efforts to protect low-lying areas.

The 60s and 70s were a time of great social and cultural change, such as rapid ontzuiling (literally: depillarisation), a term that describes the decay of the old divisions along class and religious lines. Youths, and students in particular, rejected traditional mores, and pushed for change in matters like women's rights, sexuality, disarmament (See: Hollanditis) and environmental issues. Today, the Netherlands is regarded as a liberal country, considering its drugs policy and its legalisation of euthanasia. Same-sex marriage has been permitted since 1 April 2001.

In 1952, the Netherlands were among the founders of the European Coal and Steel Community, which evolved into the European Union. The Netherlands is an industrialised nation but also a large exporter of agricultural products. The country was a founding member of NATO and participated in the introduction of the euro in 1999. In recent years the Dutch have often been a driving force behind the integration of European countries in the European Union.

On 6 May 2002, the murder on Pim Fortuyn, a right-wing populist calling for a very strict policy on immigration, shocked the country. His party became a major political force after the elections, significantly changing the political landscape. However, infighting within the party caused them to lose much of their following in elections the next year. Another murder that drew much attention took place on 2 November 2004, when film director and publicist Theo van Gogh was assassinated by a Dutch-Moroccan youth with radical Islamic beliefs. This sparked debate on the existence of radical Islam in the Netherlands, and on immigration and integration.

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