Name given to the United Provinces, a federation of states in the northern Netherlands 1579–1795. The United Provinces had formed under the Treaty of Utrecht in 1579 to resist Philip II's policy in the region, declaring their freedom in 1581. The country's independence was finally recognized by Spain in the Peace of Westphalia (1648). Although plagued by internal conflicts, the Dutch Republic thrived as a trading nation and colonial power in the 17th century, its success bringing conflict with Portugal, England, and France. Decline set in during the 18th century, and the Republic collapsed in 1795 with the arrival of French Revolutionary forces, when it was replaced by the French-sponsored Batvian Republic.
The struggle for freedom In the 16th century the Netherlands was ruled by the Habsburg monarchs of Spain. By the middle of the century tension was rising between the Dutch and the Spanish crown, and this increased during the reign of Philip II. Religious differences played a large part in the troubles. The Protestant Dutch resented the overbearing Roman Catholic policies of the Spanish, and the effects of the Spanish Inquisition on the freedom of faith. Even more important however was the ever-increasing government control exercised by Madrid, and the rising taxes imposed on the Dutch. In addition to this the presence of a Spanish army caused conflict.
Between 1567 and 1573 Philip II tried to restore order in the Spanish Netherlands using an army led by the Duke of Alva. However the harsh methods used by the Duke led to a Dutch revolt led by Philip's former representative in the Netherlands, William the Silent. Support for the revolt was particularly strong among Protestant groups such as the Calvinists.
The battle for independence from Spain continued with increasing success over the next 70 years. However, even though Spain had effectively lost control of the Netherlands by the end of the 16th century, it was not until 1648 that Spain was forced to recognize the independence of the Dutch in the Peace of Westphalia.
Expansion and prosperity The Dutch economy thrived during the 1590s, as evidenced by the rapid growth of Amsterdam. Its prosperity was built on the Baltic trade and the herring industry. The foundation of the Dutch East India Company in 1602 created enormous opportunities for wealth. During a 12-year truce with Spain (1609–21) the Dutch government took measures to secure its economic gains. Dutch art and the sciences also flourished amid the new prosperity.
In the East Indies (the Malay peninsula and Philippines) the Dutch broke the Portuguese monopoly over the lucrative spice trade, and also took over many of Portugal's colonies in East India and Africa. Fortunes were also made through trade with the Americas, including the slave trade from Africa and the importation of raw materials. The Dutch gained control of Brazil from 1630 to 1645, and established a trading station on Curaçao in the Caribbean.
Anglo-Dutch wars Dutch trading success prompted England to pass a series of Navigation Acts, which sought to protect English trade at the expense of the Dutch. The acts of 1650–51 led to the first Anglo-Dutch War (1652–54), while further acts contributed to the wars of 1665–67 and 1672–74. The engagements were mainly fought at sea, in which the Dutch admirals Maarten Tromp and Michiel de Ruyter were notable for their success and daring. Ruyter sailed up the Medway and the Thames in 1667, destroying English ships. Although the wars had no clear winner, they resulted in the exclusion of the Dutch from North America and West Africa, and in Britain taking over much of the overseas trade of the Netherlands.
Internal rivalry Following independence from Spain, a power struggle developed between the princes of the House of Orange-Nassau and their rivals in the towns. The Orangist or popular party favoured a strong central government under the prince of Orange as stadholder (chief magistrate). Against them were the republican party (also known as the oligarchical or states' rights party) headed by Jan de Witt, the grand pensionary (chief legal and executive officer) of Holland. The republican grouping wanted a government that was focused on the various states of the Dutch Republic rather than having all power in the centre. It also wanted to see more power given to the social elites by the stadholder.
In 1650 the stadholder William II of Orange died unexpectedly, before the birth of his son William (III) of Orange. His death enabled the republican party to seize control. De Witt adopted most of the powers and functions of a prime minister, and quickly found himself involved in the Anglo-Dutch wars.
William III of Orange and the British throne The political struggle between the republican faction of de Witt and that of the house of Orange ended with the murder of de Witt in 1672. William III recovered the office of stadholder and secured British friendship by marrying his English cousin Mary, daughter of James II. As a result of this marriage, and the conflict between James II and the British Parliament, William III was offered the British throne by James's opponents. Following his successful invasion of England in 1688, later known as the Glorious Revolution, he became joint sovereign of Great Britain and Ireland with his wife, Mary II.
War with France The expansionist ambitions of the French king Louis XIV led to a series of wars with France. In 1667 Louis XIV's attempt to take control of the remaining parts of the Spanish Netherlands (modern Belgium and Luxembourg) alarmed Britain and the Dutch Republic, and an alliance was formed with Sweden to prevent Louis from achieving his aims. Louis withdrew in 1668 but invaded the Dutch Republic in 1672, bringing it near to collapse. In 1678, with the Peace of Nijmegen, Louis made great gains in the north.
The Dutch, allied with William III of England, renewed their conflict with Louis in the War of the League of Augsburg (1688–97). Under the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) Louis gave up nearly all the territory gained since 1678. In the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–14), the Dutch and British were once again allied against France. Under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713) the Spanish Netherlands were transferred to Austria, but the Dutch were allowed to keep some of their barrier fortresses in the region. By the end of the 17th century, the Dutch had managed to overcome the internal conflicts of the 1650s and 1660s. They had formed a close alliance with Britain, and this had helped them to make significant gains at the expense of the French. More important to the Dutch nation was their survival against sustained attack from Louis XIV, who was renowned for his military successes. However, the wars against Britain and France in the 17th century demonstrated that the Dutch Republic would be defeated if it had to face a major power alone. This military weakness, and reliance on the aid of its allies, continued throughout the 18th century.
Dutch decline The wars with France had exhausted the Netherlands, and the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 marked the end of the Netherlands' greatness as a world power. The Dutch had begun to lose their Baltic trade to Britain and France, and, although the East Indies trade continued to prosper, the hugely profitable Atlantic trade was now also dominated by the French and British, the great commercial and colonial rivals of the 18th century. At home, the population was declining, and, in addition, the dykes that kept the sea from flooding large areas of the Netherlands were suffering from erosion. A huge expenditure was required to repair them after they gave way in 1731, causing widespread flood damage.
William III's death, without an heir, inaugurated a second period without a stadholder. Eventually, the princes of Orange reasserted their authority, using a French invasion scare in 1747 during the War of the Austrian Succession to make their position hereditary. Some reforms were attempted in the 1780s, but the ‘Patriot’ movement which urged radical reform was brought to a halt by an invasion of troops of the king of Prussia (brother-in-law of William V of Orange) in 1787. Many Dutch, anxious for constitutional reform, welcomed the arrival of French revolutionary forces 1794–95. The Dutch Republic collapsed and was replaced by a French-sponsored ‘sister republic’, the Batavian Republic.