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The Rise of the Dutch Republic & Their Golden Age: History & Timeline

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  • 0:07 Dutch Golden Age
  • 0:40 Independence from Spain
  • 1:58 Economic Growth
  • 2:55 External Expansion
  • 3:43 Society & the Arts
  • 4:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we explore the birth of the Dutch Republic and the Dutch Golden Age which followed. Through innovation and economic success, the Dutch became one of the most powerful nations in seventeenth-century Europe.

Dutch Golden Age

Hardly a day goes by without you hearing about the stock market. On some days, most companies appreciate in value, and on other days, their stock prices go down. Considering the vast sums of money that can be made on the global market, it comes as little surprise that one of the first countries to pioneer global commodities trading used their financial wherewithal to become a European superpower.

Indeed, despite their small size and relative lack of natural resources, the fledgling Dutch Republic of the 16th century was so economically powerful and politically relevant, that the time period is often referred to as the Dutch Golden Age.

Independence from Hapsburg Spain

Prior to the Dutch doing much of anything that could qualify as 'golden,' the Dutch first had to gain independence from Hapsburg Spain, who ruled over the Dutch provinces. Rebellion was first instigated for religious reasons, as the Dutch provinces were overwhelmingly Protestant, and many favored a radical, Calvinist interpretation of the Bible. In 1568, the Dutch stadtholder, William of Orange, attempted to wrest control of the Dutch provinces from the Spanish but ultimately failed.

Though the Spanish maintained nominal control of the territories, the provinces' rebellious attitude sustained, and in 1572, a group known as the Sea Beggars provided the impetus for further rebellion when they captured the northern city of Brielle. Several northern provinces immediately declared allegiance to the rebels, and in 1579, the Dutch provinces split between the northern rebels and a southern group that chose to remain loyal to the Spanish.

Fighting continued until 1609, when a 12 years' truce was declared between the rebellious northern provinces and the Spanish crown. Though attempts were made at a lasting peace between the two sides, war resumed in 1621 in the midst of the Thirty Years' War in the neighboring Holy Roman Empire. Several decisive Dutch military victories in the late 1630s and early 1640s eliminated the financially ailing Spain's appetite for war, and in 1648, Spain was forced to formally recognize the Dutch Republic as an independent state.

Economic Growth

Despite the Dutch Republic's unique position as a republic surrounded by absolutist monarchies, on the face of it, the Republic in the 17th century did not possess the characteristics often necessary for economic success. The territory controlled by the Dutch Republic contained few minerals or natural resources, and large portions of its territory were under sea level, prone to flooding if dikes or windmill pumps failed.

In response, the Dutch fostered the growth of internal industries, such as textiles, sugar refining and glass blowing. Most importantly, however, the Dutch were accomplished shipwrights and traders. Their traditional boats, called 'fluyts,' could carry more cargo than the average 17th century trading vessel while also requiring a smaller crew.

The Dutch further pioneered financial markets as well, first by creating the public Bank of Amsterdam in 1609 to foster investment and further development of trade and industry. The Dutch also created a commodities market where the goods being loaded and shipped on the docks could be traded publicly.

External Expansion

Domestic and European success encouraged Dutch exploration and colonization abroad. In the Americas, the Dutch traded in slaves and sugar and founded their own colonies, including what is today New York City, which was first settled by Dutch fur traders in the early 17th century. The Dutch expanded their commercial empire into Africa and Southeast Asia as well, done largely by the Dutch East India Company, instituted in 1602.

One of the world's first and most successful joint-stock companies, the Dutch East India Company, founded colonies on Batavia (what is today Jakarta) and elsewhere in the South Pacific in order to make profits off the lucrative spice trade. As the 17th century wore on and the company grew even more successful, trading posts were established on the Asian continent in Persia and India, where the Dutch battled the Portuguese for important trade rights.

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