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Dutch history

Dutch historyThe country as we know it today - the Holland of the tulip, the windmill, and the dyke - is the product of many centuries of storm and stress, of conflict of Dutchman with Burgundian, Frenchman, Spaniard, Englishman, and German, of civil strife, and especially of dogged combat of man with the ever-menacing sea. Contrary to a rather widely prevalent impression, Dutch history is dynamic, dramatic, inspiring, and, in some of its phases, thrilling.

The kingdom of Holland in its present form is a creation of the nineteenth century. The independent nation dates, however, from the last quarter of the sixteenth century. And the nation was itself built up from a group of little sea-swept feudal states whose recorded history reaches back at least as far as the beginning of the Christian era.

It is as the designation of one of these miniature states that the name of Holland first appears. The original Holland was a county which, early in the eleventh century, took form in the fenland enclosed by the Waal, the old Maas, and the Merve rivers. Its early history centered about the abbey of Egmont, in whose archives its records have been preserved, and the castle of Thuredreht, or Dordrecht (Dort), about which grew up the modern town of that name.

Amid the rivalries of counts and bishops, and of French and German influences, the county had a stormy existence, but it was favored with a line of princes of exceptional sagacity, and by the beginning of the fourteenth century it had acquired international importance. Other principal Lowland states which rose in the same period and under the same general conditions were the duchy of Brabant, the counties of Flanders, Hainault, Gelderland, Limburg, and Luxemburg, and the bishoprics of Utrecht and Liege (nowadays in Belgium).

Near the close of the fourteenth century a new epoch was inaugurated by the encroachment of the power of the duchy of Burgundy, culminating in an ambitious plan for the absorption of all the Lowland districts in a single centralized Burgundian state. The project was so far successful that it resulted in the earliest political union of the Netherlands, although eventually the prize was lost to Burgundy.

Three dukes in succession labored at the task. Philip the Bold, in 1384, succeeded to the possession of the counties of Flanders and Artois. Philip the Good, his grandson, purchased the county of Namur in 1427, and in the following year compelled his cousin Jacqueline, heiress of Holland, Zeeland, Hainault, and Friesland, to surrender to him her claims. In 1430 he inherited the duchy of Brabant and the county of Limburg, and in 1433 he purchased the duchy, as it had now become, of Luxemburg. Finally, Philip's son, Charles the Bold, reduced to subjection the episcopal state of Liege (1468) and added to his dominions the county of Gelderland (1473).

The Burgundian princes were foreigners, yet their rule was not unwelcome. Under their patronage commerce and industry flourished, wealth increased, and the arts acquired unwonted vigor. From this period dates the University of Louvain, founded in 1425; likewise the commencement of the Antwerp cathedral, and the rise of Antwerp itself as a great port. It was under the personal patronage of Philip the Good that the painting of the Low Countries first gave promise of the place which it was destined to fill in the artistic achievement of the world. The task of political consolidation was found extremely difficult.

The provinces as they came into Burgundian hands were very diverse in traditions, language, and ideas. Except toward the sea and in the vicinity of the Ardennes, they had no distinct and natural frontiers. And while there was a desire for political union as a means of defense, the rich and growing municipalities were determined that their local rights and privileges should not be curtailed.

The Burgundian domination lasted approximately a century. Then the great plan collapsed because the family which was seeking to execute it died out. From the Burgundians the Lowlands passed, by a series of marriages and inheritances, to the house of Hapsburg, which, from a small Swiss family of second-rate nobles. had by this time worked itself up to a position of large importance in Europe.

In the first place, Charles the Bold, defeated and slain by the Swiss at Nancy, in 1477, left the provinces to his daughter Mary. She married the Archduke Maximilian of Austria, who later (1493) became emperor as Maximilian I. At her death, in 1482, the Netherlands fell to an infant son, Philip the Fair, who in 1494 took personal control of the country's government. In 1496 Philip married Joanna of Aragon, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella, and four years later there was born at Ghent the prince who was destined to be the most illustrious ruler the Low Countries had yet known, the Emperor Charles V.

Charles became sovereign of the Netherlands, upon the death of his father, at the age of six. Until 1515 his grandfather Maximilian acted as regent; then the youthful monarch assumed control, under the title of Charles III. In 1516 he succeeded his maternal grandfather, Ferdinand, as King of Spain (Charles I), and in 1519, upon the death of Maximilian, he was elected emperor with the title of Charles V. No man since the decline of Rome had been called upon to hold sway over territory so extended or over peoples so numerous and motley. Throughout his long reign Charles displayed a partiality toward his native land which was a source of much discontent in his other dominions. His rule was strict and often harsh, but he redressed grievances freely, and he retained his personal popularity to the end. Under the regencies of his aunt, Margaret of Austria, and his sister, Mary of Hungary, the provinces of the Low Countries reached the zenith of their prosperity.

It was now that the carpets of Brussels, the tapestries of Arras, the cannon of Mons and Liege, the gloves of Louvain, the lace of Malines, and scores of localized types of velvet, silk, embroidery, and damask achieved their unrivaled reputation in the marts of all Europe.

It will be observed that both industrial and artistic leadership lay as yet with the cities and provinces of the south - the later Belgium. The districts of the north, forming the Holland of our time, were, in the first half of the sixteenth century, on the eve of a remarkable outburst of economic and intellectual activity. But hitherto they had been a sort of "back country," with no special claims to distinction. There was as yet no essentially Dutch civilization.

In a great ceremony held in the hall of the palace at Brussels, on October 25, 1555, Charles relinquished the government of the Netherlands to his son, who, under the title of Philip II, speedily succeeded also to the throne of Spain. The imperial possessions devolved upon Philip's uncle, Ferdinand; so that the Netherlands now ceased to be affiliated with the empire and became Spain.

When taken over by their new sovereign the Lowland provinces, despite the personal popularity of Charles, were in a state of unrest. Excessive taxation was one cause; the presence of Spanish garrisons in the towns was another; the religious situation was a third. As in Germany, Switzerland, France, and England, the people had become sharply divided upon the issues of the Reformation. Protestantism had gained a large foothold, and the relentless persecution of Lutherans, Calvinists, Zwinglians, and Anabaptists by the agents of Charles, while cordially supported by a portion of the population, had antagonized another portion, and largely without attaining its main end.

Under Philip the situation grew steadily worse. The young prince did not even know the languages of his subjects. His interests lay in Spain, in his Italian possessions, in the New World - anywhere but in the Lowlands. The Netherlanders regarded him as a foreigner and distrusted him. After four years, leaving the government of the country to his half-sister, Margaret of Parma, he set sail for Spain, never to return.

The combination of circumstances by which the people of the Netherlands were now driven to revolt was too intricate to be described in few words. Some of the causes of the rebellion were of a religious and some of a political nature. A recent Dutch writer is probably correct in saying that under any sovereign less stupidly narrowminded and less bigoted than Philip there would have been a good chance of preventing the religious reformation from becoming a political movement, and of preventing the political movement from becoming an actual rebellion.

As it was, Philip committed every conceivable blunder. He redoubled the persecution of heretics. He violated local charters and privileges. He continued oppressive taxation. He insisted upon the promulgation and enforcement of the rigidly Catholic decrees of the Council of Trent. After incipient outbreaks of the populace, following the contemptuous rejection of the petition of the "sea­beggars" that the activities of the Inquisition should be discontinued, he despatched to the provinces the most cruel and unscrupulous of his generals, the Duke of Alva, with a body of specially equipped troops, and with instructions to enforce to the letter the authority of the government.

With the coming of Alva the die was cast. The only question was how successfully the seventeen provinces could be made to stand together in the conflict. At first there was general cooperation. In the southern provinces Protestantism had been largely rooted out, but disaffection upon political and fiscal grounds was sufficient to produce rebellion. In the northern districts, which had become almost solidly Protestant - mainly Calvinist - the religious motive was added to the others and became the most influential of all. Both parties to the contest possessed certain advantages. Spain was still the richest and most powerful nation in Europe. Her military forces were numerous and well trained. In the Lowlands war she had the moral support of the Catholic world. On the other hand, the struggle was carried on amid physical surroundings which the Netherlanders were able to turn continually to their own advantage. They fought with superior spirit and had abler leadership.