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History of the Netherlands

The region of the modern day Netherlands has a history of no true political unity or organization until the official formation of the country in the late 1500s. Prior to this point the region consisted of Germans, French, English and most importantly the Dutch or Flemish people. The villages and cities began growing in the 900s and 1000s, but there was little organized rule on a larger scale. Later the region fell under the rule of the Hapsburgs and from this point until the 1500s the region's direction was primarily determined by the Hapsburgs, based in Austria and the Hapsburg's relationships with various other countries, most notably France and Germany.

In the mid-1500s, war broke out between Spain, which was home to the Holy Roman Emperor at the time and the territories in what is today Benelux. As a result of these battles, these territories signed the Union of Utrecht in 1579, which merged them together to defend each other against the Spanish. Despite this document, war continued with Spain until 1648, at which time some provinces were granted freedom.

In the mid-1600s the territories that now make up Benelux were divided into two regions, the north and south, the Netherlands falling primarily into the northern district. The 1600s also experienced a rapid rise of the Netherlands as they established overseas colonies, including Cape Town in South Africa, what is today Indonesia, and later Suriname (although technically these colonies fell under the rule of the Dutch East or West India Companies until the 1700s/1800s), as the Dutch became masters of the seas. The Netherlands also became a very open and progressive country, encouraging trade and even developing a stock market.

In the 1700s though, competition over the seas became fierce and the Netherlands declined in prosperity. In the late 1700s a revolution overthrew the king of the Netherlands and a republic was founded, creating a more unified country. This new republic, the Batavian Republic only lasted about ten years though, before Napoleon inserted a puppet government in its stead, shortly after uniting all of Benelux once again.

Under Napoleon in the early 1800s, the Kingdom of Holland (as it was briefly called), fell under the rule of Napoleon's brother, but was quickly incorporated directly under French rule. After the fall of Napoleon's France in the early 1800s, the Netherlands was united with the southern section of the region to create the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. However, Belgium protested this and about 15 years later gained their independence as a monarchy, although Luxembourg remained tied to the Netherlands. In 1890 the union with Luxembourg ended when the Dutch offered no male heir to rule over Luxembourg as power was passed to a Germanic family.

During World War I the Dutch remained fairly neutral, but during World War II (WWII) the Nazis invaded the Netherlands and quickly took over the small country. During WWII, the Dutch also lost control over Indonesia to the Japanese.

After the war, the Dutch became more involved in international affairs as they, most notably, joined NATO and were a founding member of the European Union (EU) (and its predecessors). However, more important to most of the people, they have become a leader in social, environmental, and political movements on the international stage.

This page was last updated: March, 2013