Dutch political history 101

So we’ve covered geography and culture and slowly we shall be turning to the juicy current stuff. But first: Dutch political history 101. Part 1.

Way way back the Netherlands was mostly marshlands and forests inhabited by Germanic and Celtic tribes. Agriculture got to us around 7000 BC. The Romans got halfway our country, up to the Rhine where they set up border.

In medieval times the Netherlands was mostly a handful of cities ruling over their respective lands. Power was divided by the elite arranging helpful marriages between important houses. Beyond that no sense of unity and definitely no sense of nationalism, just a distant emperor to pay tribute to.

The story of nationalistic history starts when the Spanish king Philip II inherits these lands from his Habsburg father Emperor Karel V in 1556. These were the times of Luther, of dissent against catholics and of the Dutch statue storm. Philip was by all accounts a very devoted catholic and he was deeply disturbed by the reformation. He prosecuted non-catholics and ruled with iron hand. Unfortunately, not iron enough; Philip lacked the money and manpower to decisively rule the Dutch. the Dutch, smelling weakness, stopped paying tribute and held secret sermons. In retaliation Philip sent a warlord, duke Alva, to set things straight. Alva was a no-nonsense guy and his presence led to what in retrospect would be called the 80-year Dutch war of independence.

An important player on the Dutch side was a prince called Willem who owned territory in South France called Orange. This Willem of Orange led mercenary armies in the East. It seems that in actuality he made little contribution to the success of Dutch independence, but it just so happens that he was assassinated on the orders of Philip and was thus effectively turned into a martyr figure. His son Maurits of Orange turned out to be a capable commander and this combined with Spain’s imperial overstretch led to the creation of the independent Republic of the 7 United Netherlands.

The assassination of Willem of Orange

Interesting to note is that once independent, no king. Instead we had regents, whose task was to act more like a dealmaker behind the screens than a hero in front of them. If things went well the regents received approving nods, if things went bad the regents were publicly lynched by an angry mob  This kinglessness changed when Napoleon conquered the republic in 1795 and appointed his brother Lodewijk to rule over the northern provinces as a king. Lodewijk  took a liking to his new job and the Dutch took a liking to Lodewijk, who was a sympathetic softy. Too soft for his brother unfortunately, who eventually angrily called him back to France.

Lodewijk – Such a friendly face

After the final defeat of Napoleon a crafty descendent of Willem of Orange called Willem of Orange (creativity not a Dutch strong suit) convinced the English and the Prussians that a strong bufferstate to the North of France would serve as a deterrent for future French shenanigans. They agreed. Thus became King Willem I, ruling over the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, including not only the Dutch provinces but also Belgium and Luxembourg! Truly, things could only go up from here…

3 thoughts on “Dutch political history 101

  1. Considering Emperor Charles V: like his father Philip the Handsome, he was born in the Netherlands (Gent) and brought up in the Netherlands by local noblemen (despite being the heir to the Imperial title, Austria, Castille and most probably Aragon). Some historians, including Belloc, claim that Philip II, his son, contrary to his father, acted primarily as King of Spain, not the Count of Flanders or Holland or Brabant. Centralization came hand-in-hand with proto-nationalist feelings. The Dutch started feeling like a group separate to that foreign king down somewhere to the South, while, at the same time, Philip expected those Dutchmen up in the North should obey him because he is the king. As far as I am informed, Philip managed to unite staunch Catholics in the Netherlands with the Protestants – against himself. In this context, Duke of Parma, a cunning person, was a far better (and more successful, indeed) Governor of the Netherlands than Alva. What do you think? Is Philip to blame in some part?

    While I am, as a reactionary, monarchist, I am generally against Louis XIV style absolutism (which alienates different estates against each other and all of them against the ruler, as soon as a weaker, benevolent person like Louis XVI of France or Nicholas II of Russia succeeds the throne). I have no recipe to propose but two mutually inter-related things to observe.
    First observation (of a more metaphysical character) some time after the Black Death (itself starting around 1350), the Christian (Catholic) West was infested with the virus of humanism. Protestantism was only the first symptom that hit the entire population from the top to the bottom. Pure will and raw power over natural and deserved authority, dignified fealty. Second observation (more practical): the most King of a country with powerful nobility (France, England, Hungary, Bohemia; also Germany with its Electors and Dukes being almost independent rulers) hires mercenaries trying to get rid of the Kshatriya caste. Whether the King succeeds (success in France and Bohemia, partial success in Hungary where noblemen remain major landowners and highly influential; and principal agents of Liberal nationalist revolution in 1848) or not (in England Tudors had the easiest task since the nobility got killed during the War of the Roses but lost the cause due to the minority of Edward VI, the questionable legitimacy of Elizabeth I and the captivity of James I since his birth), the former members of the Kshatriya caste are reduced into a role of mandarins: commissioned officers or diplomats/ministers. Even when generals, they are simply commissioned officers. While this change led to very civilized wars of the Ancien Regime (roughly 1648-1789), the military spirit, the natural aristocrat, lost the against mandarin-eunuch style bureaucracy, which prefers loss to victory (after all, the common men, the peasant/Shudra of today is the loser; the merchants and mandarins, the irresponsible quasy-Vaishya: they are the House; the House always wins).

    1. Philip rarely spent time in the Netherland and reportedly didn’t like the Dutch weather so definitely a foreign king. Initially catholics like him for his contra-reformation attitude, eventually they also turned against him when he further raised taxes. So Philip definitely cares part of the blame.

      re your first observation – you are linking black death with the start of humanism? I think there’s something to say for a plague influencing society consciousness. E.g. making people lose trust in distant rulers in the same sense Egyptians stopped believing pharaos were gods. Which is not to say fealty through pure will and raw power is wronger than fealty through natural and deserved authority — it’s just that once you’ve lost faith you’ve lost faith.

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