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.
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.
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…