Dutch Golden Age: Crash Course European History #15

Dutch Golden Age: Crash Course European History #15

Hi I’m John Green and this is Crash Course
European History. So in the last episode, we saw the gentry
and merchant class of the British Isles defeat the old aristocrat-backed, absolutist monarchy
in the Glorious Revolution, ushering in a constitutional government. And this points to a wider development in
European history–and for that matter world history. So, we’ve talked a lot in this series about
being able to shift perspectives–to see things from royal perspectives, or from peasant perspectives,
and so on. But students of history must also learn how
to shift the lenses through which they look at the past. Like, we might look at the past through the
lens of food availability, or through the lens of visual art, or through the lens of
Marxist theory, and so on. And the lenses we choose are often about our
present concerns. The way that we look at the past changes over
time, as the present changes. And in the present where I’m currently standing,
one of the big questions is how to distribute power among humans. So today, we’re going to look at history
through the lens of power–by which I mean, who gets to decide the ambitions and priorities
of a community, and we’ll see how the distribution of that power can change over time. INTRO
So, in the early modern period monarchs could coordinate national defense, and they could
try to collect taxes and even try to impose their religious beliefs on their communities. But increasingly over time, economic activity
was driven and controlled by the so-called productive classes–land-owning gentry who
were producing more food per acre thanks to the agricultural revolution, and merchants
who were making money due to expanding trade and imperialism. These classes held the key to government finances,
because they were the ones with the money and land and goods that could be taxed, which
then–as now–meant that they had power to sway governments. And in many cases, these productive classes
used this power to give themselves a say in the running of their country through advocating
for a constitutional government that could keep the monarchy in check. We see this especially in Dutch history, where
these classes brought about constitutionalism and created what has come to be known as the
Dutch Golden Age. It’ll last forever: just like all golden
ages. So, like British reformers, the Dutch had
an active business class, who were backing the struggle for independence from Spain. This struggle involved the seven northern
provinces of the Low Countries allying with the ten southern provinces after 1576 to defeat
the Spanish in the Eighty Years War (also known as the Dutch revolts or the Dutch War
of Independence or I suppose the Spanish probably thought of it as Our Northern Province’s
Illegal War of Secession. It all depends on who’s telling the story. But anyway, by the end of the sixteenth century
the United Provinces of the low countries had become functionally independent from Spain,
though it wasn’t formalized until 1648 in the Treaty of Westphalia. The southern provinces spun off to constitute
Belgium, Luxembourg, and parts of northern France, while the seven northern provinces
became the Netherlands. Each province of the Dutch Republic had a
regent who oversaw provincial affairs, while as a group they participated in the States
General, a kind of council of representatives from each province, which in turn chose a
single executive, known as the stadtholder, or stadtholder. Or probably somewhere halfway in between those
that only Dutch people can say. We’ll say Stadtholder. Anyway, all in all, this was a fairly loose
confederation of states, and they often had competing interests. Like, Holland, on the one hand, was the most
prosperous and contributed the most to the overall finances of the group. It was commercially-oriented and generally
favored peace over war. On the other side were provinces like Zeeland
whose privateers seized ships during the chaos of warfare and were therefore somewhat less
opposed to it. Calvinist clergymen favored war against Catholic
Spain and some pamphleteers simply liked war because “it caused all industry and trade
to grow and prosper.”[1] Which is a bit of an oversimplification. Although, whether war is good for business
is one of the big questions of history. It’s definitely not great for people, though,
which I would argue are possibly even more important than businesses? There was also disagreement among the provinces
about the role of the stadtholder: Should the Stadtholder become more of a monarchical
figure, or should the United Provinces continue to function as a kind of republic? So we’re talking here about big differences
about fundamental matters, like war and peace and how power should be distributed within
the confederation. And these differences prevented the kind of
focused central government that England built after its Glorious Revolution. But nonetheless, the States General had greater
unity in economic policy—that is in its strategy for backing trade—than the English
did, whose conservative aristocracy were always battling the commercial classes both before
and after the English civil war. So despite a measure of political disunity,
the Dutch Republic prospered in the seventeenth century and in spite of warfare, it actually
became a comparatively tolerant state. In fact its prosperity made it a kind of mecca
for all sorts of artisans and business people who wanted to participate in Dutch hustle
and bustle. [[TV: BARUCH SPINOZA]] The republic became
a center of printing for people whose thoughts had been censored elsewhere. For instance, philosopher Baruch Spinoza denied
the immortality of the soul and didn’t believe in a transcendent deity. Those were pretty radical ideas in 17th century
Europe, and in fact, Spinoza was banished from his Jewish congregation in his early
twenties, but he continued his philosophical labors, and he was able to continue publishing. It’s also worth noting that, like most philosophers,
Spinoza did have a day job–he ground lenses for microscopes and telescopes. Meaning that he was very good at shifting
historical lenses. I feel like I should apologize to my friends
and family for that joke. Except. That I’m not sorry. But Spinoza’s Portuguese Jewish ancestors
had settled in Amsterdam in the sixteenth century, and Jewish people from Spain also
migrated north to escape persecution by Isabella and Ferdinand and their royal descendants. Pilgrims and many other religious non-conformists
also went to the Netherlands, as did many Huguenots after the French revocation of the
Edict of Nantes in 1685. The citizens of the Dutch Republic were among
the most diverse in Europe at the time, and that contributed to the Netherlands prosperity. So thriving businesses arose at the time,
especially ones deriving from the early maritime networks its merchants had developed in Japan,
Southeast Asia, and the New World late in the sixteenth century. Cornelis Matelieff de Jonge was one person
who saw overseas trade as key to advancing overall Dutch prosperity. Along with other military men and adventurers,
embarked on securing the spice trade for the Netherlands
This largely involved expanding trade networks with present day Indonesia. Matelieff de Jonge wrote a book called Discourse
on the State and Trade of the Indies that described the Indonesian islands and the broader
southern oceanic region, and the Dutch government took notice of the riches promised by the
spice trade, so they authorized the creation of trading companies whose military forces
didn’t just take territory, but also sought to advance trade, at times acquiring goods
or establishing trade routes via force or the threat of it. These Indian Ocean trade networks were highly
developed, and Europeans were new to them, and relatively inexperienced. Especially the Dutch. The Spanish and Portuguese had been at it
for more than a century. And so despite armed trading companies, gaining
the upper hand in trade took the Dutch generations, although they would use alliances with local
leaders and military might to become imperialist powers in time, and eventually extract far
more than they invested in the well-being of colonies. But before all that, Holland’s merchants
began bringing back an array of plants and commodities, which stimulated innovation,
while its geographic positioning enabled its ships to access north-south and east-west
trade routes. And as English merchants and leaders became
wrapped up in decades of political disputes and lethal combat among themselves, the Dutch
began to outperform them in trade. Soon the Dutch had replaced the Portuguese
as the primary Atlantic slave traders, although the English would eventually overtake them. But by the middle of the 17th Century, the
center of economic activity in Europe had migrated from the Mediterranean and Italian
city-states, north. The Dutch were thriving. Let’s go to the Thought Bubble. 1. The Dutch took advantage of their independence 2. and reduced war expenses by 3. 1. expanding their shipping capacity and 4. 2. building a network of canals connecting
400 miles of major cities 5. which improved communication and trade
regionally. 6. Amsterdam flourished, 7. growing to over 200,000 people by late in
the century. 8. And as it grew, land reclamation and civil
engineering advanced, 9. along with the now-famous design of Amsterdam’s
houses, 10. many of which are still standing. 11. In fact, I lived in a 17th century Dutch home
while writing The Fault in Our Stars. 12. But speaking of innovation, Dutch painter
and inventor Jan Van der Heyden devised a long-burning wick, 13. which brought cities nighttime illumination 14. and a reduction in crime. 15. He also created portable pumping devices to
extinguish fires, 16. which drastically reduced the destructive
power of urban fires beginning in the seventeenth century. 17. Meanwhile Dutch artists, including Van der
Heyden, excelled in painting some relatively new portrait subjects: 18. common people, 19. and their everyday lives and domestic
interiors, 20. and the commodities that increasingly
filled their homes. 21. Many of these commodities came from distant
lands 22. and included Chinese porcelain, Middle
Eastern carpets, and imported textiles. 23. In addition, the paintings of Johannes Vermeer, 24. alongside those of Van der Heyden, 25. featured maps and globes, 26. testifying to the cosmopolitanism of the middle
and upper classes. 27. But even ordinary workers in Dutch cities
might have a painting and books for intellectual and visual nourishment, 28. which was a stark contrast from just a
century or two earlier. Thanks Thought Bubble. So with the Dutch now commanding trade in
a way that the English could not, Oliver Cromwell’s government sought to take back control of
the seas with the Navigation Act of 1651. It mandated the use of English ships for any
goods using English ports, whether in Britain itself or in its colonies. This was one example of legislated mercantalism. Now, we’ve mentioned this before, but mercantalist
theory sees the global economy as finite. We now understand that the size of the global
economy’s overall pie can get bigger and smaller, but at the time Mercantilist theory
saw the overall economy as stagnant, which meant to become wealthier, you had to take
wealth from other places. Tarriffs for instance, were a common feature
of mercantalism–with a finite economic pie, a nation should only export goods and take
in gold for them; it should never buy foreign goods because that would mean losing wealth
to a competing nation. Now, this obviously happened most dramatically
in colonized regions, but it also happened within Europe, as nations sought to take wealth
and possessions from one another. Three separate times between 1652 and 1674,
the English provoked warfare with the Dutch in order to gain an upper-hand in trade. For the most part, the Dutch prevailed in
the first two of these wars, even getting some relaxation in the Navigation Acts as
part of peacemaking. But one exception was the Treaty of Breda
that ended the war of 1665-67, when the English gained permanent control of New Amsterdam
(now known as New York). This effectively knocked the Dutch Republic
out of what would become the lucrative North American sphere of trade and settlement, and
also indirectly led to They Might Be Giants’ third best song. But the third of these wars from 1672-74 concerned
politics more than mercantilist issues. It aroused high passions over enhancing the
role of the stadtholder and bringing William of Orange to become perhaps stadtholder for
life. If you’re wondering why the Dutch soccer
team wears orange, by the way, that’s why. In 1672 an angry mob, believing that William’s
rise was being prevented by brothers and high officials Johan de Witt and Cornelis de Witt
proceeded to lynch, flay, and cannibalize those brothers. The fight over how concentrated power should
be, and who should have that power, clearly wasn’t over. So even as it continued to prosper, the Dutch
Republic was profoundly politically divided by the end of the 17th century. Meanwhile, Great Britain, its rival on the
seas, had more or less resolved its political questions and created the ground rules for
an effective monarchy and its relationship with the commercial classes. and that meant the Dutch Golden Age receded. As golden ages always do. England meanwhile, was rising again–although
only temporarily. Next time we’ll see how eastern Europe was
faring during the seventeenth century. Thanks for watching; I’ll see you then. ________________
[1] Quoted in Geoffrey Parker, Global Crisis: War, Climate Change and Catastrophe in the
Seventeenth Century (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 237.


  1. Fun fact: 19th century historians interpreted those old Dutch homes as authentically put into painting. These images were then institutionalized (starting in England) as the ideal kinds of homes and possessions that every citizen should by rights be able to afford and buy into. In truth these were very much fictional paintings. Judith Flanders (in The Making of Home) collects current historical work to show that these paintings were complete fictions. People didn't live in buildings anything like that, nor did they own that kind of stuff. Painters just staged these images to mean something and look nice. They did in the long run shape the imagination of what people might want to own or live like. COlonial souvenirs and display cabinets and big living rooms only became a thing that existed after that.

  2. Pretty good video. There are a few very important corrections or additions that need to be posted though, already saw people post them in other comments but I'll just continue the trend:

    1. the Dutch government had a slightly different structure than described in the video. The Republic was a confederacy of 8* self-ruling states with their own laws, of which each had their own parliament called an Estates, which consisted of representatives of the self-ruling citystates and the rural landholders. 7 of these states would send their representatives to the Estates-General (confederal parliament) which would take decisions on confederal or international issues.
    (* one of the 8 states, Drenthe, was too poor and had too low of a population to pay confederal taxes, so in return of giving up confederal representation Drenthe was exempted of confederal taxes. Therefore we only talk about 7 states. Besides that there were three territories which were considered occupied territories because most of their states as a whole were still in the hands of Spain and therefore didn't receive any representation in the confederal parliament)
    The Stadtholder was the highest executive official of a state, appointed by their Estates, who would have a few ceremonial jobs tied to administration and judicial issues but most importantly the title of Stadtholder was tied to the position of head of the army of a member state. The problem for the republic was that all the states would traditionally appoint the same man from the Orange-Nassau dynasty, the family of the nominal leader of the Dutch war of Independence, William 'the Silent' of Orange-Nassau. This caused a lot of conflicts within the republic because the Orange-Nassau dynasty wanted to develop the position of Stadtholder into that of a nominal king, while the opposing State Faction (or Republicans) were in favour of developing a full republic and abolishing the Stadtholder position.
    Besides the Stadtholder was another very important office, namely the Raadspensionaris, or Council Pensionary. The Raadspensionaris was the chief advisor and chairman of the Estates of the provinces of Zeeland and Holland, the two richest provinces in the republic. The Raadspensionaris of Holland (usually referred to in English as the Grand Pensionary) would also act as the chief advisor and chairman of the Estates-General as a whole, as both the governments of Holland and that of the entire country were located in the same city, Den Haag. Besides that the Raadspensionaris would also act as the Minister/Secretary of Foreign Affairs, thus the job was an early modern combination of Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister. The Raadspensionaris and the Stadtholder would usually be in conflict with each other because Holland was a Republican stronghold and would usually appoint a Republican Raadspensionaris, while the Orange-Nassau Stadtholder would obviously be the head of the Stadtholder's, or Orangist, faction.

    2. This isn't really said in the video but it's usually always assumed, namely the myth that the majority of wealth of the Dutch Republic would come from trade outside of Europe. However, at most intercontinental trade would only make about 10% of the income of the country, and often this would probably be much less. The source of Dutch wealth came from both it's location WITHIN Europe as well as the dense population, good agricultural yield and interconnected cities. The Netherlands had a symbiotic relation with another nearby 'confederation', the Hansaetic League, and other trading partners in the Baltic Sea. the Netherlands would import basic recourses and foodstuffs (most importantly grain and timber) from that area and other regions nearby (such as wool from England). Because of the high urban density and connection between the different cities and the outside world the Netherlands developed a very early modern industrial system of artisan workshops that would import raw goods from other countries and made everything from pottery to cloth to ships and sell them back to other countries as a profit. Because farmers didn't have to grow grain or other basic foodstuffs they could instead focus on more profitable crops or products, such as dairy products and hops for beer, which they could then also export to other countries as a profit. This trade relation with the Baltic area would be known as the "moedernegotie", roughly translated as "mother of (all) trade".

    3. The political situation didn't cause the end of the Dutch Golden Age, simply the introduction of mercantilism caused that, not only the English would implement it but most former importers of Dutch goods would as well. In the 18th century the Netherlands would consolidate most trade routes they still had and the subsequent era would instead be known as the "Silver Age". It only came crashing down when the French invaded the Netherlands after the French Revolution and caused a 20-year long recession as the Netherlands couldn't trade with other countries anymore.

  3. As a note, the Dutch 'w' is much more akin to the English than the German 'w'. That is to say, the sound is not a halfway v/w sound.

  4. I must say the reason the why De Witt brothers were murdered wasn't just because where preventing the rise of the Orangists but because during their reign there was 'Het Rampjaar' (The disaster year) were the Dutch Republic was simultaneously attacked by England, France, and the bishop of Münster and archbishop of Cologne. The Dutch people where fed up with the goverment and when the Orangists saw their opportunity they seized power and killed the De Witt brothers.

  5. 'Our Northern provinces illegal war of succession' – Isn't that how Spain has been referring to Catalan and the Basque country for the last 50 years? Plus de Change

  6. Good episode, but I feel like the moeder negotie, the "mother trade", the trade with scandinavia and the baltics shouldn't have been skipped. This trade, while not as exciting as the east indies trade, was crucial too the succes of the dutch.

    It allowed the dutch too get cheap things like wheat and wood from the north. This way dutch peasants could focus on things other than food production and specialize.

    Northern countries have also been influenced by this trade, for example st petersburg.

  7. Never knew the succession from Spain part. Geographically these countries didn't look relatable at all? And I have a new question: Is there a reason why the Dutch language is more similar to English & German, rather than Spanish (given that Netherlands was part of Spain)?
    I am really looking forward to the Eastern European History; it wasn't mentioned very often.

  8. Mercantilism a 500 year old out of date theory that assumes that trade is a zero sum game.
    Currently believed by Donald Trump.

  9. Is now a bad time to remind everyone that the United States began as a Corporation with stockholders before it was a white flight reservation for hyper conservative religious nuts?

  10. can't wait for john to say the ottoman empire was super peaceful and amazing while he dehumanizes the western empires

  11. It does seem like the poor Hapsburgs come off as the villains of European history, doesn’t it? Leyenda Negra, Maybe?

  12. Lens of Marxist Theory: I can't see through the bodies of 292 million people.
    I'll pass on Socialist/Marxist/Communist/Fascist Political and Economic Theories.

  13. “There are only two things I can’t stand in this world: people who are intolerant of other people’s cultures…and the DUTCH!”

  14. Even to this day the Netherlands is very diverse, I don't know if it still among the most diverse in Europe, but it's probably up there.

  15. (9:15) So, what happened on the 16th of September, 2009? I noticed something written on that day on the calendar. I tried taking a screenshot and zooming in, but it's just not legible enough. 🙁

  16. There is a small mistake at the end of the video. Stadhouders served for life and the reason for the brother de witts murder was not about them standing in the way of the house of orange, though that was part of it. They were murdered due to the disastrous war with France and the de witts had up until then been pro-french. So they were seen as having traitorously sold the republic out to the french.

  17. Now. If we can just teach our government here in South Africa that our constitution is not toilet paper and the people who brought these ideas to Africa aren't the enemy, we can make some progress. Just maybe.

  18. God job on you Dutch John! To make it even better, use the vowel 'ou' as in "ouch!: Stadhouder. Thank you for your video's!

  19. Porteguese outposts in Malacca: * exists *
    Dutch republic: honestly I'd rather not but this pampleth here says it's good for the economy.

  20. Aside from conspiracy theories, I think there may be the things any world leaders of the time would do or should do.
    For example, they should unite areas as civilization develops gradually not to cause reactions, keeping the balance of power.
    They may support “the base area”, weakening them when they’re too strong, helping them when they’re threatened by other areas.
    I hope all areas ( including ours 😅 ) will keep on developing together 💖, playing their roles in the civilization of human species 🌎.

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