Our National History

Before the Christian era, the country we now call the Netherlands was inhabited by Germanic and Celtic tribes. Until the early 5th century, the area south of the Rhine was part of the Roman Empire. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Netherlands consisted of many separate feudal entities, which were eventually united, under Emperor Charles V (1500-1558), with the rest of the "Low Countries " (present-day Belgium and Luxembourg) as part of the Holy Roman Empire.

But under Charles V's son, King Philip II of Spain, there was widespread resentment at restrictions on religious freedom and the King's absolutist aspirations. So in 1568, some of the northern Dutch provinces revolted under Prince William of Orange, starting what the Dutch call the Eighty Years' War. The war ended in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia, which recognised the Republic of the United Provinces (the seven sovereign provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Friesland, Groningen, Overijssel and Gelderland) as an independent state. The republican form of government retained one remnant of feudalism in the powerful position of Stadholder (provincial governor), held in Holland by the descendants of William of Orange.

The Golden Age
During the 17th century, also called the 'Golden Age', the Republic became increasingly prosperous, thanks largely to the Dutch East India Company (VOC). The VOC, established in 1602 to coordinate shipping and trade with Southeast Asia, was for a long time the largest commercial enterprise in the world. It could even be described as the world's first multinational. The VOC was active along the coasts of Africa and Asia, with bases in present-day Indonesia, Japan, Taiwan, Sri Lanka and South Africa. Around the same time, the Dutch West India Company (WIC) was trading with West Africa and the Americas, and from 1625 to 1664 it administered New Amsterdam, which later became New York. Conflicting trading interests led to several wars with England, but the ties with that coun try were close. Stadholder William II and his son William III both married English princesses, and in 1689, William III was asked by the English Parliament to accept the English crown.

The Kingdom of the Netherlands
The French Revolution signalled the end of the Republic of the United Provinces. In 1795, it was invaded and occupied by French revolutionary forces, who turned it into a vassal state named the Batavian Republic. In 1806 Napoleon installed his brother Louis Napoleon as king of what now came to be called the Kingdom of Holland. Four years later, France again annexed the whole of the Netherlands. Louis Napoleon proclaimed Amsterdam as the capital.

In 1813, the French Empire collapsed, and the Low Countries regained their independence. In the northern Netherlands, there was a power struggle between monarchists and republicans, which was won by the latter. Willem Frederik, Prince of Orange-Nassau and the son of the last Stadholder, returned from exile in England. The government moved to The Hague, although Amsterdam remained the official capital. And instead of returning to the old Republic's system of sovereign provinces, the newly independent state retained the unitary structure introduced by the French.

In 1815, the northern and southern Netherlands - today's Netherlands and Belgium - were combined to form the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and Willem Frederik became King William I. This marked the introduction of the Dutch hereditary monarchy.

In 1830, the southern Netherlands seceded from the Kingdom to form the independent state of Belgium. William I acquiesced and abdicated in 1839. Belgian secession gave the Netherlands its present-day borders.

William I was succeeded by William II and William III. But the male line of succession - and with it the personal union with Luxembourg - ended in 1890, when Queen Wilhelmina (1880-1962) came to the throne. Her mother, Queen Emma, acted as regent until 1898, when the young Wilhelmina turned 18 and was able to assume the monarch's duties.

The constitution was radically revised in 1848, making ministers accountable to an elected parliament rather than to the King. The new constitution was the basis for a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system.

World Wars
During the First World War (1914-1918), the Netherlands remained neutral. It continued to pursue a policy of strict neutrality until the Second World War, but was nevertheless invaded by Germany in May 1940 and occupied for five years.

Queen Wilhelmina left the Netherlands and spent the war years in England, playing a vital role as the symbol of resistance against the occupying forces. She abdicated in 1948, after a reign of 50 years, in favour of her daughter Juliana. Queen Juliana abdicated in turn on 30 April 1980 to be succeeded by her eldest daughter, the present Queen Beatrix.

The Netherlands was a major colonial power until the Second World War, but after 1945 its colonies quickly became independent. Indonesia severed all its constitutional links with the Netherlands in 1949. Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean became equal partners with the Netherlands in 1954 under the Charter for the Kingdom, which made the Netherlands responsible for foreign affairs and defence on behalf of its former colonies.

On 25 November 1975, Suriname became an independent republic. And on 1 January 1986, Aruba - until then part of the Netherlands Antilles together with Bonaire, Curacao, Saba, St Eustatius and St Maarten - acquired separate status within the Kingdom, making it an equal partner in the Kingdom of the Netherlands with the Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlands itself.