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About this book

The Dutch Republic emerged from the epic revolt of the Netherlands against Spanish rule in the late sixteenth century and almost immediately became a major political force in Europe. Leslie Price - an acknowledged expert in the field - shows how this extraordinary new state, a republic in a Europe of monarchies, was able to achieve such successes despite the burdens of the Eighty Years War with Spain, which only came to a definitive end in 1648.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
The new state which emerged from the Revolt of the Netherlands appears at first glance to be a somewhat haphazard collection of territories thrown together by the accidents of rebellion and war. In the aftermath of the break-up of the short-lived united Kingdom of the Netherlands and the creation of a separate Belgian state after the revolution of 1830, both Dutch and Belgian nationalist historians tried to discover an historical necessity in the existence of two separate states in the Low Countries. Consequently they argued that the earlier division between North and South brought about by the Revolt was similarly the result of fundamental differences not historical accident.1 Later generations of historians have found it rather more difficult to believe that the Dutch and Belgian peoples were already in existence in some sense before the Revolt, and that this national divide determined the political outcome of the movement. As far as the Dutch Republic is concerned, while it may be possible to discern long-term similarities in the social, economic and cultural developments of its constituent provinces, what is more immediately evident is the lack of much natural unity among them. In particular, the actual extent and boundaries of the new state seem more obviously the result of geo-strategic forces than of historical inevitability.2
J. L. Price

1. The Impact of a New State in Europe

Abstract
The Dutch Republic was a new state in early seventeenth-century Europe and yet it rose to the position of a major power within only a few decades of its uncertain emergence into independence. Precisely when the Republic can be said to have become an independent state is difficult to say. It could be traced to the risings in the towns of Holland and Zeeland in the summer of 1572, but until the Pacification of Ghent in 1576 they were just a handful of rebellious towns with a very uncertain future, and after this agreement they were a part of a wider political constellation comprising almost the whole of the Habsburg Netherlands but with an almost equally uncertain status. The traditional starting point for the Republic is the signing of the Union of Utrecht in 1579, although this was an alliance for the better prosecution of the war with Spain and not the conscious founding of a new state. Perhaps the rejection in 1585 by Henri III of France and Elizabeth of England respectively of separate offers of sovereignty over the rebel provinces could be marked as the point at which the Dutch decided they had to go it alone, were it not for confusion of their status which resulted from the ambiguities of the governor-generalship of the earl of Leicester. Only after Leicester’s ignominious withdrawal from the Netherlands in 1588 can the Dutch Republic be seen as entering into European history as a fully independent actor.
J. L. Price

2. The Economic Miracle — and its Limitations

Abstract
The rise of the Dutch Republic to economic dominance in Europe was astonishingly rapid; its decline a slower, less obvious, though perhaps equally inexorable process. The spectacular growth of the Dutch economy helps to explain why these few provinces in the northern Netherlands could establish their independence against the might of Spain; and this success provided the financial strength that was necessary to sustain the Republic’s position as a major power throughout the seventeenth century. Even the cultural triumphs of this period were, if not caused, then shaped by this prosperity and the social changes which came with it. However, if the seventeenth century witnessed the heights of Dutch success, the stagnation and economic contraction of the last decades of the century heralded the beginnings of decline. Thus the economic history of the seventeenth century is less of a story of unblemished success than used to be thought; in consequence it requires a discussion not only of the causes and nature of Dutch success but also of the later contraction, and of the possible links between the two processes.1
J. L. Price

3. Republicanism in Practice

Abstract
The Dutch Republic has had a bad press in one respect at least: the seventeenth century may have been a golden age in culture and an outstanding success economically, but the Dutch political arrangements of the time have not been admired. The central government is regarded as being so weak a system and so torn between competing provincial interests that it could hardly hold the state together, let alone pursue effective national policies. There have been two main strands to this criticism: Dutch nationalist historiography of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, and historians who have taken the centralising, absolutist state as the norm for the early modern period and have seen more traditional systems as anachronistic and necessarily doomed. The newly founded Kingdom of the Netherlands of the nineteenth century needed to justify its existence in opposition to the memory of the greatness of the Republic, and it did so by claiming that the centralised state and monarchy expressed the needs and interests of the Dutch nation far better than the fragmented Republic, where all-powerful provincial egotism had triumphed over national purpose. Such attitudes were reinforced by an interpretation of early modern European history which saw any resistance to absolutism as outdated and inefficient. From either point of view the political system of the Dutch Republic was an anomaly.1
J. L. Price

4. Religion, Politics and Toleration

Abstract
The Dutch Republic was notorious among contemporaries for the wide variety of religious beliefs and practices which were permitted on its territory and, although this degree of toleration was generally taken as a sign of the moral degeneracy of Dutch society at the time, it has subsequently been regarded as one of its most admirable traits. It is far from obvious why the Dutch should have ceased — in practice at least — to give as high a priority to religious unity and purity as the rest of seventeenth-century Europe. Conventional wisdom predicted that such religious divisions would inevitably lead to the collapse of political order; the experience of the Dutch state in this century was in the end a practical refutation of this theory — although at the height of the conflict between remonstrants and contraremonstrants in the second decade of the century the opposite must have seemed to be the case. Practical necessity rather than idealism would seem to have been at the root of Dutch toleration at this time; certainly there were distinct limitations on this toleration, and these would seem to have been set equally firmly by the circumstances of the time. The Dutch civil authorities at all levels had only a limited freedom of action: on the one hand, the imposition of religious unity or uniformity was not a practical possibility; on the other, a greater degree of toleration with regard to radical beliefs or to catholic worship was generally regarded as neither desirable nor wise.
J. L. Price

5. A Bourgeois Society?

Abstract
It is generally accepted that the northern provinces of the Netherlands underwent an economic transformation which began sometime in the late fifteenth or early sixteenth century and took off about a century later. This process was most marked in the maritime provinces, with Holland — of course — in the lead, but even the land provinces were also profoundly affected by the changes in the country as a whole. That economic developments on this scale inevitably had significant social consequences is not in dispute; what historians are not agreed on is the nature of the society which was created by these developments. By the late seventeenth century it seems clear that the first completely capitalist economy in history had emerged in the Republic but, oddly enough, there seems to be a near-consensus among historians that what would seem to be the indispensable social corollary of capitalism — the bourgeoisie — did not and indeed could not exist at this time in any meaningful sense.1 This debate aside, the question still remains whether the economic changes were far-reaching enough to produce new social formations and, if so, whether such a transformation was limited to the maritime provinces. It is clear that different regions of the Republic were affected in very different ways by the economic developments of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and it may well be that some social groups were more profoundly affected than others, but whether a new type of society emerged is more difficult to determine.
J. L. Price

6. A Divided Culture

Abstract
The Dutch have long regarded the seventeenth century as their Golden Century, and it is perhaps the cultural achievements of the period which have become its defining characteristic for later generations. After the resonance of economic domination, great power status, and colonial expansion had faded, the achievements of Dutch artists, writers and thinkers came to be seen as what made the period great; already by the late nineteenth century it had become the land of Rembrandt, rather than of De Witt, or even of the merchant.1 Alongside the flowering of ‘high’ culture, there was also a broader cultural change, which has received less attention but was perhaps more profound, reflecting the transformation of Dutch society at the time. In neither case, however, was there a simple correlation between social and cultural change, and the persistence of traditional forms and perceptions was greater than than might have been expected.
J. L. Price
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