In the eighteenth century the Netherlands, known then as the United Provinces, constituted a loose confederation of seven sovereign provinces: Gelderland, Holland, Utrecht, Zeeland, Overijssel, Friesland, and Groningen. Each province had a vast autonomy that, in practice, belonged to an oligarchy of patricians. The United Provinces had a weak central government. The provinces nominated a central official, the Stadholder, whose executive authority was restricted to foreign policy, military, and naval command. The Stadholder position was monopolized by the Orange family. The provincial assemblies sent representatives to the Estates General, whose decisions were effective only if approved by all seven provinces. There was no Dutch citizenship and it was difficult to speak about a Dutch nation.
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