"History is not everything, but it is a starting point. History is a clock that people use to tell their political and cultural time of day. It is a compass they use to find themselves on the map of human geography. It tells them where they are but, more importantly, what they must be." -John Henrik Clarke

History educates citizens about their past culture in order to learn how their culture and country came into existence.

While studying important moments of history people learn about the people who were brave enough to stand up and make needed changes, how their language was developed and how each individual can contribute in making decisions that will prevent the mistakes from the past to resurface.

Teaching history in schools and universities is essential in order to create a society that is aware of its strengths and weaknesses. Without a basic knowledge of a country's history, citizens are less inclined to make social and cultural changes that could contribute to the greater good.

While studying history is not always entertaining for some, it can be extremely insightful and enlightening. 

As is the case with many European countries, Dutch history is extensive and filled with memorable events. From the time the Spanish Netherlands declared independence from Spain to the time when the Germans occupied the Netherlands during WWII, there are many memorable moments that modern-day Dutch inhabitants can learn from.

Superprof is here to guide residents of the Netherlands and other interested ones from different countries through the main events that shaped Dutch history.

Important Moments in Dutch History

sad consequences of war
After the Rotterdam Blitz in WWII, the city was left in shambles. (Source: Visual Hunt)

The most exciting moments in Dutch History started to occur in the 1500s. Throughout the 16th century, there were many events that shaped Dutch history forever. Let's take a look at some of the key occasions.

Dutch Revolt and Independence From Spanish

After Charles V, the low countries or seventeen provinces were passed on to his son King Philip II in 1556 and a few years later the Duke of Alba became the guardian of the Netherlands. During this time there was a lot of religious pressure for those in the provinces to adopt Catholicism and its practices. This caused many non-Catholics or Protestants to become annoyed and rebel against the Spanish.

Due to these restrictive conditions, William Prince of Orange started a revolt against the Spanish crown and looked for support from Protestant rulers. This was the start of the Eight Years' War and Dutch Revolt. William of Orange was declared an outlaw for his revolutionary actions.

The war with the Spanish for Dutch independence continued for years. Finally, after many battles fought, in 1579 the treaty of Utrecht was signed declaring that the northern part of the 17 provinces would support each other in their defence against Spain. This was recognized as being the first big step towards becoming the independent Dutch Republic.

In 1581 the Dutch had officially declared their independence from Spain.  

The Dutch Republic

Even though the Dutch declared their independence from Spain in 1581, the Spanish crown did not recognize this fact until 1648 by signing the Treaty of Peace of Münster. This Peace Treaty also marked the ends of the Thirty Years' War and the Eighty Years' War.

After independence, the Republic of the seven united provinces included Holland, Zeeland, Groningen, Friesland, Utrecht, Overijssel and Gelderland. Each province had a representative in the government.

The Dutch Republic experienced great economic growth after their independence. This time was known as the Dutch Golden Age and will be further discussed in the following subheading.

Due to such economic growth, there were many economic phenomena such as Tulip Mania that occurred in 1636 and 1637. It is recorded as being the first speculative bubble and is now used as a metaphor to describe any modern-day economic bubble.

The year 1672 is very important in Dutch history and is known as the "disaster year" or Rampjaar. During this time, the Dutch Republic was invaded by three different countries or territories who conquered parts of the territory of the Republic due to the failings of the Dutch States Army.

The World Wars

During both World Wars, the Netherlands declared neutrality and wanted to take no part in either side.

Nevertheless, due to their geographical location in WWI, it became a popular place for espionage with many spy agencies situated in the country. The most notable spy was exotic dancer Meta Hari who was accused of spying for the Germans and shot by a firing squad in 1917.

Involvement in the Second World War become imminent even after the Netherlands declared neutrality when the war broke out due to the extreme bombing of Rotterdam in May 1940. A day after the "Rotterdam Blitz", the Netherlands surrendered, the Royal Family and government fled to England and Germany occupied the Netherlands for the duration of the war.

Under Nazi control, over 100,000 Jews who were living in the Netherlands were sent to concentration camps where the majority died. 

In 1944 and 1945, the First Canadian Army troops liberated the Netherlands.

Post War and Present Day

After WWII, the Netherlands received help to rebuild what was destroyed from the United States. The post-war Netherlands experienced an economic boom that was unprecedented.

Under the government of Willem Drees and the Prime Ministers that followed many social programmes were initialized to protect citizens and immigration was encouraged which created a racially tolerant society.

In the 1960s and 1970s, men and women fought for social changes such as legal abortion, equal pay and drug usage. Due to the acceptance of these social causes, the Netherlands became a very liberal country. 

Nevertheless, great liberal laws and social benefits do not equate perfection. The early 2000s were plagued by two political assassinations that left the country in shock. These murders sparked debate about immigration policies, freedom of speech and Islamic extremism.

The Dutch Golden Age

muiden in winter
During the Dutch Golden Age, art was world-renowned and extremely striking. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Commonly known as the most cultural and prosperous time period in the entire history of the Netherlands. This was a time marked by beautiful art, flourishing trade and important academic, scientifical and mathematical advancements.


The Dutch Golden Age lasted for the majority of the 17th century. It began after many Protestants were forced to migrate to the Northern parts of the Dutch Republic due to the fall of Antwerp in 1584. Many of these Protestants were skilled craftsmen and experienced merchants which resulted in Amsterdam becoming one of the most important trading ports and commercial centres in the world during the 17th century.

Immigrants from other European countries sought refuge in the Dutch Republic due to religious persecution in their homelands. This led to the fast building of canals and infrastructure in the Netherlands. 

Economic prosperity was largely due to international trade. In 1602 the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was founded becoming the first multinational company on the planet. The VOC company was funded by shares from the first-ever stock exchange and become the world's largest commercial industry during the 1600s. A little while later the Dutch West India Company was founded. 

The Dutch shipped many commercial goods from their settlements and colonies to other parts of the world. 

Spices, fresh produce and other goods were imported and exported to European and Asian countries which made the Dutch Republic accountable for over half of all shipping tonnage in Europe.


Not only did international trade make the Dutch Golden Age successful, but art also played a major part. The immense talent and success of Dutch artists in the 17th century would never be repeated to the same extent in the 18th and 19th century.

Seventeenth-century Amsterdam and other cities were very tolerant of freedom of expression and a wide variety of art-genres were painted such as still life, landscape, portraits, scenes of everyday life and historical drawings or paintings. Religious paintings were not common even though Dutch art had some characteristics of the Baroque period.

Realism was very common and the main characteristic of art during the Dutch Golden Age. 

Artists such as Rembrandt van Rijn and Johannes Vermeer created the most famous paintings during this time period. Rembrandt's The Night Watch and Vermeer's portrait of The Girl with the Pearl Earring have stood the test of time and remained art classics.

An estimated 1.3 million paintings and drawings were painted in the 20's years after 1640. This was done to meet foreign market demands. Paintings were cheaply priced due to the wide variety of choice.

Academic Achievement

Leiden University, located near the Hague, was the preferred alma mater for many Dutch and international innovators and intellectuals. This university was very renowned due to its international reputation and acceptance of all.

Distinguished intellectuals such as René Descartes, Christiaan Huygens and Baron d'Holbach wrote books, developed scientific theories and honed their academic skills in the Dutch Republic during the Dutch Golden Age. 

Descartes wrote his book Meditations on First Philosophy in 1641 while living in the Dutch Republic. This book along with his self-named Cartesian coordinate system has been used for centuries and are still used by widely used by Philosophy and Math departments all over the world.

Huygens was born in the Dutch Republic and is responsible for the invention of the pendulum clock and the explication of the usage of Saturn's rings. The work he accomplished in his day helped make Holland a more scientifically advanced country.

In addition, due to the Netherlands tolerance and intrigue for academic advancement, many informative books about science, math and astronomy were written, published and sent to other parts of Europe to improve education. 

The Dutch Golden Age was an extremely important era filled with many important events that shaped the Netherlands and the world's history. 

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Important People in Dutch History

people who made a difference
One of the most important people in Dutch history is the young Jewish girl named Anne Frank. (Source: Visual Hunt)

The Netherlands has been the home of many important artists, politicians and athletes. These individuals became renowned and important as a consequence of their fighting for important causes, creating beautiful pieces of art that can be enjoyed by people all over the world and by accomplishing physical feats.

These famous Dutch citizens worked hard to leave their legacy in this world and make a difference for themselves and others. 

Without further ado, here are some of the famous and important people in Dutch History:

  • Vincent Van Gogh: arguably the most famous Dutch painter and possibly the most famous painter to ever exist. Born in Zundert Netherlands in 1853, Van Gogh was known as a "mad" artist due to his constant disputes with others and the fact that he cut off his own ear. He never saw fame and fortune during his lifetime and only become celebrated after his death. His most famous paintings consisted of the Starry Night, Café Terrace at Night, Sunflowers, At Eternity's Gate and the Portrait of Dr Gauchet.
  • Anne Frank: although born in Frankfurt, Germany, Anne Frank immigrated with her family to the Netherlands after the Nazis gained control over Germany. She lived most of her life in and around Amsterdam. She is best known as a symbol of freedom and for writing the book The Diary of a Young Girl from ages 13 to 15 while hiding from the Nazis in Amsterdam. The house where the Franks hid out is now a museum that can be visited by all.
  • Ruud Lubbers: was known for being the longest Dutch Prime Minister in office from 1982 to 1994. He is well known for helping rebuild Holland's economy in the early 80s after the country was hit with a recession. He famously said: "More markets, less government" which encourages a smaller government and more foreign markets. During his political career, he worked with the United Nations and the European Union.
  • Johan Cruyff: the most famous and important athlete in Netherlands history. Cruyff was a football player and manager who brought Holland to the finals at the 1974 FIFA World Cup. In that tournament, he won the Golden Ball as the best player. In 1999, he was voted by theInternational Federation of Football History and Statistics as the European player of the century.

Any historian could tell you that Dutch history is a rich one with various important events. Those who take the effort to learn more about their culture and its history with feel more fulfilled knowing the answers to their questions and will take part in more positive changes for the greater good of humanity.

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