The Dutch

The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands

The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (or “of the Seven United Low Countries”) (Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden/Provinciën; also Dutch Republic or United Provinces in short, Belgica Foederata in Latin) is European republic since 1581

In 1579, a number of the northern Netherlands signed the Union of Utrecht, in which they promised to support each other in their defense against the Spanish army. This was followed in 1581 by the Oath of Abjuration, the declaration of independence in which the provinces officially deposed Philip II.

The United Provinces first tried to choose their own lord, and they asked the Duke of Anjou (sovereign from 1581-1583) to rule them. Later, after the assassination of William of Orange (1584), Henry III of France and Elizabeth I of England both declined the offer of sovereignty. However, the latter agreed to turn the United Provinces into a protectorate of England (Treaty of Nonsuch, 1585), and sent the Earl of Leicester as governor-general. This was not a success, and in 1588 the provinces became a Republic.

From an economic perspective, the Republic of the United Provinces has completely out-performed all expectations; it is a surprise to many that a nation, not based on the church or on a single royal leader, could be so successful. The Dutch dominated world trade in much of the last century, conquering a vast colonial empire and operating the largest fleet of merchantmen of all western nations. The County of Holland is the wealthiest and most urbanised region of Europe.

In the Netherlands social status is largely determined by income. Social classes exist but in a new way. Aristocracy, or nobility, has sold out most of its privileges to cities, where merchants and their money are dominant. The clergy does not have much worldly influence either: the Roman Catholic Church has been more or less suppressed since the onset of the Eighty Years’ War with Spain (1568–1648). The new Protestant movement is divided. This is different from neighbouring countries where social status is largely determined by birth.

This is not to say that aristocrats are without social status. To the contrary, it means rather that wealthy merchants buy themselves into nobility by becoming landowners and acquiring a coat of arms and a seal. Aristocrats also mix with members from other classes in order to be able to support themselves as they see fit. To this end they marry their daughters to wealthy merchants, become traders themselves or take up public or military office to earn a salary. Merchants have also started to value public office as a means to greater economic power and prestige.

Next to aristocrats and patricians come the affluent middle class, consisting of Protestant ministers, lawyers, physicians, small merchants and industrialists, and clerks of large state institutions.

Lower status is attributed to small shop owners, specialized workers and craftsmen, administrators, and farmers.

Below that stand skilled labourers, house attendants and other service personnel.

At the bottom of the pyramid are ‘paupers’, impoverished peasants, many of whom try their luck in a city as a beggar or day labourer.


The Dutch Republic’s colonies and possessions are spread far and wide, it has lost some as its fortunes have waned, but the ones in the Caribbean area are of particular concern.


Captured by the Dutch from the English during the Second Anglo-Dutch War, Suriname and its valuable sugar plantations formally passed into Dutch hands in return for New Netherland with the signing of the Treaty of Westminster in 1674.


In the 16th century European settlers first arrived in this area of north South America, the Netherlands being the fastest to claim the land. Around 1600 was the first trade route established by the Dutch. Eventually the Netherlands planted three colonies to further mark the territory under the Netherlands rule; Essequibo (1616), Berbice (1627)


In 1624 The Dutch captured and held for a year Salvador, the capital of the Portuguese settlements in Brazil.

From 1630 to 1654, the Dutch West Indies Company controlled a long stretch of the coast from Sergipe to Maranhão, which they renamed New Holland, before being ousted by the Portuguese. A major character from the war was a mestizo named Calabar, who changed sides and changed the course of the fighting in favor of the Dutch, for a while. He was captured and executed by the Portuguese.

Virgin Islands

First settled by the Dutch in 1648, but annexed by England in 1672, later to be renamed the British Virgin Islands.


 Trindad & Tobago

Saint Martin

Dutch West Indies