Trace your Dutch roots

Books and articles about Dutch history

History of The Netherlands

Mark T. Hooker, The History of Holland (1999).

Dutch history, from its earliest beginnings to the present day. The book also contains an overview of the country as it stands now: It discusses the current geography, economy, political system and society.

James Edwin Thorold Rogers, The Story of the Nations: Holland .

Middle ages (until 1500)

When Charlemagne's empire fell apart, most of what is now The Netherlands became part of the Holy Roman Empire. Though nominally part of the empire, effectively the area consisted of a number of more or less independent feudal states that were usually at war with each other.

Through conquests and marriage politics, most of The Netherlands (including the Southern Netherlands, current-day Belgium) were eventually united under the duke Philip the Good of Burgundy. Philip's great-grandson, Philip the Handsome, married the Spanish princess Joanna of Castile (later known as Joanna the Mad, or Juana la Loca). After the death of several of Joanna's relatives she unexpectedly became the heir to the Spanish throne.

Derek Wilson, Charlemagne (2006).

A new biography of the famous European emperor.

Johan Huizinga, The Autumn of the Middle Ages .

Seminal book on life in and the culture of France and the low countries in the 14th and 15th century.

Richard Vaughan, Philip the Good: The Apogee of Burgundy .

Part of the History of Valois Burgundy series, this book discusses Burgundy during Philip the Good's long reign (1419-1467). By the end of this era, much of The Netherlands had come under his control.

Willem Pieter Blockmans and Walter Prevenier, The Promised Lands: The Low Countries Under Burgundian Rule, 1369-1530 .

From the back cover:

"They were, in the words of one contemporary observer, "the Promised Lands." In all of Europe, only northern Italy could rival the economic power and cultural wealth of the Low Countries in the later Middle Ages.
In The Promised Lands, Wim Blockmans and Walter Prevenier trace the relations between the cultural and economic developments of the Low Countries and the political evolution of the region under the rule of the dukes of Burgundy."

Reformation and the revolt's preamble (1500-1568)

Philip the Handsome, son of Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg, had inherited the Low Countries from his mother, Mary of Burgundy. Their son Charles, born in Ghent in 1500, inherited Spain, the Low Countries, Austria, and parts of Italy. In 1530 he became Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Through conquests in the Americas and (to a lesser extent) Asia, he ruled the famous imperio en el que nunca se pone el sol, the empire on which the sun never sets (a phrase that was later also used for the British empire).

Charles V treated the Low Countries as an autonomous entity, separate from his French and German possessions.

In the early years of the 16th century, the reformation started. Calvinism gained popularity in France (the Huguenots) and spread into the Low Countries, Lutheranism became popular in Germany. Charles V, and his successor Philip II, considered it their duty to suppress protestantism with harsh measures. This lead to resentment in The Netherlands, and in the 1560s, the situation escalated. After a number of incidents, Philip sent an army, lead by Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, duke of Alba. Alba set up a special court (Raad van Beroerten, or Council of Upheavals, quickly nicknamed bloedraad, blood court) that judged and executed more than one thousand people in a few months. Among them were the count of Hoorne and the count of Egmont, Catholic nobles who were loyal to the King of Spain. They were arrested and executed for high treason.

Johan Huizinga, Erasmus and the Age of Reformation .

Classic biography of Erasmus.

From the back cover:

"The eminent Dutch historian, Johan Huizinga (1872-1945) has a special sympathy for the complex, withdrawn personality of Erasmus and for his advocacy of intellectual and spiritual balance in a quarrelsome age.
Written as a companion to Huizinga's masterwork The Waning of the Middle Ages and first published in 1924, this biography of the sixteenth-century scholar / humanist has rightfully become a classic."

N. Scott Amos, Andrew Pettegree, and Henk F. K. van Nierop (Editors), The Education of a Christian Society: Humanism and the Reformation in Britain and the Netherlands : Papers Delivered to the Thirteenth Anglo-Dutch Historical Conference , St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History.

Henry Kamen, The Duke of Alba .

Biography of Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, duke of Alba (1507-1582).

"Kamen examines the early years of Alba's life, his travels over the whole of Europe, and the complex military and political career that made him Spain's leading general of the imperial age. Drawing on the duke's rich and expressive surviving correspondence, Kamen explores Alba's beliefs and considers his infamous actions within the contexts of his time and of the monarchs-Emperor Charles V and King Philip II of Spain-whom he served."

The revolt, religious conflicts and the Golden Age (1568-1672)

William of Orange, who had fled the country before Alba arrived, invaded in 1568. The Battle of Heiligerlee, in May 1568, is generally regarded as the beginning of the Dutch revolt, that ended 80 years later with the Treaty of Münster. The revolt is often called the eighty years' war. After some initial successes, the revolt seemed to peter out, but some events in 1572 (most notably, the introduction of a 10% tax) caused support for the rebels to grow again, and many cities declared themselves loyal to the revolt. The siege of Antwerp in 1584 and its fall to the Spanish army in 1585 caused a split in The Netherlands: The south came under the control of Spain, the north successfully fought for independence.

In the late 1580s, the seven northern provinces effectively became an independent republic: The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, also known as the Dutch Republic, or the United Provinces.

A ceasefire in 1609 gave the Dutch the chance to fight out some internal conflicts: A religious conflict between Arminius and Gomaris became a political conflict between their followers. The conflict escalated and prominent followers of Arminius were either executed (Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, in 1619) or fled the country (Hugo Grotius, in 1621).

War continued in 1621, and lasted until the Treaty of Münster in 1648. The Dutch Republic was recognized as an independent state and retained control over the territories that were conquered in the later stages of the war. Recognition came rather late, as by 1648 the Dutch Republic was an economic and military superpower, in the midst of the Golden Age. The Republic had become the most important trading centre of the world, the Dutch East India Company, founded in 1602, was by far the largest company in the world, and the Republic had several colonies in Asia and the Americas.

The Golden Age, that started around 1600 and lasted until 1672, was also an era of artistic activities. Rembrandt, Vermeer, Frans Hals, Paulus Potter and Jan Steen painted their masterpieces, and architects Hendrick de Keyser, Jacob van Campen and Pieter Post built their palaces. Prominent scientists included Simon Stevin, Jan Leeghwater, Hugo Grotius, Christiaan Huygens, Baruch de Spinoza, and Antony van Leeuwenhoek.

History of the Dutch Republic

Pieter Geyl, History of the Dutch Speaking Peoples 1555-1648 .

Two books in one volume. The first, The revolt of The Netherlands, discusses the revolt's preamble and the revolt itself up to the 1609 truce. The second, The Netherlands in the seventeenth century, starts with the truce and treats the Golden Age.

From the back cover:

"In this superb panorama of politics and war, Geyl tells the epic story of the Netherlanders' heroic struggle against the might of Spain and the rise and the establishment of the Dutch Republic. He describes the uneasy truce with Spain that follows, the arrest and execution of Oldenbarneveldt, the resumption of war in 1621, the uncertain alliance with France, and the eventual establishment of Dutch independence in 1648."

Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806 (1995).

Pivotal work by Jonathan Israel on the history of the Dutch Republic, from the revolt's preamble to the revolutions and the fall of the republic.

Paul Zumthor, Daily Life in Rembrandt's Holland (1962) (translation of La Vie quotidienne en Hollande au temps de Rembrandt (1959), transl. Simon Watson Taylor).

Dutch society in Rembrandt's time.

The revolt

Dame C.V. (Veronica) Wedgwood, William the Silent. William of Nassau, Prince of Orange 1533-1584 (1944).

Biography of William of Orange (also known as William the Silent, not to be confused with his great-grandson William of Orange who became king of Great Britain and Ireland).

Geoffrey Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659 (2nd edition 2004).

"Using a unique combination of surviving records, [Parker] presented strikingly the logistical problems of fighting wars in early modern Europe, and demonstrated why Spain failed to suppress the Dutch Revolt."

Martin van Gelderen, The Political Thought of the Dutch Revolt 1555-1590 (2002).

A study of the development of political thought during the preamble and early days of the Dutch revolt.

Geoffrey Parker, Spain and the Netherlands, 1559-1659: Ten studies .

Geoffrey Parker, España y los Países Bajos, 1559-1659. Diez estudios (1986).

A collection of ten essays on the Dutch revolt.

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, The Revolt of the Netherlands .

Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, Geschichte des Abfalls der Vereinigten Niederlande von der spanischen Regierung (1788).

Classic work by the famous German poet and dramatist, Friedrich Schiller, on the Dutch revolt.

Available as a free e-book from the Project Gutenberg.

Reformation and religious conflicts

Carl Bangs, Arminius - A Study in the Dutch Reformation .

Arminius disagreed with the Calvinist doctrine on a few points, but especially on predestination. This book presents Arminius' ideas.

Robert E. Picirilli, Grace, Faith, Free Will: Contrasting Views of Salvation: Calvinism and Arminianism .

This book discusses the issues that divide the followers of Arminius and the stricter Calvinists, from a mostly Arminianist point of view.

Judith Pollmann, Religious Choice in the Dutch Republic: The Reformation of Arnoldus Buchelius .

Why did people in the Dutch Republic choose a certain religion, and what were the consequences of this decision for their daily lives? The protagonist of this book, Arnoldus Buchelius (1565-1641), a lawyer, was raised a catholic, was without religious affiliation for some time, then became a Libertine Protestant, and finally became a Contra-Remonstrant Calvinist.

R. Po-chia Hsia and Henk van Nierop (editors), Calvinism and Religious Toleration in the Dutch Golden Age .

A collection of scholarly essays.

Golden age

Simon Schama, The Embarrassment of Riches: An Interpretation of Dutch Culture in the Golden Age .

The wealthy upper and middle classes of the Dutch Golden Age lived in luxury and opulence. How did they reconcile this life style with their Calvinist views of austerity? Simon Schama investigates.

J. L. Price, The Dutch Republic in the Seventeenth Century .

"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. In this book, 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. The engine behind these achievements was the phenomenal growth of the Dutch economy which, within a few decades, had become the most powerful in Europe. This book offers a concise but penetrating survey of the major features of Dutch history in this period, challenging previous interpretations and showing how the economic boom of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries produced a vigorous society that was able to combine religious pluralism with relative political stability and rapid social change with a remarkable vitality."

Decline of the Dutch republic (1672-1795)

1672 is known as the rampjaar, disaster year. England, France, Cologne and Münster declared war. The Republic was forced to fight a three-front war and the end of the Republic seemed nigh. William III of Orange (the great-grandson of William of Orange who led the Dutch revolt in its early days) was appointed stadtholder (head of state). Under his leadership, the Republic surprisingly resisted the invaders and signed treaties with all of them. After the Glorious Revolution 1688/1689, William and his wife Mary became king and queen of England, and England became an ally for nearly a century.

The rampjaar marks the end of the Golden Age. The Dutch economy stagnated in the late 17th century, and a long period of slow decline had set in. This was accelerated by the fourth Anglo-Dutch war (1780-1784).

A group of dissenters, the patriots, tried to seize power in 1787, but failed. Many patriots fled to France.

Jan Willem Schulte Nordholt, The Dutch Republic and American Independence (1982) (translation of Voorbeeld in de verte (1979), transl. Herbert H. Rowen).

Dutch influence on American independence, influence of American independence on the Dutch, and the relationship between the Dutch Republic and America in the last years of the Republic's existence.

J.R. Jones, The Anglo-Dutch Wars of the Seventeenth Century .

French era (1795-1813)

In 1795, a French army lead by Pichegru invaded the Dutch Republic, and with their support a second revolution overturned the old regime. After a chaotic period France (now under Napoleon) seized power in 1806, and Napoleon installed his brother Louis (or Lodewijk, as he is known in The Netherlands) as king. In 1810 The Netherlands were annexed by France.

An estimated 15000 conscripted Dutch soldiers had to join Napoleon's Russian invasion. Not many of them returned.

Frank McLynn, Napoleon: A Biography .

One of the many available biographies of Napoleon.

Adam Zamoyski, Moscow 1812: Napoleon's Fatal March (2004).

Excellent introduction to the Russian invasion of Napoleon.

19th century (1813-1914)

The French empire collapsed after the failed 1812 Moscow campaign, and The Netherlands regained their independence. The new Kingdom of The Netherlands included the former southern Netherlands. The northern and southern Netherlands had been estranged since the late 16th century, so it should be no surprise that merging them into a single nation did not work out. The southern Netherlands revolted in 1830 and founded their own nation, Belgium.

The secession from the Dutch Reformed Church in 1834 was followed by the first wave of mass emigration, in the years 1845-1847. The afgescheidenen (secessionists) founded Dutch settlements in Michigan (Holland, founded by A.C. van Raalte), and Iowa (Pella, founded by H.P. Scholte).

Gerrit J. Tenzythoff, Sources of Secession: The Netherlands Hervormde Kerk on the Eve of the Dutch Immigration to the Midwest .

The secession from the Dutch Reformed Church started of the first wave of mass emigration (1845-1847), mainly to the Midwest: Michigan (Holland, Grand Rapids), Iowa (Pella), and Illinois (Hooge Prairie). This book discusses its preamble and causes.

Engraving from Through Holland
Engraving from Through Holland

Charles W. Wood, Through Holland (1877).

Travel account of a journey through The Netherlands, illustrated with 57 wood engravings. A wonderful picture of The Netherlands, and Dutch society, in the second half of the 19th century.

Interbellum and world wars (1914-1945)

After the Belgian uprising, The Netherlands managed to steer clear of all European wars and conflicts. They remained neutral during and after the great war (1914-1918), until Germany invaded in May 1940. The Dutch army capitulated to the superior German army after five days, and a five year occupation followed.

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl .

The world-famous diary of Anne Frank, written while in hiding from the Nazis.

Etty Hillesum, An interrupted life and Letters from Westerbork .

An interrupted life is a diary of a young Jewish woman during the holocaust - not as famous as Anne Frank's diary, but just as impressive.

Letters from Westerbork is a collection of letters Etty wrote from the transit camp in Westerbork - the last stop before Auschwitz for her and many other Dutch Jews. She wrote the letters in 1942, while she was working as a volunteer in the camp. In 1942 or 1943 she was interned herself. She was transported to Auschwitz in September 1943, and died there later that year.