In the 17th century, the Dutch Republic experienced a Golden Age and was able to maintain security, unity, and prosperity in its society and economy. The nation was considered a leading power, especially in trade and ideas, within Europe. However, it was not long before circumstances changed and the state face many problems establishing peace and agreement. By the end of the 17th and the beginning of the 18th centuries, there had been a significant change in the Dutch Republic’s power, for multiple factors and reasons.
From 1650 to 1713, not only external factors such as European intervention and British trading competition, but also internal division damaged the Dutch Republic and challenged its authority as a great power. European nations, sometimes in united effort, tried and succeeded in causing the Dutch problems. The table displaying the number of seized ships during the Angle-Dutch Wars is a clear example of this challenge that the Dutch had to face (doc. 3).
By looking at the table, it is evident that into the late 17th century, the British were surpassing the Dutch, which was gradually losing security in not only numbers, but also in superiority as a naval power. In 1671, the Dutch decided to address the growing problem, revealing through the Amsterdam City Council their opinions that their neighboring countries were indeed targeting their trade and power (doc. 7). This implied how there was a united European effort to challenge the Dutch, and the city council, as the highest decision-making authority in the Dutch Republic, could come this reliable conclusion, because they were directly involved in the nation’s trading affairs and could correctly analyze the situation.
Because of this, the council showed how the Dutch were truly threatened by the rest of Europe. This threat seemed to have made its impact, as the national debt is shown to have increased more than three-fold from 1688 to 1713 (doc. 12).
This may have been because of the Dutch’s need to maintain its army against France, which causes the navy to lose power against the British and the debt to increase. The debt, a direct result of conflict with other nations, supports that external influence—that caused taxes and bad economy—greatly harmed the Dutch. The English resident who lived in the Dutch Republic directly strengthens this argument by illustrating the direct, visible effects of war (doc. 14).
Because he experienced and directly saw the struggles of the people, he was able to give reliable evidence when he stated that as a result of the War of Spanish Succession, many men died, leaving widows, orphans, and others suffering. This directly connects Dutch hardship with a war in Europe, therefore implying that the latter caused the former. However, the Dutch Republic did not face challenges only at the political, diplomatic level, but also at the economic level. Trading competition against the increasingly powerful British caused reduction in Dutch trade, harming its economy and position as a European power.
The first and second presented map and diagram reflect this gradual change over the 17th century. When the map, which shows early flourishing Dutch trade and conflict against the British (doc. 1), is compared with the bar graph, which shows the later decline in the Baltic Sea Trade (doc. 2), it possible to see that the naval battles against the British resulted in the decline in trade, and the decline in economy also. Marquis de Pomponne further expressed this idea in her report to the French government, when she said how trade competition between the two countries caused conflict and Dutch anxiety (doc. 11). Her example suggested that English and Dutch trading conflict definitely caused the Dutch trouble.
Because she was a foreign, French ambassador to the Dutch Republic, favoring neither the Dutch nor the British, she was able to give an unbiased, truthful account of the situation, revealing the destabilized Dutch economy. Finally, a Dutch colonial administer almost makes certain the correlation between increase in British trade and decrease in Dutch trade, by admitting that English, as well as other European, trade cannot be challenged or overcome by the failing Dutch East India Company (doc. 13).
Considering that the colonial administrator, who is able to actively observe and be involved in trade, is himself admitting his own country’s weakness, it is apparent how serious the damage on Dutch trade is. Furthermore, more British trade allowed for the Bank of England to be strengthened and provide more reliable loans that the Dutch can. This causes London to replace Amsterdam as the new financial center, further allowing better trade for the British. The destruction of Dutch commerce managed to alter its economy and prosperity, but internal issues also played a part in harming the nation as well. Division and inequality between the Dutch provinces and within society led to Dutch inability to fight and sustain itself.
These internal flaws are revealed in Sir Downing’s letter to the English government in 1664, which stated that Dutch provinces other than Holland were all poor, shattered, and divided (doc. 4). He reveals how the Dutch Republic was challenged in its unity and security because of this internal conflict. Furthermore, more social tensions are revealed in an anonymous pamphlet published in 1669 in Holland, which expressed the desires and opinions of unsatisfied merchants. As the voice of merchant class, the pamphlet demanded for low taxes, continued trade, peace, protection, and no war. Because the merchants themselves wrote the pamphlet, it directly revealed their opinions and the possible conflict they faced within society that reduced Dutch power.
This social division is shown to have harmful effects, as the Dutch government report said how distrust and disagreement between provinces and within the Dutch Republic led to its inability to defend itself. Lack of unity within the nation damaged its power and security.
As a powerful authority involved in its state’s issues, the government was able to reveal the tense divisions between the provinces, the challenge it presented to the nation’s unity and ability to fight French attacks, and an important cause of Dutch insecurity and disunity. The problems of the Dutch Republic at a more specific level are stated in the Amsterdam pamphlet of 1683, which addressed the wide gap between the poor and the rich in society and implied the discontent of the poor.
During this time, the working class, being much less prosperous than the powerful merchant class, could not compete against them in business within the country, so the poor often invested in British funds, which proved to be another factor that harmed Dutch prosperity and social cooperation. These conflicts within society also challenged its ability to resist foreign threats or attacks. During the 17th century until the early 18th century, the Dutch Republic underwent drastic changes in its power and stability. Over the course of less than a century, the country gradually lost power due to rival European countries, trading competition, and also internal disunity.
The Dutch Golden Age was over and the nation was no longer among the most powerful European countries; however, this was not the only shift in European power that occurred during this time. By 1713, the Peace of Utrecht had ended the War of Spanish Succession, and the distribution of power among European countries had completely been transformed.