Around 1650, the Dutch Republic was dominant in the shipbuilding industry, had a thriving economy, and European recognition as a dominant nation. However throughout the century, the Dutch Republic began to have a stumbling decline due to a series of European wars, internal disunity and conflict, and loss of trade dominance an economic prosperity.
In 1652, the Anglo-Dutch wars began, the series of wars spurred from the creation of the Navigation Laws created by the English Parliament. These laws excluded the Dutch from the profit of trading routes that pertained to England, which the Dutch had previously dominated. Although this typical mercantilist measure did not hurt the Dutch because the English trade was somewhat insignificant to them, it was used by many pirates operating from British territory as an ideal excuse to legally take any Dutch ship they encountered.
The Dutch responded to the growing intimidation by enlisting large numbers of armed merchant ships into their navy. Shown in the map of “The Dutch Republic and Rival States in the Late Seventeenth Century” most battles were in the English Channel (Document 1) in which the English were more successful then the Dutch. The estimated losses to Dutch merchant shipping in the three Anglo-Dutch were 2000-2700 ships.
Compared to the mere five hundred English ships seized (Document 3). Later in the century France and England allied in the Treaty of Dover that expressed that English would attack the Dutch Republic by sea and France would attack by land (Document 6). Even Konrad Van Beuningen, Dutch ambassador to England stated, “England’s interest consists in continuing or encouraging war between the Dutch Republic and France.
Either these Dutch lands will become permanently a theater of war or they will be overwhelmed or flooded, in either case ruining our commerce” (Document 8). Eventually the French army succeeded but the Dutch Republic was devastated. The Dutch navy was by now only a shadow of its former self, having only about twenty ships of the line, so there were no large fleet battles. The Dutch lost control of most trade routes besides a few that connected with Asia.
The Dutch Republic was essentially split into seven different provinces, Holland being the wealthiest and most powerful due to the trade dominance associated with Amsterdam. Since the republic is a “shattered and divided thing” (Doc 4) the nation cannot function smoothly and each poor, weak province is isolated, not capable to support itself successfully.
English ambassador sir George Downing reflects correctly the ideas he saw, the idea of separate, free provinces had been rooted in Dutch society, though inefficient and ineffective. Once the wars began it revealed and emphasized the problems that sat under the surface in the Dutch Republic, money. Except for “citizens of Amsterdam,” most citizens were too poor to provide funds. How were the poorer provinces to “furnish the money” necessary for war? (Doc 10). Due to the different provinces, unity was difficult to accomplish. Especially when the country attempted to gather money. Within each province, there was conflict over taxation, especially with the merchant class.
Many merchants stated that, due to their economic importance; they “must have low taxes, peace and trade as well as protection and we cannot be turned into soldiers” (Document 50.) Although merchants made valid points, their trade is so important that they could demand peace and protection, but these demands were impossible to satisfy in the current state of the Dutch Republic. Eventually the Dutch were unable to fund the war as their monarch William III died leaving the republic even more shattered. “The mutual distrust among the Dutch provinces hindered deliberations on how to oppose the violent attacks of Louis XIV” (Document 9) showing the Dutch Republic continues to plummet.
This indicates that internal conflict led to failure to fund, lead, and provide an army for a distressed Dutch Republic, allowing it to succumb to the power of other European nations. Though the Dutch had previously controlled most European trade and held enormous wealth, as the country stumbling decline progressed, they lost most of the trading ports. As the Dutch colonial administrator stated “The profits of our East Indian trade have turned into losses, the Java trade is declining, and the commercial competition from the English, French…” (Document 13).
Historians can visibly see the decline of the Dutch in charts, such as the Baltic Sea Trade bar graph that notes the decreasing percent of voyages by Dutch ships as the 17th century progressed. In correlation to decreasing voyages, the economy plummeted; the debt increased 118,000,000 guilders from 1688 to 1713 (Document 2). This illustrates the economic crisis evident in the republic at the time. This economic slump led to a general decline of the once prosperous nation.