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The Dutch Empire consisted of the overseas territories controlled by the Netherlandsmarker from the 17th to the 20th century. The Dutch followed Portugal and Spain in establishing an overseas colonial empire, aided by their skills in shipping and trade and the surge of nationalism accompanying the struggle for independence from Spain. Alongside the English, the Dutch initially built up colonial possessions on the basis of indirect state capitalist corporate colonialism, via the Dutch East and West India Companies. Dutch exploratory voyages such as those led by Willem Barents, Henry Hudson and Abel Tasman revealed to Europeans vast new territories.

With Dutch naval power rising rapidly as a major force from the late 16th century, the Netherlands dominated global commerce during the second half of the 17th century during a cultural flowering known as the Dutch Golden Age. The Netherlands lost many of its colonial possessions, as well as its global power status, to the British when the metropole fell to French armies during the Revolutionary Wars. The restored portions of the Dutch Empire, notably the Dutch East Indiesmarker and Surinamemarker, remained under Dutch control until the decline of European imperialism following World War II.

Today, the Netherlands are part of a federacy called the Kingdom of the Netherlands, along with its former colonies Arubamarker and the Netherlands Antillesmarker.

Origins (1543–1602)

The Act of Abjuration
The territories that would later form the Dutch Republic were originally part of a loose federation of seventeen provinces, which Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain had inherited and brought under his direct rule in 1543. In 1567 the predominantly Protestant north revolted against rule by Roman Catholic Spainmarker, sparking the Eighty Years War. Led by William of Orange, independence was declared in the 1581 Act of Abjuration. However, Spain did not officially recognize Dutch independence until 1648.

The coastal provinces of Hollandmarker and Zeelandmarker had for a long time prior to Spanish rule been important hubs of the European maritime trade network. Their geographical location provided convenient access to the markets of France, Germany, England and the Baltic. The war with Spain led many financiers and traders to emigrate from Antwerpmarker, capital of Flanders and then one of Europe's most important commercial centres, to Dutch cities, particularly Amsterdammarker, which became Europe's foremost centre for shipping, banking, and insurance. Efficient access to capital enabled the Dutch in the 1580s to extend their trade networks beyond northern Europe to new markets in the Mediterraneanmarker and the Levant. In the 1590s, Dutch ships began to trade with Brazilmarker and the Dutch Gold Coast of Africa, and towards the Indian Oceanmarker and the source of the lucrative spice trade. This brought the Dutch into direct competition with Portugalmarker, which had dominated these trade networks for several decades, and had established colonial outposts on the coasts of Brazil, Africa and the Indian Ocean to facilitate them. The rivalry with Portugal, however, was not entirely economic: from 1580 the Portuguese crown had been joined to that of Spain in an "Iberian Union" under Philip II of Spain. By attacking Portuguese overseas possessions, the Dutch forced Spain to divert financial and military resources away from its attempt to quell Dutch independence. Thus began the several decade-long Dutch-Portuguese War.

In 1594, the "Company of Far Lands" was founded in Amsterdam, with the aim of sending two fleets to the spice islandsmarker of Malukumarker. The first fleet sailed in 1596 and returned in 1597 with a cargo of pepper, which more than covered the costs of the voyage. The second voyage (1598-1599), returned its investors a 400% profit. The success of these voyages led to the founding of a number of companies competing for the trade. The competition was counterproductive to the companies' interests as it threatened to drive up the price of spices at their source in Indonesia whilst driving them down in Europe.

Rise of Dutch hegemony (1602–1652)

As a result of the problems caused by intercompany rivalry, the Dutch East India Company (or VOC, from the Dutch Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) was founded in 1602. The charter awarded to the Company by the States-General granted it sole rights, for an initial period of 21 years, to Dutch trade and navigation east of the Cape of Good Hopemarker and west of the Straits of Magellanmarker. The directors of the company, the "Heeren XVII" were given the legal authority to establish "fortresses and strongholds", to sign treaties, to enlist its own army and navy, and to wage defensive war. The company itself was founded as a joint stock company, similarly to its English rival that had been founded two years later, the English East India Company. In 1621 the Dutch West India Company was set up and given a twenty five year monopoly to those parts of the world that were not controlled by its East India counterpart: the Atlantic, the Americas and the west coast of Africa.


The primary Dutch and Portuguese settlements in Asia, c.
With the exception of Jakarta and Deshima, all had been captured by the Dutch East India Company from Portugal.
The VOC began immediately to prise away the string of coastal fortresses that at the time comprised the Portuguese Empire. The settlements were isolated, difficult to reinforce if attacked, and prone to being picked off one by one, but nevertheless the Dutch only enjoyed mixed success in its attempts to do so. Amboinamarker was captured from the Portuguese in 1605, but an attack on Malaccamarker the following year narrowly failed in its objective to provide a more strategically located base in the East Indies with favourable monsoon winds. The Dutch found what they were looking for in Jakartamarker, conquered by Jan Coen in 1619, later renamed Batavia after the putative Dutch ancestors the Batavians, and which would become the capital of the Dutch East Indiesmarker. Meanwhile, the Dutch continued to drive out the Portuguese from their bases in Asia. Malaccamarker finally succumbed in 1641 (after a second attempt to capture it), Colombomarker in 1656, Ceylonmarker in 1658, Nagappattinammarker in 1662 and Cranganoremarker and Cochinmarker in 1662. Goamarker, the capital of the Portuguese Empire in the East, was unsuccessfully attacked by the Dutch in 1603 and 1610. Whilst the Dutch were unable in four attempts to capture Macaumarker from where Portugal monopolised the lucrative China-Japan trade, the Japanese shogunate's increasing suspicion of the intentions of the Catholic Portuguese led to their expulsion in 1639. Under the subsequent sakoku policy, for two hundred years the Dutch were the only European power allowed to operate in Japan, confined in 1639 to Hirado and then from 1641 at Deshimamarker. In the mid seventeenth century the Dutch also explored the western Australian coasts, naming many places.

The Dutch colonised Mauritiusmarker in 1638, several decades after three ships out of the Dutch Second Fleet sent to the Spice Islands were blown off course in a storm and landed in 1598. They named it in honour of Prince Maurice of Nassau, the Stadtholder of the Netherlands. The Dutch found the climate hostile and abandoned the island after several further decades.

By the middle of the 17th century, the Dutch had overtaken Portugal as the dominant player in the spice and silk trade, and in 1652 founded a colony at Cape Town on the coast of South Africa, as a way-station for its ships on the route between Europe and Asia. After the first settlers spread out around the Company station, nomadic white livestock farmers, or Trekboers, moved more widely afield, leaving the richer, but limited, farming lands of the coast for the drier interior tableland. In 1795 the heavily taxed Boers of the frontier districts, who received no protection against the Africans, expelled the officials of the Dutch East India Company, and established independent governments at Swellendam and at Graaff Reinet.

Between 1602 and 1796, the VOC sent almost a million Europeans to work in the Asia trade. The majority died of disease or made their way back to Europe, but some of them made the Indies their new home. Interaction between the Dutch and native population mainly took place in Sri Lankamarker and the modern Indonesian Islands. Through the centuries there developed a relatively large Dutch-speaking population of mixed Dutch and Indonesian descent, known as Indos or Dutch-Indonesians.


In the Atlantic, the West India Company concentrated on wresting from Portugal its grip on the sugar and slave trade, and on opportunistic attacks on the Spanish treasure fleets on their homeward bound voyage. Bahia on the north east coast of Brazil was captured in 1624 but only held for a year before it was recaptured by a joint Spanish-Portuguese expedition. In 1628, Piet Heyn captured the entire Spanish treasure fleet, and made off with a vast fortune in precious metals and goods that enabled the Company two years later to pay its shareholders a cash dividend of 70%, though the Company was to have relatively few other successes against the Spanish. In 1630, the Dutch occupied the Portuguese sugar-settlement of Pernambuco and over the next few years pushed inland, annexing the sugar plantations that surrounded it. In order to supply the plantations with the manpower they required, an expedition was launched in 1637 from Brazil to capture the Portuguese slaving post of Elminamarker, and in 1641 successfully captured the Portuguese settlements in Angolamarker. By 1650, the West India Company was firmly in control of both the sugar and slave trades, and had occupied the Caribbean islands of Sint Maartenmarker, Curacaomarker, Arubamarker and Bonairemarker in order to guarantee access to the islands' salt-pans.

Unlike in Asia, Dutch successes against the Portuguese in Brazil and Africa were short-lived. Years of settlement had left large Portuguese communities under the rule of the Dutch, who were by nature traders rather than colonisers. In 1645, the Portuguese community at Pernambuco rebelled against their Dutch masters, and by 1654, the Dutch had been ousted from Brazil. In the intervening years, a Portuguese expedition had been sent from Brazil to recapture Luandamarker in Angola, by 1648 the Dutch were expelled from there also.

On the north-east coast of North America, the West India Company took over a settlement that had been established by the Company of New Netherland (1614–18) at Fort Orangemarker at Albanymarker on the Hudson River, relocated from Fort Nassau which had been founded in 1614. The Dutch had been sending ships annually to the Hudson River to trade fur since Henry Hudson's voyage of 1609. In order to protect its precarious position at Albany from the nearby English and French, the Company founded the fortified town of New Amsterdam in 1625 at the mouth of the Hudson, encouraging settlement of the surrounding areas of Long Islandmarker and New Jerseymarker. The fur trade ultimately proved impossible for the Company to monopolise due to the massive illegal private trade in furs, and the settlement of New Netherland was unprofitable. In 1655, the nearby colony of New Sweden on the Delaware River was forcibly absorbed into New Netherland after ships and soldiers were sent to capture it by the Dutch governor, Pieter Stuyvesant.

Ever since its inception, the Dutch East India Company had been in competition with its counterpart, the English East India Company, founded two years earlier but with a capital base eight times smaller, for the same goods and markets in the East. In 1619, the rivalry resulted in the Amboyna massacre, when several English Company men were executed by agents of the Dutch. The event remained a source of English resentment for several decades, and in the late 1620s the English Company shifted its focus from Indonesia to India.

Rivalry with England and France (1652–1795)

In 1651, the English parliament passed the first of the Navigation Acts which excluded Dutch shipping from the lucrative trade between England and its Caribbean colonies, and led directly to the outbreak of hostilities between the two countries the following year, the first of three Anglo-Dutch Wars that would last on and off for two decades and slowly erode Dutch naval power to England's benefit.

The Second Anglo-Dutch War was precipitated in 1664 when English forces moved to capture New Netherland. Under the Treaty of Breda , New Netherland was ceded to England in exchange for the English settlements in Suriname, which had been conquered by Dutch forces earlier that year. Though the Dutch would again take New Netherland in 1673, during the Third Anglo-Dutch War, it was returned to England the following year, thereby ending the Dutch Empire in continental North America, but leaving behind a large Dutch community under English rule that persisted with its language, church and customs until the mid-eighteenth century. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 saw the Dutch William of Orange ascend to the throne, ending eighty years of rivalry between the Netherlands and England.

During the American Revolutionary War, Britain declared war on the Netherlands, the Fourth Anglo-Dutch War, in which Britain seized the Dutch colony of Ceylon. Under the Peace of Paris , Ceylon was returned to the Netherlands and Negapatnammarker ceded to Britain.

Napoleonic era (1795–1815)

In 1795, the French revolutionary army invaded the Dutch Republic and turned the nation into a satellite of France, named the Batavian Republic. Britain, which was at war with France, soon moved to occupy Dutch colonies in Asia, South Africa and the Caribbean.

Under the terms of the Treaty of Amiens signed by Britain and France in 1802, the Cape Colony and the islands of the Dutch West Indiesmarker that the British had seized were returned to the Republic. Ceylonmarker was not returned to the Dutch and was made a British Crown Colony. After the outbreak of hostilities between Britain and France again in 1803, the British retook the Cape Colony. The British also invaded the island of Java in 1810 which resulted in Anglo-Dutch Java War. The entire colony fell under British control in 1811.

In 1806 Napoleon dissolved the Batavian Republic and established a monarchy with his brother, Louis, on the throne as King of Holland. Louis was removed from power by Napoleon in 1810, and the country was ruled directly from France until its liberation in 1813. The following year, the independent Netherlands signed the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814 with Britain. All of the colonies that Britain had seized were returned to the Netherlands, with the exception of the Cape Colony and Guyanamarker.

Post-Napoleonic era (1815–1945)

After Napoleon's defeat in 1815, Europe's borders were redrawn at the Congress of Vienna. For the first time since the declaration of independence from Spain in 1581, the Dutch were reunited with the Southern Netherlands in a constitutional monarchy, the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The union lasted just 15 years. In 1830, a revolution in the southern half of the country led to the de facto independence of the new state of Belgiummarker.

The bankrupt Dutch East India Company was liquidated on 1 January 1800, and its territorial possessions were nationalised as the Dutch East Indiesmarker.Anglo-Dutch rivalry in Southeast Asia continued to fester over the port of Singaporemarker, which had been ceded to the British East India Company in 1819 by the sultan of Johore. The Dutch claimed that a treaty signed with the sultan's predecessor the year earlier had granted them control of the region. However, the impossibility of removing the British from Singapore, which was becoming an increasingly important centre of trade, became apparent to the Dutch, and the disagreement was resolved with the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1824. Under its terms, the Netherlands ceded Malaccamarker and their bases in India to the British, and recognised the British claim to Singapore. In return, the British handed over Bencoolenmarker and agreed not to sign treaties with rulers in the "islands south of the Straits of Singapore". Thus the archipelago was divided into two spheres of influence: a British one, on the Malay Peninsula, and a Dutch one in the East Indies.

For most of the Dutch East Indies history, and that of the VOC before it, Dutch control over their territories was often tenuous, but was expanded over the course of the 19th century. Only in the early 20th century did Dutch dominance extend to what was to become the boundaries of modern-day Indonesia. Although highly populated and agriculturally productive Javamarker was under Dutch domination for most of the 350 years of the combined VOC and Dutch East Indies era, many areas remained independent for much of this time including Acehmarker, Lombokmarker, Balimarker and Borneomarker.

The Dutch West India company was abolished in 1791, and its colonies in Suriname and the Caribbean brought under the direct rule of the state. The economies of the Dutch colonies in the Caribbean had been based on the smuggling of goods and slaves into Spanish America, but with the end of the slave trade in 1814 and the independence of the new nations of South and Central America from Spain, profitability rapidly declined. Dutch traders moved en masse from the islands to the United States or Latin America, leaving behind a small populations with little income and which required subsidies from the Dutch government. The Antilles were combined under one administration with Suriname from 1828 to 1845. Slavery was not abolished in the Dutch Caribbean colonies until 1863, long after those of Britain and France, though by this time only 6,500 slaves remained. In Suriname, slave holders demanded compensation from the Dutch government for freeing slaves, whilst in Sint Maartenmarker, abolition of slavery in the French half in 1848 led slaves in the Dutch half to take their own freedom. In Suriname, after the abolition of slavery, Chinese workers were encouraged to immigrate as indentured labourers, as were Javanese, between 1890 and 1939.

Decolonisation (1942–1975)

Sukarno, the leader for Indonesian Independence
In January 1942, Imperial Japanmarker invaded Indonesia. Two months later the Dutch surrendered in Java with Indonesians initially welcoming the Japanese as liberators. The subsequent Japanese occupation of Indonesia during the remainder of World War II saw the fundamental dismantling of the Dutch colonial state'smarker economic, political and social structures, replacing it with a Japanese regime. In the decades before the war, the Dutch had been overwhelmingly successful in suppressing the small nationalist movement in Indonesia such that the Japanese occupation proved fundamental for Indonesian independence.The Japanese encouraged and backed Indonesian nationalism in which new indigenous institutions were created and nationalist leaders such as Sukarno were promoted. The internment of all Dutch citizens meant that Indonesians filled many leadership and administrative positions, although the top positions were still held by the Japanese.

Two days after the Japanese surrender in August 1945, Sukarno and fellow nationalist leader Hatta declared Indonesian independence. A four and a half-year struggle followed as the Dutch tried to re-establish their colony. Dutch forces eventually re-occupied most of the colonial territory and a guerrilla struggle ensued. The majority of Indonesians, and ultimately international opinion, favoured independence, and in December 1949, the Netherlands formally recognised Indonesian sovereignty. Under the terms of the 1949 agreement, Western New Guineamarker remained under the auspices of Netherlands New Guinea. The new Indonesian government under President Sukarno pressured for the territory to come under Indonesian control as Indonesian nationalists initially intended. Following United States pressure, the Netherlands transferred it to Indonesia under the 1962 New York Agreement.

In 1954, under the "Statute of the Realm", the Netherlands, Suriname and the Netherlands Antilles (at the time including Aruba) became a composite kingdom. The former colonies were granted autonomy save for certain matters including defense, foreign affairs and citizenship, which were the responsibility of the Realm. In 1969, unrest in Curaçao led to Dutch marines being sent to quell rioting. In 1973, negotiations started in Suriname for independence, and full independence was granted in 1975, with 60,000 immigrants taking the opportunity of moving to the Netherlands. In 1986, Arubamarker was allowed to secede from the Netherlands Antilles federation, and was pressured by the Netherlands to move to independence within ten years. However, in 1994, it was agreed that its status as a Realm in its own right could continue. In 2004 it was agreed that the federation of the Netherlands Antilles would be dissolved, scheduled to have taken place in December 2008, although it has not yet occurred. Curaçao and Sint Maarten would have "country status", whilst the islands of Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba would be granted a status similar to Dutch municipalities.


Dutch language

Despite the Dutch presence in Indonesia for almost three hundred and fifty years, the Dutch language has no official status and the small minority that can speak the language fluently are either educated members of the oldest generation, or employed in the legal profession, as some legal codes are still only available in Dutch. The Indonesian language inherited many words from Dutch, both in words for everyday life, and as well in scientific or technological terminology. One scholar argues that 20% of Indonesian words can be traced back to Dutch words.

The century and half of Dutch rule in Ceylon and southern India left few to no traces of the Dutch language. Today, in Suriname, Dutch is the official language and 58 percent of the population speak it as their mother tongue. Twenty-four percent of the population speaks Dutch as a second language, and in total 82 percent of the population can speak Dutch. In Arubamarker, Bonairemarker, and Curacaomarker, Dutch is the official language but spoken as a first language by only seven to eight percent of the population, although most people on the islands can speak the language and the education system on these islands is in Dutch at some or all levels. The population of the three northern Antilles, Sint Maartenmarker, Sabamarker, and Saint Eustatiusmarker, is predominantly English-speaking.

In New Jerseymarker in the United States, an extinct dialect of Dutch, Jersey Dutch, spoken by descendants of seventeenth century Dutch settlers in Bergen and Passaic counties, was noted to still be spoken as late as 1921.

The greatest linguistic legacy of the Netherlands was in its colony in South Africa, which attracted large numbers of Dutch farmer (in Dutch, Boer) settlers, who spoke a simplified form of Dutch called Afrikaans, which is largely mutually intelligible with Dutch. After the colony passed into British hands, the settlers spread into the hinterland, taking their language with them. As of 2005, there were 10 million people for whom Afrikaans is either a primary and secondary language, compared with over 22 million speakers of Dutch.


Some towns of New Yorkmarker and areas of New York Citymarker, once part of the colony of New Netherland have names of Dutch origin, such as Brooklynmarker (after Breukelenmarker), Flushing (after Vlissingenmarker), Harlemmarker (after Haarlemmarker), and Staten Islandmarker (meaning "Island of the States"). The last Director-General of the colony of New Netherland, Pieter Stuyvesant, has bequeathed his name to a street, a neighborhood and a few schools in New York City, and the town of Stuyvesantmarker.
Many towns and cities in Surinamemarker share names with cities in the Netherlands, such as Alkmaarmarker, and Groningenmarker.

Although never a colony of the Netherlands, New Zealandmarker got its name from the Dutch explorer who discovered it, Abel Tasman. It is named after the Dutch province of Zeelandmarker.


In the Surinamese Capital of Paramaribo, the Dutch Fort Zeelandiamarker still stands today. In the centre of Malacca, Malaysia, the Stadthuys Building and Christ Church still stand. There are still archaeological remains of Fort Goede Hoop (modern Hartford, Connecticutmarker) and Fort Orangemarker (modern Albany, New Yorkmarker).

Dutch architecture is easy to see in Aruba, Curaçao, and Bonaire. The Dutch style buildings are especially visible in Willemstadmarker, with its steeply pitched gables, large windows and soaring finials.

See also




  1. Boxer (1965), p.6.
  2. Boxer (1965), p.19.
  3. Taylor (2001), p. 248.
  4. Boxer (1965), p.20.
  5. Scammel (1989), p.20.
  6. Boxer (1965), p.22.
  7. Boxer (1965), p.23.
  8. Boxer (1965), p.24.
  9. Rogozinski (2000), p.62.
  10. Boxer (1969), p.24.
  11. Boxer (1969), p.23.
  12. Boxer (1965), p.189.
  13. Shipp, p.22.
  14. Taylor (2001), p.250.
  15. Nomination VOC archives for Memory of the World Register
  16. Easternization of the West: Children of the VOC
  17. Reproduced from Boxer (1965), p.101.
  18. Taylor (2001), p.62.
  19. Taylor (2001), p.63.
  20. Boxer (1965), p.26.
  21. Boxer (1969), p.112.
  22. Taylor (2001), p.65.
  23. Boxer (1969), p.120.
  24. Boxer (1965), p.26
  25. Davies (1974), p.89.
  26. Taylor (2001), p.251.
  27. Taylor (2001), p.252.
  28. Taylor (2001), p.253.
  29. Taylor (2001), p.255.
  30. McEvedy (1998), p.44.
  31. Boxer (1965), p.261
  32. McEvedy (1988), p.46.
  33. Taylor (2001), p.259
  34. Taylor (2001), p.260
  35. SarDesai (1997), p.88.
  36. SarDesai, pp.92–93.
  37. ;
  38. Rogozinski (1999), pp.213
  39. Rogozinski (1999), pp.213–4
  40. The Chinese in Suriname
  41. Javanese in Suriname strive to preserve origins
  42. Ricklefs (1991), p. 195. Vickers (2005), pp.85, 85.
  43. Vickers (2005), page 85
  44. Rogozinski, pp.296–7
  45. Curaçao and St Maarten to have country status -
  46. Three Antillean islands to receive new status -
  47. Lewes Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, Inc
  48. Baker (1998), p.202.
  49. Ammon (2005), p.2017.
  50. Booij (1995), p.2
  51. Sneddon (2003), p.162.
  52. A Hidden Language – Dutch in Indonesia
  53. CIA - The World Factbook - Suriname
  54. Bron: Zevende algemene volks- en woningtelling 2004, Algemeen Bureau voor de Statistiek
  55. CIA - The World Factbook - Netherlands Antilles
  56. CIA - The World Factbook - Aruba
  57. Languages of Aruba
  58. Jersey Dutch
  60. Dutch Colonial Remains
  61. Willemstad, Curaçao, Netherlands Antilles Heritage Site of the Month

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