The Netherlands' early history is linked with Belgium and Luxembourg - together they formed the Low Countries until the 16th century. The Eight Year war began in 1578 between the provinces and Spain. In 1579, the northern half of the provinces formed the Union of Utrecht which is now seen as the foundation to modern day Netherlands. In 1581, the Dutch gained independence from Spain and the provinces formed the Dutch Republic.
The 17th century is regarded as the Dutch Golden Age. It is during this time that the Dutch grew to become one of the major seafaring and economic powers and established trading posts all over the globe.
Many economic historians regard the Netherlands as the first thoroughly capitalistic country in the world. In early modern Europe it featured the wealthiest trading city (Amsterdam) and the first full-time stock exchange. This however did not last long. In the later 18th century, the republic went into a decline with economic competition from England and long standing rivalries between the two main factions in Dutch society, the Staatsgezinden (Republicans) and the Prinsgezinden (Royalists or Orangists) as main factors.
Between 1795 and 1815, the Dutch were under the French influence. On January 19, 1795, the Batavian Republic was proclaimed. This proclamation introduced the concept of the unitary state in the Netherlands. From 1795 to 1806, the Batavian Republic designated the Netherlands as a republic modelled after the French Republic.
The Kingdom of Holland (1806 - 1810) was set up by Napolean Bonaparte as a puppet kingdom for his third brother, Louis Napolean Bonaparte, in order to control the Netherlands more effectively. King Louis Napoleon however did not meet Napoleon's expectations and the King had to abdicate on July 1, 1810. He was succeeded by his five year old son Napolean Louis Bonaparte. Napoleon Louis reigned as Louis II for just ten days as Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte ignored his young nephew's accession to the throne. The Emperor sent in an army to invade the country and dissolved the Kingdom of Holland. The Netherlands then became part of the French Empire. From 1810 to 1813, when Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated in the battle of Leipzig, the Netherlands were part of the French Empire.
In 1795 the last stadtholder William V of Orange fled to England. His son returned to the Netherlands in 1813 to become William I of the Netherlands, Sovereign Prince of the Netherlands. On March 16, 1815 the Sovereign Prince became King of the Netherlands.
The Dutch had a number of colonies, the largest settlement abroad was the Cape Colony. Other notable colonies included the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) and Suriname. Suriname was later traded with the British for New Amsterdam (now New York).
The Netherlands stayed neutral in WW1 but was unable to do so in WW2 when it was invaded by the Germans on 10th May 1940. The country was quickly defeated and surrendered on May 14th 1940. During the occupation, over 100,000 Dutch Jews were rounded up and sent to concentration camps n Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia. Only a small minority of the country's Jews survived the war.
After the war, the Dutch economy prospered. It gained closer ties with neighbouring states and became a member of the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg) cooperation. The Netherlands was also among the twelve founding members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and among the six founding members of the European Coal and Steel Community, which would later evolve into the European Union.
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