The Dutch are the envy of some, the fear of others, and the wonder of all their neighbours”, wrote Sir William Temple, English ambassador to the Dutch Republic, in 1673. To be sure, for much of the 17th and 18th century the Brits weren’t as complimentary. The titles below describe the political, civic and social changes in the Netherlands which fueled the country’s prosperity for more than 100 years and its expansion overseas.

C.V. Wedgwood, William the Silent—William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, 1533-1584, , originally published in 1944, re-issued by Weidenfeld & Nicolsen 2001.

Cicely Veronica Wedgwood (1910-1997) was one of England’s most prolific and widely-read historians and a specialist on the 17th century. Her The Thirty Years War (about the religious wars across Europe in the early 17th century) remains a classic. Amongst the many biographies about stadhouder William of Orange, Wedgwood’s William The Silent remains one of the best. William of Orange (1533-1584) was to the Netherlands what George Washington was to the United States. William was the great-grandfather of William of Orange III (1650-1702), who served as Stadhouder as well as King of England.

Jonathan Israel, The Dutch Republic—Its Rise, Greatness and Fall 1477-1806, (Oxford Univ Press, 1995).

Superb….The modern classic on the Dutch Republic.

Pieter Geyl, History of the Dutch-Speaking Peoples 1555-1648, (Phoenix Press, 2001, originally published as two separate volumes in 1932 and 1936).

John L. Motley, The Rise of the Dutch Republic, (Harper & Brothers, 1855).

John Lothrop Motley (1814-1877) graduated from Harvard and, after a short stint in the U.S. diplomatic service in St Petersburg, Russia, became a history and fiction writer. In 1846 he began work on a history of the Netherlands, from 1851 through 1855 did archival research across Europe and in 1856 published The Rise of the Dutch Republic in two volumes. Motley’s work, published at his own expense, became a bestseller in the U.S. (30,000 copies sold in the first year) and for some fifty years Motley’s work dominated America’s perception of how the Netherlands gained its independence from Spain. Honorary degrees from European universities followed as well as an LL.D. degree from Harvard. An expanded version, The History of the United Netherlands, was published in 1860. Motley cast the struggle for Dutch independence in terms of a war of good (William of Orange, liberty, protestantism, etc) against evil (Spain, the Inquisition, tyranny, etc), in the process drawing a parallel between heroism of the Dutch and Americans in their respective wars of liberation. The significant (and positive) impact on the perception of the Dutch and the Netherlands in America was unmistakable. But Dutch historians Geyl and Fruin, while admiring his flowery style, criticized Motley’s work for being fast and loose with the facts. Critics felt that he chose the facts to correspond to his own prejudices and presuppositions. After the Civil War broke out, Motley sought the appointment as U.S. to the Hague, but instead was posted in Austria (1861-1867). Later he served briefly as ambassador to England (1869-70). In the context of US-Dutch relations, both Motley’s works and his person are stand-outs.

Maarten Prak, The Dutch Republic in the Seventeenth Century, (Cambridge Univ Press, 2005).

From the cover: “The Dutch are the envy of some, the fear of others, and the wonder of all their neighbours. So wrote the English ambassador to the Dutch Republic, Sir William Temple, in 1673. Maarten Prak offers a lively and innovative history of the Dutch Golden Age, charting its political, social, economic and cultural history through chapters that range from the introduction of the tulip to the experience of immigrants and Jews in Dutch society, the paintings of Vermeer and Rembrandt, and the ideas of Spinoza. He places the Dutch “miracle” in a European context, examining the Golden Age both as a product of its own past and as the harbinger of a more modern, industrialized and enlightened society”. Prak is professor of history at Utrecht University.

Geert Mak, Amsterdam- A Brief Life of the City, (Harvard Univ Press, 2000).

From the cover: “Cosmopolitan, stylish, even a little decadent—“the Venice of the North”— [Amsterdam] is a city of legendary beauty. From a twelfth-century settlement of wooden huts at the mouth of the river Amstel, it had become by the late 16th century one of the great cultural capitals of Europe and a major financial center……Mak traces the city’s progress from a small town of merchants, sailors, farmers and fishermen to a thriving metropolis…a city of dreams and nightmares, of grand civic architecture and magnificent monuments, but also of civil wars, uprisings, and bloody religious purges….”. Wealthy citizens from the melting pot called Amsterdam and other Dutch cities bought shares in the Dutch East India Company (VOC) and West India Company (WIC); the former discovered the Noort Rivier (later rechristened Hudson river), the latter settled and governed New Amsterdam for most of the 17th century.

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