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Striking for the high seas with a growing merchant fleet financed by wealthy backers, the Dutch are well placed to found thriving trading posts across the globe.

The opening of shipping routes to Asia and America in the 15th century effectively shifted Europe’s financial and trading center to the coasts of the North Sea. As the main city in the new United Provinces, Amsterdam seized the opportunity to pursue a purposefully mercantile policy that would make it the hub of international trade into the West for two hundred years.

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In conflict with King Philip II of Spain in 1568, seven northern provinces in the Spanish Netherlands formed the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands in 1581. By unifying the Dutch provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Overijssel, Frisia, Groningen, Guelders, and Utrecht within a federal institution known as the States General, they had the capacity to maintain a large army and powerful navy. The country’s independence was officially recognized by all European nations at the signing of the Peace of Westphalia, which put an end to the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648). In control of the largest fleet on the continent, the United Provinces targeted the Portuguese monopoly on the spice trade. Founding or conquering outposts in Moluccas, Malacca, and Batavia, they seized many of Portugal’s possessions in the Indian Ocean to take control of the territories that were the main producers of pepper and cloves. To manage this empire, the States General formed a company in 1602 funded by bonds and shares known as the VOC (Dutch East India Company) which had a monopoly on the spice trade and was delegated with administrative functions and expanding the overseas territories. The 17th century was a unique period of renewal in the fields of art, science, politics, and religion in the United Provinces. The long-term inflow of trade capital and a policy of religious tolerance in the provinces attracted many artists, thinkers, theologians, and pamphleteers to their territories, who then disseminated their texts using the printing press. <

Did you know?

The Dutch East India Company counted the outpost of Nieuw Amsterdam on the Atlantic Coast of North America among its territorial possessions. When it was conquered by England in 1663, the outpost was renamed New York. The names of places such as Harlem and Brooklyn still bear traces of these Dutch settlements.