Netherlands History

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History

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Effective family research requires some understanding of the historical events that may have affected your family and the records about them. Learning about wars, governments, laws, migrations, and religious trends may help you understand political boundaries, family movements, and settlement patterns. These events may have led to the creation of records such as land and military documents that mention your family.

Your ancestors will become more interesting to you if you also use histories to learn about the events they may have participated in. For example, by using a history you might learn about the events that occurred in the year your great-grandparents were married.

The area that is now known as the Netherlands has a rich history that extends back two millennia. Much of the area (then geographically very different from today) fell to Roman rule. It was converted to Christianity before 1000 AD. In the 16th Century it firstly embraced Calvinism, then threw off their Spanish rules during the Eighty Years War. Upon independence the Netherlands was prosperous and imperialistic, expanding economically and demographically, and the country was a major power on the global stage.

The 18th century saw a decline in the economy and foreign standing of the nation. The former Dutch Republic was overthrown in 1795 by the Batavian Republic, inspired by the ideals of the French revolution. Later Napoleon's brother Louis ruled the nation as a subject to France, then in 1811 it was incorporated directly into the Napoelonic Empire.

Following the defeat of Napoleon, a monarchy under the House of Orange was established. Belgium and then Luxembourg both became independent during the 19th century. The Netherlands remained neutral during WW1, but was invaded by Germany during WW2. The nation now belongs to the EU, and in recent decades has experienced immigration, multiculturalism and secularization.

Timeline

Below are some key dates and events in the history of the Netherlands.

1st cent. BC The area's first inhabitants - Frisians, Batavians, and other tribes - settle the coastal territory along the Rhine River. The Batavians become allies of Rome.

814 On the death of Charlemagne, the Frankish emperor of the West and conqueror of the Saxons and Frisians, his empire is divided. The Low Countries become part of Lotharingia, squeezed between the German lands and France.

10th century The counts of Holland and Zeeland and the bishopric of Utrecht begin to gain greater control of their own affairs.

1421 A storm on St. Elizabeth's Day breaks dikes along the Maas and Waal rivers, causing a flood that drowns 10,000 people.

1506 The Netherlands is inherited by the future Habsburg Emperor and King of Spain Charles V.

1555 Philip II of Spain sends the duke of Alba to the Low Countries to confront the Protestant Reformation.

1576 The provinces of Holland and Zeeland were unified. The 17 provinces of the Netherlands (north and south) were also unified into what was called the Pacification of Ghent.

1579 The southern provinces broke with the Pacification of Ghent; the northern provinces formed the Union of Utrecht.

1584 Gregorian (New World) calendar adopted; William of Orange assassinated; succeeded by son, Maurice of Nassau.

1588 Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was founded.

early 17th c. Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal begin to arrive in the Netherlands.

1609 Henry Hudson's voyage to the Americas.

1620 Pilgrims left Netherlands, landed in Massachusetts.
1626 Peter Minuit "purchases" Manhattan Island from the Manhattoes Native Americans for the equivalent of $24, legalizing the Nieuw Amsterdam settlement founded the previous year at the mouth of the Hudson River. In 1664 it was renamed New York by the English.

1630 - 1654 Dutch conquered Brazil.

1642-1643 Navigator Abel Tasman is the first European to reach Tasmania and New Zealand.

1614-1664 New Netherland Colony settled in North America from Cape Cod to Virginia. Taken over by the English at the end of the Second Anglo-Dutch War.

1648 The Peace of Munster ended the 80-year war for independence. The Dutch Republic was officially recognized as a nation.

1652 Dutchman Jan van Riebeek founds Cape Town, South Africa.

1652 War broke out between Netherlands and England.

1661 Holland sold Brazil to Portugal

1665 King Charles II of England declared war on Netherlands; British captured Banda Island of Run from Dutch.

1667 Dutch fleet sailed Thames, threatened London; burned three ships; William of Orange replaced James Stuart; Peace of Breda ended war; Suriname ceded to England by Dutch in exchange for New York.

1672 King Louis XIV of France invaded Netherlands; sluices opened in Holland to save Amsterdam from French.

1685 Edict of Nantes (a decree issued by Henry IV of France in 1598 that gave political equality to the Huguenots) was revoked. Consequently, there was a heavy influx of Huguenots into the Netherlands (by 1686 there were 75,000), resulting in the founding of many French Reformed Church congregations.

1688-9 King Louis XIV of France declared war on Netherlands; Stadhouder William III of Orange and Queen Mary become rulers of England following the Glorious Revolution

1782 Dutch become first to officially recognize nationhood of the United States.

1795 The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was overthrown, and the Batavian Republic, patterned after the French republic, was established. Zeeuws Flanders, Flanders, and Dutch areas in Limburg were annexed to France.

1805 The Batavian Republic was dissolved, and the Kingdom of Holland was established, with Louis Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon, as king.

1810 The Kingdom of Holland was dissolved, and the territory was annexed to the French Empire.  (Although the following article is about French influence on German research, many of the same principles apply to The Netherlands.)

1814 French troops left the country. Prince Willem VI of Orange–Nassau became Sovereign Prince of the Netherlands.

1815 On 16 March 1815, the Congress of Vienna formed the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, (Prince Willem VI became King Willem I)by expanding the Netherlands, in order to create a strong country on the northern border of France. In addition, Willem became hereditary Grand Duke of Luxembourg. The Congress of Vienna gave Luxembourg to Willem as personal property in exchange for his German possessions. The former Southern (or Austrian) Netherlands became part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, which later became Belgium. A new constitution was adopted at that time.

1831 The people of the former Southern Netherlands rebelled and set up their own government. This was the beginning of the Kingdom of Belgium.

1839 Belgium was recognized as an independent nation, and border disputes were resolved. Limburg was split between the Netherlands and Belgium.

1840 The province of Noord–Holland was created by a division of the province of Holland. The remaining part of the province of Holland later came to be known as Zuid–Holland.

1917 Despite Dutch neutrality in World War I (1914-18), the Netherlands suffers from severe food shortages.

1932 Afsluitdijk (Enclosure Dike) at the head of the Zuiderzee is completed, transforming the sea into the freshwater IJsselmeer Lake.

1940 World War II: Nazi Germany invades on May 10. Holland surrenders 4 days later after the aerial bombardment of Rotterdam. Queen Wilhelmina goes into exile in London.

1945 May 5: German forces in the Netherlands capitulate.

1948 Benelux customs union with Belgium and Luxembourg takes effect.

1949 The Netherlands joins NATO. The Dutch East Indies' wins independence, as Indonesia, after a bitterly fought liberation struggle.

1953 Devastating North Sea storms produce significant coastal flooding. Dutch embark on long-range Delta Project to seal off river estuaries in the southwest.

1958 The Netherlands joins the European Economic Community, the forerunner of today's European Union (EU).

1975 Amsterdam's 700th anniversary. The Netherlands grants independence to Suriname.

1980 Queen Juliana abdicates, and her eldest daughter Beatrix accedes to the throne.

2004 The former Queen Juliana dies.

2013 Beatrix abdicates and is succeeded by her son Willem-Alexander

Population and Demographics

During the 15th century the Netherlands had a population of nearly 750,000 people, most of whom made their living by farming or fishing. Only about 7 percent of the people lived in towns. By the 17th century the picture had changed completely. The country had a population of about two million, with about 45 percent residing in the towns. In the provinces bordering the seacoast, many people were employed in industry and the trades while the people of the inland provinces were engaged primarily in agriculture.

The population leveled off during the 18th century, and was recorded in 1795 as just under 2 million. The nation remained highly urbanized, which only increased further with the Industrial Revolution. The near Catholic unanimity of pre-16th century Netherlands had been replaced by a Protestant majority, though a significant Catholic minority remained especially in Noord-Brabant and Limburg.

Today the Netherlands has a population of about 17 million. Immigration has eroded the former ethnic homogeneity, with a sizable proportion of the population either non-Christian or non-European.

Histories at the Family History Library

The Family History Library has many published national, regional, provincial, and local histories for the Netherlands. You can find histories in the FamilySearch Catalog under one of the following:

EUROPE – HISTORY

NETHERLANDS – HISTORY

NETHERLANDS, [PROVINCE] – HISTORY

NETHERLANDS, [PROVINCE], [TOWN]– HISTORY

The following are only a few of the many historical sources that are available. Books with film numbers can be ordered through local family history centers. Some may be found in major research libraries.

  • Grattan, Thomas. Holland: The History of the Netherlands. New York: Peter Fenelon Collier, 1899. (FHL film 1181862 item 5.)
  • Historical Background Affecting Genealogical Research in the Netherlands. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1977. (FHL book 929.1 G286gs ser. C no. 32; fiche 6001722.) This work emphasizes religious minorities and emigration.
  • Kurian, George Thomas. The Benelux Countries. New York: [s.n.], 1989. (FHL book 949.3 H2k.)

Calendar Changes

The Gregorian calendar is the calendar commonly used in the world today. It is a correction of the Julian calendar, which had been in use since A.D. 46. Leap years had been miscalculated in the Julian calendar, so by 1582 the calendar was 10 days behind the solar year. For calendar conversion go to http://www.funaba.org/en/calendar-conversion.cgi

Brabant, Zeeland, and lands belonging to the States General (mostly Limburg) adopted the Gregorian calendar on 14 December 1582. The days 15 December through 24 December 1582 were dropped to correct the calendar error. Holland adopted the calendar on 1 January 1583 (omitting 2 January through 11 January).

The last areas adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1700 and 1701. In the province of Gelderland the Gregorian calendar was adopted 30 June 1700 (omitting 1 July through 11 July 1700), in Utrecht and Overijssel on 30 November 1700 (omitting 1 December through 11 December 1700), in Friesland and Groningen on 31 December 1700 (omitting 1 January through 11 January 1701), and in Drenthe on 30 April 1701 (omitting 1 May through 11 May 1701).

Double Dating

When an area changed from Julian to Gregorian calendars, the first day of the year changed to 1 January. Before the change the first day of the year was 25 March. Pre-change dates may be confusing. For example, before the change, 24 March 1565 was followed by 25 March 1566. Many researchers record dates between 1 January and 24 March with two years, using a technique called double dating. An example of a pre-change date using double dating is 16 February 1573/1574.

Alternative Month Names

Sometimes you will find these old Dutch names for the months of the year:

Dutch English
Louwmaand January
Sprokkelmaand February
Lentemaand March
Grasmaand April
Bloeimaand May
Zomermaand June
Hooimaand July
Oogstmaand August
Herfstmaand September
Wijnmaand October
Slachtmaand November
Wintermaand December

French Republican Calendar

During 1793 to 1805, when the French Empire under Napoleon controlled parts of the Netherlands, another calendar was introduced. This calendar was based on the founding of the French Republic, and it used a system of months unrelated to the regular calendar. See the French Republican Calendar for more information.