There were already people living the area that we now call 'the Netherlands' some 250.000 years ago. Around the year 0 the Romans arrived in this area. The Romans came from Rome, which now is located in Italy. The Romans occupied the southern portion of Europe. In that period the first cities in the Netherlands developed, for example Maastricht and Utrecht.
The Netherlands before the year 500
The Netherlands during the Middle Ages
Currently the Netherlands is a united country, with a central government. But that was not always the case.
In the period between 500 and 1500 BC the Netherlands was made up of several small countries. These countries were called the low lands, or the Netherlands. Neder means low: A large part of the Netherlands is actually located below sea level.
The situation people lived in was bad: there was a great deal of poverty, animals and people were living together and there was virtually no light in the homes. A few wealthy people who lived in the Netherlands built castles.
The people who lived in the cities often did manual labor: cleaning, making clothes or as butchers. Animals walked around the city between the houses. Everyone just threw their trash outside. Most people died before the age of forty.
80 years of war
Once there was 80 years of war in the Netherlands. This war was about differences in religion. The war started in 1568 and ended in 1648.
The Netherlands was under Spanish rule. The Spanish were Catholics. But in the Netherlands there many people who had become Protestants. They wanted to leave the Catholic church. That’s why the Spanish king wanted to kill all of the Protestants. The Dutch revolted and no longer wanted to be part of Spain. And so the war in 1568 started that would last for eighty years.
William of Orange was the leader of the resistance of the Dutch against the Spanish. He had become protestant and wanted everyone in the Netherlands to be able to have the religion of his chosing. The king of Spain wanted to end the power of William of Orange. William of Orange was killed in 1584 in his house in Delft.
1588: Dutch independence
For a long time, the Netherlands was part of the Spanish empire. In 1588 the Netherlands became a republic, because it no longer wanted to be a part of Spain.
The Dutch did not have a king at that time. They called themselves the ‘Republic of Seven United Lowlands’. ‘United’ means: together. Seven provinces were then working together.
The war against Spain ended in 1648. The Dutch were then free and the republic became an independent state. The southern part of the Netherlands and Belgium were part of Spain for the longest period of time. That is why most of the people in the south are still Catholic. In the northern part of the Netherlands live more Protestants.
In the time that the Dutch fought against the Spanish the Wilhelmus was created. That song has been our national anthem since 1932.
A Golden Age for the Netherlands
The 17th century (from 1600 to 1700) is also known as the Golden Age. In this period the Republic of the Netherlands became very wealthy.
This was due to the trade. The Dutch travelled all over the world with their ships. They mainly bought and sold gold and spices, but also people: slaves. The Dutch started the VOC: the Dutch East India Company. In the VOC businesses worked together in the trade with Asia. In this video you can see how the VOC became so successful:
The wealthy people in the Netherlands had expensive houses built. These houses were usually located on a canal. This is how the network of canals in Amsterdam was created. In Utrecht you can also still see many homes from the Golden Age. Not everyone was rich during the Golden Age. The money only belonged to a small group of wealthy people. Many normal people did not have enough to eat.
1815: The Netherlands gets a constitution
From 1814, the Netherlands is no longer a republic, but a kingdom: King William the First takes the throne. In 1815 the constitution was created.
In the constitution the most important rules of the Netherlands are listed. In 1848 the constitution received an important update: From that time on, the king would not have as much power and the Netherlands became a democracy. At first Belgium was also a part of the Netherlands. But Belgium wanted to be a free country. That happened in 1830.
After 1850 the Netherlands was an industrial country: there were a growing number of factories with machines. People who worked there were called laborers. The laborers often had to work long hours for little pay. Children and women also had to work, because otherwise there would not be enough money to survive. It was a difficult time.
It this time the political parties came into being. The first socialists wanted the laborers to have the same rights as the wealthy people. Only wealthy men were allowed to vote. Only in 1917 were all of the men in the Netherlands allowed to vote and in 1919 the women too.
In 1871 the first woman began studying to be a doctor: Aletta Jacobs. She believed that women should all have the same rights as men, and also for example that women should be allowed to vote.
There were also laws for children: starting in 1874 children under the age of 12 were no longer allowed to work. The public education law went into effect in 1900: it then became mandatory that all of the children between the ages of six and twelve had to attend school.
The Netherlands and the Second World War
In 1940, the Germans invaded the Netherlands. They came from the north, middle and south and they bombed Rotterdam to force the Dutch to surrender.
The Netherlands was occupied for 5 years, from 1940 until 1945. In the first week of May, the Netherlands commemorates the dead and celebrates its liberation.