The Golden Age
In the mid 1600s The Dutch Republic became the leading nation in trade, science and art. However, much of its success was the result of wealthy and smart immigrants that had fled persecution elsewhere. Especially the revocation of the Edict of Nantes –partially in 1629 and completely in 1685– caused over 50.000 Huguenots to flee to the Netherlands. In other words the Netherlands had become a free haven for the free minded.
With the founding of the East and West India Companies (VOC and WIC) fortunes were made on the spice and slave trade. The Dutch were good tradesmen but also had a lot of luck. Their big neighbors England and France were too caught up in internal affairs to pay due attention to that small Republic that silently took over their trading posts in the East.
The gathered wealth was partially used to promote advancements in art and science. Rembrandt van Rijn, Anthony van Leeuwenhoek, Spinoza, to name just a few, became worldwide renown for their excellent work.
The Anglo-Dutch Wars
However, after the Peace of Münster, the tide turned. Specifically England could no longer tolerate the dominant position of the Dutch on the world seas and the Eastern territories. To protect British interests in America, Britain issued the "Navigation Act" in 1651. From this point on all American goods were only to be transported by British ships. The economic losses for the Dutch were huge and so the first Anglo-Dutch war began. The war lasted until 1654 and was followed by three more wars between the Dutch and the British. The last ended in 1784.
Al these wars and the ongoing trade embargoes slowly stripped the Dutch of their wealth, and with it of their power. To add to the decline internal politics remained unstable as well.
Maurits died in 1625 and was followed up by his half-brother Frederik Hendrik. He did quite a good job as a "stadhouder" and by his death in 1647 his son Willem II set out to convert his position of "stadhouder" into that of king. In 1650 he committed a coup. However he did not live to savor his victory. He died in October 1650 of smallpox. Since there was no adult legal heir (his first son was born a week after his death) and since many provinces resented the thirst for power of the Orange dynasty, the Republic decided to do without a "stadhouder" for now.
The Disastrous Year Of 1672
The country was led de facto by the Grand Pensionary Johan de Witt until the disastrous year of 1672. Then, the republic was attacked simultaneously by England, France and the Bishops of Münster and Cologne. Utrecht fell and the people's anger turned to De Witt. His brother was imprisoned for treason. When Johan was lured to the prison to visit him, both were brutally slaughtered by an angry mob. It is now though the assault was planned to install Willem III –who was also to become king of England–of Orange as "stadhouder".
Under Willem's rule the war was won but the Republic slid into a deep economic crisis from which it would not recover for over a century.