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The Netherlands (Courtesy University of Texas Libraries)

The Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland), officially Kingdom of the Netherlands (Dutch: Koninkrijk der Nederlanden), colloquially also referred to as Holland, is a country that lies at the western end of the North European Plain. Along with Belgium and Luxembourg it comprises the "Low Countries" (not an official name) or "Benelux" (an acronym for an economic liaison, now largely superseded by the European Union). The country is bordered on the south by Belgium, on the east by Germany, and on the north and west by the North Sea. Except for the southeastern part, the Netherlands is flat and about 40% of the country lies below sea level. The inhabitants of the Netherlands, called the Dutch, have built dikes to hold back the sea. The country is situated at the estuaries of the river Rhine, which originates in Switzerland, and the river Meuse, which runs via Belgium from France to the city of Rotterdam, the main seaport of the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is highly industrialized and one of the most densely populated countries in Europe. Its surface area is 41,528 sq km (of which 18.41% is water) and its 2007 population is 16,570,613. This gives 489 inhabitants per sq km of dry land. The capital of the country is Amsterdam, while the government is seated in The Hague.

The flag of the Netherlands.

Until October 2010, the Kingdom of the Netherlands also included two overseas constituent territories: the Netherlands Antilles, which consisted of the islands of Bonaire, Curaçao, St. Martin, Saba, and St. Eustatius, and the self-governing island of Aruba. In 2010, the country of the Netherlands Antilles was disbanded. Curaçao and St. Martin became autonomous islands within the Kingdom of the Netherlands (having essentially the same status as Aruba). Bonaire, Saba, and St. Eustatius became "special municipalities" of the Netherlands with the same governing structure and rights as Dutch towns, including voting rights in the Dutch and European parliaments.

Name and usage

The name Netherlands in English is taken from the extended official name for the country, Kingdom of the Netherlands. This name goes back to the history of the country as a federal republic during the 17th and 18th centuries, when each of the constituent provinces were semi-independent states. But in modern Dutch, even in most official contexts, the country is referred to as Nederland, which is a singular noun rather than a plural.

The colloquial name Holland, which is commonly used outside of the Netherlands, is not entirely accurate. In practice it is an instance of metonymy (in particular, a pars pro toto, that is, naming the whole after a part), as it technically only refers to the historical province of Holland, now represented by the provinces of Noord-Holland (North Holland) and Zuid-Holland (South Holland). The name is ancient and derives from Old Dutch holt "wood, forest" and land, which suggests that ancient Holland was heavily wooded.

The adjective for the inhabitants and the language of the country is Dutch. This is an old Germanic word with a very non-specific meaning: "popular, national". The usage of this adjective in English goes back to a time when it was applied to an area including both Germany and the Netherlands. The German word for "German" is Deutsch, which is cognate with "Dutch." Until the 18th century,[1] it was usual in English to distinguish between the German and Dutch languages, or the German people and the Dutch people, by using "High Dutch" for the former and "Low Dutch" for the latter, though this term did not properly distinguish between Dutch and Low German.

The people known as Pennsylvania Dutch in the U.S. are in fact descendants of German (i.e. "Deutsch") immigrants, not Dutch.

Government and administration

National government

The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy with a bicameral parliament. The Head of State is the monarch, currently Queen Beatrix. Under the Dutch Constitution, the Monarch has to approve all legislation, appoints and dismisses government secretaries, and is head of the Supreme Court of Appeal, but in practice, the monarch's power is limited and his role is largely ceremonial. The power of the executive is vested in the Cabinet (Dutch ministerraad, "Council of Ministers"), headed by the Prime Minister, currently Mark Rutte.

Legislative power is held by the bicameral Dutch parliament. The Lower House (Dutch Tweede Kamer) has 150 seats, the members of which are elected by direct proportional elections. Members have the right to propose, sponsor, and amend bills. The term of office is four years. The Upper House (Dutch Eerste Kamer or Senaat) has 75 seats. The members of the Upper House are elected indirectly by the delegates of the provincial assemblies. Members only have the right to approve or reject legislation.

Administrative divisions

The Netherlands is divided in provinces, twelve in total:

Political parties

Current Dutch politics remains shaped to a great extent by the consequences of political and religious polarizations of the nineteenth century. A number of emancipatory movements, including Socialists, Catholics, and Protestant Reformed Christians, increasingly came to oppose each other on political matters and organized into separate groups. This process, known in Dutch as verzuiling (lit. "pillarization"), produced separate political parties, trades unions, and literary and cultural organizations. At present (2010), the main political parties are the following:

left (progressive) center-left center-right right (conservative)
Secular Parties PvdD, SP, GroenLinks PvdA, D66 - VVD, PVV
Religious Parties CU CDA SGP
  • PvdD = Partij voor de Dieren - Party for Animal Rights
  • SP = Socialistische Partij - Socialist Party
  • GroenLinks - a party of socialists and environmentalists
  • PvdA = Partij van de Arbeid - Labor Party (Social-Democrats)
  • D66 = Democraten 66 - Progressive Liberals
  • CDA = Christen-Democratisch Appèl - Christian-Democrats
  • VVD = Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie - Libertarians
  • PVV = Partij voor de Vrijheid - Party for Liberty (Conservatives)
  • CU = ChristenUnie - Union of Christians
  • SGP = Staatkundig Gereformeerde Partij - Conservative Christian Party

International relations

The Netherlands is a founding member of the European Economic Community, which evolved into the present European Union. The country has played an active role in NATO and the United Nations. It sent 1700 soldiers to Iraq, 2003-2005. In 2005 480 military personnel were in Bosnia-Herzegovina as part of EUFOR and 278 military personnel served in Afghanistan as part of the NATO operation there and as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.[2]


Main article: Netherlands, history

Prehistory and conversion to Christianity

It is believed the area of land now known as the Netherlands was inhabited from as early as 150,000 BC. Historical records date back to about 57 BC, when Roman armies under general Julius Caesar invaded and occupied the southern portion of the Low Countries. The northern frontier of the Roman Empire ran along the Rhine river through the Netherlands. The Romans established a number of fortifications along this frontier which became centers of trade. Germanic tribes living north of the frontier, such as the Frisians, were still heavily influenced by Roman culture through trade contacts. As the Roman Empire disintegrated, Roman armies withdrew from the Netherlands by about AD 406.

The Low Countries were inhabited by numerous Germanic tribes who had an agricultural society. By the third century, these tribes organized into larger federations and three main groups emerged: the Franks in the South, the Saxons in the East, and the Frisians in the North and West. Little is known of the pre-Christian pagan beliefs of the Germanic tribes, though it seems that Wodan and Donar were worshiped by the Germanic tribes in the Low Countries. The southern parts of the country were already nominally Christianized when the Roman Empire converted to Christianity. The Frankish king Clovis I (ca. AD 466 - 511) converted to Christianity in the early fifth century, according to legend in the heat of battle. By AD 700, most of the Low Countries below the Rhine had been converted. The conversion of the Frisians by Irish and Anglo-Saxon missionaries took place in the early eighth century by the monks Willibrord and Boniface. That Christianity did not immediately take hold is shown by the fact that Boniface was murdered in Friesland in AD 754 by pagan Frisians.

Middle Ages

After the Franks defeated the Frisians for control of the trading post of Dorestad, the Frankish kingdom was extended to include all the Frisian lands up to the northern North Sea coast. The power of the Frankish empire grew under Charles, who came to be known as Charlemagne (Latin Carolus Magnus) or Charles the Great. He conquered the Saxons to the north and east of the Frankish lands in AD 785.

After Charlemagne’s death in 814, central power in the Frankish empire disintegrated rapidly. Viking raids increased and this created a period of chaos during which Danish chieftains even established small kingdoms in the Netherlands. In AD 925, King Henry I of Germany conquered the province of Lorraine, which included the Low Countries, essentially marking the end of Danish influence. Over the next century, smaller counties were merged through conquest or intermarriage into larger regional principalities. By the end of the first millennium, the territories that cover the modern provinces of the Netherlands had reached roughly their current size and their rulers had achieved enough power to be only nominally subject to the German emperor. The center of power in these emerging independent territories was in the County of Holland. Originally granted as a fief to the Danish chieftain Rorik in return for loyalty to the emperor in 862, the region of Kennemara (the region around modern Haarlem) rapidly grew under Rorik’s descendants in size and importance. The Counts of Holland conquered most of Zeeland but it was not until 1289 that Count Floris V was able to subjugate the Frisians in West Friesland (that is, the northern half of North Holland).

Renaissance and Reformation

Philip the Bold of Burgundy became the ruler of Flanders and Artois (1384) and his successors added Holland, Zeeland, Hainaut, Namur, Limburg, and Luxembourg. The dukes of Burgundy were rich and powerful, rivaling the greatest kings in the size of their armies and the magnificence of their courts. The military prowess and courtly splendor were funded by taxing the towns, which more and more frequently resisted; the city leaders also resented the Burgundian officials who tried to reduce their privileges and the rights of the states, the provincial assemblies formed to represent the interests of subjects in dealings with their rulers. The Netherlanders felt particularly repressed under Charles the Bold, who sought to create a middle kingdom between France and Germany. His death in 1477 gave the Netherlands a chance to wrest renewal of their privileges from his heiress, the Duchess Mary. But after her death in 1482, her widower, Maximilian of Austria, a Hapsburg, ruled as regent for their young son Philip and crushed the opposition to his rule. After the death of Philip in 1506, his son Charles I (1500–1558) became ruler of the Netherlands as well as king of Spain (1516–56); and (as Charles V), Holy Roman Emperor (1519–58). He taxed the Netherlands for the never-ending Hapsburg wars against France. To the Netherlands he added Friesland in 1524, Utrecht and Overijssel in 1528, Groningen in 1536, and Gelderland in 1543. Charles centralized power by establishing a privy council and councils of state and finance over the provincial assemblies and by formally uniting the 17 provinces of the Netherlands and the duchy of Burgundy in the "Burgundian circle" within the Holy Roman Empire. A devout Catholic, he attempted to stop the spread of Protestantism in the Low Countries; he was somewhat more successful there than in Germany chiefly because the adherents of the new faith in the Netherlands had no princes to defend them against the emperor. Charles put down a political rebellion in Ghent in 1539-1540; his angry abolition of the town's historic privileges was a sign of his contempt for local rights and autonomy.

The Netherlands had become the richest place in the world. Population reached 3 million in 1560, with 25 cities of 10,000 or more, by far the largest urban presence in Europe; the trading and financial center of and Antwerp, population 100,000, was especially important.

Early Modern Era

19th Century

Dutch Empire

20th Century


Language and literature

For more information read: Dutch language, Dutch literature, Frisian language

The official language of the Netherlands is Dutch, which is a West-Germanic language closely related to German and English. In the province of Friesland, Frisian is an official second language.


During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Low Countries (the modern day countries of the Netherlands and Belgium) produced a number of masterful painters, including Frans Hals (1580-1666) and Rembrandt van Rijn (usually known simply as "Rembrandt"; 1606-1669).


The Netherlands have historically been a Christian nation, with the Reformed branch of Protestant Christian doctrine being the most influential since the Reformation until about the middle of the twentieth century. Church membership has steadily declined in the twentieth century. As of 2005, about 45.5% of the Dutch population is a member of a Christian church. Of the different denominations, the largest church is the Roman Catholic Church with 4,644,800 members (28.5% of the population). About 2,687,625 people (16.5% of the population) are members of some Protestant Christian church, of which the Protestant Church in the Netherlands with 2,002,155 members is the largest denomination.

Among the many other religions practiced in the Netherlands, Islam is the largest and fastest growing religion. There are currently about 944,000 Muslims in the Netherlands (5.8% of the population).[3]

See also


  1. As late as 1875 James Clerk Maxwell used the term "Low Dutch" for the language in which the doctoral dissertation of Johannes Diderik van der Waals was written.
  2. See Royal Netherlands Embassy, "The Netherlands and Iraq" (March 2005 press release)
  3. Sociaal en Cultureel Planbureau. Godsdienstige veranderingen in Nederland, 2007, p. 30-31