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The English and the Dutch

Alec Samuels

The relationship between England and The Netherlands, especially in C17, is a fascinating story. Having achieved their independence from the Spanish oppressors at the beginning of C17, the Dutch, as is often the case with a newly independent country, exhibited remarkable energy and industry and enterprise, and developed considerable skills in diplomacy, and remarkable flowering in arts, especially painting, Rembrandt. England and The Netherlands, near neighbours, had much in common. Both had developing navies and commercial shipping, and the beginning of colonial aspirations. Lely and Rubens lived and worked in England. Both countries were aggressively Protestant and both saw Catholic France as the ever-threatening enemy, especially after the defeat of the Spanish armada in 1588. The Dutch did try hard to promote friendship and co-operation with England, but Cromwell during the Commonwealth was unreceptive. The Orange family were not wholly secure as a dynastic succession; and 1649 showed that the Stuarts were not secure either. Charles II received asylum in The Netherlands 1651-1660. The Restoration of Charles II in 1660 seemed propitious for the Anglo-Dutch relationship. But a competitive feeling was poorly handled, and resulted in the three Dutch wars, essentially naval engagements – in which the English did not exactly distinguish themselves. Although Pepys was doing all he could to improve the quality of the naval commanders and the seaworthiness and supplies of the ships. Charles II was ostensibly well disposed to the Dutch, but the secret treaty of Dover 1670 with Louis XIV as a means of raising funds for the Stuart King, as always chronically short of money, was discreditable.
The popery of James II finally brought a constitutional crisis in England, and William of Orange, William III, invaded England in 1688, the Glorious Revolution. The Normans in 1066 were therefore not the last to invade England, but the invasion of William III was bloodless and welcome. Fortunately Mary the wife of William, the daughter of James II, was Protestant, and she and William were cousins, both grandchildren of Charles I. On landing at Brixham in Devon William promised to uphold the Protestant religion and the liberties of England. He came and lived in England and brought many of his people and things with him. In the early C18 Marlborough roundly defeated the French, who were thus contained until 1789 and the French revolution. Both The Netherlands and England were thus secure from invasion for most of C18.
In C18 England went from strength to strength, acquiring command of the seas and the empire. The Dutch greatly declined in importance, they were a small country and of limited affluence. However the friendship between the two countries has continued to this day. Lisa Jardine concludes that this is in part attributable to a common outlook, and the same fundamental beliefs, aspirations and sense of identity.