During the early 17th century, the Dutch Republic was a thriving economic center. Its vast trading empire contributed to their wealth. However, during the next seventy years, the republic became subject to invasions by rival nations. Lacking a centralized government, the provinces became fragmented and lost their unity. Both of these factors, plus an increase in foreign competition, contributed to the downfall of the country. The inability of the Dutch Republic to address these issues, concerning the security, unity and prosperity, lead to the loss of prestige of this once powerful nation.
In the 17th century, Many rulers had adopted a mercantilist policy. Because they believed the world had a fixed amount of wealth, these countries regularly sought out land to conquer and develop. The security of the Dutch Republic was severely compromised by the attacks from rival nations. France, under King Louis XIV was the Provinces’ greatest rival at this time. Through the Treaty of Dover, Louis XIV made it evident that he was willing to go to any measure to gain control over the Provinces. He put aside the long standing feud between England and France, and allied with England in an attempt to conquer the Dutch Republic. The Provinces recognized that their wealth attracted unwelcome attention not only from France and England, but other nations as well. But they were unable to compromise on a solution to their security problems. One of the solutions they considered was to flood their lands, thus preventing the invasion. But by doing this, they would, in turn, ruin their commerce. They also considered making defensive fortifications on their naval vessels as well as land fortifications. However, to accomplish this, new taxes had to be imposed. This angered the merchants who believed that these taxes compromised the economy. By the beginning of the 18th century, the wars had severely decreased the population and morale was very low.
The constant warring put a severe strain on the unity of the Dutch Republic. Their already fragmented government was brought to the breaking point. Holland, the richest province, provided the funds for nearly all governmental costs. As a result, they had much control over the government. During the mid-17th century, this also meant that they financed all combat costs. Because of their control over the government, Holland had more control over military leadership. This caused many conflicts which wasted time that could have been used to prepare for invasion. Their lack of unity was evident even to outsiders. The Ambassador from England wrote back to his homeland relating the abysmal state of affairs in the Provinces. The news of its fragmented government was appealing to not only England but other countries as well. The obvious disorder in the Provinces left it vulnerable to attacks, thus dividing it more. This cycle of disunion and attacks broke down an already disjointed society.
Prosperity in the Dutch republic was taxed by these constant attacks. During the early 17th century, the Provinces had trading vessels traversing from the Baltic Sea to Africa. However, beginning in the 1650s, England used its naval forces to devastate the Dutch trade. The British navy seized over two thousand ships during the next twenty years. The Anglo-Dutch shipping wars also affected trading in the Baltic. From the period from 1645 to 1695, trade in that area was cut more than half! Increased competition by foreign companies also decreased productivity during this period. As the English East India grew larger, it threatened the monopoly held by the Dutch merchants. Relations were so strained between the two countries that war was the only solution. Because of the lack of funds, and over-extension of military, the Dutch were unable to keep the foreign competition in check. In a letter to the Dutch East India Company, the colonial administrator voiced his concerns about this competition. Despair is evident in this excerpt. It is obvious that all hope of the Dutch Republic returning to a place of influence in European politics had disappeared. The country no longer had the resources to fund the wars, let alone continue its trading empire. As a result, the national debt increased over five hundred percent during this time.
From 1650 to 1715, the Dutch Republic transformed from a major European power, to country struggling just to survive. Challenges to the country’s welfare such as constant invaders, increased competition, and a fragmented government led to the ultimate ruin of these Provinces.