Toward the end of the 16th century CE, the independent cities and principalities of Flanders and Belgium sent representatives to Utrecht to form an alliance. The alliance would coordinate taxation and military operations against Spain, whose ruling Hapsburgs had dominion over the Low Countries even after they adopted the Protestant religion. The Netherlands, comparatively small and poor compared to mighty Spain and its empire of gold in the Americas, often had to rely on Swiss mercenaries and other hired guns for its defense. This was not a long-term solution, hence the need for a much closer alliance. The result of this meeting was the Union of Utrecht, which formally created the United Provinces of the Netherlands.
Spain, which had spent the previous decade alternately fighting and politicking against the armies and intrigues of William of Orange, was not pleased by this development. Orange’s position had always been that Spain’s sovereignty over the Netherlands was legitimate, but the governors chosen by the King were trampling the rights of Orange and the other native nobles. William also vehemently opposed the imposition of Catholicism on his homeland, but still felt the King of Spain could be persuaded to loosen his grip. This proved unrealistic, and in 1581 Orange publicly renounced his loyalty to the Spanish throne. He was assassinated a few years later; he did not live to see his country completely free of Spanish domination.
However, once the provincial leaders (particularly those of Holland, the largest and most influential of the United Provinces) and the nobles began to cooperate, putting their disagreements to one side, Spain was nearly defeated. Under the brilliant political, military, and economic leadership of Johan de Witt, perhaps the Netherlands’ greatest statesman, the Dutch Republic grew into a world power, its rapidly growing economy and naval presence allowing it to settle colonies around the world and establish a massive trade empire. This wealth translated into a cultural golden age lasting over a hundred years.
During that time, Dutch thinkers made fundamental contributions to philosophy, law, science, and art. Hugo Grotius, a lawyer and philosopher, wrote “On the Law of War and Peace” in 1625 — perhaps the first comprehensive analysis of international law. The philosopher Baruch Spinoza published substantial revisions of his mentor Rene Descartes’ rationalist works, and also wrote a lengthy defense of freedom of conscience — which was promptly denounced as heresy by his contemporaries. In art, an obscure portrait painter named Rembrandt van Rijn rose to prominence (and disapproval) for his religious paintings and figure studies. Peter Paul Rubens, a great painter in his own right, also ran an immense school for artists, attracting dozens of talented painters from all over Europe to the Netherlands. The mathematician Christiaan Huygens developed his wave theory of light, which was a giant leap in the study of optics pioneered by Isaac Newton. And biology was made incomparably easier by Antonie van Leeuwenhoek’s invention of the microscope.
After the Golden Age, the Netherlands retreated into the background, as the English fleet gradually achieved its supremacy. By the Napoleonic era, the Netherlands was once again dominated by its neighbors. In 1830, Belgium broke away from the United Provinces, in reaction to the restoration of the monarchy and the subordination of the Estates General, the council of stadtholders (provincial rulers). The Industrial Revolution came to the Netherlands as it did to the rest of continental Europe, and when World War I arrived, the Dutch remained neutral.
The Dutch were not so fortunate during World War II, as Hitler’s armies invaded and imposed their brutish rule. (The diary of Anne Frank, a Jewish girl living in Amsterdam, is considered a classic portrait of innocence confronted with great evil.) Despite an unusually active and vigorous resistance to the Nazis — which was often met with brutal reprisals — a great many Dutch Jews died in the Nazi death camps. After the war, the former Dutch colonies followed the pattern of other European colonies at the time, with independence and nationalist movements breaking out everywhere. Dutch politics were still characterized by religious divisions even until the 1970s, appropriately given the nation’s history, but a more conventional parliamentary party system arose. Today the Netherlands, a thoroughly modern European nation, is best known for its hosting of international institutions such as the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
In Civilization III: Conquests, the Dutch are considered to be a seafaring and agricultural civilization. They start the game with Pottery and Alphabet and build the Swiss Mercenaries instead of Pikeman.
Unique Unit: Swiss Mercenary
Mercenaries first came to prominence in Europe in the 14th century, when soldiers from the Hundred Years’ War preferred to continue fighting for a living rather than learn peacetime trades. Swiss soldiers in particular enjoyed an especially high reputation for loyalty and professionalism, and several European nations incorporated Swiss mercenary regiments into their armies. The Netherlands, in particular, employed huge numbers of mercenaries, since the strength of the Dutch nation was commerce and wealth. This allowed Dutch princes and stadtholders to pay mercenaries well and regularly, which led to extremely effective fighters. The most famous assignment of Swiss mercenaries is the personal safety of the Pope; a special unit of Swiss soldiers, the Swiss Guard, has pledged to protect the Pope and the Vatican for the last 500 years.
The Dutch Swiss Mercenary is an excellent defender that boasts an even better defense strength than the formidable Pikeman. A Dutch city must have Iron in its Strategic Resource box to build a Swiss Mercenary.