The Significance of Philip II of Spain & the Dutch Revolt

Dutch Protestants were executed by Catholic Spain, fueling the religious tensions that led to the revolt.
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From 1566 to 1585, the Dutch fought a revolt against King Philip II of Spain that eventually resulted in the newly independent nation of the Netherlands. The Dutch revolt was the result of long-simmering tensions over economic and religious issues. The independence of the Netherlands was significant in that the fledgling republic soon became a wealthy and powerful empire, rivaling the other nations of Europe.

1 Background

The area known as the Netherlands was actually a collection of different provinces that had been first united under the Duchy of Burgundy, a powerful entity during the Middle Ages. At the start of the 16th century, these provinces were passed to the Habsburg Holy Roman Empire and Charles V, who also ruled Austria, the German states, Spain and parts of Italy. In 1555, Charles abdicated his throne and divided his empire, giving his brother Ferdinand Austria and Germany and his son Philip Spain and the Netherlands.

2 Protestantism

One of the primary causes of the Dutch revolt was Philip II's attempts to suppress Protestantism in the Netherlands. In 1517, Martin Luther had shaken Europe by initiating the Protestant Reformation, whereby a large number of European countries split from the Catholic Church. Charles V and the Habsburgs, however, remained staunchly Catholic. The Dutch, by contrast, were eager to accept Protestantism and its values of individuality and resistance to authority, as many were economically successful merchants who distrusted monarchs such as Charles V and his son Philip.

3 The Revolt

The revolt began in 1566 when radical Dutch Protestants destroyed Catholic churches, leading Philip II to send an army to the Netherlands. This galvanized the local population to rally behind William of Orange, the region's most powerful noble. Philip had trouble pacifying the revolt, as England, France and the Ottoman Empire all unofficially aided the Dutch by fighting Spain on several fronts, hoping to weaken their rival. Ultimately, in 1585, the Dutch declared de facto independence from Spain as a republic.

4 The Dutch Empire

Though Spain never recognized Dutch independence until the end of the Thirty Years War in 1648, the independence of the Netherlands led to the rapid growth of the Dutch Empire. Already wealthy from the trade their port cities brought in, the Dutch quickly established trading posts across the world -- from South Africa to Asia to South America -- and grew even wealthier by the start of the 17th century. In the span of a few short years, the new Dutch Empire would overshadow many European countries, including its former ruler, Spain.

Aatif Rashid writes on international politics and culture. His articles have appeared in magazines such as "The Oxonian Globalist" and online at Future Foreign Policy and ThinkPolitic. He holds Bachelor's degrees in English and history from U.C. Berkeley and a Masters degree from the University of Oxford.