the dominance of the dutch -- 1/4/2022

Today's selection -- from Merchant Kings by Stephen R. Bown. The Netherlands dominated trade in Europe in the 1600s:

"In the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, the Neth­erlands was arguably the wealthiest and most scientifically advanced of the European nations. This period, known as the Dutch Golden Age, brought a flourishing of the arts and sciences that reflected the period's unbounded optimism and affluence. Prosperous burghers and merchants became patrons of the arts, including sculpture, poetry and drama, and of public debates. They commissioned architects to design beautiful houses. Paint­ings and sculptures adorned the interior walls of these impressive homes. Rembrandt van Rijn, Johannes Vermeer, Jacob van Ruis­dael and many others revolutionized painting, infusing new life into landscapes, portraiture and still life, as well as portraying contemporary life and society in the flourishing cities that were the most cosmopolitan in Europe. In science, the list of inter­nationally prominent luminaries included the philosopher René Descartes; acclaimed jurist and theorist of international law Hugo Grotius; mathematician, astronomer and inventor of the pendulum clock Christiaan Huygens; and Anton van Leeu­wenhoek, inventor of the microscope and founder of the study of microbiology. Book publishing flourished in the climate of tolerance and intellectual curiosity; ideas concerning religion, philosophy and science that were considered too controversial in other nations found their way into print in the Netherlands, and the books were secretly shipped abroad.

"The Dutch Republic, newly freed from Spanish domination and relishing its freedom, was admirably situated to dominate European trade by providing an artery into the interior. Thou­sands of ships crowded its many harbours. The great city of Amsterdam was the centre of the international trade in the exotic luxuries of the Americas, India and the 'Spice Islands.' The Amsterdam stock exchange, founded in 1602, was the world's first, created by the Dutch East India Company (VOC) for dealing in its own stocks and bonds. The VOC was the first­-ever trading company with a permanent share capital. This joint stock company attracted huge wealth in initial capitalization from over 1,800 investors, most of whom were merchants and other wealthy middle-class citizens, and the speculation on the fluctuating value of these shares relied on the success or failure of the company's ships in bringing spices back to Europe from the Far East.

Amsterdam VOC HQ

"The first great global corporation, the VOC, was by the late seventeenth century the most powerful and richest company in the world. Its private fleet boasted nearly 150 merchant ships and 40 giant warships. At the height of its power, it employed nearly 50,000 people worldwide--seamen, artisans, steve­dores, labourers, clerks and builders. The company was involved in a multitude of commercial activities, such as construction, sugar refining, cloth manufacturing, tobacco curing, weaving, glass making, distilling, brewing and other industries related to its global business enterprises. The payroll also included a 10,000-man private army.

"The VOC, one of the foundations of Dutch prosperity and with its mighty fleet a key force propelling the young republic to look to the world for commerce, held a virtual monopoly over the global spice supply. It achieved this in a bloody struggle at the dawn of the Age of Heroic Commerce. Ironically, the com­pany's wealth was founded on a system and on values imposed in Indonesia that ran counter to the liberal and tolerant cul­ture of many of its shareholders. Furthermore, its rise to global supremacy as a state monopoly, and its contribution to the artis­tic and cultural flourishing of the Dutch Republic, was founded on the ruthless strategy of a man whose character was entirely at odds with the character of his nation."



Stephen R. Bown


Merchant Kings


Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press


Copyright 2009 Stephen R. Bown


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