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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

So the Dutch historian Blok sums up the issues at stake


this time the power of the Hansa declined. This was partly because the free cities came more and more under the rule of German princes with no interest in, or knowledge of, commerce; partly because of rivalry arising from the union of the Scandinavian states (1397) and the growth of England, France, and the Low Countries to national strength and commercial independence; and partly also because of the decline of German fisheries when the herring suddenly shifted from the Baltic to the North Sea. Underlying these varied causes, however, and significant of the far-reaching effect of changing trade-routes upon the progress and prosperity of nations, was the fact that, when the Mediterranean trade route was closed by the Turks, and also the route through Russia by Ivan III, the German cities were side-tracked. Antwerp and Amsterdam were not only more centrally located for the distribution of trade, but also much nearer for Atlantic traffic--an advantage which Germany has ever since keenly envied.

Long before the rise of the Low Countries as a maritime power, Ghent and Bruges had enjoyed an early preeminence owing to their development of cloth manufacture, and the latter city as a terminus for the galleys of Venice and Genoa. After the silting up of the port of Bruges (1432), Antwerp grew in importance, and in the 16th century became the chief market and money center of Europe. Its inhabitants numbered about 100,000, with a floating population of upwards

of 50,000 more. It contained the counting-houses of the great bankers of Europe--the Fuggers of Germany, the Pazzi of Florence, the Dorias of Genoa. Five thousand merchants were registered on the Bourse, as many as 500 ships often left the city in a single day, and two or three thousand more might be seen anchored in the Scheldt or lying along the quays.[1] Amsterdam by 1560 was second to Antwerp with a population of 40,000, and forged ahead after the sack of Antwerp by Spanish soldiers in 1576 and the Dutch blockade of the Scheldt during the struggle with Spain.


This early prosperity of the Netherland cities may be attributed less to aggressive maritime activity than to their flourishing industries, their natural advantages as trading centers at the mouths of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse, and the privileges of self-government enjoyed by the middle classes under the House of Burgundy and even under Charles the Fifth. Charles taxed them heavily--his revenues from the Low Countries in reality far exceeded the treasure he drew from America; but he was a Fleming born, spoke their language, and accorded them a large measure of political and religious freedom. The grievances which after his death led to the Dutch War of Independence, are almost personified in the son who succeeded him in 1555--Philip II, a Spaniard born and bred, who spoke no Flemish and left Brussels for the last time in 1573, dour, treacherous, distrustful, fanatical in religion; a tragic character, who, no doubt with great injustice to the Spanish, has somehow come to represent the character of Spain in his time.

_The Dutch Struggle for Freedom_

The causes of the long war in the Netherlands, which began in 1566 and ended with their independence 43 years later, is best explained in terms of general principles rather than specific grievances. "A conflict in which the principle of Catholicism with unlimited royal autocracy as Spain recognized it, was opposed to toleration in the realm of religion, with a national government according to ancient principles and based on ancient privileges,"--so the Dutch historian Blok sums up the issues at stake. The Prince of Orange, just before he was cut down by an assassin, asserted in his famous _Defense_ three fundamental principles: freedom to worship God; withdrawal of foreigners; and restoration of the charters, privileges, and liberties of the land. The Dutch fought for political, religious, and also for economic independence. England gave aid, not so much for religious motives as because she saw that her political safety and commercial prosperity hinged on the weakening of Spain.

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