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History of the Netherlands

The incredible journey of the world’s most influential swamp and those who call it home. Beginning at the end of the last ice age and trekking all the way through to the modern era, together we step through the centuries and meet some of the cast of characters who fashioned and forged a boggy marshland into a vibrant mercantile society and then further into a sea-trotting global super-power before becoming the centre for modern day liberalism.

Society & Culture
18 - To Boldly Go For Brabant
Philip the Bold and his wife Margaret ruled Flanders for twenty years from 1384-1404 and during that time would expand their family’s rule into Limburg, as well as set their successors up to rule Brabant, Holland, zeeland, Hainault and other low country territories as well. The manner in which Philip, trod this treacherous path, in particular his giving of lavish gifts and making steady and long term alliances, would set the tone for a dynasty that was going to contribute so much to the emergence of a lowland culture and identity.
48 min
Interview: Hiding in the Wolf's Lair
For the last 12 months we have been working on an artwork for Amsterdam Light Festival #8. The theme this year is 'Disrupt', so our piece is based on what we believe to be the most disruptive event in Amsterdam's history, the Second World War. During the occupation, around 250-300 people hid in Amsterdam Artis Zoo to escape from Nazi persecution. Among them were Jews, resistance fighters, young men who didn't want to get sent to forced labour camps in Germany, and even entire families. Since audio is a terrible medium to explain a light art installation, in this episode we dive into the story of Amsterdam's zoo during the Second World War and the people who managed to survive by hiding there. To guide us through this story, we interviewed the former director of Artis, Maarten Frankenhuis, who wrote Overleven in de Dierentuin (Surviving in the Zoo), the definitive account of Artis zoo during the war.
56 min
17 - The Bold and the Looter's Rule
Philip the Bold, Duke of Burgundy, kicked off a dynasty that would forever change the Low Countries. After his marriage to Margaret of Flanders in 1369, Philip would prove himself to be a formidable opponent to anyone playing the game of politics and power in western Europe. He generally did this by using diplomacy instead of the sword. Despite his adventurous and super trendy epithet suggesting otherwise, he was more willing to boldly give lavish gifts of wine and expensive ornaments, in order to charm the pants off anyone he was trying to manipulate, than to raise an army and go marching boldly forth. By showing magnanimity in victory after quelling an uprising in Ghent in the 1380s, by the end of the 14th century Philip the Bold was able to bring a modicum of stability to rebellious Flanders and begin the process of centralising power in the low countries under a single ruler: himself and his successors, the Dukes of Burgundy. Philip would create what would go down in history as the Burgundian Netherlands.
44 min
16 - The Fishy Tale of Willem Beukelszoon
In the latter half of the 14th century, a series of technological developments as well as ripe social and economic conditions saw the foundations being laid for the future Dutch takeover of the northern European herring industry. Up until then, the herring trade had been dominated by the Danes, Swedes and the Hanseatic towns of northern Germany and the Baltic Sea, with Dutch and other European consumers happily importing salted herring from those places. Within two hundred years this situation would be completely reversed; the fishing and exporting of salted herring would be one of the cornerstones of the Dutch economy and Dutch cured herring would come to reach dinner tables all across Europe. This remarkable reversal of fortunes was so integral to the emergence of Dutch national identity, that it required its own position within the narrative of the emerging Dutch state. From the 17th century onwards a myth was perpetuated which credited it all to a man called Willem Beukelszoon of Biervliet. He was a humble herring fisherman who, at some point in the 14th century apparently discovered the process of gibbing, which made this whole turn around possible. Although this legend has been debunked by modern historians, its perpetuation demonstrates the importance which the so-called “royal herring” enjoyed in the creation of a Dutch national identity. So in this episode of the History of the Netherlands, we are once again going to depart from the power games of the nobility, and the wranglings of urban elite and worker’s guilds, and focus on something even more slippery, the herring.
43 min
15 - Fuelling the Flames of Frisian Freedom
Friesland was an autonomous anomaly in Europe, free from the feudal obligations that had so deeply entrenched themselves in society everywhere else. For years the Frisians just rocked along, doing their own thing, which generally involved something to do with cows. We have largely avoided talking about them for a few episodes, but now is the time in our journey through the History of the Netherlands to look at exactly what the Frisians were doing in the 1300s that was not cow related. Put simply, for the first forty-four years of the fourteenth century forces and factions fought and feuded in Friesland, fueling the flames of fearless Frisian freedom fighters. In 1345, Frisian farmers and fishermen on the eastern side of the Zuiderzee would meet and defeat the Count of Holland in battle at Stavoren, an event that would unite people in East-Friesland and ensure that the autonomy they enjoyed known as “Vriese Vrijheid”, Frisian freedom, would continue for another 150 years.
43 min
14 - The Joys of Succession in Brabant
By the mid-1300s the fractured mini-states of the lowlands were being pulled apart by competing political and economic interests, warfare, dynastic struggles and the Black Death. The resulting instability meant that relations between the rulers and the ruled were constantly tested as the various layers of society tried to protect their interests in such perilous times. Whereas in Flanders this had led to bloody conflict between the Count and the cities, in other parts of the lowlands different methods were used to determine what this relationship should be. At a magnificent ceremony in Brabant in 1356, a new Duchess and Duke signed a document that did exactly this, confirming certain rights of their subjects, including the right to disobey the ruler if they failed to uphold their end of the bargain. Although this so-called ‘Joyous Entry’ would be ignored almost from the moment of its signing, it would continue to have symbolic significance throughout the History of the Netherlands.
38 min
13 - The Brewer of Ghent
The Flemish victory over the French at the Battle of the Golden Spurs led to a vast change in social structures, but that battle did not finish or solve the issues between Flanders, France and England. By the 1320s Flanders had still been in near constant warfare for decades and was, frankly, in a state of chaos. The Count of Flanders had lost much control, guilds had gained power in towns so as to compete with the urban elite and each other, and people in the countryside were often having to feed everybody while not enjoying the benefits of being a filthy-rich cloth merchant. Chaos, as we know, is a ladder, and a man named Jacob van Artevelde was going to climb it to the top.
48 min
12 - Jews, Pestilence and the Apocalyptic 14th ...
At this stage in our journey through the History of the Netherlands we have emerged into the 1300s: a century which for a long time, has been seen as the most awful century to have been alive in western Europe. Warfare and plague led to an almost complete breakdown of order in the social fabric. Estimates vary and depend on the region, but in less than a decade up to half of the European population died of the black death after it first struck in 1348, before returning again later in the century and wiping out another huge chunk. And as bad as all that may be, it would have been even worse if you were a Jew. Because even though you had to live through the same hardships as everyone else, and were exposed to the same pestilence that could destroy your family, there was a very high chance that you were going to be blamed for the black plague and subsequently burned to death as punishment.
43 min
11 - The Murder of Floris V
Today we are going to break the pattern of the last few episodes and make the outrageous move of not talking about Belgium. I know, crazy right. We’ve gone on a lot about the social changes which were taking place throughout the southern lowlands over the last few episodes, so now we move back north and focus our attention on how the area which, after various disastrous floods cut it off from Friesland proper during the 13th century, became known as West-Friesland, and which would by the end of that century be conquered and subdued by the warlords of the House of Holland. We’re going to cover anti-kings, people falling through ice, a son’s revenge of his father’s murder, peasant uprisings, backstabbing nobles, kidnappings and mob violence. Never a dull moment in our little swamp!
39 min
10 - The Battle of the Golden Spurs (A "Good Da...
In the late 1200s many of the trends and forces that we've been exploring, such as feudalism, urbanisation and industrialisation erupted in a spectacular clash between Flanders and France. Flanders was totally annexed by their larger and more powerful neighbour, but a rebellion stirred that would result in a brutal massacre and an unlikely battlefield victory in a pile of mud, flesh and golden spurs just outside of the town of Kortrijk.
55 min
09 - Weaving Our Way Through Flanders (A Wooly ...
Today we are taking you on an epic adventure, being passed from hand to hand and from group to group, throughout medieval Flanders, as wool. You read that correctly. Wool. Yes, it might seem strange at first, imagining being an inanimate object. But wool was the most important commodity in Flanders during the 13th century, and the process through which it was transformed from a raw material to a finished piece of fine cloth will take you through every layer of the new urban society that was developing in the low countries. You’re going to be dyed, spun, woven, beaten, pissed on and strung up on tenterhooks. It’s gonna be fun, trust us.
43 min
08 - Draining the Swamp (or, The Secret Soggy S...
We break away from the main chronology of the series a little bit, to zoom out and re-focus on one particular topic: how exactly, in the space of roughly 500 years, this empty swamp land was transformed into one of the most densely populated places on the planet. But in order to do that, we’re going to have to focus on one of the most underrated, and unappreciated of mother nature’s gifts. And that is something called sphagnum; more commonly known as peat moss. It's time to drain the swamp.
37 min
07 - Getting Down in Town
Freed from the need to be working the land due to the improvements in agriculture discussed in episode 6, people in the low countries began congregating in urban centres. They developed new skills and began manufacturing goods. Artisans like smiths, woodworkers, weavers, embroiderers and textile workers suddenly possessed talents with great economic value. Now, for the first time, members of the common class were able to put their fingers onto the scales of power, and begin to balance it back in their favour by making city charters. But the creation of a new body politic in the 11th century would not be without its adversaries, nor without its consequences.
37 min
06 - Ploughin’ Forward
The last few episodes have focused heavily on the “Game of Thrones” layer of history; that’s to say, nobles killing each other. As exciting as it's been, only a tiny minority of people who lived around the end of the first millennium of the Common Era would have been directly concerned with those kinds of conflicts. For most people in the lowlands, it didn’t matter who their count or duke or emperor was. For them, life was nasty, brutish and short, and involved an overwhelming amount of backbreaking manual labour. But an agricultural revolution was about to change life for these peasants forever. So let’s keep ploughin’ forward with the History of the Netherlands.
29 min
05 - Welcome to Family Feudalism
The disintegration of Charlemagne’s empire at the end of the 9th century left the lowlands part of a larger entity, Lotharingia, wedged between two much more powerful kingdoms, East and West Francia. If you were an ambitious noble, controlling one of the many small, swampy territories and you wished to move yourself up into a more prominent position, what would you do? Well, what lots of them chose to do was switch allegiances to and fro between the great powers on either side whenever they deemed it politically necessary and beneficial to do so. Welcome to Family Feudalism!
51 min
04 - Charles in Charge
In the latter half of the 8th century, events and circumstances around Europe become vastly influenced by a man who ruled a vast empire from the lowlands. This man is the reason why the name Charles - which if you think about it really hard is actually a pretty weird name - is anywhere near as populous as it is today. But this Charles was, apparently, greater than the rest, and so he gets to be called Charlemagne - Charles the Great.
47 min
03 - Illuminating the Dark Ages
A common misperception is that once Roman influence ended by 476 CE, the European continent went into a dark abyss with very little happening until the Italian Renaissance in the the 14th century. Most historians today would most likely disagree with this notion, as do we, because many important and enlightening things were happening in Europe, including our little part, the Lowlands. This episode is all about monks, migrations and Merovingians.
31 min
02 - What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?
Throughout history, the Low Countries would often be defined by their interactions with great powers nearby. This began when the Original Superpower™, the Romans, decided the border of their empire would be the Rhine river, running right through the heart of our swamp. One lowlander tribe, the Batavians, would learn the hard way that when in Rome, it’s better to just do as the Romans do
45 min
01 - 99% of Dutch History
We set off on an epic journey to explore the history of a small piece of land in the northwest part of the European continent known as ‘the lowlands’, which roughly includes today’s Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and bits of northern France. This episode will take us from so called “pre-history” to around the Roman era. So strap in while we deal with 99% of Dutch history... that’s most of it.
29 min