We have observed the development of an unplanned affinity between the English and the Dutch in the course of the seventeenth century. As a result, encounters between them could ordinarily be eased into some kind of agreement. This was, however, decidedly not the case with relations between the two nations overseas. Aggressive commercial competition meant that wherever the paths of Dutch and English financial interests crossed, there was almost bound to be trouble. This in spite of the fact that on the whole the Dutch did not have imperial ambitions along their newly established trade routes.
The Dutch Republic was a seaborne, trading nation at heart, and its expansionist energies were driven by the search for new goods and markets, and a keen eye for potential profit. It regarded the outposts it established as a result of the highly successful activities of its Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC) and West India Company (West-Indische Compagnie, or WIC) as first and foremost well-ordered trading posts, rather than colonies. These were settled points of exchange for goods and services, whose profits could be returned to the patria (homeland), where wealth would be invested and accumulated long-term for the benefit of the nation – or at least for the benefit of the wealthy speculators who financed long-distance, high-risk ventures.
The Royal Society’s first historian, Thomas Sprat, noted this difference between the English and the Dutch away from home. English merchants carried their way of life with them, establishing it in the new communities they encountered. Dutch merchants were entirely preoccupied with trade:
The Merchants of England live honourably in forein parts; those of Holland meanly, minding their gain alone: ours converse freely, and learn from all; having in their behaviour, very much of the Gentility of the Families, from which so many of them are descended: The others, when they are abroad, shew, that they are onely a Race of plain Citizens, keeping themselves most within their own Cells, and Ware-houses; scarce regarding the acquaintance of any, but those, with whom they traffick.1
Sprat’s characterisation of the Dutch as focusing all their efforts in this period on trade and gain, thereby enriching the nation, is in many ways a fair assessment of the United Provinces’ place in seventeenth-century Europe – though here we are, readers will recall, being careful not to attribute temperaments too narrowly to nations. In this final chapter we shall see how the new initiatives in finance, taxation and exchange, which had fuelled the Dutch ‘golden age’ of culture and commerce, were gradually transferred to Britain by a process of more or less conscious emulation, long before the arrival there of William and Mary in 1688.
There was one clear exception among Dutch trading outposts overseas to their general mercantile strategy of living abroad ‘meanly, minding their gain alone’, in the first half of the seventeenth century. This was the settlement of New Netherland, strategically located at the mouth of the Hudson River, on the east coast of America.2 New Netherland was unique among the ‘factories’ or trading locations established by the Dutch East and West India Companies in developing into a thriving and productive community, closely modelled on its Low Countries roots: ‘Whereas most Dutch colonies in the seventeenth century never developed into much more than trading posts, New Netherland became the first Dutch settlement colony, preceding that of the Cape of Good Hope.’3
New Netherland fits Sprat’s description of a colony with a civilising mission and a commitment to replicating a European way of life in the New World. It was in every respect resolutely Dutch. From the style of roof-truss used in family homes and public buildings, to the manner of grinding corn and the type of bread baked for the community, New Netherland adopted the habits and mores of the homeland, and specifically those of the mercantile hub from which its ships set out, and which was the home of the Dutch trading companies: Amsterdam.
It was an English adventurer and explorer, Henry Hudson, employed by the Dutch East India Company to look for the fabled North-West Passage to the Spice Islands, who discovered New Netherland. Thwarted in his first attempts to journey eastwards to find a North-East Passage to Russia, Hudson decided to head instead westward towards North America. He directed his attention to the area between the thirty-seventh and forty- second parallels, between Chesapeake Bay and Cape Cod, looking for an inlet promising enough to suggest a route through the continent to the Spice Islands, which allegedly lay beyond. In September 1609 he arrived at the mouth of what we now know as the Hudson River, sailing up it as far as what is today Albany, where it became too shallow for a seagoing ship to pass.
In 1615 the States General of the United Provinces granted a patent to the New Netherland Company, authorising it to undertake voyages to establish trading relations, particularly in furs, with the new trading posts precariously established at the mouth of the Hudson, followed, in 1621, by the formation of the Dutch West India Company. In response to protests from the English ambassador at The Hague, Sir Dudley Carleton, that the English had prior claims to this stretch of coastline, the new company sent a small vanguard of settlers to New Netherland, who established Dutch trading posts near Manhattan Island (as it later became) and a fortified headquarters for the region at Fort Orange, close to modern-day Albany.
The most hospitable and fertile place for settlement, however, lay on the coast, at the mouth of the north Hudson River. In early 1626, Paul Minuit, the newly appointed commander of the settlers in the Dutch colony of New Netherland, famously exchanged the small, sheltered island of Manhattan, tucked in between the river mouth and what the Dutch called ‘Lange Eylant’ (Long Island), for goods to the value of sixty guilders with the Indian tribe which lived there.
A contemporary account of the deal is preserved in records of the Dutch West India Company – the organisation responsible for settling the area on behalf of the Dutch, as a trading post for beaver pelts and other commodities to be shipped to Europe for profit. In the last week of November 1626, a Company official in Amsterdam reported in a letter (in Dutch) to his superiors at The Hague the arrival of a ship, the Arms of Amsterdam, which had left New Netherland in late September:
They report that our people are in good heart and live in peace there; the Women also have borne some children there. They have purchased the Island Manhattes [Manhattan] from the Indians for the value of 60 guilders; it is 11,000 morgens in size. They had all their grain sowed by the middle of May, and reaped by the middle of August. They send thence samples of summer grain; such as whet, rye, barley, oats, buckwheat, canary seed, beans and flax.
The ship in question carried a gratifyingly rich cargo of furs from the colony – beaver, otter and mink – as well as ‘Oak timber and Hickory’.4
From this report we gather that within a year of gaining ownership, the residents of Manhattan Island were farming their newly acquired land profitably, and consolidating their trade in lucrative furs with the Indians. Within two years, under the direction of Minuit, they had established a permanent settlement: thirty wooden houses along ‘The Strand’, on the flattish south-eastern flank of the island, and one stone building with a thatched roof of river reeds, as the West India Company headquarters, where the precious pelts collected from the interior could be stored before being shipped back to Europe. A fort was built on the south-western point of the island, whence enemy vessels could be attacked as they entered the harbour. Two mills were constructed at the southernmost tip, one for grinding grain, the other for sawing lumber. In contemporary drawings the sails of the windmill can be clearly seen behind the small cluster of Dutch- style cottages – this could almost be a landscape in the United Provinces themselves.
Manhattan Island turned out to have a richly varied terrain, with ample fertile land for cultivation. There was thick forest from which protruded large vertical rocks, grassy meadowlands, high hills in the centre of the island, babbling brooks and reedy ponds. Oaks, chestnut trees, poplar and pine studded the landscape, the inlets teemed with fish, and in summer the meadows were carpeted with wild strawberries. In this hospitable landscape Minuit established the settlement of New Amsterdam, and it duly prospered, its population increasing to 2,500 by the early 1660s.
Numbers in the settlement were swelled by new arrivals not directly involved in the WIC’s commercial business, but rather bent on making a new life there. In April 1637 a ship arrived from Amsterdam and sailed up the Hudson to Fort Orange. On board were some thirty-seven people, hired by their Dutch ‘patroon’ or master, Kiliaen van Rensselaer, to establish a settlement in his name, and there to trade with the Indians on his behalf. By 1642 around one hundred people had settled in the dispersed community around Fort Orange known as Rensselaerswijck, building and equipping a ‘bijeenwoninge’ – literally a ‘living together’, a community. In 1652 this spread-out settlement became the village of Beverwijck, a WIC company village. Eight years later this village had become a small town, inhabited by more than a thousand people. Among those who came to live in Beverwijck were Dutch settlers from Recife in Brazil, once governed by Johan Maurits van Nassau-Siegen, but lost in 1654 to the Portuguese, who expelled the Dutch traders, including a group of twenty-three Jews, men, women and children, who were allowed to settle in New Amsterdam on Manhattan Island.5
Between the early years of settlement and the 1650s, the population of New Netherland as a whole grew from a handful to almost eight thousand, a thriving, self-sufficient, Dutch-speaking community.6 That growth in population gradually led to a process of development of forms of government and social structures derived from the ‘old country’ – specifically the city of Amsterdam. According to Dutch custom, the settlements in North America were supposed to be directly controlled by the ‘nineteen lords’ of the Dutch West India Company (drawn predominantly from the governing chambers of Amsterdam and Zeeland). In fact, since most of the voyages to New Netherland were organised by Amsterdam merchants, New Netherland was largely under the administration of the twenty directors of the Amsterdam chamber. In addition to managing the wharves, the equipping of the ships and the sales of the cargoes brought in, they were also expected to administer the colony on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
The settlement at Rensselaerswijck, however, considered itself to be under the direct administration of its patron, Kiliaen van Rensselaer, just as van Rensselaer considered himself entitled to trade directly with the local inhabitants for beaver pelts, rather than via the WIC. In practice, therefore, administration of New Netherland came increasingly to be provided from among its Dutch residents. It was not until the arrival of Petrus (Peter) Stuyvesant in 1645, as the official representative of the WIC, that the situation was eventually regularised and an official voice was given to the population of New Netherland, in the form of an advisory committee of ‘the Nine Men’. The colonists were asked to draw up a list of eighteen nominees, from which Stuyvesant selected nine. These gemeentsmannen or gemeijnsluijden (councillors of the community) were not entitled to meet on their own initiative, but had to wait to be summoned by the director general ‘as is customary in our fatherland’.7
By the 1660s, when the scattered settlement of Rensselaerswijck had been consolidated into the thriving small township of Beverwijck, anyone encountering the settlers would have appreciated the thoroughgoing Dutchness of their way of life, from the language spoken to dress and habits. The records contain specific references to the customs of Amsterdam, in the appointment locally of burgemeesters and schepenen, rather than the representatives of the States General and the West India Company. Methods and manners of taxation and the regulation of trades were also closely modelled on those in the Dutch Republic.
The administrative and legal system of New Netherland, the structure of ecclesiastical life, the method in which the economy of the colony was ordered, and the way burgher rights were used as expressions of differences in status, were all based on those in the Dutch Republic. So too were the patterns of daily life.
Births, marriages and deaths were celebrated in New Netherland with simplified versions of the practices back home in the old country. The naming of children, choice of godparents and baptismal gifts display clear parallels with the customs in the Dutch Republic. Misdemeanours – from drunkenness to whoring – were punished with penalties modelled on those at home, as were breaches of promise, and marital discord. Where disputes arose between neighbours, or complaints were laid for insulting behaviour or swearing, both the behaviour and the methods of resolution are those of the Netherlands. Even the nursery rhymes sung by the children of New Netherland for many generations are recognisably those of urban Amsterdam.8
One curious consequence of the introduction of a robustly Dutch administration in New Netherland was its extension to a group of small communities almost entirely peopled by English immigrants. In order not to over-extend their small group of settlers, the WIC had allowed Long Island to be colonised by men and women from neighbouring English settlements. These communities were among the first to be granted autonomous administrative bodies and local courts, since it was inappropriate for the WIC to try to extend its Dutch powers to them. Nevertheless, the forms of administration and courts adopted were those also favoured by the neighbouring Dutch settlements. So by the 1660s, in spite of growing tension between England and the United Provinces at home, there was an unacknowledged Anglo–Dutch accord in New Netherland, extending to a merging of English and Dutch local interests.
And then, in August–September 1664, a small flotilla of heavily armed ships, laden with well-equipped soldiers, arrived off the shore of New Netherland from London. Without warning, as part of Anglo–Dutch hostilities on the other side of the world, brought about by commercial greed and ambition, New Netherland was taken by force by the English, and Dutch colonial ambitions in North America came abruptly to an end. New Netherland was absorbed into New England, New Amsterdam became New York, and Fort Orange became Albany (named after Charles II’s brother, Admiral of the Fleet and a keen investor in the English East India and Royal African Companies, James, Duke of York and Albany). Until comparatively recently, history had all but forgotten about the fundamental role played in the region by pioneering souls from the United Provinces.
Here a short digression is needed concerning Sir Robert Holmes, whom we encountered in Chapter 10, testing sea-going pendulum clocks for the Royal Society. For the catalyst for the seizure of New Netherland was an assault on Dutch settlements on the east coast of Africa by Holmes, under orders from the warmongering factions surrounding the recently returned English King, Charles II. This group had its eye on what it perceived to be extremely lucrative trading opportunities along the coast of Guinea, where, however, the Dutch were firmly installed already in fortified positions at Goree and elsewhere. The profitable commodity – eyed particularly covetously by James, Duke of York, who had acquired a considerable taste for speculative investment in overseas trade – politely known as ‘black gold’ was, of course, African slaves, to be transported at enormous profit to the new European plantations in the West Indies.
Holmes was first dispatched in 1661 with a small, heavily armed contingent of ships, to ‘assist’ in the Royal African Company’s trading ventures along the Guinea coast. He sailed from Portsmouth in January, reaching the Gambia in early March. On 18 March he forced the surrender of the Dutch fort of St Andreas, and after an unsuccessful attempt to find a legendary store of gold, he returned to England. The expedition brought a storm of diplomatic protest from the Dutch. Samuel Pepys regarded Holmes as fundamentally untrustworthy: ‘He seems to be very well acquainted with the King’s mind and with all the several factions at court. But good God, what an age is this, that a man cannot live without playing the knave and dissimulation.’
In May 1663, Holmes embarked on another voyage to Guinea, whose real purpose was to disrupt Dutch trade in the region and to seize Dutch possessions along the Guinea coast. On 21 January 1664 he attacked Goree, sinking two ships and taking two others, and the island surrendered on the following day. He went on to take the Dutch fort of Anta and a number of other Dutch positions before sailing for England in late June. We get some flavour of Holmes’s naval style from a letter he sent to one of the Duke of York’s officials on the way home. Undisciplined behaviour of a kind which seemed to follow him around had led to a nasty incident. In spite of assurances to the contrary, after seizing the Dutch trading posts at Aga and Anamaboa by force, Holmes’s men had begun to plunder their assets. The Dutch retaliated by blowing up the post, resulting in casualties to the tune of ’80 or 90 whites and blacks’. Which, Holmes reports nonchalantly, ‘the blacks rewarded by cutting off all their heads’:
Since my Letters from Cape Coast wee have taken in Aga & Anamaboa the former by storm, and after promiseing Quarter to the Flemins & taken possession our men being somewhat greedy of Plunder, the Flemins treacherously blew up the Powder & withall 80 or 90 whites and blacks, which the blacks rewarded by cutting off all their heads […] I know not how my Actions vpon the Coast of Guyny are resented at Court, nor how my Condicion stands […] My service to all friends I am sir, yours. R.H.9
It was on this return voyage that Holmes produced the story that has earned a permanent place in the history of science, about the amazing accuracy of Huygens’s pendulum clocks, and how they had saved the returning ships from disaster by enabling him to predict how long it would take, in precisely which direction, to make landfall on the Cape Verde islands. The clocks had been kept assiduously wound and to time, he claimed, throughout his marauding adventures.10
Anti-Dutch feeling was already running high among the hawks in Charles II’s government by 1662–63. But it was Holmes’s buccaneering and unscrupulous naval action off Guinea that brought matters between England and the United Provinces conclusively to a head, and triggered the declaration of war by the Dutch in February 1665 (Holmes was also to provoke the confrontation which led to the third Dutch war in 1672).
So much for Holmes’s disreputable behaviour on behalf of the English off Africa. As part of the same initiative, the continuing state of heightened Anglo–Dutch tension led to Charles II’s resolving to put an end to Dutch settlement in North America. While Holmes was on the high seas, the King was putting together an expedition to seize New Netherland and give it to his brother James, Duke of York and Albany. In January 1664 a committee set up to consider the likely outcome of an attack concluded that ‘if the King will send three ships and three hundred soldiers under good officers’, the Dutch could be vanquished and their colonies seized. Charles assigned to his brother James (’his Heirs and Assigns’) not only all the lands currently held by the Dutch in New Netherland, but vast tracts of the new continent, from Maine to Delaware.
A convoy of ships was equipped, and a contingent of soldiers heavily armed for the enterprise, under the Duke of York’s command. James appointed his groom of the bedchamber Richard Nicolls his deputy governor, and Nicolls set off from Portsmouth in May 1664, arriving off Cape Cod ten weeks later, where he informed the English inhabitants of his intentions.
The English settlers along the east coast of North America had managed to co-exist remarkably amicably with their Dutch neighbours for more than thirty years, exchanging essential goods with one another, and cooperating in the defensive and other measures needed to prevent the precariously established colonies from destruction, by either hostilities with the local Indian population, or the depredations of the climate.
When the English ships arrived at the English Massachusetts Bay Colony and Nicolls’s forces disembarked, John Winthrop, the English governor of Connecticut (whom we met at the end of the last chapter, observing the moons of Jupiter through his telescope), was taken entirely by surprise. On his recent trip to London, the King had granted him much of the territory which he had now given with a flourish to James. Winthrop’s Connecticut colony charter was reneged on with a simple message transmitted by Nicolls, who had been ordered to ‘putt Mr Winthropp in mind of the differences which were on foot here’. Nicolls’s arrival with three frigates and three hundred combat-ready, heavily armed forces threatened to destabilise the entire region. Deeply disappointed on behalf of the community he had worked so hard for, John Winthrop was forced to cut his losses and step in as negotiator for Nicolls on the English side, to try to persuade Peter Stuyvesant, governor of New Netherland, to surrender rather than provoke a full-scale colonial war.
There was, however, one further, gratuitous piece of double-dealing by the English homeland administration to be coped with by the beleaguered Winthrop. One of the chief instigators of the aggressive move to seize New Netherland turned out to be his own cousin George Downing, who had grown up in New England, and graduated in the first year of the colony’s new university, Harvard. Now Resident English ambassador at The Hague, having managed to regain the post he had also held under the Commonwealth, Downing was one of the loudest voices arguing that Dutch commercial expansion could only be curtailed by striking at their trading posts across the world:
[The Dutch] discourse very publicly […] ‘we shall wholly destroy the English in the East Indies, we are masters of Guinea, we shall ruin the English trade in the caribee islands and western parts, and we doubt not but now by the order sent to Cadiz and the Streights, to be masters of those seas and to take and ruin all the English shipping there’.11
Downing, who was deeply unpopular with the Dutch, expressed vociferous concern at what he characterised as their damaging expansionist ambitions. ‘From 1661 to 1665 his insistence upon resolute English action against Dutch pretensions was sufficiently aggressive to be accounted a principal cause of the ensuing war.’12 His intervention in the Dutch colonial venture in North America was well-informed and effective. He knew both New Netherland and the governor of Connecticut at first hand, and he knew how to dupe them into submission.
From The Hague, Downing had taken the trouble to inform the States General that the Dutch colonies had nothing to fear from the English forces: Charles II was merely sending a commander to overhaul the administration of the New England colonies. The Dutch administration was suitably reassured: the directors of the WIC informed Stuyvesant that Nicolls’s mission would not affect him.13 Winthrop, who was on cordial terms with Stuyvesant, also reassured him on the strength of Downing’s briefing. So Stuyvesant, who had been at Fort Orange on business when the English troops disembarked, returned to Manhattan to find English gunboats at the entrance to the lower harbour, cutting off the river and Manhattan island. In response to a letter from him asking for reassurance that nothing ‘of prejudice’ was intended against them, Nicolls replied:
In his Majesties Name, I doe demand the Towne, Situate upon the Island commonly knowne by the Name of Manhatoes with all the Forts there unto belonging, to be rendered unto his Majesties obedience, and Protection into my hands.
The King, he went on, did not relish ‘the effusion of Christian blood’, but if the Dutch did not surrender they would bring upon themselves ‘the miseryes of a War’. Stuyvesant would have preferred to hold out against the gunships on his doorstep. In the end, though, the leading men of New Amsterdam opted to surrender without a fight, rather than suffer ‘misery, sorrow, conflagration, the dishonour of women, murder of children in their cradles, and in a word, the absolute ruin and destruction of innocent souls’. Apart from a brief period when the United Provinces regained New Netherland in the early 1670s, the Dutch colonisation of America was over.
Charles II received the news with delight. Although he can have had no idea of the long-term global significance of having acquired the ‘island at the centre of the world’ without a shot being fired, he did appreciate its significance as a trading destination on the expanding English imperial map. ‘You will have heard of our taking of New Amsterdam,’ he wrote to his sister in Paris. ‘’Tis a place of great importance to trade, and a very good town.’
And yet, forms of Dutch-based regional government continued on English-administered Manhattan island and in surrounding territories, to which they had been adapted over forty years of confrontation and compromise with the authorities of the Dutch West India Company. So did familiar patterns of everyday life, rituals of birth, marriage and death, and even the names of particular localities: Breuckelen (Brooklyn), Deutel Bay (Turtle Bay), Neuw Haarlem (Harlem), Yonkers, the Bronx.
Many of the Dutch residents of New Netherland did not leave. They adjusted to the new regime as to so much else since they had left their homeland. So did the mingled community of those from other countries, of other ethnicities and with other faiths, who had washed up in the Dutch colony, where the spirit of toleration that had been brought from Amsterdam continued to sustain them. Although the Dutch language did not survive as the language of daily life in America, American English still carries traces of its Netherlandish ancestry – a ‘cookie’ is a koekje (small cake) and your ‘boss’ is your baas (master) – just as its culture still contains within it those foundational ideals and aspirations of tolerance, inclusiveness and fairness which had been the defining characteristics of the Dutch settlements in the New World.
Competition for trade fuelled Anglo–Dutch conflict throughout the seventeenth century, in spite of the obvious shared characteristics of the two countries, as commercial competition escalated into international confrontation. And trade rather than territorial expansion was the driving force behind English and Dutch adventures in North America. It was the lifeblood of the new communities. Finding ways of exploiting local resources commercially or as part of an exchange economy came as second nature to the residents of the villages and townships springing up along the eastern Atlantic seaboard. When Maria van Cortlandt from New Amsterdam married Jeremias van Rensselaer, the director of the Rensselaerswijck colony on the upper Hudson River in 1661, and moved inland, she sent regular shipments of apples to her brother in New Amsterdam, in exchange for barrel-loads of the ‘very large oysters’ so plentiful in her home town, but unavailable upriver.14
Since it is a while since Sir Constantijn Huygens has made an appearance in this story, his correspondence provides us with a more elite example of long-distance gift-exchange in the Dutch trading company context. While Johan Maurits of Nassau-Segen was governor of the Dutch West India Company at Recife in Brazil between 1637 and 1644 (we saw him laying out his Dutch garden there in Chapter 9), Sir Constantijn took charge of overseeing the building of a great neoclassical mansion for him – today simply known as the Mauritshuis – back home in The Hague, next door to Huygens’s own comparably elegant house in Het Plein. The architect-builder of both was van Campen.
In May 1642 Johan Maurits wrote to Huygens, thanking him for having supervised the laying of a slate roof for the Mauritshuis, ‘for it would have been an intolerable inconvenience to have a house ill-roofed’. He asked Sir Constantijn to go on keeping an eye on his house’s progress, and he ended by assuring him that as a token of his gratitude he was sending him ample quantities of Brazil’s most desirable commodities: ‘some fine hardwood and some sugar’.15
Across the Atlantic Ocean from New Netherland, in the Dutch homeland, Amsterdam was the trading hub for the United Provinces from the beginning of the seventeenth century. Its role as the key port in the Netherlands had expanded at extraordinary speed in the course of the early decades of the century, not least because of Spanish pressure on its competitor Antwerp, whose position on the Scheldt river meant that it was vulnerable to blockading by hostile forces from the south. In the course of the century, Amsterdam achieved dominant status as the gateway through which foodstuffs, raw materials and finished products arrived in the Low Countries from surrounding territories. It was the main outlet for goods processed or manufactured in the Low Countries to be sold elsewhere. By mid-century, Amsterdam had also become the place to which goods were brought back from all over the world by the East and West India Companies. There they were stored (stapled) to await the moment when a demand for them would emerge somewhere and they could be reexported.16
Amsterdam was a gigantic warehouse for the known world, ‘the indispensable buffer in international trade’. The power of the city’s position in the international trading network, however, rested on more than simply warehousing and distributing goods. As a leading expert in Dutch economic history has argued, Amsterdam was a centre of information exchange as well as a staple market for goods. In other words, knowledge of potentially marketable products, the demand for them and their present and future potential prices, were concentrated in the highly literate, well-connected, diverse Amsterdam community. The scale and quality of the flow of information in Amsterdam were supported and encouraged by the city’s function as the gateway for goods. But the increasing importance of Amsterdam as a centre of distribution for everything from goods to ideas depended on people and correspondence flowing through the city.
At the Royal Society in London it was believed that established patterns of trading and trafficking in Amsterdam explained the dramatic growth in knowledge there, and the corresponding growth in wealth:
The Hollanders exceed us in Riches and Trafic: They receive all Projects, and all People, and have few or no Poor: We have kept them out and suppress’d them, for the sake of the Poor, whom we thereby do certainly make the poorer.17
Admiration for Dutch financial and commercial institutions was widespread in England after the Restoration. In 1668, Sir William Temple, newly appointed English Resident Ambassador to the United Provinces, wrote:
In this city of Amsterdam is the famous Bank, which is the greatest Treasure either real or imaginary, that is known any where in the World. The security of the Bank lies not only in the effects that are in it, but in the Credit of the whole Town or State of Amsterdam, whose Stock and Revenue is equal to that of some Kingdoms.18
Seventeenth-century clavichord lid, decorated with an allegory of Amsterdam as the centre of world trade.
Temple was probably exaggerating, but his envy of the financial resources Amsterdam could muster, particularly in time of war, was sincere, and was shared by others in England looking to improve the position of the English crown and government in relation to the large amounts of wealth in private hands. The superior administrative arrangements in the Dutch Republic were appreciated even before 1660. In the late 1630s an observer in Holland, William Brereton, reported that:
The customs and excise here [Amsterdam] are very great, but I could never attain to an exact knowledge thereof, though I applied myself to enquire; but this I heard, that this town affords as great revenues, to maintain the wars to the States, as four provinces – Zeland, Utrech, OverIsell and Friseland.19
While a petition to Cromwell during the Commonwealth period expressed admiration for the commercial shrewdness of the Dutch, and complained that:
It is no wonder that these Dutchmen should thrive before us. Their statesmen are all merchants. They have travelled in foreign countries, they understand the course of trade, and they do everything to further its interests.20
The pivotal role that Amsterdam played on the world stage as a hub of exchange for goods and knowledge, down to the 1688 Dutch invasion of England (and some years beyond), is well represented symbolically by the Amsterdam Bourse, or stock exchange. The magnificent Bourse – an open central courtyard, surrounded by colonnaded neoclassical buildings – opened for business in 1611.
Apart from grain, for which there was a separate corn exchange, every other kind of commodity was traded at the Bourse. It was the place to charter ships, to insure their cargoes, to obtain credit, to make payments, to rent warehouse space and to hire labourers for loading and unloading vessels. One went there to learn what was going on politically, at home and abroad. ‘The concentration of functions made the Bourse the nerve centre of Amsterdam’s commerce. No one who was in any way involved in wholesale trade could afford not to appear on the Bourse.’21
The Bourse was also where information of all kinds, from all around the globe, was exchanged and discussed, and turned into knowledge of prices, markets and trading opportunities. Recently, historians of science have argued convincingly that it was the concentration of precise, highly specific information on an astoundingly wide range of topics, from all over the world, that provided the conditions for the growth of modern science and medicine.22
The Bourse opened for only one hour a day – from 11 a.m. till noon – further adding to the sense of an urgently concentrated occasion and location for the transaction of goods and knowledge. At noon, tourists were allowed in, to admire the building and the activities with which it would still be humming after the merchants and brokers had stopped trading. Outside trading hours too, some of the more exotic objects which had arrived for trading were taken away for scrutiny, to assess their value to learning and their potential for the learned professions.
Economic historians are broadly agreed that after the Restoration, England introduced financial systems and institutions in London modelled on the Dutch, though they differ somewhat in their accounts of how closely emulative the English arrangements were, and how successfully the organisational arrangements were transplanted. Such detail need not, though, concern us here. What matters for the present story is that by the 1680s there was a recognisable similarity between financiers and their organisation in London, and those in Amsterdam. What this produced was a mutual sense of understanding and compatibility which eased and facilitated financial transactions. Dutch bankers could do business with their counterparts in London, and vice versa. By contrast, French business with both nations declined over the same period.
The beginnings of those distinctive and much-emulated Dutch mechanisms governing trade and finance are to be found in arrangements put in place in the founding charter of the Dutch East India Company (VOC). ‘The origin of modern stock exchanges that specialise in creating and sustaining secondary markets in the securities issued by corporations goes back to the formation of the Dutch East India Company in the year 1602.’ So writes one of the foremost authorities on Anglo–Dutch economic history.23
The immediate motive for the formation of the VOC was twofold: to avoid the strain on financial resources caused by competition between commercial trading ventures operating independently, and to consolidate profit in order to finance the military objectives necessary to withstand the expansionist ambitions of France and Spain.24 The founders of the VOC took advantage of the fact that a willingness to pool resources against weighty outside odds was a deeply ingrained Dutch habit. Taxation on a per capita basis, to raise the money to repair dykes, or to secure vulnerable borders against foreign aggressors, was a standard Dutch practice – one for which successive English administrations expressed envy down to 1688, after which similar taxes were levied in England.
Bottle cabinet containing decorated Japanese porcelain bottles, decorated with tendril and plant motifs, each base marked with the initials of the Dutch East India Company.
Economic historians today on the whole agree that the activities of the VOC and its English competitor, the East India Company, in the seventeenth century established the conditions for and management of international trade which have endured to the present day. Fundamental to these were the innovative arrangements for distributing risk evenly among investors.
Under the charter of the VOC, the States General empowered the new company to build forts, maintain armies, and conclude treaties with the rulers of the Asian territories with which it traded. To this end, the charter of the Company provided for a venture which would continue for twenty- one years, with a financial accounting only at the end of each decade (instead of following each completed voyage). All investors would be responsible for the Company’s debts, in proportion to their investment. This made the VOC what we now call a limited liability company.
It was further decided that the capital invested at the beginning of the venture would be fixed, and that investors who wished to liquidate their interest in the VOC could sell their share to a buyer at the Bourse, as if it were a physical commodity. In the early years, a large number of small founding shareholders exercised this option.25
While the WIC had sole charge of the New Netherland colony, and administered it on behalf of the States General, until forced to relinquish some control to local residents, the VOC was enormously successful in trade in Indonesia, the Moluccas and around the coast of India, where it maintained virtual commercial monopolies against the English and Portuguese who also traded in the region. At the end of its first ten-year trading period, during which the original trading capital had been enlarged by more than 40 per cent, dividends were paid to shareholders in the form of a distribution of pepper and mace. By the Company’s calculation, the value of the distributed spices amounted to a 125 per cent dividend – though many shareholders doubted whether they could actually realise that return in cash. Later returns settled down, and after 1650 they ran at about 4 per cent per annum.
After the mid-seventeenth century the VOC’s importance to the Dutch economy resided chiefly in its enormous size. It paid dividends and interest averaging nearly two million guilders a year throughout the period 1660–1780. It employed thousands of men, injecting between three and five million guilders of wages into the otherwise flat Dutch economy, while between one and two million guilders more went into the economy in the form of orders for supplies.
Competition between the VOC and the English East India Company was intense, and was responsible to a large extent for Anglo–Dutch friction throughout the seventeenth century. Given the financial power of both Companies in their home nations, it is not surprising that each exerted pressure on its respective government at key moments – notably in 1650 and 1688 – when it appeared possible that a close alliance between the English and Dutch states might amalgamate the two trading companies as part of one joint endeavour. And competition between the two Companies ensured that the financial mechanisms developed by the Dutch quickly found their way into the English methods of dealing with import–export, customs and excise, taxation, record-keeping and accounting by emulation. By the time the two nations effectively came under one sovereign rule in 1688, it was a comparatively easy matter to integrate – or at least, harmoniously operate side by side – their administrative and business systems.
While the Dutch West India Company and the English King were at loggerheads over New Netherland and the island of Manhattan, and while the English East India Company was casting an increasingly envious eye on the trading activities of its Dutch VOC rival along the west coast of Africa, farther to the east the Dutch East India Company was developing a robust international trade in an area close to its gardening-nation heart: horticultural exotica and pharmaceuticals. Once again, its interest in the region came into collision on a regular basis with the English, who were also intent on securing exclusive rights to new, lucrative types of merchandise and accompanying forms of new knowledge in medicine and horticulture.
We saw in the context of gardens and gardening how global trade literally transformed the English and Dutch landscapes, introducing species of trees, shrubs and flowers previously entirely unknown in Europe. The biggest transformation, however, was in the realm of new knowledges – particularly medical knowledge. Here, as so often before, Sir Constantijn Huygens may serve as our witness.
In 1674 the elderly Sir Constantijn paid a visit to the English Resident Ambassador, Sir William Temple, at his home in The Hague. Temple was housebound with a bad attack of gout, an affliction that had troubled him for a number of years. He later published an account of the visit:
Talking of my illness, and approving of my obstinacy against all the common prescriptions; [Sir Constantijn] asked me whether I had never heard the Indian way of Curing the Gout by Moxa? I told him no, and asked him what it was?
He said it was a certain kind of Moss that grew in the East-Indies; that their way was, when ever any body fell into a Fit of the Gout, to take a small quantity of it, and form it into a figure, broad at bottom as a twopence, and pointed at top; To set the bottom exactly upon the place where the violence of the pain was fixed, then with a small round perfumed Match (made likewise in the Indies) to give fire to the top of the Moss; which burning down by degrees, came at length to the skin, and burnt it till the Moss was consumed to ashes.
That many times the first burning would remove the pain; if not, it was to be renewed a second, third and fourth time, till it went away, and till the person found he could set his foot boldly to the ground and walk.26
Temple asked Huygens how he had heard about this remedy, and he told him that he had read about it in a book recently published by a Dutch physician who had spent a lot of time in the East Indies and Japan. ‘Though he could not say whether experiment had been made of it here, yet the Book was worth reading; and for his part, He thought He should try it if ever he should fall into that Disease.’
The next day Huygens brought a copy of the book, which Temple, a fluent Dutch-speaker, read at one sitting. He was sufficiently impressed by its argument to agree to try the remedy himself. He placed the pellet of prepared moxa ‘just upon the place where the first violence of my pain began, which was the joint of the great toe’, and lit it, as instructed. The treatment was a considerable success:
Upon the first burning I found the skin shrink all round the place; and whether the greater pain of the fire had taken away the sense of a smaller or no, I could not tell; but I thought it less than it was: I burnt it the second time, and upon it observed the skin about it to shrink, and the swelling to flat yet more than at first. I began to move my toe, which I had not done before; but I found some remainders of pain.
I burnt it the third time, and observed still the same effects without, but a much greater within; for I stirred the joynt several times at ease; and growing bolder, I set my foot to the ground without any pain at all.27
The book Huygens had given Temple was by Hermann Busschoff, a Dutch minister of the Reformed Church who had served in Taiwan, where he had been persuaded by his wife to try moxa for his own painful gout, with considerable success. He published his short treatise on the subject in Utrecht in 1674, so it was hot off the press when Huygens passed this brand new medical knowledge from the Far East to his English friend.
Some time later, Huygens wrote to the secretary of the Royal Society in London, sending him a copy of Busschoff’s book, which the Society had translated into English. The Dutch miscroscopist Anton van Leeuwenhoek, who had also read it, proceeded to examine the moxa pellet under his microscope, and sent his observations to the Royal Society in 1677. So by this time the use of moxa to treat gout had passed by print and word of mouth from the VOC’s factories in the Far East to the Dutch Republic, and thence to Dutch and English individuals, who passed the information and Busschoff’s book to London. There the Royal Society took it up, and pursued it ‘scientifically’.28
In July 1681, Willem ten Rhijne, a physician and botanist who had served with the VOC in Java and Japan and had known Busschoff personally, wrote to the secretary of the Royal Society in London to say that he had various observations, collected during his time in the Far East, which he would be happy to communicate to the Society, and that he had a treatise of his own on the use of moxa and acupuncture, as well as on methods of diagnosis by taking the pulse, as practised by the Chinese, which he would like to send to be printed in England.
The letter was brought to a meeting of the Royal Society on 18 January 1682, and its contents were discussed at considerable length. A medical member thought that the virtue of the moxa lay in the burning and cauterising effect alone, but the acting secretary, Robert Hooke, believed that the plant must have some ‘peculiar virtue’ in its substance, perhaps in its ‘solid oil’. Ten Rhijne’s remarks about Chinese use of the pulse in diagnosis led the President, Sir Christopher Wren, to note that the Chinese ‘were extremely curious about feeling the pulse of the patient’, not only via the wrist, ‘but in divers other parts of the body, by which they pretended to make great discoveries about disease’. Hooke then suggested that in feeling the pulse one might discern the different states of the parts of the body.29
Such was the interest aroused by ten Rhijne’s communication that the Fellows requested that it be followed up immediately. A letter of reply was written, in which ten Rhijne was asked to supply any further observations he had about the medicine or natural history of Asia, and was given a list of subjects the Society was particularly interested in. At the end of March the manuscript of ten Rhijne’s treatise arrived. It was published in Latin, with some additional materials in the original Dutch, in 1683. The book contained not only ten Rhijne’s work on acupuncture, but also a general discussion of gout, and its treatment using moxibustion, including four Japanese diagrams showing the points to which the moxa and the acupuncture needles ought to be applied.30
There could, surely, be no more eloquent an example of the enthusiastic exchanges, amounting to a fusion of knowledge and practice, between Dutch and English medical men and scientists. The fact that the understanding acquired from Asia of the application of moxa, and acupuncture therapeutically, soon receded within the European medical repertoire, not to re-emerge until the twentieth century, only adds piquancy to its enthusiastic seventeenth-century reception.
A number of those to whom I have spoken as I have been writing this book have been quick to raise the one area of Anglo–Dutch development of which they are already aware – the adoption of Dutch forms of banking after 1688, leading to the foundation of the Bank of England in 1694. So I close this chapter with a story, to suggest that like so much else I have talked about, Dutch influence on English banking methods predates by some years the landing of William III’s invading army at Torbay. Intriguingly, the person who greatly admired Dutch banking, and was responsible for the adoption of its methods in London, is better known for his alleged intense antipathy for all things Dutch.31
We met George Downing earlier in this chapter, as the man who used his upbringing in and understanding of the English and Dutch colonial settlements in the New World to mislead Peter Stuyvesant into not appreciating the gravity of the threat to New Netherland in 1664, thereby contributing to the end of the Dutch colonial venture in North America. As his contemporaries were quick to point out, Downing’s life fails to fit conventional accounts of the career of a prominent seventeenth-century politician. One called him ‘a sider [turncoat] with all times and changes, well skill’d in the common cant’, another ‘a crafty fawning man … ready to turn to every side that is uppermost, and to betray those who … thought they might depend on him’. In other words, he crossed boundaries, in the way this book has been highlighting, and therefore escapes classification as belonging to any single faction, allegiance, or even nation.
As a recent scholarly assessment of Downing’s career perceptively suggests, ‘he did not live a national life’, but rather straddled England and Holland, Europe and America. He was born in Dublin, and educated in Massachusetts. His professional career began in Scotland, where he was Scoutmaster General of the English army – all-purpose intelligence and information gatherer. He was English Resident Ambassador at The Hague under Cromwell’s Commonwealth from 1657 to its demise, and again from the Restoration on and off until the declaration of the third Anglo–Dutch war in 1672, as representative of Charles II. By the 1660s he was a baronet, and by his death in 1683 he was the wealthiest landowner in Cambridge- shire.32
Downing was clearly not a nice man. Samuel Pepys, who worked for him in the Exchequer office, has left us a colourful picture of an ambitious, avaricious man, who summoned Pepys on the day he was made a baronet to make sure that henceforth he was always addressed by his title. As a former supporter of the Commonwealth, he has gone down in history as the ultimate turncoat, for his kidnapping of two of the regicides in The Hague in 1661 and shipping them back to London, where they were hanged, drawn and quartered for treason. During his two periods of residency as ambassador to The Hague he took his duties as collector of intelligence extremely seriously, employing a network of local spies. He later boasted to Pepys that he had ‘had so good spies, that he hath had the keys taken out of De Witts [the republican head of the Dutch government] pocket when he was a-bed, and his closet opened and papers brought to him and left in his hands for an hour, and carried back and laid in the place again and the keys put in his pocket again’.33
His intensive surveillance of Dutch affairs, coupled with his early upbringing cheek by jowl with the Dutch settlers in North America, gave Downing an unparalleled insight into the operations of the Dutch republican state – a state he regarded as significantly more efficient and financially buoyant than its English monarchical counterpart. What is of particular interest to us here is the way Downing’s close contact with the Dutch Republic, coupled with his experience as an administrator during the Commonwealth period, led him to advocate explicitly Dutch-derived fiscal measures for the consistently financially embarrassed government of Charles I, in particular a system of taxation which would support an adequate military force to protect the state. ‘Two things coloured and shaped Downing’s approach. The first was his experience of this in the Dutch context. The second was his understanding that this was driven by a Dutch commitment to finance its military endeavours as a matter of priority.’34
From The Hague, Downing explained to his English correspondents time and again that a precondition for the success of the Dutch VOC and WIC was the States General’s willingness and ability to protect it with military convoys, paid for by the state. The profit and prosperity this produced led in turn to the Dutch being prepared to put up with heavy taxes. ‘It is strange to see,’ Downing reported, ‘with what readiness this people doe consent to extraordinary taxes, although their ordinary taxes be yet great.’ He noted with approval that Dutch finance relied upon excise duties (exacted pro rata on all goods imported through Dutch ports), while keeping customs duties (charged to individuals carrying goods into the Republic and based on discretionary valuation) low. And he encouraged the English administration to adopt a similar strategy.
Downing’s most important contribution to English fiscal policy, however, was the importation of the underlying principles of state banking that led ultimately to the formation of the Bank of England. The details of this are beyond the scope of this book, but recent academic studies agree that his influence laid important groundwork for reforms introduced after 1688. ‘Downing’s scheme used parliamentary legislation to underwrite loan repayments with the authority of the state (rather than simply of the monarch personally)’. The Earl of Clarendon, historian of this period, and passionate opponent of Downing’s fiscal policies, has left us a clear account of the innovative nature of his new measures:
Downing […] told them [that] by making the Payment with Interest so certain and fixed, that […] it should be out of any Man’s Power to cause any Money that should be lent To-morrow to be paid before that which was lent Yesterday […] he would make [the] Exchequer (which was not Bankrupt and without any Credit) the greatest Bank in Europe.35
‘All Nations would sooner send their Money into [it],’ Clarendon continued, ‘than into Amsterdam or Genoa or Venice.’ Such an English bank, in other words, would be as powerful and profitable as those of the three most prosperous European republics. The tone of Clarendon’s remarks makes it clear how opposed to such strategies the old Royalists were after the Restoration. But it was Clarendon who fell from office, and Downing who continued to rise, carrying with him his enthusiasm for fiscal reform on a Dutch model.
Throughout his career – whatever the form of government in England, and whichever political party was in power – Downing worked tirelessly to reform English financial institutions so as to bring them in line with those he regarded as so supremely successful in the United Provinces. He did so in spite of the fact that England was a monarchy, while the United Provinces was a long-established republic. In so doing, he put in place the machinery for the ‘constitutional monarchy’ which would follow the arrival of William III in England in 1688.
There is, surely, no small irony in the fact that the foundations for modern English banking, to whose rise has been attributed the eventual eclipse of the Dutch in what had once been their area of greatest power and influence in the world, were laid by a man who has gone down in history for his hatred of the Dutch. I use this story to close, as a reminder of the many curious and varied ways of ‘going Dutch’ there were in the course of the seventeenth century – adoptions and assimilations of Dutch ideas and mores, which shaped the fortunes and futures of both the English and Dutch nations.