The history of the Netherlands is the history of seafaring people thriving on a lowland river delta on the North Sea in northwestern Europe. Records begin with the four centuries during which the region formed a militarized border zone of the Roman empire. This came under increasing pressure from Germanic peoples moving westwards. As Roman power collapsed and the Middle Ages began, three dominant Germanic peoples coalesced in the area, Frisians in the north and coastal areas, Low Saxons in the northeast, and the Franks in the south.
During the Middle Ages, the descendants of the Carolingian dynasty came to dominate the area and then extended their rule to a large part of Western Europe. The region of the Netherlands therefore became part of Lower Lotharingia within the Frankish Holy Roman Empire. For several centuries, lordships such as Brabant, Holland, Zeeland, Friesland, Guelders and others held a changing patchwork of territories. There was no unified equivalent of the modern Netherlands.
By 1433, the Duke of Burgundy had assumed control over most of the lowlands territories in Lower Lotharingia; he created the Burgundian Netherlands which included modern Belgium, Luxembourg, and a part of France.
The Catholic kings of Spain took strong measures against Protestantism, which polarized the peoples of present-day Belgium and Holland. The subsequent Dutch revolt led to splitting the Burgundian Netherlands into a Catholic French and Dutch-speaking “Spanish Netherlands” (approximately corresponding to modern Belgium and Luxembourg), and a northern “United Provinces”, which spoke Dutch and were predominantly Protestant with a Catholic minority. It became the modern Netherlands.
In the Dutch Golden Age, which had its zenith around 1667, there was a flowering of trade, industry, the arts and the sciences. A rich worldwide Dutch empire developed and the Dutch East India Company became one of the earliest and most important of national mercantile companies based on entrepreneurship and trade.
During the 18th century the power and wealth of the Netherlands declined. A series of wars with the more powerful British and French neighbors weakened it. Britain seized the North American colony of New Amsterdam, turning it into New York. There was growing unrest and conflict between the Orangists and the Patriots. The French Revolution spilled over after 1789, and a pro-French Batavian Republic was established in 1795–1806. Napoleon made it a satellite state, the Kingdom of Holland (1806–1810), and later simply a French imperial province.
After the collapse of Napoleon in 1813–15, an expanded “United Kingdom of the Netherlands” was created with the House of Orange as monarchs, also ruling Belgium and Luxembourg. The King imposed unpopular Protestant reforms on Belgium, which revolted in 1830 and became independent in 1839. After an initially conservative period, in the 1848 constitution the country became a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch. Modern Luxembourg became officially independent from the Netherlands in 1839, but a personal union remained until 1890. Since 1890 it is ruled by another branch of the House of Nassau.
The Netherlands was neutral during the First World War, but during the Second World War, it was invaded and occupied by Nazi Germany. The Nazis, including many collaborators, rounded up and killed almost all the Jews (most famously Anne Frank). When the Dutch resistance increased, the Nazis cut off food supplies to much of the country, causing severe starvation in 1944–45. In 1942, the Dutch East Indies was conquered by Japan, but first the Dutch destroyed the oil wells that Japan needed so badly. Indonesia proclaimed its independence in 1945. Suriname gained independence in 1975. The postwar years saw rapid economic recovery (helped by the American Marshall Plan), followed by the introduction of a welfare state during an era of peace and prosperity. The Netherlands formed a new economic alliance with Belgium and Luxembourg, the Benelux, and all three became founding members of the European Union and NATO. In recent decades, the Dutch economy has been closely linked to that of Germany, and is highly prosperous.