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Van Nederveen Meerkerk

National overview Netherlands, Textile conference IISH, 11-13 Nov. 2004

Textile workers in the Netherlands. Part 1: 1650-1810 Elise van Nederveen Meerkerk International Institute of Social History Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Introduction Until 1568, the northern Netherlands had belonged to the Habsburg Empire. A combination of economic crisis, powerstruggle between the Dutch gentry and the Spanish king over his policy and taxes, and religious differences, led to the revolt of several provinces in the north against the Spanish Crown. This revolt resulted in a war for independence that would last for 80 years, until the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648. In 1588, seven provinces had proclaimed the Dutch Republic of United Provinces (in thefollowing: ‘the Republic’).1 The Republic was governed by the Estates General, in which all provinces were represented. Despite the ongoing warfare, relative peace existed in the economically most important provinces of the Republic, Holland and Zealand, after 1585. In the southern Netherlands, the war against the Spanish troops continued, resulting in the loss of their key position in trade andindustry. Thousands of protestant migrants fled from the southern parts of the Netherlands to the safer cities in the north. This migration provided the northern Netherlands with a new labour force. Furthermore, many of the refugees were rich merchants from cities like Antwerp and Ghent, who brought capital and knowledge, giving an economical impulse to the Dutch cities in which they settled.2 Thethen unstable international situation, with England and France at constant war, continued for almost a century. Due to all these circumstances, the Dutch Republic became the centre of the world economy from the 1580s until at least 1650. The Dutch leading role in shipping and trade led to the development of a large staple market in the city of Amsterdam, where people dealt in goods from all over theworld.3 Because of the Republic’s primacy in world trade, historians have mainly focused on this aspect of the early modern Dutch economy. Lately it is recognized, however, that industry has also been very important for the economic development of this region.4 Especially the exportoriented textile industry was considerably large in certain parts of the Netherlands in the 17th and 18th centuries.Much of our knowledge of the textile industry in this period is based on the vast work on the wool industry of the largest textile-producing city of Leiden, that N.W. Posthumus wrote in the first half of the 20th century.5 Other research is also mainly regionally oriented. Here, we will try to extend this knowledge, by looking at several textile-producing regions within the northern Netherlandsat the same time, and by analysing major shifts and interdependencies between them. The Dutch textile industry: general developments 1650-1810 The Dutch economy was actually on its way down after 1650, although several sectors continued to flourish for quite some time. At the beginning of the 17th century, the production of woollen cloth was carried out in most parts of the Republic, albeit notalways export oriented production on a large scale. However, the undisputed centre of woollen textiles had been Leiden, a city in the province of Holland, on the west coast of the Republic. Most other cities of Holland could not compete with Leiden, and in the first half of the century their production of woollens declined or vanished. In cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam, textile entrepreneursstarted to specialize in 1

Van Nederveen Meerkerk

National overview Netherlands, Textile conference IISH, 11-13 Nov. 2004

the finishing and trade of cloth instead.6 The woollen industry in Leiden reached its peak in 1664. From then onwards, the city was gradually losing its position as the main cloth-producing centre of Europe. International competition increased, and within the Republic...
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