Top Books: The Dutch Republic

The remarkable story behind the Dutch Republic, which existed between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, is as much a tale of art and economy as politics and war. The Republic's history has been told in a range of quality books, and these are my top ten picks.

This edition is actually a single volume, albeit over a thousand pages in length, collecting both volumes of Israel's text. The entire life of the Republic is examined, and a wide European context provided, in this detailed work which some commentators have called the best on the subject.
Written before his marvelous Citizens (a study of the French Revolution), The Embarrassment of Riches is an excellent examination of the Dutch Republic, narrating the growth and development of this remarkable country. Schama has blended a wide variety of sources to cover many fascinating, and sometimes obscure, themes in an eminently readable, but factually dense, volume.

Prak’s account of the Dutch Republic examines a broad range of issues, including whether the era foretold industrialized and modern Europe. There are two great books on the subject, but they are large and Prak provides an excellent shorter work – one to start with unless you like a big read straight away.


Price is a widely acknowledged expert on the Dutch Republic, and his general account of the region in the seventeenth century will be a useful introduction for all levels of student, especially those put off by the large size of picks 1 and 2.
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Tulipomania by Mike Dash

n the first half of the seventeenth century a craze for certain tulips led to a form of pandemonium, as prices rose to exorbitant levels and beyond, before crashing ruinously back to earth. Dash's volume has been hugely popular, and justifiably so, for he has covered one of the more fantastic historical events with verve and style.
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A History of the Dutch-Speaking Peoples by Pieter Geyl

Adding explanation and reasoning to basic facts, Geyl explores the situations and events that led a Dutch Republic to emerge from centuries of Habsburg and Spanish domination. As well as describing the past, some readers have interpreted this work as a warning to anyone who would try and rule foreign regions by force!
This history, which has been translated into English, offers historical information on the Low Countries (which includes the modern day regions of Belgium and the Netherlands) across a broad period. As well as facts and figures, the volume also includes reproductions of pictures by Brueghel and Rembrandt, adding a visual dimension to your reading.
Relevant to anyone interested in the history of Britain, the Netherlands or Europe as a whole, this book covers the three naval conflicts between these two crucial North Sea powers. Details of tactics and combatants are combined with the greater political and economic significance, but you don't need any specialist naval knowledge to enjoy this excellent book.
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The Dutch Revolt by P. Limm

Designed specifically for middle level students, this slim volume is a comprehensive introduction to the causes and consequences of the Dutch Revolt. Examples of primary sources - and the many differing interpretations which historians have of the period - are included.
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Dutch Society, 1588 - 1713 by J.L. Price

The second of Price's books to make the list (see pick 3 for the other), this general history of the Dutch Republic focuses on the, perhaps unique, society which emerged in the region. The culture that produced artists such as Vermeer - a recent favourite amongst the general public - and merchant's political ideals are amongst many topics under discussion.
Sometimes called 'The History of the Low Countries', I have been unable to see this short, 64 page book, but other reviewers have described it as a concise and highly informative introduction.

The introduction to this page talks about the art of the Dutch Republic. Well, this book by art historian Mariet Westermann is dedicated to the subject, and there’s plenty of illustrations in an introductory work that can be supplemented by a whole genre of works on the Dutch. There is a cheaper earlier edition.


After a few decades reading modern biographies, there’s something appealing about a work which sells itself on avoiding “psycho-history.” Instead Rowen analyses the office of Stadholder and the Stadholders themselves. This isn’t a popular history, but it is a key work on the Dutch Republic.


When people think of the Dutch Republic (admittedly, if they’ve heard of it), trade and art are intertwined. Michael North looks at banks, merchants and economy, along with patronage and the economics of art production and ownership. It doesn’t sound exciting, but it’s the underpinnings explained and a good read for art history.


Did Holland’s society, politics and clout in the seventeenth century influence and reshape England before William III arrived? Jardine has used this as a jumping off point for a book that’s been both praised for storytelling, and criticised for lacking it! Spoiler: she argues that it did happen.