How were The Dutch able to build a successful trading empire by 1602 (with The Dutch East India Company) if the Dutch State gained independence after the Thirty Year's War in 1648?

The war ends in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia and the German States along with the Dutch gained independence. But if the company was founded in 1602, does that mean that in 1602 the Dutch were already an independent trading state?

  • 5
    The Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VoC) was founded by the States General of the Netherlands. The States General actually date back to the 15th century. Dec 3, 2017 at 18:46
  • 8
    I don't quite understand your question. You seem to be working from the premise that there can't have been an entity called the Dutch East India Company before the Netherlands was independent. Why do you think that? There are all kinds of companies called Scottish This and Scottish That, and Scotland isn't independent. Dec 4, 2017 at 16:33
  • @DavidRicherby, thanks for your comment! The premise comes from the fact that the Dutch gained a very high standard of living as an independent state (that's the reason I mentioned the Dutch independence in the first paragraph of my question) due to the global trade and commerce. I am not negating the fact that there can be companies in non-recognised or non-independent states, but I was looking for an answer to "Was the Dutch State independent when the Dutch East India Company was founded?"
    – chris
    Dec 4, 2017 at 17:07
  • 2
    The Dutch declared independence from Spain in 1568 at the start of the Eighty Year war: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eighty_Years%27_War
    – onnoweb
    Dec 5, 2017 at 19:17

5 Answers 5


Recognition of independence is different from de facto independence.

While the Dutch Republic was officially recognised as independent only in 1648, it was actually founded 80 years earlier by the Union of Utrecht of 1579. The Dutch provinces were largely autonomous even before they entered into open revolt, but the treaty laid down a constitutional foundation for a political union. By the time the United Provinces formally proclaimed independence by deposing King Phillip II via the Act of Abjuration in 1581, Spanish control was only backed by the force of arms beyond loyalist regions.

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The extent of the Dutch Republic upon founding in 1579. Light cyan marks early Spanish reconquest.

The new Dutch state was envisaged as a confederation of autonomous members. An old Burgundian institution, the States-General became its central government, with the Council of State as its executive. A prince, Francis of Anjou, was also secured to be the sovereign (though he soon crashed and burnt). Thereafter, the very fact that the United Provinces was able to prosecute an on-and-off war against the Spanish Empire for 80 years proves the the young Dutch republic was independent to all practical intents and purposes. The formal recognition by Spain in 1648 was no more than the Spanish Crown belatedly conceding defeat in the Dutch Revolt.

In fact, by the time Holland's landsadvocaat (effectively, the prime minister of the Dutch Republic) Johan van Oldenbarnevelt arranged for the creation of the Dutch East India Company in 1602, the United Provinces had achieved an astonishing victory over what was then the premier world power. The Dutch army under Maurice of Orange had already evicted the Spanish from most of the north. His campaigns essentially marked the modern borders of the Kingdom of Netherlands today, with the Southern Netherlands remaining in Spanish hands later becoming Belgium.

Thus shielded from the fighting, the Dutch heartland in Holland thrived in spite of the long war being waged around them. This prosperity formed a sound basis for their colonial empire, and the Dutch Golden Age is also thought to have begun around this time.


The Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie, or VoC) was actually founded by the States General of the Netherlands.

The States General themselves date back to the 15th century. The right of the States General to convene on their own initiative had been recognised in 1477 by Mary of Burgundy.

In the early stages of the Dutch Revolt, the States General had remained loyal to the Spanish Crown. However, in 1576 the whole of the States General openly rebelled against Spain. From that point, right up until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, at least a part of the States General was independent of the Spanish crown.

The English version of the name, "Dutch East India Company" actually often causes confusion. People often forget that the "Dutch State", as we understand it today, didn't exist when the VoC was founded in 1602. This map shows the Low Countries at that time:

Low Countries


De jure? No. The Republic of the United Netherlands became officially independent in 1648 at the Peace of Munster. De facto? Yes. The VOC was formed just before the 12 Year Truce, in which Spain acknowledged informal independence but not formal.

One of the reasons for this 12 year truce was precisely the VOC. Both parties realized the revolt was effectively over. Spain wanted to grant full independence, but on the condition that the VOC and the WIC stopped raiding on Spanish and Portuguese ships and territories. (The WIC was active mainly in South America and raided on Portuguese territories). As the Dutch were winning and building very successfully their own colonial empire in Asia they weren't interested in that kind of a deal.

The WIC is the Dutch West Indian Company, they operated not in Asia but the Americas. Mostly South America, in Brazil in particular. The VOC was a trading company, the WIC was much more a privateer company. The VOC had the monopoly on Asia, the WIC on the Americas. The VOC traded in everything, the WIC shipped slaves from Africa to the Americas, and was the company that took the Spanish flota booty by admiral Piet Hein.

If both parties had reached an agreement there and then, the 80 year war would have ended in 1609, not in 1648 and of course be known as the 41 year war.


No. And the reason was that the founding of the Dutch East Indies Company was part of the fight for independence.

In 1580, Portugal had become subject to the Spanish king in a so-called "personal union." (That is, Portugal and Spain were rule separately by the same ruler.) What had been a rivalry in modern Indonesia between Portuguese and Dutch became part of the war of Independence. In 1602, after one successful Dutch expedition under the nose of the Portuguese, the rebel Dutch government chartered the Dutch East India Company and sent a small flotilla to modern Indonesia to support it. There, the Dutch navy made alliances with the inhabitants of some "outlying" islands, from which they could harass the Portuguese on Java, the most populated one. In 1619, an enlarged Dutch fleet defeated the Portuguese near modern Jakarta and captured Java for the Netherlands.

In fact, Dutch naval power was the driver of the Dutch War of Independence. For the first twenty years of the war, until 1588, the Spanish seemed all-powerful on land, but Dutch privateers harassed the Spanish navy with increasing success. Finally, the defeat of the Armada in 1588 greatly reduced the Spanish threat to both the Dutch rebels and England, which could then support the Dutch with fewer inhibitions. Although the war officially lasted another 60 years, a total of 80 years, even "merging" with the Thirty Years' War, the Dutch had the upper hand from this point on, even carrying the war with considerable success into modern Belgium, which preferred Spanish rule. During most of the 17th century, the Netherlands had the largest merchant fleet in the world, including a period up to 1648 when she was not technically "independent.


In the first half of the 19th century various fur companies trapped and traded with Indians in the US west. I am not familiar with with the various companies but the companies were probably chartered, if at all, in various states of the United States instead of being chartered by the federal government.

For example, the partnership of Bent, St Vrain & Company (1830-1849), a trading business headquartered in St. Louis and thus chartered in Missouri if anywhere, traded in the USA, Texas, and Mexico and built Bent's Old Fort in Colorado as a fur trading post by 1834 at the latest, and had other trading posts like Adobe Walls and Fort St. Vrain.

The American Fur Company (1808-1847) of John Jacob Astor, headquartered in New York City, rose to have almost a monopoly of fur trading in the United States and the Oregon Country and traded as far as China. It was likely to be charted in New York State if anywhere.

Medieval merchants in various cities in the Holy Roman Empire and other countries organized themselves into the Hanseatic League to promote their interests, a league that became so powerful it sometimes fought wars against countries that included some of the Hanseatic cities. The Hanseatic cities didn't need to be independent countries to have successful international trade and even to fight against some of the countries that contained Hanseatic cities.

A company successful in national and international trade does not have to be chartered by an independent national government. It can be chartered - if chartered at all - by a dependent governmental unit.

Furthermore, your statements that:

the Dutch State gained independence after the Thirty Year's War in 1648


The war ends in 1648 with the Peace of Westphalia and the German States along with the Dutch gained independence.

Which are such drastic over simplifications that they can be considered lies.

The United Provinces fought against the kingdom of Spain.

But the United Provinces were never part of the kingdom of Spain. Instead the King of Spain was also the Duke of Brabant, Count of Holland, etc. etc. ruling the 17 counties, lordships, and duchies of the Netherlands in personal union with each other and in personal union with the kingdom of Spain and also with the Kingdom of Sicily, the other Kingdom of Sicily, the Kingdom of Sardinia, etc. etc.

A personal Union is when two territories, usually monarchies, have the same head of state and/or head of government. One modern example is France and Andorra, where the French President is one of the two co-Princes and heads of state of Andorra in a personal union. Another modern example of a personal union is the way Elizabeth II is the Queen of the United Kingdom, of Canada, of Australia, of New Zealand, and of a dozen other countries I don't remember, in a personal union.

It is also possible for a personal union to be between independent countries and dependent territories within independent countries. For example, in 1648 the elected Holy Roman Emperor was also the hereditary King of Bohemia, Duke of Silesia, Margrave of Moravia, etc., Archduke of Austria, Duke of Styria, Carinthia, and Carniola, etc. etc. within the Holy Roman Empire (thus making him his own overlord many times over) and King of Hungary, Croatia, etc. outside the Holy Roman Empire, all in personal union.

So the provinces of the Netherlands, including the United Provinces that revolted against the King of Spain, were not part of the Kingdom of Spain but were in personal union with the Kingdom of Spain. And the provinces of the Netherlands, including the United Provinces that revolted against the King of Spain, were not independent countries but were fiefdoms within the Kingdom of Germany that was part of the Holy Roman Empire.

So the King of Spain was the head of government of all the provinces of the Netherlands until the United Provinces revolted against him, and also the head of state of all the provinces of the Netherlands until the United Provinces revolted against him. But the King of Spain was only the head of state in the County of Holland, for example, in a local and subordinate sense.

Just as the governor of a state like Pennsylvania in the United States is the head of state of that state, but only in a local and subordinate sense, with the President of the United States of America the supreme head of state in every state of the Union, so the King of Spain was the local and subordinate head of state in each province of the Netherlands, with the Holy Roman Emperor the supreme head of state in every province of the Netherlands.

In 1648 King Philip IV of Spain gave up his claim to rule the United Provinces of the Netherlands and granted the United Provinces independence - independence from himself and his heirs. He gave up his claim to be the local and subordinate head of government and head of state of the United Provinces, because that was all he was legally capable of granting to them.

IMHO Emperor Ferdinand III was the supreme head of state in the United Provinces before 1648 and as far as I can tell he remained the supreme head of state in the United Provinces after 1648.

  • After 1648, the emperor didn't hold any power. Dec 5, 2017 at 15:32
  • reinierpost - Many countries have parliamentary type governments where the head of state, the president or monarch, has little or no power, but is still the head of state. Saying that the emperor has no power does not make him any less the head of state in the empire. And saying that the Holy Roman Emperors had no power after 1648 is a gross oversimplification.
    – MAGolding
    Dec 7, 2017 at 19:14
  • The main point is that when the Dutch East India Company was founded, no head of state held any power of government in the (Northern) Netherlands, be it the kings of Spain, England or France, the archduke of Austria, or the Holy Roman Emperor. All they could do was push against the Northern Netherlands from the outside. Dec 7, 2017 at 23:39
  • @Reinerpost - I say that the emperor remained the head of state of the country that the United Netherlands were part of until and unless there was some sort of official declaration of independence from the Holy Roman Empire.
    – MAGolding
    Mar 3, 2018 at 18:23
  • True, except that country is a bit of an anachronism in this case. The Northern Netherlands left the Holy Roman Empire in 1648. Mar 12, 2018 at 15:32

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