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A Golden Age - Innovation in Dutch Cities, 1648-1720

Johnathan Israel describes how the genius of the 17th-century Netherlands lay not just in painting but in a blazing a trail in civic pride and technological improvements for the rest of Europe.

Between April and June 1648 the most elaborate and impressive celebrations which had thus far ever been held in the northern Netherlands – parades, pageants, thanksgiving services, open-air theatrical performances, a series of bonfire and fire-work displays, sumptuous militia and regent banquets – were held in Amsterdam and most other Dutch cities. The reason for this unprecedented outlay, disruption of normal activity and quest to impress and involve the general public was the final ratification of the Peace of Minster (April 1648). This not only ended the Eighty Years' War in the Low Countries, one of the greatest struggles of Europe of early modern times, but marked the successful conclusion of decades of effort to establish and consolidate the Dutch Republic as a free and independent state on territory formerly ruled by the king of Spain.

That this was no small achievement can be seen from the fact that the United Provinces, as the Republic was officially called, was the only new state – as well as new type of state – created by means of a people's revolution against the power of monarchs in the early modern era before the 1770s, when the North Americans embarked on their great struggle (on occasion with the Dutch example in mind) against the British crown.

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