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In the Time of the Flemings: the Dutch in Brazil, 1624-54

C.R. Boxer recalls “the time of the Flemings” (Tempo dos Flamengos), as the period of the Dutch occupation of Pernambuco province in Brazil used to be called.

Map of Dutch Brazil 1630-1654The phenomenal expansion of Dutch overseas enterprise in the first half of the seventeenth century is seldom sufficiently stressed in English historical works. Pride in the spectacular achievements of the Elizabethan adventurers should not blind us to the fact that not an inch of colonial territory had been effectively wrested from Spanish or Portuguese control before 1600, and that it was the Dutch rather than the English who broke the back of Iberian sea-power during the next forty years.

The Northern Netherlanders had been in open rebellion against the Spanish Crown since 1568; but it was through their East- and West-India Companies, incorporated respectively in 1602 and 1621, that they carried the war into the enemy’s camp, and deprived him of vast tracts of colonial territory and markets. The Dutch complained that the English merely followed in their wake; and although this allegation cannot always be justified (the capture of Ormuz from the Portuguese in 1622, for instance, was an Anglo-Persian operation), yet there is no doubt that it was the Dutch who bore the brunt in smashing the Catholic Iberian colonial monopoly which seemed so massively intact in 1600.

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