England and the Netherlands have had some ups and downs in their relationship over the centuries. As is the case with many neighbours, there have been minor fallings out, some major conflicts and long periods of very good times together. England (and for most Dutch people this designation includes the rest of the United Kingdom) and the Netherlands (or the United Provinces to the English in the 17th century, or Holland to many tourists now) were both important seafaring nations; they also both exploited their colonies and profited from the slave trade. During one particular period in the 17th and 18th centuries these conflicting interest led to four Anglo-Dutch Wars, fought for control over the seas and trade routes. It all ended in a draw in 1784 after we each won two conflicts. Nowadays, the serious conflict takes place on the football pitch and without trying to be nationalistic about it I feel I must point out that the Dutch are ahead on that particular battle field by 13-8 and 10 matches drawn.
Today many British and Dutch people take our close and friendly relationship for granted. Especially after the Second World War and aided by the dominance of the English language in the world of entertainment the Dutch have a very positive attitude towards Britain. I was thinking about all this during my recent visit to the Rijksmuseum, when I saw a few artifacts that illustrated a period of conflict and one of harmony.
The first was the ‘escutcheon’ that was part of the rear of the English flagship HMS Royal Charles. This ship was towed back to Holland by Michiel de Ruyter after the Raid on the Medway. He commanded the Dutch fleet that sailed up the Thames and the Medway and inflicted the worst defeat ever on the English Navy. This took place in 1667, during the Second Anglo Dutch War and led to a peace treaty that favoured the Dutch. I can remember the history lessons devoted to this daring attack and the admiration we were made to feel for our naval hero Michiel de Ruyter, the Dutch equivalent of Admiral Nelson. We even sang a song about his youth as boy, working in a ropewalk in Vlissingen.
The other exhibit that caught my eye was a little wooden box with a piece of rock in it. This, apparently, was cut from a bigger piece of stone on which the Dutch King Willem stepped, when he landed in Brixham on 5 November 1688. This was the start of the Glorious Revolution, which occurred without bloodshed. William made sure he had sufficient support before ‘invading’ and was invited to become King William III of England in 1689.
By the way, a visit to the recently re-opened Rijksmuseum is very much recommended. The restoration took almost 10 years, twice as long as planned, and cost £320,000,000.