The Netherlands in the seventeenth century—its “Golden Age”—was a remarkable place. When the region declared independence from Spain, in the late sixteenth century, it became an unusual political entity, one led not by a hereditary aristocrat but by the heads of the seven provinces of the new Dutch Republic, united, during the seventeenth century, under a series of stadholders—the Princes of Orange, descendants of William the Silent, who threw off the Spanish yoke. (Dutch seventeenth-century history is, in fact, a lot more complicated than this, but that’s the general idea.) The stadholder selected municipal officials and was head of the Republic’s army and navy. Only a few old feudal landed nobles remained—there hadn’t been many in the first place—and there was no autocratic monarch, but the Republic was...

 

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