Chapter

The Dutch Seaborne Empire: Qua Patet OrbisQua Patet Orbis

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Abstract

In the course of the seventeenth century Dutch merchants created a seaborne empire that provided them with the primacy in world trade. This chapter focuses on the defining traits of the Verenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie (VOC, or Dutch East India Company, 1602–1799) and the West Indische Compagnie (WIC, or Dutch West India Company, 1621–1674, 1674–1791), both limited liability joint stock companies with monopoly rights on the navigation to, respectively, Asia and the American continent. Both companies were founded as “companies of the ledger and the sword” in the middle of the Dutch Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648) with the Spanish crown, and collapsed in the final years of the ancien régime . The VOC developed with leaps and bounds into an island empire in Southeast Asia that after the demise of the VOC survived into the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, first as the Netherlands East Indies and today as the Republic of Indonesia. The WIC never succeeded to wrestle itself loose from close state intervention and, facing the challenges of independent merchants, had to give up its monopolies and simply survived as an umbrella organization for the plantations in Suriname and a couple of islands in the Caribbean. Compared to their neighbors in Europe, the relatively affluent Dutch never felt a strong urge to emigrate and as a result none of their overseas possessions, with exception of the Cape Colony, developed into a settler colony.

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