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Despite threats of extinction from both conquering European powers and the swelling North Sea, the story of the Netherlands is one of 5,000 years of survival. In 57 BC, Roman troops conquered the southern part of the Netherlands for Julius Caesar. Area tribes fell under Roman Rule as forts and settlements were built and the area prospered until the third century. In 406 BC, an invasion from Gaul ended Roman rule.
In the first part of the Middle Ages, the Franks controlled much of Belgium and the Netherlands. When the Merovingian king Clovis died, he divided his kingdom among his grandsons. Belgium and part of the Netherlands fell under the rule of Chlotar I. However, advisers appointed to supervise the royal household eventually overtook the throne. Peppin II rose to prominence and Peppin III was named King of the Franks in 751. His son, Charlemagne, went on to rule over a vast empire 47 years.
The Netherlands struggled for independence while the Holy Roman Empire fell into decline after Charlemagne’s death. In 1363, King of France gave the area to his son, Philip the Bold. The latter monarch’s grandson, Philip the Good, set up a limited central government in the Low Countries of Burgundy and the Netherlands, essentially making them independent territories.
After the death of Phillip the Good's son, Charles the Bold, the Habsburgs gained control of the Low Countries. In 1477, Mary of Burgundy enacted The Great Privilege, which allowed different provinces to meet on their own authority. Her grandson, Charles V, later disregarded the Great Privilege and reformed a central government. During his reign, religious resistance sparked by Martin Luther took hold, and several Protestant movements sprung up. In 1579, the northern provinces under his reign seceded under the Union of Utrecht. Nine years later, the Republic of the United Provinces was born, marking a Golden Age of economic expansion, cultural growth, and religious freedom.
The 1800s were a time of unification and prosperity for the Netherlands. At the end of the Napoleonic era, William Frederick was crowned as Kind of the Netherlands, uniting the north and south against France expansion. After a Belgian revolt, William II agreed to constitutional reforms. By the end of the century, a large industrial working class grew in the Netherlands, the Social Democratic Labour Party took control, and interest in arts and sciences blossomed.
Despite pressure from Germany and England, the Netherlands maintained neutrality throughout the World War I. In the next World War, it was occupied by Nazi Germany. While the ruling Queen and government officials fled to England, 75% of the Jewish population was exterminated. The country was liberated by Allied troops in the spring of 1945.
Today, the liberal Netherlands is known for its commitment to individual liberties. It is also known for its ingenuity. Although nearly half of this country is below sea level, renowned dyke systems—and the more recent Zeeland Delta Project—help reclaim land, reduce flooding, and play an important role in Dutch survival.