Have you ever heard of the Dutch Independence Day? Or even better; the Dutch Declaration of Independence?

On the 26th of July 1581 the seven northern provinces of the Netherlands denounced their ruling King Filips II of Spain on account of being a tyrant. This, they wrote down in the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe (Act of Leave) which made the case for human rights, sovereignty of the people and freedom of thought. As such it was the first of its kind and served as inspiration for the American Declaration of Independence.

26th of July – The inception of the Dutch Republic

In 1581 the Dutch had been under Spanish rule for over ten years. The Spanish King, Filips II, had conquered the Netherlands which was subsequently governed by the Duke of Alva, a Spanish nobleman. The Dutch suffered. Their rights were taken from them, heavy taxes were imposed (the infamous Tiende Penning van Alva), some were enslaved, and they suffered hardship, torture and murder. The Dutch had been in revolt, but now decided to take the next step. And so the representatives of the seven northern provinces (united in The Staten-Generaal) met.

Title page of the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe

The Plakkaat van Verlatinghe stated that “when a king does not obey his duties, but, instead of protecting his subjects, tries to oppress them as slaves, then he is no longer a king, but a tyrant. In that case, his subjects, after consideration by the Staten-Generaal, have a right to denounce him and choose another leader.” The Plakkaat listed all the cruelties to the Dutch people, the tyranny of Alva, and laid down the arguments for the far fetching decision. It called upon the Dutch people to reclaim their rights and it forbade to further use the name or the seal of Filips II as governing king in any official way.

The Spanish ruler of the Netherlands, King Filips II

The Dutch Independence Day – Eighty years war

The Plakkaat van Verlatinghe was a historic defining moment for the Dutch. They declared themselves independent from Spanish rule and they subsequently called for the inception of the first ever republic in the world: De Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden (the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands). The Dutch continued to wage their war against the Spanish and eventually won in 1648. In the process, having established themselves also one of the most powerful countries in the world at that time.

The Staten-Generaal assembly in the 17th century

Recognition of the Plakkaat’s importance

Astounding as it may sound, but the Plakkaat has not been upfront in the Dutch general historic awareness.  For a lot of Dutch people the first time they ever heard of it, was when, in 2013, King Willem Alexander mentioned it in his inauguration speech calling it the “birth certificate of The Netherlands.” In 2014 it further reached mainstream, when, upon visiting the Netherlands, Barack Obama insisted on viewing the original document while visiting the Rijksmuseum. He was well aware of the Plakkaat’s meaning and its forming the base for his own country’s famous Declaration of Independence in 1776.

Barack Obama, prime minister Mark Rutte and (then) director of the Rijksmuseum, Wim Pijbes, look at the Plakkaat (source: Dave de Vaal)

In 2018 the Plakkaat received further recognition when, in a Dutch tv-show, it was named the ‘Pronkstuk van Nederland’ (the Showpiece of the Netherlands) surpassing famous Dutch icons such as Rembrandt’s De Nachtwacht (The Night Watch painting) and Anne Frank’s diary. Since February of this year the Dutch parliament has a copy of the Plakkaat at the entrance of its building on display.

The 26th  of July – Dutch Independence Day

Ad

The Plakkaat remained in the news when, recently, renowned Dutch historian Anton van Hooff declared and wrote in his book that the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe can genuinely be considered as the Dutch Declaration of Independence and that it would be appropriate if this day, the 26th of July, the day it was incepted in 1581, would be a national Dutch remembrance day, celebrating the Dutch decision to abdicate their tyrant and setting in motion the events for, what would become, the independent, democratic and sovereign country we now know as The Netherlands.

The Plakkaat can be viewed in the National Dutch Archives in The Hague. Go to this website www.nationaalarchief.nl for more information.

First page of the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe

Did you know about this Dutch Independence Day? Do you think it should become a national Dutch remembrance day? Let us know in the comments below!

1 COMMENT

  1. This is an enlightening article. Thank you. I learned something new and significant today. I’m not surprised that former US President Barack Obama is aware of this important and historic document.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.