Top 173 Things in World History: #133. The Dutch-Spanish Rivalry

The best part about Uruguay being knocked out in the semifinals of the World Cup was that it guaranteed an all-European final, which pretty much guaranteed a final between countries that, at one point or another, fought each other in a war.

The special thing about the showdown in South Africa between Spain and the Netherlands,* though, is that this is a rematch of multiple wars. And it ain’t no rubber game: The Dutch are going for the sweep.

*Did you know that Holland technically only refers to two counties in the Netherlands? And that it really shouldn’t be used to talk about the country as a whole? But that the Dutch don’t seem to mind because they’re so agreeable? Also, where does the Netherlands rank in terms of countries that require “the”? Do they get past the United States AND the Seychelles?

It started in the Eighty Years’ War (1568-1648), in which the Dutch revolted against their distant Spanish leaders because they were being taxed too much. Yawn. The Eighty Years’ War is interesting for only three reasons:

  1. My favorite part of its Wikipedia entry is the praise it heaps on “Leader of the Revolt” William the Silent’s ability to escape death until he was “finally murdered by a spy in 1584.” The “Leader of the Revolt” was murdered SIXTY-FOUR years before the war ended! And people think Iraq has gone on too long.
  2. Unlike the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), the Eighty Years’ War actually lasted the amount of time specified in its name (if you count the 12 years of truce). If you’re going to name a war after its duration, be accurate.
  3. It helped lead to “Het Wilhelmus,” the Dutch national anthem that, among other things, is the oldest national anthem in the world, is written in the first-person, and I would think is the only anthem to accuse another nation of rape within it.* And that nation is, of course, Spain. “Het Wilhelmus,” in fact, is basically like the Bayeux Tapestry of the Dutch Revolt; thing goes on for 15 stanzas. It’s like a Shakespeare history play, if Billy ever cared about the Netherlands (which he didn’t, because you know, the Spanish ruled them).

*Although, there’s probably another two or three that do this that I don’t know about yet.

The bigger and more historically significant fight between the Spanish and Dutch came in the 18th century with the War of the Spanish Succession. I’ve already hinted at the importance of this war in the past; if Philip V of Spain had been allowed to unite the crowns of Spain and France, he could have created a behemoth of an empire on the European Continent that would have drastically altered world history as we know it. The Dutch, along with Britain, the Holy Roman Empire, and Portugal, stopped them in a comparably lean 14-year encounter that ended with the Peace of Utrecht* and Philip remaining king of Spain but never getting to be king of France.**

*Some people call it the Treaty of Utrecht. I go back and forth. There are certain peaces (Westphalia, obvs) and certain treaties (Verdun and Versailles spring to mind), and then there are those that occupy this middle ground.

**Hypothetical arguments over whether Philip should have chosen Spain or France were the Team Edward vs. Team Jacob debate of the 18th century.

The Netherlands, thus, has twice hindered Spain in its quest for more power on the Continent. So on the pitch on Sunday, when “Het Wilhelmus” plays before the game, we can only sit back and hope that maybe the 16th stanza is about to be written.

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