Dutch Royal House earned more than €545 million from colonies during slave trade peak

The House of Oranje-Nassau, the Royal House of the Netherlands, earned at least 545 million euros from the Dutch colonies, where slavery was widespread. The figure has been adjusted for inflation, and covers the period from 1675 to 1770. It is one of the results of the investigation into the country’s connection to the slave trade. The investigation was commissioned by the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations at the request of Members of the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Parliament.

Willem III, IV and V had an important political function as stadtholder in the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, a predecessor to the present-day Netherlands. As stadtholders, they were essentially leaders, and their “colonial profit” accounts for half of the now known income that the stadtholders received during the period that was researched.

The House of Oranje-Nassau benefited in various ways from the colonies and thus from slavery, the research showed. For example, the Dutch East India Company (VOC) was an important source of colonial revenue. The noble family did not invest in the VOC directly, but at the time of incorporation the shareholders arranged to pay the Oranjes as if they owned approximately 3 percent of the shares. They then regularly used their influence to solve problems for the trading company.

Internal Affairs Minister Hanke Bruins Slot received the book, which will form the basis for further research, on Thursday at the Koninklijke Schouwburg in The Hague. The research was carried out by several institutes and was led by the Royal Institute for Language, Land and Ethnology in Leiden.

Historians have long said that the Van Oranje-Nassau family was very much involved in the colonial rule of the former Dutch East Indies, Suriname and the Caribbean islands. It had not been known how large their financial interests were. The authors of the book have made an initial estimate based on the sources currently known.

“Slavery was deliberately made a foundation in the colonial actions by the Netherlands in Africa, the Americas and Asia. The Dutch State and its predecessors were directly responsible for this,” said International Institute of Social History researcher Matthias van Rossum on Thursday. For example, policies were made and initiatives supported that “enabled” colonial slavery.

The University of Curaçao said the impact of colonial slavery on the Caribbean parts of the kingdom is enormous and that little has been discussed or studied for far too long. “The effects of slavery did not stop with abolition.” The effects can still be clearly seen in the countries wheich were colonized.

NiNsee said that the study published on Thursday is therefore not only important for the Netherlands, but also “particularly for Suriname and other former colonized societies. It shows how formative the Dutch colonial slavery past has been and how much impact these effects still have.” NiNsee is the national institute for the Dutch history involving slavery.

The results were released at a sensitive time. On July 1, a commemoration will be held for the 150th anniversary of the practical abolition of slavery under Dutch rule. King Willem-Alexander will give a speech that day at an event at the National Slavery Monument in the Oosterpark in Amsterdam. Sources expect him to repeat the apologies that Prime Minister Mark Rutte previously offered for the country’s dubious past.

Former Leiden University professor Gert Oostindie is leading a more extensive study into the role of the House of Oranje-Nassau during colonial history. He started this at the end of 2022 and expects the research to take three years.

Reporting by ANP

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