The Netherlands belong to the region known as the Low Countries, of which the northern part became officially independent in 1648, after the Eighty Years War, forming a confederation led by assembly known as the Estates-General. Every sovereign province was led by their own Estates, and by a stadtholder, who, mostly, descended from the Orange dynasty. This Republic of the 7 United Netherlands grew enormously in wealth, and became one of Europe's leading powers during the 17th century, als known as the Dutch Golden Age. During the 18th century the Republic fell prey to corruption, economic stagnation and internal tensions. In 1795, the revolutionary French invaded, forcing the last stadtholder, prince William V, to fled. The Batavian Republic was established. By 1806, however, Napoleon Bonaparte decided to disband the Batavian Republic and created the Kingdom Holland. The emperor's brother Louis was appointed as king, only to be forced out of office in 1810, after which France annexed the country.
In 1813, the French fled. The son of the late stadtholder was brought back and finally became King William I in 1815, making the country a constitutional kingdom. This new Kingdom of the Netherlands consisted of The Netherlands, Belgium and overseas colonies like the Dutch Antilles, Suriname and the Dutch East Indies. In 1830, Belgium declared independence. By 1848, King William II, fearing the revolutions throughout Europe, decided for a huge change in the constitution, weakening the king's power and enlarging the abilities of the ministers and the parliament of which the Second Chamber would be directly elected. It was not until 1919 that universal suffrage was created.
Severely weakened after the Belgian independence, the Netherlands maintained a policy of neutrality for decades. Throughout World War I, the Dutch remained neutral, despite military mobilisation. In World War II, however, the Germans invaded in 1940, due to the strategical position of the country. For five years, the Netherlands were occupied. After the liberation of 1945, the Netherlands became a constitutional parliamentary monarchy again, which they still are. Indonesia gained independence in 1949, and Suriname in 1975. The former Dutch Antilles are still part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, but three of the six islands are autonomous constituent states within the kingdom, while the three other islands are special municipalities since 2010.
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