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Capital of the Netherlands: Wikis


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Dam Square in Amsterdam with view of City Hall in the late 17th century: painting by Gerrit Adriaenszoon Berckheyde (Gemäldegalerie, Dresden)
The Hague has been the seat of government of the Netherlands since 1588. Binnenhof - the Dutch Parliament

The capital of the Netherlands is Amsterdam, even though the States-General and the government have been both situated in The Hague since 1588. The current position of Amsterdam as capital city of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is governed by the constitution of 24 August 1815 and its successors.[1]

Only once during its history was Amsterdam both capital and seat of government. Between 1808 and 1810, during the Kingdom of Holland, King Louis Napoleon resided in Amsterdam and declared the city capital of his kingdom and seat of government. To accommodate the king, the grand seventeenth-century Town Hall of Amsterdam, prime example of the republican values that were prevalent for so long in the Netherlands, was converted into a Royal Palace.

In 1810 the Netherlands were annexed by the French Empire and King Louis Napoleon was replaced by a French governor, who took up residence in the Royal Palace in Amsterdam. From 1810 to 1813 Amsterdam kept its position of capital city somewhat, as Emperor Napoleon declared the city to be the third city of the Empire (after Paris and Rome) and an imperial residence. In December 1813, after the fall of Napoleon and the accession of Prince William VI of Orange as Sovereign of the Netherlands, The Hague was restored as the seat of government.



William I in coronation robes, by Joseph Paelinck, 1819 (Rijksmuseum)

Amsterdam was first referred to as capital in the constitution of 1814. Article 30 of this constitution mentioned that the Sovereign Ruler should be sworn in in the city of Amsterdam, as capital.[2]

In 1815, when the Southern Netherlands (present Belgium) were added to the kingdom, this text disappeared from the constitution. Article 52 now simply mentioned that in times of peace the king should be sworn in Amsterdam or alternatively in a city of the southern provinces, at the choice of the king.[3]

From that point onwards, the status of Amsterdam as capital city remained somewhat unclear, and constitutionally the issue was not deemed important enough to regulate properly, not even in the major constitutional reforms of 1848 and 1917.[4][5]

It was not until the new constitution of 1983 was passed that Amsterdam unequivocally regained it status as capital city. In the 1983 constitution the phrase the city of Amsterdam was changed into the capital city Amsterdam (article 32).[6] The intention of this change was to make it explicitly clear that Amsterdam is indeed the capital of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. This means it is the "head" city and ceremonial font of sovereignty and site of the official coronation, even if the government does not conduct its business there.

Historical background

Although the proper legal status of Amsterdam as capital of the Netherlands is of recent date, the city has been uniformly recognised as capital ever since 1814. This is partly because it is a Royal City, used not only for the inauguration of kings, but also for royal weddings (note though that royal burials take place in Delft), and also because of its dominant position in Dutch history. From the end of the 16th century the city grew rapidly to become the largest and most powerful city in the Netherlands and the main centre of trade, economics, finance and culture.

The origins of the split between Amsterdam as capital city and The Hague as seat of government lay in the peculiar Dutch constitutional history. From the middle-ages to the sixteenth century, The Hague had been the seat of government of the County of Holland and residence of the Counts of Holland. After the establishment of the Republic of the United Netherlands in 1572 /1581, Dordrecht briefly became the seat of government of the United Provinces, residence of the States General, the Council of State and the Prince of Orange as Prince Stadtholder. In 1588 these central governmental institutions were moved to The Hague, which, from that point onwards, kept the position of seat of government for the whole republic.

Before the institution of the Batavian Republic of 1795 the Netherlands were not a unitary state, but more of a confederation in which the independent provinces and the larger cities and towns were very much politically autonomous. During the seventeenth century, the Prince Stadtholder as official of the States of Holland clashed several times with the city government of Amsterdam about policy, up to the point that the city was beleaguered by the army. Up to 1795 there remained a strong animosity between the Orange faction and the republican faction in Dutch politics. The former supported the idea of hereditary political leadership vested in the princes of Orange as Stadtholders, and had its powerbase in The Hague and the rural areas. The latter supported civic independence and found its support mainly in the cities and towns of Holland, with Amsterdam as its progenitor and most outspoken representative.

When in 1814 the new kingdom was formed, the appointment of Amsterdam, still the most prominent city in the kingdom, as capital city was also very much a conciliatory gesture of the Orange faction towards the town, and a recognition of the strong civic and republican basis of the new kingdom.

Other capitals that are not the seat of government

There are several other countries in the world where capital and seat of government are currently separated:




Coordinates: 52°22′23″N 4°53′32″E / 52.37306°N 4.89222°E / 52.37306; 4.89222


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