The decline of Iberia in the sixteenth century shook the foundations of world trade and politics, undermining Spain's Asian and American trade monopolies and creating the international opening that spurred other European states and merchants in the contest for overseas markets. After the waves had subsided in the seventeenth century, the world system had been reconfigured. The United Provinces of the Netherlands had become the first truly global commercial power—the first hegemon. The rise of the Netherlands to the position of world hegemony is at first glance startling. The seven provinces had a relatively small population (some 1.5 million inhabitants in 1600, compared to 10 million in Spain and Portugal, and 16 to 20 million in neighboring France), and had formed part of the Low Countries, an uneasily aggregated group of seigneuries, cities, and provinces under Spanish rule until the 1570s.
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