Historical story

Guest column about rich and poor in the Golden Age

A guest column appears on Kennislink every two weeks. The columnist is always a different researcher, who writes from his or her field about the science behind an event in society or from our daily lives. This week in the context of History Month:Historian Henk Looijesteijn on rich and poor in the Golden Age.

The Netherlands has always been a rich country. This was already the case before the Golden Age. It is true that there have always been people who were less fortunate, but compared to other countries, they were less badly off – certainly in the Golden Age. That was because there was relatively a lot of money in the Netherlands and therefore a large group of rich people. In the Netherlands of the Golden Age, those who were rich were expected to spend their money not only on large houses, expensive clothing and beautiful things, but also on poor people.

Charity was not just a duty for the wealthy. Everyone, the pastor and preacher told the Dutch, would do well to help those who had less than themselves. In fact, so much money was spent on charity that foreign visitors often remarked that the Dutch were particularly generous to their poor.

It seems that it was a duty fulfilled with love. Cities and sometimes villages built large buildings to help the poor. Think of orphanages for children, old men's homes and old women's homes and guest houses for the sick. The money needed for this was collected through collections and collections.

Charity as an obligation

The government usually did not have enough money to build those buildings itself. Because many middle-class people couldn't count on them to always be well – even then there were financial crises – they also liked to give to charities. Who knows, you might even need them yourself!

The wealthier Dutch did not have to fear the latter, but more was expected of them. Historical research now being done at the International Institute of Social History shows that there were countless opportunities for people with a lot of money to do something good for society.

For example, rich people often built courtyards where old people could enjoy a peaceful old age, while also taking care of their old and sick staff and poor relatives. That was a social obligation, because those who did not take care of their staff and family were not well known.

For example, one opportunity to help young relatives was to set up scholarship foundations so they could go to university, where the founder stipulated that family members of his or her always had priority over people who were not related. In this way talented boys could escape poverty and get a better life. It is difficult to determine exactly how large the share of the rich Dutch was in caring for the poor. But that the share was significant is certain. It is therefore very likely that the poor in the Netherlands were indeed better off than elsewhere.