Peter the Great: Emperor of All Russia

By Ian Grey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XII
Peter in Holland 1697

IN the second half of the seventeenth century Holland was at the peak of her power and prestige. Dutch ships roved the oceans, claiming a large share of the world's trade. Amsterdam was the foremost port of Europe, although rapidly yielding primacy to London. The Dutch navy was a formidable force which at one stage was a match for the English navy. Above all, the prestige of Holland stood high because her people had defied the might of France and, led by William of Orange, had rallied the Protestant countries in opposition to the ambitious designs of Louis XIV. The ascent of William to the throne of England in 1688 as William III had carried Dutch prestige to its zenith.

Holland, as a naval and mercantile power with a great shipbuilding industry, naturally attracted Peter. At this time, moreover, the country held two further interests for him; the first was the presence of William III at Utrecht; the second was the Congress of Ryswyk which had brought to The Hague powerful embassies from the leading countries of Europe, thus facilitating his policy of forming a grand alliance against Turkey.

Peter left his embassy at Schermbeck on 4 August, and went ahead with a group of eighteen volunteers. Zaandam, then known as Saardam, was his destination. He hired boats to take him down the Rhine, and not even Amsterdam could deflect or delay him. He left twelve of his companions there to start training as shipbuilders, and himself pressed on, eager to begin his own studies.

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