3,000 years of East Asian history in Korea, China, Japan, Mongolia, and Russia
A Holy Doctor from the West Missionaries, Martyrs and Merchants


Ch 14 - Western Contacts

A Dutch Privateer in Choson

The young Dutch Republic expanded into the East Indies and established the powerful Dutch East India Company to compete with Portuguese and Spanish traders. Three crewmen from the Dutch privateer Ouwerkerck were overpowered by their Chinese captives and handed over to the Koreans.

Blessed with a geography that brought the Atlantic, North Sea, Baltic Sea, and Rhine River trade together in one area, the low, flat country of northwestern Europe became a natural port for merchant ships traveling to and from Europe's interior. Between the 12th and 14th centuries, increased trade and frequent Viking raids into the swampy delta of the Schelde, Meuse and Rhine rivers prompted the development of numerous well-fortified towns in a region where local feudal lords had carved out a loose collection of small autonomous kingdoms. Feudal lords capitalized on the need for a strong defense to increase their own power, frequently accepting support from wealthy artisans and merchants in exchange for privileges that strengthened towns, promoted and protected commerce and improved the position of the merchant class.

The Low Countries - the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg - had been under the dominion of the Holy Roman Empire since 925. In 1363, King John II of France granted the Duchy of Burgundy in southern France to his second son, Philip the Bold. Beginning with Philip, the extremely independent dukes of Burgundy moved to forge a single powerful empire stretching from Burgundy to the Low Countries. Through marriage, war, purchase, and inheritance, the Burgundian dukes eventually brought Brabant, Hainaut-Holland, Namur, and Luxembourg under their dominance. They appointed local governors, stadtholders, created a centralized government, and gradually made French the de facto administrative language, a fact that bred serious resistance to the central government since the majority of the population spoke Dutch.

The ambitious expansion of power ended with Charles the Bold, the last reigning duke of Burgundy. A staunch opponent of French King Louis XI, he allied himself with England by marrying Margaret, the sister of King Edward IV, and maneuvered to establish a new kingdom in the Low Countries with himself as regent. The dream died in 1473, after Charles failed to arrange a marriage between his daughter, Mary of Burgundy, and the son of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III, the future Maximilian I. Two years later, Charles was killed at the Battle of Nancy and his army destroyed by Swiss and Lorrainer forces allied with France.

Soon after Charles' death, King Louis XI seized Burgundy and Picardy and moved to annex the Low Countries, Artois, Luxembourg, and Franche-Comté - Mary's entire inheritance. Pushed into closer collaboration with each other by continued French pressure, States-General delegates from Flanders, Brabant, Hainaut, and Holland convened a meeting in Ghent in February 1477. They obliged the barely twenty-year-old Mary of Burgundy to restore the liberties of the provincial estates abrogated by her father and grandfather. It was a violent reaction not only against the despotic tendencies of preceding governments, but against all their unification work in the Low Countries. It destroyed central institutions and reduced the Burgundian States to nothing but a loose federation of provinces held together as a personal union.

In defiance of King Louis XI, Mary of Burgundy married Maximilian I, Archduke of Austria and Holy Roman Emperor. Her marriage in May 1477 established the Austrian House of Habsburg in the Low Countries and initiated the long rivalry between France and Austria. Maximilian lacked the necessary political skills to deal with the situation in the Low Countries and his heavy handed attempt to recover territorial and institutional losses through high taxation, warfare and violation of privileges during a period of deep general economic crisis launched a decade of devastating internal war, first in Flanders and later in Holland, Brabant and Utrecht.

Mary's son and heir, Philip I, inherited her dominions. In 1496, just three years after taking over the government and restoring the centralization process in the Low Countries, he married Joanna, a daughter of King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. When Philip and Joanna inherited the Spanish Crown in 1504, the fate of the Low Countries, already closely bound with Austria through Philip's family ties to the Habsburgs, became entangled in the mounting struggle of the Spanish-Austrian empire for European hegemony.

Charles, the son of Philip and Joanna, inherited the Duchy of Burgundy and the kingdoms of Castile and the Low Countries after his father's death in 1506. As the named successor to his grandfather, Ferdinand of Aragon, Charles assumed the title of King of Castile and sailed to Spain in the autumn of 1517 to establish his court. Two years later, on June 28, 1519, despite vigorous opposition from Rome and France, the twenty-year-old Charles, King of Spain, Sicily and Naples, ruler of Habsburg Austria and the rich Spanish colonies in the New World, became Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.

When Charles V moved in to unite the provinces under a series of governors-general, mainly for its taxable wealth, the Low Countries were already an important power bloc, a recognizable "modern" country in medieval Europe when few others would qualify. The predominantly cosmopolitan region had no monarchy and its political life was dominated by a merchant class more interested in profit than formal empire or religious discipline. One of the most densely populated regions in Europe, the Low Countries enjoyed an economy based on the advanced contemporary industry and agriculture. As Spanish subjects, Dutch merchants had ready access to other parts of the Spanish Empire, including the Americas.

Europe's northern and southern markets met at Antwerp, where up to 2,500 ships were anchored at any given time, most sailing under the flags of Spain, England, Portugal and Italy. Timber and grain from the Baltic, salt from the French Atlantic coast, Portugal and the West Indies, spices from the Far East, furs from North America, and vast amounts of money from German investment bankers moved through Antwerp, which had all the characteristics of a world trade center. All this commerce in a city with high-quality schools, scores of printing presses and the highest literacy rate in Europe, encouraged a great deal of intellectual activity. Europe's rapidly growing Protestant movement found fertile ground among the Dutch, who were attracted to Calvinism and its emphasis on the "Protestant work ethic" - hard work, frugality and self-reliance. It also did more to promote capitalism than any other Christian sect.

Charles V abdicated in 1555, leaving both Spain and the Low Countries to his son, Philip II, a Spaniard by birth and education and a man with little affection for his northern European territories. He continued the policy of centralization in the Low Countries, culminating in 1559 with a papal order that placed the entire region under the direct governance of the Roman Catholic Church, the state church of Spain. The Dutch liked Emperor Charles V, whom they considered "one of their own." Philip II however, was another matter. Thoroughly Spanish in upbringing and temperament, Philip II prized wealth - land, gold and silver - and had little use for banking or trade. He also held a near messianic belief in the absolute authority of the monarchy and the Catholic Church and detested Dutch Protestantism even more than Dutch capitalism. He once claimed he would rather die a hundred deaths than be king of heretics.

In 1566, Prince William of Orange, a charismatic, highly educated man who spoke seven languages, led a group of Dutch noblemen to present a petition to Philip II which called for abolishing the Spanish Inquisition and setting up a council to discuss the religious question. Philip ignored their petition. Instead, he taxed the commerce he held in such contempt and appointed Spanish officials to both civil and religious posts normally held by the Dutch. The Calvinists reserved a special animosity for Spanish Catholics.

Rioting broke out in the town of Armentieres in August 1566, initiating a violent campaign known as the "breaking of the images." Rioters broke into Catholic churches destroying statues, stained-glass windows and Catholic books, beginning a conflict sometimes called the "Eighty Years War." The Protestants became more confident as their resistance strengthened.

When King Philip II finally learned the details of the violence, he sent General Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alva, and 10,000 troops into the Low Countries. The duke marched into Brussels on August 8, 1567, as a military dictator, prompting thousands of residents in both the northern and the southern provinces to flee. On the day he arrived, the merciless duke established a new court of law known as the Council of Troubles, which he personally led. Never doubting that whatever he did was correct in the eyes of God, he vigorously suppressed anyone who opposed him and dealt with rebels the way the Spanish Inquisition dealt with heretics. Fernando Álvarez de Toledo killed so many people that survivors described his Council of Troubles as the "Council of Blood."

Against all odds, Prince William of Orange and the popular Count van Egmond organized a large portion of the population in a massive Protestant revolt against Spain and the Catholic Church. Support was strongest in the Calvinist northern provinces, but even Catholics participated, seeing it more as a fight against tyranny more than as a religious war. On April 1, 1572 a Dutch naval force commanded by Captain van der Marck captured the city of Brill. In July, the northern provinces of Holland and Zeeland acknowledged Prince William of Orange as their stadtholder and established a government in the city of Delft. The rapidly spreading rebellion spread soon turned into a bloody civil war for independence against the most powerful nation in Europe.

On January 5, 1579, the predominantly Catholic southern provinces of Antwerp, Flanders, Brabant, Hainault, Namur, Liege, Limburg, and Luxembourg joined together for mutual protection under King Philip II. Two weeks later, the northern Calvinist provinces of Friesland, Groningen, Overijssel, Holland, Gelderland, Utrecht and Zeeland formed an anti-Spanish alliance behind Prince William and his 25,000-man army. They formed the Union of Utrecht, the nucleus of the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands, often referred to by the name of its principle province - Holland.

Long before their revolt, the sturdy, self-reliant Dutch learned to turn apparent disadvantages into major benefits. Unable to grow crops in sufficient quantities, they put their energies into finding other food sources, both at home and abroad. Their constantly water logged fields produced some of the finest dairy cattle of the period. They also exploited the rivers and nearby sea to develop a major fishing industry; herring from the North Sea, cod from the waters off Iceland and the Dogger Bank north of England, and whales from the Arctic waters off Canada, Greenland, Norway and Russia. Dutch craftsmen developed the world's first factory ships to bulk transport not only fish, but salt, butter, cheese, whale oil, and grain. They imported the raw materials for their growing fleet from abroad, applied native talent and technical skills to build highly competitive ships and quickly came to dominate the maritime shipping of foreign goods.

In 1581, Holland solemnly declared it could no longer acknowledge the Spanish king as its sovereign because of his "acts of tyranny." With the Act of Abjuration, the seven northern provinces proclaimed themselves independent of Spain and established the Dutch Republic amidst a sea of monarchies. This highly revolutionary act shook the thrones of Europe and set a historic precedent followed some two centuries later when thirteen American colonies applied the very same concept against the British Crown through their own Declaration of Independence.

While Spain remained a dominant land power in Europe well into the 17th Century, the destruction of its armada in 1588 damaged its ability to wage war abroad and marked the beginning of its decline as a world sea power. The Dutch took advantage of the situation and, despite the constraints of war with Spain, expanded their commercial markets around the world. Cornelis and Frederik Houtman took four ships around Cape of Good Hope in 1595 on a fifteen-month voyage to Java in the East Indies. They established the first Dutch factory at Bantam then sailed to Bali before returning to Amsterdam in 1597. Beginning around 1600, individual commercial syndicates began organizing voyages from Amsterdam to Java, the first of many voyages that imprinted Dutch names such as Spitsbergen, Cape Horn, Staten Island, and Tasmania on the world's geography.

Amsterdam surpassed Antwerp as the commercial capital of northern Europe and developed the largest shipping trade in the world. In 1601, over 800 ships departed Amsterdam in the space of three days, carrying Russian corn and Scandinavian timber, hemp and tar. Shipping quickly expanded into the Mediterranean Sea, waters once dominated by the Genoese and Venetian traders. The Dutch established a consulate in Constantinople and a Directorate of Mediterranean Trade to regulate merchants. Amsterdam merchants opened new commodity markets and perfected new banking and exchange services that eventually replaced the Hanseatic and Lombard cities as bankers to Europe. By the time Spain finally recognized Dutch independence in the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, Holland had evolved into one of the most powerful states in Europe.

The Dutch challenged Portugal's monopoly on trade routes to the East Indies early in the 17th century in an attempt to grab a share of the rich profits to be found in nutmeg, cloves, cinnamon, pepper, tea, silk and China porcelain. The Dutch control of the Baltic Sea trade in the 16th century left them far better financed than their principal competitors in Indonesia. A number of Dutch companies soon merged to increase their financial clout in the world's emerging markets and formed a single corporation known as the Dutch East India Company, Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie, or VOC. The States General of the Netherlands, representatives of the Dutch Republic, granted the VOC a charter on March 20, 1602, that gave it a trade and communications monopoly with all countries east of the Cape of Good Hope in Africa and west of the Strait of Magellan in South America. Since no other passage to the East Indies was known at the time, the terms of the charter effectively barred any Dutch ships not owned and operated by the VOC from participating in the spice trade Le Maire's Southwest Passage.

The VOC charter endowed the company with more than exclusive trade rights. It also conferred a number of traditionally sovereign rights as well, including the right to commit war-like acts (hijacking ships and shooting natives), the right to declare war, and the right conclude treaties and cede territory. By integrating the functions of a business partnership with the functions normally reserved to a sovereign power, the Dutch created an institution that resembled a modern political economy. Technically independent from state political control, the VOC was, in fact, identical with the Dutch Republic The Dutch East India Company. Controlled by Dutch merchants and financiers, the VOC made political and business decisions entirely within the hierarchy of company managers and officials and the success or failure of any enterprise was always measured in terms of profit and loss.

Dutch, British, Spanish and Portuguese fighting and merchant ships sailed the waters of the East Indies in search of lucrative trade, each willing and able to go to war to secure and protect a trade monopoly. The adventurers who laid the foundation for the great mercantile empires of the 17th and 18th centuries brought a long-standing European tradition to East Asia that merged warfare with trade. The predatory drive of armed traders and marauders to win a share of the profitable spice trade by any means possible gave rise to the quintessential European figure of the warrior-merchant.

England funded many its overseas adventures in part from the booty captured by its privateers. Sir Francis Drake, perhaps the most well known among England's pirates, marauders and slave traders, captured enough wealth to literally underwrite many of Britain's foreign investments. Queen Elizabeth I used the proceeds from "the plunder raids of Elizabethan sea-dogs" to completely pay off England's foreign debt and invested part of the balance in the Levant Company, a major export-import firm. On December 31, 1600, 218 Knights and merchants from the City of London, funded largely by the profitable Levant Company, received a Royal Charter to form the British East India Company. The charter provided the Company an exclusive monopoly over the export of of English woolen cloth and the import of products of the East Indies under the authority of the British Crown. The Dutch VOC and the British East India Company, large joint-stock ventures chartered by their respective governments, became the focal point of state mercantilism in East Asia and, once established, they inevitably became the very embodiment of state-sponsored imperial power in Asia.

The British established fortified trade centers in India, on the Malay Peninsula and on the island of Sumatra. The Portuguese established trade centers in the Moluccas Islands, or Spice Islands, and the Spanish established themselves in the Philippines. The Dutch East India Company first established trade centers in the Moluccas and later on West Java. These were primarily business enterprises devoted to trade and the establishment of trading posts, but it was certainly not a friendly business. The brutal wars fought among European rivals astonished the Indonesians in their savagery and totally destructive fury. Armed with the means to satisfy their blood lust, Europeans "fought to kill" with almost unspeakable barbarism. As the Dutch adventurer Jan Pieterszoon Coen wrote in 1614, "Trade cannot be maintained without war, nor war without trade." The Dutch may have come to trade, but they stayed to conquer. In 1609, the VOC dispatched ships and men into the Banda Sea and the Moluccas to take control of the hotly contested spice trade monopoly at any cost and sent punitive expeditions against anyone breaking the monopoly. Spices became a curse to the very people who grew them.

Europeans created and controlled, however briefly, the first global hegemony in world history. The accomplished this amazing feat, not because of any social, moral or natural advantages, but because of overwhelming military superiority. The entire Portuguese empire from Japan to southern Africa was administered and defended by less than 10,000 Europeans. Only China and Japan were able to keep the West out at the time, because "they already knew the rules of the game." When a Dutch fleet sailed into the Formosa Strait in 1603 and anchored off the island of Penghu in the Pescadores Islands, the Ming government quickly learned that foreigners had landed on Chinese soil. The emperor immediately sent troops to Penghu and expelled the Dutch from the island.

The VOC not only had to fight the enemies of the Dutch Republic, it also had to prevent other European nations from entering the East India trade. It strengthened its power and ties among the scattered settlements by centralizing rule under a single governor. Pieter Both was appointed the first VOC governor-general in 1610 and made his residency in Bantam on West Java. A five-man Council of the Indies helped administer VOC interests and together they formed the High Government of the East Indies. In 1614, Pieter Both handed the reigns of power to Geraard Reijnst, who was succeeded four years later by Director-General Jan Pieterszoon Coen, the true founder of the VOC empire in Southeast Asia. Within a year of taking office, Coen led the Dutch conquest of the Indonesian capital at Jakarta ("Glorious Fortress," in Sudanese). After razing the city he directed the construction of a new walled township that resembled a typical Dutch town complete with a major fortress, trade warehouses and canals. Batavia, as it was named, became the new capital of the Dutch East Indies and the center of VOC enterprises for the next three centuries.

Jan Pieterszoon Coen was a skillful administrator and organizer who successfully fought corruption within the VOC. He was also a man unafraid of taking drastic action. After the Dutch moved into the Banda Islands to secure the profitable nutmeg trade, the islanders began breaking their contracts, partly incited by the English who were always close at hand. In 1619 and again in 1621, Coen ordered punitive expeditions against the Bandanese. The bloody fighting nearly exterminated the entire population, but it secured the world trade in nutmeg and mace for the VOC. Jan Coen also launched a second expedition into the Formosa Strait. In June 1622, Dutch forces succeeded in occupying Penghu in strength. The Dutch mobilized local residents to build a fortress overlooking the harbor at Makung, giving them a trading base from which they could control sea traffic through the strait and harass Portuguese ships sailing between China and Japan. As an interim protective measure, the Ming government issued a decree in September 1623 that banned all ships from approaching China's southeast coast.

Governor-General Coen resigned his post in 1623 and returned to Amsterdam, where he stunned VOC administrators by proposing a complete reorganization of the VOC based on free trade and colonization. The VOC was unwilling to lose any control to private investors and the idea of plantation settlements didn't appeal to them at all. Only a small number of VOC employees were allowed to settle in the East Indies, and then only in the factories. Colonization implied enormous investments and the administrators preferred to keep a minimum number of Europeans in the Indies.

The establishment of a strong Spanish foothold on the northern end of Formosa was particularly disturbing to the Japanese, who considered their presence a national threat. They advised the Dutch to drive the Spanish off Formosa, but the Dutch reacted with near indifference. When the Japanese suggested there might be gold mines in the north however, the Dutch became quite interested and succeeded in pushing the Spanish off the island. The Ming imperial government was unwilling to let the Dutch repeat the Portuguese establishment of an extraterritorial colony on Chinese soil. In January 1624, they attacked the Dutch fortress at Makung. After eight months of bitter fighting, the Chinese negotiated a settlement that totally surprised the Dutch. In exchange for withdrawing from the Pescadores, China offered the Dutch a trading base on the much larger island of Formosa. Japanese and Chinese pirates frequently sailed to Formosa and used its harbors for refuge and resupply, but never claimed the land as their own. The Chinese readily agreed to let the Dutch establish a base on Formosa simply because it was never considered to be Chinese territory.

The Dutch were well aware of Formosa's tremendous value. The island was not only fertile and rich in natural resources, it was strategically situated on the trade routes to East Asia. Realizing the move would make it easier for them to monopolize trade with China and Japan, the Dutch happily signed the treaty and destroyed their fortress and military facilities at Makung. The Dutch anchored off Formosa's west coast near the city of Tainan on August 26, 1624, and began construction of Fort Zeelandia near modern An-ping. The fortress sat on a narrow peninsula called Tayouan, meaning "terrace bay," a name that later evolved to Taiwan. A new governor was appointed to manage trade operations and administer the new colonial enterprise on Formosa. For the next thirty-eight years, the Dutch defended the island against incursions by the Portuguese, the Spanish and the English.

The VOC reinstated Jan Coen as governor-general of the East Indies in 1624. With more money, more personnel and more jurisdiction, Governor-General Coen began reviewing VOC policy with an eye toward consolidating settlements in East Asia and relying more on Dutch privateers, "freetraders," to enhance Dutch profits. Operating under Letters of Marque Letters of Marque issued by the VOC, armed ships actively pursued foreign vessels in the South China Sea and the seas around Formosa in search of profit. In addition, there was a order from the Heeren XVII in Amsterdam that directed all ship's captains to obstruct trade among the different nations as much as possible, by seizing their ships and confiscating their cargo. Each confiscated ship earned the Dutch captain and his crew a reward.

On July 16, 1627, the Dutch privateer Ouwerkerck captured a Chinese junk and its 150-man crew bound for the port of Amoy, China. Seventy Chinese were brought aboard the Ouwerkerck. Ship's navigator Jan Janse Weltevree, Dirk Gijsbertsz from De Rijp, Holland, and Jan Pieterse Verbaest from Amsterdam, along with thirteen other Dutch crewmen went aboard the junk to sail the vessel to Tainan, Formosa. Only the Ouwerkerck reached safe harbor after battling a fierce summer storm that swept the area. In a letter to Governor-General Coen in Batavia dated July 22, 1627, the governor of Formosa reported the Ouwerkerck's crew last saw the junk moving away to the northeast in the storm. The Chinese ship and its Dutch crew apparently disappeared without a trace and, the governor concluded, "the ship is perished." Several months later, the Ouwerkerck was captured and burned by the Portuguese at Macao.

The storm-tossed Chinese junk carrying the hapless Dutch and Chinese ended up on the shores of an island off Choson's west coast. Although the details of what happened next are unclear, the Chinese, with a five-to-one advantage, overpowered the Dutch survivors, captured Jan Weltevree, Dirk Gijsbertsz and Jan Verbaest, and handed them over to Choson authorities. The three men were taken directly to King Injo's royal court in Seoul, arriving at a time when Choson was directing its sparse government resources towards a military buildup against the threat of further incursions by the Qing Manchus. A tall, heavily-built man with blue eyes, pale skin, and a great red beard, Jan Weltevree's appearance was a source of amusement to the court ministers, who called him nam ban, a nickname that meant "Barbarian from the South."

Choson's Military Training Command, established near the end of the 16th century, was responsible for the production of firearms and the training needed to use them effectively. By 1631, the royal court learned that Weltevree had an expert's knowledge of firearms and was very skillful in the art of casting cannon with a beautiful finish. This knowledge brought about a marked improvement in the treatment of the three Dutchmen, who were assigned to General Ku In-hu's Training Command staff, where Jan Weltevree was placed in charge of making firearms. The addition of the three Dutchmen to the training command's official register is an indication of the royal court's faith in their expertise, since all skilled professions were hereditary. Considering that Choson imported many of its cannons from China, Weltevree might have been the "one-eyed man in the country of the blind." Over the years, the three Dutchmen contributed much to improving the quality of muskets and cannon for Choson's army.

Despite his constant requests to be sent to Japan, Jan Weltevree and his two companions came to realize they would never see their homeland again. Resigned to the fact he would never leave Choson, Jan Weltevree learned the Korean language and became a respected court adviser in Seoul. He took the name Pak Yon, married a Choson woman and raised two children:  a boy and a girl. Jan Weltevree, Dirk Gijsbertsz and Jan Verbaest were the first Dutch to ever set foot on Korean soil, but they were not the "discoverers of Korea." Though they became residents of Choson and learned far more about the country than any westerner had ever known before, they failed the final challenge for any discoverer - to return home and tell the world of their discoveries. That task was left to a group of westerners who unintentionally reached the shores of Choson a generation later;  the men of the Dutch yacht de Sperwer.


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A Holy Doctor from the West Missionaries, Martyrs and Merchants