No house for you.
Amsterdam in the 17th Century was a city that bustled with international trade, and gleamed with the wealth it had acquired from endless overseas expeditions. It was a place that very much felt alive, and the time, its cobbled streets seemed to whisper one name with a mix of pride and predatory anticipation—the name of a man who appeared to serve the people, while mostly serving his own self-interest by maintaining an economic stranglehold on Europe’s most important port city. That man was Dirck Bas Jacobsz.
Born into one of the regent families of Amsterdam’s political and economic ruling class, Dirck Bas spent most of his life apparently unhappy with the fruits of his inheritance, instead seeking further dominion over the city and its people. By using his family’s power and influence, he first attained the position of burgemeester—or mayor—of the city in 1610, immediately setting out to use his new title in pursuit of personal gain.
Under the guise of further aiding the city’s expansion, he strategically implanted himself within the governing body of the Dutch East India Company: the first multinational corporation to ever exist. The company—also known as VOC—dominated global commerce at the time, and was singly responsible for a large part of the burgeoning prosperity of The Netherlands. From this lofty vantage point, Dirck Bas was able to influence global trade routes, endorse selected merchant families who were amicable to his cause, and turn a blind eye to certain illicit deals—all of which lined his pockets handsomely.
But Dirck Bas wasn’t alone in taking actions like this for his own self-benefit. He was one of many such men who lived at the time that would come to be referred to as Burghers.
Although burgher simply translates to “citizen”, “Dutch Burgher” was a moniker used to describe someone of Amsterdam’s prosperous merchant and middle class, reflecting their elevated social and economic status in society.
Of the phenomenal wealth that flowed into Amsterdam at the time, and the enormous profits resulting from the trade of the VOC, most ended up in the hands of the burghers. With this excess of wealth, the burghers set up buying large swathes of land and housing in Amsterdam, and set to building de Grachtengordel: the iconic canal district for which the city has since become known. The fact this colossal building project was funded almost solely by the merchant class is a testament to the immense wealth they were able to bring to bear.
Dirck Bas and his allies may as well have possessed the power of economic clairvoyance as well, such were their successes at the time. Via their positions in city governance and administration, the burghers were privy to a unique level of foresight and influence relating to Amsterdam’s urban planning. Consequently, this enabled them to purchase land and invest in the parts of the city that would result in the greatest future financial outcomes for themselves.
However, what was a boon for the burghers, was a bane to the average Amsterdammer.
As the burghers bought up, built on, and changed the very face of Amsterdam itself, a significant portion of the city’s real estate ownership was massed amongst the merchant class. Significant amounts of land were claimed for the building of the new waterways, which in turn meant that a smaller amount of buildable area now remained within the city walls. The waterfront plots that found themselves facing the canals also became more desirable, naturally driving up the price of what remained. In short order, the end result was that ordinary citizens and less-wealthy merchants quickly found themselves to be priced out of these prime areas.
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