Steven van der Haghen, VOC admiral

(Amersfoort c. 1563 - Utrecht 1624)

signature of Steven vander Haghen,

Click here for the dutch introduction

In the years 1590-1621 the Dutch swarmed out over the European, Atlantic and Asian seas and succesfully developed new overseas markets.
Steven van der Haghen (Amersfoort, c. 1563 - Utrecht 1624) was one of the pioneers of this period. In 1585 he started building a trade-network in the western Mediterranean where he remained active until 1592.In 1597 he became chief-merchant over two ships on a journey to the Golf of Guinea. During the years 1599 - 1620 he was made admiral of three different fleets to the East-Indies (in 1599-1601, 1604-1606 & 1613-1620), spending in total 12 years of his life over there. In the last period he was also First Counsel of the Indies and (interim) governor of Amboina.
In 1605 his fleet conquered the Portuguese fortress on Amboyna which became the first overseas Dutch territory and concluded a treaty on Banda which included the exclusive delivery of nutmeg to the VOC.

This website contains the following texts written by him, mainly in Dutch so far:

* his autobiography , covering the years before his work for the VOC. In this period he worked as a boy in Spain and Spanish Italy. His experience there permitted him to become a junior partner of traders from Hoorn who were eager to explore the trade possibilities with East-Spain and the west coast of Italy.
It has been written around 1610 to prove that "he has been the first inventor and beginner of the navigation on Valencia, Catalonia and Genua through the Strait of Gibraltar [...] to great advantage and profit for the ships of Holland and Seeland" [1]. It was part of a request to the States General of the Dutch Republic to put pressure on the VOC to end a long conflict about the salary of Van der Haghen. It was only published in 1883, not as a book but in the journal of one of the main historical societies, shorly after it was discovered among the papers of his lawyer, Aernt van Buchell, better known outside the Netherlands by his Latinized name: Arnoldus Buchelius.
In order to allow a first impression, I have translated into English the few pages that deal with his years in Andalusia (click here), where in Cadiz he witnessed the departure and return of Portuguese King Sebastian's fatal expedition to Morocco, summer 1578.

* 15 letters to the board of the VOC written in the period 1614 - 1620, never published [9 letters] or only partly [6 letters].

These letters are the testimonies of the second in command of the VOC-company in the East-Indies of events that took place in the Malayan part of Asia ( Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and the Philippines) as well as Madagascar and the Comores.
I think that they are important material for anyone interested in the details of the political and economic history of South-East Asia during those years. Comparison with testimonies in other archives might confirm, clarify or question established "facts".
To allow you a first impression of the scope of the subjects covered, I have translated parts from a letter written in March 1616 and another in August 1618. The first one gives a report of a naval battle between the Portuguese and Dutch before Malacca and the political situation around the Strait of Malacca and Singapore. Although this naval battle seems of rather limited importance (about 10 ships took part, altogether), it had as unexpected consequence a profound change in the plans of the attack on the Dutch positions in the Moluccas by the Spanish Viceroy in Manilla. This proved to be fatal: the Viceroy and many crew members died from deceases near Malacca without ever realizing an attack on Dutch possessions.
The second letter is an analysis of the situation of the VOC in South East Asia, the main goals to pursue, with a scenario for the next years. At the same time it is an implicit defense for the recent decisions taken by Governor-General Reael and Van der Haghen, the second in command, against critical remarks from J.P. Coen, the successor of Reael.
In the third place 3 fragments from 2 letters dealing with Tidore, ally of the Spanish, who occupied three fortresses on the island.

It is my intention to translate all these letters into English. This will be a major job, because many dutch words used by Van der Haghen are not anymore in use and do not even figure in specialized dictionaries. So I would like to do this depending on customer demand and on exchange basis. By this I mean that I will give priority to translate those fragments of the letters that that complements information "from the other side" (european & non-european sources).
To see whether the documents might be of interest, take a look at the index of geographical names or of the names of VOC ships mentioned in the letters. Click here. and you will get a table showing all the letters. Select a letter, go to the folio or page number you want and try to get a rough idea of the length of the particular section in which you might be interested.

As example of "the other side", an account in Italian and an English translation about the joint Spanish-Portuguese expedition from Manila against the Dutch, based upon Spanish primary sources [note 2]. The Portugues vessels from Goa that would take part were destroyed by a Dutch naval force near Malacca town as described in Van der Haghen's letter of March 1616, mentioned before.

Some main points from the Van der Haghen letters:

These letters show clearly that the VOC company had a lot of trouble to limit smuggling with English, Spanish and Portuguese traders, while new competitors such as French and Danish traders started to appear in Bantham around 1618.
There were constant problems caused by certain villages in the Banda archipelago that had never recognized the agreement of 1605. During several years the direct trade in nutmeg with the VOC even stopped completely.
Military action was taken, but the results were disappointing especially in the Banda archipelago partly due to English support for the people of Banda. The increase of the number of European soldiers created new problems, the result of experiments in their payment and the difficulties in providing them with the food that corresponded with that promised in their contract.
The letters show also that within the Council of the Indies there was no agreement on what policies to adopt to improve the situation.

[1]: quotation from the request, printed in "Tiele 1883, Documenten voor de geschiedenis der Nederlanders in het Oosten, p. 266;"
[2]: Extract from the prelimenary text of a yet unpublished work entitled "La presenza Spagnola alle Isole Molucche, 1606-1663" written by Mr. Marco Ramerini.

last updates:
november 4, 2004: addition of an index of geographical names mentioned in the letters of van der Haghen
august 20 : addition of the fragments about Tidore;
july 19 : re-editing of this page; more notes for the letter of march 1616, based on comparison with the letters of J.P. Coen
july 15: addition of English translations from fragments taken from 2 letters of Van der Haghen and an extract in Italian from an unpublished work dealing with the Spanish activities in the Moluccas;
june 28: the english introduction page becomes the entry page on the wanadoo server

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