The national flag of the Netherlands is bold, symbolic and steeped in history. The horizontal red-white-blue tricolor standard can be seen flying on Holland’s governmental buildings, in public spaces and from Dutch households during specific national holidays and to mark special occasions.
- Find out on which days Holland’s governmental buildings fly the Dutch flag.
- Get clued up on the history behind the flag’s colors.
- Learn how the Dutch standard has changed over time.
A brief history of the Dutch flag
The roots of this iconic standard can be traced back to the orange-white-blue Prince’s Flag (Prinsenvlag), which was used by the navy during the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish Habsburgs. The rebellion, which sparked the Eighty Years' War, was led by William I, Prince of Orange. This variant of the flag was used until the end of the war, when it was replaced by the red-white-blue tricolor of the States Flag (Statenvlag). The current national flag of the Netherlands was officially introduced in 1937 by royal decree. The key difference is that it features a deeper blue pigment, known as cobalt blue, while its red is known as bright vermilion.
Why red, white and blue?
William of Orange chose orange, white and blue livery colors to reflect the arms of the ancestral territory of the House of Orange. Dutch soldiers wore these colors during the 1574 siege on Leiden, which is thought to have sparked their widespread adoption. Although the current-day Dutch flag has no orange band, the Dutch obsession with this color continues to this day: Holland’s cities turn into a bright orange blur on King’s Day (the King’s birthday), as revelers don their best orange garments. Plus it’s hard to miss the legions of orange-clad Dutch soccer fans during major international tournaments.
No one knows exactly why the orange band was changed to red around the end of the Eighty Years’ War, but there are numerous theories and anecdotes. Many historians believe it was due to the 1654 English-Dutch defense treaty, which prohibited any member of the House of Orange from becoming a Dutch head of state. Others believe that the flag was altered due to the simple fact that orange dye fades to red over time. Finally, some historians argue that the colors were adapted from the coat of arms of Bavaria, whose House of Wittelsbach ruled the county of Holland between 1354 and 1433.
The Dutch flag can only be flown on Holland’s governmental buildings on special occasions. During major royal birthdays, such as those of Queen Máxima (17 May), Princess Beatrix (31 January), Catharina-Amalia, the Princess of Orange (7 December) and King Willem-Alexander (27 April, or 28 April if his birthday falls on a Sunday), an orange pennant is flown atop the flag.
Other official flag days for governmental buildings include Remembrance Day (4 May, hung at half-mast), Liberation Day (5 May), Veterans’ Day (the last Saturday of June), the formal end of the Second World War (15 August) and Kingdom Day (15 December). In addition, flags are displayed on The Hague’s governmental buildings to mark the state opening of parliament (the third Tuesday of September).
Of course, residents of Holland are free to fly a Dutch flag whenever they like. However, it is customary to not fly it during the night time; though, if residents do choose to fly the flag at night, it is good etiquette to ensure it is well-lit.