The Dutch are a nation in both versions of the game. They have relatively few ports, which aren't as well situated as those of other countries. They aren't at war with other nations as often as the English or French. They start off with only St. Martin in the 'Merchants and Smugglers' 1600s Era of the game. By 1620, they have Curacao as well, which is useful to harass the Spanish and to a certain extent, the French. They are regarded as the second hardest nation in the game, easier than only the Spanish. Their starting ships start off poor, but eventually become very good. They have a class of ships which they exclusively use, the fluyt.
The Dutch Republic was formed out of the northern seven of altogether seventeen provinces that made up the historical Low Countries.
In the mid-16th century, unhappiness over taxes, increasing centralization and the strict policy of counter-reformation (the northern Dutch provinces were predominantly Calvinist) inaugurated by Spain sparked a revolt that led to an eighty-year long war of independence (1568-1648), which resulted in Spain recognizing Dutch independence. The southern provinces (consisting of modern day Belgium, Luxembourg and parts of northern France) remained part of Spain until 1714.
While the Netherlands were not a great land power (in the Franco-Dutch war of 1672-78 they had to open dikes and flood parts of the country to stop the French advance), they possessed a large fleet to build a colonial empire in South America, the Caribbean, Africa and Southeast Asia and to protect their trade in these parts of the world. The 17th century would become the Dutch Golden Age, an era of prosperity in art, science and trade. Economic success was viewed as a sign of God's goodwill by the Dutch Calvinists.
From around 1700 the Dutch Republic went into decline. The Netherlands were divided inside between Republicans and Royalists (called 'Orangists'), the wars they waged with other nations to restrain France burdened the nation with debts and the competetion with other nations like England over colonies and trade became ever fiercer.