The pattern of fault reactivation, basin deformation and concentration of seismicity along the main trans-Netherlands fault zone, located NW-SE across the centre of the Netherlands, indicates that this zone is a major zone of weakness. Gravity modelling reveals after back-stripping of the sedimentary succession a distinctive continuous positive anomaly that can be explained by lithospheric sources. This zone of weakness is therefore likely to have a major influence on the tectonic processes currently active in the Netherlands region. We give a review of the tectonic history of the Netherlands and then present the results of a quantitative study of the reactivation of basin boundary faults and the influence on the surrounding basin. Well-data, balanced and back-stripped cross-sections are used to constrain the lithosphere rheology. The lithosphere rheology modelling results show a weak coupling between upper crustal deformation and the subcrustal lithosphere. A finite element modelling approach focussing on the upper crust is carried out in which the basin boundary faults are assigned various dips. The modelling results indicate that, for continuous reactivation of basin boundary faults, the presence of both a pre-existing weakness and a reduced friction angle is required. The latter implies that large displacements accommodated by primary faults cannot be directly attributed to the relative weakness of these faults compared to the secondary faults, which is in close accordance with inferences from trenching. A reduced friction angle has a significant effect on lithospheric strength and appears to be the major controlling factor in the reactivation of basin boundary faults. © 2000 Elsevier Science B.V.