A little corner of northwestern Europe, officially recognized as sovereign in 1648. This is the primary country comprising the Kingdom of the Netherlands, making up over 95% of the kingdom's population.
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The Seventeen Provinces
1482 – 1565 | Northern Holy Roman Empire
The modern areas of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg, as well as a good portion of northern France and some of west Germany were originally under the control of the House of Valois-Burgundy via a personal union. The Seventeen Provinces were comprised of the following (flags shown above match, from left to right, this list from top to bottom).
- the County of Artois (northern France)
- the County of Flanders (including portions of northern France)
- the Lordship of Mechelen (northeastern Belgium)
- the County of Namur (south central Belgium)
- the County of Hainaut (southwestern Belgium)
- the County of Zeeland (southwestern Netherlands)
- the County of Holland (western Netherlands)
- the Duchy of Brabant (north central Belgium and south central Netherlands)
- the Duchy of Limburg (northeastern Belgium and southeastern Netherlands)
- the Duchy of Luxembourg (modern-day Luxembourg)
- the Prince-Bishopric; later, the Lordship of Utrecht (central Netherlands)
- the Lordship of Friesland (north central Netherlands)
- the Duchy of Guelders and the County of Zutphen
(east central Netherlands and west central Germany)
- the Lordships of Groningen (northeastern Netherlands)
- the Ommelanden (northeastern Netherlands, south of the Lordships of Groningen)
- the Lordship of Drenthe, Lingen, Wedde, and Westerwolde
(northeastern Netherlands, south of Ommelanden)
- the Lordship of Overijssel (east central Netherlands)
The County of Flanders also claimed the burgraviates of Lille, Douai, Orchies, the Lordship of Tournai and the Tournaisis. The Duchy of Brabant included the Margraviate of Antwerp, the counties of Leuven and of Brussels, and the advocacy of the Abbey of Nivelles and of Gembloux. The counties of Dalhem and Valkenburg and the Lordship of Herzogenrath were a part of the Duchy of Limburg.
These provinces were not equally nor consistently represented in the Estates-General of the Netherlands. For example, the County of Zutphen was later a part of the Duchy of Guelders, and the Duchy of Limburg was dependent on the Duchy of Brabant.
Mary I of Valois was the last ruler of the Seventeen Provinces from the House of Burgundy. They were acquired by the House of Habsburg when she married Maximilian I of Habsburg, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, in 1482. Beginning in 1512, the Seventeen Provinces formed a major part of the Burgundian Circle (imperial division) of the Holy Roman Empire. Maximilian I's grandson and successor, Charles V of Habsburg, finished uniting all Seventeen Provinces under his rule by 1543 (with the Duchy of Guelders being the last).
In 1549, an edict known as the Pragmatic Sanction was made by Charles V. Each of the Seventeen Provinces considered itself a wholly separate and unique entity from its neighbors, but this edict lumped them all into one. Effectively, the Pragmatic Sanction claimed that all Seventeen Provinces would forever be inherited by a single individual, indivisible during future successions. This inflamed the peoples of these provinces against their Habsburg rulers.
Revolt against Spain
1566 – 1580 | Netherlands
Philip II of Spain ruled a vast empire, including (at various times) Spain, Naples, the Seventeen Provinces, Portugal, the Algarves, New Spain (in America), and Peru. Philip demanded direct rule over the Seventeen Provinces per the Pragmatic Sanction, even though a journey from Madrid to the provinces would take more than two weeks.
There was frustration over this and over the taxation policies by the King of Spain. Also, as stated, the treatment of the inhabitants in the provinces as all the same people further increased tensions. What made matters worse, Philip II proposed the institution of new bishoprics in the Low Countries and an increase in the prosecution of "heretics." An archbishop of Mechelen was appointed to help solidify this control. The Inquisition was called in by approval of Philip II's Council of State.
The local nobility was furious. They felt this was an insult to their own positions of authority and decided to act. They formed the Compromise of the Nobility to force the hand of Margaret of Parma, Philip II's half-sister and regent. As many as four hundred lesser nobles (who made up the majority of the movement against Philip II) assembled at Brussels in April 1566. In disgust, one minister referred to the petitioning nobles as les gueux ("the Beggars"). The nobles used the term as a badge of honor. They promised violence unless things changed. Although Margaret promised moderation, it was too little too late.
In the late spring of 1566, Protestant preachers set off a series of riots, called the Iconoclast Fury. The movement spread quickly, hitting Antwerp by August 20. Ghent, Amsterdam, Leiden, and Utrecht all followed within a few days. Margaret acquiesced to the repeated demands of the Compromise of Nobility, allowing protestantism to be practiced where it already existed. Unfortunately, the Compromise of Nobility soon collapsed, leaving no one officially able to vouch for the agreement. The iconoclasm continued, and Margaret decided the only real response was a military one.
The Duke of Alba invaded, which further pushed the local aristocracy from Spanish rule. In 1572, a prominent member of the aristocracy named William the Silent (also called William of Nassau) invaded, but he could only hold two provinces, Holland and Zeeland. He backed out and left for France, where he was able to recruit some Huguenots. With these and the aid of Dutch rebels in England, he planned a three-pronged assault on the provinces to oust the Spanish: he would attack with about 30,000 men from Germany; the Huguenots would strike from France; and the Watergeuzen—mercenaries sailing corsairs—would hit the northwestern shore.
However, the attack was poorly coordinated. The Watergeuzen struck before William was ready, taking Brielle on 1 April 1572. Rather than the usual hit-and-run tactics, the Watergeuzen claimed the city for William of Nassau by flying an orange flag (William was of the House of Orange). Soon most cities in Holland and Zeeland (notably not Middelburg or Amsterdam, however) let themselves switch to Watergeuzen control. Although not technically qualified to do so, the cities then called for Staten Generaal (General State Assembly), where they reinstated William as the official steward (stadthouder) of Holland and Zeeland.
Unfortunately, the Huguenots from France provided little efficacy, thanks in part to the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, an event on August 24 that had incited much of France against the Huguenots. An initial wave left France and reached the Netherlands successfully, but no further help came from this direction.
William of Nassau then marched with his own force from Germany, taking cities such as Roermond and Leuven. By this time, however, the Spanish armies had begun fighting back, now under the direction of Don Luis de Zúñiga y Requesens (who replaced Alba in 1573). While some cities could not be retaken (the siege of Alkmaar resulted in a Spanish retreat), many paid dearly, like Haarlem, Mechelen and Zutphen (the former suffered severe mistreatment and abuse; the latter two suffered massacres of their inhabitants). In addition to these losses, William's own force was hit hard by the Spanish, and he was forced to retreat to Enkhuizen (in Holland).
As the war progressed, the Spanish began to suffer financially. Despite a clear victory at the Battle of Mookerheyde (where William lost two of his own brothers, Louis and Henry), the Spanish failed to resolve matters quickly. William seemed quite capable of retaking cities the Spanish had captured again; a siege at Leiden failed after the Dutch there broke nearby dikes (William would later establish the University of Leiden in the city's honor); and the Spanish leader, de Zúñiga y Requesens, died unexpectedly. Without him at the helm and with soldiers frequently going unpaid because of empty coffers, the Spanish army began to buckle and collapse on itself.
The Staten Generaal of the Dutch provinces (the ruling body after the king) came together under the Union of Utrecht and passed an Act of Abjuration (i.e., an oath of rejection). They refused to continue to recognize the rule of King Philip, and the Staten Generaal became the ruling body; the southern Netherlands (modern day Belgium) was not part of the Union of Utrecht and so stayed under Spanish rule. Philip offered a reward of 25,000 crowns to anyone who killed William the Silent, the Prince of the House of Orange, calling him a "pest on the whole of Christianity and the enemy of the human race." The leader of the rebellion was assassinated in 1584 by Balthasar Gérard.
The Dutch forces continued to fight under Maurice of Nassau, son of the late William. He received help from Queen Elizabeth I in 1585, and the Dutch gained an advantage over the Spanish, primarily because of their growing economic strength in contrast to Philip's growing economic weakness.
Republic of the Seven United Netherlands
1581 – 1795 | Netherlands
The Eighty Years' War
The year 1568 saw the start of what would be called the Eighty Years' War, between the Seventeen Provinces and Spain. As already indicated, Philip II did not go gently. Even after the Act of Abjuration, Spain continued to fight against the independence of the provinces until 1648, when Philip IV (grandson of Philip II) finally capitulated by signing the Treaty of Münster, which recognized their autonomy for the eight northwestern provinces, viz.:
- the Duchy of Gelre
- the County of Holland
- the County of Zeeland
- the Bishopric of Utrecht
- the Lordship of Overijssel
- the Free Province of Friesland
- the Free Province of Groningen
- the Lordship of Drenthe
Because the last of these was too poor to pay confederal taxes, it obtained an exemption for these but was in consequence denied a voice in the Staten Generaal (its landdorst, or regional steward, was appointed instead). Some parts of the provinces south of the new republic became de facto colonies of the republic.
Mercantile Imperalism of the Republic
During the seventeenth century, the republic became a major world power. Contributing factors included their seafaring force, colonies and trading posts the world over, and the economic system developed, often claimed to be the first fully capitalist nation. The economic system even included a stock market, first in Rotterdam and thereafter in Amsterdam, the oldest stock market founded on modern trading principles.