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History of the Low Countries
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1482–1795
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1549–1713
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1581–1795
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1713–95
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1790
   

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A map of the dominion of the Habsburgs following the Battle of Mühlberg (1547) as depicted in The Cambridge Modern History Atlas (1912); Habsburg lands are shaded green. From 1556 the lands in a line from the Netherlands, through to the east of France, to the south of Italy, Sardinia, and Sicily were retained by the Spanish Habsburgs.
The Low Countries (with Liège, Stavelot-Malmedy and Bouillon) until 1795

The Southern Netherlands (Dutch: Zuidelijke Nederlanden, Spanish: Países Bajos del Sur, French: Pays-Bas méridionale) were a part of the Low Countries controlled by Spain (Spanish Netherlands, 1579–1713), Austria (Austrian Netherlands, 1713–94) and captured by France (1794–1815). This region comprised most of modern Belgium (except for three Lower-Rhenish territories: the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, the Imperial Abbey of Stavelot-Malmedy and the County of Bouillon) and Luxembourg (including the homonymous present Belgian province), and in addition some parts of the Netherlands (namely the Duchy of Limburg now split in a Dutch and Belgian part) as well as, until 1678, most of the present Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in northern France. Unlike French Burgundy and the republican Northern Netherlands, these allodial states kept access to the Burgundian Circle of the Holy Roman Empire until its end.

Contents

Place in the broader Netherlands

As they were very wealthy, the Netherlands in general were a jewel in the ever debt-burdened Habsburg crown, but unlike others of the Habsburg dominions, they were led by a merchant class. It was the merchant economy which made them wealthy and the Spanish attempts at increasing taxation, to finance the Habsburg wars1, was a major factor in their proud defence of ancient privileges. This together with resistance to the religious intolerance of the Catholic Spanish monarchy led to a general rebellion of the Netherlands against Spanish rule in the 1570s. Although the northern seven provinces, led by Holland and Zeeland, established their independence as the United Provinces after 1581, the southern Netherlands were reconquered by the Spanish general Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma. The Southern Netherlands passed to the Austrian Habsburgs after the War of the Spanish Succession in the early 18th century. Under Austrian rule, the provinces' defence of their ancient privileges proved as troublesome to the reforming Emperor Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor as it had to his ancestor Philip II two centuries before, leading to a major rebellion in 1789-1790. The Austrian Netherlands were ultimately lost to the French Revolutionary armies, and annexed to France. Following the war, Austria's loss of the territories was confirmed, and they were joined with the northern Netherlands as a single kingdom under the House of Orange at the 1815 Congress of Vienna.

The Congress first joined the Southern Netherlands to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands under the House of Orange-Nassau, but with the south-eastern third of Luxembourg Province made into the autonomous Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, because it was claimed by both the Netherlands and Prussia.

In 1830 the predominantly Roman Catholic southern half became independent as the Kingdom of Belgium (the northern half being predominantly Calvinist). The autonomy of Luxembourg was recognised in 1839, but an instrument to that effect was not signed until 1867. The King of the Netherlands was Grand Duke of Luxembourg until 1890, when William III was succeeded by his daughter, Wilhelmina of the Netherlands - but Luxembourg still followed the Salic law at the time, which forbade a woman to rule in her own right, so the union of the Dutch and Luxembourger crowns then ended. The north-western two-thirds of the original Luxembourg remains a province of Belgium. The flags of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg (Luxembourg) and of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Netherlands) are still distinguished only in the tint of their colours (although the former is not derived from the latter).

Spanish Netherlands

The Spanish Netherlands (Dutch: Spaanse Nederlanden, Spanish: Países Bajos españoles) was a portion of the Low Countries controlled by Spain from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century. When part of the Netherlands separated from Spanish rule and became the United Provinces in 1581 the remainder of the area became known as the Spanish Netherlands and was still under the control of Spain. This region comprised modern Belgium, Luxembourg as well as part of northern France.

The Spanish Netherlands originally consisted of the whole of the

The capital was Brussels in Brabant.

In the early seventeenth century, there was a flourishing court at Brussels, which was under the government of King Philip III's half-sister Archduchess Isabella and her husband, Archduke Albert of Austria. Among the artists who emerged from the court of the "Archdukes", as they were known, was Peter Paul Rubens. Under the Archdukes, the Spanish Netherlands actually had formal independence from Spain, but always remained unofficially within the Spanish sphere of influence, and with Albert's death in 1621 they returned to formal Spanish control, although the childless Isabella remained on as Governor until her death in 1633.

The failing wars intended to regain the 'heretical' Northern Netherlands meant significant loss of (still mainly Catholic) territories in the north, which was consolidated in the 1648 Westphalian peace, and given the peculiar, inferior status of Generality Lands (jointly ruled by the United Republic, not admitted as member provinces) : Zeeuws-Vlaanderen (south of the river Scheldt), the present Dutch province of Noord-Brabant and Maastricht (in the present Dutch province of Limburg).

In the wars between the French and the Spanish in the seventeenth century, the territory of the Spanish Netherlands was repeatedly nipped at. The French annexed Artois and Cambrai by the Treaty of the Pyrenees of 1659, and Dunkirk was ceded to the English. By the Treaties of Aix-la-Chapelle (ending the War of Devolution in 1668) and Nijmegen (ending the Franco-Dutch War in 1678), further territory up to the current Franco-Belgian border was ceded, including most of Walloon Flanders (around the city of Lille), as well as much of Hainault (including Valenciennes). In the later War of the Reunions, and the Nine Years War France annexed other parts of the region.

Austrian Netherlands

Under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), following the War of the Spanish Succession, what was left of the Spanish Netherlands was ceded to Austria and thus became known as the Austrian Netherlands. However, the Austrians themselves generally had little interest in the region (aside from a short-lived attempt by Emperor Charles VI to compete with British and Dutch trade through the Ostend Company), and the fortresses along the border (the Barrier Fortresses) were, by treaty, garrisoned with Dutch troops. The area had, in fact, been given to Austria largely at British and Dutch insistence, as these powers feared potential French domination of the region.

Throughout the latter part of the eighteenth century, the principal foreign policy goal of the Habsburg rulers was to exchange the Austrian Netherlands for Bavaria, which would round out Habsburg possessions in southern Germany. In the 1757 Treaty of Versailles, Austria agreed to the creation of an independent state in the Southern Netherlands ruled by Philip, Duke of Parma and garrisoned by French troops in exchange for French help in recovering Silesia. However the agreement was later revoked by the Third Treaty of Versailles and Austrian rule continued.

In 1784 Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor did take up the long-standing grudge of Antwerp, whose once-flourishing trade was destroyed by the permanent closing of the Scheldt, and demanded that the Dutch Republic open the river to navigation. However, the Emperor's stance was far from militant, and he called off hostilities after the so-called Kettle War, known by that name because its only "casualty" was a kettle. Though Joseph did secure in the 1785 Treaty of Fontainebleau that the Southern Netherlands would be compensated by the Dutch Republic for the continued closing the Scheldt, this achievement failed to gain him much popularity.

The Austrian Netherlands rebelled against Austria in 1788 as a result of Joseph II's centralizing policies. The different provinces established the United States of Belgium (January 1790). Austrian imperial power was restored by Joseph's brother and successor, Leopold II by the end of 1790.

French annexation

After the French Revolution, in 1794 the entire region (including territories that were never under Habsburg rule, like the Bishopric of Liège) was overrun by France ending the existence of this territory as Spanish/Austrian Netherlands. This was resisted by the Flamingant movement organized by Roman Catholic clergy. It became an integral part of France, and was divided into départements:

Austria confirmed the loss of its territories by the Treaty of Campo Formio, in 1797.

After the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 the region was given to the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, however after the Belgian Revolution of 1830 it separated and became the independent state of Belgium.

See also

Footnote

  • Note 1: The example of these expensive wars which is best known to English-speaking people is that of the Spanish Armada. However, that came in 1588, a little after the Dutch had become exasperated to the extent of signing the Union of Utrecht in 1579.
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