IV. The Early Modern Period, 1500–1800 > B. Early Modern Europe, 1479–1815 > 1. Europe, 1479–1675 > c. The Netherlands
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
c. The Netherlands
The provinces of the Low Countries (so called because much of the land lies below sea level), originally inhabited by Batavians and other Germanic tribes, had formed a part of the empire of Charlemagne and, after the treaty of Mersen (870), belonged in large part to Germany, forming a dependency of the kingdom of Lotharingia. The decline of the ducal power favored the growth of powerful counties and duchies, such as Brabant, Flanders, Gelders, Holland, Zeeland, Hainault, and the bishopric of Utrecht. After 1384 the provinces were brought under the control of the dukes of Burgundy in the following manner: Philip II (the Bold), fourth son of John II of France, became the duke of Burgundy in 1363. He acquired Flanders and Artois (1384) through marriage with Margaret, heiress of Count Louis II. Their son was John the Fearless, duke of Burgundy (1404–19), who was succeeded by his son, Philip the Good (1419–67). Philip acquired Namur by purchase (1425). Brabant and Limburg came to him by bequest (Joanna, daughter of John III, duke of Brabant, left them to her great-nephew, Antoine, brother of John the Fearless). In 1433 he acquired Holland, Hainault, and Zeeland by cession from Jacqueline, countess of Holland; and in 1443, Luxemburg, by cession from Elizabeth of Luxemburg. He also added Antwerp and Mechlin. His son, Charles the Bold (duke of Burgundy 1467–77), acquired Gelderland and Zutphen by bequest from Duke Arnold (1472).  1
Mary, the daughter and heiress of Charles the Bold, married Maximilian, archduke of Austria and later emperor (See 1486). Their son, Philip the Handsome (duke of Burgundy), married Joanna, the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, and thus the Netherland provinces passed ultimately into the hands of Philip's son, Charles I (Charles V as emperor).  2
Charles annexed the 17 provinces (Brabant, Limburg, Luxemburg, Gelderland, Flanders, Artois, Hainault, Holland, Zeeland, Namur, Zutphen, East Friesland, West Friesland, Mechlin, Utrecht, Overyssel, Groningen) to the Burgundian circle of the empire.  3
Abdication of Charles. The Netherlands, like Spain, passed to his son.  4
REVOLT OF THE NETHERLANDS. The provinces had long enjoyed ancient and important privileges. The estates (staaten, états) granted taxes and troops. The Spanish garrison, the penal edicts against heretics, the dread of the introduction of the Spanish Inquisition, all these factors led (during the rule (1559–67) of Margaret of Parma, the natural sister of Philip II, and her adviser, Cardinal Granvelle) to the formation of a league of nobles (Compromise of Breda), headed by Philip Marnix of St. Aldegonde.  6
Religious background: the 13th-century tradition of the Beguines, communities of women who led lives of prayer and meditation; the 14th-century Brethren of the Common Life, groups of pious laypeople who living in stark simplicity provided relief to the poor, taught the young, and emphasized the centrality of scripture in the Christian life—these groups found in most large cities of the Low Countries; great mobility of merchants who traveled widely and brought back Lutheran and Calvinist ideas; the high level of literacy in an urban commercial society with many able to read Luther's and Calvin's writings. Calvinism took firm root in the northern provinces, commonly called Holland (the southern provinces, now Belgium, remained Catholic).  7
To finance the government, Margaret raised taxes, thus uniting opposition to the government's fiscal policies with its official repression of Calvinism.  8
1566, Aug
A year of high grain prices. Fanatical Calvinists of the poorest classes incited by popular preaching embarked on a wave of iconoclastic destruction of artwork, libraries, and churches in Antwerp; disorders spread to Ghent and Brussels. These disturbances initially opposed by Lamoral, Count of Egmont (1522–68), and William of Nassau, prince of Orange (1533–84), later called William the Silent because of his reputation for diplomatic tact, and other members of the great nobility who, however, lost control of the movement. Revolt, sparked by religious and economic protests and by sectional discontents, won support by uniting the elite classes' appeal to constitutionalism (royal attacks on aristocratic liberties) with the general population's antipathy to Spanish outsiders.  9
Philip sent to the Netherlands the duke of Alva (1508–82) with an army of 20,000. Creation of a tribunal at Brussels to investigate rebellion and heresy, subsequently called the Council of Blood because 18,000 executed, including the Catholic Egmont, Hoorn, and other prominent figures. Estates of those who failed to appear before the tribunal, including those of William of Orange, confiscated; additional arbitrary taxes levied. These measures led (1568) to open rebellion against Spanish rule.  10
The northern provinces under leadership of William of Orange expelled the Spanish garrisons, but in 1576 the Spanish capture of Antwerp, Maestricht, and Ghent led to the PACIFICATION OF GHENT, a treaty among all the provinces by which they united, without regard to national or religious differences, to drive out the Spaniards. The new governor, Don John of Austria, was unable to quiet the country, despite disputes between the various parties.  11
Don John died in 1578 and was succeeded by Alexander Farnese (duke of Parma), a shrewd statesman and an excellent general. Parma ultimately subdued the southern provinces, on the promise that their old political freedom should be restored. The seven northern provinces (Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelderland, Groningen, Friesland, Overyssel) thereupon concluded the UNION OF UTRECHT (1579), followed by a proclamation of independence from Spain (1581). The office of stadholder, chief executive officer of a Dutch province that later formed union, the United Provinces, and usually a member of the House of Orange, was settled on William of Orange. After his murder at Delft (July 10, 1584), he was succeeded by his son.  12
Maurice of Nassau, son of William of Orange, was only 17 years old when he assumed stadholdership. Parma continued his victorious campaigns and managed to capture Antwerp. Thereupon the English came to the aid of the insurgents.  13
Philip II, hoping to put an end to the Anglo-Dutch combination, organized the Armada, which was defeated by the English and destroyed in a terrible storm (See 1642, Jan. 3).  14
The Twelve Years' Truce put an end to sporadic and inconclusive fighting and essentially established the independence of the northern provinces. After its expiration the war was resumed by the Spaniards. The Hollanders, who had grown rich and powerful at sea in the course of the struggle, were well able to hold their own, and finally  15
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.