"The Netherlands" originally referred to an area that is now all three of what we call Benelux or The Low Countries.

The Netherlands were originally a bunch of contiguous little duchies, counties, and bishoprics cobbled together by the Duke of Burgundy through inheritance and conquest.

Now, the rise and fall of Burgundian hegemony is a story for a whole other node. For the purpose of this node, it is sufficient to say that the French King, ostensibly the Duke's liege1 lord, viewed the Duke's growing power as a threat, invaded his lands and killed the duke. The Duke's daughter, not to be outdone, promptly married Maximillian. the Hapsburg heir to Austria and the Holy Roman Emperor. Their son married Joanna, the only child of Ferdinand and Isabella. And *their* son was Charles V, who also gave Spain and the Netherlands, to his son Philip II (and Austria to brother Maximillian). After this point the Netherlands were known as "the Spanish Netherlands" for a time.

This, of course, was the time of the Protestant Reformation. The northern half of the Netherlands turned Protestant and rebelled, the southern half remained Catholic.

Philip's general, the Duke of Parma, was able to kick the rebels out of the country, but with the help of Elizabeth I of England, William of Orange was able to get a toehold back in his country, and recapture the whole Protestant half of The Netherlands back, forming the republican monarchy we know today as "The Netherlands".

What happened to the other (Catholic) half of the Spanish Netherlands, you ask? Well the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht ending the War of the Spanish Succession handed then back to Hapsburg Austria, as Spain had gone to a branch of the French House of Bourbon. So, for another 90 or so years they were "The Austrian Netherlands", until revolutionary France, under General Moreau, conquered them along with the Dutch Republic. This passed into the hands of Napoleon Bonaparte along with all the rest of the French conquests.

After Napoleon's defeat in 1815, the Congress of Vienna set up a Kingdom of the United Netherlands with the Protestant Dutch in control. This didn't work out for very long, and in 1837 the southern half split off from the northern half. The Powers of Europe had to recognize the new country to keep themselves from going to war against each other again. Since, in Roman times, a Celtic tribe called the Belgae had lived there, it was decided to call the new country Belgium.
1 Pardon the pun, O ye Belgae.
The Netherlands (literally the 'Low Countries', or 'Pays Bas' in French) used to be the lower part of the duchy of Burgundy, and after the abdication (1555) of its duke, Charles V (who died in 1558), were assigned to the Spanish lands inherited by his son Philip II. (The higher parts were obtained by France.)

The new king settled in Spain and really showed no interest in the Netherlands except for purposes of taxation. The reformation had spread and as so often happens, religious differences split the Low Countries in two (the present-day Netherlands and Belgium), and led to war (1588-1648). Holland, in the most remote, northwestern part of the Low Countries, was at the heart of the rebellion, and became a safe haven to refugees of all kinds: merchants in need to evade taxes or religious prosecution, political activists, pirates (including some of our national heroes).

Our country was founded by a bunch of outlaws, which explains its traditional tolerance in religious and political matters, now quickly evaporating. The only reason it could remain independent was its awkward location, far away from Spain, protected from France by Belgium, from Britain by the North Sea, and from Germany by that country's internal lack of political unity.

  • 36% of the population define themselves as unaffiliated with regard to religion, according to the CIA's World Factbook.
  • According to Newsweek, the average Dutch teenager speaks English better than their American counterparts
  • Prime Minister is Wim Kok (since 1994), vice PMs are Annemarie Jorritsma and Els Borst-Eilers (both since 1998.)
  • Major political parties: Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA) - Jaap de Hoop Scheffer; Democrats '66 (D'66) - Tom Kok; Labour Party (PvdA) - Wim Kok; People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (WD) - Hans F. Dijkstal.
  • Has decriminalised sex work.
  • Is the first of the EU countries to legalise voluntary euthanasia.
  • Has legalized same-sex marriage and allows same-sex couples to adopt children.
  • Has a flag resembling that of Luxembourg, three equal horizontal bands of red, white and blue (from top to bottom), but with a darker blue and shorter length.
  • Is divided into 12 provinces (provincien): Noord-Holland, Zuid-Holland (hence the pseudonym for the country in general-Amsterdam is in Noord-Holland,) Drenthe, Flevoland, Utrecht, Zeeland (from where New Zealand gets its name,) Friesland, Gelderland ("money/goldland",) Groningen, Limburg (where the cheese comes from,) Noord-Brabant and Overijssel. The southern-most province (which, I believe, is Limburg) actually does lie between Belgium and Germany, though most of the country does not.
The modern day Netherlands is more commonly known as Holland but back in the 16th century it included Belgium and parts of France, Germany and Luxembourg. The original Netherlands were a collection of independant provinces and states brought together over a 150 year period.

Here is a timeline of how the Netherlands came into being. It was formed from an amalgamation of states starting with Burgundy in Northern France and slowly moving up to incorporate the more northern states such as Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel and Groningen.

Philip the Bold m. Margaret of Flanders
        Philip the Good
        Charles the Rash
         Mary of Burgundy m. Maximillian of Hapsburg
         |                                      |
     Philip I m. Joanna the Mad              Margaret
          Charles V

By this time the 17 provinces of that became known as the Netherlands were united under one sovereign. The united states officially recognised Charles V as their King and the House of Hapsburg as their royal family.

The Government of the Netherlands

The government of the Netherlands in the 16th century reflected its divided nature as a state. The sovereign obviously ruled when he was in the country but this was not the common state of affairs with the Netherlands being part of Habsburg lands which covered most of Europe. During the sovereign's absence a Governor General was appointed to rule in their place. In the Habsburg tradition the Governor General usually a reasonably close relative of the sovereign - Philip II appointed both his half sister, Margaret of Parma, and his half brother, Don John of Austria, to the Governorship during his reign.

Whilst the Governor General represented the sovereign's interests in the Netherlands the States General and Stadholders represented the provinces' interests. The States General was the parliament of the Netherlands and it met every three years. Each of the seventeen states sent representatives who voiced their provinces views at the States. Unanimous agreement was required before a decision was reached and each representative was required to communicate with their State before changing their position. This meant that decision making was an extremely lengthy process. In addition there was great particularism between the provinces so disagreements were often based solely on existing rivalries rather than political opposition. The States General was extremely keen on protecting the individual local privileges and rights on the Netherlands as was each province. This meant that they were set against attempts at centralisation which sovereigns often desired to gain greater control.

The Stadholders were the Grandees (high nobles) of the Netherlands and were made by royal appointment. This gave them a position of some power and favoured nobles could be appointed Stadholder to more than one State, as William of Orange was. The Stadholders themselves essentially made up the elite of the Netherlands and were also appointed to important government positions on the Council of State and Council of Finance.

Within each state a States acted as an individual province parliament. Their job was to protect local privileges, collect taxes and raise armies. Each States controlled the different legal systems of their province, there were in fact over 200 different penal codes within the Netherlands.

The towns in the Netherlands, as elsewhere in Europe during the Early Modern Period, were a group unto themselves. They were controlled by the town regents, comprising of prominent lawyers, magistrates and religious leaders. These regents were in constant conflict with the guildsmen of the town, a group growing in power with the powerful trading empire that existed in the Netherlands.

|                         Sovereign                         |
|                      Governor General                     |
|                        Stadholders                        |
|  States General | Councils of Finance and State  | Towns  |
|     States      |                                |        |

My own notes made in class
"The Netherlands: Revolt and Independence, 1550-1650" - Martyn Rady, Arnold 1987
"Years of Renewal: European History 1470-1600" - Edited by John Lotherington, Hodder and Stoughton, 1991
"The Dutch Revolt, 1559-1648" - Peter Limm, Longman 1989

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