Netherlands, Southern

views updated


NETHERLANDS, SOUTHERN. The southern Netherlands were those provinces of the Low Countries inherited in 1555 by Philip II of Spain (ruled in the Netherlands 15551598, in Spain 15561598) that remained under Habsburg rule following the Twelve Years' Truce of 1609, which admitted the de facto independence of the United Netherlands (Dutch Republic). Known first as the Spanish Netherlands, the provinces became the Austrian Netherlands when transferred to the Austrian Habsburg dynasty by the treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastatt (1714). The greater part of them forms present-day Belgium.


The revolt of the Low Countries against Philip II, involving religious, political, and national issues, peaked in 1576, when the full States General of the Netherlands agreed to the Pacification of Ghent. But divisions between south and north and Catholic and Protestant, as well as social strife fueled by militant Calvinism in many towns, soon undermined the agreement. In January 1579 the estates of the southern Walloon provinces of Hainaut, Artois, and Tournaisis and delegates of the towns of Lille, Douai, and Orchies in Walloon Flanders formed the Union of Arras to defend the Catholic faith and asserted their obedience to Philip II. At first acknowledging Archduke Matthias (15571619), lured in 1577 by the States General to serve as governor-general, in May they came to terms with the governor-general appointed by Philip, Alexander Farnese (15451592), the future duke of Parma, whose army occupied Namur. Through Parma, Philip promised to respect the ancient constitutional liberties of the Netherlands reflected in the Joyeuse Entrée (Joyous Entry), which dated from mid-fourteenth-century Brabant and was amplified and confirmed by subsequent Burgundian and Habsburg rulers of the Netherlands.

As the Walloon provinces formed the Union of Arras, seven northern Dutch-speaking provinces, led by Holland and Zeeland, formed the United Netherlands through the Union of Utrecht (1579) to safeguard the Calvinist faith and traditional liberties. In 1581 the Union of Utrecht abjured Philip II and in 1587 vested sovereignty in their States General. Luxembourg, separated from the other provinces of Philip II's inheritance by the independent bishopric of Liège, had never joined the revolt and remained attached to the southern Netherlands. Cambrai, legally an independent bishopric, was tied to the southern Netherlands by a citadel, originally erected and garrisoned by Philip's father, Emperor Charles V (ruled 15191556; ruled Spain as Charles I, 15161556).

Advancing from the "obedient" provinces, Parma by 1587 had taken the town of Tournai, most of Flemish Flanders (save for Ostend), and most of Limburg, Brabant (including Brussels, Antwerp, and Mechelen), and Gelderland from the rebels and had won over large areas in the northeastern provinces that resisted incorporation into the Dutch Republic. Distractions that included preparations to invade England with the Spanish Armada (15871588) and intervention in the French Succession (15891598) prevented further gains and allowed the Dutch to eliminate the loyalist strongholds in the northeast and gain footholds south of the Rhine, Waal, and Maas rivers.

In a bid to reunite the revolt-torn Netherlands peacefully, Philip II in 1598 separated them from the Spanish crown and bestowed sovereignty over them to the "archdukes," his daughter Isabel Clara Eugenia (15661633) and her husband Archduke Albert (15591621). But if the archdukes, each over age thirty, had no heir, sovereignty would revert to the Spanish crown. This fact, along with differences over religion, trade with the Spanish empire, commercial rivalries, and the archdukes' dependence on Spain for money and troops, prevented reunification. Conflict persisted. The archdukes' general, Ambrogio Spinola, conquered Ostend (1604), and privateers sailing from Dunkirk menaced Dutch shipping. But Sluis was lost (1604), and the war overall seesawed. The depredations of raiders and religious persecution on both sides engendered bitterness between the two populations. Following an armistice in 1607, the archdukes, Philip III (ruled 15981621) of Spain, and the Dutch Republic in 1609 agreed to a Twelve Years' Truce that left the Low Countries divided between the United Provinces and the Spanish Netherlands.


By general reckoning, the "obedient" provinces numbered ten, even if parts of them had been lost to the Dutch. They were the duchies of Brabant, Upper Gelderland, Limburg, and Luxembourg; the counties of Artois, Hainaut, Namur, and Flanders; and the lordships of Walloon Flanders and Tournai. They formed a congeries, each with its particular institutions, each possessed by its appropriate title, each jealous of its rights, and each stingy in matters of taxes. All but Luxembourg had been devastated by nearly forty years of strife and had lost considerable numbers from a population that once neared two million people. Perhaps 100,000 fled to the Dutch Republic or England, taking their skills and businesses with them. The Flemish cloth industry was in ruins, and the formerly great port of Antwerp was cut off from the sea by the Dutch closure of the River Schelde estuary. The provinces were linguistically divided, with Walloon French spoken in the south and Dutch Flemish in the north and west. Roman Catholicism held them together.

Peace permitted some recovery in industry and population. The archdukes centralized power in Brussels with the traditional councils of state, justice, and finance; left the provinces to the nobility and the towns to prominent burghers; and after 1600 did not summon the southern States General. Yet under the archdukes a nascent sense of national identity developed. Led by the Jesuits, the Roman Catholic Church revived. Each province had an episcopal see, a result of the controversial reform of 1562, and the archbishop of Mechelen served as primate. The universities and colleges of Louvain and Douai became centers of classical scholarship and Catholic theology. Cornelis Jansen (15851638), bishop of Ieper (Ypres), propounded austere doctrines that had a major impact on seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Catholic thought. The baroque style flourished in splendid churches and public buildings. The painters Peter Paul Rubens (15771640) and Anthony Van Dyck (15991641) gained international fame. Demand continued for Flemish tapestries and lace.

In 1621, following the death of Albert without an heir, the Spanish Netherlands reverted to Philip IV of Spain (ruled 16211665), and with the expiry of the truce, war with the Dutch resumed, becoming part of the larger Thirty Years' War. Isabel continued as governor-general. Dunkirk privateers and the armada of Flanders went after Dutch shipping and destroyed a herring fleet. In 1625 Spinola captured the Dutch stronghold of Breda, but in 1628 he was ordered to Italy. The Dutch in 1629 took the stronghold of 's Hertogenbosch and in 1632 Maastricht. A few ranking noblemen sought annexation by France, where the high nobility had kin. Confronted by setbacks and sedition, Isabel summoned the States General to Brussels in 1632 in a vain effort to seek peace with the Dutch. A few still talked of reunion. On Isabel's death in 1633, Philip IV sent his brother, Cardinal-Infante Don Fernando, to serve as governor-general. On his way from Spain in 1634, Fernando helped defeat the Swedes at Nördlingen, driving France, which supported the Swedes and Dutch against the Habsburgs, to enter the war openly. France had claims in the southern Netherlands, where a welter of feudal rights marked its historic border with the Holy Roman Empire.

The Spanish Netherlands became the cockpit of Europe. While the cardinal-infante conquered Roermond and Venlo in 1637, he lost Breda. In 1639 the Dutch in the Battle of the Downs mauled a Spanish armada bringing him treasure and reinforcements. The armada of Flanders often had to serve in Spanish waters. In 1640 the French captured Arras. In early 1641 the cardinal-infante died, succeeded by the soldier Francisco de Melo (15971651). When the French soundly defeated Melo at Rocroi in 1643, he was dismissed. Vital aid from Spain dwindled, and misery spread. Negotiations for peace between Philip IV and the Dutch opened in 1644, and in 1648 they were concluded at The Hague and then at Münster as part of the Peace of Westphalia. The Spanish Netherlands lost North Brabant and Maastricht to the Dutch.

War with France continued. In 1646 Philip appointed Archduke Bishop Leopold Wilhelm (16141662), brother of Emperor Ferdinand III (ruled 16371657), governor-general. Of limited competence as a soldier, Leopold Wilhelm conceded numerous privileges to localities and corporate bodies to maintain loyalty. More battles and towns were won and lost. Dunkirk was lost in 1646 and recovered in 1652. In 1656 John Joseph of Austria (16291679), Philip IV's legitimized son, replaced Leopold Wilhelm and brought new energy to the war. But the addition of England's power under Oliver Cromwell (15991658) to that of France led to the loss of Dunkirk and much of southwestern Flanders. Philip IV in 1659 signed the Peace of the Pyrenees with France, ceding Gravelines, Artois, and bits of Flanders, Hainaut, and Luxembourg. In 1662 England sold Dunkirk to France.

For the Spanish Netherlands peace did not last. When Charles II (ruled 16651700) succeeded Philip IV, Louis XIV (ruled 16431715) of France, wedded to Philip's eldest daughter Marie-Thérèse, claimed that Hainaut, Brabant, and more "devolved" on her. In the War of Devolution(16671668) Louis's army invaded the helpless Spanish Netherlands. Fearing the approach of French power, the Dutch joined England and Sweden in a Triple Alliance that forced Louis to settle by the Treaty of Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle) (1668) for Walloon Flanders and a corner of Flemish Flanders, much less than he wanted. More wars followed as Louis XIV turned against the Dutch in 1672 and continued to nibble at the Spanish Netherlands. Towns and districts were taken and lost, their fates settled by the treaties of Nijmegen (1678) and Ryswick (1697). Elector Maximilian II Emanuel of Bavaria (16621726) became governor-general in 1692, just as he lost his wife Maria Antonia (16691692), granddaughter of Philip IV and daughter of Emperor Leopold I (ruled 16581705). Their son Joseph Ferdinand (16921699) was briefly a candidate for the Spanish throne. Though at war most of the time, Maximilian Emanuel managed to improve canals and tried to make a proper port of Ostend. The treaty of Ryswick closed Ostend, while it permitted the Dutch to maintain barrier fortresses against France in the Spanish Netherlands.

On the succession of the Bourbon Philip V (ruled 17001746) to the Spanish throne in 1700, his grandfather Louis XIV moved French troops into the Spanish Netherlands in his name. Elector Maximilian Emanuel sided with him. The Dutch, English, and Austrians declared war on Louis XIV and Philip V, and for ten years the region was again a battleground. John Churchill, duke of Marlborough, won his great battles of Ramillies (1706); Oudenarde (1708), assisted by Prince Eugène of Savoy; and Malplaquet (1709) on Flanders's fields and conducted successful sieges. The war ended with the treaties of Utrecht (1713) and Rastatt (1714), which allotted what now became the Austrian Netherlands to Emperor Charles VI (ruled 17111740), the Habsburg claimant. After 1672 Cambrai and more of southern Hainaut, Namur, and Luxembourg, all bordering on France, were lost to Louis XIV. Louis yielded a couple of towns north of Dunkirk. The Dutch and Prussians divided Upper Gelderland.


What remained was most of Flanders, Tournai, Hainaut, Namur, Luxembourg and Limburg (with Roermond isolated by Dutch Maastricht), and South Brabant. A generation of peace promoted prosperity, even if the Dutch and English continued to block Antwerp from the sea and forced the suppression of the Ostend Company, established to engage in overseas trade. The population of the Austrian Netherlands gradually recovered from a decline that set in around 1660, and neared three million people by 1790. Agriculture persisted with smallholders, usually under manorial tenures and obligations, selling to local markets. Some wheat was exported, and Flanders led Europe in developing the potato as a food staple. Textiles, especially linen from mills and cottages, proved competitive, though they could not match English production, which owed much of its start to Flemish refugees. To travelers the region appeared comfortably backward, with none of the imperial excitement of the Dutch Republic.

Prince Eugene of Savoy, Austrian governorgeneral from 1714 to 1726, delegated his powers to Ercole Turinetti (16581726), marquis of Priè. Turinetti ran afoul of corporate privileges and in 1719, to assert his authority, had Frans Anneesens, a prominent guildsman and popular leader, executed. Anneesens subsequently entered Belgian folklore. More respect for privilege and tradition was shown by the next governor generals, Arch-duchess Maria Elisabeth (16801741), Charles VI's sister; and Charles, prince of Lorraine (17121780), brother-in-law of Empress Maria Theresa, and the empress's sister Maria Anna (17181744), appointed jointly in 1744. Maria Anna died that year, but Charles continued in the office until his death. Though he was a competent general, in the War of Austrian Succession (17401748) Charles could not prevent the French marshal Maurice, comte de Saxe from overrunning the Austrian Netherlands. The Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) (1748) restored them to his government. Little affected by the Seven Years' War, the provinces prospered with new roads and canals and held Charles in great esteem.

Emperor Joseph II (ruled 17651790), who succeeded Maria Theresa in 1780, proved hostile to privilege and tradition and believed the Austrian Netherlands, the richest of his dominions, was in need of improvement and reform. He appointed his sister, Archduchess Maria Christina (17421798), governor-general and visited the provinces in person. He coerced the Dutch from their barrier fortresses but failed to reopen the Schelde. He promulgated religious toleration and curtailed the privileges of the church and powerful corporate bodies and guilds, which raised opposition from all three Estates in the States General. His "enlightened" overhaul of the administrative and judicial systems in 1787 provoked more outbursts. Stirred by the lawyers Hendrik van der Noot (17311827) and Jan Frans Vonck (17431792), both in touch with the Dutch Patriot movement, the Estates of Brabant and Hainaut in 1788 refused Joseph's annual subsidy. In June 1789 Joseph suppressed them. A popular rising ensued, and Austrian authority, unmindful of growing discontent, collapsed. The bishopric of Liège also underwent revolt, and a United Belgian States was proclaimed. The terms "Belgian," "Belgic," and "Belgium," which had long been used by Latinists for the entire Netherlands, had come to apply to the southern Netherlands, while "Batavia" and "Batavian" applied to the north, the United Netherlands.

In the Belgian States General van der Noot's faction favored the "ancient laws" and traditional social order, while Vonck's faction promoted democracy. When Emperor Leopold II succeeded Joseph in 1790, he offered Belgium autonomy under its States General, but the Belgian States General refused him. They wanted neither monarchy nor democracy and hounded Vonck and his followers, who fled to France. At the end of 1790 the Austrian government, which negotiated with the Vonckists against the States General, took back power with its army. Count Florimond Mercy d'Argenteau (17271794) became governor-general of the Austrian Netherlands and proclaimed a general amnesty. Though not happy with the states party, he became uneasy about the democrats in light of French developments. It soon ceased to matter, as war between Austria and France erupted in 1792. By 1795 French armies had conquered Belgium, which by the Treaty of Campo Formio (1797) became an integral part of France. In 1814 Belgium was incorporated by the Congress of Vienna into a kingdom of the Netherlands under the house of Orange. With well over two hundred years of their own history and customs, the Catholic Belgian provinces chafed under what they perceived as Protestant Dutch domination. Between 1830 and 1839 revolution and negotiation established the modern kingdom of Belgium.

See also Austrian Succession, War of the (17401748) ; Charles V (Holy Roman Empire) ; Devolution, War of (16671668) ; Dutch Republic ; Dutch Revolt (15681648) ; Dutch War (16721678) ; Isabel Clara Eugenia and Albert of Habsburg ; Joseph II (Holy Roman Empire) ; Louis XIV (France) ; Maria Theresa (Holy Roman Empire) ; Parma, Alexander Farnese, duke of ; Patriot Revolution ; Philip II (Spain) ; Philip III (Spain) ; Philip IV (Spain) ; Philip V (Spain) ; Rubens, Peter Paul ; Spanish Succession, War of the (17011714) ; Thirty Years' War (16181648) ; Utrecht, Peace of (1713) ; Westphalia, Peace of (1648) ; William of Orange .


Allen, Paul C. Philip III and the Pax Hispanica, 15981621. New Haven, 2000.

Galand, Michèle. Charles de Lorraine, gouverneur général des Pays-Bas autrichiens 17441780. Brussels, 1993.

Geyl, Pieter. The Netherlands in the Seventeenth Century. 2 vols. London, 19611964.

. Revolt of the Netherlands, 15551609. 2nd ed. London and New York, 1958.

Palmer, R. R. The Age of the Democratic Revolution. 2 vols. Princeton, 19591964.

Parker, Geoffrey. The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 15671659: The Failure of a Grand Strategy. Cambridge, U.K., 1972.

. The Dutch Revolt. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977.

Pirenne, Henri. Histoire de Belgique. 7 vols. Brussels, 19221932.

Stradling, R. A. The Armada of Flanders. Cambridge, U.K., 1992.

Peter Pierson