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Netherlands, Austrian and Spanish

Austrian and Spanish Netherlands, that part of the Low Countries that, from 1482 until 1794, remained under the control of the imperial house of Hapsburg. The area corresponds roughly to modern Belgium and Luxembourg.

The Low Countries passed from the house of Burgundy to that of Hapsburg through the marriage (1477) of Mary of Burgundy to Archduke Maximilian (later Emperor Maximilian I); their son Philip (later Philip I of Castile) inherited Flanders, Brabant, Artois, Hainaut, the duchy of Luxembourg, Limburg, Holland, and Zeeland. His son, Emperor Charles V, added Utrecht, Gelderland, Overijssel, Friesland, and Drenthe and in 1547 declared the entire Netherlands hereditary Hapsburg possessions. In 1555 he abdicated the Netherlands in favor of his son, Philip II of Spain. The provinces of the Netherlands retained their individual institutions and provincial estates, thereby limiting the powers of the Spanish governors at Brussels.

The harsh regime of the duke of Alba, who replaced (1567) Margaret of Parma as governor and suspended constitutional procedure, provoked the opposition of the Dutch and Flemish, led by William the Silent of Orange; Lamoral, count of Egmont; Hendrik, lord of Brederode; Marnix; and others. In 1576 the opposition united in the Pacification of Ghent. Despite the ruthless campaigns of Alba and his successors—Requesens, John of Austria, and the more diplomatic Alessandro Farnese—Spain recovered only the southern provinces while the seven United Provinces of the Netherlands gained independence. The bloody struggle ruined the prosperous Flemish cities, particularly Antwerp. Protestantism was expelled in the Spanish Netherlands; Catholicism grew rapidly, and has become a significant religion in both Belgium and Luxembourg.

The provinces were a battleground in every major European war from the 17th cent. to World War II, but after each war their industry and commercial enterprise enabled a quick recovery. Spain lost North Brabant and part of Limburg to the United Provinces at the Peace of Westphalia (1648); Artois and parts of Hainaut and Luxembourg provs. to France at the Peace of the Pyrenees (1659); and parts of Flanders (including Dunkirk and Lille) to France in the treaties of Aix-la-Chapelle (1668) and Nijmegen (1678–79). The remaining Spanish possessions in the Low Countries were transferred (1714) to the Austrian branch of the Hapsburgs by the Peace of Utrecht. The bishopric of Liège, an ecclesiastic principality, was not part of the Hapsburg possessions; it fell under Spanish and (after 1714) Austrian influence. After 1780 Emperor Joseph II ordered anticlerical reforms and measures for administrative and judicial centralization, which aroused the opposition of Catholic and conservative leaders and enlightened democrats.

Finally, late in 1789, the States-General of the Austrian Netherlands officially deposed Joseph and proclaimed the republic of the United States of Belgium. Joseph's successor, Leopold II, succeeded in conciliating the States-General, which in 1790 elected his son Charles as hereditary grand duke. The Austrian recovery of Belgium was short-lived, for by 1794 the French Revolutionary Wars had brought the entire area under French control. In 1797 it was formally ceded to France in the Treaty of Campo Formio.

For the history of the area after its incorporation (1815) into the kingdom of the Netherlands, see Belgium and Luxembourg, grand duchy.

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