Seventeen Provinces

Template:Netherlands state The Seventeen Provinces were a state in the Low Countries in the 16th century, roughly covering the current Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and a good part of the North of France (Artois, Nord).


The 17 Provinces

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Flag of the Seventeen Provinces, XVIth century

The 17 Provinces were:

  1. the duchy of Brabant
  2. the duchy of Guelders (after 1543)
  3. the duchy of Limburg (with the Landen van Overmaas)
  4. the duchy of Luxemburg
  5. the county of Artois
  6. the county of Hainaut
  7. the county of Holland
  8. the county of Namur
  9. the county of Flanders
  10. the county of Zeeland
  11. the manor of Friesland
  12. the manor of Groningen
  13. the manor of Mechelen
  14. the manor of Overijssel (with Drenthe and Lingen)
  15. the bishopric of Utrecht
  16. the cities of Lille, Douai and Orchies
  17. the city of Tournai
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Map of the unification of the Seventeen Provinces (1477)

In addition, there were a number of fiefdoms in this region that were not part of the Netherlands, the largest one is the Bishopric of LiŤge. In the north, there were also a few smaller entities like the island of Ameland, that would retain their own lords until the French revolution.


The Seventeen Provinces originated from the Burgundian Netherlands, that were inherited by Maximilian I of Habsburg in 1482. His grandson and successor Charles V united all 17 provinces under his rule, the last one being Guelders, in 1543. Most of these were fiefs under the Holy Roman Empire, of which Charles became Emperor himself. Two, Flanders and Artois, were French fiefs. The French king and the Holy Roman Emperor agreed to release all seventeen from the largely nominal and by then anachronistic ties to both realms. This was called the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549.

After Charles' V abdication in 1556, his realms became divided between his son, Philip II and his brother, Ferdinand I. The Netherlands went to his son, the king of Spain.

Conflicts between Philip II and his Dutch subjects led to the Eighty Years' War, which started in 1568. The seven northern provinces gained their independence as a republic called the United Provinces:

The United Provinces conquered parts of Limburg, Brabant and Flanders during the Eighty Years' War (see Generality Lands), which was ended with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

The southern provinces were restored to Spanish rule thanks to the military and political talent of the Duke of Parma. Hence, they became known as the Spanish Netherlands or Southern Netherlands. Large parts of the Southern Netherlands were ceded to France in the course of the 17th and 18th century.


In the days of Charles V, there is no doubt that the economic, political and cultural center of the Netherlands was the city of Antwerp, which had succeeded Bruges as the economic powerhouse of northern Europe, although Holland was gradually gaining importance in the 15th and 16th centuries.

However after the independence of the seven northern provinces and the resulting closure of the Scheldt river to navigation, a large number of people from the southern provinces emigrated north to the new republic. The center of prosperity moved from cities in the south such as Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, and Brussels to cities in the north including Amsterdam, the Hague, and Rotterdam.


To distinguish between the older, larger Netherlands from the current country, Dutch speakers usually drop the plural for the latter. They speak of Nederland for the current country and de Nederlanden for the domains of Charles V. In other languages, this has not been adopted, though the larger area is sometimes known as the Low Countries in English.

The fact that the same term Netherlands has such different historical meanings can sometimes lead to difficulties in expressing oneself correctly. For example, composers from the 16th century are often said to belong to the Nederlandse School. Although they themselves would not have objected to that term, today it may wrongly create the impression that they were from the north. In fact, they were almost exclusively from the south.

See also

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