The Seventeen Provinces were the Imperial states of the Habsburg Netherlands in the 16th century. They roughly covered the Low Countries, i.e. what is now the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and most of the French departments of Nord (French Flanders and French Hainaut) and Pas-de-Calais (Artois). Also within this area were semi-independent fiefdoms, mainly ecclesiastical ones, such as Liège, Cambrai and Stavelot-Malmedy.
The Seventeen Provinces arose from the Burgundian Netherlands, a number of fiefs held by the House of Valois-Burgundy and inherited by the Habsburg dynasty in 1482, from 1556 held by Habsburg Spain. Starting in 1512 the Provinces formed the major part of the Burgundian Circle. In 1581 the Seven United Provinces seceded to form the Dutch Republic.
Map of the Seventeen Provinces, 1581 secession outlined in red
|Status||Personal union of Imperial fiefs|
|Common languages||Dutch, Low Saxon, Frisian, Walloon, Luxembourgish, French|
|Historical era||Early modern period|
• Dutch Act of Abjuration
|ISO 3166 code||NL|
It was not always the same seventeen provinces represented at the Estates-General of the Netherlands. Sometimes one delegation was included in another.
In later years the County of Zutphen became a part of the Duchy of Guelders, and the Duchy of Limburg was dependent on the Duchy of Brabant. The Lordship of Drenthe is sometimes considered as part of the Lordship of Overijssel. On the other hand, the French-speaking cities of Flanders were sometimes recognised as a separate province.
Therefore, in some lists Zutphen and Drenthe are replaced by
There were a number of fiefdoms in the Low Countries that were not part of the Seventeen Provinces, mainly because they did not belong to the Burgundian Circle but to the Lower Rhenish-Westphalian Circle. The largest of these was the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, the green area on the map, including the County of Horne. The ethnically and culturally Netherlandish duchies of Cleves and Julich did not join either. 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.
Historians came up with different variations of the list, but always with 17 members. This number could have been chosen because of its Christian connotation.
The Seventeen Provinces originated from the Burgundian Netherlands. The dukes of Burgundy systematically became the lord of different provinces. Mary I of Valois, Duchess of Burgundy was the last of the House of Burgundy.
Mary married Maximilian I of Habsburg, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1477, and the provinces were acquired by the House of Habsburg on her death in 1482, with the exception of the Duchy of Burgundy itself, which, with an appeal to Salic law, had been reabsorbed into France upon the death of Mary's father, Charles the Bold. Maximilian and Mary's grandson, Charles V of Habsburg, Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and King of Spain, eventually united all 17 provinces under his rule, the last one being the Duchy of Guelders, in 1543.
Most of these provinces were fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire. Two provinces, the County of Flanders and County of Artois, were originally French fiefs, but sovereignty was ceded to the Empire in the Treaty of Cambrai in 1529.
The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 determined that the Provinces should remain united in the future and inherited by the same monarch. Therefore, Charles V introduced the title of Heer der Nederlanden ("Lord of the Netherlands"). Only he and his son could ever use this title.
After Charles V's abdication in 1555, his realms were divided between his son, Philip II of Habsburg, King of Spain, and his brother, Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor. The Seventeen Provinces 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 Seven United Provinces. They were:
The southern provinces, Flanders, Brabant, Namur, Hainaut, Luxembourg and the others, were restored to Spanish rule due to the military and political talent of the Duke of Parma, especially at the Siege of Antwerp (1584–1585). Hence, these provinces became known as the Spanish Netherlands or Southern Netherlands.
The County of Drenthe, surrounded by the other northern provinces, became de facto part of the Seven United Provinces, but had no voting rights in the Union of Utrecht and was therefore not considered a province.
By the mid-16th century, the Margraviate of Antwerp (Duchy of Brabant) had become the economic, political, and cultural center of the Netherlands after its capital had shifted from the nearby Lordship of Mechelen to the city of Brussels.
Bruges (County of Flanders) had already lost its prominent position as economic powerhouse of northern Europe. And Holland was gradually gaining importance in the 15th and 16th centuries.
However, after the revolt of the seven northern provinces (1568), the Sack of Antwerp (1576), the Fall of Antwerp (1584–1585), 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, mostly Holland, including Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam.
To distinguish between the older and larger Low Countries of the Netherlands from the current country of the Netherlands, Dutch speakers usually drop the plural for the latter. They speak of Nederland in singular for the current country and of de Nederlanden in plural for the integral 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 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 Dutch School (Nederlandse School). Although they themselves would not have objected to that term at that time, today it may wrongly create the impression that they were from the current Netherlands. In fact, they were almost exclusively from current Belgium.
The same confusion exists around the word Flanders. Historically, it applied to the County of Flanders, corresponding roughly with the present day provinces of West Flanders and East Flanders. But when the Dutch-speaking population of Belgium sought more rights in the 19th century, the word Flanders was reused, but now to indicate the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, which is larger, and contains only part of the old county of Flanders (see Flemish Movement).
So the territory of the County of Flanders and present-day Flanders do not fully match:
This explains for instance why the province of East Flanders is not situated in the east of present-day Flanders.
The Burgundian Circle (German: Burgundischer Kreis, Dutch: Bourgondische Kreits, French: Cercle de Bourgogne) was an Imperial Circle of the Holy Roman Empire created in 1512 and significantly enlarged in 1548. In addition to the Free County of Burgundy (present-day administrative region of Franche-Comté), the Burgundian Circle roughly covered the Low Countries, i.e., the areas now known as the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg and adjacent parts in the French administrative region of Nord-Pas-de-Calais.
The circle's territorial scope was reduced considerably in the 17th century with the secession of the Seven United Provinces in 1581 (recognized 1648) and the annexation of the Free County of Burgundy by France in 1678. The occupation and subsequent annexation of Imperial territory to the west of the Rhine river by Revolutionary France in the 1790s effectively brought an end to the circle's existence.Count of Zutphen
The title of Count of Zutphen historically belonged to the ruler of the Dutch province of Gelderland (Zutphen being one of the major cities in the province during the medieval period).
The line of the Counts of Zutphen became extinct in the 12th century and the title passed onto the rulers of Burgundy then from then to the King of Spain until Gelderland became one of the provinces to revolt and form the United Provinces.County of Artois
The County of Artois (French: comté d'Artois, Dutch: graafschap Artesië) was a historic province of the Kingdom of France, held by the Dukes of Burgundy from 1384 until 1477/82, and a state of the Holy Roman Empire from 1493 until 1659.
Present Artois lies in northern France, on the border with Belgium. Its territory has an area of around 4000 km² and a population of about one million. Its principal cities are Arras (Atrecht), Calais (Kales), Boulogne-sur-Mer (Bonen), Saint-Omer (Sint-Omaars), Lens and Béthune. It forms the interior of the French département Pas-de-Calais.
Originally a feudal county itself, Artois was annexed by the county of Flanders. It came to France in 1180 as a dowry of a Flemish princess, Isabelle of Hainaut, and was again made a separate county in 1237 for Robert, a grandson of Isabelle. Through inheritance, Artois came under the rule of the dukes of Burgundy in 1384. At the death of the fourth duke, Charles the Bold, Artois was inherited by the Habsburgs and passed to the dynasty's Spanish line. After the religious revolts of 1566 in the Netherlands, Artois briefly entered the Dutch Revolt in 1576, participating in the Pacification of Ghent until it formed the Union of Arras in 1579.
After the Union, Artois and Hainaut (Dutch: Henegouwen) reached a separate agreement with Philip II. Artois remained with the Spanish Netherlands until it was conquered by the French during the Thirty Years War. The annexation was acknowledged during the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, and it became a French province. Artois had already been largely French-speaking, but it was part of the Southern Netherlands until the French annexation.
Artois experienced rapid industrial development during the second half of the 19th century, fueled by its rich coal resources. During World War I, the front line between the opposing Entente and Allied armies in France ran through the province, resulting in enormous physical damage. Since the second half of the 20th century, Artois has suffered along with nearby areas because of the decline of the coal industry.County of Flanders
The County of Flanders (Dutch: Graafschap Vlaanderen, French: Comté de Flandre) was a historic territory in the Low Countries.
From 862 onwards the Counts of Flanders were one of the original twelve peers of the Kingdom of France. For centuries their estates around the cities of Ghent, Bruges and Ypres formed one of the most affluent regions in Europe.
Up to 1477, the area under French suzerainty was located west of the Scheldt River and was called "Royal Flanders" (Dutch: Kroon-Vlaanderen, French: Flandre royale). Aside from this the Counts of Flanders from the 11th century on also held land east of the river as a fief of the Holy Roman Empire, an area called "Imperial Flanders" (Rijks-Vlaanderen or Flandre impériale). Part of the Burgundian Netherlands from 1384, the county was finally removed from French to Imperial control after the Peace of Madrid in 1526 and the Peace of Ladies in 1529.
In 1795 the remaining territory within the Austrian Netherlands was incorporated by the French First Republic and passed to the newly established United Kingdom of the Netherlands in 1815. The former County of Flanders, except for French Flanders, is the only part of the medieval French kingdom that is not part of modern-day France.County of Hainaut
The County of Hainaut (French: Comté de Hainaut, Dutch: Graafschap Henegouwen; German: Grafschaft Hennegau; Latin: comitatus hanoniensis), sometimes given the spelling Hainault, was a historical lordship within the medieval Holy Roman Empire with its capital eventually established at Mons (Dutch: Bergen), and named after the river Haine, both now in Belgium. Besides Mons, it included the city of Valenciennes, now in France. It consisted of what is now the Belgian province of Hainaut and the eastern part of the French département of Nord.
Originally a gau of Lotharingia, Hainaut was briefly a part of West Francia (911–25) before becoming definitively attached to Germany. The county was divided in 958 and emerged in its more or less final form in 1071. Hainaut was culturally and linguistically French.
In 1432, Hainaut was acquired by the House of Valois-Burgundy and in 1477 passed to the Habsburgs with the rest of the Burgundian Netherlands and became part of the Burgundian Circle in 1512. It was ruled by the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs from 1555 to 1714. In 1659 and 1678 southern Hainaut was acquired by France. In 1797 the rest of the county was ceded to France by the Emperor Francis II, who was also count of Hainaut.County of Holland
The County of Holland was a State of the Holy Roman Empire and from 1432 part of the Burgundian Netherlands, from 1482 part of the Habsburg Netherlands and from 1581 onward the leading province of the Dutch Republic, of which it remained a part until the Batavian Revolution in 1795. The territory of the County of Holland corresponds roughly with the current provinces of North Holland and South Holland in the Netherlands.County of Namur
Namur (Dutch: Namen) was a county of the Carolingian and later Holy Roman Empire in the Low Countries. Its territories largely correspond with the present-day Belgian arrondissement Namur plus the northwestern part of the arrondissement Dinant, both part of the modern province of Namur, and previously part of the French Republican department of Sambre-et-Meuse.County of Zeeland
The County of Zeeland (Dutch: Graafschap Zeeland) was a county of the Holy Roman Empire in the Low Countries. It covered an area in the Scheldt and Meuse delta roughly corresponding to the modern Dutch province of Zeeland. The County of Zeeland did not include the region of Zeelandic Flanders which was part of Flanders; conversely, the modern Province of Zeeland does not include Sommelsdijk, historically part of the County of Zeeland.Duchy of Brabant
The Duchy of Brabant was a State of the Holy Roman Empire established in 1183. It developed from the Landgraviate of Brabant and formed the heart of the historic Low Countries, part of the Burgundian Netherlands from 1430 and of the Habsburg Netherlands from 1482, until it was partitioned after the Dutch revolt.
Present-day North Brabant (Staats-Brabant) was adjudicated to the Generality Lands of the Dutch Republic according to the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, while the reduced duchy remained part of the Southern Netherlands until it was conquered by French Revolutionary forces in 1794. Today all the duchy's former territories, apart from exclaves, are in Belgium except for the Dutch province of North Brabant.Duchy of Limburg
The Duchy of Limburg or Limbourg was a state of the Holy Roman Empire. Its main territory including the capital Limbourg is today located within the Belgian province of Liège, with a small part in the neighbouring province of Belgian Limburg, within the east of Voeren.
From about 1020, Limburg Castle served as the residence of the Counts of Limburg, who in 1100 adopted the ducal title (Herzog in German, Hertog in Dutch) as Dukes of Lower Lorraine, one of the most important and ancient titles in this part of the empire. The extinction of the line in 1283 sparked the War of the Limburg Succession, whereafter Limburg was ruled by the Dukes of Brabant in personal union, eventually being grouped together with the Brabantian "Overmaas" territories bordering it (including Dalhem, Valkenburg, and Hertogenrade), to be one of the Seventeen Provinces of the Burgundian Netherlands. Unlike other parts of this province, the lands of the duchy stayed intact within the Southern Netherlands, under Habsburg control, after the divisions caused by the Eighty Years' War and the War of the Spanish Succession. However finally, after the failed Brabant Revolution in 1789, the duchy's history was terminated with the occupation by French Revolutionary troops in 1793. These lands were reunited within modern Belgium only after World War I.
The duchy was multilingual, being the place where Dutch, French, and German dialects border upon each other and coexist at their geographical extremes, both now and in medieval times. Its northern and eastern borders are the approximate boundaries of the modern state of Belgium with the Netherlands and Germany, at their "tripoint". The eastern part, which includes Eupen, is the administrative capital and northernmost part of the modern Belgian German-speaking Ostkantonen.
Of the various places known as Limburg, it is the Duchy of Limburg which is the origin of the pungent-smelling soft cheese known as Limburger, and today made in many places. (In modern Belgium, such cheese is known as Herve cheese, after the town of that name within the duchy.)Duchy of Luxemburg
The Duchy of Luxemburg (Dutch: Luxemburg, French: Luxembourg, German: Luxemburg, Luxembourgish: Lëtzebuerg) was a state of the Holy Roman Empire, the ancestral homeland of the noble House of Luxembourg. The House of Luxembourg, now Duke of Limburg, became one of the most important political forces in the 14th century, competing against the House of Habsburg for supremacy in Central Europe. They would be the heirs to the Přemyslid dynasty in the Kingdom of Bohemia, succeeding the Kingdom of Hungary and contributing four Holy Roman Emperors until their own line of male heirs came to an end and the House of Habsburg got the pieces that the two Houses had originally agreed upon in the Treaty of Brünn in 1364.In 1443, the duchy passed to Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy of the French House of Valois, and, in 1477, by marriage to Archduke Maximilian I of Austria of the House of Habsburg. The Seventeen Provinces of the former Burgundian Netherlands were formed into an integral union by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549. In 1795, French revolutionaries ended this situation.Grand pensionary
The grand pensionary (Dutch: raad(s)pensionaris) was the most important Dutch official during the time of the United Provinces. In theory he was only a civil servant of the Estates of the dominant province among the Seven United Provinces: the county of Holland. In practice the grand pensionary of Holland was the political leader of the entire Dutch Republic when there was no stadtholder (in practice the Prince of Orange) at the centre of power.
The Dutch name raad(s)pensionaris literally translates as "councillor or advisor pensionary". Indeed, other provinces could also have a raadspensionaris, e.g. Zeeland, but only the one of Holland was considered by foreign powers to be of any importance, so they called him the grand pensionary.
The position of the grand pensionary was in many ways similar to what through later political and constitutional developments came to be a prime minister.Guelders
Guelders or Gueldres (Dutch: Gelre, German: Geldern) is a historical county, later duchy of the Holy Roman Empire, located in the Low Countries.Habsburg Netherlands
Habsburg Netherlands (Dutch: Habsburgse Nederlanden; French: Pays-Bas des Habsbourg), also referred to as Flanders during the early modern period, is the collective name of Holy Roman Empire fiefs in the Low Countries held by the House of Habsburg. The rule began in 1482, when after the death of the Valois-Burgundy duke Charles the Bold the Burgundian Netherlands fell to the Habsburg dynasty by the marriage of Charles's daughter Mary of Burgundy to Archduke Maximilian I of Austria. Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor was born in the Habsburg Netherlands and made the Low Countries (primarily Brussels) the core of his "empire on which the sun never sets".Becoming the Seventeen Provinces in 1549, they were held by the Spanish Empire from 1556, and are therefore also known as the Spanish Netherlands from that time on. In 1581, the Seven United Provinces seceded to form the Dutch Republic; the remaining Spanish Southern Netherlands eventually passed on to Habsburg Austria. Finally, the Austrian Netherlands were annexed by the French First Republic in 1795.Lordship of Mechelen
The Lordship of Mechelen was until 1795 a small independent Lordship in the Low Countries, consisting of the city of Mechelen and some surrounding villages.
In the early Middle Ages, it was part of the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, which was confirmed in 910. In practice, the area was ruled by the local Berthout family, against the will of the Prince-Bishops of Liège. The Duchy of Brabant tried to annex the Lordship, but as a reaction, Liège gave the area in 1333 to the County of Flanders. The Flemish also didn't gain complete and permanent control.
Mechelen was therefore later considered as one of the Seventeen Provinces and then as a province of the Southern Netherlands. The Dukes of Burgundy and later the Habsburg Emperors and Kings were personally Lords of Mechelen and for a while turned the city more or less into the capital of the Netherlands. They established here the highest jurisdictional court of the Seventeen Provinces, called the Great Council of Mechelen. Governess Margaret of Austria also held her Court at Mechelen. Later, the capital moved primarily to Brussels.
In 1795 the Lordship was abolished by the French revolutionaries and it became part of the French département of the Deux-Nèthes.
Today it is part of the Belgian province of Antwerp.Low Countries
The Low Countries, the Low Lands (Dutch: de Lage Landen, French: les Pays Bas), or historically also the Netherlands (Dutch: de Nederlanden, German: die Niederlande), is a coastal lowland region in northwestern Europe, forming the lower basin of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers, divided in the Middle Ages into numerous semi-independent principalities that consolidated in the countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, as well as today's French Flanders.Historically, the regions without access to the sea have linked themselves politically and economically to those with access to form various unions of ports and hinterland, stretching inland as far as parts of the German Rhineland. That is why nowadays some parts of the Low Countries are actually hilly, like Luxembourg and the south of Belgium. Within the European Union the region's political grouping is still referred to as the Benelux (short for Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg).
During the Roman empire the region contained a militarised frontier and contact point between Rome and Germanic tribes. With the collapse of the empire, the Low Countries were the scene of the early independent trading centres that marked the reawakening of Europe in the 12th century. In that period, they rivalled northern Italy as one of the most densely populated regions of Western Europe. Most of the cities were governed by guilds and councils along with a figurehead ruler; interaction with their ruler was regulated by a strict set of rules describing what the latter could and could not expect from them. All of the regions mainly depended on trade, manufacturing and the encouragement of the free flow of goods and craftsmen. Dutch and French dialects were the main languages used in secular city life.Pragmatic Sanction of 1549
The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 was an edict, promulgated by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, reorganizing the Seventeen Provinces of the present day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg into one indivisible territory, while retaining existing customs, laws, and forms of government within the provinces.It was his plan to centralize the administrative units of the Holy Roman Empire. The Pragmatic Sanction transformed the agglomeration of lands into a unified entity, of which the Habsburgs would be the heirs. By streamlining the succession law in all Seventeen Provinces and declaring that all of them would be inherited by one heir, Charles effectively united the Netherlands as one entity. After Charles' abdication in 1555, the Seventeen Provinces passed to his son, Philip II of Spain.The Pragmatic Sanction is said to be one example of the Habsburg contest with particularism that contributed to the Dutch Revolt. Each of the provinces had its own laws, customs and political practices. The new policy, imposed from the outside, angered many inhabitants, who viewed their provinces as distinct entities. It and other monarchical acts, such as the creation of bishoprics and promulgation of laws against heresy, stoked resentments, which fired the eruption of the Dutch Revolt.Spanish Netherlands
Spanish Netherlands (Spanish: Países Bajos Españoles; Dutch: Spaanse Nederlanden; French: Pays-Bas espagnols, German: Spanische Niederlande) was the collective name of States of the Holy Roman Empire in the Low Countries, held in personal union by the Spanish Crown (also called Habsburg Spain) from 1556 to 1714. This region comprised most of the modern states of Belgium and Luxembourg, as well as parts of northern France, southern Netherlands, and western Germany with the capital being Brussels.
The Imperial fiefs of the former Burgundian Netherlands had been inherited by the Austrian House of Habsburg from the extinct House of Valois-Burgundy upon the death of Mary of Burgundy in 1482. The Seventeen Provinces formed the core of the Habsburg Netherlands which passed to the Spanish Habsburgs upon the abdication of Emperor Charles V in 1556. When part of the Netherlands separated to form the autonomous Dutch Republic in 1581, the remainder of the area stayed under Spanish rule until the War of the Spanish Succession.Tournaisis
The Tournaisis (or Tournai and the Tournaisis) was a small territory in the Low Countries independent during the Middle Ages, consisting of the city of Tournai (Dutch: Doornik) and the surrounding area.
It was one of the great centres of Early Netherlandish (or 'Flemish') painting. Robert Campin settled there and attracted students including Rogier Van Der Weyden and Jacques Daret.
It also produced the important Franco-Flemish composers Pierre de la Rue and Marbrianus de Orto.
The Tournaisis was situated between two larger neighbours: the County of Flanders, and the County of Hainaut. Its origins lie in a Roman pagus within the civitas of the Menapii, of which it became the chief city in late Roman times. It had some independence and power in the Middle Ages because it became the seat of the Bishopric of Tournai.
The territory, like that of Flanders, but unlike neighbouring Hainaut, was part of early medieval West Francia, which evolved into France. However, this rule was not always effective. It came under French rule during the reign of Philip IV of France, and remained under French control until it was conquered by Emperor Charles V in 1521. It remained part of the Habsburg Netherlands until 1789, eventually becoming part of modern Belgium.
The Tournaisis was considered part of the Seventeen Provinces.
|History of the Low Countries|
Gallia Belgica (55 BC – 5th c. AD)
Germania Inferior (83 – 5th c.)
|Frankish Kingdom (481–843)—Carolingian Empire (800–843)|
|Middle Francia (843–855)||West
|Kingdom of Lotharingia (855– 959)
Duchy of Lower Lorraine (959–)
Burgundian Netherlands (1384–1482)
Habsburg Netherlands (1482–1795)
(Seventeen Provinces after 1543)
United States of Belgium
Batavian Republic (1795–1806)
Kingdom of Holland (1806–1810)
associated with French First Republic (1795–1804)
part of First French Empire (1804–1815)
Princip. of the Netherlands (1813–1815)
|United Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815–1830)|
Gr D. L.
Kingdom of the Netherlands (1839–)
Kingdom of Belgium (1830–)
|Gr D. of|
Seventeen Provinces of
Part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands