Low Countries

Low Countries

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The Low Countries are the historical lands around the low-lying delta
River delta
A delta is a landform that is formed at the mouth of a river where that river flows into an ocean, sea, estuary, lake, reservoir, flat arid area, or another river. Deltas are formed from the deposition of the sediment carried by the river as the flow leaves the mouth of the river...

 of the Rhine, Scheldt
Scheldt
The Scheldt is a 350 km long river in northern France, western Belgium and the southwestern part of the Netherlands...

, and Meuse
Meuse River
The Maas or Meuse is a major European river, rising in France and flowing through Belgium and the Netherlands before draining into the North Sea...

 rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

, the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, Luxembourg
Luxembourg
Luxembourg , officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , is a landlocked country in western Europe, bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. It has two principal regions: the Oesling in the North as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland in the south...

 and parts of northern France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and western Germany
Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

.
The term is more appropriate to the era of the Late Middle Ages
Late Middle Ages
The Late Middle Ages was the period of European history generally comprising the 14th to the 16th century . The Late Middle Ages followed the High Middle Ages and preceded the onset of the early modern era ....

 and Early Modern Europe
Early modern Europe
Early modern Europe is the term used by historians to refer to a period in the history of Europe which spanned the centuries between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, roughly the late 15th century to the late 18th century...

 when strong centrally governed nations were slowly forming and territorial governance was in the hands of a noble or of a noble house.

Historically after the Roman denomination of it as Gallia Belgica
Gallia Belgica
Gallia Belgica was a Roman province located in what is now the southern part of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, northeastern France, and western Germany. The indigenous population of Gallia Belgica, the Belgae, consisted of a mixture of Celtic and Germanic tribes...

 the region politically had its origins in Middle Francia
Middle Francia
Middle Francia was an ephemeral Frankish kingdom created by the Treaty of Verdun in 843, which divided the Carolingian Empire among the sons of Louis the Pious...

, more precisely its northern part which became the Duchy of Lower Lotharingia. After the disintegration of Lower Lotharingia the Low Countries were brought under the rule of various stronger neighbours. Their possessions can be renamed into the Burgundian Netherlands
Burgundian Netherlands
In the history of the Low Countries, the Burgundian Netherlands refers to a number of Imperial and French fiefs ruled in personal union by the House of Valois-Burgundy and their Habsburg heirs in the period from 1384 to 1482...

 and their succeeding Habsburg Netherlands
Habsburg Netherlands
The Habsburg Netherlands was a geo-political entity covering the whole of the Low Countries from 1482 to 1556/1581 and solely the Southern Netherlands from 1581 to 1794...

, also called the United Seventeen Provinces
Seventeen Provinces
The Seventeen Provinces were a personal union of states in the Low Countries in the 15th century and 16th century, roughly covering the current Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, a good part of the North of France , and a small part of Western Germany.The Seventeen Provinces were originally held by...

 (up to 1581), and later for the Southern parts as the Spanish Netherlands and Austrian Netherlands, whereas the northern parts formed the autonomous Dutch Republic
Dutch Republic
The Dutch Republic — officially known as the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands , the Republic of the United Netherlands, or the Republic of the Seven United Provinces — was a republic in Europe existing from 1581 to 1795, preceding the Batavian Republic and ultimately...

. At times they reached a form of unity as the United Seventeen Provinces in the 16th Century, and later the United Kingdom of the Netherlands
United Kingdom of the Netherlands
United Kingdom of the Netherlands is the unofficial name used to refer to Kingdom of the Netherlands during the period after it was first created from part of the First French Empire and before the new kingdom of Belgium split out in 1830...

 in the 19th Century. The French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 name for the Netherlands, les Pays-Bas (literally translated "the Low Countries") is based on this historical context.

Geo-political situation


The term is not particularly current in modern contexts because the region does not exactly correspond to the sovereign state
Sovereignty
Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory. It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no purely legal explanation can be provided...

s of the Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

, Belgium
Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

 and Luxembourg
Luxembourg
Luxembourg , officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg , is a landlocked country in western Europe, bordered by Belgium, France, and Germany. It has two principal regions: the Oesling in the North as part of the Ardennes massif, and the Gutland in the south...

, for which an alternative term, Benelux
Benelux
The Benelux is an economic union in Western Europe comprising three neighbouring countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. These countries are located in northwestern Europe between France and Germany...

, was employed after the Second World War
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

, though only to describe them as a trading union.

Before early modern nation building, the Low Countries referred to a wide area of northern Europe as a low-lying triangular river delta
River delta
A delta is a landform that is formed at the mouth of a river where that river flows into an ocean, sea, estuary, lake, reservoir, flat arid area, or another river. Deltas are formed from the deposition of the sediment carried by the river as the flow leaves the mouth of the river...

 for the rivers Rhine, Meuse, Scheldt
Scheldt
The Scheldt is a 350 km long river in northern France, western Belgium and the southwestern part of the Netherlands...

, and Ems. This area roughly stretches from French Gravelines
Gravelines
Gravelines is a commune in the Nord department in northern France.It lies at the mouth of the river Aa 15 miles southwest of Dunkirk. There is a market in the town square on Saturdays. The "Arsenal" approached from the town square is home to an extensive and carefully displayed art collection....

 and Dunkirk at its southwestern point, to the area of Dutch Delfzijl
Delfzijl
Delfzijl is a municipality and city in the northeast of the Netherlands. It is situated on the left bank of the river Ems estuary, which forms the border with Germany.-Population centres:...

 and German Eastern Frisia at its northeastern point, and to Luxembourg and French Thionville
Thionville
Thionville , is a commune in the Moselle department in Lorraine in north-eastern France. The city is located on the left bank of the river Moselle, opposite its suburb Yutz.-Demographics:...

 in the southeast.

The Low Countries were the scene of the early northern towns, newbuilt rather than developed from ancient centres, that mark the reawakening of Europe
Europe
Europe is, by convention, one of the world's seven continents. Comprising the westernmost peninsula of Eurasia, Europe is generally 'divided' from Asia to its east by the watershed divides of the Ural and Caucasus Mountains, the Ural River, the Caspian and Black Seas, and the waterways connecting...

 in the 12th century. In that period, they became one of the most densely populated regions of Europe, together with northern Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

.

A collection of several regions rather than one homogeneous region, all the low countries still shared a great number of similarities.
  • Most were coastal regions bounded by the North Sea
    North Sea
    In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

     or the English Channel
    English Channel
    The English Channel , often referred to simply as the Channel, is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean that separates southern England from northern France, and joins the North Sea to the Atlantic. It is about long and varies in width from at its widest to in the Strait of Dover...

    . The countries not having access to the sea linked themselves politically and economically to those that had access, so as to form one union of port and hinterland
    Hinterland
    The hinterland is the land or district behind a coast or the shoreline of a river. Specifically, by the doctrine of the hinterland, the word is applied to the inland region lying behind a port, claimed by the state that owns the coast. The area from which products are delivered to a port for...

    . A poetic description also calls the region the Low Countries by the Sea.
  • Most spoke Middle Dutch
    Middle Dutch
    Middle Dutch is a collective name for a number of closely related West Germanic dialects which were spoken and written between 1150 and 1500...

     out of which later would evolve Dutch
    Dutch language
    Dutch is a West Germanic language and the native language of the majority of the population of the Netherlands, Belgium, and Suriname, the three member states of the Dutch Language Union. Most speakers live in the European Union, where it is a first language for about 23 million and a second...

    . However some regions, such as the Bishopric of Liège
    Bishopric of Liège
    The Bishopric of Liège or Prince-Bishopric of Liège was a state of the Holy Roman Empire in the Low Countries in present Belgium. It acquired its status as a prince-bishopric between 980 and 985 when Bishop Notger, who had been the bishop of Liege since 972, acquired the status of Prince-Bishop...

    , the Romance Flanders
    Romance Flanders
    Romance Flanders or Gallicant Flanders is the part of the county of Flanders where people speak Romance languages, like varieties of Picard. It currently straddles the border of France and Belgium.-Name:...

     (around Cambrai
    Cambrai
    Cambrai is a commune in the Nord department in northern France. It is a sub-prefecture of the department.Cambrai is the seat of an archdiocese whose jurisdiction was immense during the Middle Ages. The territory of the Bishopric of Cambrai, roughly coinciding with the shire of Brabant, included...

    , Lille
    Lille
    Lille is a city in northern France . It is the principal city of the Lille Métropole, the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country behind those of Paris, Lyon and Marseille. Lille is situated on the Deûle River, near France's border with Belgium...

    , Tournai
    Tournai
    Tournai is a Walloon city and municipality of Belgium located 85 kilometres southwest of Brussels, on the river Scheldt, in the province of Hainaut....

    ), the French-speaking part of Brabant
    Duchy of Brabant
    The Duchy of Brabant was a historical region in the Low Countries. Its territory consisted essentially of the three modern-day Belgian provinces of Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant and Antwerp, the Brussels-Capital Region and most of the present-day Dutch province of North Brabant.The Flag of...

     around Nivelles
    Nivelles
    Nivelles is a Walloon city and municipality located in the Belgian province of Walloon Brabant. The Nivelles municipality includes the old communes of Baulers, Bornival, Thines, and Monstreux....

     and, Namur
    Marquis of Namur
    Namur 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....

    , where French or Walloon
    Walloon language
    Walloon is a Romance language which was spoken as a primary language in large portions of the Walloon Region of Belgium and some villages of Northern France until the middle of the 20th century. It belongs to the langue d'oïl language family, whose most prominent member is the French language...

     was the dominant language are often considered as part of the Low Countries as well.
  • Most of them depended on a lord or count in name only, the cities effectively being ruled by guilds and councils and although in theory part of a kingdom, their interaction with their rulers was regulated by a strict set of liberties describing what the latter could and could not expect from them.
  • All of them depended on trade and manufacturing and the encouragement of the free flow of goods and craftsmen.

Historical situation


The low countries were part of the Roman provinces of Belgica
Gallia Belgica
Gallia Belgica was a Roman province located in what is now the southern part of the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, northeastern France, and western Germany. The indigenous population of Gallia Belgica, the Belgae, consisted of a mixture of Celtic and Germanic tribes...

, Germania Inferior
Germania Inferior
Germania Inferior was a Roman province located on the left bank of the Rhine, in today's Luxembourg, southern Netherlands, parts of Belgium, and North Rhine-Westphalia left of the Rhine....

 and Germania Superior
Germania Superior
Germania Superior , so called for the reason that it lay upstream of Germania Inferior, was a province of the Roman Empire. It comprised an area of western Switzerland, the French Jura and Alsace regions, and southwestern Germany...

. They were inhabited by Belgic tribes, before these were replaced by Germanic tribes in the 4th and 5th century. They were governed by the ruling Merovingian dynasty
Merovingian dynasty
The Merovingians were a Salian Frankish dynasty that came to rule the Franks in a region largely corresponding to ancient Gaul from the middle of the 5th century. Their politics involved frequent civil warfare among branches of the family...

.

By the end of the 8th century, the Low Countries formed a part of Francia and the Merovingians were replaced by the Carolingian dynasty. In 800 the Pope crowned and appointed Charlemagne
Charlemagne
Charlemagne was King of the Franks from 768 and Emperor of the Romans from 800 to his death in 814. He expanded the Frankish kingdom into an empire that incorporated much of Western and Central Europe. During his reign, he conquered Italy and was crowned by Pope Leo III on 25 December 800...

 Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor
The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...

 of the re-established Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

.

After the death of Charlemagne, Francia was divided in three parts among his three grandsons. The Low Countries became part of Middle Francia
Middle Francia
Middle Francia was an ephemeral Frankish kingdom created by the Treaty of Verdun in 843, which divided the Carolingian Empire among the sons of Louis the Pious...

, which was ruled by Lothair I
Lothair I
Lothair I or Lothar I was the Emperor of the Romans , co-ruling with his father until 840, and the King of Bavaria , Italy and Middle Francia...

. After the death of Lothair, the Low Countries were coveted by the rulers of both West Francia and East Francia. Each tried to swallow the region and to merge it with their spheres of influence.

Thus, the Low Countries consisted of fiefs whose sovereignty resided with either the Kingdom of France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 or the Holy Roman Empire
Holy Roman Empire
The Holy Roman Empire was a realm that existed from 962 to 1806 in Central Europe.It was ruled by the Holy Roman Emperor. Its character changed during the Middle Ages and the Early Modern period, when the power of the emperor gradually weakened in favour of the princes...

. The further history of the Low Countries can be seen as a continual struggle between these two powers.

Gradually, separate fiefs came to be ruled by a single family through royal intermarriage
Royal intermarriage
Royal intermarriage is the practice of members of ruling dynasties marrying into other reigning families. It was more commonly done in the past as part of strategic diplomacy for reasons of state...

. This process culminated in the rule of the House of Valois, who were the rulers of the Duchy of Burgundy
Duchy of Burgundy
The Duchy of Burgundy , was heir to an ancient and prestigious reputation and a large division of the lands of the Second Kingdom of Burgundy and in its own right was one of the geographically larger ducal territories in the emergence of Early Modern Europe from Medieval Europe.Even in that...



In 1477 the Burgundian holdings
Duchy of Burgundy
The Duchy of Burgundy , was heir to an ancient and prestigious reputation and a large division of the lands of the Second Kingdom of Burgundy and in its own right was one of the geographically larger ducal territories in the emergence of Early Modern Europe from Medieval Europe.Even in that...

 in the area, the Burgundian Netherlands
Burgundian Netherlands
In the history of the Low Countries, the Burgundian Netherlands refers to a number of Imperial and French fiefs ruled in personal union by the House of Valois-Burgundy and their Habsburg heirs in the period from 1384 to 1482...

 passed through an heiress -- Mary of Burgundy
Mary of Burgundy
Mary of Burgundy ruled the Burgundian territories in Low Countries and was suo jure Duchess of Burgundy from 1477 until her death...

 -- to the Habsburgs. In the following century the "Low Countries" corresponded roughly to the Seventeen Provinces
Seventeen Provinces
The Seventeen Provinces were a personal union of states in the Low Countries in the 15th century and 16th century, roughly covering the current Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, a good part of the North of France , and a small part of Western Germany.The Seventeen Provinces were originally held by...

 covered by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549
Pragmatic Sanction of 1549
The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 was an edict, promulgated by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, reorganizing the Seventeen Provinces.It was his plan to centralize the administrative units of Holy Roman Empire. The Pragmatic Sanction transformed this agglomeration of lands into a unified entity, of which...

 of Holy Roman Emperor
Holy Roman Emperor
The Holy Roman Emperor is a term used by historians to denote a medieval ruler who, as German King, had also received the title of "Emperor of the Romans" from the Pope...

 Charles V
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Charles V was ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 and, as Charles I, of the Spanish Empire from 1516 until his voluntary retirement and abdication in favor of his younger brother Ferdinand I and his son Philip II in 1556.As...

, which freed the provinces from their archaic feudal obligations.

After the northern Seven United Provinces of the seventeen declared their independence from Habsburg Spain
Habsburg Spain
Habsburg Spain refers to the history of Spain over the 16th and 17th centuries , when Spain was ruled by the major branch of the Habsburg dynasty...

, the provinces of the Southern Netherlands
Southern Netherlands
Southern Netherlands were a part of the Low Countries controlled by Spain , Austria and annexed by France...

 were recaptured (1581) and are sometimes called the Spanish Netherlands.

In 1713, under the Treaty of Utrecht
Treaty of Utrecht
The Treaty of Utrecht, which established the Peace of Utrecht, comprises a series of individual peace treaties, rather than a single document, signed by the belligerents in the War of Spanish Succession, in the Dutch city of Utrecht in March and April 1713...

 following the War of the Spanish Succession
War of the Spanish Succession
The War of the Spanish Succession was fought among several European powers, including a divided Spain, over the possible unification of the Kingdoms of Spain and France under one Bourbon monarch. As France and Spain were among the most powerful states of Europe, such a unification would have...

, what was left of the Spanish Netherlands was ceded to Austria
Austria
Austria , officially the Republic of Austria , is a landlocked country of roughly 8.4 million people in Central Europe. It is bordered by the Czech Republic and Germany to the north, Slovakia and Hungary to the east, Slovenia and Italy to the south, and Switzerland and Liechtenstein to the...

 and thus became known as the Austrian Netherlands. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands
United Kingdom of the Netherlands
United Kingdom of the Netherlands is the unofficial name used to refer to Kingdom of the Netherlands during the period after it was first created from part of the First French Empire and before the new kingdom of Belgium split out in 1830...

 (1815-1830) temporarily united the Low Countries again.

Linguistic distinction


In English, the plural form Netherlands
Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 is used for the present-day country, but in Dutch that plural has been dropped; one can thus distinguish between the older, larger Netherlands and the current country. So Nederland (singular) is used for the modern nation and de Nederlanden (plural) for the domains of Charles V. However, in official use the name of the Dutch kingdom is still Kingdom of the Netherlands (Koninkrijk der Nederlanden); the plural has not been dropped. The name Kingdom of the Netherlands also refers to the united kingdom of 1815 - 1830/39, which included present-day Belgium.

See also

  • Netherlands (disambiguation)
    Netherlands (disambiguation)
    The Netherlands is a European country with territories in the Caribbean.Netherlands may also mean:*Kingdom of the Netherlands, consisting of the countries Aruba, Curaçao, Sint Maarten and the Netherlands;...

  • Greater Netherlands
  • Seventeen Provinces
    Seventeen Provinces
    The Seventeen Provinces were a personal union of states in the Low Countries in the 15th century and 16th century, roughly covering the current Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, a good part of the North of France , and a small part of Western Germany.The Seventeen Provinces were originally held by...

  • Burgundian Netherlands
    Burgundian Netherlands
    In the history of the Low Countries, the Burgundian Netherlands refers to a number of Imperial and French fiefs ruled in personal union by the House of Valois-Burgundy and their Habsburg heirs in the period from 1384 to 1482...

  • Early Netherlandish painting
    Early Netherlandish painting
    Early Netherlandish painting refers to the work of artists active in the Low Countries during the 15th- and early 16th-century Northern renaissance, especially in the flourishing Burgundian cities of Bruges and Ghent...

  • Burgundian Circle
    Burgundian Circle
    The Burgundian Circle 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 , the circle roughly covered the Low Countries, i.e...

  • Benelux
    Benelux
    The Benelux is an economic union in Western Europe comprising three neighbouring countries, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. These countries are located in northwestern Europe between France and Germany...