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Part 1 The History of the Netherlands

Gepost in Geschiedenis Nederland

history of holland

Part 1: The History of the Netherlands 50 BC - 1588

50 BC - 400 AD - The Romans

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In 57 BC Julius Caesar's troops conquered what is now Belgium and the southern part of the Netherlands. The tribes in the area were subjected to Roman rule. This marked the end of the pre-history of the Netherlands. Julius Caesar's own 'Commentarii de Bello Gallico' gives an account of the relevant campaigns. Slightly later, Tacitus reports in his 'Historiae' on events in the area in 69-70 AD. He gives a particularly detailed account of an uprising led by Claudius Civilis, a Batavian chieftain who had commanded the Batavian auxiliaries in the Roman army for many years but united several tribes in revolt against Roman rule following the death of Emperor Nero. Claudius Civilis was supported by Gauls but was eventually defeated after a bitter struggle and probably withdrew north of the Rhine.

During the Roman period, the Rhine marked the northern frontier of the Roman empire in the Netherlands. Forts were built at present-day Valkenburg, Utrecht and Nijmegen. The Frisians, who lived in the area now known as the northern provinces of Friesland and Groningen, were not under Roman rule, although they did have close trading relations with the Romans. Because the areas where the Frisians lived were regularly inundated by the sea, they built artificial mounds (known as 'terps' ) to raise their settlements above the level of the floods. South of the Rhine, large villas were built where the native inhabitants lived Roman-style in relative luxury and farmed the land using slaves, according to Roman custom.

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The reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117) saw a long period of peace and relative prosperity, during which the Roman-occupied Netherlands became part of the province of Germania Inferior. In the course of the 3rd century AD, Roman power began to weaken. The Germanic tribes which had united and collectively become known as the Franks and the Saxons made ever more frequent incursions into the Roman-occupied area and in 406 a great invasion of Gaul finally put an end to Roman rule in the Low Countries.

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800 - The early Middle Ages

In the early Middle Ages, the Franks were a major force in the Low Countries (present-day Belgium and the Netherlands). The word 'Franks' is probably a collective term used to describe a number of Germanic tribes which had joined forces to overthrow Roman rule. Having done this, they pressed gradually southwards over the next few decades. However, in 451, when the Huns invaded under the leadership of Attila, triggering a major westward migration, Franks and Romans fought side by side at the battle of the Catalaunian Plains.

530 adFrankish culture evolved gradually out of that of the late Roman era. Clovis (466-511), grandson of the Merovech who gave his name to the dynasty, was the most successful of the Merovingian Frankish kings. He managed to expand the Frankish sphere of influence to include the whole of Gaul, from the Pyrenees to the major rivers of the northern Netherlands. On his deathbed, he divided his kingdom between his four sons. Belgium and part of the Netherlands were allocated to Chlotar I.

The Merovingians appointed officials called 'mayors of the palace' to advise them and supervise their households. As time went on, however, these officials gained more and more power and eventually usurped the throne. In 689, one of them - Pepin II - defeated the Frisian king Radbod near Dorestad and so extended his domains to the north and east. At that time, too, the conversion of the Netherlands to Christianity was just beginning. Missionaries roamed the country and in 629 a small church was built in Utrecht on the ruins of an old Roman fort. In the north, however, the Frisians continued to cling to their old beliefs and the Christian missionaries had little success.

An Anglo-Saxon monk called Willibrord is one of the best remembered of the missionaries who were active in the Netherlands, especially among the Frisians. Eventually the Pope ordained him archbishop of the Frisians and bishop of Utrecht. After Willibrord died in 739, his work was continued by Boniface (bishop of Mainz) until he was murdered by a band of Frisians in Dokkum in 754.

In 751, Pepin III deposed the last Merovingian king and had himself proclaimed King of the Franks. He 768 addid so with the Pope's support and was anointed king by the missionary archbishop Boniface. Pepin's action established the Carolingian dynasty, named after his celebrated son, Charlemagne (742-814). When Charlemagne succeeded his father, he at first shared the throne with his brother Carloman. After the latter's death, he embarked on a struggle against the Saxons, who were resisting Frankish domination under the leadership of a Saxon noble called Widukind. In 785 Widukind capitulated and was forced to follow Charlemagne into Gaul, to swear allegiance to him and to be baptised. This brought the eastern Netherlands and Frisia definitively under Carolingian sway.

Charlemagne aspired to model his kingdom on the Roman empire and in 800 he had the Pope crown him Holy Roman Emperor. His 47-year-long reign was a period of administrative reform and cultural renaissance. At the height of his power, he ruled over an area that extended from the Elbe to the Pyrenees and from central Italy to the North Sea.

925 - German rule

814 adCharlemagne was succeeded in 814 by his son, Louis the Pious (778-840). He built coastal defences against the Viking raids which had begun during his father's reign. The Vikings, mainly from Denmark, were to continue harrying the coastal areas of the Netherlands for at least another 200 years, sailing up the rivers to plunder deep inland.

Following the death of Louis the Pious, the empire was divided between his three sons by the Treaty of Verdun (843). The eldest, Lothair, was given the imperial crown and the extensive middle kingdom stretching from central Italy to the North Sea and incorporating the Low Countries. On his death, this middle kingdom was further divided between his own three sons.

The northern part, Lotharingia, which extended from 1075 adFriesland to the Jura in eastern France, fell to Lothair II, from whom it got its name. After Lothair II died leaving no legitimate heirs, Lotharingia was partitioned into the west and east Frankish kingdoms. In 925, however, King Henry (the Fowler) of Germany conquered the whole of Lotharingia. From then until 1648, the Netherlands was to remain officially part of the German-ruled Holy Roman Empire, despite constant efforts to regain its independence.

The feudal system in the Holy Roman Empire had a profound effect on the social structure of the area. The spiritual and temporal lords were bound as vassals, or liegemen, to the king, from whom they received fiefs in return for their fealty. The lords in their turn granted their vassals land in fief. At the base of the pyramid were the peasants or serfs, who were allowed small pieces of land but had to surrender most of what they produced to their overlords. In the course of time, the vassals began to act more independently of the empire and so laid the foundations for the earliest counties (lands ruled by a count) and later for the independent principalities. The term 'Holland' emerged around 1100 as the name of one such county.

During this period of fragmentation of power, much land was brought into cultivation and trade and industry increased. As a result, the proportion of the population living in towns increased substantially. This in turn made the municipal authorities more important. The power of the Emperors was increasingly undermined by the push for independence by the counts and their vassals. They tried to restore it by investing loyal Churchmen with temporal powers and loyal secular lands with ecclesiastical powers. This strategy led to the investiture controversy between the Holy Roman Emperor and the Pope in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. The contest finally ended in 1122 when the Emperor renounced his claim to influence over the appointment of bishops and abbots. This reduction in the Emperor's power ushered in a further decline of the Holy Roman Empire 

1419-1467 - Burgundian rule

Burgundy is a region of eastern France. It owes its name to the Burgundians, a Germanic tribe who had migratedphilip de goede southwards from Bornholm (Denmark) and settled on the banks of the Rhine. Following their defeat by the Huns, the Romans allocated them new territory in Savoy (in the French Alps). In 1363 the Duchy of Burgundy was given by the King of France to his son Philip the Bold (1342-1404). It was his marriage to Margaret, heiress to the county of Flanders, that laid the foundation for the later Burgundian dynasty. Their grandson, Philip the Good (1396-1467), set up 'States' (assemblies of representatives of the 'three estates': nobility, clergy and towns) as a form of limited central government in his kingdom.

unification By the fourteenth century, the Low Countries had more or less evolved into independent territories with their own privileges. The States were entitled to decide what financial contributions these territories should make to central government. Later, the States found ways of extending their powers further. In 1464 delegates from all the States assembled for the first time in Bruges. This event is regarded as the first meeting of the body later to be known as the States General (still the official name of the Dutch parliament).

In 1467, Charles the Bold (1433-1477), son of Philip the Good, became duke of Burgundy, Brabant, Limburg and Luxembourg and count of Flanders, Holland and Zeeland. Charles the Bold is mainly remembered for his attempt to revive the middle kingdom of Lotharingia in the face of opposition from the French king Louis XI. He also established a number of central government institutions including a central court of audit and a supreme law court, the Parlement of Mechlin.

Under the Burgundians, trade, industry and the arts all flourished. Antwerp became the principal port of the Low Countries and the thriving cloth industry was a major source of income. Great artists appeared on the scene, notably in the southern Netherlands, where Jan van Eyck, court painter to Philip the Good, painted the celebrated altarpiece, 'The Adoration of the Lamb'. Another great artist active at this time was Hieronymus Bosch. The first university in the Low Countries was founded at Louvain and the invention of the printing press by the German goldsmith Johan Gutenberg around 1440 led to the emergence of a recorded lay literature. 'Charles and Elegast', a Dutch-language tale of chivalry featuring Charlemagne, was particularly popular among the nobility and educated bourgeoisie during the Burgundian era and was seen by them as exemplifying the ideal relationship between prince and subject.

In 1477 Charles the Bold died in battle at Nancy and the duchy of Burgundy reverted to the French crown. The other Burgundian lands, including the Low Countries, passed into the hands of the Habsburgs (the ruling house of the Holy Roman Empire) with the marriage between Charles' daughter Mary of Burgundy and Maximilian I of Austria.

The late 14th century saw growing criticism of the church in the Low Countries. This would eventually lead to a schism within the Roman Catholic church.

1477 - The Habsburgs

The House of Habsburg ruled the Holy Roman Empire intermittently from 1273 to 1806. In 1477, under pressure from the States, which wished to regain their former prerogatives, Mary of Burgundy enacted the 'Great Privilege'. She was only nineteen and not yet married to Maximilian I. The document provided for the abolition of the Parlement of Mechlin and the central court of audit and their replacement by a new body, the Great Council of Mechlin. From now on, the States General and the states of the different provinces could meet on their own authority. Flanders, Holland, Namur and Brabant received major privileges of their own. These measures prevented the disintegration of the Low Countries.

After the death of Charles the Bold, King Louis XI of France immediately occupied the duchy of Burgundy and sent his army north. In September of the same year, a truce was declared between Mary's husband, Maximilian I of Austria, and Louis XI but in 1478 the French confiscated Charles the Bold's French lands and war broke out again. A victory by Maximilian over the French army guaranteed Mary continued possession of Flanders. When she died in 1482 after falling from her horse, she was succeeded by her three-year-old son Philip the Handsome, with his father Maximilian acting as regent. Flanders and Brabant strongly objected to this regency. They recognised Maximilian only after he had signed the Peace of Arras with France and on condition that his two-year-old daughter married the thirteen-year-old Charles VIII of France. Burgundy was regarded as rightfully belonging to France.

In 1493, Maximilian succeeded his father as Holy Roman Emperor. His son Philip the Handsome, now able to act for himself, took over the government of the Low Countries and married Joan of Castile. When he suddenly died in 1506, his son Charles V was still a child and Maximilian resumed the regency, sending his daughter Margaret of Savoy to Brussels to represent him as governor-general.

1515-1555 - Charles V

In 1492, the provinces of Flanders, Artois, Brabant, Limburg, Namur, Luxembourg, Hainault, Holland and Zeeland had acknowledged Philip the Handsome as their ruler. Gelderland and Zutphen were given their own ruler in the shape of Charles, count of Egmond. Liège, Utrecht, Friesland and Groningen remained independent despite a fierce struggle between Charles of Egmond and Philip the Handsome for control over them. However, Philip's son Charles V, who attained his majority in 1515, managed to annex all these areas with the exception of Liège, creating a degree of cohesion between the Low Countries. In 1517 Charles V left for Spain to succeed his grandfather, Ferdinand of Aragon. He was to remain there for the rest of his reign, returning to the Low Countries only for periods of relatively short duration. He too appointed Margaret of Savoy as governor-general of the Low Countries. On the death of his other grandfather, Maximilian, in 1519, Charles succeeded to the imperial crown. He now reigned over a vast empire, including the Spanish conquests in the New World.

karel de vCharles V pursued a strongly centralist policy. He disregarded the 'Great Privilege' which his grandmother Mary of Burgundy had enacted and which gave the provinces greater political freedom. In 1531, following the death of Margaret of Savoy, he reformed central government and appointed his sister, Mary of Hungary, to govern the Low Countries. The Great Council was divided into three separate bodies: the Council of Finance, the Privy Council and the Council of State. The latter was composed of officials and senior nobles and existed to advise the governor-general on all matters of importance. In addition, Charles appointed stadholders to govern the provinces in his name. Mary held almost daily meetings with her inner circle of advisors, but seldom invited the great nobles to attend. This caused much resentment.

1530 adThe reign of Charles V was a time of religious as well as political ferment. In 1517 a German Augustinian monk named Martin Luther nailed his famous 95 theses to the door of the church in Wittenberg, giving voice to widespread public dissatisfaction with the conduct of the Catholic Church. His protest was directed primarily at the highly profitable sale of indulgences (documents commuting the temporal punishment for sins committed by the purchaser). Charles pursued the religious reformers with fire and the sword. Anyone supporting their views could expect to be burnt at the stake. Even so, the Low Countries provided particularly fertile ground for Luther's ideas, especially because one-third of the population could read and write. A number of different Protestant movements sprang up. The radical doctrines of the Frenchman Jean Calvin (1509-1564) made rapid headway. Calvinist services were extremely plain and Calvinists regarded the statues adorning Catholic churches as heathen images. Another important emergent movement was humanism, most famously represented by the Rotterdam-born Desiderius Erasmus (1469-1536). One of his best-known works is The Praise of Folly, a satire on shortcomings in the Church and society at large. Erasmus tried to reconcile humanism - which attaches great value to individual freedom and autonomy - with Christianity.

In 1555 Charles V was forced to sign the Peace of Augsburg, confirming the right of German princes to choose the religion of their subjects (whether Protestant or Catholic). For the Low Countries, this meant the retention of Catholicism. Within the year, disappointed at his inability to preserve the unity of Christendom within his empire, Charles abdicated. He was succeeded by his brother Ferdinand as Holy Roman Emperor, and by his son Philip II as King of Spain and sovereign lord of the seventeen provinces of the Low Countries.

1555-1581 - Philip II

Philip II had been born and brought up in Spain and thought of himself first and foremost as a Spaniard. He knew little of the Low Countries and did not speak the language or understand the mentality of his subjects there. Philip appointed his half-sister, Margaret of Parma (1522-1586) as his governor-general. He maintained the centralised system of government introduced by his father, although the Council of State frequently saw its role usurped by Philip's private 'Spanish Council'. The nobles, including William of Orange, stadholder of Holland and West Friesland, Zeeland and 

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Utrecht, asked Philip to allow them greater influence over the governance of the country and to withdraw his Spanish troops. Philip agreed to the latter request and moved back to Spain. Since his victory over France - confirmed by the peace treaty of 1559 - his presence in the Low Countries was in any case no longer required, whereas in Spain there were pressing problems, such as an empty treasury and the war against the Ottoman Empire in the south.

The departure of the Spanish troops did not end the great nobles' opposition to the policies of Philip and Margaret. They were equally opposed to the operations of the Inquisition and the influence of Margaret's advisor Antoine Perrenot, Cardinal Granvelle, who excluded them from the deliberations of the Council of State. He was eventually dismissed by Philip in 1564, partly as a result of pressure from Margaret.

The opposition to Philip II and his advisors was led by three members of the Council of State: the counts of Egmond and of Hoorne, and William, Prince of Orange. William of Orange was born in his family's ancestral home in Dillenburg (Germany), as the son of count William of Nassau and Juliana of Stolberg. In 1544, following the death of his French cousin René de Châlon, he inherited the title of Prince of Orange, together with valuable estates in France and in the Low Countries. In 1551 his possessions were further enlarged by his marriage to Anna of Egmond. William had been brought up as a Protestant, but Charles V demanded that he revert to Catholicism on pain of dispossession of the lands he had inherited.

William of Orange was one of the wealthiest and most powerful men of his day. It was he who, at the age of 22, lent his shoulder to the elderly and disillusioned Charles V as he hobbled to his abdication ceremony in the great hall of the Palace in Brussels. Charles' son and successor, Philip II, appointed William a Councillor of State and made him a member of the influential Order of the Golden Fleece. Even so, William continued to band together with the other nobles in opposition to the king's centralist policies. In religious matters he was tolerant. Following the death of his first wife, Anna of Egmond, he married a Lutheran princess, Anna of Saxony, and allowed her to continue practising her faith. It was this marriage that produced his son Maurice.

1566 - The Breaking of the Images

In 1565, in Spa the nobles met representatives of local Calvinist congregations and plans were made to take action against the suppression of Calvinism. The next year it was decided to present a petition to the governor-general requesting her to abandon the persecution of religious dissidents. When one of her counsellors was heard to remark scornfully that the petitioners were 'nothing but beggars', the nobles at once adopted the name 'beggars' as a badge of honour and started to wear beggars' scrips on chains around their necks as symbols of their allegiance. As the 'Sea Beggars', some of their number later became Philip's most formidable opponents.

The social disruption caused by religious persecution was not the only cause of unrest in the Low Countries in 1566. High grain prices were also a factor. The nobles presented a second petition to Margaret of Parma, this time seeking complete religious freedom and asking for the government of the country to be placed in the hands of Egmond, Hoorne and William of Orange. However, in August that year a surge of iconoclastic riots swept the country. Hundreds of Catholic churches and monastic institutions were stripped and desecrated. In response to this wave of religious violence, Margaret demanded that the nobles all swear a new oath of loyalty to the king. Orange, Hoorne, Hoogstraten and Brederode refused. A third petition was presented, again requesting complete religious freedom, but this time accompanied by a threat of rebellion if the request were not granted. On 13 March 1567 Margaret's troops clashed with those of the Calvinists near Antwerp and the latter suffered a crushing defeat. Harsh anti-Calvinist measures followed and Orange, Brederode and thousands of others fled abroad. Philip II dispatched a large army to the Low Countries under the command of Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alva. Alva was appointed governor-general and Margaret stood down.

Alva's arrival heralded a new era, one of great unrest, in the Low Countries. Alva had been sent with his army to punish the rebels and root out heresy once and for all. He instituted the Council of Troubles, a tribunal with powers to try and sentence all suspects, irrespective of rank or position. It was soon dubbed the 'Council of Blood' because of the death sentences it dealt out.

1568 - The Eighty Years' War

The war that broke out in the Low Countries in 1568 marked the start of a period of eighty years of intermittent armed resistance against Spanish rule. In that year, an army of mercenaries under the command of William of Orange invaded the Low Countries in four places at once in an attempt to unleash a popular uprising. To fund the move, William had sold some of his Nassau estates. Mistakes on the ground led to the failure of the plan. Unable to take William himself prisoner, Alva seized his son Philip William, who was studying in Louvain, and sent him to Spain. William was never to see him again. William's associates, Egmond and Hoorne, were executed in Brussels on Alva's orders. In addition, Alva made himself even more hated by the nobility and the general populace by imposing a 10 per cent tax (known as the 'Tenth Penny') on all sales of movable goods. Not only was this a crippling measure for a trade-based economy like that of the Low Countries, it also meant that the provinces would lose control of the system of taxation. Consequently, it aroused such resistance that Alva was never in fact able to collect the tax. He had to accept the offer of a sum in compensation, which was raised by the provinces.

Following the failure of his attempted coup, William lived for some time in France, among the Huguenots (Calvinists). There he encountered Calvinism as a religion of the nobility and the burghers, whereas in the Low Countries it was practised chiefly by ordinary people. William himself was still a Catholic, and was to remain so for some time yet. He continued to advocate freedom of worship, despite the fact that his allies, the Calvinists, forbade Catholicism in the areas they had 'reformed'.

William made two more attempts at invasion, in 1570 and 1572. In the second of these he had the support of the French Huguenots on land and of the Sea Beggars off the coast. The plan was to launch a concerted attack in June. However, the Sea Beggars acted sooner than agreed and scored the first victory against the Spaniards by taking the small seaport of Brielle (Brill) in Zeeland on 1 April. Vlissingen (Flushing) and Veere fell soon after and the hoped-for popular uprising began in Holland and Zeeland. Representatives of the rebel towns met in Dordrecht and proclaimed William of Orange stadholder of Holland and Zeeland. He was not declared sovereign ruler, because he remained convinced that the revolt was directed not against the king but against the tyranny of his representative, Alva. This conviction is reflected in a line still sung as part of the Dutch national anthem, the Wilhelmus: "To the king of Spain I've granted lifelong loyalty". The Wilhelmus is actually a piece of religious and political propaganda written by an anonymous poet in praise of William of Orange and in defence of his leadership of the revolt.

1579 - The Union of Utrecht

William's hopes of further French support were extinguished when the principal Huguenot leaders were murdered in Paris on 24 August 1572 in what became known as the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. The victims included William's main associate, Gaspard de Coligny. The slaughter continued for three days, and more than 20,000 Huguenots lost their lives.

Meanwhile, Alva marched north, capturing town after town, until only Alkmaar remained defiant. In 1573, however, Alva left the Low Countries and was succeeded as governor-general by Don Luis de Requesens y Zúñiga. His weak rule - and his death three years later - allowed William to achieve major successes.

In 1576 all seventeen provinces signed the Pacification of Ghent, agreeing to join forces to drive out the Spanish troops and to suspend the heresy laws until such time as a full meeting of the States General could decide the question of freedom of religion. It was this issue that would lead three years later to a definitive split between the northern and southern provinces.

In 1578, Margaret of Parma's son, Alexander Farnese, prince and later Duke of Parma, became the new governor-general. He managed to restore Spanish rule in the southern provinces, which were still predominantly Catholic, and this situation was confirmed on 6 January 1579 by the conclusion of the Union of Arras. Seventeen days later, the seven secessionist northern provinces responded by concluding the Union of Utrecht. This provided that the provinces were to be free to order religious matters as they saw fit, but that nobody in them was to be persecuted for their faith. William of Orange regarded the split between the northern and southern Netherlands as a personal failure.

The revolts of 1568 and 1572 had been funded by William of Orange out of his own resources and had brought him to the brink of bankruptcy. Once one of the most powerful men of his time, he was now heavily in debt. The common people still revered him and called him 'Father of the Fatherland' but his opponents had another name for him: William the Silent, because they felt that he had remained silent at the very moments when he ought to have spoken. It is generally acknowledged that William of Orange must have had unique strength of personality to have dared to stand up to two such mighty opponents as the King of Spain and the Catholic Church.

dutch revolt 1580 1598

In 1580, proclaimed an outlaw by Philip II, he wrote with the assistance of his chaplain Villiers his still famous Apology, which set out his theories regarding the right to rebel against a tyrannical ruler. In the following year the seven provinces responded to the offer of a reward for William's assassination by issuing the Act of Abjuration, a solemn declaration that Philip could no longer be acknowledged as sovereign lord because he had not honoured his obligations to his subjects.

In 1582 there was an assassination attempt. William was badly wounded and his third wife, Charlotte de Bourbon, whom he had married in 1575, nursed him so selflessly with her own hands that she herself died soon after his recovery. Two years later, in 1584, a second assassination attempt succeeded. William of Orange was shot and killed by Baltasar Gérard at his marital home, the Prinsenhof in Delft. He was survived by his fourth wife, Louise de Coligny, daughter of the Huguenot leader, and his baby son Frederick Henry.

w v oranjeAfter William's death, the States General met and decided to continue the struggle. One of those present was Maurice, William's son, still only 17. The situation of the rebel provinces was deteriorating fast. When the Duke of Parma captured Antwerp, the leading city in the Low Countries, many of its inhabitants fled to Amsterdam, which consequently supplanted Antwerp as the main centre of trade. The States General were more than ever convinced that only force could bring a solution to Spanish domination, and that they needed foreign assistance.

Accordingly, the States General offered the sovereignty of the provinces in revolt first to Henry III of France and then to Queen Elizabeth of England. Both were afraid of risking war with Spain if they accepted the offer, but Elizabeth did send an army to the Netherlands under the command of the Earl of Leicester. Acting against her wishes, Leicester had himself proclaimed governor-general. However, he ignored the views of the States General and quickly forfeited the confidence of the country. In 1588 the States General decided to give up their search for a head of state and to assume sovereign power themselves. The Republic of the United Provinces was born.

Zie verder Deel 2/3 Part 2 /3 The History of the Netherlands