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.

Seventeen Provinces
Zeventien Provinciën (Dutch)
Map of the Seventeen Provinces, 1581 secession outlined in red
Map of the Seventeen Provinces, 1581 secession outlined in red
StatusPersonal union of Imperial fiefs
Common languages
Historical eraEarly modern period
• Dutch Act of Abjuration
ISO 3166 codeNL
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Habsburg Netherlands
Dutch Republic
Spanish Netherlands

The Seventeen Provinces arose from the Burgundian Netherlands, a number of fiefs held by the House of Valois-Burgundy and inherited by the House of Habsburg in 1482, and held by Habsburg Spain from 1556. 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.

Composition edit

Seventeen Provinces map by Gabriel Bodenehr
English map of the Seventeen Provinces of Low Germanie
Coats of Arms of the Seventeen Provinces

After the Habsburg emperor Charles V had re-acquired the Duchy of Guelders from Duke William of Jülich-Cleves-Berg by the 1543 Treaty of Venlo, the Seventeen Provinces comprised:

Map of the Low Countries in 1477
Coat of arms Name Latin name Developments
Seventeen Provinces[1][2][3][4]
  County of Holland Holandia[4] Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581.
  County of Zeeland Zelandia[4] Linked to the County of Holland. Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581.
  County of Flanders Flandria[4] Including Walloon Flanders (kasselrijen Rijsel, Douai and Orchies) the burgraviates of Lille, the Lordship of Tournai and the Tournaisis (since 1521) nominally part of Flanders.
  County of Artois Artesia[4] Definitively ceded to France in 1659 by the Treaty of the Pyrenees. Except Aire and Sint-Omaars, ceded with the Treaties of Nijmegen.
  County of Hainaut Hannonia[4]
  County of Namur Namurcum[4]
  County of Zutphen Zutphania[4] Since 1543.[5] Linked to the Duchy of Gelre. Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581 and reintegrated in 1591.
  Duchy of Brabant Brabantia[4] Including the Lordship of Breda, the counties of Leuven and of Brussels, and the advocacy of the Abbey of Nivelles and of Gembloux, and the "Overmaas" lands of Brabant (Dalhem, Valkenburg and Herzogenrath). Part of the territory was transferred to the United Provinces.
  Duchy of Luxembourg Lutzenburgum[4]
  Duchy of Limburg Limburgum[4] Linked to the Duchy of Brabant.
  Duchy of Guelders Gheldria[4] With the Lordship of Drenthe, Lingen, Wedde, and Westerwolde. Since 1543.[5] Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581; except one part.
  Lordship of Overijssel Transisulana[4] In Latin, Transisulania. Includes Drente (map of 1658). County of Lingen, Wedde and Westwoldingerland (since 1528). Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1591.[6]
  Lordship of Groningen Gruninga[4] Including the Ommelanden. Since 1536. Territory fully integrated into the United Provinces in 1594.[7]
  Lordship of Frisia Frislandia[4] Since 1524. Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581.
  Lordship of Utrecht Traiectum[4] Since 1528. Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581.
  Lordship of Mechelen Mechlinia[4] Linked to the Duchy of Brabant. Territory of the United Provinces between 1581-1585.[8]
  Margraviate of Antwerp Antwerpia[4] Linked to the Duchy of Brabant. Lost by the United Provinces in 1585.[8]

Each province had a distinct Coat of Arms. The States General of the Netherlands had itself its coat, a red shield with an armed golden lion.

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 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 were the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, including the County of Horne, and the Bishopric of Cambrai. The ethnically and culturally Dutch 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.[9]

History edit

History of the Low Countries
Frisii Belgae
Gallia Belgica (55 BC–c. 5th AD)
Germania Inferior (83–c. 5th)
Salian Franks Batavi
(4th–c. 5th)
Saxons Salian Franks
(4th–c. 5th)
Frisian Kingdom
(c. 6th–734)
Frankish Kingdom (481–843)Carolingian Empire (800–843)
Austrasia (511–687)
Middle Francia (843–855) West

Kingdom of Lotharingia (855– 959)
Duchy of Lower Lorraine (959–)


County of

Bishopric of

Duchy of

Duchy of

County of

County of

County of

of Liège

Duchy of

Burgundian Netherlands (1384–1482)
Habsburg Netherlands (1482–1795)
(Seventeen Provinces after 1543)
Dutch Republic
Spanish Netherlands
Austrian Netherlands
United States of Belgium
R. Liège
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)
Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815–1830)  
Gr D. L.
Kingdom of the Netherlands (1839–)
Kingdom of Belgium (1830–)
Gr D. of

The Triumph of Death (c. 1562) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder reflects the increasingly harsh treatment the Seventeen Provinces received in the 16th century
Map by Abraham Ortelius from 1573, one of the oldest maps showing the Low Countries

The Seventeen Provinces originated from the Burgundian Netherlands. The dukes of Burgundy systematically became the lords of different provinces. Mary I of Valois, Duchess of Burgundy was the last of the House of Burgundy.

Mary married Archduke Maximilian 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, Holy Roman Emperor 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 the County of Artois, were originally French fiefs, but sovereignty was ceded to the Empire in the Treaty of Cambrai in 1529.

On 15 October, 1506, in the palace of Mechelen, the future Charles V was recognized as Heer der Nederlanden ("Lord of the Netherlands"). Only he and his son ever used this title. The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 determined that the Provinces should remain united in the future and inherited by the same monarch.

After Charles V's abdication in 1555, his realms were divided between his son, Philip II 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 Lordship of Groningen and of the Ommelanden
  • the Lordship of Friesland
  • the Lordship of Overijssel
  • the Duchy of Guelders (except its upper quarter) and the County of Zutphen
  • the Prince-Bishopric, later Lordship of Utrecht
  • the County of Holland
  • the County of Zeeland

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.

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.

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

Artois and parts of Flanders and Hainaut (French Flanders and French Hainaut) were ceded to France in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries.

Economy edit

By the mid-16th century, the Margraviate of Antwerp (Duchy of Brabant) had become the economic, political, and cultural centre 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 the economic powerhouse of northern Europe, while 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 centre of prosperity moved from cities in the south such as Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, and Brussels to cities in the north, mostly in Holland, including Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam.

Netherlands edit

Leo Belgicus map

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 the singular for the current country and of de Nederlanden in the 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, nowadays it may wrongly create the impression that they were from the current Netherlands. In fact, they were almost exclusively from current Belgium.

Flanders edit

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, East Flanders and French Flanders. However, when the Dutch-speaking population of Belgium sought more rights in the 19th century, the word Flanders was reused, this time to refer to the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, which is larger and contains only part of the old county of Flanders (see Flemish Movement). Therefore, the territory of the County of Flanders and that of 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.

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ Arnold Hermann Ludwig Heeren (1834). A Manual of the History of the Political System of Europe and Its Colonies. p. 65.
  2. ^ "De namen van de Zeventien Provinciën (image)". Engelfriet. Archived from the original on 5 April 2022. Retrieved 12 July 2023.
  3. ^ "Ruzie met de Raad van State leidde tot de 80-jarige oorlog". 13 January 2005. Archived from the original on 29 May 2023. Retrieved 12 July 2023.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r "Wapens van de Zeventien Provinciën, Abraham de Bruyn (mogelijk), naar Chrispijn van den Broeck, 1582". Rijksmuseum. Archived from the original on 12 July 2023. Retrieved 12 July 2023.
  5. ^ a b Johan Rudolf Thorbecke, Robert Jacobus Fruin en Herman Theodoor Colenbrander (1922). "2. Verhouding tot het Rijk van de Zeventien Provinciën". Geschiedenis der staatsinstellingen in Nederland tot de dood van Willem II. Universiteit Leiden. Archived from the original on 19 December 2019. Retrieved 19 December 2019.
  6. ^ "De munt van Overijssel". De Kopergeld pagina. 27 October 2004. Archived from the original on 7 April 2008.
  7. ^ "De munt van Groningen". De Kopergeld pagina. 19 October 2004. Archived from the original on 10 March 2008.
  8. ^ a b Modesto Lafuente (1862). Historia general de España, Volume 7. p. 401. Retrieved 12 July 2023.
  9. ^ "The invention of the Dutchman". Leiden University. 20 March 2007. Archived from the original on 17 May 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2020.

External links edit