The emergence of the Netherlands as a political unit

The State of the Netherlands is the legal term for the country called the Netherlands. "State" indicates that it is an independent, sovereign country. 'The Netherlands' recalls that it was originally a union of (separate) the Netherlands. The union was established during the war of independence against the Habsburg (Spanish) rule, 1568-1648, but there is also a history that could already start with Charlemagne (around 800). There can be a difference of opinion as to which year the starting point of the state called the Netherlands should be placed. Of the events during the war of independence, in particular 1579 (Union of Utrecht), 1581 (Acte van Verlatinghe) and the Deduction (Justification) of 1587/1588 are eligible. In fact, the emergence of the state of the Netherlands is a development process (until 1588), followed by a history in which the country eventually became a democratic nation state in the 19th century with a monarch as head of state.


Definition and timing

Whoever wants to describe the emergence of the Netherlands as a political unit must first establish what a state is. It is also relevant to know when, in time, there is talk of a state of the Netherlands.

The term 'state'

There are many definitions of 'state'. If the most common elements thereof are combined, an adequate description of the term is stated: A delimited territory where a sovereign / sovereign power exercises the highest independent authority. It should be borne in mind that the 'state' phenomenon as described here already existed long before the term 'state' was used. The latter stems from the transition from the Middle Ages to the New Era (15th - 16th centuries).

"Nation State"

The term 'nation state' is often used. 'Nation' is about a people, a group of people with common characteristics who belong together or at least have the feeling that they belong together (sense of belonging). "Nation" and "state" do not always coincide. Sometimes a nation is divided over several states. For example, the people of the Kurds live in several states: Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria and more countries, especially in the Middle East and Europe. In such a situation, there is often an ambition - certainly among the Kurds - to found a national state of its own. It also happens that different peoples are brought together in one state, but are not one people. An example was the former Yugoslavia: The different peoples have as much as possible, after a fierce war - fierce, because nation consciousness / nationalism is strongly emotionally charged - founded its own state (Serbia, Croatia etc.). In that case there is a 'nation state'. In short, the people / nation is also a political unit.

The nation state of the Netherlands

The current Netherlands can be placed in the 'nation states' category. Like most states nowadays, certainly in Europe. But in the Netherlands this was not the case from the start (just as it was in most other countries that currently exist). There was talk of one development, which was accompanied by the necessary disputes and wars.
The definitive formation of the State of the Netherlands came about in the 80-year war (1568-1648). But with that it was not yet a national unity; that only happened in the 19th century.

The history

Van der Pot-Donner's (1977) handbook on Dutch Constitutional Law, which serves as a guideline, takes as its starting point the Dutch state (in fact the history of that state): the division of the great empire of Charlemagne (9th century). In the demarcated area in Western Europe that we now call the Netherlands or the Netherlands, before that time various tribes / peoples lived. Kings also reigned, but their authority was usually limited by poor organization and lack of capacity to adequately shape and administer that organization.

The position of Church and worldly power

There was one body that did have the desired organization and capabilities: the Church of Rome, the Roman Catholic Church. In administrative terms, it was, in a sense, a continuation of the Roman Empire. And unlike the (Germanic) kings, she did have the device, including capable officials, to manage an organization. Moreover, she possessed the spiritual authority - which was certainly of great importance in the Middle Ages.
The secular authorities (especially kings / emperors) could in turn provide armies to protect the society where that church ruled and the applicable law there. Of course, this yielded the necessary competition and struggle, whereby secular and spiritual authority were by no means sharply separated (a striking example is the actions of the Bishop of Munster in the area - see the disaster year of 1672).

After the Carolingian era

After the death of Charles V in 814, the following hundred years (globally) politically speaking, a number of divisions and reclassifications of his great empire took place. From 925 onwards, the Netherlands formally belonged to the former East Franconian, that is the German Empire (only in 1648, with the peace of Munster, does that situation come to an end, at least as regards the northern Netherlands). That didn't have much meaning. Much more important was the relationship that emerged in the Middle Ages with the former West Franconian Empire, and especially with the Duchy of Burgundy, certainly with regard to the development towards a political unit, but also in the economic field.

The Burgundian and Habsburg times

A form of feudality had developed from the Carolingian period, the loan system with associated loans (areas). The king's power was thus often exercised by throughout the centuries digging in the relevant areas - areas that include gouw mentioned; a word that underlies names such as Hunsingo, Hainaut and 't Gooi. First, the loan men were more of a monarch / king official; later it also lend areas from the significant genera or ecclesiastical dignitaries areas with associated rights and duties including the official duties. These borrowers often became more powerful over time because the office became hereditary and they were not only borrowed but also owned, as a reward. If one leeman / count acquired several territories, his power would often increase to such an extent that he would not care much for the authority of his monarch / king / emperor and would take up arms against him if necessary. Loan men then became loan lords, who created their own 'state (you)' and in turn borrowed it.

Origin of counties and similar units

In this way, a number of (loan) states of some size also arise in the area of ​​the 'Low Countries by the Sea'. For example, the County of Holland and the Sticht Utrecht (a religious 'county' with a bishop in charge), which also included Overijssel, Drenthe and the city of Groningen.
That seems attractive for regions who like to make their own beans, but had the consequence that there was a lot of mutual conflict between the regional gentlemen, which also caused a lot of misery for the population. In the stadtholder era (until 1795) there was a more centralized authority. However, the northern regions (Friesland, Groningen and mostly Drenthe) continued to occupy a somewhat separate position within the whole of the Netherlands. This was reflected, among other things, in the fact that those regions had their own ('Frisian') stadholder.

The Frisian countries

The Frisian countries, in particular the current province of Friesland and the Groningen Ommelanden (including the aforementioned Ommelander sub-area Hunsingo) experienced a development that was quite different from the rest of the Netherlands. Partly due to their isolated location, these regions were able to retain much freedom (the 'Frisian Freedom'). A central authority, or at least a central authority that was strong enough to exercise that authority, was missing for a long time. The feudalism that existed elsewhere has not become prevalent there. The power was in practice exercised by free farmers who owned a certain amount of land to which rights were attached. In a later phase an upper layer of 'chiefs' emerged within that group, the later landed gentry being one deposit (Groningen) or state (Friesland) with corresponding belongings.

From Burgundian to Habsburg power

John the Fearless, duke of the French duchy of Burgundy until he was murdered in September 1419, was also count of Flanders and of Artesia (the region around Atrecht, northern France). His son Philips the Good (1419-1467) was also among others Duke of Brabant and Limburg and count of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut. The Burgundian power shifted more to the north among its successors and Brussels became the center of the empire. In the 15th century, for example, a group of countries formed, where sovereignty came under one hand and in which the first contours of the later United Netherlands - including the later Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, that is the distant predecessor of today's Netherlands - were already visible were. Through succession, the power had come to the Habsburg House, originally from Austria. The Habsbugse archduke Maximilian, who was also emperor of Germany, married Maria of Burgundy, granddaughter of Philip the Good. In this way the Burgundian and Habsburg state power were united. Ultimately, the grandson of Maximilian and Mary, Charles V (1500-1558), became Lord of the Netherlands, King of Spain and Emperor of Germany.

Striving for unity - Burgundian Kreits and Pragmatic Action (1543-1548)

Regarding the Netherlands, Charles V also acquired sovereignty over Friesland, Utrecht, Overijssel, Drenthe, the city of Groningen, the Groningen Ommelanden and finally Gelderland in 1543 in the period 1524-1543. In that year, the Duke of Gelre was forced to rights to surrender that duchy to Charles V. So since 1543 the Netherlands, which would later form the Netherlands, had one lord: Charles V. That is why this event can be regarded as one of the birth papers of the State of the Netherlands.
In 1543, for example, there was a gathering of 'seventeen' separate Netherlands (lands) that belonged to each other through succession and wars, but still did not form a single unit. Unity is said to be a development process that lasted a long time - history has taught us. A number of measures were needed to achieve that development towards unity. These measures started with the formation of the so-called Burgundian Kreits and the corresponding Treaty of Augsburg, both in 1548. These were followed by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549. These events can also be counted among the 'birth papers' of the Netherlands.
With regard to the number of 'seventeen' it should be noted that it is not a real number: in reality the Burgundian Kreits were formed by more than twenty units, duchies and counties, and greaties ranging from the Overijssel region to the city of Maastricht with surrounding territories. The famous historian Jan Huizinga (1872-1945) has made it plausible that the number seventeen only indicated 'a fairly large amount' (H.P.H. Jansen, Medieval history, p.246)

Apart from the German Empire

What did the Netherlands have in common? The Church of course and also economic interests and language. Furthermore, there was not much unity that created. Those who possessed the wonderful power in those countries, Charles V and, after him, his son Philips II, have taken measures to achieve the desired unity and thereby also strengthen the central authority (from Brussels).
Formally, those lands belonged to the German Empire since the Carolingian period, also known as the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. Charles was not only Lord of the Netherlands (since 1506) but also Roman-German King / Emperor (since 1519). He aimed to set his Dutch territory apart as much as possible within the German Empire. The German Reichstag had to approve that.

Burgundian Kreits, Treaty of Augsburg and the Pragmatic Sanction

Charles V did indeed form a separate group of Burgundian Countries, the so-called Burgundian Kreits, which no longer fell under German jurisdiction. Only a weak bond with the Empire remained (which officially only came to an end in 1648). The Reichstag still had to approve that. In principle, the other parts of the Empire did not feel that way, because then the countries of the Kreits would also no longer pay (for example, in the fight against the Turks that was being waged then). But in 1548, Charles considered himself powerful enough to submit the existence of those Kreits to the Reichstag for approval. Successfully: he managed to get the "transaction" ratified by the Reichstag that then met in Augsburg.
An important aspect of the Augsburg Convention was the so-called Pragmatic Sanction. To emphasize the intended unity even more, succession was arranged identically in all regions; this was done in 1549 by means of the Pragmatic Sanction - literally it does not mean much more than 'practical measure'.

Resistance to strengthening of the central power

The efforts of the Burgundian and Habsburg rulers to centralize their power in the Netherlands and thereby strengthen it aroused the necessary resistance. All the more so because the establishment of absolutism (where the monarch exercises sole power and is not accountable to his subjects) was feared. The resistance culminated in an uprising (starting, officially, in 1568), the formation of a separate union of seven Netherlands (Union of Utrecht, 1579) and independence of those seven from the foreign (Spanish) rule. At least, independence with regard to the seven Netherlands itself. It was only confirmed with the peace of Munster (1648). However, the pursuit of personal, regional independence as far as possible remained and largely dominated the further history of the Seven United Netherlands.

Fighting the Reformation

The pursuit of centralization and standardization by the Habsbugers (especially Charles V and Philips II) played an important role during that period in and around the Roman Catholic Church. After all, it was the time of the Reformation, which created Protestant churches. A main goal of Charles V and even more emphatically of Philips II was to combat that Reformation, which they regarded as a reprehensible heresy and which also caused disagreement and separation in their one realm. The heresy had to be fought with all possible means, it could have been eradicated. By strengthening the central power and the accompanying new ecclesiastical division in the Netherlands (1559), the fight against Protestant heresy could be tackled more efficiently.

On the way to unity

In summary, it can be said that the group of countries / states that the Netherlands In the course of history, they became, step by step, a political whole or a political unity. If we want that process to start with a year, then several are eligible:
  • 1543: The duchy of 'Gelderland' comes under central authority. This means that the last of the sub-areas (later: 'provinces') has been added to the whole that is nowadays called the Netherlands.
  • 1548: A number of sub-areas ('seventeen' Netherlands) of the German Empire are separated from the German Empire: the Burgundian Kreits (ratified on the Reichstag of Augsburg and further confirmed by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549).

Ongoing development

But there are more dates to mention, because the whole was by no means a unity and certainly not an independent unity, independent of the one that de jure and de facto the state authority had: the Lord of the Netherlands, who mainly derived his power from his other function: king of the world power Spain. First the Netherlands had to become independent of Spain. This happened in the 80-year war that began in 1568 and ended with the peace of Munster in 1648. During that war there were events that were crucial in the process that led to the emergence of the Netherlands as a political unit. These events are just as many birth papers from the state and are all eligible to be designated as starting points of the State of the Netherlands. And certainly also 1648 when with peace the independence of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, which had meanwhile been established, was also internationally recognized.

The 80-year war is crucial in the emergence of the independent State of the Netherlands

Resistance against Spanish domination in the war of 1568-1648 naturally promoted the unity of the rebellious regions. In addition, concord makes power; the power needed to become and remain an independent state. The leader of the uprising against Spain was Prince William of Orange, himself a prince (of the Principality / Principality of Orange) and owner of many possessions in the Netherlands. He was the leader of a group of similar high nobles who all opposed the absolute power of the Spanish King Philip II, all the more because he also tried to eradicate Protestantism and more generally restricted their liberties.

Pacification of Ghent (1576)

Willem van Oranje was well aware that unity makes power. He has constantly endeavored to realize that unity - that is, of the seventeen Netherlands. A tough job because regional particularism was and remains persistent.
When mutinous Spanish troops plundered Antwerp, the Prince managed to involve a number of southern regions in the uprising in addition to Holland and Zeeland. The document of the agreement, a so-called pacification, was signed in 1576 in Ghent. However, the Spanish governor who came to power in the same year, the Duke of Parma, succeeded in separating the southern regions from the newly formed unit and merging them into the Union of Atrecht. In response, in the same year, 1579, most northern regions and a number of cities in the south formed a separate Union of Utrecht. That meant the end of the actual goal of Willem van Oranje: liberation of all seventeen Netherlands, globally the current BeNeLux

Union of Utrecht (1579), Act of Verlatinghe (1581) and a new lord

Forming a political whole of the 'seventeen' Netherlands was therefore not successful. Religion played a major role in this; overall, the southern regions remained Roman Catholic. In the northern seven regions, ie in the area of ​​the Union of Utrecht, Protestantism became the prevailing religion. That does not mean that the seven Netherlands formed one whole, it was in fact a political union with a high degree of regional independence. The union was primarily intended as a military alliance to defend itself against the ruler, the king of Spain, who tried to reclaim the territory of those seven Netherlands.

The Union is looking for a new lord

After Philip II had banned William of Orange in 1580 (the one who would kill him would be richly rewarded), the States General of the unified Netherlands declared themselves independent of the Spanish king, declaring him to have fallen from state authority, renounced him as a ruler. That happened in 1581 with the 'Act of Verlatinghe' (also called 'Plakkaat van Verlatinghe').
The consequence was that the seven regions now, as far as they are concerned, no longer had a lord, no ruler. First a brother of the French king, Frans van Anjou, was appointed as such - partly in order to gain the help of France in the fight against Spain. But that became a failure. In 1583 that short period had already ended. The situation deteriorated considerably for the rebellious regions when their leader, Willem van Oranje, was murdered in 1584 (in Delft by Balthasar Gérard) and, in 1585, the Spaniards conquered the important port city of Antwerp. Fortunately, England proved willing to help: Queen Elisabeth I sent her confidant the count of Leicester to act as governor, with the necessary military assistance. That too turned out to be a failure, in 1587 Leicester left for England again.
It is remarkable that precisely in that war the period of the so-called Golden Age falls. Many historians take 1585 as their starting year, mainly due to the fall of Antwerp - causing many activities in the field of trade and shipping to the northern Netherlands, to the Republic, moved.

The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands

The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands has never been officially declared as such, it has gradually emerged. The sovereign power was in the hands of the States of the Netherlands (also called Provinces). L.J. Rogier mentions it in his book, Unity and separation a many-headed state sovereignty. The highest national power shifted to their meeting when they met for consultation, called the States General. From 1585, The Hague became the meeting place. The States General grew into a permanent administrative college that decided on war and peace and concluded alliances; furthermore, the individual States took their own decisions (which therefore only applied to their own state / region).
From the struggle and chaos that arose around the treacherous action of Leicester during his presence in the Netherlands (1585-1587), the councilor of the most important region, Holland, that was Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, emerged as the victor. Through his position, he developed into a "state lawyer," the leader of the foreign policy of the Republic. In addition to him, the son of the murdered William of Orange, Prince Maurits, at the age of 17, becomes stadholder (initially only of Holland and Zeeland) and Captain General of the Union army; the latter function then gave him a national and coherent role. In that military function, in which he proved to be successful, he was supported by his cousin, the Frisian governor Willem Lodewijk of Nassau. The treaty that was concluded in connection with the formation of the Union of Utrecht in 1579 was the constitution of the Republic .

The Deduction, 1587/1588

The political unity of the Seven United Netherlands has therefore gradually emerged. If a start year has to be chosen, 1587 is also eligible - another birth paper from the Netherlands. When it was decided by the States of the regions that they would no longer try to transfer sovereignty to a foreign power such as England - which apparently meant, given the actions of Leicester, that they were stuck with an unreliable governor. They decided that they would exercise that power themselves. Franchois Vranck. the pensioner of Gouda, second man in the States of Holland after his political friend Van Oldenbarnevelt, put a statement on paper for that act - undoubtedly directed by Van Oldenbarnevelt. The document becomes the Deduction (explanation) or also called the Justification (justification) of their (non-standard) course of action with regard to sovereignty. Based on that document, the relevant decision was taken on December 4, 1587.
The Deduction of 1587 is therefore eligible as one of the birth papers of the Netherlands, but 1588 can be chosen instead of '87. Then the decision of December 4, 1987 was ratified. Moreover, 1588 was a crucial year for the continued existence of the position that the Netherlands had appropriated. It was the year that the Spanish Armada was destroyed that the Spanish King Philip II had sent to subjugate England and the Netherlands and to restore the supremacy of the Church of Rome. 1588 became a turning point in the war and thus in the history of the State of the Netherlands. The important Dutch historian Robert Fruin (1823-1899) then started 'The ten years' - also the title of his book about the period - at the end of which (1598) the Netherlands had brought it to a hopeless situation (1588). almost certainly a success of the uprising.

A whole but not a unit

In the middle of the 16th century there were 'seventeen' Netherlands who joined forces in their struggle against the policy of centralization and standardization of the Spanish monarch. The 'seventeen' failed to maintain unity. In 1579 there came a Union of Atrecht (the southern Netherlands) and separately a Union of Utrecht (the northern seven Netherlands). It would take until 1815 for them to meet again. Although, for just a few decades - and that under a monarch ... The Union of Utrecht, perhaps the most important birth paper of the Netherlands, was formed by a relatively small part of the Netherlands, but it was vital and strong enough to successfully achieve independence to fight - thanks in part to the favorable geopolitical conditions at that time. Besides, just as within the whole of the 'seventeen' was also within the Further Union, as the Union of Utrecht is also called, to demand mutual unity in the sense of unity.
Seven / eight Netherlands and generality countries.
In 1579 the States-General consisted of the States of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Friesland, Overijssel, Gelderland and Groningen (City and Ommelanden, but in practice the definitive unit was not yet the Province of Groningen). Drenthe was a special case. The 'Landscape Drenthe' was very sparsely populated and therefore not a full member of the States General. The States of Drenthe did come together to meet and discuss the affairs of the region, usually in the monastery in Assen.
The Generality countries, the current provinces of Limburg, Noord-Brabant and Zeeuws-Vlaanderen did not have their own government like the seven Netherlands, but, as being conquered, were directly governed by the States General from The Hague. Westerwolde (in the southeast of the current province of Groningen) also belonged to the Generality countries, but was governed from Groningen. In 1588 these countries still had to be conquered, which in fact happened in the course of the 80-year war. For example, Groningen (City and Ommelanden together) could not be added to the Union as a whole until 1594.

The stadholder as a unifying factor

In the political order, the Stadtholder and Holland's pensioner formed the driving elements. The governors (from the House of Orange-Nassau) who had taken charge of the uprising maintained their position and strengthened it. Stadholder Prince Maurits was therefore appointed as the military leader of the Union and thus a unifying factor within that whole of largely independent regions. Eventually they gained more influence and power. Frederik Hendrik, who held his constitutional position as governor from 1625-1647, already showed royal allure and his son Willem II (1647-1650), like his son Willem III (1672-1702), married - and that is telling - with a the daughter of the English king.

En route to national unity with a king as head of state

After the death of William III, it seemed at first that no governor would come to the reign, but things went differently: The Frisian governor obtained William IV (1747-1751) the dignity in all regions and it was still declared hereditary also. William V succeeded him, but in 1795 he left for England in exile. For example, that year the state system of the Republic including the stadholderhood came to an end. The son of Stadholder William V, Willem Frederik, would return in 1813 to become the 'sovereign prince' head of the State of the Netherlands. In 1815 he was promoted to King William I of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
In summary, it can be said that in the mid-16th century the Netherlands - meaning the area now called the Netherlands - became a political whole, a whole that as a Union successfully fought a war of independence and only developed in the course of the 19th century into a nation-state with the constitutional monarchy as a form of state.

Video: Politics Of The Netherlands (February 2020).

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