The Low Countries, the Low Lands (Dutch: de Lage Landen, French: les
Pays Bas), or historically also the
Netherlands (Dutch: Nederland,
German: die Niederlande), is a coastal lowland region in northwestern
Europe, forming the lower basin of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt
rivers, divided in the
Middle Ages into numerous semi-independent
principalities that consolidated in the countries of Belgium,
Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, as well as today's French
Historically, the regions without access to the sea have linked
themselves politically and economically to those with access to form
various unions of ports and hinterland, stretching inland
as far as parts of the German Rhineland. That is why nowadays some
parts of the
Low Countries are actually hilly, like
Luxembourg and the
south of Belgium. Within the European Union, the region's political
grouping is still referred to as the
Benelux (short for
Roman empire the region contained a militarised frontier
and contact point between
Rome and Germanic tribes. With
the collapse of the empire, the
Low Countries were the scene of the
early independent trading centres that marked the reawakening of
Europe in the 12th century. In that period, they rivalled northern
Italy as one of the most densely populated regions of Western Europe.
Most of the cities were governed by guilds and councils along with a
figurehead ruler; interaction with their ruler was regulated by a
strict set of rules describing what the latter could and could not
expect from them. All of the regions mainly depended on trade,
manufacturing and the encouragement of the free flow of goods and
craftsmen. Dutch and French dialects were the main
languages used in secular city life.
2.1 Early history
2.2 Frankish empire
2.3 Duchy of Burgundy
2.4 Seventeen Provinces
2.6 Late Modern Period
4 See also
6 External links
Main article: Terminology of the Low Countries
Low Countries from 1556 to 1648
Southern part of the
Low Countries with bishopry towns and abbeys
ca. 7th century. Abbeys were the onset to larger villages and even
Historically, the term
Low Countries arose at the Court of the Dukes
of Burgundy, who used the term les pays de par deçà ("the lands over
here") for the
Low Countries as opposed to les pays de par delà ("the
lands over there") for the
Duchy of Burgundy
Duchy of Burgundy and the Free County of
Burgundy, which were part of their realm but geographically
disconnected from the Low Countries. Governor
Mary of Hungary used both the expressions les pays de par deça and
Pays d'Embas ("lands down here"), which evolved to Pays-Bas or Low
Countries. Today the term is typically fitted to modern political
boundaries and used in the same way as the term
The name of the country of the
Netherlands has the same etymology and
origin as the name for the region Low Countries, due to "nether"
meaning "low". In the
Dutch language itself De Lage Landen
is the modern term for Low Countries, and De Nederlanden (plural) is
in use for the 16th century domains of Charles V, the historic Low
Countries, while Nederland (singular) is in use for the country of the
Netherlands. However, in official use, the name of the Dutch kingdom
is still Kingdom of the Netherlands, Koninkrijk der Nederlanden
(plural). This name derives from the 19th-century origins of the
kingdom which originally included present-day Belgium.
In Dutch, and to a lesser extent in English, the Low Countries
colloquially means the
Netherlands and Belgium, sometimes the
Netherlands and Flanders—the Dutch-speaking north of Belgium. For
Low Countries derby
Low Countries derby (Derby der Lage Landen), is a sports
Belgium and the Netherlands.
Belgium separated in 1830 from the (northern) Netherlands. The new
country took its name from Belgica, the Latinised name for the Low
Countries, as it was known during the
Eighty Years' War
Eighty Years' War (1568–1648).
Low Countries were in that war divided in two parts. On one hand,
the northern Federated
Netherlands or Belgica Foederata rebelled
against the Spanish king; on the other, the southern Royal Netherlands
or Belgica Regia remained loyal to the Spanish king. This
divide laid the early foundation for the later modern states of
Belgium and the Netherlands.
History of the Low Countries
Gallia Belgica (55 BC – 5th c. AD)
Germania Inferior (83 – 5th c.)
Salian Franks(4th–5th c.)
Frisian Kingdom (6th c.–734)
Frankish Kingdom (481–843)—
Carolingian Empire (800–843)
Middle Francia (843–855)
Lotharingia (855– 959)Duchy of
Lower Lorraine (959–)
Duchy ofBrabant(1183–1430)Duchy ofGuelders(1046–1543)
County ofHainaut(1071–1432)County ofNamur(981–1421)
Seventeen Provinces after 1543)
United States of Belgium(1790)
Batavian Republic (1795–1806)
Kingdom of Holland
Kingdom of Holland (1806–1810)
French First Republic
French First Republic (1795–1804)part of First
French Empire (1804–1815)
Princip. of the
United Kingdom of the
Gr D. L.(1815–)
Kingdom of the
Gr D. ofLuxem-bourg(1890–)
See also: History of urban centers in the Low Countries
The region politically had its origins in the Carolingian empire; more
precisely, most of the people were within the Duchy of Lower
Lotharingia. After the disintegration of Lower
Low Countries were brought under the rule of various
lordships until they came to be in the hands of the Valois Dukes of
Burgundy. Hence, a large part of the
Low Countries came to be referred
to as the Burgundian Netherlands. After the reign of the Valois Dukes
ended, much of the
Low Countries were controlled by the House of
Habsburg. This area was referred to as the
Habsburg Netherlands, which
was also called the
Seventeen Provinces up to 1581. Even after the
political secession of the autonomous
Dutch Republic (or "United
Provinces") in the north, the term "Low Countries" continued to be
used to refer collectively to the region. The region was temporarily
united politically between 1815 and 1839, as the United Kingdom of the
Netherlands, before this split into the three modern countries of the
Belgium and Luxembourg.
Gallia Belgica and Germania Inferior
Low Countries were part of the Roman provinces of Gallia Belgica
and Germania Inferior. They were inhabited by
Belgic and Germanic
tribes. In the 4th and 5th century, Frankish tribes had entered this
Roman region and came to run it increasingly independently. They came
to be ruled by the Merovingian dynasty, under which dynasty the
southern part (below the Rhine) was re-Christianised.
See also: Lower Lorraine
By the end of the 8th century, the
Low Countries formed a core part of
a much expanded
Francia and the Merovingians were replaced by the
Carolingian dynasty. In 800, the Pope crowned and
Charlemagne Emperor of the re-established Roman Empire.
After the death of Charlemagne,
Francia was divided in three parts
among his three grandsons. The middle slice, Middle
Francia, was ruled by Lothair I, and thereby also came to be referred
to as "Lotharingia" or "Lorraine". Apart from the original coastal
County of Flanders, which was within West Francia, the rest of the Low
Countries were within the lowland part of this, "Lower Lorraine".
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 or the Holy Roman Empire. While the further
Low Countries can be seen as the object of a continual
struggle between these two powers, the title of
Duke of Lothier was
coveted in the low countries for centuries.
Duchy of Burgundy
See also: Burgundian Netherlands
In the 14th and 15th century, separate fiefs came gradually to be
ruled by a single family through royal intermarriage. This process
culminated in the rule of the House of Valois, who were the rulers of
the Duchy of Burgundy. During the height of Burgundian influence, the
Low Countries became the political and economic centre of Northern
Europe, noted for its crafts and luxury goods, notably early
Netherlandish painting, which is the work of artists who were active
in the flourishing cities of Bruges, Ghent, Mechelen, Louvain, Tournai
and Brussels, all in present-day Belgium. Jan van Eyck, The Arnolfini
Portrait, 1434, National Gallery, London
In 1477 the Burgundian holdings in the area passed through an
heiress—Mary of Burgundy—to the Habsburgs. The
Low Countries were
roughly divided into Seventeen Provinces. Charles V united the
provinces into one indivisible territory, covered by the Pragmatic
Sanction of 1549, while retaining existing customs, laws,
and forms of government within the provinces. Therefore,
Charles V introduced the title of Heer der Nederlanden ("Lord of the
Netherlands"). Only he and his son could ever use this title.
The Pragmatic Sanction transformed the agglomeration of lands into a
unified entity, of which the
Habsburgs would be the heirs. By
streamlining the succession law in all
Seventeen Provinces and
declaring that all of them would be inherited by one heir, Charles
effectively united the
Netherlands as one entity. After Charles'
abdication in 1555, the
Seventeen Provinces passed to his son, Philip
II of Spain.
Dutch Republic and Spanish Netherlands
The Pragmatic Sanction is said to be one example of the Habsburg
contest with particularism that contributed to the Dutch Revolt. Each
of the provinces had its own laws, customs and political practices.
The new policy, imposed from the outside, angered many inhabitants,
who viewed their provinces as distinct entities. It and other
monarchical acts, such as the creation of bishoprics and promulgation
of laws against heresy, stoked resentments, which fired the eruption
of the Dutch Revolt.
After the northern
Seven United Provinces
Seven United Provinces of the seventeen declared
their independence from
Habsburg Spain in 1581, the ten provinces of
Netherlands remained occupied by the Army of Flanders
under Spanish service and are therefore sometimes called the Spanish
Netherlands. In 1713, under the
Treaty of Utrecht
Treaty of Utrecht following the War of
the Spanish Succession, what was left of the Spanish
Austria and thus became known as the Austrian Netherlands.
Late Modern Period
See also: United Kingdom of the
Netherlands and Benelux
The United Kingdom of the
Netherlands (1815–1830) temporarily united
Low Countries again, before this split into the three modern
countries of the Netherlands,
Belgium and Luxembourg.
During the early months of
World War I
World War I (around 1914), The Central
Powers invaded the
Low Countries of
Belgium in what has
been come to be known as the German invasion of Belgium. It led to the
German occupation of the two countries. However, the German advance
France was quickly halted, causing a military stalemate for most
of the war. In the end, a total of approximately 56,000 people were
killed in the invasion.
World War II
World War II started in the region when Adolf Hitler's Wehrmacht
forces turned their eyes west to France. The
Low Countries were an
easy route of getting around the feared French Maginot Line. Hitler
ordered a conquest of the
Low Countries to be executed at the shortest
possible notice to forestall the French and prevent Allied air power
from threatening the vital German Ruhr Area. It would also
provide the basis for a long-term air and sea campaign against
Britain. As much as possible of the border areas in northern France
should be occupied. Germany used its
and took out the countries in only two weeks.
Belgium, the Netherlands, and
Luxembourg were occupied from about May
1940 to about May 1945. During the occupation, their governments were
forced to be exiled in Britain. In 1944, they signed the London
Customs Convention, laying the foundation for the
Union, an important forerunner of the
EEC (later the
One of the Low Countries' earliest literary figures is the blind poet
Bernlef, from c. 800, who sang both Christian psalms and pagan
verses. Bernlef is representative of the coexistence of Christianity
and Germanic polytheism in this time period.:1–2
The earliest examples of written literature include the Wachtendonck
Psalms, a collection of twenty five psalms that originated in the
Moselle-Frankish region around the middle of the 9th
Early Netherlandish painting
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