Southern Netherlands

The Southern Netherlands, [a] also called the Catholic Netherlands, was the part of the Low Countries largely controlled by Spain (1556–1714), later Austria (1714–94), and occupied then annexed by France (1794–1814). The region also included a number of smaller states that were never ruled by Spain or Austria: the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, the Imperial Abbey of Stavelot-Malmedy, the County of Bouillon, the County of Horne and the Princely Abbey of Thorn. The Southern Netherlands were part of the Holy Roman Empire until the whole area was annexed by Revolutionary France.

The Southern Netherlands comprised most of modern-day Belgium and Luxembourg, some parts of the Netherlands and Germany (the region of Upper-Gueldres, now divided between Germany and the modern Dutch Province of Limburg and in 1713 largely ceded to Prussia and the Bitburg area in Germany, then part of Luxembourg) as well as, until 1678, most of the present Nord-Pas-de-Calais region and the Longwy area in northern France.

The Low Countries (including Liège, Stavelot-Malmedy and Bouillon), the border between the Northern Netherlands and the Southern Netherlands is marked in red.

Place in the broader Netherlands

A map of the dominion of the Habsburgs following the Battle of Mühlberg (1547) as depicted in The Cambridge Modern History Atlas (1912); Habsburg lands are shaded green. From 1556 the dynasty's lands in the Low Countries, the east of France, Italy, Sardinia, and Sicily were retained by the Spanish Habsburgs.
Silver florin of Emperor Charles V with the coat of arms of the House of Burgundy (Low Countries, etc.) c. 1553.

As they were very wealthy, the Netherlands in general were an important territory of the Habsburg crown which also ruled Spain and Austria among other places. But unlike the other Habsburg dominions, they were led by a merchant class. It was the merchant economy which made them wealthy, and the Habsburg attempts at increasing taxation to finance their wars [b] was a major factor in their defence of their privileges. This, together with resistance to penal laws enforced by the Habsburg monarchy that made heresy a capital crime, led to a general rebellion of the Netherlands against Habsburg rule in the 1570s. Although the northern seven provinces, led by Holland and Zeeland, established their independence as the United Provinces after 1581, the ten southern Netherlands were reconquered by the Spanish general Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma. Liège, Stavelot-Malmédy and Bouillon maintained their independence.

The Habsburg Netherlands, passed to the Austrian Habsburgs after the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714. Under Austrian rule, the ten provinces' defence of their privileges proved as troublesome to the reforming Emperor Joseph II, Holy Roman Emperor as it had to his ancestor Philip II two centuries before, leading to a major rebellion in 1789–1790. The Austrian Netherlands were ultimately lost to the French Revolutionary armies, and annexed to France in 1794. Following the war, Austria's loss of the territories was confirmed, and they were joined with the northern Netherlands as a single kingdom under the House of Orange at the 1815 Congress of Vienna. The southeastern third of Luxembourg Province was made into the autonomous Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, because it was claimed by both the Netherlands and Prussia.

In 1830 the predominantly Roman Catholic southern half became independent as the Kingdom of Belgium (the northern half being predominantly Calvinist). In 1839 the final border between the kingdom of the Netherlands and Belgium was determined and the eastern part of Limburg returned to the Netherlands as the province of Limburg. The autonomy of Luxembourg was recognised in 1839, but an instrument to that effect was not signed until 1867. The King of the Netherlands was Grand Duke of Luxembourg until 1890, when William III was succeeded by his daughter, Wilhelmina of the Netherlands – but Luxembourg still followed the Salic law at the time, which forbade a woman to rule in her own right, so the union of the Dutch and Luxembourger crowns then ended. The northwestern two-thirds of the original Luxembourg remains a province of Belgium.

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