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Seventeen Provinces

Origninally the term 'Netherlands' referred to a much larger entity than the current Kingdom of the Netherlands. Charles V of Hapsburg was the Lord of seventeen provinces roughly covering the current Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg and the good part of the North of France (Artois). Most of these were fiefs under the Holy Roman Empire, of which Charles became Emperor himself. A few (Flanders, Artois) were French fiefs. The French king and the Holy Roman Emperor agreed to release all seventeen from the largely nominal and by then anachronistic ties to both realms. This is called the Pragmatic Sanction[?] (1548). Seven Northern provinces claimed their independence 1581 as a Republic of United Provinces:

Three others were divided between North and South (later Belgium):

  • Luxemburg remained part of the South but half of it became an independent entity after the Napoleontic wars

In addition there were a number of fiefdoms in this region that were not part of the Netherlands, the largest one is Liege. In the North there were also a few smaller entities like the island of Ameland, that would retain their own Lord until the French revolution

In the days of Charles V, there is no doubt that the economic, political and cultural center was the South (later Belgium) (although Holland was gradually gaining importance in the 15th and 16th century). In fact the South was one of the leading regions of Europe at the time.

To distinguish the old (greater) Netherlands from the current country, Dutch speakers usually drop the plural for the latter. They speak of 'Nederland' for the current country and 'de Nederlanden' for the domains of Charles V. In other languages this has not been adopted.

The fact that the same term 'Netherlands' has such different historical meanings can sometimes lead to difficulties in expressing oneself correctly. E.g. composers from the 16th century are often said to belong to the 'Nederlandse School'. Although they themselves would not have objected to that term, today it may create the wrong impression that they were from the North. In fact, they were almost exclusively from the South.

For a map see http://www.wazamar.org/Nederlanden/zeventien-prov.htm

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