Low Countries


Low Countries
The Low Countries as seen from space

The Low Countries (Dutch: De Lage Landen) are the historical lands around the low-lying delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse rivers, including the modern countries of Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and parts of northern France and western Germany. The term is more appropriate to the era of the Late Middle Ages and Early Modern Europe when strong centrally governed nations were slowly forming and territorial governance was in the hands of a noble or of a noble house.

Historically after the Roman denomination of it as Gallia Belgica the region politically had its origins in Middle Francia, more precisely its northern part which became the Duchy of Lower Lotharingia. After the disintegration of Lower Lotharingia the Low Countries were brought under the rule of various stronger neighbours. Their possessions can be renamed into the Burgundian Netherlands and their succeeding Habsburg Netherlands, also called the United Seventeen Provinces (up to 1581), and later for the Southern parts as the Spanish Netherlands and Austrian Netherlands, whereas the northern parts formed the autonomous Dutch Republic. At times they reached a form of unity as the United Seventeen Provinces in the 16th Century, and later the United Kingdom of the Netherlands in the 19th Century. The French name for the Netherlands, les Pays-Bas (literally translated "the Low Countries") is based on this historical context.

Contents

Geo-political situation

History of the Low Countriesv · d · e
Frankish Kingdom
(5th to 10th century)
Frisian Kingdom
(600-734)
Carolingian Empire after 800
  West Francia ("France") Independent Kingdom of Middle Francia (Lotharingia)
(843–870)
Flanders and Lotharingia in Kingdom of West Francia
(870–880)
  Arms of Flanders.svg
County of Flanders
(862–1384)
and other principalities
(10th–14th centuries)
Kingdom then Duchy of Lotharingia in East Francia ("Germany")
(880-1190)
Armoiries Principauté de Liège.svg
Prince-Bishopric
of Liège

(980-1794)

Gules a fess argent.svg
Duchy of Bouillon
(988-1795)

Banner of the Holy Roman Emperor with haloes (1400-1806).svg
Imperial Abbey of Stavelot-Malmedy
(1138-1795)
Arms of the king of the Belgians (since 1921).svg
Duchy of Brabant
(1183-1430)
and other principalities
(10th–15th centuries)
Arms of the Counts of Luxembourg.svg
County/
Duchy of
Luxembourg

(963–1443)
Counts of Holland Arms.svg
County of Holland
(880-1432)
and other principalities
(10th–15th centuries)
Arms of the Duke of Burgundy (1364-1404).svg
Burgundian Netherlands
(1384–1482)
Flag of the Low Countries.svg
Habsburg Netherlands
(Seventeen Provinces)
(1482–1581)
Flag of the Low Countries.svg
Spanish Netherlands
(Southern Netherlands)

(1581–1713)
Prinsenvlag.svg
Dutch Republic
(1581–1795)
Flag of Austrian Low Countries.svg
Austrian Netherlands
(Southern Netherlands)

(1713–1795)
LuikVlag.svg
Liège Revolution
(1789–1792)
Flag of the Brabantine Revolution.svg
United States
of Belgium

(1790)
   

Flag of France.svg
Part of the
French Republic
(1795–1804)
and the
French Empire
(1804–1815)
Flag of the Batavian Republic.svg
Batavian Republic
(1795–1806)
Flag of the Netherlands.svg
Kingdom
of Holland

(1806–1810)
 
Flag of the Netherlands.svg
United Kingdom of
the Netherlands

(1815-1830)
Flag of Belgium.svg
Kingdom of Belgium
(since 1830)
Flag of Luxembourg.svg
Gr Duchy Luxembourg
(personal union)
Flag of the Netherlands.svg
Kingdom of
the Netherlands

(since 1830)
Flag of Luxembourg.svg
Gr Duchy Luxembourg
(since 1890)

The term is not particularly current in modern contexts because the region does not exactly correspond to the sovereign states of the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, for which an alternative term, Benelux, was employed after the Second World War, though only to describe them as a trading union.

Before early modern nation building, the Low Countries referred to a wide area of northern Europe as a low-lying triangular river delta for the rivers Rhine, Meuse, Scheldt, and Ems. This area roughly stretches from French Gravelines and Dunkirk at its southwestern point, to the area of Dutch Delfzijl and German Eastern Frisia at its northeastern point, and to Luxembourg and French Thionville in the southeast.

The Low Countries were the scene of the early northern towns, newbuilt rather than developed from ancient centres, that mark the reawakening of Europe in the 12th century. In that period, they became one of the most densely populated regions of Europe, together with northern Italy.

A collection of several regions rather than one homogeneous region, all the low countries still shared a great number of similarities.

  • Most were coastal regions bounded by the North Sea or the English Channel. The countries not having access to the sea linked themselves politically and economically to those that had access, so as to form one union of port and hinterland. A poetic description also calls the region the Low Countries by the Sea.
  • Most spoke Middle Dutch out of which later would evolve Dutch. However some regions, such as the Bishopric of Liège, the Romance Flanders (around Cambrai, Lille, Tournai), the French-speaking part of Brabant around Nivelles and, Namur, where French or Walloon was the dominant language are often considered as part of the Low Countries as well.
  • Most of them depended on a lord or count in name only, the cities effectively being ruled by guilds and councils and although in theory part of a kingdom, their interaction with their rulers was regulated by a strict set of liberties describing what the latter could and could not expect from them.
  • All of them depended on trade and manufacturing and the encouragement of the free flow of goods and craftsmen.

Historical situation

The low countries were part of the Roman provinces of Belgica, Germania Inferior and Germania Superior. They were inhabited by Belgic tribes, before these were replaced by Germanic tribes in the 4th and 5th century. They were governed by the ruling Merovingian dynasty.

By the end of the 8th century, the Low Countries formed a part of Francia and the Merovingians were replaced by the Carolingian dynasty. In 800 the Pope crowned and appointed Charlemagne Emperor of the re-established Roman Empire.

After the death of Charlemagne, Francia was divided in three parts among his three grandsons. The Low Countries became part of Middle Francia, which was ruled by Lothair I. 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. The further history of the Low Countries can be seen as a continual struggle between these two powers.

Gradually, separate fiefs came 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

In 1477 the Burgundian holdings in the area, the Burgundian Netherlands passed through an heiress -- Mary of Burgundy -- to the Habsburgs. In the following century the "Low Countries" corresponded roughly to the Seventeen Provinces covered by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, which freed the provinces from their archaic feudal obligations.

After the northern Seven United Provinces of the seventeen declared their independence from Habsburg Spain, the provinces of the Southern Netherlands were recaptured (1581) and are sometimes called the Spanish Netherlands.

In 1713, under the Treaty of Utrecht following the War of the Spanish Succession, what was left of the Spanish Netherlands was ceded to Austria and thus became known as the Austrian Netherlands. The United Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815-1830) temporarily united the Low Countries again.

Linguistic distinction

In English, the plural form Netherlands is used for the present-day country, but in Dutch that plural has been dropped; one can thus distinguish between the older, larger Netherlands and the current country. So Nederland (singular) is used for the modern nation and de Nederlanden (plural) for the domains of Charles V. However, in official use the name of the Dutch kingdom is still Kingdom of the Netherlands (Koninkrijk der Nederlanden); the plural has not been dropped. The name Kingdom of the Netherlands also refers to the united kingdom of 1815 - 1830/39, which included present-day Belgium.

See also

Bibliography

  • Paul Arblaster. A History of the Low Countries. Palgrave Essential Histories Series New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 298 pp. ISBN 1-4039-4828-3.
  • J. C. H. Blom and E. Lamberts, eds. History of the Low Countries (1999)
  • B. A. Cook. Belgium: A History (2002)
  • Jonathan Israel. The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806 (1995)
  • J. A. Kossmann-Putto and E. H. Kossmann. The Low Countries: History of the Northern and Southern Netherlands (1987)

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Low Countries — Low Low (l[=o]), a. [Compar. {Lower} (l[=o] [ e]r); superl. {Lowest}.] [OE. low, louh, lah, Icel. l[=a]gr; akin to Sw. l[*a]g, Dan. lav, D. laag, and E. lie. See {Lie} to be prostrate.] [1913 Webster] 1. Occupying an inferior position or place;… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Low Countries — Low Coun|tries, the another name for the Netherlands, a country in northwestern Europe, bordered by Belgium, Germany and the ↑North Sea. It is called the Low Countries because the land is mostly flat, and some parts are below ↑sea level …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Low Countries — the Netherlands, Belgium, & Luxembourg …   English World dictionary

  • Low Countries — the lowland region near the North Sea, forming the lower basin of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers, divided in the Middle Ages into numerous small states: corresponding to modern Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. * * * Coastal region …   Universalium

  • Low Countries — Netherlands, Low Countries, Holland, Dutch The Netherlands is the official name for the Kingdom of Holland; Holland (strictly only a part of the Netherlands) is used informally. The term Low Countries includes Belgium and Luxembourg as well as… …   Modern English usage

  • Low Countries — noun the lowland region of western Europe on the North Sea: Belgium and Luxembourg and the Netherlands • Instance Hypernyms: ↑geographical area, ↑geographic area, ↑geographical region, ↑geographic region • Part Holonyms: ↑Europe * * * the …   Useful english dictionary

  • Low countries —    This geographical expression originally desig nated the whole Northern German lowland. In the later Middle Ages, the “Netherlands” and “Belgium” were designated as the “laghe lan den bi der see,” the low countries near the sea. During the 16th …   Historical Dictionary of the Netherlands

  • Low Countries — Low′ Coun tries n. pl. geg the lowland region near the North Sea, forming the lower basin of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers, divided in the Middle Ages into numerous small states: corresponding to modern Belgium, Luxembourg, and the… …   From formal English to slang

  • Low Countries — noun The countries on low lying land around the delta of the Rhine, Scheldt, and Meuse (Maas) rivers …   Wiktionary

  • Low Countries — geographical name region W Europe bordering on North Sea & comprising modern Belgium, Luxembourg, & the Netherlands …   New Collegiate Dictionary


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