Seventeen Provinces

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Seventeen Provinces
Zeventien Provinciën (Dutch)
Map of the Habsburg Netherlands by Alexis-Marie Gochet.png
Map of the Seventeen Provinces, 1581 secession outlined in red
Status Personal union of Imperial fiefs
Capital Brussels
Common languages
Government Monarchy
Historical era Early modern period
 Dutch Act of Abjuration
ISO 3166 code NL
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Habsburg Netherlands
Dutch Republic Statenvlag.svg
Spanish Netherlands Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg

The Seventeen Provinces were the Imperial states of the Habsburg Netherlands in the 16th century. They roughly covered the Low Countries, i.e., what is now the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and most of the French departments of Nord (French Flanders and French Hainaut) and Pas-de-Calais (Artois). Also within this area were semi-independent fiefdoms, mainly ecclesiastical ones, such as Liège, Cambrai and Stavelot-Malmedy.


The Seventeen Provinces arose from the Burgundian Netherlands, a number of fiefs held by the House of Valois-Burgundy and inherited by the House of Habsburg in 1482, and held by Habsburg Spain from 1556. Starting in 1512, the Provinces formed the major part of the Burgundian Circle. In 1581, the Seven United Provinces seceded to form the Dutch Republic.


Seventeen Provinces map by Gabriel Bodenehr Die Niederlande Nach denen XVII Provincien Eingetheilet (Zeventien Provincien der Nederlanden, 17 Provinces) Gabriel Bodenehr.jpg
Seventeen Provinces map by Gabriel Bodenehr
English map of the Seventeen Provinces of Low Germanie Map of Seventeen Provinces of Low Germanie (Zeventien Provincien der Nederlanden) 1626.jpg
English map of the Seventeen Provinces of Low Germanie
Coats of Arms of the Seventeen Provinces Wapens van de Zeventien Provincien 1582, RP-P-1982-1234(R).jpg
Coats of Arms of the Seventeen Provinces

After the Habsburg emperor Charles V had re-acquired the Duchy of Guelders from Duke William of Jülich-Cleves-Berg by the 1543 Treaty of Venlo, the Seventeen Provinces comprised:

Map of the Low Countries in 1477 Map Burgundian Netherlands 1477-en.png
Map of the Low Countries in 1477
Coat of armsNameLatin nameDevelopments
Seventeen Provinces [1] [2] [3] [4]
Counts of Holland Arms.svg County of Holland Holandia [4] Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581.
Coatofarmszeeland.PNG County of Zeeland Zelandia [4] Linked to the County of Holland. Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581.
Blason Nord-Pas-De-Calais.svg County of Flanders Flandria [4] Including Walloon Flanders (kasselrijen Rijsel, Douai and Orchies) the burgraviates of Lille, the Lordship of Tournai and the Tournaisis (since 1521) nominally part of Flanders.
Arms of Robert dArtois.svg County of Artois Artesia [4] Definitively ceded to France in 1659 by the Treaty of the Pyrenees. Except Aire and Sint-Omaars, ceded with the Treaties of Nijmegen.
Blason fr Hainaut ancien.svg County of Hainaut Hannonia [4]
Namur Arms.svg County of Namur Namurcum [4]
Escudo de Zutphen 1581.png County of Zutphen Zutphania [4] Since 1543. [5] Linked to the Duchy of Gelre. Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581 and reintegrated in 1591.
Wapenschild van Brabant.svg Duchy of Brabant Brabantia [4] Including the Lordship of Breda, the counties of Leuven and of Brussels, and the advocacy of the Abbey of Nivelles and of Gembloux, and the "Overmaas" lands of Brabant (Dalhem, Valkenburg and Herzogenrath). Part of the territory was transferred to the United Provinces.
Arms of the Count of Luxembourg.svg Duchy of Luxembourg Lutzenburgum [4]
Modern Arms of Limburg.svg Duchy of Limburg Limburgum [4] Linked to the Duchy of Brabant.
Armoiries Gueldre.svg Duchy of Guelders Gheldria [4] With the Lordship of Drenthe, Lingen, Wedde, and Westerwolde. Since 1543. [5] Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581; except one part.
Small coat of arms of Overijssel.svg Lordship of Overijssel Transisulana [4] In Latin, Transisulania. Includes Drente (map of 1658). County of Lingen, Wedde and Westwoldingerland (since 1528). Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1591. [6]
Escudo de Groniga 1581.svg Lordship of Groningen Gruninga [4] Including the Ommelanden. Since 1536. Territory fully integrated into the United Provinces in 1594. [7]
Small coat of arms of Friesland.png Lordship of Frisia Frislandia [4] Since 1524. Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581.
Utrecht - coat of arms.png Lordship of Utrecht Traiectum [4] Since 1528. Territory integrated into the United Provinces in 1581.
Escudo de Malinas 1581.svg Lordship of Mechelen Mechlinia [4] Linked to the Duchy of Brabant. Territory of the United Provinces between 1581-1585. [8]
Blason be Marquisat d Anvers.svg Margraviate of Antwerp Antwerpia [4] Linked to the Duchy of Brabant. Lost by the United Provinces in 1585. [8]

Each province had a distinct Coat of Arms. The States General of the Netherlands had itself its coat, a red shield with an armed golden lion.

It was not always the same seventeen provinces represented at the Estates-General of the Netherlands. Sometimes, one delegation was included in another.

In later years, the County of Zutphen became a part of the Duchy of Guelders, and the Duchy of Limburg was dependent on the Duchy of Brabant. The Lordship of Drenthe is sometimes considered part of the Lordship of Overijssel. On the other hand, the French-speaking cities of Flanders were sometimes recognised as a separate province.
Therefore, in some lists Zutphen and Drenthe are replaced by

There were a number of fiefdoms in the Low Countries that were not part of the Seventeen Provinces, mainly because they did not belong to the Burgundian Circle, but to the Lower Rhenish-Westphalian Circle. The largest of these were the Prince-Bishopric of Liège, including the County of Horne, and the Bishopric of Cambrai. The ethnically and culturally Dutch duchies of Cleves and Julich did not join either. In the north, there were also a few smaller entities like the island of Ameland that would retain their own lords until the French Revolution.

Historians came up with different variations of the list, but always with 17 members. This number could have been chosen because of its Christian connotation. [9]


History of the Low Countries
Frisii Belgae
Gallia Belgica (55 BC–c.5th AD)
Germania Inferior (83–c.5th)
Salian Franks Batavi
Saxons Salian Franks
Frisian Kingdom
Frankish Kingdom (481–843)Carolingian Empire (800–843)
Austrasia (511–687)
Middle Francia (843–855) West

Kingdom of Lotharingia (855– 959)
Duchy of Lower Lorraine (959–)

Friesland (kleine wapen).svg

Wapen graafschap Holland.svg
County of

Utrecht - coat of arms.png
Bishopric of

Coat of arms of the Duchy of Brabant.svg
Duchy of

Guelders-Julich Arms.svg
Duchy of

Arms of Flanders.svg
County of

Hainaut Modern Arms.svg
County of

Arms of Namur.svg
County of

Armoiries Principaute de Liege.svg
of Liège

Arms of Luxembourg.svg
Duchy of

  Flag of the Low Countries.svg
Burgundian Netherlands (1384–1482)
Flag of the Low Countries.svg
Habsburg Netherlands (1482–1795)
(Seventeen Provinces after 1543)
Dutch Republic
Flag of the Low Countries.svg
Spanish Netherlands
  Austrian Low Countries Flag.svg
Austrian Netherlands
  Flag of the Brabantine Revolution.svg
United States of Belgium
R. Liège
Flag of the navy of the Batavian Republic.svg
Batavian Republic (1795–1806)
Kingdom of Holland (1806–1810)
Flag of France.svg
associated with French First Republic (1795–1804)
part of First French Empire (1804–1815)
Flag of the Netherlands.svg
Princip. of the Netherlands (1813–1815)
Kingdom of the Netherlands (1815–1830) Flag of Luxembourg.svg
Gr D. L.
Flag of the Netherlands.svg
Kingdom of the Netherlands (1839–)
Flag of Belgium.svg
Kingdom of Belgium (1830–)
Flag of Luxembourg.svg
Gr D. of

The Triumph of Death (c. 1562) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder reflects the increasingly harsh treatment the Seventeen Provinces received in the 16th century The Triumph of Death P001393.jpg
The Triumph of Death (c.1562) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder reflects the increasingly harsh treatment the Seventeen Provinces received in the 16th century
Map by Abraham Ortelius from 1573, one of the oldest maps showing the Low Countries Descriptio Germaniae Inferioris Nederlanden Map by Abraham Ortelius 1573.jpg
Map by Abraham Ortelius from 1573, one of the oldest maps showing the Low Countries

The Seventeen Provinces originated from the Burgundian Netherlands. The dukes of Burgundy systematically became the lords of different provinces. Mary I of Valois, Duchess of Burgundy was the last of the House of Burgundy.

Mary married Archduke Maximilian in 1477, and the provinces were acquired by the House of Habsburg on her death in 1482, with the exception of the Duchy of Burgundy itself, which, with an appeal to Salic law, had been reabsorbed into France upon the death of Mary's father, Charles the Bold. Maximilian and Mary's grandson, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Spain, eventually united all 17 provinces under his rule, the last one being the Duchy of Guelders, in 1543.

Most of these provinces were fiefs of the Holy Roman Empire. Two provinces, the County of Flanders and the County of Artois, were originally French fiefs, but sovereignty was ceded to the Empire in the Treaty of Cambrai in 1529.

On 15 October, 1506, in the palace of Mechelen, the future Charles V was recognized as Heer der Nederlanden ("Lord of the Netherlands"). Only he and his son ever used this title. The Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 determined that the Provinces should remain united in the future and inherited by the same monarch.

After Charles V's abdication in 1555, his realms were divided between his son, Philip II of Spain, and his brother, Ferdinand I, Holy Roman Emperor. The Seventeen Provinces went to his son, the king of Spain.

Conflicts between Philip II and his Dutch subjects led to the Eighty Years' War, which started in 1568. The seven northern provinces gained their independence as a republic called the Seven United Provinces. They were:

The southern provinces, Flanders, Brabant, Namur, Hainaut, Luxembourg and the others, were restored to Spanish rule due to the military and political talent of the Duke of Parma, especially at the Siege of Antwerp (1584–1585). Hence, these provinces became known as the Spanish Netherlands.

The County of Drenthe, surrounded by the other northern provinces, became de facto part of the Seven United Provinces, but had no voting rights in the Union of Utrecht and was therefore not considered a province.

The northern Seven United Provinces kept parts of Limburg, Brabant, and Flanders during the Eighty Years' War (see Generality Lands), which ended with the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

Artois and parts of Flanders and Hainaut (French Flanders and French Hainaut) were ceded to France in the course of the 17th and 18th centuries.


By the mid-16th century, the Margraviate of Antwerp (Duchy of Brabant) had become the economic, political, and cultural centre of the Netherlands after its capital had shifted from the nearby Lordship of Mechelen to the city of Brussels.

Bruges (County of Flanders) had already lost its prominent position as the economic powerhouse of northern Europe, while Holland was gradually gaining importance in the 15th and 16th centuries.

However, after the revolt of the seven northern provinces (1568), the Sack of Antwerp (1576), the Fall of Antwerp (1584–1585), and the resulting closure of the Scheldt river to navigation, a large number of people from the southern provinces emigrated north to the new republic. The centre of prosperity moved from cities in the south such as Bruges, Antwerp, Ghent, and Brussels to cities in the north, mostly in Holland, including Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam.


Leo Belgicus map Sitting Leo Belgicus - Visscher.jpg
Leo Belgicus map

To distinguish between the older and larger Low Countries of the Netherlands from the current country of the Netherlands, Dutch speakers usually drop the plural for the latter. They speak of Nederland in the singular for the current country and of de Nederlanden in the plural for the integral domains of Charles V.

In other languages, this has not been adopted, though the larger area is sometimes known as the Low Countries in English.

The fact that the term Netherlands has such different historical meanings can sometimes lead to difficulties in expressing oneself correctly. For example, composers from the 16th century are often said to belong to the Dutch School (Nederlandse School). Although they themselves would not have objected to that term at that time, nowadays it may wrongly create the impression that they were from the current Netherlands. In fact, they were almost exclusively from current Belgium.


The same confusion exists around the word Flanders. Historically, it applied to the County of Flanders, corresponding roughly with the present-day provinces of West Flanders, East Flanders and French Flanders. However, when the Dutch-speaking population of Belgium sought more rights in the 19th century, the word Flanders was reused, this time to refer to the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium, which is larger and contains only part of the old county of Flanders (see Flemish Movement). Therefore, the territory of the County of Flanders and that of present-day Flanders do not fully match:

This explains, for instance, why the province of East Flanders is not situated in the east of present-day Flanders.

See also

Related Research Articles

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