The Netherlands before the Burgundians, 1300-1490 The Habsburg Period, 1515-1580

The Burgundian Period : 1384 - 1515

click here for a Timeline of the History of the Low Countries 1384-1496
click here for a List of the Wars of the Dukes of Burgundy 1363-1477

The expression "The Low Countries" (Les Pays-Bas) was phrased at the Burgundian court in Dijon, to describe the conglomerate of territories acquired in the Low Countries, beginning with Flanders-Artois in 1384. It came to be applied for those territories in the area which ultimately came under the rule of the Burgundian Dukes, or under the rule of their Habsburg successors. The more important territories were the Duchies of Brabant, Luxemburg, Limburg and of Gelderland (Gelre, Guelders), the Counties of Artois, Hainaut, Namur, Zeeland, Holland, the Princebishoprics of Utrecht, Liege and Cambrai, the Upper Stift of the Princebishopric of Utrecht (which disintegrated into the territories of Overijssel, Drente and the city of Groningen, the latter establishing her dominance over Westerwolde and the (Frisian) Ommelanden, and the territory of Friesland (Frisia), consisting of the three regions of Westergo, Oostergo and Zevenwolden; in addition, there were a number of minor territorial entities.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, attempts were made by a number of dynasties to combine several of the territories of the Low Countries under their rule : Hainaut, Holland and Zeeland under the Dampierre; Brabant and Limburg; Charles of Gelderland temporarily succeeding in ruling over Overijssel, Drente, Groningen and Friesland. None, however, were as consistent and successful in their efforts as the resourceful Dukes of Burgundy.
In 1384 Louis de Male, Count of Flanders and Artois died, and his son-in-law, Philip the Bold (Duke 1363-1404), Duke of Burgundy, inherited his fiefs. Philip's successors John the Fearless (1404-1419) and Philip the Good (1419-1467) acquired Brabant with Limburg (1406/1430), Namur (1421/1429), the Wittelsbach possessions of Holland, Zeeland and Hainaut (1422/1433), Luxemburg (1441/51). The 4th and last duke, Charles the Bold, pursued an aggressive policy of expansion, which overstretched his resources and made too many enemies. He fell in the Battle of Nancy in 1477. His only daughter Margaretha was married to Maximilian, the son of Emperor Frederick III..

The Burgundian dynasty had united 10 of the 17 low countries in dynastic union. Others, such as the bishoprics of Liege and Utrecht, were ruled by pro-Burgundian bishops. The Burgundian Dukes pursued a subtle policy of centralization, establishing their court at Brussels, a parliament for all the Burgundian low countries at Mechelen (in Fr.: Malines), a university at Leuven (1425) (in Fr.: Louvain). The dukes established the Order of the Golden Fleece, intended to tie nobility of the low countries and of neighbouring territories to the House of Burgundy. The policy was met with moderate success.
The Burgundian Dukes created the impression of sympathizing with the burghers of the cities of Flanders, Brabant and Holland, and with their political causes, with the result that in the crucial years when a Burgundian claim for succession was contested, the cities favoured the Burgundian side over their competitors.
However, the intention of the Burgundian Dukes was to establish a political superstructure, the authority of which came at the expense of territorial estates, as well as of independent-minded cities. While the estates, by and large, did not stand up to the Ducal policy - the nobility was tied to the Burgundian cause by the Order of the Golden Fleece - individual cities did, most notably Gent.
Next to Italy's Po valley, the Southern Netherlands was the most urbanized region of Europe. Gent (in English often spelled Ghent, in Fr.: Gand), Brugge (in Fr.: Bruges), Ieper (in Fr.: Ypres) were cities of 40.000 or more inhabitants, wealthy because of a flourishing textile industry, which made it dependent on wool import from England. Brugge was western Europe's dominant market town, visited by merchants from Portugal to Norway, from Ireland to Livonia. The Estates of Flanders, Zeeland and Holland came to be dominated by the cities. The city councils were dominated by few patrician families dealing in far distance trade, the so-called Regents.

In 1477 Charles the Bold had fallen in the Battle of Nancy. Charles' daughter Margaretha married Maximilian, but the Burgundian court did not accept Maximilian as their lord. Only Margaretha's and Maximilian's son Charles (V.), raised at the court in Brussels, was to inherit the Burgundian complex of territories. He also inherited the Habsburgian complex of territories (Austria etc.) and Spain, and to acquire Hungary and the Bohemian lands.

De Universiteit van Leuven 1425-1797, from Museum voor Vaderlandse Geschiedenis, in Dutch
Titles of European Rulers : Flanders
DOCUMENTS Portraits of John the Fearless, Philip the Good No.1 and no. 2, of Charles the Bold, from Art istocracy
Vosmeer, Michiel, Principes Hollandiae et Zelandiae, Domini Frisiae. Cum genuinis ipsorum iconibus, Antwerpen: Chr. Plantin fur Ph. Galle, 1578, images of the counts of Holland from the 9th to the 16th century, including the Dukes of Burgundy, posted by MATEO (Univ. Mannheim, comment in German, or. text in Latin)
Coins of the Southern Netherlands, by territory, 1309-1750, posted by Jean Elsen
List of coins issued under Philip the Good, Charles the Bold, Mary of Burgundy, Philip the Fair, from, in Dutch, no images
Sable Rose, page on Burgundian history
Coins of the Valois Dukes of Burgundy, from French and English Royal and Medieval Coins by Tom Oberhofer
REFERENCE Joseph Calmette, The Golden Age of Burgundy, (1949), London : Phoenix Press 2001 [G]

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted in 2000, last revised on November 11th 2004

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