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The title, "History of Holland," given to this volume is fully justified by the predominant part which the great maritime province of Holland took in the War of Independence and throughout the whole of the subsequent history of the Dutch state and people. In every language the country, comprising the provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Friesland, Gelderland, Overyssel and Groningen, has, from the close of the sixteenth century to our own day, been currently spoken of as Holland, and the people (with the solitary exception of ourselves) as 'Hollanders.' It is only rarely that the terms the Republic of the United Provinces, or of the United Netherlands, and in later times the Kingdom of the Netherlands, are found outside official documents. Just as the title "History of England" gradually includes the histories of Wales, of Scotland, of Ireland, and finally of the widespread British Empire, so is it in a smaller way with the history that is told in the following pages. That history, to be really complete, should begin with an account of mediaeval Holland in the feudal times which preceded the Burgundian period; and such an account was indeed actually written, but the plan of this work, which forms one of the volumes of a series, precluded its publication.The character, however, of the people of the province of Holland, and of its sister and closely allied province of Zeeland, its qualities of toughness, of endurance, of seamanship and maritime enterprise, spring from the peculiar amphibious nature of the country, which differs from that of any other country in the world. The age-long struggle against the ocean and the river floods, which has converted the marshes, that lay around the mouths of the Rhine, the Meuse and the Scheldt, by toilsome labour and skill into fertile and productive soil, has left its impress on the whole history of this people. Nor must it be forgotten how largely this building up of the elaborate system of dykes, dams and canals by which this water-logged land was transformed into the Holland of the closing decades of the sixteenth century, enabled her people to offer such obstinate and successful resistance to the mighty power of Philip II.The earliest dynasty of the Counts of Holland—Dirks, Floris, and Williams—was a very remarkable one. Not only did it rule for an unusually long period, 922 to 1299, but in this long period without exception all the Counts of Holland were strong and capable rulers. The fiefs of the first two Dirks lay in what is now known as North Holland, in the district called Kennemerland. It was Dirk III who seized from the bishops of Utrecht some swampy land amidst the channels forming the mouth of the Meuse, which, from the bush which covered it, was named Holt-land (Holland or Wood-land). Here he erected, in 1015, a stronghold to collect tolls from passing ships. This stronghold was the beginning of the town of Dordrecht, and from here a little later the name Holland was gradually applied to the whole county. Of his successors the most illustrious was William II (1234 to 1256) who was crowned King of the Romans at Aachen, and would have received from Pope Innocent IV the imperial crown at Rome, had he not been unfortunately drowned while attempting to cross on horseback an ice-bound marsh...
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Copyright © 2015 by George Edmundson
Published by Perennial Press
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THE BURGUNDIAN NETHERLANDS
HABSBURG RULE IN THE NETHERLANDS
THE PRELUDE TO THE REVOLT
THE REVOLT OF THE NETHERLANDS
WILLIAM THE SILENT
THE BEGINNINGS OF THE DUTCH REPUBLIC
THE SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT
THE TWELVE YEARS’ TRUCE
MAURICE AND OLDENBARNEVELDT
FROM THE END OF THE TWELVE YEARS’ TRUCE TO THE PEACE OF MUENSTER (1621-48). THE STADHOLDERATE OF FREDERICK HENRY OF ORANGE
THE EAST AND WEST INDIA COMPANIES. COMMERCIAL AND ECONOMIC EXPANSION
LETTERS, SCIENCE AND ART
THE STADHOLDERATE OF WILLIAM II. - THE GREAT ASSEMBLY
THE RISE OF JOHN DE WITT. - THE FIRST ENGLISH WAR
THE ADMINISTRATION OF JOHN DE WITT 1654-1665 - FROM THE PEACE OF WESTMINSTER TO THE OUT-BREAK OF THE SECOND ENGLISH WAR
THE LAST YEARS OF DE WITT’S ADMINISTRATION, 1665-1672. THE SECOND ENGLISH WAR. THE TRIPLE ALLIANCE. THE FRENCH INVASION
WAR WITH FRANCE AND ENGLAND. WILLIAM III, STADHOLDER. MURDER OF THE BROTHERS DE WITT, 1672
THE STADHOLDERATE OF WILLIAM III, 1672-1688
THE KING-STADHOLDER, 1688-1702
THE WAR OF THE SPANISH SUCCESSION AND THE TREATIES OF UTRECHT, 1702-1715
THE STADHOLDERLESS REPUBLIC, 1715-1740
THE AUSTRIAN SUCCESSION WAR. WILLIAM IV, 1740-1751
THE REGENCY OF ANNE AND OF BRUNSWICK. 1751-1766
WILLIAM V. FIRST PERIOD, 1766-1780
STADHOLDERATE OF WILLIAM V,continued, 1780-1788
THE ORANGE RESTORATION. DOWNFALL OF THE REPUBLIC, 1788-1795
THE BATAVIAN REPUBLIC, 1795-1806
THE KINGDOM OF HOLLAND AND THE FRENCH ANNEXATION, 1806-1814
THE FORMATION OF THE KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS, 1814-1815
THE KINGDOM OF THE NETHERLANDS—UNION OF HOLLAND AND BELGIUM, 1815-1830
THE BELGIAN REVOLUTION, 1830-1842
WILLIAM II. REVISION OF THE CONSTITUTION. 1842-1849
REIGN OF WILLIAM III TO THE DEATH OF THORBECKE,1849-1872
THE LATER REIGN OF WILLIAM III, AND THE REGENCY OF QUEEN EMMA, 1872-1898
THE REIGN OF QUEEN WILHELMINA, 1898-1917
THE LAST DUKE OF THE ancient Capetian house of Burgundy dying in 1361 without heirs male, the duchy fell into the possession of the French crown, and was by King John II bestowed upon his youngest son, Philip the Hardy, Duke of Touraine, as a reward, it is said, for the valour he displayed in the battle of Poictiers. The county of Burgundy, generally known as Franche-Comté, was not included in this donation, for it was an imperial fief; and it fell by inheritance in the female line to Margaret, dowager Countess of Flanders, widow of Count Louis II, who was killed at Crécy. The duchy and the county were soon, however, to be re-united, for Philip married Margaret, daughter and heiress of Louis de Male, Count of Flanders, and granddaughter of the above-named Margaret. In right of his wife he became, on the death of Louis de Male in 1384, the ruler of Flanders, Mechlin, Artois, Nevers and Franche-Comté. Thus the foundation was laid of a great territorial domain between France and Germany, and Philip the Hardy seems from the first to have been possessed by the ambitious design of working for the restoration of a powerful middle kingdom, which should embrace the territories assigned to Lothaire in the tripartite division of the Carolingian empire by the treaty of Verdun (843). For this he worked ceaselessly during his long reign of forty years, and with singular ability and courage. Before his death he had by the splendour of his court, his wealth and his successes in arms and diplomacy, come to be recognised as a sovereign of great weight and influence, in all but name a king. The Burgundian policy and tradition, which he established, found in his successors John the Fearless (murdered in 1419) and John’s son, Philip the Good, men of like character and filled with the same ambitions as himself. The double marriage of John with Margaret, the sister of William VI of Holland, and of William VI with Margaret of Burgundy, largely helped forward their projects of aggrandisement. Philip the Good was, however, a much abler ruler than his father, a far-seeing statesman, who pursued his plans with a patient and unscrupulous pertinacity, of which a conspicuous example is to be found in his long protracted struggle with his cousin Jacoba, the only child and heiress of William of Holland, whose misfortunes and courage have made her one of the most romantic figures of history. By a mixture of force and intrigue Philip, in 1433, at last compelled Jacoba to abdicate, and he became Count of Holland, Zeeland and Hainault. Nor was this by any means the end of his acquisitions. Joanna, Duchess of Brabant (1355-1404) in her own right, was aunt on the mother’s side to Margaret of Flanders, wife of Philip the Hardy. Dying without heirs, she bequeathed Brabant, Limburg and Antwerp to her great-nephew, Anthony of Burgundy, younger brother of John the Fearless. Anthony was killed at Agincourt and was succeeded first by his son John IV, the husband of Jacoba of Holland, and on his death without an heir in 1427, by his second son, Philip of St Pol, who also died childless in 1430. From him his cousin Philip the Good inherited the duchies of Brabant and Limburg and the marquisate of Antwerp. Already he had purchased in 1421 the territory of Namur from the last Count John III, who had fallen into heavy debt; and in 1443 he likewise purchased the duchy of Luxemburg from the Duchess Elizabeth of Görlitz, who had married in second wedlock Anthony, Duke of Brabant, and afterwards John of Bavaria, but who had no children by either of her marriages. Thus in 1443 Philip had become by one means or another sovereign under various titles of the largest and most important part of the Netherlands, and he increased his influence by securing in 1456 the election of his illegitimate son David, as Bishop of Utrecht. Thus a great step forward had been taken for the restoration of the middle kingdom, which had been the dream of Philip the Hardy, and which now seemed to be well-nigh on the point of accomplishment.
The year 1433, the date of the incorporation of Holland and Zeeland in the Burgundian dominion, is therefore a convenient starting-point for a consideration of the character of the Burgundian rule in the Netherlands, and of the changes which the concentration of sovereign power in the hands of a single ruler brought into the relations of the various provinces with one another and into their internal administration. The Netherlands become now for the first time something more than a geographical expression for a number of petty feudal states, practically independent and almost always at strife. Henceforward there was peace; and throughout the whole of this northern part of his domains it was the constant policy of Philip gradually to abolish provincialism and to establish a centralised government. He was far too wise a statesman to attempt to abolish suddenly or arbitrarily the various rights and privileges, which the Flemings, Brabanters and Hollanders had wrung from their sovereigns, and to which they were deeply attached; but, while respecting these, he endeavoured to restrict them as far as possible to local usage, and to centralise the general administration of the whole of the “pays de par deçà” (as the Burgundian dukes were accustomed to name their Netherland dominions) by the summoning of representatives of the Provincial States to an assembly styled the States-General, and by the creation of a common Court of Appeal.
The first time the States-General were called together by Philip was in 1465 for the purpose of obtaining a loan for the war with France and the recognition of his son Charles as his successor; and from this time forward at irregular intervals, but with increasing frequency, the practice of summoning this body went on. The States-General (in a sense) represented the Netherlands as a whole; and it was a matter of great convenience for the sovereign, especially when large levies of money had to be raised, to be enabled thus to bring his proposals before a single assembly, instead of before a number of separate and independent provincial states. Nevertheless, it must be borne in mind that the States-General had, as such, no authority to act on behalf of these several provincial states. Each of these sent their deputies to the General Assembly, but these deputies had to refer all matters to their principals before they could give their assent, and each body of deputies gave this assent separately, and without regard to the others. It was thus but a first provisional step towards unity of administration, but it did tend to promote a feeling of community of interests between the provinces and to lead to the deputies having intercourse with one another and interchanging their views upon the various important subjects that were brought before their consideration. The period of disturbance and the weakening of the authority of the sovereign, which followed the death of Charles the Bold, led to the States-General obtaining a position of increased importance; and they may from that time be regarded as forming a regular and necessary part of the machinery of government in the Burgundian Netherlands. The States-General however, like the Provincial States, could only meet when summoned by the sovereign or his stadholder; and the causes for which they were summoned were such special occasions as the accession of a new sovereign or the appointment of a new stadholder, or more usually for sanctioning the requests for levies of money, which were required for the maintenance of splendid courts and the cost of frequent wars. For not only the Burgundian princes properly so-called, but even Charles V, had mainly to depend upon the wealth of the Netherlands for their financial needs. And here a distinction must be drawn. For solemn occasions, such as the accession of a new sovereign, or the acceptance of a newly appointed governor, representatives of all the provinces (eventually seventeen) were summoned, but for ordinary meetings for the purpose of money levies only those of the so-called patrimonial or old Burgundian provinces came together. The demands for tribute on the provinces acquired later, such as Gelderland, Groningen, Friesland and Overyssel, were made to each of these provinces separately, and they jealously claimed their right to be thus separately dealt with. In the case of the other provinces the States-General, as has been already stated, could only grant the money after obtaining from each province represented, severally, its assent; and this was often not gained until after considerable delay and much bargaining. Once granted, however, the assessment regulating the quota, which the different provinces had to contribute, was determined on the basis of the so-called quotisatie or settinge drawn up in 1462 on the occasion of a tribute for 10 years, which Charles the Bold, as his father’s stadholder in the “pays de par deçà,” then demanded. The relative wealth of the provinces may be judged from the fact that at this date Flanders and Brabant each paid a quarter of the whole levy, Holland one sixth, Zeeland one quarter of Holland’s share.
As regards the provincial government the Burgundian princes left undisturbed the local and historical customs and usages, and each province had its individual characteristics. At the head of each provincial government (with the exception of Brabant, at whose capital, Brussels, the sovereign himself or his regent resided) was placed a governor, with the title of Stadholder, who was the representative of the sovereign and had large patronage. It was his duty to enforce edicts, preserve order, and keep a watchful eye over the administration of justice. He nominated to many municipal offices, but had little or no control over finance. The raising of troops and their command in the field was entrusted to a captain-general, who might not be the same person as the stadholder, though the offices were sometimes united. In the northern Netherlands there was but one stadholder for the three provinces of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht, and one (at a somewhat later date) for Friesland, Groningen, Drente and Overyssel.
The desire of the Burgundian princes to consolidate their dominions into a unified sovereignty found itself thwarted by many obstacles and especially by the lack of any supreme tribunal of appeal. It was galling to them that the Parlement of Paris should still exercise appellate jurisdiction in Crown-Flanders and Artois, and the Imperial Diet in some of the other provinces. Already in 1428 Philip had erected the Court of Holland at the Hague to exercise large powers of jurisdiction and financial control in the provinces of Holland and Zeeland; and in 1473 Charles the Bold set up at Mechlin the body known as the Great Council, to act as a court of appeal from the provincial courts. It was to be, in the Netherlands, what the Parlement of Paris was in France. The Great Council, which had grown out of the Privy Council attached to the person of the prince, and which under the direction of the Chancellor of Burgundy administered the affairs of the government, more particularly justice and finance, was in 1473, as stated above, re-constituted as a Court of Appeal in legal matters, a new Chamber of Accounts being at the same time created to deal with finance. These efforts at centralisation of authority were undoubtedly for the good of the country as a whole, but such was the intensity of provincial jealousy and particularism that they were bitterly resented and opposed.
In order to strengthen the sovereign’s influence in the towns, and to lessen the power of the Gilds, Philip established in Holland, and so far as he could elsewhere, what were called “vaste Colleges” or fixed committees of notables, to which were entrusted the election of the town officials and the municipal administration. These bodies were composed of a number of the richest and most influential burghers, who were styled the Twenty-four, the Forty, the Sixty or the Eighty, according to the number fixed for any particular town. These men were appointed for life and their successors were chosen by co-option, so that the town corporations gradually became closed hereditary aristocracies, and the mass of the citizens were deprived of all voice in their own affairs. The Schout or chief judge was chosen directly by the sovereign or his stadholder, who also nominated the Schepens or sheriffs from a list containing a double number, which was submitted to him.
The reign of Philip the Good was marked by a great advance in the material prosperity of the land. Bruges, Ghent, Ypres and Antwerp were among the most flourishing commercial and industrial cities in the world, and when, through the silting up of the waterway, Bruges ceased to be a seaport, Antwerp rapidly rose to pre-eminence in her place, so that a few decades later her wharves were crowded with shipping, and her warehouses with goods from every part of Europe. In fact during the whole of the Burgundian period the southern Netherlands were the richest domain in Christendom, and continued to be so until the disastrous times of Philip II of Spain. Meanwhile Holland and Zeeland, though unable to compete with Brabant and Flanders in the populousness of their towns and the extent of their trade, were provinces of growing importance. Their strength lay in their sturdy and enterprising sea-faring population. The Hollanders had for many years been the rivals of the Hanse Towns for the Baltic trade. War broke out in 1438 and hostilities continued for three years with the result that the Hanse League was beaten, and henceforth the Hollanders were able without further let or hindrance more and more to become the chief carriers of the “Eastland” traffic. Amsterdam was already a flourishing port, though as yet it could make no pretension of competing with Antwerp. The herring fisheries were, however, the staple industry of Holland and Zeeland. The discovery of the art of curing herrings by William Beukelsz of Biervliet (died 1447) had converted a perishable article of food into a marketable commodity; and not only did the fisheries give lucrative employment to many thousands of the inhabitants of these maritime provinces, but they also became the foundation on which was to be built their future commercial supremacy.
The Burgundian dukes were among the most powerful rulers of their time—the equals of kings in all but name—and they far surpassed all contemporary sovereigns in their lavish display and the splendour of their court. The festival at Bruges in 1430 in celebration of the marriage of Philip the Good and Isabel of Portugal, at which the Order of the Golden Fleece was instituted, excited universal wonder; while his successor, Charles the Bold, contrived to surpass even his father in the splendour of his espousals with Margaret of York in 1468, and at his conference with the Emperor Frederick III at Trier in 1473. On this last occasion he wore a mantle encrusted all over with diamonds.
The foundation of the Order of the Golden Fleece in 1430 was an event of great importance, as marking a step forward on the part of Philip in its assumption of quasi-regal attributes. The title was very appropriate, for it pointed to the wool and cloth trade as being the source of the wealth of Flanders. The Order comprised thirty-one knights, chosen from the flower of the Burgundian nobles and the chief councillors of the sovereign. The statutes of the Order set forth in detail the privileges of the members, and their duties and obligations to their prince. They had a prescriptive claim to be consulted on all matters of importance, to be selected for the chief government posts, and to serve on military councils. The knights were exempt from the jurisdiction of all courts, save that of their own chapter.
Philip died in 1467 and was succeeded by his son, Charles, who had already exercised for some years authority in the Netherlands as his father’s deputy. Charles, as his surname le Téméraire witnesses, was a man of impulsive and autocratic temperament, but at the same time a hard worker, a great organiser, and a brilliant soldier. Consumed with ambition to realise that restoration of a great middle Lotharingian kingdom stretching from the North Sea to the Mediterranean, for which his father had been working during his long and successful reign, he threw himself with almost passionate energy into the accomplishment of his task. With this object he was the first sovereign to depart from feudal usages and to maintain a standing army. He appeared at one time to be on the point of accomplishing his aim. Lorraine, which divided his southern from his northern possessions, was for a short time in his possession. Intervening in Gelderland between the Duke Arnold of Egmont and his son Adolf, he took the latter prisoner and obtained the duchy in pledge from the former. Uprisings in the Flemish towns against heavy taxation and arbitrary rule were put down with a strong hand. In September, 1474, the duke, accompanied by a splendid suite, met the emperor Frederick III at Trier to receive the coveted crown from the imperial hands. It was arranged that Charles’ only daughter and heiress should be betrothed to Maximilian of Austria, the emperor’s eldest son, and the very day and hour for the coronation were fixed. But the Burgundian had an enemy in Louis XI of France, who was as prudent and far-seeing as his rival was rash and impetuous, and who was far more than his match in political craft and cunning. French secret agents stirred up Frederick’s suspicions against Charles’ designs, and the emperor suddenly left Trier, where he had felt humiliated by the splendour of his powerful vassal.
The duke was furious at his disappointment, but was only the more obstinately bent on carrying out his plans. But Louis had been meanwhile forming a strong league (League of Constance, March 1474) of various states threatened by Charles’ ambitious projects. Duke Sigismund of Austria, Baden, Basel, Elsass, and the Swiss Cantons united under the leadership of France to resist them. Charles led an army of 60,000 men to aid the Archbishop of Cologne against his subjects, but spent eleven months in a fruitless attempt to take a small fortified town, Neuss, in which a considerable portion of his army perished. He was compelled to raise large sums of money from his unwilling subjects in the Netherlands to repair his losses, and in 1475 he attacked Duke Réné of Lorraine, captured Nancy and conquered the duchy, which had hitherto separated his Netherland from his French possessions. It was the first step in the accomplishment of his scheme for the restoration of the Lotharingian kingdom. In Elsass, however, the populace had risen in insurrection against the tyranny of the Burgundian governor, Peter van Hagenbach, and had tried and executed him. Finding that the Swiss had aided the rebels, Charles now, without waiting to consolidate his conquest of Lorraine, determined to lead his army into Switzerland. At the head of a splendidly equipped force he encountered the Confederates near Granson (March 2, 1476) and was utterly routed, his own seal and order of the Golden Fleece, with vast booty, falling into the hands of the victors. A few months later, having recruited and reorganised his beaten army, he again led them against the Swiss. The encounter took place (June 21, 1476) at Morat and once more the chivalry of Burgundy suffered complete defeat. Charles fled from the field, half insane with rage and disappointment, when the news that Duke Réné had reconquered Lorraine roused him from his torpor. He hastily gathered together a fresh army and laid siege to Nancy. But in siege operations he had no skill, and in the depth of winter (January 5, 1477) he was attacked by the Swiss and Lorrainers outside the walls of the town. A panic seized the Burgundians; Charles in person in vain strove to stem their flight, and he perished by an unknown hand. His body was found later, stripped naked, lying frozen in a pool.
Charles left an only child, Mary, not yet twenty years of age. Mary found herself in a most difficult and trying situation. Louis XI, the hereditary enemy of her house, at once took possession of the duchy of Burgundy, which by failure of heirs-male had reverted to its liege-lord. The sovereignty of the county of Burgundy (Franche-Comté), being an imperial fief descending in the female line, she retained; but, before her authority had been established, Louis had succeeded in persuading the states of the county to place themselves under a French protectorate. French armies overran Artois, Hainault and Picardy, and were threatening Flanders, where there was in every city a party of French sympathisers. Gelderland welcomed the exiled duke, Adolf, as their sovereign. Everywhere throughout the provinces the despotic rule of Duke Charles and his heavy exactions had aroused seething discontent. Mary was virtually a prisoner in the hands of her Flemish subjects; and, before they consented to support her cause, there was a universal demand for a redress of grievances. But Mary showed herself possessed of courage and statesmanship beyond her years, and she had at this critical moment in her step-mother, Margaret of York, an experienced and capable adviser at her side. A meeting of the States-General was at once summoned to Ghent. It met on February 3, 1477, Mary’s 20th birthday. Representatives came from Flanders, Brabant, Artois and Namur, in the southern, and from Holland and Zeeland in the northern Netherlands. Mary saw there was no course open to her but to accede to their demands. Only eight days after the Assembly met, the charter of Netherland liberties, called The Great Privilege, was agreed to and signed. By this Act all previous ordinances conflicting with ancient privileges were abolished. The newly-established Court of Appeal at Mechlin was replaced by a Great Council of twenty-four members chosen by the sovereign from the various states, which should advise and assist in the administration of government. Mary undertook not to marry or to declare war without the assent of the States-General. The States-General and the Provincial States were to meet as often as they wished, without the summons of the sovereign. All officials were to be native-born; no Netherlander was to be tried by foreign judges; there were to be no forced loans, no alterations in the coinage. All edicts or ordinances infringing provincial rights were to be ipso facto null and void. By placing her seal to this document Mary virtually abdicated the absolute sovereign power which had been exercised by her predecessors, and undid at a stroke the results of their really statesmanlike efforts to create out of a number of semi-autonomous provinces a unified State. Many of their acts and methods had been harsh and autocratic, especially those of Charles the Bold, but who can doubt that on the whole their policy was wise and salutary? In Holland and Zeeland a Council was erected consisting of a Stadholder and eight councillors (six Hollanders and two Zeelanders) of whom two were to be nobles, the others jurists. Wolferd van Borselen, lord of Veere, was appointed Stadholder.
The Great Privilege granted, the States willingly raised a force of 34,000 men to resist the French invasion, and adequate means for carrying on the war. But the troubles of the youthful Mary were not yet over. The hand of the heiress of so many rich domains was eagerly sought for (1) by Louis of France for the dauphin, a youth of 17 years; (2) by Maximilian of Austria to whom she had been promised in marriage; (3) by Adolf, Duke of Gelderland, who was favoured by the States-General. Adolf, however, was killed in battle. In Flanders there was a party who favoured the French and actually engaged in intrigues with Louis, but the mass of the people were intensely averse to French domination. To such an extent was this the case that two influential officials, the lords Hugonet and Humbercourt, on whom suspicion fell of treacherous correspondence with the French king, were seized, tried by a special tribunal, and, despite the tears and entreaties of the duchess, were condemned and beheaded in the market-place of Ghent. Maximilian became therefore the accepted suitor; and on August 19, 1477, his marriage with Mary took place at Bruges. This marriage was to have momentous consequences, not only for the Netherlands, but for Europe. The union was a happy one, but, unfortunately, of brief duration. On March 29, 1482, Mary died from the effects of a fall from her horse, leaving two children, Philip and Margaret.
MAXIMILIAN, ON THE DEATH OF Mary, found himself in a very difficult position. The archduke was a man of high-soaring ideas, chivalrous, brave even to the point of audacity, full of expedients and never daunted by failure, but he was deficient in stability of character, and always hampered throughout his life by lack of funds. He had in 1477 set himself to the task of defending Flanders and the southern provinces of the Netherlands against French attack, and not without considerable success. In 1482, as guardian of his four-year old son Philip, the heir to the domains of the house of Burgundy, he became regent of the Netherlands. His authority however was little recognised. Gelderland and Utrecht fell away altogether. Liège acknowledged William de la Marck as its ruler. Holland and Zeeland were torn by contending factions. Flanders, the centre of the Burgundian power, was specially hostile to its new governor. The burghers of Ghent refused to surrender to him his children, Philip and Margaret, who were held as hostages to secure themselves against any attempted infringement of their liberties. The Flemings even entered into negotiations with Louis XI; and the archduke found himself compelled to sign a treaty with France (December 23, 1482), one of the conditions being the betrothal of his infant daughter to the dauphin. Maximilian, however, found that for a time he must leave Flanders to put down the rising of the Hook faction in Holland, who, led by Frans van Brederode, and in alliance with the anti-Burgundian party in Utrecht, had made themselves masters of Leyden. Beaten in a bloody fight by the regent, Brederode nevertheless managed to seize Sluis and Rotterdam; and from these ports he and his daring companion-in-arms, Jan van Naaldwijk, carried on a guerrilla warfare for some years. Brederode was killed in a fight at Brouwershaven (1490), but Sluis still held out and was not taken till two years later.
Meanwhile Maximilian had to undertake a campaign against the Flemings, who were again in arms at the instigation of the turbulent burghers of Ghent and Bruges. Entering the province at the head of a large force he compelled the rebel towns to submit and obtained possession of the person of his son Philip (July, 1485). Elected in the following year King of the Romans, Maximilian left the Netherlands to be crowned at Aachen (April, 1486). A war with France called him back, in the course of which he suffered a severe defeat at Bethune. At the beginning of 1488 Ghent and Bruges once more rebelled; and the Roman king, enticed to enter Bruges, was there seized and compelled to see his friends executed in the market-place beneath his prison window. For seven months he was held a prisoner; nor was he released until he had sworn to surrender his powers, as regent, to a council of Flemings and to withdraw all his foreign troops from the Netherlands. He was forced to give hostages as a pledge of his good faith, among them his general, Philip of Cleef, who presently joined his captors.
Maximilian, on arriving at the camp of the Emperor Frederick III, who had gathered together an army to release his imprisoned son, was persuaded to break an oath given under duress. He advanced therefore at the head of his German mercenaries into Flanders, but was able to achieve little success against the Flemings, who found in Philip of Cleef an able commander. Despairing of success, he now determined to retire into Germany, leaving Duke Albert of Saxe-Meissen, a capable and tried soldier of fortune, as general-in-chief of his forces and Stadholder of the Netherlands. With the coming of Duke Albert order was at length to be restored, though not without a severe struggle.
Slowly but surely Duke Albert took town after town and reduced province after province into submission. The Hook party in Holland and Zeeland, and their anti-Burgundian allies in Utrecht, and Robert de la Marck in Liège, in turn felt the force of his arm. An insurrection of the peasants in West Friesland and Kennemerland—the “Bread and Cheese Folk,” as they were called—was easily put down. Philip of Cleef with his Flemings was unable to make head against him; and, with the fall of Ghent and Sluis in the summer of 1492, the duke was able to announce to Maximilian that the Netherlands, except Gelderland, were pacified. The treaty of Senlis in 1493 ended the war with France. In the following year, after his accession to the imperial throne, Maximilian retired to his ancestral dominions in Germany, and his son, Philip the Fair, took in his hands the reins of government. The young sovereign, who was a Netherlander by birth and had spent all his life in the country, was more popular than his father; and his succession to the larger part of the Burgundian inheritance was not disputed. He received the homage of Zeeland at Roemerswaal, of Holland at Geertruidenburg, and seized the occasion to announce the abrogation of the Great Privilege, and at the same time restored the Grand Council at Mechlin.
In Utrecht the authority of Bishop David of Burgundy was now firmly re-established; and on his death, Philip of Baden, an obsequious adherent of the house of Austria, was elected. These results of the pacification carried out so successfully by Duke Albert had, however, left Maximilian and Philip deeply in debt to the Saxon; and there was no money wherewith to meet the claim, which amounted to 300,000 guilders. After many negotiations extending over several years, compensation was found for Albert in Friesland. That unhappy province and the adjoining territory of Groningen had for a long time been torn by internal dissensions between the two parties, the Schieringers and the Vetkoopers, who were the counterparts of the Hooks and Cods of Holland. The Schieringers called in the aid of the Saxon duke, who brought the land into subjection. Maximilian now recognised Albert as hereditary Podesta or governor of Friesland on condition that the House of Austria reserved the right of redeeming the territory for 100,000 guilders; and Philip acquiesced in the bargain by which Frisian freedom was sold in exchange for the cancelling of a debt. The struggle with Charles of Egmont in Gelderland was not so easily terminated. Not till 1505 was Philip able to overcome this crafty and skilful adversary. Charles was compelled to do homage and to accompany Philip to Brussels (October, 1505). It was, however, but a brief submission. Charles made his escape once more into Gelderland and renewed the war of independence.
Before these events had taken place, the marriage of Philip with Juana, the daughter of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile, had brought about a complete change in his fortunes. Maximilian, always full of ambitious projects for the aggrandisement of his House, had planned with Ferdinand of Aragon a double marriage between their families, prompted by a common hatred and fear of the growing power of France. The Archduke Philip was to wed the Infanta Juana, the second daughter of Ferdinand and Isabel; the Infante Juan, the heir to the thrones of Aragon and Castile, Philip’s sister, Margaret. Margaret had in 1483, aged then three years, been betrothed to the Dauphin Charles, aged twelve, and she was brought up at the French Court, and after the death of Louis XI (August 30, 1483) had borne the title of Queen and had lived at Amboise with other children of the French royal house, under the care of the Regent, Anne de Beaujeu. The marriage, however, of Charles VIII and Margaret was never to be consummated. In August, 1488, the male line of the Dukes of Brittany became extinct; and the hand of the heiress, Anne of Brittany, a girl of twelve, attracted many suitors. It was clearly a matter of supreme importance to the King of France that this important territory should not pass by marriage into the hands of an enemy. The Bretons, on the other hand, clung to their independence and dreaded absorption in the unifying French state. After many intrigues her council advised the young duchess to accept Maximilian as her husband, and she was married to him by proxy in March, 1490. Charles VIII immediately entered Brittany at the head of a strong force and, despite a fierce and prolonged resistance, conquered the country, and gained possession of Anne’s person (August, 1491). The temptation was too strong to be resisted. Margaret, after residing in France as his affianced wife for eight years, was repudiated and finally, two years later, sent back to the Netherlands, while Anne was compelled to break off her marriage with Margaret’s father, and became Charles’ queen. This double slight was never forgiven either by Maximilian or by Margaret, and was the direct cause of the negotiations for the double Spanish marriage, which, though delayed by the suspicious caution of the two chief negotiators, Ferdinand and Maximilian, was at length arranged. In August, 1496, an imposing fleet conveyed the Infanta Juana to Antwerp and she was married to Philip at Lille. In the following April Margaret and Don Juan were wedded in the cathedral of Burgos. The union was followed by a series of catastrophes in the Spanish royal family. While on his way with his wife to attend the marriage of his older sister Isabel with the King of Portugal, Juan caught a malignant fever and expired at Salamanca in October, 1497.
The newly-married Queen of Portugal now became the heiress to the crowns of Aragon and Castile, but she died a year later and shortly afterwards her infant son. The succession therefore passed to the younger sister, Juana; and Philip the Fair, the heir of the House of Austria and already through his mother the ruler of the rich Burgundian domain, became through his wife the prospective sovereign of the Spanish kingdoms of Ferdinand and Isabel. Fortune seemed to have reserved all her smiles for the young prince, when on February 24, 1500, a son was born to him at Ghent, who received the name Charles. But dark days were soon to follow. Philip was pleasure-loving and dissolute, and he showed little affection for his wife, who had already begun to exhibit symptoms of that weakness of mind which was before long to develop into insanity. However in 1501, they journeyed together to Spain, in order to secure Juana’s rights to the Castilian succession and also to that of Aragon should King Ferdinand die without an heir-male.
In November, 1504, Isabel the Catholic had died; and Philip and his consort at once assumed the titles of King and Queen of Castile, in spite of the opposition of Ferdinand, who claimed the right of regency during his life-time. Both parties were anxious to obtain the support of Henry VII. Already since the accession of Philip the commercial relations between England and the Netherlands had been placed on what proved to be a permanently friendly basis by the treaty known as the Magnus Intercursusof 1496. Flanders and Brabant were dependent upon the supply of English wool for their staple industries, Holland and Zeeland for that freedom of fishery on which a large part of their population was employed and subsisted. In reprisals for the support formerly given by the Burgundian government to the house of York, Henry had forbidden the exportation of wool and of cloth to the Netherlands, had removed the staple from Bruges to Calais, and had withdrawn the fishing rights enjoyed by the Hollanders since the reign of Edward I. But this state of commercial war was ruinous to both countries; and, on condition that Philip henceforth undertook not to allow any enemies of the English government to reside in his dominions, a good understanding was reached, and the Magnus Intercursus, which re-established something like freedom of trade between the countries, was duly signed in February, 1496. The treaty was solemnly renewed in 1501, but shortly afterwards fresh difficulties arose concerning Yorkist refugees, and a stoppage of trade was once more threatened. At this juncture a storm drove Philip and Juana, who had set sail in January, 1506, for Spain, to take refuge in an English harbour. For three months they were hospitably entertained by Henry, but he did not fail to take advantage of the situation to negotiate three treaties with his unwilling guest: (1) a treaty of alliance, (2) a treaty of marriage with Philip’s sister, the Archduchess Margaret, already at the age of 25 a widow for the second time, (3) a revision of the treaty of commerce of 1496, named from its unfavourable conditions, Malus Intercursus. The marriage treaty came to nothing through the absolute refusal of Margaret to accept the hand of the English king.
Philip and Juana left England for Spain, April 23, to assume the government of the three kingdoms, Castile, Leon and Granada, which Juana had inherited from her mother. Owing to his wife’s mental incapacity Philip in her name exercised all the powers of sovereignty, but his reign was very short, for he was suddenly taken ill and died at Burgos, September 25, 1506. His hapless wife, after the birth of a posthumous child, sank into a state of hopeless insanity and passed the rest of her long life in confinement. Charles, the heir to so vast an inheritance, was but six years old. The representatives of the provinces, assembled at Mechlin (October 18), offered the regency of the Burgundian dominions to the Emperor Maximilian; he in his turn nominated his daughter, Margaret, to be regent in his place and guardian of his grandson during Charles’ minority, and she with the assent of the States-General took the oath on her installation as Mambour or Governor-General of the Netherlands, March, 1507. Margaret was but 27 years of age, and for twenty-four years she continued to administer the affairs of the Netherlands with singular discretion, firmness and Statesmanlike ability. The superintendence and training of the young archduke could have been placed in no better hands. Charles, who with his three sisters lived with his aunt at Mechlin, was thus both by birth and education a Netherlander.
One of the first acts of Margaret was a refusal to ratify the Malus Intercursusand the revival of the Magnus Intercursus of 1496. This important commercial treaty from that time forward continued in force for more than a century. The great difficulty that Margaret encountered in her government was the lack of adequate financial resources. The extensive privileges accorded to the various provinces and their mutual jealousies and diverse interests made the task of levying taxes arduous and often fruitless. Margaret found that the granting of supplies, even for so necessary a purpose as the raising of troops to resist the raids of Charles of Gelderland, aided by the French king, into Utrecht and Holland, was refused. She fortunately possessed in a high degree those qualities of persuasive address and sound judgment, which gave to her a foremost place among the diplomatists and rulers of her time. Such was the confidence that her brilliant abilities inspired that she was deputed both by the Emperor Maximilian and by Ferdinand of Aragon to be their plenipotentiary at the Peace Congress that assembled at Cambray in November, 1508. Chiefly through her exertions the negotiations had a speedy and successful issue, and the famous treaty known as the League of Cambray was signed on December 10. By this treaty many of the disputes concerning the rights and prerogatives of the French crown in the Burgundian Netherlands were amicably settled; and it was arranged that Charles of Egmont should be provisionally recognised as Duke of Gelderland on condition that he should give up the towns in Holland that he had captured and withdraw his troops within his own borders.
The extant correspondence between Maximilian and Margaret, which is of the most confidential character, on matters of high policy, is a proof of the high opinion the emperor entertained of his daughter’s intelligence and capacity. In nothing was his confidence more justified than in the assiduous care and interest that the regent took in the education of the Archduke Charles and his three sisters, who had been placed in her charge. In 1515 Charles, on entering his sixteenth year, was declared by Maximilian to be of age; Margaret accordingly handed over to him the reins of government and withdrew for the time into private life. Her retirement was not, however, to be of long continuance. On January 23, 1516, King Ferdinand of Aragon died, and Charles, who now became King of Castile and of Aragon, was obliged to leave the Netherlands to take possession of his Spanish dominions. Before sailing he reinstated his aunt as governess, and appointed a council to assist her. This post she continued to hold till the day of her death, for Charles was never again able to take up his permanent residence in the Netherlands. During the first years after his accession to the thrones of Ferdinand and Isabel he was much occupied with Spanish affairs; and the death of Maximilian, January 12, 1519, opened out to him a still wider field of ambition and activity. On June 28 Charles was elected emperor, a result which he owed in no small degree to the diplomatic skill and activity of Margaret. Just a year later the emperor visited the Netherlands, where Charles of Gelderland was again giving trouble, and his presence was required both for the purpose of dealing with the affairs of the provinces and also for securing a grant of supply, for he was sorely in need of funds. Margaret had at his request summoned the States-General to meet at Brussels, where Charles personally addressed them, and explained at some length the reasons which led him to ask his loyal and devoted Netherland subjects for their aid on his election to the imperial dignity. The States-General on this, as on other occasions, showed no niggardliness in responding to the request of a sovereign who, though almost always absent, appealed to their patriotism as a born Netherlander, who had been brought up in their midst and spoke their tongue. Charles was crowned at Aachen, October 23, 1520, and some three months later presided at the famous diet of Worms, where he met Martin Luther face to face. Before starting on his momentous journey he again appointed Margaret regent, and gave to her Council, which he nominated, large powers; the Council of Mechlin, the Court of Holland and other provincial tribunals being subjected to its superior authority and jurisdiction. By this action the privileges of the provinces were infringed, but Charles was resolute in carrying out the centralising policy of his ancestors, the Dukes of Burgundy, and he had the power to enforce his will in spite of the protests that were raised. And so under the wise and conciliatory but firm administration of Margaret during a decade of almost continuous religious and international strife—a decade marked by such great events as the rapid growth of the Reformation in Germany, the defeat and capture of Francis I at Pavia, the sack of Rome by the troops of Bourbon and the victorious advance of the Turks in Hungary and along the eastern frontier of the empire—the Netherland provinces remained at peace, save for the restless intrigues of Charles of Egmont in Gelderland, and prospered. Their wealth furnished indeed no small portion of the funds which enabled Charles to face successfully so many adversaries and to humble the power of France. The last important act of Margaret, like her first, was connected with the town of Cambray. In this town, as the representative and plenipotentiary of her nephew the emperor, she met, July, 1529, Louise of Savoy, who had been granted similar powers by her son Francis I, to negotiate a treaty of peace. The two princesses proved worthy of the trust that had been placed in them, and a general treaty of peace, often spoken of as “the Ladies’ Peace,” was speedily drawn up and ratified. The conditions were highly advantageous to the interests of Spain and the Netherlands. On November 30 of the following year Margaret died, as the result of a slight accident to her foot which the medical science of the day did not know how to treat properly, in the 50th year of her age and the 24th of her regency.
Charles, who had a few months previously reached the zenith of his power by being crowned with the iron crown of Lombardy and with the imperial crown at the hands of Pope Clement VII at Bologna (February 22 and 24, 1530), appointed as governess in Margaret’s place his sister Mary, the widowed queen of Louis, King of Hungary, who had been slain by the Turks at the battle of Mohacs, August 29, 1526.
Mary, who had passed her early life in the Netherlands under the care of her aunt Margaret, proved herself in every way her worthy successor. She possessed, like Margaret, a strong character, statesmanlike qualities and singular capacity in the administration of affairs. She filled the difficult post of regent for the whole period of twenty-four years between the death of Margaret and the abdication of Charles V in 1555. It was fortunate indeed for that great sovereign that these two eminent women of his house should, each in turn for one half of his long reign, have so admirably conducted the government of this important portion of his dominions, as to leave him free for the carrying out of his far-reaching political projects and constant military campaigns in other lands. Two years after Mary entered upon her regency Charles appointed three advisory and administrative bodies—the Council of State, the Council of Finance and the Privy Council—to assist her in the government. The Council of State dealt with questions of external and internal policy and with the appointment of officials; the Council of Finance with the care of the revenue and private domains of the sovereign; to the Privy Council were entrusted the publication of edicts and “placards,” and the care of justice and police.
When Charles succeeded Philip the Fair only a portion of the Netherlands was subject to his sway. With steady persistence he set himself to the task of bringing all the seventeen provinces under one sovereign. In 1515 George of Saxe-Meissen sold to him his rights over Friesland. Henry of Bavaria, who in opposition to his wishes had been elected Bishop of Utrecht, was compelled (1528) to cede to him the temporalities of the see, retaining the spiritual office only. Charles thus added the Upper and Lower Sticht—Utrecht and Overyssel—to his dominions. He made himself (1536) master of Groningen and Drente after a long and obstinate struggle with Charles of Gelderland, and seven years later he forced Charles’ successor, William of Jülich and Cleves, to renounce in his favour his claims to Gelderland and Zutphen. During the reign of Charles V the States-General were summoned many times, chiefly for the purpose of voting subsidies, but it was only on special and solemn occasions, that the representatives of all the seventeen provinces were present, as for instance when Philip received their homage in 1549 and when Charles V announced his abdication in 1555. The names of the seventeen provinces summoned on these occasions were Brabant, Limburg, Luxemburg, Gelderland, Flanders, Holland, Zeeland, Artois, Hainault, Namur, Lille with Douay and Orchies, Tournay and district, Mechlin, Friesland, Utrecht, Overyssel with Drente and Groningen. The bishopric of Liège, though nominally independent, was under the strict control of the government at Brussels. The relations of Charles’ Burgundian domains to the empire were a matter of no small moment, and he was able to regulate them in a manner satisfactory to himself. Several times during his reign tentative attempts were made to define those relations, which were of a very loose kind. The fact that the head of the house of Habsburg was himself emperor had not made him any less determined than the Burgundian sovereigns, his ancestors, to assert for his Netherland territories a virtual independence of imperial control or obligation. The various states of which the Netherlands were composed were as much opposed as the central government at Brussels to any recognition of the claims of the empire; and both Margaret of Austria and Mary of Hungary ventured to refuse to send representatives to the imperial diets, even when requested to do so by the emperor. At last in 1548, when all the Netherland provinces had been brought under the direct dominion or control of one sovereign prince, a convention was drawn up at the diet of Augsburg, chiefly by the exertions of the Regent Mary and her tried councillors Viglius and Granvelle, by which the unity of the Netherland territories was recognised and they were freed from imperial jurisdiction. Nominally, they formed a circle of the empire,—the Burgundian circle—and representatives of the circle were supposed to appear at the diets and to bear a certain share of imperial taxation in return for the right to the protection of the empire against attacks by France. As a matter of fact, no representatives were ever sent and no subsidy was paid, nor was the protection of the empire ever sought or given.
This convention, which in reality severed the shadowy links which had hitherto bound the Netherlands to the empire, received the sanction of the States-General in October, 1548; and it was followed by the issuing, with the consent of the Estates of the various provinces, of a “Pragmatic Sanction” by which the inherited right of succession to the sovereignty in each and every province was settled upon the male and female line of Charles’ descendants, notwithstanding the existence of ancient provincial privileges to the contrary. In 1549 the emperor’s only son Philip was acknowledged by all the Estates as their future sovereign, and made a journey through the land to receive homage.
The doctrines of the Reformation had early obtained a footing in various parts of the Netherlands. At first it was the teaching of Luther and of Zwingli which gained adherents. Somewhat later the Anabaptist movement made great headway in Holland and Friesland, especially in Amsterdam. The chief leaders of the Anabaptists were natives of Holland, including the famous or infamous John of Leyden, who with some thousands of these fanatical sectaries perished at Münster in 1535. Between 1537 and 1543 a more moderate form of Anabaptist teaching made rapid progress through the preaching of a certain Menno Simonszoon. The followers of this man were called Mennonites. Meanwhile Lutheranism and Zwinglianism were in many parts of the country being supplanted by the sterner doctrines of Calvin. All these movements were viewed by the emperor with growing anxiety and detestation. Whatever compromises with the Reformation he might be compelled to make in Germany, he was determined to extirpate heresy from his hereditary dominions. He issued a strong placard soon after the diet of Worms in 1521 condemning Luther and his opinions and forbidding the printing or sale of any of the reformer’s writings; and between that date and 1555 a dozen other edicts and placards were issued of increasing stringency. The most severe was the so-called “blood-placard” of 1550. This enacted the sentence of death against all convicted of heresy—the men to be executed with the sword and the women buried alive; in cases of obstinacy both men and women were to be burnt. Terribly harsh as were these edicts, it is doubtful whether the number of those who Suffered the extreme penalty has not been greatly exaggerated by partisan writers. Of the thousands who perished, by far the greater part were Anabaptists; and these met their fate rather as enemies of the state and of society, than as heretics. They were political as well as religious anarchists.
In the time of Charles the trade and industries of the Netherlands were in a highly prosperous state. The Burgundian provinces under the wise administrations of Margaret and Mary, and protected by the strong arm of the emperor from foreign attack, were at this period by far the richest state in Europe and the financial mainstay of the Habsburg power. Bruges, however, had now ceased to be the central market and exchange of Europe, owing to the silting up of the river Zwijn. It was no longer a port, and its place had been taken by Antwerp. At the close of the reign of Charles, Antwerp, with its magnificent harbour on the Scheldt, had become the “counting-house” of the nations, the greatest port and the wealthiest and most luxurious city in the world. Agents of the principal bankers and merchants of every country had their offices within its walls. It has been estimated that, inclusive of the many foreigners who made the town their temporary abode, the population of Antwerp in 1560 was about 150,000. Five hundred vessels sailed in and out of her harbour daily, and five times that number were to be seen thronging her wharves at the same time.
To the north of the Scheldt the condition of things was not less satisfactory than in the south, particularly in Holland. The commercial prosperity of Holland was in most respects different in kind from that of Flanders and Brabant, and during the period with which we are dealing had been making rapid advances, but on independent lines. A manufactory of the coarser kinds of cloth, established at Leyden, had indeed for a time met with a considerable measure of success, but had fallen into decline in the time of Mary of Hungary. The nature of his country led the Hollander to be either a sailor or a dairy-farmer, not an artisan or operative. Akin though he was in race to the Fleming and the Brabanter, his instincts led him by the force of circumstances to turn his energies in other directions. Subsequent history has but emphasised the fact—which from the fourteenth century onwards is clearly evident—that the people who inhabited the low-lying sea-girt lands of dyke, canal and polder in Holland and Zeeland were distinct in character and temper from the citizens of Bruges, Ghent, Ypres, Brussels or Mechlin, who were essentially landsmen and artisans. Ever since the discovery of the art of curing herrings (ascribed to William Beukelsz), the herring fishery had acquired a great importance to the Hollanders and Zeelanders, and formed the chief livelihood of a large part of the entire population of those provinces; and many thousands, who did not themselves sail in the fishing fleets, found employment in the ship and boat-building wharves and in the making of sails, cordage, nets and other tackle. It was in this hazardous occupation that the hardy race of skilled and seasoned seamen, who were destined to play so decisive a part in the coming wars of independence, had their early training. The herring harvest, through the careful and scientific methods that were employed in curing the fish and packing them in barrels, became a durable and much sought for article of commerce. A small portion of the catch served as a supply of food for home consumption, the great bulk in its thousands of barrels was a marketable commodity, and the distribution of the cured herring to distant ports became a lucrative business. It had two important consequences, the formation of a Dutch Mercantile Marine, and the growth of Amsterdam, which from small beginnings had in the middle of the sixteenth century become a town with 40,000 inhabitants and a port second only in importance in the Netherlands to Antwerp. From its harbour at the confluence of the estuary of the Y with the Zuyder Zee ships owned and manned by Hollanders sailed along the coasts of France and Spain to bring home the salt for curing purposes and with it wines and other southern products, while year by year a still larger and increasing number entered the Baltic. In those eastern waters they competed with the German Hanseatic cities, with whom they had many acrimonious disputes, and with such success that the Hollanders gradually monopolised the traffic in grain, hemp and other “Eastland” commodities and became practically the freight-carriers of the Baltic. And be it remembered that they were able to achieve this because many of the North-Netherland towns were themselves members of the Hanse League, and possessed therefore the same rights and privileges commercially as their rivals, Hamburg, Lübeck or Danzig. The great industrial cities of Flanders and Brabant, on the other hand, not being members of the League nor having any mercantile marine of their own, were content to transact business with the foreign agents of the Hanse towns, who had their counting-houses at Antwerp. It will thus be seen that in the middle of the sixteenth century the trade of the northern provinces, though as yet not to be compared in volume to that of the Flemings and Walloons, had before it an opening field for enterprise and energy rich in possibilities and promise for the future.
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