The Constitutional History (1434-1830)

The Burgundian Netherlands (1434-1506)

Since Duke Philip the Good and his successors, multiple regions were brought together into a single territory by inheritance and marriage strategy: Flanders, the duchy and free county of Burgundy, Artois, Brabant, Limburg and several French regions under the treaty of Arras (1435).

Philip the Good was even more a ‘collector of regions’ than his father, John the Fearless. He acquired the County of Namur (1421) and integrated this in 1429. From 1425 to 1433 he managed to deprive from his cousin, Jacoba of Bavaria, the counties of Hainault, Holland and Zeeland. In 1430 he inherited the duchies of Brabant and Limburg from his uncle Anthony of Burgundy. In 1443 the Duchy of Luxembourg was added to his possesions, while the Duchy of Guelders was added in 1473 by Charles the Bold. Philip the Good also increased his influence on the surrounding ecclesiastical principalities by the appointment of friends.

All these areas were connected only by a personal union, so that each principality retained its proper linguistic, institutional, legal, and administrative environments. Philip the Good started the first steps towards a political centralization. The Burgundian regime, in addition to the person of the monarch, was nevertheless characterized by several factors of unity. As of 1434 a single currency and central institutions were introduced for all regions. A Court Council was a personal advisory body of the monarch with progressively more political power. A Financial Court presided over the finances, and the Great Council of Mechelen presided as the judicial power. The general ordinances issued by the monarch starting from the year 1460 were applicable to all of its regions.

Charles the Bold achieved remarkable progress with institutional unification and centralization of the Burgundian Netherlands, especially after the reforms in 1473 through the establishment of the Great Council, later called Parliament, and a single Financial Court in Mechelen. But Charles the Bold was an ambitious and cruel warlord and continually led his lands into wars. His ambition was to reestablish the ancient kingdom of the Carolingian Lothair: from the North Sea to the Mediterranean. Charles the Bold was killed on January 5th, 1477 near Nancy by Swiss forces allied with Lorraine, ending his military conquest to connect his Burgundy with his territories in the Low Countries.

The death of Charles the Bold caused a crisis: his daughter, Mary of Burgundy, was immediately confronted with dissatisfaction with the warlike and centralist policies of her father. The States-General wanted a better governance. By awarding the Grand Privilege of February 11th, 1477, Mary reconfirmed the local rights for several regions and promised financial and military support against the aspirations of France, that had annexed the Duchy of Burgundy.

These disputes were largely solved by the marriage of Mary of Burgundy to Maximilian of Austria, the result of which the ‘Low Countries’ became part of the possessions of the house of the Austrian Habsburgs.

After the death of Mary of Burgundy (1482) her son, Philip the Fair, became her successor. Being a child of only four, his father, Maximilian of Austria, was appointed as regent, and promptly lost no time in imposing on the wealthy Netherlands a high tax burden and an unwavering currency devaluation to pay for his wars. The economy disrupted and unhappy people revolted. Philips the Fair took the reign in 1493 from his father, resulting in relief for the country and an end to the revolts. Philip the Fair married the Spanish Princess Joanna the Crazy (la Loca). Thanks to a double marriage of the two children of Mary of Burgundy with members of the Spanish dynasty, her grand-son Charles V united the Austrian Habsburgs with the Spanish regions.

The Spanish Netherlands (1506-1700)

Emperor Charles V, son of Philip the Fair and Joanna, combined the Low Countries and the Free County of Burgundy (also called Franche-Comté) into the Burgundian Circle, while adding Guelders and Friesland in 1543. This Burgundian Circle (also called Burgundian Kreits) was one of the ten Kreitsen within the Holy Roman Empire. The first classification in Kreitsen dated from 1500. In 1512, the Burgundian Kreits was separated from the Lower Rhine-Westphalian Kreits (the Principality of Liege, the Duchy of Bouillon, the County of Horn, the imperial Abbeys of Stavelot-Malmedy and Thorn, the Principality of Cambrai, the imperial City of Cambrai and Ameland all belonged to the Lower Rhine-Westphalian Circle). In 1548, a new Burgundian Circle was formed containing all Habsburg territories. The House of Habsburg did deliver regularly the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, but in the rather loose connection of the individual states within the Empire, the local rulers of the states executed the real power. The Habsburgs had only real power, so-called Hausmacht, in their own Austrian territories and also in the Low Countries, which the emperor ruled directly. The Low Countries were taken as personal ‘legacy’ of the previous Burgundian house, in which the Emperor ruled at the same time as Duke of Brabant, Count of Flanders, Lord of Mechelen, etc. After the consolidation of the Duchy of Guelders in 1543 (by the Treaty of Venlo), all regions were conveniently connected into one large Burgundian region. The administrative unification of the conglomerate came in 1548 with the Transaction of Augsburg: the Seventeen Provinces were largely detached from the Holy Roman Empire and the ties were drastically reduced. The States-General of the Low Countries were no longer subordinate to the Reichstag, though for years there were still tax monies paid to the emperor. This was a political success for Emperor Charles V, who a year later managed to settle the succession of the Kreits. This was sealed in the Pragmatic Sanction (1549), which provided that the Burgundian Circle from then on would continue to exist as one dynastic unit. Under Philip II, son of Emperor Charles V, the Northern Spanish territories would crumble because of the revolts that were driven by religious aspirations and punitive taxation policies. The Burgundian Circle underwent a drastic change with the independence of the Republic of the United Northern Provinces in 1581. The battle for the Northern regions would take many years, and would eventually be known as the Eighty Years war.

In 1598, Albrecht and Isabella received the Spanish Low Countries which they could and did rule autonomously.

The Spanish Low countries went back under the Spanish crown to King Philip IV after the childless death of Albrecht. Although the independence of the Northern Republic had already been recognized by France and England, the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs’ recognition came only with the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. From then on, such recognition meant that the Northern Republic was no longer part of the Burgundian Circle, and the latter was losing most of its meaning.

In 1665, Philip IV was succeeded by his son Charles II. In 1678, Franche-Comté passed from Spanish into French hands.

The War of Spanish Succession (1701-1714)

After the death of the childless Charles II in 1700, a Succession War broke out over the inheritance of both the European and the overseas territories of the Spanish crown. Philip, Duke of Anjou, third in line to the French throne, was crowned King of Spain as Philip V. Philip in turn appointed ally Maximilian-Emanuel of Bavaria as the Governor General for the Southern Netherlands. But a Grand Alliance of the German Empire/Austria, England and the United Provinces opposed Philip V because of family ties with the French King, Louis XIV, and therefore of a possible if not likely power imbalance. The Grand Alliance installed the Austrian Archduke Charles as (contra) King of Spain under the name of Charles III and conquered many European regions, including the northern part of the Spanish Netherlands. In 1706 Maximilian-Emanuel of Bavaria retained only the provinces of Namur and Luxembourg. After Charles’ brother, Joseph I, suddenly died, Charles III succeeded in 1711 and became Emperor Charles VI. It was ultimately the Peace of Utrecht (1713), which finally brought the Low Countries under Austrian rule and that of Emperor Charles VI. The Spanish period was finally over. Maximilian-Emanuel of Bavaria sovereigned the southern provinces until 1714, when he returned to Bavaria. The provinces of Namur and Luxembourg then came under Austrian rule.

The Austrian Netherlands (1714-1795)

Charles VI (1714-1740) was succeeded by his daughter Maria Theresa (1740-1780). The Empress was confronted in 1745 with the occupation of the Low Countries by the French armies of Louis XV. By the Treaty of Aachen (1748), the Low Countries came again under her reign. After her death, her son Joseph II (1780-1790) became Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. He performed a thorough standardization and centralization. The edicts of 1787 sparked strong resentment that eventually led to a rebellion, supported by Prussia. The Austrians left the country on January 11th, 1790 and the independence – albeit brief – of the United Belgian States was proclaimed. Joseph II died on February 20th, 1790 and was succeeded by the more tactful emperor, Leopold II. When Prussia declined to further support the United Belgian States after the conclusion of the Convention of Reichenbach with Austria, Leopold II restored softly his authority (revocation of issued edicts, recovery of constitutions, general amnesty) using light military pressure. Franz II (1792-1797) then succeeded his father, but in the same year France declared war on him. The Austrian Netherlands, except Luxembourg, were occupied. In the battle of Neerwinden (Marchth 13, 1793), the French were driven out.

The French period (1794-1814)

The French came back after their victory at the Battle of Fleurus on June 26th, 1794.

The siege of Maastricht (1796)

On November 4th, 1794, Maastricht was conquered after a siege of two months by the French commander General Kléber. The region was annexed to the French Republic and became the department Nedermaas (loosely equivalent to the current Belgian and Dutch provinces of Limburg), with Maastricht as its capital.

In 1797 the Austrian Netherlands were annexed by the Treaty of Campo-Formio to the French Republic, resulting in the dissapearance of the Burgundian Circle. A local rebellion against the French took a final end on December 5th, 1798 when an ‘army of farmers’ was defeated. The ‘revolt of the farmers’ was a result of the draconian economic measures (i.a. the compulsory use of assignats as legal tender money), the conscription, the drastic curtailment of linguistic freedom and the state-sponsored looting of the churches. A severe repression resulted in which most of the leaders were executed.

The Northern Netherlands suffered a different fate. In 1795, the newly named, ‘Batavian Republic’ incorporating the United Northern Provinces were placed under the protectorate of the French. In 1806, Napoleon’s brother, Louis Napoleon, became King of Holland, but he already abdicated in 1810, after which the kingdom was annexed by Napoleon.

Note: the coins of the Batavian Republic and Louis Napoleon are not included in this book.

The siege of Antwerp (1814)

In their war against Napoleon, the foreign armies (England, Sweden, Russia and Prussia) invaded the Low Countries in January 1814. The siege of Napoleon’s military port of Antwerp was a priority. On May 5th, 1814, the French garrison surrendered, following Napoleon’s abdication in the preceding April.

The Dutch period (1815-1830)

After the defeat of Napoleon in 1813 at Leipzig, the Allies started working on a reorganization of Europe, and the Netherlands regained their freedom from France. After the proclamation of the Sovereign Principality of the Netherlands on November 20th, 1813, Prince William Frederick of Orange-Nassau was inaugurated in Amsterdam as a sovereign. After the first abdication of Napoleon in 1814 and his final defeat at Waterloo 1815, the Allies decided at the Congress of Vienna (1814-1815) to build a belt of buffer states around France. With this aim, the Southern Netherlands was melted again with the northern United Provinces, in a reunion ‘intime et complète’. On March 16th, 1815, William I took the title of King of the United Netherlands. Now the Kingdom of the Netherlands was a fact. The King of the Netherlands was also Grand Duke of Luxembourg, and this personal union continued until 1890, after Belgium, at first together with Luxembourg, had separated in 1830.

The catalogue

The catalog is organized in chronological order of the reigns. An introduction gives the monetary highlights for each reign, with special attention paid to the different ordinances and other elements (rebellions, sieges) that have determined the emissions. Then follows a list of the active mints and a list of the arms used on these coins. The overview of the coin types shows the following details: the name of the type, the value when issued, the metal and the precious metal content, the weight and mint(s) where struck.

Throughout the course of the centuries, a wide variety of coins were issued. The reasons for these emissions were very different, such as the arrival of a new monarch, devaluation or revaluation, the need for obsidional money in wartime, etc. Many of these coins were in use during longer periods and during several reigns. They were therefore continuously revalued related to the standards applied at that moment and the intrinsic value of the precious metals.

The ordinances laid down the coin types only in broad outlines, so that – within a given emission – room was left for differences in the portrait of the monarch, in his titles, in the depicted arms, in the way of minting (manually made or machine-made), in the affixing of mintmarks or a year, in the edge decoration, etc. All these differences are noted in the catalog; if they are important, the coin is given its own number – if not, they are included as varieties of a particular type.

If there are special issues known for a particular coin type, such as the multiple weight (piedfort) or emissions in other metals, they are inserted. Also coins issued at special occasions or for special purposes, though certainly not meant to be prevalent in everyday finance, are mentioned, since the completeness of this catalog justifies the inclusion of these special coins.

A special category concerns the obsidional coins issued during a siege of a city or other emergency situations, usually for the purpose of paying the troops. Although these emergency coins rarely carry the name of the sovereign and thus must not be seen as part of the central coinage, they are nevertheless included in this overview.

Based on old privileges, some areas and cities issued small denominations for local use only. These coin types are catalogued as ‘local emissions’. This local change had often its own rate against the Flemish.