Blom, J.C.H. and E. Lamberts, History of the Low Countries (1999), 532p.
This is one of two relatively recent history surveys available in English that treats
the Low Countries as a whole from Roman times to the present. It is an amended and
translated version of a popular university text in Dutch. It is well written, accessible and
contains many useful pictures and maps. The volume contains eight substantial chapters,
each written by recognized authorities in their respective fields: two chapters by L. I. R.
Milis, “A Long Beginning: The Low Countries through the Tenth century,” and “Counts,
Cities, and Clerics: the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth Centuries;” W. Blockmans, “The
Formation of a Political Union, 1300-1600;” A. T. van Deursen, “The Dutch Republic,
1588-1780;” C. Bruneel, “The Spanish and Austrian Netherlands, 1585-1780;” J.
Roegiers and N. C. F van Sas, “Revolution in he North and South, 1780-1830;” E.
Lamberts, “Belgium since 1830;” and J. C. H. Blom, “The Netherlands since 1830.”
Finally there is an epilogue and conclusion that discusses the unity and diversity of the
region by the editors. While the inhabitants of the Low Countries speak Dutch, French,
Frisian, and German, and remain culturally and politically fragmented, they also have
much in common. Geographically they occupy the delta of three great rivers that provide
access to the North Sea, the Atlantic and thus the rest of the world. The northern limit of
the Roman Empire, the Rhine, cuts straight through the region. The Maas (Meuse)
became a core region of the Carolingians. The rise of the German and French kingdoms
relegated the region to the periphery until the sea was no longer a barrier but became their
highway. Their location helped make them a nation of traders, not just of their own
products, but also of goods from France, Germany and beyond. Already during the
middle ages their precocious economic development made their region the most densely
populated and urbanized European region. The Burgundians sought to unite the Low
Countries during the late middle ages and the Hapsburg attempted to provide them with a
central government during the 16th century. The latter effort provoked a rebellion in the
South, which spread to the North. By 1585, the successful revolt in the North had created
a Dutch Republic, while the South remained under Spanish and then Austrian Hapsburg
tutelage. The border between what eventually became the Netherlands and Belgium was
more or less established during the revolt against Spain. Much of this border also
remained a cultural, linguistic and religious divide. Protestantism became dominant in the
Dutch speaking Republic, with a large Catholic minority, while the South remained
overwhelmingly Catholic with French as the language of the ruling classes and a majority
of the common people during the early modern period.
While it had been the south that enjoyed the mostly highly developed agriculture,
manufacturing industry and trade in the late medieval period, it was the North that fully
united the Baltic and Mediterranean trades and profited immensely from the opening of
the Atlantic and Asian trades. It was the North that became the world’s economic leader
during the 17th century and early 18th century. Buffeted by great powers and fragmented
by different religious, cultural and political traditions, the Low Countries failed to create
a unified state. During the late 18th century the North’s economy, although it remained
wealthy, stagnated, while the economy of the South advanced. During the 19th century, it
was Belgium that first industrialized and became the economic leader for a time. After
the Napoleonic wars, a United Kingdom of the Netherlands was created but Belgium
revolted in 1830 and the Union was dissolved in 1839. More recently the Benelux
countries, as they called themselves after WW II, served as pioneers of what is now
known as the European Union. In world-historical terms, the importance of the Low
Countries lies in their early creation of a bourgeois culture and an economic prosperity,
which gave birth to what has been called “the first modern economy” and the first
industrial revolution on the Continent. Their economic success was fundamental to the
rise of northwestern Europe as the region of the world with the highest standard of living,
which was crucial to England’s early economic development and the first industrial