Netherlands (Germ. Niederlande; Fr. Pays Bas), the.—The Netherlands, or Low Countries, as organized by Charles V, under whom the Burgundian era ended, comprised practically the territory now included in Holland and Belgium, thenceforth known as the Spanish Netherlands. For the previous history of this country see Burgundy and Emperor Charles V. Shorn of the northern provinces by the secession of Holland as the Commonwealth of the United Provinces (1579), the Spanish Netherlands, on their cession to Austria (1713-14) were reduced to the provinces now embraced in Belgium, subsequently called the Austrian Netherlands. THE SPANISH NETHERLANDS.—When Philip II by the abdication of his father, Charles V (q.v.), became sovereign of the Low Countries and took up the government of the Seventeen Provinces, he found them atthe zenith of their prosperity, as is evident from the description given in 1567 by Luigi Guicciardini in his “Descrittione di tutti i Paesi Bassi” (Totius Belgii descriptio, Amsterdam, 1613).
Few countries were so well governed; none was richer. Antwerp had taken the place of Bruges as commercial metropolis; every day saw a fleet of 500 sea-going craft enter or leave its port. Of Ghent (Gand), his native town, Charles V used to say jocosely: Je mettrais Paris dans mon Gand [I could put Paris in my glove (gant)]. Luxury, however, corrupted the earlier good morals of the people, and humanism gradually undermined the: faith of some in the upper classes. Protestantism too had already affected an entrance, Lutheranism through Antwerp and Calvinism from the French border. The Anabaptists also had adherents. In addition the more; powerful of the nobility now hoped to play a more influential part in the government than they had done under Charles V, and were already planning for the realization of this ambition. The situation presented many difficulties, and unfortunately Philip II was not the man to cope with them. He had little in common with his Low-Country subjects. Their language was not his; and he was a stranger to their customs. From the day he quitted the Netherlands in 1559; he never set foot in them again, but governed from far-off Spain. He was despotic, severe, crafty, and desirous of keeping in his own hands all the reins of government, in minor details as well as in matters of more importance, thereby causing many unfortunate delays in affairs that demanded rapid transaction. He was on the whole a most unsuitable ruler in spite of his sincere desire to fulfil the duties of his royal office and the time and pains he consecrated to them.
It must be said in justice that from a religious point of view, he brought about one of the most important events in the history of the Netherlands when he caused the establishment of fourteen new dioceses. The want had long been recognized and the sovereigns, particularly Philip the Good and Charles V, had often thought of this measure. In all the seventeen provinces there were but four dioceses: Utrecht in the north; Tournai, Arras, and Cambrai in the West; and all of them were subject to’ foreign metropolitans, Utrecht to Cologne and the others to Reims. Moreover the greater part of the country was under the direct jurisdiction of foreign bishops: those of Liège, Trier, Metz, Verdun, etc. Hence arose great difficulties and endless conflicts. The Bull of Pope Paul IV (May 12, 1559) put an end to this situation by raising Utrecht and Cambrai to archiepiscopal rank, and by creating fourteen new sees, one of them, Mechlin, an archbishopric. The others were Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, St-Omer, Namur, Bois-le-Duc (Hertogenbosch), Roermond, Harlem, Deventer, Leeuwarden, Groningen, and Middleburg. This act, excellent from a religious point of view, gave rise to many complaints. To endow the new sees it was found necessary to incorporate with them the richest abbeys in the country, and in certain provinces these’ carried the right of voting in the States-General. And this right being for the future exercised through the bishops, the result was that the king who nominated them gained a considerable influence in the Parliament, which had hitherto always acted as a check on the royal power. To aggravate matters, the Protestant faction spread a rumor that the erection of the new bishoprics was but a step towards introducing the Spanish Inquisition into the Netherlands. Lastly the abbeys began to complain of their lost autonomy—the place of the abbot being now occupied by the bishop.
The opposition of the nobles was led by two men, remarkable in different ways. On one hand was the Count of Egmont (see Lamoral, Count of Egmont), the victor at St-Quentin and Gravelines, a brave man, frank and honest, a lover of popularity but weak in character and lacking in political shrewdness. On the other hand stood William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, surnamed “the Silent”, a politician and diplomat of the first rank, filled with ambition which he well knew how to conceal, having no religious scruples, being Catholic, Lutheran, or Calvinist as it suited him, a man who had made the downfall of Spanish rule the one aim of his life. Grouped around these two chiefs were a number of nobles irritated with the Government, many of them deeply involved financially or morally corrupt like the too well-known Brederode. They kept up the agitation and demanded fresh concessions day by day. They insisted upon the recall of the Spanish soldiers, and the king yielded (1561). They demanded more moderate language in the public placard against heresy, and even sent the Count of Egmont to Spain to obtain it (1565); and Egmont, having been flattered and feted at the Spanish Court, came back convinced that his mission had been successful. Soon, however, royal letters dated from the Forest of Segovia, 17 and October 20, 1565, brought the king’s formal refusal to abate one jot in the repression of heresy.
The irreconcilable attitude of the king created a situation of increasing difficulty for the government of Margaret of Parma. Heresy was spreading every day, and it was no longer confined to the cities but was obtaining a foothold in the smaller towns and even in country places. Protestant preachers, for the most part renegade monks or priests, like the famous Dathenus, assembled the people at “sermons” in which they were exhorted to open war on the Catholic religion. Calvinism, a sect better organized than Lutheranism, became the popular heresy in the Low Countries. It had supporters in every grade of society; and although its members continued to be a small minority, their daring and clever propaganda made them a most dangerous force in presence of the inaction and sluggishness of the Catholics. Stirred up by these Calvinist preachers, Catholic and Protestant nobles formed an alliance which was called Le Cornpromis des Nobles, with the object of obtaining the suppression of the Inquisition. A body of them numbering several hundred came to present a petition to that effect to the regent (April 5, 1566). It is related that as she showed signs of alarm at this demonstration Count de Berlaymont, member of the Council of State and a loyal supporter of the Government, said to her:” Rassurez-vous, Madame, ce ne sont que des gueux “ (Courage, Madam, they are only beggars). The confederates at once took up the word as a party name, and thus this famous name made its entry into history.
Up to that time the Gueux meant to remain faithful to the king, jusqu à la besace (to beggary), as one of their mottoes had it. They seemed to have been made up of Catholics and Protestants, indiscriminately, who were partisans of religious tolerance; and Vive les Gueux was originally the rally-cry of a sort of national party. This, however, was a delusion soon apparent. The Calvinist leaders held the movement in their hands, and did not hesitate when sure of their own strength to disclose its real fanatical opposition to the Catholic Church. Roused and excited by the impassioned appeals of the preachers, the rowdy element of the people perpetrated unheard-of excesses. In the latter part of August, 1566, bands of iconoclasts scoured the country, wrecking and pillaging churches, and in a few days they had plundered four hundred, among them the magnificent cathedral of Antwerp. These crimes opened the eyes of many who up to that time had been too lenient with the sectarians. Public opinion condemned the iconoclastic outrages and sided with the Government, which thus suddenly found its position greatly strengthened. Once more, unfortunately, Philip II was not equal to the occasion. Instead of skillfully profiting by the turn of events to win back those who were shocked by the violence of the heretics, he looked on all his subjects in the Netherlands as equally guilty, and he swore by his father’s soul that he would make an example of them. Against the advice of the regent, despite faithful Granvelle, in spite of the pope, who exhorted him to clemency, he dispatched the Duke of Alva to the Low Countries, on a punitive expedition (1567). Straightway William of Orange and the more compromised nobles went into exile. Recklessly and trusting to his past services, the Count of Egmont had refused to follow them. His mistake cost him dear, for Alva caused him and Count de Hornes to be arrested and brought before a sort of court martial which he called the Conseil des Troubles, but known more popularly as the Conseil du Sang (Blood Tribunal). The accused men, being members of the Golden Fleece, could be punished only by their order; but in spite of this privilege they were judged condemned, and executed (1568).
When the two counts were arrested, Margaret of Parma resigned her office, and the Duke of Alva was appointed her successor; with him began a system of merciless repression. Blood flowed freely, and all the traditional rights of the people were disregarded; the Spaniard Juan Vargas, chief-justice of the Council of Troubles, replied to complaint of the University of Louvain that its privileges had been violated: non curamus privilegios vestros. (We are not concerned with your privileges.) Besides this, heavy taxes, 10 per cent on the sales of chattels, 5 per cent on the sale of real estate, and 1 per cent on all property, completed, the popular discontent, and turned even a number of good Catholics against the Government. The Protestants, encouraged by these events, began military operations by land and sea, and the gueux des bois (Land-Beggars) and the gueux de mer (Water-Beggars) started a guerilla warfare and a campaign of pillage which were soon followed by the more serious attack of the Prince of Orange and his brother, Louis of Nassau. But the Duke of Alva frustrated all their efforts, and when he had repulsed Louis at Jemmingen, and prevented William from crossing the Geete, he caused a statue of himself to be set up at Antwerp representing him crushing under foot the hydra of anarchy. Then just as he thought he had mastered the rebellion, news was brought that on April 1, 1572, the Water-Beggars had taken the port of Briel. Henceforth in the very heart of the Low Countries they had a point for rally or retreat, and their progress was rapid. In quick succession they captured many towns in Holland and Zealand. These Water-Beggars, under their leader, William de la Marck, Lord of Lummen, were for the most part ruffians devoid of all human feeling. When they took the town of Gorkum they put to death in a most barbarous manner nineteen priests and monks who refused to abjure their Catholic Faith. The Church venerates these brave victims on July 9, under the title of the Martyrs of Gorkum. About the same time Louis of Nassau took Mons in Hainault, and William of Orange made a second descent on the country with an army of hirelings that committed frightful excesses. But he failed before the superior forces of the Duke of Alva. Mons was recaptured and William once more driven out. Alva then turned his arms against the provinces of the north; Zutphen, Naarden, and Haarlem fell successively into his hands and were treated most shamefully, but contrary to his hopes the rest of the rebel country did not submit.
At last Philip II realized that the duke’s mission had failed. Yielding to the entreaty of his most faithful subjects—the bishops and the University of Louvain—he recalled Alva and appointed as his successor Don Luis of Requesens. During his brief regency (1573-75) Don Luis did not succeed in restoring royal authority in the revolted districts, although he showed greater humanity and an inclination to conciliate the disaffected. Nor was he more successful in capturing the town of Leyden which withstood one lands most heroic sieges in history. His death left the country in a state of anarchy.
The Council of State took over the reins of government pending the arrival of the new regent, Don John of Austria, brother of Philip II. It was a favorable moment for the ambitious schemes of William of Orange. Thanks to the intrigues of his agents, the members of the Council of State were arrested and did not regain their freedom till those most attached to the king’s interests had been removed and others appointed in their places. This packed council was but a tool of the Prince of Orange, and its first act was to cc the States-General to deal with the affairs of the country, without any reference to the king. On the motion of the Prince of Orange the delegates met at Ghent the representatives of the rebel provinces of Holland and Zealand, where the authority of the prince was still unquestioned, and together they debated a scheme for securing tolerance for all forms of worship of worship until such time as the States-General should have finally decided the matter, also for obtaining the removal of the Spanish troops. During the course of these deliberations an event happened which filled the whole country with fear and horror. The Spanish soldiers, who for a long time had received no pay, mutinied, seized the city of Antwerp, and pillaged it ruthlessly, seven thousand persons perishing during these disorders, which are usually referred to as the Spanish Fury. The provinces no longer hesitated, and their delegates signed the famous Pacification of Ghent on November 8, 1576.
Thus triumphed the crafty and artful diplomacy of the Prince of Orange. He had succeeded in causing the loyal provinces to vote toleration of worship, while the provinces of Holland and Zealand of which he was master, formally refused to allow within their limits the practice of the Catholic religion. No doubt it was stipulated that this refusal was only provisional, and that the States-General of the seventeen provinces would finally settle the question; but meanwhile Protestantism gained an immense advantage in the Catholic provinces without giving anything in return. Furthermore the prince had taken the precaution to have it stipulated that he should remain admiral and regent of Holland and Zealand, and all these measures were passed in the name of the king whose authority they completely defied.
Such was the situation when the new regent arrived. On the advice of his best friends he ratified by his “Edit perpétuel de Marche en Famenne” (1577) the main clauses of the Pacification of Ghent, which rallied to him a majority of the people. Then he set about establishing his authority, no easy task in face of the unwearying effort of the Prince of Orange to prevent it. When, in order to obtain a reliable stronghold, he seized the citadel of Namur, the States-General, prompted., by William of Orange, declared him an enemy of the State and called in as regent Archduke Matthias of Austria, to whom William succeeded in being made lieutenant-general. Don John defeated the army of the States-General at Gembloux, and William made a fresh appeal to foreign Protestants. From all the neighboring countries adventurers flocked in to fight the Catholic Government. The Calvinists took some of the large cities, Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, and held them in a state of terror. In the last named town two of the leaders, Hembyze and Ryhove, gave themselves up to every excess, persecuted the Catholics, and endeavored to set up a sort of Protestant republic as Calvin had done at Geneva. To crown all these misfortunes, the young regent was carried off by illness in 1578, and all seemed lost for the Catholic religion and the royal authority.
But the eyes of the Catholics were at last opened. Seeing that under pretext of freeing them from Spanish tyranny they were being enslaved under Protestantism, they turned from William’s party and sought once more their lawful king, in spite of the just complaints they had against his government. This reactionary movement was most marked in the Walloon provinces: Artois, Hainault, and French Flanders in the van; Namur and Luxemburg joining them later. It began as a league among the nobles of these provinces, who styled themselves the Malcontents, and who broke with the States-General to recognize anew the authority of Philip II. It was they who prevented the realization of the great scheme of William of Orange to federate the seventeen provinces in a league of which he was to be the head, and which would ultimately cast off all allegiance to the king. When he saw his great ambition foiled, William contented himself with uniting the northern provinces in the Union of Utrecht (1579), under the name of the United Provinces, and with proclaiming the deposition of Philip II at least within these provinces. To the Malcontents, therefore, is due the credit of saving the royal authority and the Catholic religion in the Belgian provinces.
The new regent, Alessandro Farnese, son of the former regent, Margaret of Parma, grasped the situation admirably. He entered into negotiations with the Malcontents, and reconciled them with the king’s government by redressing their grievances; then with their support he set about recovering by force of arms the towns that had fallen into the hands of the Protestants. One after the other they were recaptured, some, like Tournai and Antwerp, only after memorable sieges, till at last Ostend alone of all Belgium remained in Protestant hands. And now the popular regent was preparing for a campaign against the northern provinces, demoralized by the assassination of William of Orange in 1584, when once more Philip II’s ill-advised policy ruined everything. Instead of allowing Farnese to continue his military success in the Netherlands, Philip used him as an instrument of wild projects against France and England. At one moment obliged to take part in maritime preparations against England, and at another to cross the frontier in support of the League against Henry IV, Farnese had to leave his task unfinished, and he died in 1592 of a wound received in one of his French expeditions. His death was the greater misfortune for Belgium because Maurice of Nassau, son of William of Orange, and one of the greatest war-captains of the age, was just then coming to the front.
Philip finally saw that a new policy must be tried. He bethought him of separating the Catholic Netherlands from Spain, and of giving the sovereignty to his daughter Isabella and her husband the Archduke Albert of Austria; in the event of their being childless the country was to revert to Spain (1598). This was one of the most important events in the history of Belgium, which thus became once more an independent nation, acquired a national dynasty, and might now hope for the return of former prosperity; that this hope was frustrated was the result of events which defeated the plans of statecraft and the wishes of the new sovereigns.
During the short space of their united reign (1598-1621) Albert and Isabella lavished benefits on the country. Ostend was recaptured from Holland after a three-years’ siege which claimed the attention of all Europe, and a truce of twelve years (1609-21) made with the United Provinces was employed to the greatest advantage. The damage done by the religious wars was repaired; more than three hundred churches and religious houses were founded or restored; local customs were codified by the Perpetual Edict of 1611, which has been called the most splendid monument Belgian law; public education was fostered way, and the new sovereigns brought about the funding of many colleges by the protection they extended to the religious teaching orders. Moreover they showed themselves generous patrons of science, literature, and art, and protected the interests of commerce and agriculture. Blameless in their private life and deeply pious, they gave an example of virtue on the throne not always to be found there. Unfortunately they died childless, Albert in 1621, Isabella in 1633, and their death put an end to the reviving prosperity of Belgium. Once more the country was drawn into endless wars by Spain, principally against France, and became the battlefield of numerous international conflicts. It was repeatedly despoiled of some of its provinces by Louis XIV, and cruelly plundered by all armies, friendly and hostile, that marched across its plains. The seventeenth century was the most calamitous of its history. Such then was the condition of Belgium until the peace of Utrecht (1713), which followed by that of Rastatt put an end to the long and bloody wars of the Spanish Succession which gave Spain to the Bourbons and handed over the Catholic Low Countries to the Hapsburgs of Austria.
It would be a mistake to suppose that all these calamities, domestic and foreign, had left Belgium entirely unfruitful from the point of view of civilization. Nothing could be more false; though it is a charge often made even in Belgium by writers whose prejudices would fain discover in Catholicism a retarding force for Belgium‘s progress. The University of Louvain with its forty-two colleges, where Erasmus, Bellarmine, and Justus Lipsius had taught, had always been the center of orthodoxy, and did not cease even during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries to manifest great activity, chiefly in the domains of theology and law, which were expounded there by a large number of eminent scholars. Side by side with Louvain stood the University of Douai founded in 1562 by Philip II as a breakwater against heresy, and it also sent forth many famous men. Among the new bishops were men whose fame for learning was only equalled by their well-known piety. It is no doubt true that the controversies of the day have left their mark on the religious life of that period. Thus, Michael Baius, a professor at Louvain, was condemned by Rome for his theories on free will, predestination, and justification, but he retracted in all humility. His teaching came up again in a more pronounced form in a pupil of one of his pupils, Cornelius Jansen, Bishop of Ypres, and it is well known how the “Augustinus”, a posthumous work of this prelate, which appeared in 1640, gave rise to what is called Jansenism. Another manifestation of the intellectual and scientific activity of Belgium was the beginning of the celebrated collection known as the “Acta Sanctorum” by the Belgian Jesuits. Héribert Rosweyde drew up the plans for the undertaking, and Father Jan van Bolland began to carry them out, leaving the continuation to his successors, the Bollandists. Amongst these Henschen and Papebroch in the seventeenth century contributed brilliantly to the work which has not yet reached its conclusion.
If, apart altogether from the religious aspect, we would complete the picture of Belgium‘s culture in the seventeenth century, we have but to recall that art reached its apogee in the Flemish School, of which Rubens was the head, and Van Dyck, Teniers, and Jordaens the greatest masters after him. It would thus be easy to prove that the Catholic Low Countries, though caught as in a vise between powerful neighbors and ever in the throes of war, did not give way to despair, but in the days of direst calamity drew from their own bosom works of art and beauty which have served to adorn even our present day civilization.
THE AUSTRIAN NETHERLANDS—The Treaty of Utrecht opened an era of comparative peace and prosperity for the Catholic Netherlands, but did not bring contentment. The Austrian régime under which the country was now to exist was that of an absolute monarchy, which by continued encroachments on the traditional privileges of the people, drove them at length to rebellion. It was not merely its absolutism, it was the anti-religious atmosphere of the Government which really aroused the people. The actuating principle of the Government in its dealings with the Catholic Church was that the civil power was supreme and could make rules for the Church, even in purely religious matters. This policy, which is known as Josephinism, from Joseph II, its most thoroughgoing exponent, had prevailed at the Austrian Court from the beginning. It found a theorist of great authority in the famous canonist Van Espen (1646-1728) a professor at the University of Louvain, who justified beforehand all attacks on the liberty of the Church. The opposition between the tendencies of the Government, which threatened alike the national liberties and the rights of the Church, and the aspirations of the Belgian people, devoted alike to religion and liberty, gave rise during the Austrian occupation of the country to endless misunderstandings and unrest. The situation was not, however, uniformly the same. It varied under different reigns, each of which had its own peculiar characteristics.
Under the reign of Charles VI (1713-1740) Belgium quickly learned that she had gained nothing by the changing of her rulers. One of the clauses of the Peace of Utrecht obliged Austria to sign a treaty with the United Provinces, called the Treaty de la Barrière (the Frontier Treaty) entitling the United Provinces to garrison a number of Belgian towns on the French frontier as a protection against attacks from that quarter. This was a humiliation for the Belgians, and it was aggravated by the fact that these garrison troops, who were all Protestants and enjoyed the free exercise of their religion, had many religious quarrels with the Catholic people. Moreover, the United Provinces, controlling the estuary of the Scheldt, had closed the sea against the port of Antwerp since 1585; so that this port which had at one time been the foremost commercial city of the north was now depleted of its trade. This was a fresh injustice to the Catholic Low Countries. To all this must be added the oppressive and ill-advised policy of the Marquess de Prié, deputy for the absent governor-general, Prince Eugene of Savoy. Prié, like another Alva, treated the country with the utmost severity. When the labor guilds of Brussels protested vigorously against the government taxes and tried to assert their ancient privileges, Prié caused the aged Francois Anneessens, syndic or chairman of one of these guilds, to be arrested and put to death (1719). The citizens of Brussels have never forgotten to venerate the memory of their fellow-townsman as a martyr for public liberty. The Government compensated the nation by founding the East and West Indian Trading Company of Ostend in 1722. This company, which was enthusiastically hailed by the public, was of immense benefit in the beginning, and promised an era of commercial prosperity. Unfortunately the jealousy of England and of the United Provinces sealed its fate. To win the consent of these two powers to his Pragmatic Sanction, by which he hoped to secure the undisputed succession of his daughter Maria Theresa, the emperor agreed to suppress the Ostend company and once more to close the sea against Belgian trade. His cowardly concessions were of no avail, and at his death in 1740 his daughter was obliged to undertake a long and costly war to maintain her inheritance and Belgium, invaded and conquered by France in 1745, was not restored to the empress till the Peace of Aachen in 1748.
Under the reign of Maria Theresa (1740-80) the Government was in a position to occupy itself peacefully with the organization of the Belgian provinces. On the whole it fostered the material interests of the country, but the principles underlying its religious policy revealed themselves in measures more and more hostile to the Church. The empress herself was of the opinion that the Church ought to be subject to the State even in religious matters. “The authority of the priesthood”, she wrote, “is by no means arbitrary and independent in matters of dogma, worship, and ecclesiastical discipline”. The statesmen in her service, imbued as they were with the Voltairean spirit, were zealous in applying those principles. The more famous among them were the Prince of Kaunitz, the Count of Cobenzl, and Mac Neny. On the slightest pretext they constantly stirred up petty and at times ridiculous conflicts with the ecclesiastical authorities, such as forbidding assemblies of the bishops; trying to insist on the relaxing of the Lenten Fast; claiming censorship over breviaries and missals, and going so far as to mutilate copies of them containing the Office of St. Gregory VII; calling in question the jurisdiction of the Church in matrimonial affairs; hindering and interfering in every conceivable way with the work of the religious orders, even busying themselves with the dress worn by the clerics; in a word pursuing a most irritating and malicious policy wherever the Church was concerned. If in spite of all this the name of Maria Theresa is of kindly memory in Belgium, it is because her subjects knew the sincerity of her piety, and her undoubted good-will. They were grateful for this, and believing that for the most part she was unaware of most of the actions of her representatives, they did not place the blame at her door. Moreover the Governor-General of the Austrian Low Countries, Prince Charles of Lorraine, brother-in-law of the empress, was a man of infinite tact, who knew how to moderate what was unpopular in the action of the Government, and even cause it to be forgotten. It was personal esteem for these two royal personages which caused the policy of the Government to be tolerated as long as they lived.
But there came a great change as soon as Joseph II mounted the throne (1780). He was the son of Maria Theresa, a pupil of the philosophers, and, inspired by their teachings, was ever ready to defy and disregard the Church. As was not unusual in his day he held the opinion that the State was the source of all authority, and the source of all civilizing progress. He set himself without delay to apply his policy of “enlightened despotism”. Forgetful of his coronation oath to observe the constitutions of the several Belgian provinces he began a career of reform which ended by overturning the existing state of affairs. His first act was to publish in 1781 an edict of toleration, by which Protestants were freed from all civil disabilities, a just measure in itself, and one that might well be praiseworthy, if it were not that, in the light of his subsequent actions it betrayed the dominant idea of his whole reign, namely, hostility to the Catholic Church. The Church, he thought, ought to be a creature of the State, subject to the control and supervision of the civil power. He undertook to realize this ideal by substituting for the Catholic Church governed by the pope a national Church subject to the State, along the lines laid down by Febronius, who had met with many supporters even within the ranks of the clergy. The measures he adopted to enslave the Church were endless. He forbade religious orders to correspond with superiors outside the country; he forbade the bishops to ask Rome for dispensations in matrimonial cases. He tried to gain control of the education of the clergy by erecting a central seminary to which he endeavored to force the bishops to send their future priests. He interfered with the professors and the teaching of the University of Louvain because he considered them too orthodox. He suppressed as useless all convents of contemplative orders and all pious confraternities and replaced them by one of his own invention which he grandiloquently called “The Confraternity of the Active Love of our Neighbor”. He prohibited all pilgrimages and the exposition of relics. He limited the number of processions and ordered that all parish festivals (kermesses) be kept on the same day. He interfered with the garb of religious and in liturgical questions, and even went so far as to forbid the making of coffins, so as to economize the wood supply. The dead, he thought, ought to be buried in sackcloth. At last his interference in and wanton meddling with ecclesiastical matters won for him the well-deserved sneer of Frederick II, King of Prussia, who called him “My brother, the sacristan”.
All these measures had been carried into effect without meeting other opposition than the calm respectful protest of the clergy. But it was quite otherwise when Joseph II was so imprudent as to interfere with civil institutions and, in violation of the most solemn oaths, to lay hands on the liberties of the people. Then the country was thoroughly aroused, there were demonstrations in the public streets, and protests reached the Government from all parts (1787); but Joseph II was stiff-necked, and would not listen to reason. Convinced that force would overcome all opposition, he hurried Count d’Alton with an army into the Low Countries, with orders to restore authority by bloodshed if necessary. Then as a protest against the violence of d’Alton, the provincial states, availing themselves of the rights granted them by the Constitution, refused to vote subsidies for the expenses of the Government, and d’Alton was so ill-advised as to declare the proceedings null and the Constitution abolished. This was a signal for revolution, the only resource left to Belgian liberty. Two committees directed the movement along widely differing lines. The one, under the leadership of a lawyer named Van der Noot, had its headquarters at Breda in the United Provinces, the other under another lawyer, Vonck, at Hasselt in the neighborhood of Liege. That under Van der Noot, a man of great popularity, looked to the foreign powers for help; the other relied on the Belgians to help themselves, and began recruiting a volunteer army. The one was conservative, almost reactionary, and aimed merely at restoring the status quo; the other was eager for reforms such as France was asking, but was faithful to the religion of its fathers and took as its motto Pro aris et focis. In their union lay their strength. The volunteer army defeated the Austrians at Turnhout (1789) and forced them step by step to evacuate the country. The bitterness of this defeat killed Joseph II.
The States-General of the country were convened at Brussels and voted that Belgium should be an independent federated republic under the name of the United States of Belgium. Unfortunately the heads of the new Government were novices in statecraft, and differences arose between the Van der Noot party and the followers of Vonck. So that in the following year Leopold II, who had succeeded his father, Joseph II, had the country once more under his authority. He was, however, wise enough to restore it all the privileges it enjoyed prior to the senseless reforms of Joseph II. The Belgians were therefore to all intents once more a free people, and they rejoiced in their freedom until the day when the French invaded their country under the pretext of emancipating them.
For the later history of this territory see Belgium.