Is it called the Netherlands, Holland, the Low Countries or even
Friesland? There is a lot confusion about the name of our country. Nowadays we
call it "Koninkrijk der Nederlanden" (Kingdom of the
Netherlands), shortened as "Nederland". This kingdom consists of
1 "Nederland" (the Netherlands, ie the part of the kingdom on
2 "de Nederlandse Antillen" (the Netherlands Antilles)
3 Aruba (until 1986 one of the Netherlands Antilles; in 1986 this isle
off the coast of Venezuela gained a "status aparte")
These three countries have their own governments (and parliaments), but
Queen Beatrix [of the Netherlands]
is the head of state of each of these countries.
Furthermore, there is a "koninkrijksregering" (a government of
the kingdom), which consists of representatives of the governments of the
three countries. There are only occasional meetings of this "koninkrijksregering".
Until 1975 Surinam was also part of the kingdom, and until 1963
New-Guinea, too. Indonesia (the former Dutch [East] Indies) gained independence in
1949, but formed a union with the Netherlands until 1956.
In English there is no real difference between the name of the kingdom and of
the country; in both cases it is translated with the word
"Netherlands" (plural). In Dutch there is a difference. The
country is called "Nederland" (singular) and the kingdom is
called "Nederlanden" (plural); so in fact
the name of the country should be translated into English as "Netherland". On
coins, and since January 2002 on the Dutch euros, there is the queen's portrait
with the words "BEATRIX KONINGIN DER NEDERLANDEN"
(Beatrix Queen of the Netherlands). This plural indicates that term
describes the kingdom rather than the country.
In the tenth century, the complete coast
of the Netherlands was called "Friesland" (in English, Frisia,
but either term can be used). After that the name was reserved only for the northern coast. The
western coast (sometimes called "West-Friesland" ("West
Frisia") became part of the
County of Holland. "Holland" (the same in
English and Dutch) is an adulteration of "Hout-Land",
which means in English "Wood-Land", because there were a lot of
trees in the area.
In the early Middle Ages the country was an assemblage of counties,
duchies and dioceses, all of which were a part of the German empire [Holy
Roman empire]. The most
important part of this area was the County of Holland. Little by little (mostly by
marriage) the titles of the remaining regions came to be held by the dukes of Burgundy. So the dukes of
not only claimed that important title, but also that of Count of Holland,
Duke of Brabant, etc. In 1477 duchess Mary of Burgundy married the German
Emperor Maximilian I of Habsburg. Because of this marriage the Dutch areas
became a possession of the Habsburgs. The Habsburgs also held possessions
in Austria, and most of the time the Habsburgs also reigned as ruler of
the German Empire.
After Maximilian came his son Philip, who married queen Juana of Spain.
Their son Charles (Emperor Charles V) was the next ruler. Charles V gave
his Austrian possessions and the title of emperor to his brother, and his
possessions Spain and the Netherlands to his son Philip (King Philip II
The name of this group of areas was now "de Nederlanden", which
could be translated as "the Netherlands" or "the Low
Countries" (the Dutch word "neder" (or simply "neer")
means "down", and "landen" is the plural of
"land", which in English is more or less the same word). So
"the Netherlands" and "the Low Countries" mean exactly
the same thing.
Originally, "the Netherlands" was a name for Germany and the
Netherlands combined (as they were under the Frankish Carolingian Empire), and
the westerly region (modern Netherlands) was called "the Netherlands at the
sea". Gradually "the Netherlands" came to indicate only
the western region, so the words "at the sea" were eventually
It is important to know that until 1579 the name "Netherlands"
included also the territory which is nowadays known as
Belgium. On 6th January 1579 this southern region of the Netherlands signed the "Unie van
Atrecht" (the Union of Atrecht), in which they declared that they
prepared to be loyal to the Roman Catholic Philip II. In reply, on 23rd
seven northern areas signed the "Unie van Utrecht" (the Union of Utrecht), in which they declared
that they were not able to comply to the orders of this Roman Catholic lord. This
created a schism, splitting the
Netherlands into northern and southern sections (nowadays known as the
Netherlands and Belgium).
The Netherlands finally gained independence from the Habsburgs in 1581. In this year the Northern Netherlands
deposed their nominal master, Philip II of Spain (who was not king
of the Netherlands, but only "lord"). The country was renamed "de Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden"
(the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands); the words "Zeven"
and "Verenigde" were not always used, so there are also shorter
versions of this name. In fact,
"republic" was a bit a misleading word, because most of the time
there was a Prince of Orange ruling the country as stadhouder (royal "head of state"),
king in all but name. Sometimes our
country was also called "de Zeven ProvinciŽn" (the Seven
In 1795 the revolutionary French Republic invaded the Netherlands. The old Republic was
reformed on French model by its new masters and was named "Bataafs(ch)e Republiek"
(Batavian Republic), because the tribe of the Batavians were believed to
be the ancestors of the Dutch people.
(The last stadhouder, William
V, called himself "Willem Batavus" (William the Batavian.)
From 1806 until 1810, the Netherlands was ruled as a kingdom (with
Napoleon's well-meaning brother,
Louis (in Dutch: "Lodewijk"), as king. It was called "Koningrijk
Holland" (Kingdom Holland). This was a misleading name,
because Holland was only one of the seven provinces (there were six other
provinces, but apparently they were not important).
From 1810 until 1813, the country was part of the French Empire, ruled
directly by Napoleon.
Once Napoleon had lost control of Germany, and the British sent a
small expeditionary force to aid the Dutch, the French were rapidly forced
out. From 1813 until 1815, the country was ruled by Prince William I, son of
stadhouder William V.
In 1815, the Congress of Vienna decided that the Southern Netherlands would
be rejoined to the country (if only to take it out of French control), and that
William I would be elevated to the status of king now that his territory
had been almost doubled. The country was then called "Verenigd Koninkrijk der Nederlanden"
(United Kingdom of the Netherlands).
In 1830, the Southern Netherlands revolted against King William, and in 1831
they proclaimed their independence and called their new country Belgium (in
Dutch: "BelgiŽ", in French: "Belgique"). This
independence was recognised by the Dutch government in 1839. So from 1839,
the country was officially not "Verenigd" (United) any more, and
was simply called "Koninkrijk der Nederlanden" (Kingdom of
the Netherlands). (Most people probably didn't notice: already in the period 1815-1839 the word
"Verenigd" was often omitted.)
The kingdom has remained in this form to the present day. Belgium remains separated from
the Northern Netherlands by the Roman Catholic religion.
The English word "Dutch" is perhaps a bit strange,
but it is derived from the old Dutch word "Duits" (or "Duyts(ch)"),
which means something like "from the people". In older times
(until the nineteenth century) the Dutch spoke of "Nederduits(ch)"
instead of "Nederlands(ch)". Nowadays they use this adjective
"Duits" (without "Neder") only when they talk about
neighbours, the Germans (who call their own country
Confusing, isn't it? Well, it's also confusing for most of modern
Nethelanders. The national anthem, the "Wilhelmus", was written in 1570 as a sort
of apology for William I the Silent, to explain the reasons for his
rebellion against the king of Spain. This Wilhelmus begins with the words
"Wilhelmus van Nassaue - ben ik, van duytschen bloed" (William
of Nassau - am I, of dutch
blood). During the German occupation in World
War II a lot of people felt a bit awkward about singing these words,
because they interpreted it as "I am of German blood". However,
they still kept singing it, because of its heroic content, it is the chant
of the struggle for freedom, and the confidence in the Almighty.