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The United Provinces (Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden/ProvinciŽn, Republic of the Seven United Netherlands/Provinces — 1581–1795) was a European republic which is now known as the Netherlands.
Before 1581, the area of the Low Countries consisted of a number of duchies, counties, and independent bishoprics, not all of them part of the Holy Roman empire, today divided between the Netherlands and Belgium and Luxembourg. The Low Countries in the 16th century roughly corresponded to the Seventeen Provinces covered by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1548 of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. See Seventeen Provinces, for history and links to the earlier history of each of the provinces. For the southern provinces that did not revolt in 1581, see the Spanish Netherlands.
Through marriage, war or sale, these states all ended up in the hands of the Habsburg emperor Charles V and his son, king Philip II of Spain. In 1568, the Netherlands revolted against Philip II because of his efforts to modernize and centralize the devolved medieval government structures of the provinces, high taxes, and persecution of Protestants by the Catholic church. This was the start of the Eighty Years' War.
In 1579, a number of the northern Netherlands signed the Union of Utrecht, in which they promised to support each other in their defense against the Spanish army. This was followed in 1581 by the Oath of Abjuration, the declaration of independence in which the provinces officially deposed Philip II.
The United Provinces first tried to choose their own lord, and they asked the Duke of Anjou and later the Earl of Leicester to rule them. This was not a success, and in 1588 the provinces became a Republic.
The Republic was officially recognized in the Peace of Westphalia (1648), and lasted until French revolutionary forces invaded in 1795 and set up a new republic, called the Batavian Republic, which would be replaced by the French-controlled Kingdom of Holland.
The Netherlands regained independence from France in 1813. In the Anglo-Dutch Treaty of 1814 the names "United Provinces of the Netherlands" and "United Netherlands" are used. In 1816 it was joined with Belgium to become the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, in order to create a strong buffer state north of France. After Belgium became independent, the state finally became known as the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as it remains today.
The republic consisted of seven provinces, which had their own governments and were very independent, and a number of so called Generality Lands. These were governed directly by the States-General. The States-General was seated in The Hague, and consisted of representatives of each of the seven provinces.
The provinces of the republic were Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, Overijssel, Friesland and Groningen. Each province was governed by the Provincial States and by a stadtholder. In theory, the stadtholders were elected and subordinate to the States-General. However, the princes of Orange-Nassau, beginning with William the Silent were chosen as stadtholders of most of the provinces, and Zeeland and usually also Utrecht were always ruled by the Holland Stadtholder. There was a constant power struggle between the Orangists, who supported the stadtholders, and the Regent's supporters.
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