The Low Countries are a Burgundian invention

The Low Countries are a Burgundian invention

The latest issue of Dutch Crossing, Journal of Low Countries Studies, is dedicated to “Burgundian Afterlives. Appropriating the Dynastic Past(s) in the Habsburg Netherlands”. Dutch Crossing serves as the publication organ of both the Association for Low Countries Studies (ALCS) in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland and the American Association for Netherlandic Studies (AANS).

‘The Low Countries are a Burgundian invention’. Although Bart Van Loo (°1973) always looks history frankly and freely in the eye, he also knows of course that the Dukes of Burgundy were not industrious alchemists, but cunning power politicians who in a century - from 1369 to 1467 - thanks to dynastic arrangements, merciless warfare, political manoeuvring and energetic reforms brought together a wealth of principalities and free cities and thus succeeded in centralising power in the Low Countries.

Van Loo wrote a wonderful account of blossoming cities, awakening individualism and dying ideals of knights. Of schizophrenic kings, bold dukes and brilliant artist, such Klaas Sluter, Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden.
At the beginning of the sixteenth century, the Habsburg emperor Charles V inherited the harvest from his Burgundian ancestors and, at least for a short time, gave the impression that the Northern and Southern Netherlands would never split up again. They did however.

Introducing Van Loo is hardly necessary in Flanders and the Netherlands today. Unstoppable speech waterfall on television, enthusiastic expert of the French chanson, author of a captivating French trilogy on love, cuisine and literature (2011) and the equally excellent biography Napoleon (2014).

De Bourgondiërs. Aartsvaders van de Lage Landen (De Bezige Bij, Amsterdam, 2019) fully meets the high expectations raised by the widely praised author and speaker. The bestseller is fully in the making. It will be published in English by Head of Zeus (London, probably fall 2021) and in German (Beck Verlag, 2020).

By happy coincidence, Dutch Crossing, Journal of Low Countries Studies, just dedicated its new and special issue (2019, VOL 43, NO 1) to “Burgundian Afterlives. Appropriating the Dynastic Past(s) in the Habsburg Netherlands”. Guest editors were Steven Thiry (University of Antwerp) and Anne-Laure Van Bruaene, Ghent University.

Plagued by discord and violence, the subjects of the late sixteenth-century Netherlands looked back upon the prosperous reign of the Burgundian dukes with “tears in their eyes”. As the contributions in this special issue point out, the chronological divide between a Burgundian and Habsburg era was less clear-cut than it appears to be today. In different ways, the Burgundian past remained an anchor of political traditions, both in the Dutch Republic and the Habsburg Netherlands. This volume considers the Habsburg Netherlands and modern Belgium, where this past was most tangible because of dynastic continuities until the end of the Old Regime. The focus in the articles is on the dynastic institutions that still appeal to the imagination today: the chivalric Order of the Golden Fleece, Burgundian court ceremonial and the title of duke of Burgundy itself.

Luc Devoldere

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