According to most historians you can only call a society a civilization when it has cities. The Sumerian civilization in present day Iraq had an efficient agricultural system. The farmers did not just grow enough food for themselves, they were able to feed cities with a non-farming population of administrators and artisans.
In the Netherlands the first real cities date from Roman times. But the cities in the Medieval County of Flanders, and later in the county of Holland and Zeeland, were ‘stage two’ cities. They were not just administrative centres and marketplaces where artisans and farmers bought and sold.
Brugge (Bruges), Gent (Ghent) and Ieper (Ypres), cities that people from outside Belgium will know, were producing textile on an industrial scale, and this produced a fabulous wealth. Just think about the magnificent Lakenhal (Cloth-hall) in Ieper, built by the guild of cloth (laken) producers.
With industrial ‘power’ also came political influence. The Counts of Flanders were looking for contributions from the wealthy cities to run their government, to run their courts and to fight their wars. The Cities paid their dues but with that ‘bought’ privileges for their ‘poorters’ (Stadspoort = City gate).
Most of states that made up the medieval Netherlands were part of the German Empire, but Flanders was part of the French kingdom. Under weak French Kings the high nobility of France, like the Dukes of Burgundy, the Duke of Brittany, the English Kings (who ruled parts of France) and the count of Flanders ‘ruled’ the King, but strong French kings tried to rule the nobility.
Towards the end of the middle ages most of the Netherlands’ Counties, Dukedoms and Bishoprics had become part of the ‘empire’ of Burgundy, and that empire was inherited by the Habsburg family. These new rulers were Counts of Flanders, Counts of Holland, Dukes of Guelders, Dukes of Brabant etc, but the Habsburgs tried to centralise government weaken the privileges of the states and cities.
The French Kings had to deal with powerful nobles who ruled parts of their country. The Burgundians and Habsburgs inherited these positions themselves. But they were confronted by powerful cities and their patricians and craftsmen.
It was in Flanders, Zeeland and Holland, where there were powerful and wealthy cities, that the religious reformation of the 16th century was most successful. King Philip II had to cope with an independent-minded population that did not want give up its privileges, and many of whom were ardent supporters of the protestant reform movements.