Before we start discussing the reformation in the Netherlands I want to have another look at the early industrial cities in Flanders. First a technical matter : the laken that was produced in these cities was made of wool, first of Flemish wool, but when the production increased most of the wool was imported from England.
The situation in Flanders in the early 14th century was complicated. The Counts of Flanders had two conflicts on their hands: French King Philippe le Bel wanted to regain control over the County of Flanders. The industrial cities, ruled by a new élite, tried to be as independent as possible of the Counts.
The final complication was that the craftsmen, who actually made the wool into the precious laken, also wanted a say in the running of the cities.
The French King supported the city’s élite against the Count of Flanders and the Count supported the craftsmen against the city rulers. These rulers were also the guild masters, or in modern terms, the industrialists.
Whatever Flemish nationalists might tell you, this was not about Flemish or Netherlands’ nationalism, nationalism was invented in the 19th century. The Count thought of Flanders as a possession of him and his family, and the King thought of the Count as somebody who on his behalf ruled over part of his property.
Within the cities, or between the cities and the count, the issue was not democracy. These industrial cities were a new power in the land, and they were looking for privileges and influence. When the craftsmen realised their power (no craftsmen no laken) they also demanded a share of the influence and wealth.
The development of powerful industrial and trading cities brought new groups into the political process, which made it more difficult to control areas like Flanders and later Holland and Zeeland. Cities like these did not just exist in Flanders, Holland and Zeeland. Antwerpen and Bergen-op-Zoom (Dukedom of Brabant) at the mouth of the river Schelde were good examples of non-Flemish trading cities.
In most of their country the Kings of France regained full control, but Flanders went its own way, and ended up under the rule of the Habsburgs, together with almost all the other states of the Netherlands.
The Habsburg Netherlands were like a confederation linked to each other by a personal union, as each of the component parts had the same ruler.
But each county or dukedom had a different set of rights and duties for the ruler and the ruled. There was also not a standard set of privileges and duties for the cities, neither within the Netherlands as a whole, nor within each state.
The King of Spain was the Lord of the Netherlands, but he did not have absolute power. But King Philips II was convinced that he had a God-given right to decide all aspects of life in the countries he ruled, regardless of his legal position. 1)
1) Het Klauwen van de Leeuw p 57-61 en 61-62; 1995, Uitgeverij Van Halewyck, Leuven; ISBN 90 5617 004 x