Netherlands - Historical Information (National Institute)

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The Netherlands is rich in history. Historical timelines for each of the twelve provinces are shown here.

National Institute for Genealogical StudiesNational Institute for Genealogical Studies.gif

The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in May 2012. It is an excerpt from their course Research: Dutch Ancestors in the Netherlands  by Susanna de Groot, PLCGS. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

History[edit | edit source]

The area currently known as the Netherlands is rich with history. The official title of the country is the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Koninkrijk der Nederlanden). It covers 41,528 square kilometres where approximately 16 million people live today. It is ranked in the top 25 countries with the largest population density per square kilometres!

Netherlands or Nederland literally means “Low Countries”. Approximately 27% of the land lies below sea level and has been vulnerable to flooding for many centuries. To learn more about the major floods that have affected the Netherlands, visit Deltawerken Online. This site is available in Dutch, English, German, French and Spanish.

The Netherlands has endured many wars with countries such as England, France, Spain and Germany. From 50 B.C. to 1588, it had been ruled by the Romans, Charlemagne, Philip the Good, The Habsburgs, Charles V, Philip II, and William of Orange.

In 1588 it became known as the Republic of the United Provinces and retained that title until 1795. From 1795 to 1830, the country under went six title changes! The chart below outlines the time period the country changed titles.

Time Period - Country Title

1588-1795 - The Republic of the United Provinces

1795-1805 - The Batavian Republic

1805-1806 - The Batavian Commonwealth

1806-1810 - The Kingdom of Holland

1810-1813 - Departments of the French Empire

1814-1830 - The Kingdom of the United Netherlands

The Land[edit | edit source]

The present day Netherlands comprises of twelve provinces: Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel, Gelderland, North Holland (Noord Holland), South Holland (Zuid Holland), Zeeland, Flevoland, Utrecht, North Brabant and Limburg.

Map of the Netherlands – Provinces and Major Cities

Map of the Netherlands.png

The landscape of the country has undergone many changes over the centuries. “Holland”, once a single province, was divided into North Holland and South Holland in 1840. Flevoland, the youngest province, became populated during the 1970’s. This province is comprised of land reclaimed from the South Sea (Zuiderzee). The South Sea ceased to exist in 1933, when theAfsluitdijk was closed off and it became the IJsselmeer. Today it is two lakes, called IJsselmeer and Markermeer.

Due to the many changes in the landscape, the use of maps is important when doing research in the Netherlands. It is equally important to use maps from the time period of your ancestor. How the land is shaped today is not the way it was 100 or 200 years ago.

Jurisdictions[edit | edit source]

Over the centuries the Netherlands had its jurisdictions change a number of times. Knowing the various jurisdictions during the different time periods will assist you with your genealogical research.

Prior to 1543, the present day provinces were under the following jurisdictions:

  • Counties of Holland and Zeeland
  • Bishopric of Utrecht, including the city of Groningen and present day provinces of Overijssel and Drenthe
  • Duchy of Gelre, including most of the present day Limburg
  • Duchy of Brabant, including the southern part of present day Limburg
  • Friesland
  • Groningen, except the city of Groningen

During 1543, these jurisdictions were united under the reign of Charles V, King of Spain and Emperor of Germany. In 1555, Philip II, son of Charles V, reigned over the Netherlands. From 1568 to 1572, the country was at war with France with the rebellion being led by Willem I of Orange and later by his sons. The Dutch had established their own central government and incorporated the liberated provinces from 1572 to 1588.

When the country was known as the Republic of the United Provinces (1588-1795), there were the following seven provinces:

  • Holland
  • Friesland
  • Zeeland
  • Gelderland
  • Utrecht
  • Groningen
  • Overijssel and Drenthe

In 1795, the government of the Republic of the United Provinces was overthrown and replaced by the Batavian Republic. This was the beginning of many changes that were to occur over the next thirty-five years. In 1806, Napoleon’s brother, Louis Bonaparte reigned over the country and created the Kingdom of Holland. Then in 1811 it was annexed to the French Empire until 1814. When France was defeated in the Napoleonic wars, William Frederick, son of William V, returned to the Netherlands and became King William I.

In 1830, the people in the southern area of the Netherlands rebelled and formed the Kingdom of Belgium. The final border disputes were not resolved until 1839. That same year Limburg became a province and the next year, the province of Holland was divided into North Holland and South Holland. This would also be the last time borders changed to shape the present day provinces.

If you would like to learn more about the different periods in Dutch history, visit the HistoryInNL website’s History of the Netherlands from 50 BC to 2005 (De Nederlandse Geschiedenis van 50 v.Chr. tot en met 2005). This site has been developed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Buitenlandse Zaken) and is available in Dutch, English, French, German and Spanish.

The Provinces[edit | edit source]

Each province in the Netherlands has its own history that can affect your genealogical research. A brief timeline of events for each province follows.

Groningen[edit | edit source]

Charles IV ruler.
Roman Catholic Bishopric of Groningen created.
Beginning of Eighty Years’ War –
rebellion against Spain and ruler, Philip II
Part of Republic of the United Provinces; church records began
Eighty Years’ War ended with Peace of Münster. Population increased
with immigrants from western provinces
Patriots take over province with help of French troops
Civil municipalities created
Part of Kingdom of Holland
Part of French Empire; called Departement van Westereems
Civil registration began; surnames adopted
Part of Kingdom of the Netherlands

Friesland[edit | edit source]

Reformed ideas preached in public
War with Spain; Reformation takes hold; Roman Catholic properties
confiscated and forbidden to perform services
1626 and 1668
Civil conflict between working and ruling classes caused by high taxes
1747, 1770 and 1782
More civil friction
Part of Batavian Republic
Part of Kingdom of Holland
Part of French Empire
Civil registration began; surnames adopted
Became province of Kingdom of the Netherlands
Population registers began

Drenthe[edit | edit source]

1st quarter of the 16th Century
Province occupied by Duke of Gelre and armies.
Duke of Gelre defeated by Charles V
Reorganization of ecclesiastical jurisdictions transferred from Bishopric of Utrecht to Bishopric of Groningen
Eighty Years’ War
Roman Catholics forbidden to perform services; properties confiscated and controlled by Dutch Reformed Church
17th and 18th Centuries
Roman Catholics unable to perform rituals openly; many went to Germany for services
Part of Batavian Republic; religious restrictions lifted; Roman Catholics built churches, held services and began record keeping
Became a province in the Netherlands

Overijssel[edit | edit source]

1528 Charles V, Lord of Overijssel; start of Reformation;
Lutheran religion strengthened in province.
1566 Calvinists increased influence throughout province;
Roman Catholic properties destroyed.
1572 Province sided with King of Spain, Philip II, in the Eighty Years’ War.
1573-1576 Province occupied by Spanish troops.
1576-1580 Spanish troops left; Overijssel joined other provinces.
1583-1653 Years 1583, 1595, 1598, 1628 and 1653 ordinances issued allowing only
Dutch Reformed Church to perform christenings and marriages.
1591-1597 Province liberated by Prince Maurits of Orange.
1648 Eighty Years’ War ends.
1787 Patriots took over many government offices.
1791 Duplicate registers required ― local and the province.
1795 Overijssel part of Batavian Republic; called Departement van Oudenijssel;
civil marriages mandatory; manorial system abolished.
1805-1810 Province part of Kingdom of Holland.
1810-1814 Province part of French Empire
1811 Civil registration began; surnames adopted.
1814 Overijssel became province of Kingdom of the Netherlands;
final border adjustments made with province of Gelderland.

Gelderland[edit | edit source]

Charles V became Duke of Gelre
Charles V abdication; son, Philip II became King.
Eighty Years’ War
Dutch Reformed Church take properties of Roman Catholic churches.
At war with France, England, Münster and Cologne.
Part of Batavian Republic; called Departement van de Rijn.
Part of Kingdom of Holland.
Part of French Empire; called Departement De L’lssel Superieur.
Province of Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Parts of Prussia annexed to Gelderland;
some changes in municipal boundaries.
Some archives and records destroyed during World War II.

North Holland (Noord Holland)[edit | edit source]

1540s Period of reformation; many people Lutherans and Anabaptists.
1568-1648 Eighty Years’ War
1578-1628 Rapid increase in population of Amsterdam.
1795 Batavian Republic established.
1806-1810 Part of Kingdom of Holland.
1810-1813 Part of French Empire.
1814 Part of province of Holland in Kingdom of the Netherlands.
1840 Provinces of North Holland and South Holland created
from province of Holland.
1852-1853 Haarlemmer Lake (Haarlemmermeer) drained to reclaim land.
1941 Wieringer Lake (Wieringermeer) polder developed.

South Holland (Zuid Holland)[edit | edit source]

1543-1561 Baptismal and marriage registers required.
1568-1648 Eighty Years’ War.
1580 Civil marriages began; taxation began.
1695 Marriages and burials taxed.
1792 Duplicate baptismal and marriage registers required.
1795 Part of Batavian Republic; guilds abolished;
only civil marriages legal; church burials forbidden; voter and militia records
generated; census of males.
1806 Part of Kingdom of Holland.
1810 Annexed to France.
1811 Civil registration began; surname adoptions; church and civil registers
ordered sent to archives; municipalities organized with manors,
liberties and areas with small populations dissolved.
1813-1814 Part of Kingdom of the Netherlands.
1816-1819 Border adjustments with Utrecht and North Brabant.
1840 Provinces of North Holland and South Holland created from
province of Holland.
1973 Most populated province in the Netherlands ― 153 municipalities.

Zeeland[edit | edit source]

1568-1648 Eighty Years’ War.
1713 French troops occupy Zeeuws Flanders
1795 Part of Batavian Republic; Zeeuws Flanders part of France.
1809-1810 Zeeland part of French Empire; called Departement des Bouches de Schelde.
1814 Zeeland liberated from France; Zeeuws Flanders part of province of Zeeland.
1830 Belgium claims Zeeuws Flanders.
1839 Provincial archives established.
1944-1945 Parts of province heavily damaged from WW II bombings.

Flevoland[edit | edit source]

Late 19th & early 20th Century Reclaimed land from South Sea (Zuider Zee).
1970s Reclaimed land inhabited.

Utrecht[edit | edit source]

1528 Charles V became ruler.
1559 Bishop of Utrecht became Archbishop; diocese boundaries change.
1568-1648 Eight Years’ War
1580 Protestants gain control;
Catholicism banned and properties confiscated.
1672-1674 War with France, England, Münster and Cologne; French troops
occupy area; Roman Catholics regain churches for two years.
1795-1806 Part of Batavian Republic; called Departements van Delft,
Tessel and Rijn
1801 Changed to Departement van Utrecht.
1806-1810 Part of Kingdom of Holland; borders changed.
1810-1813 Part of French Empire; called Departement Du Zuiderzee.
1814-1815 Part of Kingdom of the Netherlands.
1816-1820 Provincial and municipal boundaries changed.

North Brabant (Noord Brabant)[edit | edit source]

1568-1648 Eight Years’ War
1609-1621 Many Roman Catholics christen their children in Antwerp and
‘s Hertogenbosch.
1625-1648 Part of Dutch Republic.
1648 Divided into Dutch and Spanish territories.
1747 French troops occupy Bergen op Zoom.
1798-1805 Part of Batavian Republic; called Departments De ‘L Escant
et Meuse en du Dommel
1806-1810 Part of Kingdom of Holland; called Department Brabant.
1810-1814 Brabant annexed to France;
western area called Departement Des Deux Nethes;
eastern area called Departement Des Bouches Du Rijn.
1815 Became North Brabant province in Kingdom of the Netherlands.
1830 Belgians revolt against Dutch.
1839 Borders settled between the Netherlands and Belgium.

Limburg[edit | edit source]

1534 Religious persecution of Protestants.
1559 First Calvinists converted.
1566-1567 Invasion of Spanish troops; severe persecution and
heavy taxation.
1568 Start of Eighty Years’ War; Prince of Orange invaded.
1579-1632 Occupation by Spanish troops.
1621-1646 Battles throughout area; Dutch troops occupy.
1648-1661 Area divided by Dutch and Spanish.
1673-1678 Invaded by French troops.
1688-1697 French troops invaded and raged war.
1713 Upper Gelderland area of Limburg divided between
Austrian Netherlands, Dutch Republic and Prussia.
1747-1748 French troops invaded and occupied Maastricht.
1785 Dutch Republic and Austrian Netherlands exchanged land –
Daalhem for Oud Valkenburg.
1794-1795 French occupied; part of Departement van de Ourthe and
Departement van der Bezeden Maas
civil registration began.
1815 Became province of Kingdom of the Netherlands.
1830 Province except Maastricht annexed to Kingdom of Belgium –
disputed by the Netherlands.
1839 Limburg returned to Kingdom of the Netherlands.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course Research: Dutch Ancestors in the Netherlands offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.