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The Low Countries

Posted by Lewis on March 11, 2004

In Reply to: Holland, Netherlands and the Dutch posted by Henry on March 08, 2004

: : Recently in The Times Q&A section a question was asked about Netherlands vs Holland as the correct name for that country. The answer said that Holland strictly refers only to two southern provinces. Nederlands is the official name and appears on currency and stamps. Incidenatlly, in spite of this, the locals still shout for Holland at international football matches! Later, a supplementary question was published. Today, that following extra question was answered. I found it interesting and thought I'd share it.
: : **********************************************
: : I was interested to read about Holland and the Netherlands (Q&A, February 25), but where do the "Dutch" come from?

: : In medieval times the Germanic people with whom the ordinary Englishman most frequently came into contact were sailors who lived on the other side of the North Sea. They probably described themselves as "Deutsch", which was later corrupted in English and written as "Dutch".
: : In contrast, the "Germanic" people with whom the English aristocracy came into contact were the aristocracy of the Holy Roman Empire. The mutual language of communication that they used was Latin, hence the area from which they came was described as "Germania", which later became "Germany".
: : To this day, notwithstanding the atrocities of 1940-45, the Dutch national anthem has references to the country's Germanic origin - the opening lines of the anthem (written about 1569) being "Wilhelmus van Nassouwe / Ben ik van Duitsen bloed" which translates as: "I am William of Nassau / Of Germanic descent".
: : Martin Vlietstra, Fleet, Hampshire

: : From the late Middle Ages to the 16th century, when linguistic distinctions were not sharply defined, the English often
: : described anyone, speaking a Germanic language as "Doch" or "T(h)eutonicus", heedless of whether the subject hailed from Antwerp, Hamburg or Nuremberg. A survey of aliens in London in 1568 found 5,225 "Dutch parsons" but only a meagre 22 "Garmans".
: : Once the northern provinces of the Habsburg Low Countries gained their political independence in the early 17th century, it became usual to distinguish between Dutch and German speakers and their cultures. "Dutch" derives from the Middle Dutch duuts or diets which ultimately stem from the old Germanic word theudo meaning "people".
: : The nomenclature for the Low Countries has long puzzled foreigners, and no wonder. In the early modern period there were perhaps eight different ways of referring to the region, its inhabitants and cultures.

: : Alastair Duke, Southampton

: And the abbreviation for Dutch guilders was Hfl, Hollandse florijnen. Roll on the Euro.

We often forget that centuries past, Europe was regional and that modern countries were less defined. Often duchys/dukedoms spanned present borders and Belgium for example did not exist in its own right - Flanders and the Brabant would have been familiar names, but not 'Belgium'. Germany was another country of regions - Bavaria, Saxony, the Rhineland, Prussia - where exactly 'Germany' was a few hundred years ago is anybody's guess - which autonomous areas considered themselves to have a common identity I would not know. Holland/The Nederlands was not much more defined - it has regions and Northern Belgium has more culture in common with Holland than with the Walloon/French-speaking south.
When you realise that for centuries a chunk of France was considered part of England - because the Dukes held it under English rule - you can see how confusing it is to have countries and think of national identity.