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Modern Times (1482 - 1794)

Under the reign of Emperor Charles V (1500 - 1555) Belgium was one of the most urbanized regions in the world. The port of Antwerp was a leading commercial centre and also became a financial centre. Art and science florished along with the economy and Belgian intellectuals became famous throughout Europe.

In the second half of the sixteenth century the Belgians and Dutch reacted against the tyranny of Philip II (1555 - 1598), King of Spain and the Netherlands. This resistance was intertwined with troubles between catholics and protestants. In the 1580's the protestants of the Northern Netherlands managed to secede. The Spanish king reconquered the south, where catholisism was imposed. The leading traders and intellectuals migrated to the north and took their capital and knowlegdge with them. Moreover, the Dutch were able to block the Scheldt estuary until 1794. This caused the decline of Antwerp and the rise of Amsterdam.

Under Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella (daughter of Philip II) the Southern Netherlands (Belgium excluding Liège) became semi-autonomous (1598 - 1621) and they could preserve some of their cultural splendour (Rubens). The Southern Netherlands, once back under Spanish control, had to pay for the defeats inflicted on their masters. They thus lost many territories to the Northern Netherlands and France forever. The country suffered heavily during the wars of the French king Louis XIV, who wrought havoc in Brussels in 1695.

In 1713 the Southern Netherlands entered into Austrian hands. They devoted themselves to encouraging prosperity. The Austrians promoted trade and commerce. In the 1720's the Company of Ostend was successful in trading with the Orient but the Austrian emperor was forced by the other European powers to suspend the company's operations. In Wallonia, the industrial sector was characterised by innovation.

In the meantime the princedom of Liège remained independent within the Holy Roman Empire. In 1794 Austrian rule came to an end whit the French conquest of the Southern Netherlands and Liège and their annexation to France.