Belgium only became an independent country in 1830. Before that it has belonged to nearly all major continental European powers during their heydays, including the Romans, the Franks, the Holy Roman Empire, Habsburgian Spain and Austria, Revolutionary France, and the United Kingdom of Netherlands.
1516 - 1713 Belgium became a Spanish possession.
Charles V was born in Ghent in 1500 became Duke of Brabant and ruler of the Low Countries. The next year he became king of Spain and later of Naples, Sardinia, Sicily and the Spanish territories in the New World. He was crowned king of Germany and Holy Roman Emperor in 1519, thus becoming Europe’s most powerful ruler.
His sister, Mary of Hungary, was responsible for the region for most of his reign, during which the Low Countries once again boomed.
But it wasn’t all prosperous. The great Flemish cloth towns were in decline due to competition from cloth manufacturers in England and the silting of the Zwin, which connected Bruges to the North Sea. In addition Charles favoured up-and-coming Antwerp over the old cloth towns. His choice was fuelled by frustration with the rebellious burghers of Flanders; in 1540 the townsfolk of Ghent planned an uprising against taxes imposed on them to finance wars instigated by their absent leader, and Charles V personally suppressed these uprisings. In 1555, tired of continual revolts and a lifetime of war, Charles returned to Brussels and abdicated in favour of his son Philip II. By this time Antwerp had become the empire’s greatest port.
During Charles’ reign Protestantism swept much of Europe. The Reformation met with severe repercussions in the Low Countries. In 1550 Charles ordered the Edict of Blood, which decreed the death penalty to those convicted of heresy. When his son Philip II came to the throne, the latter took a more zealous approach to the defence of Catholicism. Philip was born in Spain and ruled from there; he had little interest in the Low Countries and was largely unpopular. Determined to defend the Catholic faith, he quashed any resistance by implementing a string of anti-Protestant edicts and garrisoning towns in the Low Countries with Spanish mercenaries. In 1566 the Protestants revolted, running riot and ransacking churches in a wave of violence that has become known as the Iconoclastic Fury. Philip retaliated with a force of 10,000 troops led by the duke of Alva, who set up the Council of Blood, which handed out 8000 death sentences to those involved in the rioting.
In the turbulent years that followed – a period known as the Revolt of the Netherlands – the present-day borders of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands were roughly drawn. The Netherlands expelled the Spaniards, while Belgium and Luxembourg, known then as the Spanish Netherlands, stayed under southern rule.
The Spanish Netherlands
Brussels was proclaimed capital of the Spanish Netherlands in 1585 and Protestants were forced to leave; thousands of tradespeople and anti-Spanish freethinkers moved north to the Netherlands.
In 1598 Philip II handed the Spanish Netherlands to his daughter Infanta Isabella and her husband, Archduke Albert of Austria. Their 40-year reign is most noted for its flamboyant court, which gave rise to new industries like lace making and diamond processing. In turn, this brief economic boom boosted cultural life in Brussels and Antwerp and brought to the fore great painters, such as Pieter Paul Rubens.
Antwerp’s time of glory was cut short by the Treaty of Westphalia, signed in 1648, which closed part of the Scheldt River to all non-Dutch ships. This act guaranteed the golden age of Amsterdam, the region’s premier port, and caused Antwerp’s collapse.
With many of its most skilled workers gone, much of the Spanish Netherlands sunk into poverty and life became an exercise in religious piety. During this Catholic Counter-Reformation, the newly formed Jesuit order prospered and multiplied.
On an everyday level, life in the Spanish Netherlands worsened in the second half of the 17th century. French plans to dominate Europe meant war after war was fought in this buffer land. The fighting came to a head with the War of Spanish Succession (1701–13), which saw the Spanish Netherlands handed over to the Austrians. Sourse
thanks to Bielaja-Kvietka for info!