Spanish Regime

Spanish Regime
   Rule by Spain began with the accession of Charles V. Under Charles, the Council of State, the Privy Council, and the Council of Finances were settled in Brussels. The city became the meeting place of the Estates of Brabant and seat of the duchy's administrative organs, including the Council of Brabant (a judicial body), Chamber of Accounts, and Tribunal of Forestry, established to preserve ducal forests at the beginning of the 16th century. The Estates-General also assembled almost exclusively in Brussels in the course of the 16th century.
   As the capital of a far-flung empire, Brussels attracted immigrants and distinguished visitors from nearby and throughout Europe. Spanish rulers sought to impose greater central government control. Charles decreed that municipal offices were no longer reserved exclusive to the lignages but could be conferred on any member of the nobility. Riots ensued following an increase in the tax on beer imposed without the approval of the nations. Municipal liberties were codified in 1547. Despite the courtly splendor, there was considerable poverty.
   Philip II, a Spaniard by birth and predilection, succeeded in 1555 and the regime's alien, authoritarian character proved unpopular. Discontent was stoked by growing religious discord engendered by the rise of Calvinism. The wars of religion found the capital at the center of religious and political events. Calvinist rule ended with seizure of the city by the forces of Duke Alessandro Farnese (1585) and the reimposition of Spanish Roman Catholic control saw the departure of considerable numbers of Protestants, including many highly skilled craftsmen.
   The independence of the northern provinces (1648) left Brussels the capital of a Netherlands reduced by half. In the 17th century, the city failed to recover the economic dynamism experienced in the early 16th century, although luxury trades did revive, notably in catering to the brilliant court of Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella of Austria.
   Religious uniformity was the hallmark of Spanish rule and the Counter-Reformation (or Catholic Reformation), so fiercely upheld by the rulers, brought a bevy of religious orders. Employment was open only to practicing Roman Catholics and only Catholics could be members of the lignages.
   The 1700s witnessed popular disturbances both at the beginning and at the end of the century. Financial need led the government to impose a tax on wine and beer (the gigot) in 1619, sparking a riot on 12 July. Troops entered through the porte de Schaerbeek and trained guns on the city from the ramparts. The dispute ended with a reduction in the powers of the nations, whose independence was further constrained at the end of the century following the discovery of long-lost documents detailing ancient privileges. The government banned publication of the Luyster van Brabant (1699) and armed resistance ensued, met by 11 battalions of Spaniards and Bavarians on 17 December 1699. Conflict ended in April 1700 and, on 20 August, Governor-general Maximilian II Emmanuel proclaimed the Additional Decree, which mandated stricter royal control at the expense of local prerogatives.
   The last quarter of the 17th century saw numerous threats to the city from French invaders. Ixelles, Koekelberg, Molenbeek, and Linkebeek were ravaged in 1684. In the War of the League of Augsburg (1689-1697), Brussels was targeted by Louis XIV's forces. The bombardment of 1695 left much of the city center in ruins. Recovery was rapid and, by 1714, when by terms of the Treaty of Rastatt (6 March) the Spanish Netherlands were ceded to Austria, Brussels had been rebuilt.
   See also Anjouin Period.

Historical Dictionary of Brussels. .

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