The Dutch provinces originate from the autonomous territories that emerged in the Middle Ages: among them duchies (Brabant, Gelderland), counties (Holland, Zeeland, Flanders), and bishoprics (Utrecht). In the fourteenth century, an attempt to unify the provinces was made by creating a Grand Council. Under Charles V after 1543, the 17 provinces were ruled by a governor and the Council of State (Raad van State). Each province was ruled by the Stadhouder and was represented at the Stateri Generaal (the General States). In the course of the Eighty Years’ War for independence against Spain (1568–1648), seven Dutch provinces joined to form the Union of Utrecht in 1579. In 1581 the United Provinces of The Netherlands (Republiek der Verenigde Nederlanden) declared independence from Spain. They constituted a rather loose confederation, with each province remaining sovereign within the Union. After 1648, when the threat of Spain lost significance, the provinces developed in different ways. Holland became the dominant province. Until the French Revolution the provinces were the ruling powers in Dutch political life.
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