The southern part of the country was part of the Holy Roman Empire until it was acquired piece by piece by the Burgundians. At the end of the Middle Ages, it became a Spanish possession (together with what is now Belgium ). Little survives from this period, except a few historic city centers, and a few castles.
Following the Dutch Revolt , led by national hero William of Orange ( Willem van Oranje ), the Netherlands became a de facto independent republic in 1572. The (first) split with Belgium came when the northern provinces signed the Union of Utrecht in 1579. It grew to become one of the major economic and seafaring powers in the world during the 17th century, which is known as the Dutch Golden Age ( Gouden Eeuw ). During this period, many colonies were founded or conquered, including the Netherlands East Indies and New Amsterdam , which was later traded with the British for Suriname.
In 1805, the country became a kingdom when Emperor Napoleon appointed his brother 'King of Holland'. In 1815, it became the 'United Kingdom of the Netherlands ( Verenigd Koninkrijk der Nederlanden ) together with Belgium and Luxembourg under King William I ( Willem I ). In 1830 Belgium seceded and formed a separate kingdom. Luxembourg received independence from the Netherlands in 1890, as the Salic Law prohibited a female ruler.
Avoiding the liberal revolutions of 1848 and new adopted Treaty, The Netherlands quietly became a constitutional monarchy and remained neutral in World War I but suffered a brutal invasion and occupation by Germany in World War II. A modern, industrialized nation, the Netherlands is also a large exporter of agricultural products. In 1944, the Low Countries formed the union of the Benelux in which they economically (and sometimes politically) work together. The country was a founding member of NATO in 1949 and the European Community (EC) in 1957, and participated in the introduction of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) in 1999.