The Republic of the United Low Countries

The Treaty of Munster was signed in 1648. For the Meierij (territory) of Den Bosch, this resulted in the area now becoming a permanent part of the Republic of the United Netherlands. The Duchy of Brabant was then split into a northern and a southern region. The northern region largely corresponds to the current province of North Brabant. Protestantization was now being pursued. Pastors were appointed in Oerle and Veldhoven, who presided over services for a handful of believers in the former Catholic churches.

The first Protestants had a difficult time as they were hardly accepted by the Catholic population. The Catholics initially walked to the border to worship in specially built churches just over the border in Belgium. Education was now also under the control of the Protestants. The school and the schoolmaster’s house were to be handed over to the new schoolmasters. In 1658, the estate rights over Oerle and Meerveldhoven were redeemed. Although in Veldhoven, Zeelst and Blaarthem, this had already occurred in 1613, members of the Van Eyck family continued to call themselves lords of these villages throughout the 17th century.

Political Reformation
The States General of the Republic of the United Netherlands also tried to implement Protestantization in the administration, known as the Political Reformation, in that, all political and administrative functions were intended to be held only by Protestants. In practice, the Political Reformation failed because not enough skilled Protestants were available. Nevertheless, the functions of bailiff, secretary and priest were exclusively given to Protestants.

The Dutch Reformed Church and rectory at Den Broek.

Barn churches
Usually only two or three of the seven aldermen were members of the Reformed Church. When the French king Louis XIV invaded the Republic with his army in 1672, it was in support of the Catholics. In most villages, large barns were converted into emergency churches. After that time, in the last quarter of the 17th century, barn churches were common in Oerle, Veldhoven, Meerveldhoven, Zeelst and Blaarthem. This situation persisted until 1798. Gradually the Catholics and Protestants became less hostile towards each other; they started to tolerate each other. The Constitution of 1798 permitted the Catholics to restore their churches. In some villages, such as Zeelst, the church was returned to the Catholics in 1796. In the year 1796, Oerle counted 632 inhabitants, Veldhoven 759, Zeelst 967 and Meerveldhoven 169.

Design for the barn church of Blaarthem in 1776.

There wasn’t just one French attempt to conquer the Republic. War was also waged against Louis XIV from 1689 to 1697 and from 1702 to 1713. The continual passage of French troops through Brabant to the northern regions, had a damaging effect on the population in the area. In 1688, the French soldiers were notorious for arson. One time when the village authorities did not promptly pay the demanded extorsion fees, the soldiers burned down eight villages, including Knegsel.

War and poverty
The economy obviously suffered under these wartime conditions. The procession of armies destroyed the farmers’ crops or demanded the grain and hay. The weavers in Veldhoven and Zeelst were faced with restrictive measures imposed by the States General of the Republic. In particular, the decision to support the textile industry in the province of Holland and curb cheap imports from Brabant. The population suffered from poverty for most of the 18th century. The government’s receivables and taxes were barely scrapped together. Villages such as Oerle, which were still important in the 15th century, also fell into poverty. Many residents searched for a new existence elsewhere. An increasing amount of inhabitants migrated to the province of Holland at this time. When the French army conquered Brabant in 1794, much changed once again. The powerful position of the Protestants came to an end, the Catholics returned to government posts and gradually regained control of education.

At the top you see a map from 1794 with colored houses, rivers and fens.

During the war waged against King Louis XIV of France, the peasants had to deliver carts of hay to the French. The hay cart by Piet Couwenberg and Peer Bierings from Oerle, around 1920.

Ultimately, the 18th century can be characterized as a time of poverty. The village governments had to pay off so much debt that no new development could be initiated. In fact, every initiative was confronted with a lack of money.

Read more in the next chapter Emergence of Transport and Industry