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As of 1566 The Netherlands represented Spain's biggest problem, affecting the country's foreign policy during the second half of the 16th century and throughout the 17th century. [Maximilian I#PERSONAS#44] received the northern and southern provinces of the Netherlands as part of the Burgundian inheritance when he married Mary of Burgundy. These later descended to the Spanish Habsburgs through Maximilian's grandson Charles I of Spain and V of Germany. Between 1568 and 1648 there were various battles to try to gain the independence of the Protestant Northern Provinces (made up of Lutherans, Anabaptists and later Calvinists). The conflict reflected the two main features of Europe at that time: the religious differences and the growth of nationalism. [Philip II's#PERSONAS#25] repressive politics, the nobles' discontent in Flanders and opposition to Calvinist religious ideology led to a confrontation in 1568 between rebels under the command of William of Orange, and Spanish troops led by the Duke of Alba. After a series of victories by the United Provinces of the North (the Union of Utrecht) and the twelve years' truce (1609) the war came to an end with the signing of the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. In this treaty Spain recognised the Northern Provinces' independence and the War of Flanders, as it was called by the Spanish, was finally concluded. The rest of the southern Catholic provinces remained under Spanish rule until 1713 and 1714, when the Treaty of Utrecht and the Treaty of Rastadt were signed, passing possession of Spanish strongholds in Flanders over to Belgium. There are many pictorial references to the various battles that took place during this conflict. Two of the most famous and emblematic are Velázquez's [Surrender of Breda#CUADROS#31] and Rembrandt's The Night Watch.

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