North Brabant, also unofficially called Brabant since 2001, is a province of the Netherlands, located in the south of the country, bordered by Belgium's Antwerp and Limburg provinces in the south, the Meuse River (Maas) in the north, Limburg in the east and Zeeland in the west.
The Duchy of Brabant was a State of the Holy Roman Empire established in 1183. It developed from the Landgraviate of Brabant and formed the heart of the historic Low Countries, part of the Burgundian Netherlands from 1430 and of the Habsburg Netherlands from 1482, until it was dismembered after the Dutch revolt. Present-day North Brabant (Staats-Brabant) was adjudicated to the Generality Lands of the Dutch Republic according to the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, while the reduced duchy remained in existence with the Southern Netherlands until it was conquered by French Revolutionary forces in 1794.
Until the 17th century, the area that now makes up the province of North Brabant was mostly part of the Duchy of Brabant, of which the southern part is now in present-day Belgium. In the 14th and 15th century, the area experienced a golden age, especially the cities of Brussel (Brussels), Mechelen, Leuven (Louvain), Antwerp (now in Belgium), Breda, Bergen op Zoom and 's-Hertogenbosch.
After the Union of Utrecht was signed in 1579, Brabant became a battlefield between the Protestant Dutch Republic and Catholic Spain, which occupied the southern Netherlands. As a result of the Peace of Westphalia, the northern part of Brabant became part of the Netherlands as the territory of Staats-Brabant (State Brabant) under federal rule, in contrast to the founding provinces of the Dutch Republic which were self-governing.
Attempts to introduce Protestantism into the region were largely unsuccessful; North Brabant remained strongly Roman Catholic. For over a century, North Brabant served mainly as a military buffer zone. In 1796, when confederate Dutch Republic became the unitary Batavian Republic, Staats-Brabant became a province as Bataafs Brabant. This status ended with the reorganisation by the French, and the area was divided over several departments.
In 1815, Belgium and the Netherlands were united in the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, and the province of North Brabant was established and so named to distinguish it from South Brabant in present-day Belgium, which seceded from the Kingdom in 1830. This boundary between the Netherlands and Belgium is special in that it does not form a contiguous line, but leaves a handful of tiny enclaves (and enclaves inside enclaves) on both sides of the border. A few of these irregularities were corrected (Luyksgestel was exchanged for Lommel), Huijbergen became totally Dutch, but some remain, notably Baarle-Hertog (Belgian) and Baarle-Nassau (Dutch).
When the present province was instituted, its territory was expanded with a part of the province of Holland and the former territory of Ravenstein which had previously belonged to the Duchy of Cleves, as well as several small, formerly autonomous entities.
The period from 1900 till the late 1960s is called Het Rijke Roomse Leven (translated as 'the rich Roman life', with 'Roman' meaning 'Roman Catholic'), a era of strong religious believes. Het Rijke Roomse Leven came about as result of the emancipatory drive of the province's disadvantaged Catholic population and was supported by a Roman Catholic pillar, which was directed by the clergy, and not only encompassed churches, but also Roman Catholic schools and hospitals, which were run by nuns and friars. In those days every village in North Brabant had a convent from which the nuns operated. Politically, the province was dominated by Catholic parties: the Roomsch-Katholieke Staatspartij and its post-war successor, the Katholieke Volkspartij, which often held around 75% of the vote.
In the 1960s secularisation and the actual emancipation of the Catholic population brought about the gradual dissolution of the Catholic pillar, as church attendance decreased in North Brabant as elsewhere in Western Europe. The influence of Het Rijke Roomse Leven (The Rich Roman (Catholic) Life) remains in the form of education where some schools are still Roman Catholic, (today run by professional teachers and not by nuns) and in North Brabant's culture, politics, mentality and customs, such as carnival. Though the interpretation of the Roman Catholic identity in North Brabant has shifted the last 65 years from religious to cultural, the province still has a distinct Catholic atmosphere when compared to the provinces north of the major rivers.