Provinces of the Netherlands

Provinces of the Netherlands
Provincies van Nederland (Dutch)
Limburg Zeeland Zeeland Zeeland Zeeland Zeeland Gelderland South Holland South Holland North Holland North Holland North Holland North Holland Utrecht Flevoland Flevoland Overijssel Drenthe Groningen (province) Groningen (province) Groningen (province) Friesland Friesland Friesland Friesland Friesland Friesland Friesland North Brabant Sint Eustatius Sint Eustatius Saba Saba Bonaire Bonaire Bonaire
Map of the Netherlands, linking to the province articles.
Category Unitary unit
Location Netherlands
Number 12 Provinces
Populations 380,783 (Zeeland) – 3,575,451 (South Holland)
Areas 1,450 km2 (559 sq mi) (Utrecht) - 5,700 km2 (2,220 sq mi) (Fryslân)
Government Provincal government, National government
Subdivisions Municipality
Azure, billetty Or a lion with a coronet Or armed and langued Gules holding in his dexter paw a sword Argent hilted Or and in the sinister paw seven arrows Argent pointed and bound together Or. [The seven arrows stand for the seven provinces of the Union of Utrecht.] The shield is crowned with the (Dutch) royal crown and supported by two lions Or armed and langued gules. They stand on a scroll Azure with the text (Or) "Je Maintiendrai" (French for "I will maintain".)
This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Netherlands

The Netherlands has 12 provinces which represents the administrative layer between the national government and the local municipalities, having the responsibility for matters of subnational or regional importance.

The most populous province is South Holland, with over 3.5 million inhabitants as of 2009. With approximately 381,000 inhabitants, Zeeland has the smallest population. In terms of area, Friesland is the largest province with a total area of 5,749 km2. If water is excluded, Gelderland is the largest province in terms of area at 4,972 km2. Utrecht is the smallest at 1,449 km2. In total about 13,000 people had a job working for a provincial administration in 2009.[1]

The provinces of the Netherlands are joined in the Association of Provinces of the Netherlands (IPO). This organisation promotes the common interests of the provinces in the national government of the Netherlands in The Hague and within the EU in Brussels.

Politics and governance

The government of each province consists of three major parts:


The members of the States-Provincial are elected every four years in direct elections. To a large extent, the same political parties are enlisted in these elections in the national elections. The chosen provincial legislators elect the members of the national Senate within three months after the provincial elections. The elections for the water boards take place on the same date as the provincial elections.

The last three provincial elections were held in 2007, 2011 and in 2015.


The provinces of the Netherlands have 7 core tasks:[3]

  1. Sustainable spatial development, including water management.
  2. Environment, energy and climate
  3. Vital countryside
  4. Regional accessibility and regional public transport
  5. Regional economy
  6. Cultural infrastructure and preservation
  7. Quality of public administration


To a large extent, the provinces of the Netherlands are financed by the national government. Also, provinces have income from a part of the Vehicle Excise Duty. Several provinces have made a large profit in the past from privatising utility companies originally owned or partly owned by the provinces. An example is Essent, which was originally owned by six provinces and more than a hundred municipalities and was sold for around 9.3 billion euros.

List of provinces

The currently existing country of the Netherlands, being the largest part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, is divided into twelve provinces (provincies in Dutch) and three overseas special municipalities, the Caribbean Netherlands that are not part of any province. Previously these were part of public bodies (openbare lichamen).

The twelve provinces are listed below.

Province Flag Arms Capital Largest city King's Commissioner Area (including water)[4] Area (excluding water) Population (2015)[5] Population density Population density (excluding water)
Drenthe Flag of Drenthe Coat of arms of Drenthe Assen Assen Jacques Tichelaar 2,680 km2 (1,030 sq mi) 2,641.09 489,077 182/km2 (470/sq mi) 185/km²
Flevoland Flag of Flevoland Coat of arms of Flevoland Lelystad Almere Leen Verbeek 2,412.30 km2 (931.39 sq mi) 1,417.50 403,786 166/km2 (430/sq mi) 285/km²
Fryslân[upper-alpha 1] Flag of Friesland Coat of arms of Friesland Leeuwarden Leeuwarden John Jorritsma 5,748.75 km2 (2,219.60 sq mi) 3,341.70 646,032 112/km2 (290/sq mi) 193/km²
Gelderland Flag of Gelderland Coat of arms of Gelderland Arnhem Nijmegen Clemens Cornielje 5,136.19 km2 (1,983.09 sq mi) 4,971.76 2,026,578 393/km2 (1,020/sq mi) 409/km²
Groningen [upper-alpha 2] Flag of Groningen Coat of arms of Groningen Groningen Groningen Max van den Berg 2,959.62 km2 (1,142.72 sq mi) 2,333.28 584,060 197/km2 (510/sq mi) 250/km²
Limburg Flag of Limburg
Coat of arms of Limburg
Maastricht Maastricht Theo Bovens 2,208.64 km2 (852.76 sq mi) 2,150.87 1,116,884 508/km2 (1,320/sq mi) 519/km²
North Brabant Flag of North Brabant Coat of arms of North Brabant 's-Hertogenbosch[upper-alpha 3] Eindhoven Wim van de Donk 5,081.77 km2 (1,962.08 sq mi) 4,916.49 2,498,362 488/km2 (1,260/sq mi) 507/km²
North Holland Flag of North Holland
Coat of arms of North Holland
Haarlem[upper-alpha 4] Amsterdam[upper-alpha 4] Johan Remkes 4,090.96 km2 (1,579.53 sq mi) 2,671.03 2,781,834 670/km2 (1,700/sq mi) 1,039/km²
Overijssel Flag of Overijssel Coat of arms of Overijssel Zwolle Enschede Ank Bijleveld 3,420.69 km2 (1,320.74 sq mi) 3,325.62 1,143,635 333/km2 (860/sq mi) 344/km²
South Holland Flag of South Holland Coat of arms of South Holland The Hague[upper-alpha 5] Rotterdam Jaap Smit 3,418.48 km2 (1,319.88 sq mi) 2,814.69 3,617,502 1,046/km2 (2,710/sq mi) 1,282/km²
Utrecht Flag of Utrecht Coat of arms of Utrecht Utrecht Utrecht Willibrord van Beek 1,449.12 km2 (559.51 sq mi) 1,385.02 1,272,115 864/km2 (2,240/sq mi) 916/km²
Zeeland Flag of Zeeland Coat of arms of Zeeland Middelburg Middelburg Han Polman 2,933.44 km2 (1,132.61 sq mi) 1,787.13 381,180 130/km2 (340/sq mi) 213/km²
  1. Friesland in Dutch; The official name Fryslân is in the West Frisian language[6]
  2. Grönnen in Gronings; Grinslân in West Frisian
  3. Also Den Bosch in Dutch.
  4. 1 2 Amsterdam is the national capital of the Netherlands.[7] Haarlem is, however, the capital of the province in which both Amsterdam and Haarlem are situated.
  5. Den Haag or 's-Gravenhage in Dutch. The Dutch parliament and the Dutch government are located in The Hague along with the Supreme Court and the Council of State.[7]


Nearly all Dutch provinces can trace their origin to a medieval county or duchy, as can the provinces of regions in Belgium. Their status changed when they came under a single ruler who centralised their administration, reducing their powers. There were 17 in total: from these unified Netherlands, seven northern provinces formed from 1588 the Republic of the Seven United Provinces in the 17th century, namely Holland, Zeeland, Gelderland, Utrecht, Friesland, Overijssel and Groningen. The Republic's lands also included Drenthe (one of the 17, but without the autonomous status of the others), and parts of Brabant, Limburg and Flanders, which were considered to be "conquered lands" and were governed directly by the Staten-Generaal, the parliament, hence their name Generality Lands. They were called Staats-Brabant, Staats-Limburg and Staats-Vlaanderen, meaning "state-owned". Each of these "Netherlands" had a high degree of autonomy, cooperating with each other mainly on defense and foreign relations, but otherwise keeping to their own affairs.

On January 1, 1796, under the Batavian Republic, Drenthe and Staats-Brabant became the eighth and ninth provinces of the Netherlands. The latter, which had been known as Bataafs Brabant, Batavian Brabant, changed its name to Noord Brabant, North Brabant, in 1815 when it became part of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands, which also contained (then) South Brabant, a province now in Belgium. This new unified state featured the provinces in their modern form, as non-autonomous subdivisions of the national state, and again numbering 17, though they were not all the same as the 16th century ones. In 1839, following the separation of Belgium, the original single province of Limburg was divided between the two countries, each now having a province called Limburg. A year later, Holland, the largest and most populous of the Dutch provinces, was also split into two provinces, for a total of 11. The 12th member was to be Flevoland, a province consisting almost entirely of reclaimed land, established on January 1, 1986.

French period

During the Batavian Republic, the Netherlands was from 1798 to 1801 completely reorganised into eight new departments, most named after rivers, inspired by the French revolutionary example, in an attempt to do away with the old semi-autonomous status of the provinces. They are listed below, with their capitals and the territory of the former provinces that they mostly incorporated:

Batavian Departments
English name Dutch name Capital Contained the territory of
Department of the Ems Departement van de Eems Leeuwarden Northern Friesland, Groningen
Department of the Old IJssel Departement van de Oude IJssel Zwolle Southern Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel, Northern Gelderland
Department of the Rhine Departement van de Rijn Arnhem Central Gelderland, eastern Utrecht
Department of the Amstel Departement van de Amstel Amsterdam The area around Amsterdam
Department of Texel Departement van Texel Alkmaar Northern Holland minus Amsterdam, northwestern Utrecht
Department of the Delft Departement van de Delft Delft Southern Holland up to the Meuse, southwestern Utrecht
Department of the Dommel Departement van de Dommel 's-Hertogenbosch The eastern part of Batavian Brabant, southern Gelderland
Department of the Scheldt and Meuse Departement van de Schelde en Maas Middelburg Zeeland, Holland south of the Meuse and the western part of Batavian Brabant

After only three years, following a coup d'etat, the borders of the former provinces were restored, though not their autonomous status. They were now also called "departments" and Drenthe was added to Overijssel. In 1806 the Kingdom of Holland replaced the republic to further French interests. It was during this administration that Holland was first split in two, with the department of Amstelland to the north and that of Maasland to the south. East Frisia, then as now in Germany, was added to the kingdom as a department in 1807 and Drenthe split off again making a total of 11 departments.

Map of the subdivisions of the Netherlands during French administration. Note that East Frisia is not included in this (later) map.

When the Netherlands finally did become fully part of France in 1810, the departments of the kingdom and their borders were largely maintained, with some joined together. They were however nearly all renamed, again mainly after rivers, though the names differed from their Batavian counterparts. Following are their names and the modern day province they corresponded for the most part to:

French Departments in the Netherlands
English name French name Dutch name Modern province(s)
Department of the Zuiderzee Département du Zuyderzée Departement van de Zuiderzee North Holland & Utrecht
Department of the Mouths of the Meuse Département des Bouches-de-la-Meuse Departement van de Monden van de Maas South Holland
Department of the Mouths of the Scheldt Département des Bouches-de-l'Escaut Departement van de Monden van de Schelde Zeeland
Department of the Two Nethes Département des Deux-Nèthes Departement van de Twee Nethen Western North Brabant & Antwerp
Department of the Mouths of the Rhine Département des Bouches-du-Rhin Departement van de Monden van de Rijn Eastern North Brabant & southern Gelderland
Department of the Upper IJssel Département de l'Yssel-Supérieur Departement van de Boven IJssel Northern Gelderland
Department of the Mouths of the IJssel Département des Bouches-de-l'Yssel Departement van de Monden van de IJssel Overijssel
Department of Frisia Département de la Frise Departement Friesland Friesland
Department of the Western Ems Département de l'Ems-Occidental Departement van de Wester Eems Groningen & Drenthe
Department of the Eastern Ems Département de l'Ems-Oriental Departement van de Ooster Eems (East-Frisia)

With the defeat and withdrawal of the French in 1813, the old provinces and their names were re-established, Holland was reunited and East-Frisia went its separate way. The 17 provinces of the United Kingdom of the Netherlands were for a significant part based on the former French departments and their borders, in particular in what would later become Belgium.

There is continuous discussion within the Netherlands about the future of the provinces. Before 2014, the national government was planning to merge the provinces Flevoland, North Holland and Utrecht in a single province (Noordvleugelprovincie). Due to significant protest the plan was abandoned[8]

See also


  1. (Dutch)IPO: did you know...
  2. (Dutch)Provinciale Staten
  3. (Dutch)IPO, core task of provinces
  4. "Regionale kerncijfers Nederland" [Regional key figures for the Netherlands]. CBS Statline (in Dutch). CBS. 16 December 2013. Retrieved 19 December 2013.
  5. The Netherlands at GeoHive
  7. 1 2 Daum, Andreas (2005). Berlin - Washington, 1800–2000 Capital Cities, Cultural Representation, and National Identities. Cambridge University Press. pp. 13, 38. ISBN 0521841178. Amsterdam is the statuary capital of the Netherlands, while the Dutch government resides in De Hague. (sic) (p. 13) The Netherlands' seat of government is The Hague but its capital is bustling Amsterdam, the national cultural center. (p. 38)
  8. (Dutch)No joining of provinces
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