Spain : Foreign Policy, 16th C Low Countries
Suppression of Protestantism
Span. Netherlands, 1600-1713 NL - Dutch Revolt, 1572-1609 NL - Golden Age, 1609-1648

Dutch Revolt, (1566) 1579-1648

A.) Prehistory

In Dutch language, the Dutch Revolt is referred to as the Tachtigjarige Oorlog (80 Years' War). While the Revolt, as a countrywide movement, only broke out in 1579, it has local predecessors which reach back until 1566.
The preconditions leading to the war consist of the removal of the ruler from the political center at Brussels (Emperor Charles V. and especially his son Philip II. spent much time outside of the Netherlands), the Habsburg tendency to introduce a centralized administration, reducing the autonomy and infringing on the privileges of the individual territories, to which the Church Reform of the Netherlands (reorganization of bishoprics) of 1559 only added, the tendency by Philip II. to appoint foreigners to high office in the Netherlands, a series of measures alienating the Dutch subjects from their Spanish king.
Since the late 1560es Calvinism had spread quickly, among the Calvinists being many who wanted to implement radical reforms immediately.

B.1) Calvinist Rebellion, 1566-1567

In August 1566 iconoclastic riots broke out in southern Flanders; Tournai and Valenciennes came under the control of Calvinist administrations; refusing to recognize the Governess, Margaret of Parma, the cities suffered siege and surrendered in January 1567. The ringleaders were executed.
Governess Margaret of Parma demanded the nobles to swear a newly formulated oath of allegiance; some followed, some refused outright, some hesitated. Radical Calvinists, spokesman Blois de Treslong, demanded the Governess should declare religious toleration; otherwise she would face a rebellion. She did not; the Calvinists assembled an army; it was defeated in the Battle of Oosterweel, March 13th 1567. Many of the radical Calvinists fled the country; refugee communities formed in Frankfurt, Wesel, Emden etc.
The uncontrolled mob violence which manifested itself in the iconoclastic riots caused dissatisfied moderates to distance themselves from the Calvinists. In August 1567, the Duke of Alva arrived, succeeding Margaret of Parma as Governor. His harsh treatment of subversives, both real and suspected - the Council of Troubles sentenced c. 3,000 victims to be executed - alienated many and contributed to bringing the various groups opposed to certain Habsburg policies closer together.

B.2) William of Orange's Feud with Philip II.

William the Silent, of the House of Orange-Nassau, Baron of Breda, was the Low Countries greatest landowner (except for King Philip, that is). He was one of the grandees who in 1567 refused to swear a reformulated oath of allegiance. William took a moderate position, neither siding with Margaret of Parma, nor with the Calvinist rebels.
The Duke of Alva, however, did not trust him; under a pretext, he had William's son Philip William, a student at Leuven, arrested and brought to Spain. William then fled the country, went to his possessions in Nassau, from where he began a feud against the Spanish Netherlands. He staged three raids into the Spanish Netherlands (1568, 1570, 1572).
The Watergeuzen (literally translated : Sea Beggars), rebels with a navy, recognized William the Silent as the Lord in whose name they fought the Spanish.

B.3) The Revolt of Holland and Zeeland, 1572-1576

In 1572 the Estates of Holland and Zeeland revolted against Spanish Rule and recognized Duke William the Silent as their territorial Lord. Spanish forces laid siege to Haarlem, the capital of Holland (Dec. 1572); the city surrendered July 12th; the defenders were executed. Afterwards a mutiny broke out among the Spanish troops, because they had not been properly paid. The siege of Alkmaar (Aug.-Oct. 1573) was abandoned; on Oct. 11th 1573 a Spanish fleet on the Zuiderzee was defeated by the Watergeuzen, her commander taken prisoner. Shortly afterward, Governor Alva left, replaced by Luis de Requesens.y Zuniga. Spanish troops laid siege to Leiden (Dec. 1573). William the Silent now openly declared himself a Calvinist.
Early in 1574 the Watergeuzen defeated a Spanish fleet near Reimerswaal (Zeeland); Middelburg, the capital of Zeeland, surrendered to them. A Spanish army defeated a relief force lead by Ludwig and Heinrich von Nassau, in the Battle of Mokerhei (April 1574); both Nassaus fell in battle.
In October 1574, the Dutch opened the floodgates; the Spanish had no choice but to end the siege of Leiden and depart to higher ground. The war had become a stalemate; Spain could not conquer Holland and Zeeland because of her location and fleet; the rebels could not conquer the higher situated grounds because of the superior Spanish army.
Holland and Zeeland in 1576 concluded a closer union, intended to coordinate action against Spain. On March 4th 1576, Governor Requesens died. In October 1576, the Estates General concluded peace with the representatives of Holland and Zeeland and established a common position toward the Spanish crown (Pacification of Ghent).

C.1) General Revolt : the Early Years, 1579-1585

In 1579 the Catholic, French-speaking territories of the south concluded the Union of Arras (Artois, Hainaut, French Flanders); shortly after the majority of Dutch-speaking territories concluded the Union of Utrecht - standing up to Spain. This was the beginning of the Dutch Revolt.
In 1584, a Spanish army arrived; within quick succession, many of the major cities of Brabant and Flanders fell to the enemy (Brughes, Ghent, Ypres in 1584, Brussels, Antwerp in 1585). In 1584, William the Silent, the personification of the revolt, was assassinated. The situation of the Union of Utrecht seemed desparate; another stream of refugees left the Spanish-held southern Netherlands.
After the assassination of William the Silent, at the time of the greatest Spanish successes, the Dutch Republic plead to Queen Elizabeth of England and to King Henri III of France for help, offering both the crown. Both declined, hesitating to get involved too deeply; Elizabeth sent the Duke of Leicester and a considerable number of volunteers.

C.2) General Revolt : Holding out, 1585-1588

In 1586, the Duke of Leicester was proclaimed Governor (by the rebels); Prince Maurice of Nassau proclaimed stadholder of Holland and Zeeland, and Johan van Oldenbarneveldt pensionary of the Estates of Holland. The Spanish took Venlo in summer 1586; Leicester, no longer enjoying the trust of the rebels, departed for England. The city of Deventer was surrendered by a traitor. Leicester returned with a new force, but failed in his attempts to arrest Oldenbarneveldt and Prince Maurice and to take Amsterdam. In Dec. 1587, Leicester left definitively.

C.3) General Revolt : The Dutch Gaining Ground, 1588-1595

In April 1589, Geertruidenberg was handed over to the Spanish by traitors; in June 1589 the Dutch took Breda by surprise. In 1591 the Dutch took Zutphen, Deventer and Nijmegen; Spanish commander Parma died. In 1594, Prince Maurice took Groningen.
Now the Dutch had cleared the Spanish out of the territory to the north of the Rhine, with the exception of Oldenzaal and Groenlo. Spain was on the defensive, mainly because of the inability to continue financing an offensive war (and because they had wasted too much resources on the attempted invasion of England ( Spanish Armada 1588) and in expeditions on Paris to break the siege of that city. (1590, 1591/1592).
In 1595, King Henri IV of France declared war on Spain, even further reducing Spain's ability to launch offensive warfare on the Dutch Republic.

C.4) Dutch-Spanish War, 1595-1609

In 1595, the Spanish campaigned in Northern France. Peace negotiations were held between the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Netherlands, without success. In 1596 Spain shortchanged her creditors (de facto state bankrupcy). In 1597 the Dutch took Lingen. In 1598, France and Spain concluded the Treaty of Vervins, ending their war. King Philip II. ceded the Spanish Netherlands to Isabella; during her lifetime (1598-1621), the Spanish Netherlands virtually was a state by itself, ruled by her and her husband, Albrecht of Austria.
Among the few military actions were an expedition by Prince Maurice with the aim to take Dunkirk (1600). Isabella pawned her jewelry to raise money to pay the troops (who mutinied because they were unpaid); the Battle of Nieuwpoort ended with a Dutch victory. In 1602, the Dutch took Grave, after a long siege. In 1604, England and Spain formally concluded peace; the Spanish commander took Oostende, Prince Maurice took Aardenburg, but failed to take Antwerp. In 1605 the Spanish retook Lingen.
In 1598, Cornelis Houtman was the first Dutch Captain to sail the Indian Ocean; the Dutch, carrying the war overseas, began to conquer key parts of the Portuguese Colonial Empire. In 1607 a Dutch fleet under Jacob van Heemskerck defeated a Spanish fleet off Gibraltar; Heemskerck himself fell in the battle. Negotiations began in 1607, in 1609 a truce for twelve years was concluded.

C.5) Twelve Years Truce, 1609-1621

During the truce, economic reforms restored the Spanish capacity to act. With the death of Isabella in 1621, the Spanish Netherlands reverted to Spanish sovereignty.
The Dutch Republic, meanwhile, enjoyed her Golden Age. In 1619, Prince Maurice eliminated his long-time political partner, and by now rival, Pensionary of Holland, Johan van Oldenbarneveldt (executed for treason).

C.6) Dutch-Spanish War, 1621-1648

The last phase of the Dutch War of Independence or 80 Years War is a part of the 30 Years' War. The Spanish believed that they could still subdue the Dutch Republic; in 1622, the Spanish took Steenbergen and laid siege to Bergen-op-Zoom. In 1624 the Spaniards laid siege to Breda; the city fell in 1625. Prince Maurice died. In 1626 the Dutch took Oldenzaal, in 1627 Groenlo.
In 1628, Piet Heyn took the Spanish Treasure Fleet, money invested in the 1630 Dutch conquest of Brazil. A 1631 attempt to take Dunkirk was avorted. In 1632 the Dutch took Venlo and Roermond, and, after a siege, also Maastricht.
In 1634, the Spanish defeated the Swedes in the Battle of Nördlingen. In 1635, France declared war on Spain ( Franco-Spanish War 1635-1659). The Spanish now had to fight a war on two fronts. In 1637 the Dutch retook Breda. Dutch attempts to take Antwerp, in 1638, failed. In 1639, Spain sent a 'Second Armada' with 20,000 men; Dutch Admiral Tromp defeated the Spanish fleet in English waters. In 1640, Portugal and Catalonia rose, further distracting the Spanish. In 1643 the French defeated the Spanish in the Battle of Rocroi. In 1648, Spain and the Dutch Republic concluded peace (Treaty of Westphalia).

De Tachtigjaarige Oorlog (The 80 Years War), from University of Leiden, in Dutch, detailed bibliography, links
Short narratives of the 80 Years War for Dutch independence from Pattie's History; from Our History
Detailed narrative : History of Protestantism in the Netherlands, Chapter 18 of History of Protestantism by James A. Wylie (1878)
Chronology of the Dutch Revolt, from Ons Verleden (in Dutch)
Maurice of Orange, from Museum voor Vaderlandse Geschiedenis (in Dutch)
Biographies of prominent persons related to the Dutch Revolt, from Ons Verleden (in Dutch)
for biographies of the Duke of Alva, see Netherlands 1500-1580, of Alessandro Farnese Spanish Netherlands
Biography of Simon Stevin, from MacTutor (History of Mathematics); from Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913 edition; from BBC Online
Jetons : The Dutch Revolt, in Jetons, their use in History by Bert van Beek, scroll down
G. Edmundson, The Dutch Republic, posted by MATEO
George Edmundson, William the Silent, posted by MATEO
G. Edmundson, The Revolt of the Netherlands, posted by MATEO
DOCUMENTS The Wonders of the Most High, a chronicle of the history of the United Provinces, 1550-1675, by Abraham van de Velde
Dutch Declaration of Independence 1581, from the Modern History Sourcebook; as Plakkaat van Verlatinghe, from Historische Teksten, in Dutch
Documents in English, from Univ. of Southhampton posted by Dr. Alistair Duke / Univ. Leiden
Documents in Dutch, from Historische Teksten (Univ. Gent)
Een nieu Geuzen liedt boecxken, from A Hundred Highlights from the Koninklijke Bibliotheek, Geuzen song book (1581), short comment in English
E.T. Kuiper (ed.), Het Geuzenliedboek (Geusen Song book; in Dutch)
William of Orange, Apology, 1581, addressed to the King of Spain, from AP Modern Euro, by Mrs. Mendelsund
Belägering der Statt Ostende, 1604-1605, posted by University of Glasgow
REFERENCE H.P.H. Jansen, Kalendarium Geschiedenis van de Lage Landen in Jaartallen (History of the Low Countries, Year by Year), Utrecht/Antwerpen : Spectrum 1979, in Dutch

This page is part of World History at KMLA
First posted on June 10th 2003, last revised on November 17th 2004

Click here to go Home
Click here to go to Information about KMLA, WHKMLA, the author and webmaster
Click here to go to Statistics

Impressum · Datenschutz