Part of Habsburg's Empire
Tax-Paying Provinces
Dutch Revolt

Church Reform and the Suppression of Protestantism

A.) Church Reform

PHILIP II. undertook, with the blessing of the Pope, a reform of the organization of the church of the Netherlands. The old structures were abolished, Utrecht and Cambrai elevated to archdioceses, a new archdiocesis being established at Mechelen; numerous suffragan dioceses were also erected, church administration thus becoming much denser than before. The archbishops and bishops were to be appointed according to the wishes of the king (hitherto bishops had been elected by the cathedral chapters, which consisted of noble clergymen from the region). It was another measure alienating the political establishment of the low countries.

B.) Treatment of Early Heretics

In 1519 CHARLES V. succeeded his father Maximilian as the ruler of the Habsburg Empire, which included not only the Empire, Spain and the Austrian lands, but also most of the Netherlands. Charles had been educated at the court in BRUSSELS, he spoke the vernacular and was perceived by the local population as a benevolent ruler.
Charles V.' attitude toward protestantism was a political one. He is quoted to have said, referring to Martin Luther, at the Diet of Worms (1521) :
A single friar who goes counter to all Christianity for a thousand years must be wrong. Who Said What, London : Bloomsbury 1988 p.63
While Charles V., for political reasons, was willing to accept a policy tolerating the reformation in German principalities beyond his control - the Empire was a federation of territories - he was unwilling to tolerate any reformist troublemaker in his own territories, such as the Netherlands.
The UNIVERSITY OF LEUVEN condemned Luther's theses in 1519. In 1522 Charles V. appointed a lay INQUISITOR to ensure that protestants would be dealt with accordingly; the first two protestant heretics were burnt at the stake in Brussels in 1523. Yet, again and again protestant agitators appeared, teaching different doctrines, as protestantism was not yet defined. For the decades preceding the Dutch Revolt (1567) they had to fear the inquisition.
Protestantism appealed to the population in the cities, especially to artisans. There were radical groups such as the ANABAPTISTS, who appeared in 1531 and were quickly expelled; refugees established an anabaptist regime in the city of MUENSTER (Westphalia) in 1534, under Jan van Leiden, "The Taylor King", who declared the end of the world to have come, introduced a communist society, all property being declared public property, that included the women. The experiment lasted a year, then the city was taken by troops of the (Catholic) bishop of Muenster.

C.) Intensified Reformation and Spanish Repression

In 1561, Guido de Bres wrote the BELGIC CONFESSION, one of the basic documents of the Dutch Reformed Church (Calvinist). In 1566, radical Calvinists entered churches, destroying statues and paintings and whitewashing paintings on the church walls - the ICONOCLASTS.
Stadholder Margaret of Parma clearly had lost control and asked her brother Philip II. for help; he appointed the Duke of Alva as stadholder; he quickly made himself a name as the most hated man in the Netherlands. He established the COUNCIL OF TROUBLES, a court sentencing many Dutchmen suspected of being protestants or traitors, to death, among the victims being Guido de Bres (1567) and Counts Egmond and Hoorn; in total the number of victims is estimated at 6,000.

The harsh treatment given to protestants had resulted in emigration. The cities of WESEL in the Duchy of Cleves and of EMDEN in East Frisia became temporary homes to large communities of such emigrants. Yet, compared to the overall population of the Netherlands, the total numbers of protestants were still rather insignificant. However, the number of Netherlanders dissatisfied with the situation of the church and the direction politics was taking, was large and growing.
The noblemen and the cities' burghers were very concerned about more and more of their privileges to be infringed upon. Philip II. succeeded in alienating them, too.

General Narratives Detailed narrative : History of Protestantism in the Netherlands, Chapter 18 of History of Protestantism by James A. Wylie (1878)
Lists of Rulers
List of Spanish stadholders, 1506-1656, from Golden Age Web
Chronology of Catholic Dioceses : the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Luxembourg from Kirken i Norge
Biographies Guido de Bres, from Portraits of Faithful Saints, a Calvinist publication
Others Emden Safe Haven for 16th Century Dutch Refugees, from Dutch Heritage Site
On Iconoclasm of 1566 : Antwerp Cathedral Altarpieces by Prof. S. Koslow, CUNY, scroll down; Art Historians and Others, from Hubert and Jan van Eyck and the Ghent Altarpiece, on how it was saved from the iconoclasts
Catholic Encyclopedia : Bollandists, 1907; Jansenius and Jansenism, 1910
Christian Hagiography, from the Societe des Bollandistes
Text Documents
in English
The Wonders of the Most High, a chronicle of the history of the United Provinces, 1550-1675, by Abraham van de Velde
Documents in English, from Univ. of Southhampton posted by Dr. Alistair Duke
The Belgic Confession, from CRTA (composed by Guido de Bres in 1561, revised on the Synod of Dordt in 1618-1619)
Text Documents
in other languages
Dutch Revolt : Letters, from Golden Age Web, in French/Dutch; Documents 1477-1617, from Golden Age Web (in Sp./Fr./Dutch)
Maps Maps : Church administration before 1560
Paintings, Prints The Duke of Alva in the Netherlands (1835), from The Wallace Collection
Egmond and Hoorne (1851), from DHM
Tyranny of the Duke of Alva, 1577, posted by Andrew Sawyer

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on January 4th 2002

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