Act of Abjuration

gigatos | February 10, 2022


The Act of The Hague or Act of Deposition of The Hague (in Dutch Act van Verlatinghe, literally: “Act of Abandonment”), also known as the Abjuration of The Hague, is a constitutional act of the States General of the Netherlands promulgated on July 26, 1581, depriving Philip II, King of Spain, of all his rights over the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands, as part of the War of Independence (later called the Eighty Years” War) waged since 1568 under the leadership of William of Orange.

It is in fact the proclamation of independence of the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands. But only seven of them will actually become so, forming the Republic of the Seven United Provinces of the Netherlands (abbreviated to the United Provinces), a situation recognized by the King of Spain by the Treaty of Munster of 1648.

This act inspired the 1776 Declaration of Independence of the United States of America.

The Spanish Netherlands

The seventeen provinces of the Netherlands, from Friesland to Artois (apart from the episcopal principality of Liege), are an entity resulting from the Burgundian state of Charles the Bold, which fell to Charles V, his great-grandson, born in 1500 in Ghent, who became by other inheritance head of the house of Habsburg and king of Spain, elected emperor in 1519.

The status of the Netherlands was redefined in 1549 by a Pragmatic Sanction of Charles V, which made it a separate entity from the Holy Roman Empire, to be inherited by his son Philip.

In 1555, Charles V abdicated his functions, attributing to Philip the crown of Spain in addition to the seventeen provinces (as well as Franche-Comté), while his Austrian possessions (Hungary, Bohemia, Austrian archduchies, etc.) returned to his brother Ferdinand, who was elected emperor.

Philip II was represented in each province (not as King of Spain, but as Count of Flanders in the County of Flanders, Duke of Brabant in the Duchy of Brabant, etc.) by a governor (stathouder) and at the level of the whole by a governor general, assisted by the Council of State. Each province has a representation (the provincial states), but there are also states general of the Netherlands.

The governor general in 1581 was Alexander Farnese, grandson of Charles V.

The beginnings of the war of independence (1566-1579)

Tensions, both political (role of the local nobility) and religious (problem of Protestantism), between the Dutch elites and Philip II led in 1566 to a crisis and the beginning of the “Revolt of the Beggars”, which, in 1568, turned into a war when Prince William of Orange, a member of the Council of State and leader of the nobility, launched an offensive against the army of the Duke of Alba, Governor General since 1567.

The circumstances of the deposition (1579-1581)

A break between the provinces occurred in 1579 when the southern (Catholic) provinces formed the Union of Arras, which led the others to form the Union of Utrecht.

It is within the framework of the union of Utrecht that the deposition of Philip II will be decided.

The act of deposition

The editors are careful to conceal its revolutionary basis for the deposition of Philip as ruler of the Seventeen Provinces. The term “abjuration” is apocryphal since the original text uses rather the Dutch term “abandon” (verlaten). According to the text, it is Philip II who, by his exactions, abandoned the provinces, and not the reverse.

It is a rather long text beginning with the usual formulas (“Les Estats Généraux des Provinces-Unies du Païs-Bas, A tous ceux qui ces presentes verront, ou orront lire, Salut”), and comprising four parts:

1) general considerations on the duties of princes towards their subjects, if they do not want to be considered as tyrants: “…the Sujects are not created by God for the use of the Prince…”, “…but the Prince is for the Sujects, without whom he cannot be Prince, in order to govern according to right & reason, to maintain and love them like a Father his Children, or a Shepherd his Sheep…”; “… when he does not do so, but instead of defending his Subjects, seeks to oppress them, & to take away their Privileges, & ancient Customs, to command them & to use them as slaves, he must not be held as a Prince, but as a Tyrant”; In this case, “his subjects, according to right & reason, can no longer recognize him as their Prince, especially when this is done with the deliberation & authority of the States of the Country, but he can be abandoned, & in his place choose another . .. for Chief & Lord, who will defer to them…” ;

2) a rather detailed historical indictment of Philip II, who is explicitly contrasted with his father Charles V and with his half-sister the regent (from 1559 to 1567) Margaret of Parma. The text blames the “Council of Spain,” Philip”s Spanish advisors who wanted him to treat the Netherlands “like the kingdom of Naples or the Indies” and encouraged him to act by armed force; Philip II”s decisions to take control of the Dutch Catholic Church and to promote the Spanish Inquisition; the crisis of 1566 (the tyrannical rule of the Duke of Alba (his fiscal and military exactions ; the violence committed by out-of-control Spanish troops in Brussels, Aalst, Maastricht and Antwerp; Philip”s double-dealing, pretending to condemn this violence, when in fact he approved of it, as demonstrated by “letters intercepted” by the insurgents [the text mentions three times the interception of Spanish mail] ;

3) the deposition : ” SCAVOIR FAISONS, que consideré ce que dessus, & l”extrême necessité nous pressant, comme a été dit, nous avons, par commun Accord, déliberation & consentement, déclaré & déclarons le Roy d”Espaigne decheu, ipso Jure, de sa Souveraineté, Droit & Héritage de ces Pays ” ;

4) the consequences of this deposition: abrogation of all the oaths of loyalty towards Philip; scrapping of the Spanish seals, with the indications on the seals to be used henceforth; prohibition to emit coins in the name of Philip II, etc

Signatory Provinces (in order of signature)

The search for a new sovereign

Since the Union of Utrecht, and until the beginning of the following century, even the twelve-year truce of 1609-1621, William I of Orange-Nassau, and then, after his death in 1584, the States General, tried to find a “constitutional” monarch to replace Philip.

Duke Francis of Anjou accepted this role for a time, then found that he could not remain at the head of the Dutch insurgents, especially since his title was only nominal, with the States General and William of Orange exercising real power.

In 1585, Henry III of France and Elizabeth I of England were offered the crown of the country by the States General. Both refused.

The United Provinces based on the Union of Utrecht thus took, by default, the republican form. And even then, some stadhouders, including Maurice of Nassau in the following century, were pressured (internally and externally, including by Henry IV of France) to return the young Dutch republic to the monarchy.

The war after the deposition

One of the first operations carried out by Governor General Alexander Farnese was the siege of Tournai, a city located on the border between the two groups of provinces. The siege began on October 4 and ended on November 30 with the capture of the city.

Afterwards, the county of Flanders will be almost entirely reconquered by the Spaniards, as well as a large part of the duchy of Brabant and a small part of Guelders.

De facto, the Republic of the United Provinces was limited to the seven provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Gelderland, Overijssel, Friesland, Groningen and Utrecht, and the countries of the Generality, administered by the States General: Dutch Brabant and Dutch Limburg, united under the name “Brabant of the States” (this special status resulted from their almost entirely Catholic settlement and their location in contact with the Spanish Netherlands; it was a heavily militarized area); Drenthe, located in the northeast of the country (because of its poverty).

Text of the Hague Act

The proposed French translation is taken from :


  1. Acte de La Haye
  2. Act of Abjuration
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