Eighty Years’ War

gigatos | January 4, 2022


The Eighty Years War was a struggle in the Netherlands that began in 1568 and ended in 1648. The war raged in one of the richest European territories, the Habsburg or Spanish Netherlands and was directed against a world power: the Spanish Empire led by King Philip II, lord of the Netherlands, and his successors Philip III and Philip IV. The first phase of the war can be characterized as a rebellion, a civil war, and is known as the Dutch Revolt. From 1588, after 20 years, the character changed to a regular war.

Initially, the Low Countries or the Seventeen Provinces acted jointly against the Spanish ruler. After 1576 the Northern and Southern Netherlands grew apart, because the Reformation managed to maintain itself better in the north than in the southern part. The advance from the south of the army of the king (further called the “Spanish army”) led in 1585 to the Fall of Antwerp which marked the separation of north and south. After Antwerp, the Spanish army continued until it controlled large parts of the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, formed in 1588. Around 1590 the tide turned in favor of the Republic and the north and east returned to State hands. In 1609, an armistice, the Twelve Year Truce, was concluded, although the war continued indirectly in Germany (Thirty Years War). After resuming, the war played out mainly in the south of the Republic. Tired, the warring parties signed the Peace of Munster in 1648.

The Low Countries, roughly the present-day Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, consisted in the early sixteenth century of a collection of principalities already largely united under the house of Burgundy. There were persistent antagonisms between the burghers and guilds in the prosperous cities and the nobility in the countryside, and between cities themselves. There was hardly any coherence between these countries, each with their own centuries-old privileges and institutions, despite several Burgundian attempts to bring some order to the administration of the Low Countries. In the course of the sixteenth century, Emperor Charles V succeeded in adding, with the exception of the principality of Liege, the extensive county of Gelre, bishopric of Utrecht including Overijssel, Drenthe, Friesland and Groningen by inheritance, marriage and conquest. The inhabitants of these lands did not feel any attachment to other lands in this collection. They identified themselves primarily with their own city or region and at most with their own region. Charles V was the head of the most powerful empire and, in addition to being lord of the Dutch principalities, was also emperor of the Roman Empire and king of Spain and all its colonies.

The lord of the manor wanted to turn these disjointed Dutch principalities, also called Zeventien Provinciën, into a strong state that would be centrally governed. Because the provinces had a long tradition of autonomy, they all had different customs, privileges and legislation. In order to create more coherence in administrative and judicial matters, a process was underway to curtail certain powers of the provinces and centralize them. As in the Burgundian period, this again led to fierce protests from the representative institutions of the cities and towns in the provinces.

Another desire of the lord of the manor was to impose taxes in order to deploy resources elsewhere in his vast empire and to wage wars. The lord could not impose taxes independently, since the granting of money was also a privilege of the states. When money was granted, the states often made all kinds of demands about how it should be spent. These demands could in turn get in the way of the process of greater centralization. Costly wars and increasing bureaucracy meant that the lord of the manor needed more and more money, but he had not yet been able to establish a centrally imposed tax. In 1531 Charles V installed in Brussels the Collateral Councils, among which the Council of State was the most important, which would continue to exist more or less in this form as the main administrative bodies of the Habsburg Netherlands until 1788.

Although Catholicism was the only permitted religion, the ideas of the Reformation found quick and massive adherence in the Low Countries and differed greatly from the Reformation elsewhere in Western and Central Europe. The Reformation in the Low Countries was preceded by the Modern Devotion, a religious and educational movement within the Church that arose in the late fourteenth century in the IJssel region and paved the way for humanism, which a century later spread from Italy through the trading cities along the IJssel in the Seventeen Provinces. During the earliest period of the Reformation, at the beginning of the sixteenth century, the most far-reaching consequences could already be seen: spread of the Protestant mentality and undermining of the established Church. The sovereign, however, did not tolerate any deviation from the unity idea and Protestants were persecuted everywhere for this reason. Nevertheless, the Reformation spread more rapidly after 1550, but persecution also increased. More unrest arose when from 1540 onwards the economic situation also deteriorated.

In October 1555 Charles V abdicated and the vast empire he left behind was divided between his son Philip II and his brother Ferdinand. Spain, the New World and the Netherlands went to Philip, Ferdinand received the Austrian lands and the imperial crown. After marrying Mary I of England in June 1554, Philip came to the Netherlands from England in September 1555.

In the 1520s, a new Christian religious movement, Anabaptism (Anabaptists), flourished in the Southern Netherlands. Especially in the West Quarter of the County of Flanders, this belief was gaining a foothold, in part because a proletariat had emerged (mainly in the towns of Hondschote, Armentiers, Valencine, and Ypres). Because of the uncertain political (War of the League of Cognac, 1526-1530) and religious turmoil of those days, the supply of wool from England had dried up, leaving the cloth industry in the doldrums. The absence of the guild structure as it existed in cities like Bruges and Ghent led to discontent among the proletariat. The social ideas of the Anabaptists such as the redistribution of goods appealed to many. As the repression of Anabaptists increased, they fled to Antwerp, England and Friesland from 1530 onwards. Repression increased after Anabaptists expelled the bishop in 1534 in Münster.

Then, in the south, the popularity of a new Protestant movement that had come over from France, Calvinism, began to increase. The repression was now focused on this movement, which emerged mainly from 1540 around Tournai, Valencine and Mons, followed later by Ghent, Bruges and Antwerp. From 1540 onwards, Protestants also fled to Germany to escape religious persecution. The authorities in the Netherlands issued increasingly severe edicts and in 1546 the Inquisition was expanded and reorganized. Many Anabaptist societies were eliminated as a result. In 1550, Charles V proclaimed the Blood Plaque against heretics.

The harsh treatment of Protestants, increasing centralization, bureaucratization, economic decline among parts of the population and the Spanish declaration of bankruptcy of 1557 caused increasing discontent in the Seventeen Provinces. The economic malaise in the second half of the sixteenth century and the aversion to Catholicism caused Calvinism to grow. Philip II reacted by having these “heretics” dealt with even more harshly.

After the conclusion of the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis between the kingdom of France and Spain, Philip returned to Spain for good in August 1559 and appointed his half-sister Margaret of Parma as grand duchess of the Netherlands. The governess was advised by a few confidants, including Cardinal Granvelle. The normally so influential high nobles from the Council of State, such as Orange and Egmont, saw their power curtailed. They were dissatisfied with the policy pursued because it caused much unrest in the regions. Granvelle was held responsible for this policy and in 1561 the high nobility united to get rid of the cardinal – which succeeded in 1564. Now that they thought they had the influence back, they wanted to work for a different policy. Egmont left for Spain to explain the wishes orally, but Philip would not deviate from the decisions made.

The winter of 1564-1565 was extremely cold and the following summer brought a grain crop which led to speculation, sharply rising prices and the famine winter of 1565-1566. This increased tensions in the Low Countries.

In addition to the high nobility, the low nobility, which included adherents of Calvinism, was also dissatisfied. They united in the Noblemen”s Oath in 1566 and by means of a petition of the nobles, signed by a few hundred nobles and presented to the governess under the leadership of Hendrik van Brederode, they pleaded for the abolition of the persecutions of Calvinists. On that occasion counsellor Charles of Berlaymont is said to have said to Margaret the famous words N”ayez pas peur Madame, ce ne sont que des gueux (“Do not be afraid Madame, they are only beggars”), after which the nobles adopted this as an honorific name and started wearing Beggars” badges and beggars” caps. Margaret suspended the persecutions, awaiting a response from Philip. Calvinists, who had previously met in secret, now began to manifest themselves openly. The genie was out of the bottle and would not go back in. Polarization increased and hedge preaching degenerated into the Beeldenstorm (Image War).

Traditionally, the Battle of Heiligerlee on 23 May 1568 is seen as the starting point of the Revolt, but actually several events had taken place from 1566 onwards that could also be seen as starting points. From 1588 the character of a revolt had changed to a regular war.

Iconoclasm and first acts of violence

Discontent among Calvinists erupted with the Iconoclasm. The violence began on August 10, 1566 in West Flanders after incitement by Calvinist ministers. In large parts of the Netherlands, it was followed by the destruction of churches and monasteries by itinerant groups. The vandalism was directed against the wealth of the Catholic Church and the worship of images. Especially statues of saints, altars and monstrances were targeted. The wave of violence spread through Flanders, Artesia and Brabant to Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht.

William of Orange and his supporters, including the high nobles Egmont and Horne condemned the violence. They envisioned moderate policies and freedom of conscience in the Seventeen Provinces. The moderate Catholics” support for the idea of freedom of conscience was compromised by the iconoclasm. Orange and his allies promised Margaret of Parma to restore peace in exchange for allowing Protestantism in areas where it occurred before the iconoclasm. Margaret had no other options but to agree. Hendrik van Brederode, earlier spokesman for the Oath Covenant of the Nobles, sought support for an armed insurrection in the north but was unsuccessful.

In the meantime, Margaret, supported by Orange”s opponents in the Council of State, Mansveld, Aerschot, Berlaymont and Megen, had an army raised to fight the Protestants in the Walloon provinces. At the end of 1566, the Walloon cities of Tournai and Valenciennes were besieged by the government army. A Geuzen army tried to come to the aid of the cities, but was devastatingly defeated at the Battle of Oosterweel on March 13, 1567. Tournai had fallen before that and Valencine fell ten days after the battle. Peace was restored and religious freedom was out of the question.

Egmont and Horne took Margaret”s oath of allegiance. Orange, Brederode and other leading nobles foresaw that they would be seen as rebels and to avoid severe action, they fled to Germany. For a while it seemed as if the rebellion was over.

Oppression under Alva

Philip II was shocked and hurt when he heard of the Beeldenstorm. Now that the war with the Turks had calmed down, he saw the opportunity to bring order to the Netherlands. The hard line had to be taken. The one who had to carry this out was the Duke of Alva who was nicknamed the Iron Duke because of his brutal reputation. With a 10,000-strong army from Lombardy, he arrived in Brussels after two months on August 22, 1567. He immediately established the Council of Troubles, which was charged with prosecuting and punishing those involved in the disturbances of the previous two years. Under Alva”s rule, 8950 persons were arrested and convicted. Van Egmont and Horne were sentenced to death by the council for high treason for not acting tough enough and were executed along with 1100 others. Since they were knights of the Order of the Golden Fleece, for which separate jurisdiction applied, this sentence was unlawful in their eyes and led to a hardening.

Orange was also sentenced to death, in absentia because he was in Germany. His possessions were confiscated and his eldest son Philip William of Orange was kidnapped and sent to Spain by Alva. Afraid of arrest, an estimated 60,000 people left the Low Countries.

Margaret resigned as governess and was succeeded by Alva. The duke was very unpopular. He was not seen as a legitimate head of government but as the commander of an army of occupation. He alienated the Dutch from Philip II by his measures. With the Council of Troubles, new centrally imposed taxes, such as the Tenth Penalty, and new dioceses, Alva tried to gain more control but at the same time created a lot of resistance.

With the beheading of Egmont and Horne -Brederode had died suddenly before this- Orange had become the undisputed leader of the revolt. Orange wanted to engage in armed resistance because he believed in religious freedom for the Dutch and on a personal level because his honor as a high nobleman had been tarnished. He devised a risky plan with which he, with the help of other nobles, invaded the Netherlands from three sides in 1568, Orange”s first invasion. In the north this resulted in victory with the Battle of Heiligerlee, but then in a crushing defeat at Jemmingen. In the south, the army of the French Protestants, the Huguenots, had already been prematurely defeated, and in the middle the insurgents lost the Battle of Dalheim.

Despite the defeats, Orange still decided to invade Brabant with a sizeable army, but because Alva announced a confrontation, Orange”s army had to be disbanded due to lack of money. The invasion had become a failure. Orange”s finances were exhausted and the hoped-for popular uprising failed to materialize.

Insurgents gain a foothold

The breakthrough would come from an unexpected source. The Sea Beggars were a collection of exiles consisting of low nobility, sailors, fishermen, merchants and artisans who had fled Alva in 1567 and fled to England and western Germany. From there they sailed the seas and hijacked ships to earn their living and to damage Spain. In doing so, they regularly exceeded their limits with piracy by attacking neutral ships. In addition, they held raids on the Dutch coast.

After the failed invasion of 1568, Orange again wanted to invade the Netherlands from several sides in the summer of 1572, Orange”s second invasion. The Water Beggars were asked to provide a diversion. A fleet of water-beggars led by Willem van der Marck ran aground near Den Briel on April 1, 1572. The Spanish garrison had been called away from the city because Alva needed men to secure the French border. This made it easy to take the city. The capture was a fluke and unexpected since Orange was not yet ready with his armies. Unintentionally, Den Briel, isolated between waterways, became the fulcrum for the Sea Beggars. The stadholder Bossu tried to chase the Beggars away but was unsuccessful because the area had been flooded.

From Den Briel, Vlissingen and then Veere and Zierikzee were then won over to the rebellion. In the north, Enkhuizen defected to the insurgents, becoming the nerve center of operations in North Holland. Four months after Den Briel, most cities in Holland and Zeeland sided with the rebellion, often under duress or threat. With this, the major waterways such as the Maas, Rhine, Scheldt and Zuiderzee were controlled by the Beggars. The Sea Beggars profited from the discontent in the cities against Spanish rule. Where the rebels took power Catholicism was banned and Calvinism became the public church.

Orange and his brother Louis of Nassau now also had to act sooner because of the sudden capture of Den Briel. They invaded the Netherlands in three different places. Louis invaded Hainaut in the south and took Bergen, and in Valenciennes the Calvinists seized power. Willem van den Bergh conquered Zutphen in Gelderland after which most cities in Gelderland, Overijssel, Utrecht and Friesland also joined the insurgents.

The raids forced Alva to keep his armies in the south despite the plight in the north. Mons was given priority and was the first to be besieged by Alva”s son Don Frederick. When a French Huguenot army came to the rescue it was defeated by Don Frederick. Further help from the Huguenots was no longer to be expected after Bartholomew”s Night when all Protestant leaders were killed. Orange therefore set sail for Bergen himself with an army, hoping that Alva would lift the siege. During the march through Brabant, cities such as Mechelen, Diest, Oudenaarde, Dendermonde, Leuven and Tienen joined the revolt. However, Alva did not move and in September 1572 Bergen surrendered. Now Alva had his hands free to deal with the rebels.

Alva”s punitive expedition

Several cities in the Netherlands had sided with the rebels. To restore order and punish the rebellious cities, Alva decided to proceed with a punitive expedition against the rebellious cities, led by Alva”s son Don Frederik. The first city was Mechelen which was taken without a fight in early October. The Spanish soldiers had permission to brutally loot and slaughter Mechelen. This caused such a shock that other rebellious cities in Flanders and Brabant gave up their resistance. In one fell swoop, authority was restored in these regions. Next, it was Zutphen”s turn. This city was taken on 16 November and also plundered. Again, other cities in Gelderland, Overijssel and Friesland stopped their resistance.

Don Frederick”s army pushed on to Naarden in Holland which was taken on December 1 and mercilessly looted. Virtually the entire population was murdered. Only this time the desired result for Alva was not achieved. The Revolt was more deeply rooted in Holland and Zeeland because here there was more time to initiate Protestantization and change of institutions. Many exiles had returned, Catholic churches had been absorbed by Protestants, and the vroedschap had been purged. Surrender to Don Frederik was no longer an option. Alva”s and Don Frederick”s next target became Haarlem. In an attempt to seal off the city, the Battle of Haarlemmermeer took place during the siege, which the royalists won. After seven months, Haarlem was forced to surrender in July 1573 due to lack of food. In return for payment, looting was prevented, but in spite of this, part of the garrison and the magistrate were murdered. Amsterdam was still royalist and with Haarlem in its hands, Holland was split in two. The Spanish army then pushed on to the northern town of Alkmaar. The siege failed due to inundations around the city. Spain also suffered a decisive defeat on the water with the Battle of the Zuiderzee. This was an attempt by Spain to break through the blockade around Amsterdam.

In Zeeland, Alva was on the defensive and the battle was concentrated on Goes and Middelburg. The siege of Goes in October 1572 by the Beggars failed, Middelburg also held out. In an attempt to chase off the besiegers, a fleet of king”s ships was deployed but was defeated at the Battle of Reimerswaal. Once again it was demonstrated that the rebels were superior on the water. After twenty months, Middelburg was taken in February 1574 and then the Battle of Lillo was won. The Westerschelde was now in the hands of the insurgents and with it they had control over the most important sea routes in the Netherlands. The royalist fleet had been virtually eliminated after the lost naval battles.

In 1616, the Dutch historian Johannes Gijsius published a book about the horrors during the Spanish occupation.

Battle for isolated Holland and Zeeland

After Don Frederik”s punitive expedition, the rebellion only raged in Zeeland and Holland. Philip II increasingly realized that Alva”s hard line had backfired in the Netherlands. In addition, the battle against the Turks flared up again so that the already tight finances had to be divided over two fronts. Therefore, he appointed Requesens as the new governor in the Netherlands. He was a diplomat and administrator and was given the task of a more moderate policy.

Although Spain was unable to get a grip on the rebels on the water, the Spanish army on land was still supreme. Still under Alva, the Siege of Leiden had been struck since October 1573. The fate of the Revolt depended on this city. If Leiden fell, then The Hague and Delft were probably also untenable. To come to the aid of the city, Louis and Henry of Nassau entered the Netherlands with an army in 1574. The Spanish army raised the siege of Leiden to cope with the invasion. At Mookerheide the two armies clashed, the insurgent army suffered a heavy defeat and the brothers of William of Orange were killed. After the battle the siege of Leiden was resumed in May 1574. When in August 1574 the food in the city ran out and the situation became critical, William of Orange and the States of Holland decided to flood the land around Leiden. This allowed the city to be reached by boats and forced the Spanish army to retreat.

After this failed siege, in May 1575 the new stadholder of Holland, Gilles van Berlaymont, attempted to attack the North Quarter, but this was also stopped by inundations. The attack was now focused on the area between Holland and Utrecht, succeeding in capturing Oudewater and Schoonhoven. The advance stopped at Woerden which was also unsuccessful due to inundations. In Zeeland, the Spanish army did achieve an important victory with the capture of Zierikzee after a nine-month siege. Nevertheless, Spain was unable to block the connections between Holland and Zeeland and Oranien”s fleet remained the most powerful on the water.

Financing the war was a problem for both camps, only for Spain the situation was even more dire. The States General, which Requesens had convened in 1574, steered for peace rather than financial support. In 1575, peace talks were held in Breda between insurgents and Requesens but came to nothing because it proved impossible to reach an agreement on religious matters and the future form of government. The unexpected death of Requesens in March 1576 caused problems for the Spaniards. In anticipation of a successor, Philip II gave the supreme administration of the country into the hands of the Council of State.

Immediately after the capture of Zierikzee, the Spanish soldiers demanded the remainder of their pay. This had not been paid in full for two years. However, Philip II had reduced the amount of money sent to the Netherlands due to the bankruptcy of Castile in 1575, so the government in Brussels could not meet the demand. The consequences were catastrophic. Royal troops left the just-conquered Zierikzee, mutinied and captured and plundered Aalst, from where they undertook further plundering trips into rich and royalist Brabant and Flanders.

Pacification of Ghent

In previous years, the battlefield had been limited to Holland and Zeeland. Now that the Spanish troops mutinied, this changed drastically and all provinces were threatened, primarily Flanders and Brabant. After the abrupt death of Requesens on March 4, 1576, the Council of State had temporarily taken over the national administration. It was pressured by the States of Brabant to convene the States General so that a peace could be negotiated with the rebellious provinces of Holland and Zeeland. When the Council of State did not comply with the king”s wishes, a small coup d”état took place in Brussels and members of the Council were imprisoned. This extended the rebellion de facto to the southern provinces. A States General was convened and sent a deputation to Ghent to conduct peace negotiations with the two rebellious provinces. They began on October 19 and were concluded on October 28. The agreements were hastily ratified on November 8 after the Spanish Furie of November 4 at Antwerp. With the Pacification of Ghent, peace came so the Spanish troops could leave and the Dutch provinces formed an alliance (the Union of Brussels). The religious question remained a problem but would later be resolved in the States General.

In the meantime, the mutinous Spanish troops had plundered Maastricht (Spanish Furie (Maastricht)) and Antwerp. It is estimated that the Spanish Furie of Antwerp, which lasted three days, killed 8,000 people. After this looting, even Philip II”s greatest supporters were convinced that the Spanish troops had to leave.

Philip II sent his half-brother Don Juan of Austria as the new governor of the Netherlands. Initially, upon arrival, he had declared his adherence to the Pacification of Ghent through the Eternal Edict. Spanish troops left for Italy in March and April 1577 as agreed. In return, the States General had agreed not to meet again without summons from the governor and to ban Calvinism. For William of Orange and the States of Zeeland and Holland this was unacceptable and they refused to recognize Don Juan as governor. Don Juan felt threatened and with remaining German troops took the citadel of Namur. This was clearly against the instruction of the States General and they themselves appointed the nineteen-year-old Matthias of Austria, a brother-in-law of Philip II, as the new governor. The provinces formed a General Union with Matthias as governor and William of Orange as his lieutenant. With this act, the entire Netherlands with the exception of Luxembourg rebelled against the king.

Philip II had no intention of accepting this political upheaval and ordered Don Juan to recapture the Netherlands with the returned Spanish troops. The king”s finances had improved since 1577 and an armistice had been signed with the Ottomans. The first success against the troops of the States General was achieved by Don Juan at the Battle of Gembloers on January 31, 1578. The advance continued with the capture of Leuven, Tienen, Aerschot and Diest. Soon Spain had restored power in the southeastern Netherlands.

The roads separate – The Unions of Utrecht and Atrecht

William of Orange tried to maintain unity among the provinces in the General Union but faced an impossible task. The religious freedom he advocated was not granted to Catholics by radical Calvinists. Where they seized power, the vroedschap was purged of Catholics, the Catholic churches were closed and the clergy exiled. In Antwerp, Brussels and Malines where the Calvinists secured a church building in 1578 Catholicism was banned within three years. Ghent, where radical Calvinists had taken charge, became a stronghold of intolerance with the Ghent Republic. In Holland and Zeeland, too, in cities that joined William of Orange, such as the alternation of Amsterdam, Catholic churches were closed and satisfactions were not observed. For moderate Catholics, this was a true scare. They saw that religious peace in this way posed a threat to Catholicism. Ultimately, this was disastrous for cooperation between the provinces. There was little willingness to contribute financially to the joint defense and it was therefore impossible for the States General to set up a powerful military apparatus.

Fearful of the radical elements of the Revolt, the southern Walloon provinces of Artesia, Hainaut and West Flanders and the malcontents, disaffected Catholic nobles, rejoined Spain on January 6, 1579 through the Union of Atrecht.

Alexander Farnese, later Duke of Parma, had succeeded Don Juan as governor after Don Juan died of the plague on October 1, 1578. He would prove himself a skilled general and diplomat. Under the threat of Spanish troops moving ever further north, and the General Union unable to counter it, a military alliance the Union of Utrecht was formed in the north on January 23, 1579. Parma laid siege to Maastricht on March 10, 1579, and gained control of it after 111 days.

That same year, the German emperor Rudolf II, the older brother of country governor Matthias, organized a peace conference in Cologne between Philip II and the States General. The talks lasted from May to December 1579 but a compromise was out of reach. For the moderates, the breakdown was a major setback and there seemed no way out. A choice had to be made between the king or the Calvinists.

In March 1580, Georges van Lalaing, Count of Rennenberg and stadholder of Groningen, Friesland, Drenthe, Overijssel and Lingen defected to the side of Philip II. Rennenberg was the only remaining Catholic nobleman who still supported the Revolt. He could no longer reconcile himself with the practice of repeatedly prohibiting Catholic worship in cities where Calvinists seized power. Rennenberg”s transition led to a strong anti-Catholic reaction in his regions and strengthened the position of Protestants. The move was a strategic blow to the insurgents as much of the northeast was now in royal hands. An army of the States General laid siege to Groningen but had to lift it after the lost Battle of Hardenberg. After this, Rennenberg took Delfzijl and attempted to capture Steenwijk.

Parma”s advance in the south

While in the northeast Rennenberg posed a great threat to the rebellious regions, in the south Parma also gained more and more territory. After Maastricht, there followed the fencing revolt of ”s-Hertogenbosch and the capture of Courtrai. Through regular money shipments from Spain, he was able to maintain a strong force. In addition, he took a moderate approach so that besieged cities were more likely to abandon the battle.

William of Orange realized that the revolt could not be won without a strong ally. On his advice, the States General offered the younger brother of the French king, the Duke of Anjou, sovereignty over the Netherlands in exchange for military support. Hopes were pinned on France because of the traditional enmity between the house of Habsburg and house of Valois. Anjou proved available and willing and with him the treaty of Plessis-lès-Tours was concluded in January 1581. In July 1581 Philip II was renounced as sovereign with the Plaque of Verlatinghe. The position of governor Matthias had become irrelevant and he left the Netherlands. The arrival of Anjou was a failure. Anjou did liberate the city of Kamerijk in August 1581, which had been besieged by Parma since 1580. An open war between France and Spain, hoped for by Orange, did not come about because of the refusal of the French king Henry III to declare war on Philip II.

In the north, where Rennenberg had died, the leadership of the Spanish army was continued by Francisco Verdugo. He won the Battle of Noordhorn and in 1582 took control of Steenwijk. Meanwhile, in the south, Breda and Tournai passed into Spanish hands in 1581 and a year later it was the turn of Lier, Oudenaarde and Ninove.

Anjou put nothing in return. His power was limited and that frustrated him. In mid-January 1583 he violently seized power by occupying several towns in Flanders and Brabant. In Antwerp, the population revolted and chased the French out of the city, the French Furie. His position in the Netherlands had thus become untenable and he returned to France.

On July 10, 1584, William of Orange, the leader of the revolt, was assassinated in Delft after being outlawed by Philip II in 1580.

Parma controlled the provinces of Luxembourg, Limburg, Namur, Hainaut, Artesia and West Flanders. His next target was the provinces of Brabant and Flanders. A direct attack on the major cities in those provinces would be too great a burden for his army. Therefore, he decided to isolate the major cities by first occupying surrounding towns, countryside, and land and waterways. After that, it would be easier to seize the major cities. First, the Flemish coastal cities of Dunkirk, Nieuwpoort, Menin, Veurne, Diksmuide and St. Winoksbergen were taken at a rapid pace in July and August 1583. In October, the cities along the Scheldt as Sas van Gent, Axel, Hulst, Eeklo and Rupelmonde followed. Parma”s plan worked because major Flemish cities Ghent, Ypres and Bruges could be taken the following year. With this, Flanders was almost completely in Spanish hands. That same year of 1584, Parma also laid siege to Brussels and Antwerp. Antwerp was completely cut off from the outside world by the construction of an enormous ship”s bridge. After a siege of one year the city had to capitulate on August 17, 1585. Brussels had been taken before that. The fall of Antwerp, seventeen years after the start of the revolt, had major economic and social consequences and the event is also seen as the definitive schism between the northern and southern Netherlands.

England gets involved

The territory of the generality had almost shrunk to the territory of the Union of Utrecht by 1585. Only Holland, Zeeland, Friesland and Utrecht were still completely in Dutch hands. The situation was extremely distressing for the rebels. No help could be expected from France. The States General offered sovereignty to King Henry III, but he refused, not wanting to risk war with Spain. Therefore, a delegation went to the English Queen Elizabeth I for support. She would not accept the sovereignty. However, she did decide to support the rebels with the Treaty of Nonsuch, providing military assistance to contain Spain”s strength. The Netherlands became a protectorate of England.

Elizabeth”s support was not without obligation. In exchange, the rebellious provinces had to accept her confidant Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester as governor general. His arrival in January 1586 immediately led to a clash with the main province of Holland. Leicester”s plans clashed with the interests of Holland, where Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was the most influential figure as country lawyer. Even before Leicester”s arrival, Holland appointed William of Orange”s eighteen-year-old son, Maurice of Nassau, stadholder of Holland and captain general over the troops paid by Holland. Leicester”s position was weak.

Parma continued his advance with successful captures of Nijmegen, Grave, Venlo, and Sluis. Leicester could only counter this with Doesburg in 1586. Even more setbacks Leicester had to endure when Deventer and a fort near Zutphen where English soldiers were stationed allowed Parma to bribe them. For him it was now possible to cross the IJssel and enter the Veluwe. The betrayal led to popular anger and a great distrust of the English. Leicester staged a coup but this failed. His position had become untenable and he left for England in December 1587.

Philip II saw in the English queen”s support for the rebels a reason to attack England. He had a huge fleet of warships and transport ships built in Spain. This fleet was to be used to put an invading army of Parma across the Channel to England. The surprised English would be quickly defeated and then the fight against the Dutch could continue. However, the English and Dutch found out about the plan and made preparations. When the Spanish Armada reached southern England on July 29, 1588, it was met by English and Dutch ships. The unwieldy Spanish ships, which had been ravaged by storms along the way, stood no chance against the faster English and Dutch attackers. The Armada was defeated and the invasion had failed.

With Leicester”s departure in 1587, the leadership returned to the States General. They decided not to offer the sovereignty to a foreign ruler anymore, supported by the constitutional argument the deduction of Vrancken . This made the independent Republic of the Seven United Provinces a reality.

With the independence of the Republic of the Seven United Provinces, the Eighty Years” War entered a new phase. No longer was it a revolt against the legal authority, the Spanish crown, as in the first two decades. Gradually the struggle degenerated into a regular war between two states, the Republic against the reconquered Netherlands governed from Brussels and Madrid.

Northern Dutch counterattack (1588-1598)

In 1589 Parma managed to capture Geertruidenberg by bribing the mutinous garrison. He pushed on to Zaltbommel but failed to capture the city due to a mutiny by his own troops. Parma did not have time to solve this and to give the Republic the final blow. The plan changed and he was sent to France by Philip II.

In France, the Huguenot War had again broken out. The war was between King Henry of Navarre and the French Catholics united in the Catholic League. The previous French king Henry III had died childless and had designated his brother-in-law the Protestant Henry of Navarre as the heir to the throne. For Philip II, a Protestant France was too great a threat to Catholicism in Europe. Philip II therefore supported the League. This was more important to him than fighting the rebellious Dutch. He therefore ordered the Duke of Parma to focus on France. This meant that the battle in the north had to be given up because fighting on two fronts was financially unfeasible. After three raids on France, Parma was wounded in 1592 and died. He was succeeded by Ernst of Austria who also died a year later. Another problem arose when Spain could no longer repay its high loans and went bankrupt.

For the Republic, the situation improved greatly as a result. The period that followed was called the Ten Years by historian Fruin. The Dutch Revolt developed from virtually hopeless in 1588 to virtually won in 1598. In addition to Spanish interference in the French Huguenot wars, this development was also due to the political prowess of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and the military prowess of Maurice of Nassau, later Prince of Orange.

The Staatse leger was reformed by Maurice and his cousin Willem Lodewijk van Nassau. It was divided into smaller units making it more maneuverable. There was also a system of intelligible orders and strict discipline was enforced. With these and other reforms, the army was for a long time the military training school of Europe.

The opportunity arose to wage an offensive war instead of a defensive one. The capture of Breda in 1590 via a ruse with a peat ship, convinced in its own strength. Plans were prepared and finances increased for waging offensive war. The Republic was surrounded with cities in the east, north and south that were in Spanish hands. Each region was eager to see nearby cities conquered. Van Oldenbarnevelt managed to convince everyone to put aside their own interests and first conquer the cities in Gelderland and Overijssel, because they posed the greatest threat to the heart of the Republic. After that, it would be possible to push forward in the north and the south. So it happened, and the young republic achieved a series of military successes.

In 1591 Maurice began a campaign in the east of the country. He conquered successively Zutphen, Deventer, Delfzijl, Hulst and Nijmegen. In 1592 Steenwijk and Coevorden were recaptured in the north. In 1593 followed the capture of the Brabant Geertruidenberg, in 1594 the “reduction” of the entire region of Groningen took place.

Albrecht of Austria arrived in the Netherlands in 1596 as the new governor and shortly after his arrival conquered Calais and Hulst. England and France entered into an alliance in 1596 partly due to the Spanish conquest of Calais. Because of the short distance from England, the Spanish capture was seen as a gun to England”s chest. The Republic was asked to join and thus the Triple Alliance was formed. In practice, little changed after the alliance was formed. Each side continued to pursue its own strategy.

So when Albrecht went to France in 1597 to lay siege to Amiens, the Dutch saw an opportunity for another campaign rather than come to France”s aid. In the east, Rijnberk, Meurs, Grol (now Groenlo), Bredevoort, Enschede, Ootmarsum, Oldenzaal and Lingen were taken.

Maurice”s victories were an enormous boost to the Republic. The area of the Union of Utrecht was back in the hands of the Dutch and the Garden of the Republic was closed, so to speak.

The battle continued (1598-1609)

In the period from 1599 to 1604, the Republic tried to continue the offensive war, but they failed to break the power of the Spanish king. Financially exhausted, France and Spain concluded the Treaty of Vervins in 1598. This allowed Spain to return its full focus to the Republic. Because seventy-year-old Philip II felt his own end was near, he determined in 1598 that his daughter Isabella would marry Albrecht to rule the Netherlands together as “sovereign princes. He did not live to see the conclusion of the marriage. On 13 September of that same year Philip II died and was succeeded by his not very capable son Philip III.

Spain put military and economic pressure on the Republic to make them accept a peace proposal. With a large army, Francesco de Mendoza captured Rijnberk and Doetinchem. Maurice had a much smaller army at his disposal, but through skilful maneuvering was able to prevent a further advance. Economically, trade between the Iberian Peninsula and the Dutch was prohibited. Despite pressure from the Spanish army, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and Maurice did not trust Spain”s intentions and did not accept the offer of peace. Again in 1599, Spain launched a major attack. Mendoza invaded the Bommelerwaard and laid siege to Zaltbommel. Again Maurice had a much smaller army at his disposal but nevertheless managed to successfully defend the city. The siege was broken and shortly thereafter the Spanish army again faced mutinies.

Johan van Oldenbarnevelt wanted to take advantage of the mutinies in the Spanish army. Privateers were active from the Flemish coastal cities of Nieuwpoort and Dunkirk, causing much damage to the Dutch merchant fleet and fisheries. In a daring plan, Maurice was sent with the army into deep enemy territory to attack these cities. However, Albrecht was able to subdue the mutiny in time and rushed to Nieuwpoort where he surprised Maurice. The Battle of Nieuwpoort that followed could only just be won by Maurice. This victory was a turning point in the war as it proved that the Dutch army could hold its own against the Spanish army. After the battle the Dutch army withdrew.

Albrecht began the Siege of Ostend in 1601 which would become one of Europe”s bloodiest and longest lasting sieges. In an attempt to lure the Spanish army away from Ostend, Maurice besieged other cities. Between 1601 and 1604 he captured Rijnberk, Grave, Aardenberg and Sluis, and twice he made an unsuccessful attempt to capture ”s-Hertogenbosch. Albrecht made little progress despite huge expenditures in money and human lives. In 1603, in exchange for funding the siege, command of the troops was transferred to Ambrogio Spinola. Spinola, a Genoese banker, proved to be a military talent and gained control of Ostend in 1604. The new English king James I made peace with Spain, causing the Republic to lose its last ally.

The following year, Spinola and his fortified army thundered through the defensive belt of the Republic at lightning speed during his Spinola”s campaign. That year Oldenzaal and Lingen were conquered. Spinola”s speed was one step ahead of the Dutch every time. Spinola”s gains in territory forced Maurice to deploy more and more men in garrisons, leaving fewer men for the field army. One year later in 1606 Lochem, Groenlo and Rijnberk fell. Lochem could be recaptured afterwards but the recapture of Groenlo failed. A stalemate arose because both parties were financially exhausted. In 1607 a truce was agreed upon so that a peace could be negotiated in the meantime.

At sea, however, the Republic still had little to fear from Spain. Almost simultaneously with the conclusion of the temporary truce, on April 25, 1607, Dutch warships led by Jacob van Heemskerck destroyed a Spanish fleet, still partially under construction in the port of Cadiz. This naval battle is known as the Battle of Gibraltar. Another gain was the repeal of the trade boycott Spain had imposed against Dutch trading ships. Spain proved too dependent on Dutch trade. Finally, the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC) had been founded in part to harm the Spaniards in the Indies as well.

During the talks, no agreement could be reached about a final peace. However, on April 9, 1609, a truce was agreed upon in Antwerp, which would ultimately last twelve years.

Twelve-year Truce (1609-1621)

After the armistice was concluded, the army and fleet on both sides were drastically reduced to ease the financial burden. Peace between the Republic and Spain was maintained for twelve years despite conflicts at home and abroad.

One such conflict was the Gulik-Kleef Succession War. In 1609 Johan Willem, the last duke of Gulik, Kleve and Berg, died. Several German princes laid claim to the inheritance, the most important being Wolfgang Willem palatine count of Neuburg and Johan Sigismund elector of Brandenburg. Because the countries involved were close to the Dutch eastern border, it was a conflict of European importance. The Emperor had Gulik occupied, but this was too great a threat for the Republic. Together with France, Maurice then expelled the imperials from Gulik. In 1614 the battle flared up again and Maurice reinforced Gulik and occupied Rees with a state army. Unexpectedly, Spinola also advanced with a Spanish army and conquered Aachen and Weasel. Both generals then occupied several cities without confronting each other. Thus, the armistice was not harmed. The Treaty of Xanten finally settled the conflict and the territories of Cleves and Mark came into the hands of the Elector and Gulik and Berg into the hands of the Palatine Count. Both the Republic and Spain were also allowed to keep garrisons in the cities they conquered as outposts for the defense of their own territories.

After the conclusion of the Truce, the Republic was a de facto recognized independent power. Within the Republic, during this Treves, as the truce was also called, new religious and political divisions arose, the Truce disputes. Followers of the clergyman Jacobus Arminius, the Remonstrants, came into conflict with the followers of Francis Gomarus, the Counter-Remonstrants. In addition to a religious disagreement, there was primarily a political conflict at play. The Remonstrants were more republican than the Counter-Remonstrants, who were more interested in a strong position of the House of Orange. In addition, the Remonstrants had been in favor of the armistice and the Counter-Remonstrants against it. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt sided with the Remonstrants and Maurice sided with the Counter-Remonstrants. The conflict escalated with the staging of a coup by Maurice and his army. Van Oldenbarnevelt was arrested and convicted of high treason. On 13 May 1619, he was beheaded at the Binnenhof in The Hague and Maurice, in addition to being the military leader, was now the undisputed political leader of the Republic.

Meanwhile, war had broken out in Germany after Protestant nobles in Bohemia deposed the king from the House of Habsburg in 1618. The deposed King Ferdinand II, also the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire two years later, called for help from the Spanish King Philip III. The Protestant nobles, in turn, called on the help of other German Protestant princes offered the Frederick V Elector of the Palatinate the crown of Bohemia. The Republic became involved in the war because of the alliance it had with the German Protestants. Thus, a local struggle degenerated into a European war that would be known as the Thirty Years” War. Frederick V was defeated by Ferdinand in 1620 and went into exile in The Hague.

For the Southern Netherlands, years of relative peace and prosperity generally began under the administration of the Archduchess Isabella and her husband Albrecht. During this period, the arts flourished and the position of the Roman Catholic Church was strengthened.

The Republic on the defensive (1621-1625)

On April 9, 1621, the armistice between the Republic and Spain expired and immediately fighting resumed. In Spain, sixteen-year-old Philip IV had succeeded his late father on March 31. He and his new advisor Olivares saw the truce as a humiliation for Spain and wanted to restore Spanish grandeur by engaging in offensive combat. Maurice, who had been practically in charge of the Republic since the fall of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, was in favor of continuing the war, as was the majority in the States General. After the truce expired, Albrecht of Austria died on July 13. Isabella succeeded him as sovereign of the Southern Netherlands, but because their marriage had remained childless, power fell to Spain.

Spain increased the money shipments to the Southern Netherlands to 900,000 guilders per month. Not only did the Republic have to be fought on land, it also had to be thwarted on the water since the Republic had much to lose there economically. The Spanish fleet was expanded, the privateers operating out of Dunkirk were supported and a trade embargo was imposed. Indeed, these tactics forced the Republic into defense. The Republic in turn had the Flemish coast blockaded with State warships, imposed high tariffs for trading with the enemy, and the West India Company (WIC) was established to hinder Spain in the Atlantic area. The Republic had no money to assemble an expensive field army and so the initiative was given to Spinola.

After the truce ended, Spinola concentrated on the German territories, some of whose cities had been occupied since the Twelve Year Truce. In February 1622, Gulik was conquered, with Maurice unable to relieve the city because passages had been occupied in advance. The following year Maurice expected an attack in the east or north. Unexpectedly, Spinola swiftly struck the Siege of Bergen op Zoom in Brabant. It became a failure. The losses were great and when Maurice arrived with an army, the siege had to be lifted.

In 1623, the army of the Protestant allies of the Republic was defeated by the imperial army at Stadtlohn.

In August 1624 Spinola laid siege to Breda. It was a bold undertaking because it was already late in the season. Spinola expected to take the city before winter, but this was a miscalculation: it would take until June 1625 before he took Breda. The siege had been a drain on the Spanish treasury and had cost many lives. The price paid was disproportionate to what was achieved. A strong city was now in its hands, but the Republic had not been forced to the negotiating table. Already during the Siege of Breda, Philip IV decided to change the strategy. The army was downsized and on land they switched to a cheaper defensive war. At sea, however, the offensive war was maintained. Maurice had died in April 1625 and he was succeeded by his half-brother Frederick Henry.

The Republic again on the counterattack (1626-1634)

Spain moved to a defensive land war and the German emperor had his hands full due to a Danish invasion during the Thirty Years” War. This gave the Republic the opportunity to go on the offensive. It was made possible in part by treaties with France, the Grant Treaty of 1624 (financial support from France), and with England, the Treaty of Southampton of 1625, which involved them in the war with Spain.

Frederick Henry and his cousin Ernst Casimir, who in 1620 had succeeded his deceased brother Willem Lodewijk, decided in 1626 to conquer Oldenzaal so that Twente could no longer be brandished. In the following year, Groenlo was conquered. That year Spain could no longer meet its payment obligations and became bankrupt.

Spinola left for Madrid in 1628 to plead for more money to continue the offensive or for a peace with Republic while the situation was still reasonably favorable. Philip IV and Olivares rejected both options and wanted to wait until the Emperor would also attack the Republic so that Spain”s bargaining position would be stronger. It did not come to that, however. Imperial troops, under Tilly, occupied East Frisia on the border with the Republic after driving out the Danish king, Christian IV. But an imperial invasion did not occur due to changing priorities and financial problems.

After Spinola”s departure, there were problems in the supreme command of the Spanish army about succession and the army lacked effectiveness due to lack of money. Spain had become embroiled with France in the Mantuan Succession War in northern Italy in 1628 for which men and money had to be freed up. To make matters worse, the privateer Piet Hein captured a Spanish Silver Fleet in the Bay of Matanzas in the name of the Republic. The conquest created money and enthusiasm in the Republic for a major undertaking.

That major undertaking became the Siege of ”s-Hertogenbosch in 1629. In an attempt to lure the Staatse troops away from ”s-Hertogenbosch, the Spanish king received help from the emperor who provided an army led by Ernesto Montecuccoli. The royal and imperial army crossed the IJssel, invaded the Veluwe and took Amersfoort. The invasion caused panic among the population but the Siege of ”s-Hertogenbosch was not lifted. Instead, the State army was hastily expanded so that garrisons of threatened cities could be reinforced. Eventually the Republic was freed from this precarious position by the sudden capture of Wesel after which the royal and imperial army withdrew. Not much later ”s-Hertogenbosch came into Staatse hands. In the south there were great concerns about the strength of the Republic and the weakness of the Spanish army. In 1625, after Breda, Spain still seemed to be supreme; in 1629 the roles were reversed.

A year later, nothing was done by either side. In 1631 the Republic assembled a large field army for an invasion of Flanders. However, this was withdrawn by a counteraction from the Southern Netherlands. Brussels itself had prepared a surprise attack. A fleet in conjunction with a field army invaded the Republic. The invasion resulted in the Battle of the Slaak, which was won with great difficulty by the States.

Frederick Henry and the States General wanted to launch another major attack in 1632. Initially, the plan focused on Antwerp. However, this changed due to sudden developments. Hendrik van den Bergh, a cousin of Frederick Henry in Spanish service, was so dissatisfied with Spanish authority that he wanted to defect to the Republic. As stadholder of Upper Gelre, he could ensure a smooth passage along the Meuse. In addition, the Spanish Army of Flanders had been weakened because troops had been sent to the Lower Palatinate in Germany to help the emperor against the Swedish king Gustaaf Adolf. Orange”s campaign along the Meuse that followed resulted in the capture of the towns of Roermond and Venlo. The withdrawn royal army from the Palatinate and an imperial army led by Pappenheim that came to the rescue could not prevent Maastricht from being taken as well.

After the dramatic campaign for Brussels, peace talks were entered into with the Republic without consulting Madrid. However, the negotiations came to nothing. That same year, Isabella died. Until the arrival of Philip IV”s brother, the cardinal-infant Don Ferdinand, Francisco de Moncada, Marquis of Aytona became the interim land guardian. He made an attempt to take the shortly before lost Rijnberk and Maastricht but without success.

On November 4, 1634, after the Battle of Nördlingen in Germany was won, the new governor Don Ferdinand arrived in the Spanish Netherlands with an army. Don Ferdinand was to wage another offensive battle. Not only against the north and south, but also in the east to keep the connections with the emperor open. His task was to restore Spain”s power and reputation after the dramatic years between 1629 and 1633. The goal was to capture key cities so that a truce with favorable terms could be negotiated. If that succeeded, capacity could be freed for fighting in Germany, and the overseas conflict, especially in Brazil, would cease.

Two-front war (1635-1640)

The Habsburgs” opponents had been defeated by Spanish and imperial forces at the Battle of Nördlingen. Fearful of the growing power of the Habsburgs, the French prime minister Cardinal de Richelieu concluded a treaty of subsidy with the Republic to keep them at war. An alliance treaty between the Republic and France followed a year later, directly involving France in a war with Spain. Spain was forced into a two-front war. It was agreed to divide the Southern Netherlands between both parties should the population not revolt. France itself also became involved in the Thirty Years” War.

In 1635 a joint campaign was undertaken by the Republic and France. The two armies were joined at Maastricht to form a force of 50,000 men. The goal was to march on Brussels to settle the war in one fell swoop. Tienen was taken and plundered. Supply was a major problem for the army that was deep in enemy territory. In addition, the French army was poorly paid and undisciplined. Because of these problems and the news that relief troops from the Empire under Ottavio Piccolomini were on their way, the Siege of Louvain had to be broken up. To make matters worse for the Republic, the all-important Schenkenschans in Gelderland was overrun by Spanish soldiers. The successful Spanish campaign was completed with the capture of nearby towns, Kleve, Goch, Kalkar, Kranenburg and Gennep that ensured connections to Schenkenschans and to Valkenburg and Limburg that isolated Maastricht. Philip IV and Olivares were enthusiastic about the result achieved and convinced that with Schenkenschans in hand the war could be waged in the heart of the Republic. The cardinal-infant was ordered to retain the entrenchment at all costs. Frederick Henry, aware of the danger, rushed to the entrenchment and blockaded it all winter. In April 1636 it was recaptured after fierce bombardment.

Peace negotiations again took place in 1636, but again without results. The Republic did not undertake a campaign that year due to disagreements over the size of the army. Spanish and imperial troops went on the attack in France and Corbie near Amiens, causing panic in Paris.

In order to gain the cooperation of the States of Holland, it was decided in 1637 to attack Dunkirk. This could count on support because the royal fleet operating from here was still causing great damage to Dutch merchants and fishermen. The unfavorable wind delayed the attack and the Spaniards were able to assemble a large force near Antwerp in time. The march to Dunkirk was cancelled and the alternative became the Siege of Breda which was conquered after two and a half months. Spain wanted to invade France in 1637 but had to send the army to the border with the Republic due to the threat of the Republic. Don Ferdinand failed to relieve Breda while that siege was going on, so he moved into the Meuse Valley to take the towns of Venlo and Roermond. He did not capture Maastricht but the line on the State”s eastern border was broken. The French took advantage of the Spanish concentration of troops in the north and managed to capture the towns of Landrecies, Maubeuge and Damvillers from the south.

An invasion of Flanders by State troops only had a chance of success if Antwerp was taken. For Spain it was impossible to simultaneously wage an offensive war against both the Republic and France. The importance of Brabant and Flanders was greater for Spain than the more southern provinces of Hainaut and Artois and therefore the former were given more protection. The strategy proved successful. In June 1638, the Republic made an attempt to capture Antwerp. Frederick Henry advanced with the main force through Brabant towards the city. William of Nassau-Siegen”s army would approach and encircle the city from the Flemish side. Spanish troops, however, managed to break through his lines and defeat the army crushingly at the Battle of Kallo, thus breaking the siege of Antwerp. During the same period, France struck the siege of Saint-Omer which was abandoned after the arrival of Piccolomini. After the defeat at Kallo, a futile attempt was made to capture Geldern. For the Republic, it had become apparent that as long as the Spanish army was not called away for a major French invasion, it would be very difficult to launch a siege against Antwerp, Bruges or Ghent.

France deployed two armies in 1639 to make up for the previous year”s blunder. For the Republic, this gave hope of also being able to conquer something after a disappointing year. The plan was to take Hulst. However, when the Staatse troops were ready in Bergen op Zoom to sail to Flanders, the cardinal-infant had also gathered a strong army in Flanders. Frederick Henry made another attempt to lure this army away but it failed. The French army also had little success. The first army was defeated at Thionville by Piccolomini. The second was successful in capturing Hesdin.

Spain and England had made peace in 1630, and since then troop movements were relatively safe for Spain by sea. Between 1631 and 1637, over 16,000 soldiers had arrived in the Netherlands by sea. In 1639 a new large fleet of troops and warships was on its way to defeat the Dutch fleet and land fresh troops. It came to an encounter between the Staatse fleet led by Maarten Tromp and this “second Spanish Armada”, during the Sea Battle of Duins, which Tromp won. Three quarters of the troops nevertheless managed to reach the Spanish Netherlands from England, but it was clear to Spain that the sea route could no longer be used to bring in troops. In addition, the land route was also no longer passable since the Spanish road was cut off with the French capture of Breisach in 1638. The Spanish Netherlands were left to their own devices for the time being. There were calls in the Republic to downsize the field army after the two disappointing years, but the new situation in the Spanish Netherlands gave yet another reason to postpone downsizing.

In 1640 the Republic invaded Flanders and explored the possibility of taking Bruges. When that seemed impossible, another unsuccessful attempt was made to capture Hulst. Hendrik Casimir, the Frisian stadholder, was killed in the process. France struck the Siege of Atrecht (Arras). Spain intended to lay siege to Maastricht but was unable to do so due to the withdrawal of Piccolomini”s imperial troops from the Spanish Netherlands and the invasions of the Republic and France. Stopping the State invasion was given priority, allowing Arras to be taken by the French after a month.

In addition to the loss of Arras, Spain faced a number of other catastrophes in 1640. These included a revolt in Catalonia, supported by France, the loss of Turin in Italy to France, and most disastrously, the revolt of Portugal. These setbacks caused enormous reputational damage and brought great optimism to Spain”s opponents. Despite the problems in the Iberian peninsula, the funds Madrid sent to Brussels were not reduced during the period 1640-1642. A large army in the Spanish Netherlands also forced France to maintain a large army in the north. The focus of the Spanish army shifted to France.

The end in sight (1641-1646)

The seriously ill Don Ferdinand, who died in November 1641, was replaced on an interim basis by Don Francisco de Melo. The uprisings of Catalonia and Portugal were now given priority, so there was less money coming from Madrid for the Spanish Netherlands. Frederick Henry took Gennep that year. After the capture of Gennep, Frederick Henry moved with the army into northern Flanders but the Spanish positions proved too strong for an attack on Hulst or Bruges. Meanwhile, the French had invaded Artesia and taken Arien, Lens, La Bassée and Bapaume. Melo was able to prevent Lille and Douai from falling into French hands and was able to retake Ariën in December.

In 1642, De Melo undid large parts of the French territorial gains and won major victories, such as the Battle of Honnecourt and the capture of La Bassée. At Honnecourt, a French army had been devastatingly defeated so there could be no more French-State invasion. Frederick Henry decided that year to switch to a defensive strategy. An offer to negotiate peace was rejected by Frederick Henry.

Cardinal De Richelieu had died in December 1642, and the health of the French king Louis XIII was also weak. Because Spain was involved in too many conflicts, Olivares again pushed for peace with the Republic and France. There had long been a debate in the Republic between a faction that wanted the war to continue and a faction that desired peace. The peace faction grew larger as the years passed, the costs increased, and major successes failed to materialize. In 1643, under his pressure, a reduction of troops was achieved. The interim governor De Melo found out about this and therefore prepared an attack on France because the reduction meant he did not have to fear a Staatse attack. De Melo wanted to increase the pressure on France to agree to a peace now that the king was dying. However, after his initial successes against the French the year before, Francisco de Melo was devastatingly defeated at the Battle of Rocroi on May 16, 1643.

Rocroi was a turning point in the war. The bulk of the experienced soldiers in the Spanish army had been captured or killed so that after 1643 it was no longer possible to invade France from the Spanish Netherlands. The good reputation of the Spanish army was in tatters and it was clear that Spain was militarily very weakened by the problems of the uprisings of the Kingdom of Portugal and Catalonia. After the battle, France continued the offensive and successfully besieged Thionville. Frederick Henry tried to take advantage of the problems in the Spanish army. However, when he went to Hulst he was again confronted by the bulk of the remaining Spanish army after which Orange left with the army again.

The following year, a Staatse attack on Antwerp was again initiated. Again De Melo had placed a large force of 10,000 to 12,000 men in the vicinity of the city so that Antwerp, Bruges and Ghent were covered. Meanwhile, France laid siege to Grevelingen. Frederick Henry saw his chance to lay siege to Sas van Gent. After the capture of Grevelingen by the French, De Melo came with a relief army but to no avail. Sas van Gent was taken but Frederick Henry was not satisfied because his goal was Antwerp. On 20 September 1644 De Melo was succeeded by Manuel de Castel Rodrigo.

Still Frederick Henry wanted to take Antwerp. To this end, Frederick Henry had managed to increase the field army to 30,000 men in 1645. However, when he was told that the Spanish army had a larger cavalry than he did, Frederick Henry decided not to lay siege to Antwerp. The French, meanwhile, went ahead and captured some towns like Armentiers, Menin and Mardijk. When a French army came to Frederick Henry”s aid, he was able to lay siege to Hulst. The situation looked bleak for the preservation of the Southern Netherlands. Madrid knew that peace had to be made to keep Antwerp. Fighting a two-front war was no longer possible.

The French conquests were also watched with suspicion in the Republic. As a result, the willingness in the Republic to hold peace talks that would begin in 1646 increased. In a final attempt to take Antwerp, the army was again increased and received reinforcements from France. Through Spanish efforts, the Siege of Antwerp failed. This allowed the French to capture some cities in the south without much resistance, including Dunkirk with State fleet support and Courtrai. Frederick Henry made a final attempt to capture a city but Venlo proved unattainable. Frederick Henry died in 1647 after his health had deteriorated for some time. He was succeeded by his son William II. Archduke Leopold of Austria became governor of the Southern Netherlands.

Many attempts had been made in the past to conclude a peace between Spain and the Republic. They always failed on two points: the sovereignty that Spain did not want to give up and the position of the Catholics that Spain wanted to secure in the Republic. Because of the dire situation, Spain no longer wanted to hold on to these positions. A peace with the Republic had to come at any cost. Therefore, Spain was willing to make great concessions.

In 1644, a great peace congress had begun in the Westphalian cities of Münster and Osnabruck to end the Thirty Years” War between Sweden, France, Spain and the Emperor. It was the first major peace congress in Western European history. The alliance with France also allowed the Republic to join the discussions. The Republic joined them in 1646 and after several weeks of deliberation with the Spanish ambassadors, a first agreement was already reached, a truce for twenty years. Under the treaty of alliance with France, the Republic was not allowed to make a peace with Spain on its own. The French, however, made high demands for a peace. Spain”s indulgence in the Dutch demands and distrust of the French led to many discussions in the Republic, both in government colleges and in the streets, on how to deal with this. It was decided to involve the French in a peace, but should they make unreasonable demands, the Republic would make a separate peace.

The second round of negotiations sought a peace whose preliminary terms were signed on January 8, 1647. No agreement could be reached with France because they kept coming up with new demands. The States decided to make peace with Spain without involving France. On January 30, 1648 the final peace text was determined. It was sent to The Hague and Madrid for signature. On May 15, the peace was solemnly sworn.

It was agreed that the sovereignty of the Republic was recognized by Spain, the Scheldt was “closed” and the Flemish seaports were burdened with high import tariffs, conquests of the WIC and VOC in the Indies were respected, the Meierij of ”s-Hertogenbosch belonged to the Republic, and no concession was made in favor of Catholics in the Republic.

The Thirty Years” War was settled that same year in October. The Franco-Spanish War did not end until the Peace of the Pyrenees in 1659.

Religious intolerance and the misery caused by the war led to migrations in the Netherlands, including Protestants towards the Republic of the Seven United Provinces (already in the years 1578-1588 when it did not formally exist), but also towards the other surrounding countries. Conversely, Catholics went south.

The greatest movement to the north (especially Holland) took place in the years 1583-1585 during the reconquest by the government army of the major Flemish and Brabant cities (Ypres, Bruges, Ghent, Brussels, Mechelen and especially Antwerp). Thanks to the influx of these mostly wealthy and/or intellectual people, the economic and military preponderance shifted from the Southern to the Northern Netherlands.

While the north was experiencing the Dutch “Golden Age,” of which many expatriate southerners were at the root, the south was experiencing a Golden Age of Antwerp. For example, the Rubens House in Antwerp was built between 1611 and 1627, by renovating a partly destroyed house from 1550.

The massive influx of refugees, which caused a major demographic shift in the Republic, brought social tensions in addition to economic, cultural and scientific enrichment.

The Revolt was assessed differently by various historians. The first of them was P.C. Hooft with his work De Nederlandsche Historiën (1642-1647), which described the Revolt from 1555 to 1587. He tried to write impartially by also consulting Spanish sources.

In the seventeenth century, the writings of contemporaries dominated the picture of the Eighty Years” War. Chroniqueurs such as Bor and Van Meeteren, Hooft and De Groot, Aitzema and Baudartius were able to tell their stories firsthand. In the eighteenth century the collection of sources from the time of the Eighty Years” War became more important. In particular, Jan Wagenaar”s compilation from the middle of the eighteenth century became a standard work for the time and, as a result, the contemporary writers were pushed further into the background.

In the nineteenth century, the Eighty Years” War was again extensively researched. Until then it was mostly referred to as The Revolt or The Dutch Revolt. The name Opstand refers mainly to the first phase of the Eighty Years” War, when the Republic did not yet exist. In a 2004 study, historian Arie van Deursen speaks of The Revolt of 1572-1584. However, Robert Fruin noted already in 1861 that historians tend to describe only this initial period in detail until the assassination of William of Orange in 1584, while this was by no means the turning point of the war, which only came in 1588 with the founding of the Republic and the defeat of the Spanish Armada, and after the Ten Years only after that the Revolt (at least for the North) was virtually won.

According to the reformed antirevolutionary Guillaume Groen van Prinsterer, the Revolt was about how through God”s guidance the Dutch people under the house of Orange-Nassau managed to gain their freedom. This was most clearly expressed in his Handboek der geschiedenis van het vaderland (1846).

Influenced by Rankes historicism and Mills liberalism, Fruin, who was the first to hold the chair of patriotic history at Leiden University, pursued a scholarly approach to the Revolt, as opposed to the purely narrative history that had been common up to that time. Fruin focused mainly on two periods: Ten Years from the Eighty Years” War (1857) covering 1588-1598 and The Prelude to the Eighty Years” War (1859) covering 1555-1568. At first, his work shows some state-mindedness, later on, however, it shows orangism.

The also liberal Reinier Cornelis Bakhuizen van den Brink made an important contribution to research by establishing the National Archives. In 1857 he translated The Rise of the Dutch Republic (1856) by the American Puritan historian John Lothrop Motley.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Belgians Louis-Prosper Gachard and Joseph Kervyn de Lettenhove also conducted thorough source research on the Eighty Years” War, especially in the Brussels and Spanish archives.

The Catholic answer to the Protestant and liberal historiography came from Willem Jan Frans Nuyens, who argued that Catholics too could be good patriots and many of them also fought with the Spanish during the Revolt. Nuyens” work Geschiedenis der Nederlandsche Beroerten in de XVIe eeuw (Amsterdam, 1865-70, 8 volumes) was important for (re)discovering the role of Dutch Catholics in the Revolt and thus in the Dutch state and contributed to their emancipation.

The social democrat Pieter Geijl brought an innovative view of the Revolt in the early twentieth century, arguing that it went against the logical course of history, in which eventually each people should be able to establish its own state, while this did not hold true for part of what Geijl saw as the Dutch tribe, namely the southern or Flemish. Geijl believed that the Republic should have fought on to also conquer the Dutch-speaking regions of later Belgium, which had been lost in the years 1579-1585(-1604), so that a Diet folk state could have been established there. He argued in the Great Dutch Thought (1925, 1930) for the restoration of the Flemish-Dutch unity lost during the Revolt. For this, history had to be rewritten in the Greater Netherlands sense, and Geijl attempted this in his work Geschiedenis van de Nederlandsche Stam (1939-1962), in which, however, he got no further than the year 1798.


  1. Tachtigjarige Oorlog
  2. Eighty Years” War
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