The medieval history of the Netherlands was complicated, but led to an independent spirit which led the Dutch to resist first Spanish and then French rule. The Germanic tribes which inhabited the Low Lands were largely conquered bt Cesar and Augustus (1st century BC). As Roman power began to wain, the Franks began their conquest of thecarea (3rd century AD). The area was conquired by Charkemaign, but after his death as his Empire begfan to desintegrate, the Lowlands became part of the territory of Holyb Roman Emperor Lothair I and subsequently became known as the Kingdom of Lorraine (9th century). The area was contested by the East and West Franks and eventually became part of the Duchy of Lower Lorraine under a German overlord. It is at this time that Vikings raids on Western Europe began. The Lowlands like England and Scotland were the areas most exposed to the Norsemen. It was local authorities in the Lowlands that fought off the Norsemen which made them powerful local lords and a force for their nominal feudal ducal overlords to deal with. Gelders, Holland, and Brabant were able to exercise a degree of local autonomy. As the pace of commercec quickened, city communes organized by the bourgeoisie began to challenge feudal lords throughout the rapidly developing Low Lands. The Northern Provinces became part of Burgandy (14th and 15th centuries) Burgandy and with it the Low Lands passed into the hands of the Spanish Hapsburgs (16th century).
The Spanish monarchy was unfamiliar with the degree of autonomy that the Dutch
had over time obtained. The Dutch found Spanish rule oppressive. The Dutch were also early converts to the Protestant Reformation. The Dutch and the Flemish in large numbers turned to Calvinism. This was unacceptable to the Spanish monarchs who were strong supporters of the Catholic Church and the Counter Refornation. The Belgians to the south, however, remained firmly Catholic.
Philip was devouted to the Roman Catholic Church and attempted to supress the Reformation, but often subordinated religious matters to Spanish diplomacy. Despite his Catholcism, Philip had poor relations with the papacy, in part because of Spain's Itlalian possessions. Much of reign was concerned with the Netherlands. Philip appointed the Duke of Alba to replace his half-sister, Margaret of Parma, as Governor General in the Netherlands (1567). Alba’s methods achieved some success in the south, but failed to defeat the Dutch revolt in the north. Philip subsequently supported more conciliatory tactics and reconquered the southern portion of what had been the Spanish Netherlands.
Philip II with his decission to send the Armada against England waisted vast amounts of wealth. The gold and silver from the Americas proved in the end a curse. (Not unlike many modern oil producing countries.) Spanish manufacture suffered as it was easier to ourchase rather than make products. In addition the religious persucution led by Holy Office of the Inquisition which expelled the Jews acted to supress though as well. Thus Spain did not share in the European Renaisance which was in the 18th century to lead to the Industrial Revolution.
The domestic situation in the Netherlands became explosive after the imperial government refused to negotiate with the Calvanists. Hedge semons increased over a wide area of the Netherlands. Domestic conditions in the Netherlands became explosive when grain prices rose to high levels. This was unrelated to the Reformation and caused by the outbreak of the Dano-Swedish War (1563-70). Iconoclastic riots occured throught the south. Open rebellion occurred in Tournai (1566). The imperial government prepared to supress treason made more henious in Philip's view because it combined with heresy. Philip issued a new sales tax of about 10 percent to finance the military expenditures.
The Calvinists bracing for Imperial military action raised an army. The Imperial forces first restored authority in Tournai (1567). The Imperial forces defeated the Calvinists at the Battle of Mokerhei (1567). The Emperor replaced Margaret of Parma as Governer General with Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alva. The Duke created the Council of Troubles to root out the Calvanists. The Council known by the Dutch as the Council of Blood acted with great severity. The Council sentenced about 3,000 suspected Calvanists to death, including nobels like Counts Egmont and Hoorn. Here we do not have details on what happened to the families involved. We believe that most of those sentenced were men. We do not know what happened to the families. Men were of course the family providers. Often in such actions, property was also taken. We hope to eventually acquire details on this. It looked like the Reformatioin had been extinguished in the Netherlands.
Revolt flared again led by William the Silent of the House of Orange (1568). It ws supressed by the Duke of Alva.
Count Alva's brutal methods in the southern Netherlands appered for a time to have succeded in destroying the Reformation in the Netherlands. Imperial forces were in control in the south. He failed, however, to supress the rebellion in the north where he encountered much more effective resistance than he anticipated. Alva when he left the Netherlands, however, was a hated man as was the emperor (1573). The only Spanish words Dutch children learned were "Es nada". The Duke of Alba was supposed to have said that when confronted with more Dutch resistance than he expected.
The Count was, however, was unable to completely eliminate Protestantism. To many people in the Netherlands had converted. Despite supression in the south, rebellion flared in the north. The provinces of Holland and Zeeland rose in revolt (1572). The most repected nobleman in the Netherlands, William of Orange-Nassau, had serious differences with the Imperial government (1568). The fighting became a bitterly fought war and excesses and atrocities were committed by both sides. Imperial forces faced stiff opposition. The Dutch knew what awaited them if they failed. The Dutch De Geuzen took the town of Gorcum and nine Catholic priests were masacred. De Geuzen (or Watergeuzen, because they moved on the rivers by boats) were a group of Protestant Beggars (with a capital B), who were very much admired in Holland for their courage and patriotism, even when they had slain some priests. The Spnish commonly executed Protestant clerics as well. The priests became known as the Martyrs of Gorcum. Philip's Spanish troops wavered. After the Pacification of Ghent (1576), poorly supported often hungry Spanish troops that had seemd invincible, mutinied. Dutch Calvinists insisted on expelling the Spanish solders and that the Estates General should rule. The Spanish took advantage of the strong variation between the northern and southern provinces, playing local aristocrats against each other and recapturing the Southern provinces while the north would fall under the Estates-General of the United Provinces. Cities throughout the Netherlands, especially in the north, ousted the Imperial city council and replaced it with Calvinist sympithizers (1578). The French-speaking southen territories established the Union Of Arras which confirmed the acceptance of Tridentine Catholicism. The Dutch speaking provinces formed the Union of Utrecht (1579). (One can not equate this division with the modern Netherlands and Belgium. Belgium of course includes Dutch speaking Flanders.)
The creation of Union of Utrecht brought on one of the longest struggles in European history--the Dutch War of Independence. It was fought by the Dutch againt local Catholic forces and the Spanish. (Upon the death of Emperor Charles V, the Netherlands became a Spanish territory.) The Union of Utrecht upon its establishment abolished religious persecution (1579). Religion was to be determined by the constiuent territories. Archbishop Frederik van Schenck van Toutenberg died and at that point Calvinism was introduced in Utrecht (1580).
The seven United Provinces eventually declared their independence from the Spanish king in 1581 following the Union of Utrecht of 1579. The Dutch in areas they controlled introduced a Calvinist state confession. This began a protracted, bitter, and bloody war for independence.
William stadtholder of the counties Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht played a key role in the formation of the Dutch nation. It was the beginning of which the Dutch call the "tachtig jarige oorlog", the war for independence which lasted for 80 years. It was a dreadful, vicious war as religious wars often are. Every Dutch child knows (or is supposed to know) that "the Father of the Fatherland", William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, was the liberator of the Netherlands from the Spanish occupation. He was born in Germany in 1533 and assassinated by a Catholic religious fanatic in Delft, Holland (1584). William was also called William the Silent because he could keep a secret. As aresult of William's leadership and that of his discendents William II and William III, the House of Orange became the royal of family of what began as the Dutch Republic.
Dutch speaking areas under Spanish control (roughly Flanders in modern Belgium--Noord Brabant, Limburg, and eastern Gelderland) experienced conversion at the hands of the Counter Reformation and were compeled to accept Tridentine Catholicsm. Here we do not yet have details on the actual process.
Over the course of the war, control of these provinces swayed back and forth. The Dutch upon taking any of the Vatholic areas in the south looked on them as occupied enemy territory. Politically they were established as Lands of the Generality. They were denied representation in the Dutch Estates General. Catholics were prohibited from holding public office.
Jean Taffin published his book Marks of God's Children (1585). It was a sensation among Dutch and French Protestants. He offered encouragement to those engaged in spiritual warfare. The Dutch Government founded th University of Leiden as a Calvanist institution (1575). It became a noted center of Calvanist teaching. It was also center of a debate which developed among Calvanist threologians. Jacobus Arminius and Gaomarus were leading figures and taught differing interpretations of scripture. The followeres became known as Remonstranten (Arminius) and Contraremonstranten (Gaomarus). Upon the death of Armminius, Calninists split into rival groups (1609). Many of the city councils were Remonstranten. Stadholder, Maurice of Orange-Nassau supported the Contraremonstranten. It was the Contraremonstranten and Stadtholder Maurice who emerged victorious. Remonstranten supporter Johan Oldembarneveld, Pensionary of Holland, was tried and executed. The Council of Dordt (Dordrecht) condened the Remonstranten or Arminian interpretatioin. The Canons of the Council of Dordt are today still used by Calvanist theologiands around the world. The Calvanists published their vesion of the Bible, the Statenbijbel (1637).
Queen Elizabeth decided to aid the Dutch and Belgians (1585). This led to the Spanish Armada and Philip II's effort to put an end to Protestantism in both England and the Low Lands (1588). The destruction of the Great Armada was a huge blow to the Spanish effort. Philip could not understand why God had not supported his holy crusade on Protestantism.
Spain and the northern provinces of the Netherlands negotiated a 12-year truce (1609-21). The Truce provided an important interlude givung the Dutch the ability to prepare and organize military forces, especially naval forces. The expanding Dutch merchant fleet which could be use for military purposes as well proved a key element in the Dutch struggle for independence.
The Spanish had a substantial military capability which if it could be brought to bear was far beyond that of the United Provinces. The problem for the Spanish was bringing those forces to bear on the Dutch. Without the ability to transport their forces by sea, the Spanish war effort was crippled. Spain was preparing a new offensive against the Dutch when the truce ended. The problem for Spain was how to support military operations in the low countries. The rise of a Dutch navy made it difficult to send troops and provisions by sea. Reaching the Dutch by land was also difficult. France stood between Spain and the Netherlands. And the French were not about to permit Spanish troops to pass through their country. It suited French purposes at the time to have an independent Netherlands even though they were Protestant. Thus the Spanish would have to send their forces along a circuitous route from Spain to Italy by sea and then through the Alpine passes to the the Rhine River Valley. The Rhine than led to the Dutch. This was a very long and difficult march for any body of troops and needed equipment and supplies, especially given the nature of roads at the time. The key to the route was the Rhineland. This was a contested area. The Spanish hoped to acquire Alsace which Ferdinand had promissed for supporting his imperial candidacy.
The Spanish resumed their efforts theirvefforts to supress the Dutch. Three decades of fighting ensued, but the Dutch often assisted by the English were able to hold off the Spanish.
The Treaty of Westphalia was the major European peace settlement ending the horrible 30 Years War which devestated Germany. The Treaty of Munster, Westphalia, not only meant the end of the 30 years war in Germany, but at the same time it was the end of the 80 years war between the Netherlands and Spain. One of the many issues addressed in the negotiations was the United Provinces. Finally under the Treaty of Westphalia the Spanish were obliged to ackowlege that they had failed to subdue the recalitrantvDutch and recognize the sovereignty of the Dutch Republic.
Fighting continued until the Peace of Utrecht (1648). The Dutch made Calvinim the sate religion or confession. They looked on Catholics with great suspission, although they were not arrested for their faith. Other religioins were tolerated, this included not only other Protestants, but the Jews as well. This made the Dutch the most tolerant people in Europe and the Netherlnds a refuge for those facing religious persecution. This was an element in the Dutch become the most prosperous people in Europe.
It is a tradition that every October 3rd of Dutch people eat mashed carrots and potatoes
commemorating the liberation of the city of Leiden. As the Dutch forces approached, the Spanish soldiers left in a hurry, leaving behind in their camp kettles full of the above-mentioned food. They were quickly consumed by the hungry Dutch soldiers and citizens. A Dutch reader tells us, "As schoolchildren we sang two songs commemorating the 80 years war with Spain. One was the capture of Brielle in 1572 by the rebel Watergeuzen, the other one was the victory over the Spanish Armada by Admiral Piet Hein, the Dutch naval hero."
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