The insurrection of the Gueuze. The struggle for independence of the Netherlands against spanish domination.

Thomas Muenzer


John Lilburne

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The Netherlands' War of Independence

In 1567 Count Alba came to the Netherlands with an Italian army. He set in place a council of riots, called Blood Council by the people, because this council only knew one sentence: death.
After a fake judgement the princes Hoorn and Egmont were condemned to death and killed on June 5, 1568.

The Blood Council and a heavy tax led to new riots and an organized resistance: the Sea Gueuze at the coast and the bushgueuze within the country. Gueuze means beggars, as they were called by the spaniards. In response to this insult many people had small coins with an inscription "we are all subjects of the king" on one side and "until we become all Gueuzes (beggars)" on the other side. The Gueuze had their first great victory when they took the port of Briel on April 1st, 1572. One of their leaders was Guillaume de la Marck, who had sworn not to rest until having revenged the killing of the princes Hoorn and Egmont.

liberation of Briel

The troops of Alba mainly fought the northern provinces. One of the most cruel events was the siege of Haarlem. The town surrendered after six months. Of the 4000 defenders, 1600 had survived. The spaniards killed them all, including the commanders Ripperda and Brederode who where strangled to death. And the town had to pay 250.000 guilders, an enormous amount of money. After the conquest of Haarlem it was clear, that the spanish lords didn't make any prisoners.

In 1573 Alba is called back to Spain and replaced by Requeses who removes the blood council and intensifies the war. In 1574 he forces Ludwig of Nassau, the brother of William of Orange, into a battle at Mook near Aachen in the east. The defeat of the army of the Lords of the Netherlands temporarily ends their resistance. After this the spanish troops move to the north, towards Leyden. As at Haarlem, a long siege is necessary. When finally the situation in the town becomes hopeless,  remembering the fate of the defenders of Haarlem, they decide to open the dikes and to set the country under water. That has two consequences: on one hand the Spanish troops literally sink in the water, on the other hand the water Gueux can approach and break the siege.

Requeses does not succeed to conquer the northern provinces and so he is replaced by Juan Austria. Austria probably has badly paid the troops, anyhow  Spanish mercenaries occupy on November 4, 1576 Antwerp and plunder, kill people and burn everything. 7000 inhabitants are murdered on this day. As a response, the lords conclude the "Pacification of Gent" (pacification ordinarily means war), a unification against spanish barbarism. Austria understood very well the danger of the unity of the lords of the Netherlands. He had to divide them - rapidly. His answer was the "eternal decree" from February 12, 1577 (the word "eternally" underlines the temporary character). This decree promises the withdrawal of the spanish troops - from the southern provinces only. Shortly after Austria dies at Namur of typhoid fever. His successor is Farnese.

[William of Orange]
William of Orange
At Brussels, particularly however in Gent on initiative of Hembyze, a new council of the town constitutes, the "council of the 18", which is very motivated. church and monastery possessions are seized and rich citizens are heavily taxed and catholic priests are prosecuted.

In Brussels and especially in Gent a new radical town council is elected, the "council of the 18", which decides the seizure of church and monastery possessions, heavy taxes for rich citizens, pursuit of catholic priests as well as a cleaning of the churches of all splendour. William of Orange negotiates with the radicals in order to maintain unity within the independence movement (to his own advantage) and obtains a religious armistice on December 12, 1578, which assures tolerance of faith. In the same time he tries to get foreign support for the Netherlands by offering the crown to the prince of Anjou.

As an answer to the visible radicalisation the conservative lords of the southern provinces claim in October 1578 liberty of faith for all catholics (which means suppression of Calvinism) and found on January 6, 1579 the Union of Arras, an alliance which signifies a first step in the division of the Netherlands. Two weeks later, the lords of the northern provinces create the Union of Utrecht on January 23, 1579, and finally on on July 26, 1579 declare the Independence of the Netherlands from Spain in the "Plakkaat van Verlatingen".

Two events mark the year 1584. Philip II of Spain had put a head money on William of Orange and on July 10th 1584 William is assassinated in his castle. In the same year spanish troops besiege Antwerp. Antwerp has a great port and supply from the sea was still possible. To cut off this supply the spaniards built an enormous dike around the harbour. As the defenders could not stop them building the dike, they made an attempt to destroy it with ships charged with explosives on May 1st, 1585. But the attempt failed and the dike resisted. The capitulation of Antwerp was then only a question of time and followed on August 17, 1585. Though the city of Antwerp was now in possession of the spaniards, the citizens were not: in a mass exodus most of them left Antwerp and moved to the free regions of the Netherlands. For a long time Antwerp lost its importance as a merchants-metropole. And the division of the Netherlands advances.

[map of the Netherlands]

The war ends for some years as either side reinforces its positions. Especially the spanish administration forces the recatholisation, while the northern part of the country becomes economically very strong as crafts and commerce concentrates in the free towns. The lost of the great Armada has an important impact on the spanish foreign activities as well as lack of money.

In 1603 a new regent comes to Brussels: Ambrosio Spinola. He accepts the facts and concludes in 1609 an armistice, which is a disguised recognition of the Independence of the northern provinces. When the threat

 [Hugo Grotius]
Hugo Grotius
of a spanish attack was removed the contradictions between the dutch lords and the bourgeois in the liberated provinces became more important. The leader of the Lords is Maurice of Orange, who wants to continue the war against the spaniards. His most important opponents, John of Oldenbarnevelt und Hugo Grotius (Huig de Groot) are at the top of the civil administration. Both parties are supported by religious movements. In 1618 the struggle escalates, but Orange prevents a civil war by a sort of coup d'etat: Oldenbarnevelt, Grotius and some others are arrested. In May 1618 Oldenbarnevelt is sentenced to death and executed on May 12, 1618, while Grotius escapes a year later from prison.

In 1621 Spinola makes an end to the armistice and does a tries in a last effort to conquer the northern part of the Netherlands. After a long siege the spanish troops occupy the city of Breda, but it is evident that they have no force to go further. When Spinola leaves the Netherlands in 1625, the Estates General of the northern provinces too are finally convinced that the war has come to an end. Production and commerce of the independent Netherlands are greatly increasing, the stock exchange of Amsterdam has become the most important in the world and dutch colonies are founded in all parts of the world. An english explorer, Henry Hudson, in charge of the Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie, searching a new way to the (East) Indies, arrives at what is now called the Hudson River. He has order to claim the country in the name of the United Provinces. In 1626, Peter Minuit buys Manhatten Island for 60 Guilders worth and dutch colons found a new city, Nieuw Amsterdam, which later became New York. The Independence of the Netherlands is officially recognised by Spain in the treaty of Westphalia in 1648.

Thomas Muenzer


John Lilburne

Last modified: Nov 26, 2004, /english/oraniene.html