World History/Religious Wars in Europe
- 1 French Wars of Religion
- 2 Dutch Revolt 1568-1648
- 3 The Revolt Begins
- 4 Dutch Success
- 5 Union of Utrecht and the Oath of Abjuration
- 6 Spanish Advances
- 7 The War turns against Spain
- 8 Twelve Years Truce
- 9 War Breaks out Again
- 10 End of the War
French Wars of Religion
The French Wars of Religion were a series of conflicts between French Catholics and Protestants (Huguenots) involved both civil infighting and military operations.
Dutch Revolt 1568-1648
During the 16th century, Protestantism rapidly gained ground in northern Europe. Dutch Protestants, after initial repression, were tolerated by local authorities. By the 1560s, the Protestant community had become a significant influence in the Netherlands, although it was only a minority of the population then.
In 1556 Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, passed his throne to his son, Philip II. Charles, despite his harsh actions, had been seen as a ruler empathetic to the needs of the Netherlands. Philip, on the other hand, was raised in Spain and spoke neither Dutch nor French. During Philip's reign, tensions flared in the Netherlands over heavy taxation, suppression of Protestantism, and centralisation efforts. The growing conflict would reach a boiling point and would lead ultimately to the war of independence.
In an effort to build a stable and trustworthy government of the Netherlands, Philip appointed several members of the high nobility of the Netherlands to the States General, the governing body of the seventeen Netherlands. He put his confidante Granvelle as head of the States General. Furthermore, he appointed Margaret of Parma as governor of the Netherlands. However, already in 1558 the states started to contradict Philip’s wishes, by objecting to his tax proposals and demanding the withdrawal of Spanish troops. Subsequent reforms met with much opposition, which was mainly directed at Granvelle. Petitions to King Philip by the high nobility went unanswered. Some of the most influential nobles, including the count of Egmont, the count of Horne, and William of Orange, withdrew from the States General until Philip recalled Granvelle.
As unrest grew in the Netherlands, the nobles urged Philip to be more tolerant, however he refused. He believed that the only way to solve the religious "problem" was oppression. In 1566, desperate, the nobles sent a petition to Margaret of Parma. The petition was sent on to Philip for a final verdict.
The Revolt Begins
The atmosphere in the Netherlands was tense due to the rebellion preaching of Calvinist leaders, hunger after the bad harvest of 1565, and economic difficulties due to the Northern Seven Years' War. In August 1566, a Calvinist mob stormed a Church in Flanders. This event sparked a mass Calvinist movement all across the country. Calvinists stormed churches and other religious buildings to desecrate and destroy statues and images of Catholic saints all over the Netherlands. According to the Calvinists, these statues represented the worship of idols.
By this time Philip had lost control in the Netherlands. He saw no other option than to send an army to suppress the rebellion. On August 22, 1567, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba, marched into Brussels at with 10,000 troops.
Alba took harsh measures and rapidly established a special court (Raad van Beroerten or council of upheavals) to judge anyone who opposed the king. No one, not even high nobility who had been pleading for less harsh measures, was safe. Egmont and Horne were forced to resign, and later executed. The reason for their execution was that Alba considered they had been treasonous to the king in their tolerance to Protestantism. Their death, ordered by a Spanish noble, rather than a local court, provoked outrage throughout the Netherlands. Over one thousand people were executed in the following months. The large number of executions led the court to be nicknamed the "Blood Court" in the Netherlands, and Alba to be called the "iron duke". Rather than pacifying the Netherlands, these measures helped to fuel the unrest.
William of Orange, otherwise known as William the Silent, had fled the Netherlands in 1567. Prior to 1567, he was stadtholder of the provinces Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht, and Margrave of Antwerp. In 1568, William returned to try to drive the highly unpopular Duke of Alba from Brussels. He did not see this as an act of treason against the king (Philip II), but as an option for reconciliation with the Spanish king. William put together an army and invaded. After some initial success, William ran out of money and his own army disintegrated, while those of his allies were destroyed by Alba.
Spain was troubled by the fact that it had to wage war on different fronts simultaneously. Its struggle against the Ottoman Empire in the Mediterranean Sea put limits on the military power it could deploy against the rebels in the Netherlands. Even so, by 1570 the Spanish had, for the most part, suppressed the rebellion throughout the Netherlands. However, in March 1569, in an effort to finance his troops, Alba had proposed to the States that new taxes be introduced, among them the "Tenth Penny", a 10 per cent levy on all sales other than landed property. This proposal was rejected by the States, and a compromise was subsequently agreed upon. Then, in 1571, Alba decided to press forward with the collection of the Tenth Penny regardless of the States' opposition. This aroused strong protest from both Catholics and Protestants, and support for the rebels grew once more and was fanned by a large group of refugees who had fled the country during Alba's rule. On March 1, 1572, the English Queen Elizabeth I ousted the Gueux, known as Sea Beggars, from the English harbours in an attempt to appease the Spanish king. The Gueux under their leader Lumey then unexpectedly captured the town of Brill on April 1. In securing Brill, the rebels had gained their first foothold.
After the capture of Brill, many towns and cities across the provincies pf Zeeland and Holland declared their loyalty to William the Silent. He was recognized as Governor-General and Stadholder of Holland, Zeeland, Friesland and Utrecht at a meeting in Dordrecht in July 1572. It was agreed that power would be shared between Orange and the States. With the influence of the rebels rapidly growing in the northern provinces, the war entered a second and more decisive phase.
William was faced with the problem with uniting the Catholics and the Calvinists to a common cause. Although he himself was Catholic he sympathized with the Calvinists and began to move towards their cause. However, most people, whether Catholic or Calvinist, respected and Admired William as he was one of the most popular figures of the age. He officially declared himself a Calvinist in 1573.
Replacement of Alba and the Spanish fury
Being unable to deal with the rebellion, Alba was replaced in 1573 by Luis de Requesens and a new policy of moderation was attempted. Spain, however, had to declare bankruptcy in 1575. Requesens had not managed to broker a policy acceptable to both the Spanish king and the Netherlands when he died in early 1576. The inability to pay the Spanish mercenary armies endured, leading to numerous mutinies and in November 1576 troops sacked Antwerp at the cost of some 8,000 lives. This so-called "Spanish Fury" strengthened the resolve of the rebels in the 17 provinces to take fate into their own hands.
The Netherlands negotiated an internal treaty, the Pacification of Ghent in the same year 1576, in which the provinces agreed to religious tolerance and pledged to fight together against the mutinous Spanish forces.
Union of Utrecht and the Oath of Abjuration
On January 6, 1579, prompted by the new Spanish governor Alexander Farnese, and upset by aggressive Calvinism of the Northern States, some of the Southern States, the so-called Walloon Flanders located in what is now France and Wallonia, signed the Union of Arras (Atrecht), expressing their loyalty to the Spanish king.
In response to the union of Arras, William united the northern provinces of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders and Groningen in the Union of Utrecht on January 23, 1579. Southern cities like Bruges, Ghent, Brussels and Antwerp joined the Union of Utrecht. Effectively, the 17 provinces were now divided into a southern group loyal to the Spanish king, and a rebellious northern group.
In 1581, the Oath of Abjuration was issued, in which the Netherlands proclaimed that the king of Spain had not upheld his responsibilities to the Netherlands population and would therefore no longer be accepted as rightful king. They attempted to find a replacement, trying the Prince of Anjou, but he proved to be a disater. When Queen Elizibeth of England was offered the crown, she declined. All options for foreign royalty being exhausted, the civilian body States General eventually decided to rule as a republican body instead.
Death of William II the Silent
In March 1580, Philip II had William officially declared an outlaw, putting a price of 25,000 crowns for his assassination. A Catholic Frenchman named Balthasar Gérard, was a supporter of the King and in his opinion, William of Orange had betrayed the Spanish king and the Catholic religion. In May 1584, he presented himself to William as a French nobleman, and gave him the seal of the Count of Mansfelt. This seal would allow for forgeries of messages of Mansfelt. William sent Gérard back to France to pass the seal to his French allies. Gérard returned in July, having bought pistols on his return voyage. On July 10, he made an appointment with William of Orange in his home in Delft, nowadays known as the Prinsenhof. When William left the dining room and descended the stair, Gérard shot him in the chest from close range and fled. As William lay dying, his last words were "My God have Pity on my soul and on my poor people." Gérard was quickly captured and brutally tortured to death.
Fall of Antwerp
Immediately after the oath of abjuration, Spain sent a new army to recapture the United Provinces. Over the following years, Parma reconquered the major part of Flanders and Brabant, as well as large parts of the northeastern provinces. The Roman Catholic religion was restored in much of this area. In 1585, Antwerp — the largest city in the Low Countries at the time — fell into his hands, which caused over half its population to flee to the north. Between 1560 and 1590, the population of Antwerp plummeted from c. 100,000 inhabitants to c. 42,000.
Looking for Support
While England had unofficially been supporting the Dutch for years, Elizabeth now decided to intervene directly. In 1585, under the Treaty of Nonsuch, Elizabeth I sent the Earl of Leicester to take the rule as lord-regent, with 5,000 to 6,000 troops, including 1,000 cavalry. The Earl of Leicester proved to be a poor commander, and also did not understand the sensitive trade arrangements between the Dutch regents and the Spanish. Moreover, Leicester sided with the radical Calvinists, earning him the distrust of the Catholics and moderates. Leicester also collided with many Dutch patricians when he tried to strengthen his own power at the cost of the Provincial States. Within a year of his arrival, he had lost his public support. Leicester returned to England, after which the States-General, being unable to find any other suitable regent, appointed Maurice of Orange (William's son), at the age of 20, to the position of Captain General of the Dutch army in 1587.
The War turns against Spain
Campaigns of Maurice
The borders of the present-day Netherlands were largely defined by the campaigns of Maurice of Orange. The Dutch successes owed not only to his tactical skill but also to the financial burden Spain incurred replacing ships lost in the disastrous campaign of the Spanish Armada in 1588, and the need to refit its navy to recover control of the sea after the subsequent English counterattack. In 1595, when Henry IV of France declared war against Spain, the Spanish government again declared bankruptcy. However, Spain retained control of the seas and received a large amounts of gold and silver from her colonies in the Americas.
Under financial and military pressure, in 1598, Philip ceded the Netherlands to his favorite daughter Isabella and to her husband, Philip's nephew Archduke Albert of Austria, following the conclusion of the Treaty of Vervins with France. By that time Maurice was engaged in conquering important cities in the Netherlands. Starting with the important fortification of Bergen op Zoom (1588), Maurice conquered Breda (1590), Zutphen, Deventer, Delfzijl and Nijmegen (1591), Steenwijk, Coevorden (1592) Geertruidenberg (1593) Groningen (1594) Grol, Enschede, Ootmarsum, Oldenzaal (1597) and Grave (1602). As this campaign was restricted to the border areas of the current Netherlands, the heartland of Holland remained at peace, during which time it moved into its Golden age.
Twelve Years Truce
After a failed attempt to seize the important Spanish port of Dunkirk, the Dutch began to build up their navy. After the Battle of Gibraltar in 1607, in which the Spanish lost over 20 warships, both sides agreed to a ceasefire, in 1609. It was mediated by France and England at The Hague. During this time the Dutch expanded their navy even further, which would play a significant role in the future. Negotiations for a permanent peace went on throughout the truce. Two major issues could not be resolved. First, the Spanish demand for religious freedom of Catholics in Northern Netherlands was countered by a Dutch demand for a similar religious freedom for Protestants in the Southern Netherlands. Second, there was a growing disagreement over the trade routes to the different Dutch and Spanish colonies (in the Far East and the Americas) which could not be resolved.
War Breaks out Again
The Spanish made one last effort to reconquer the North, and the Dutch used their navy to enlarge their colonial trade routes to the detriment of Spain. The war was on once more — and crucially, merging with the wider Thirty Years' War.
In 1622, a Spanish attack on the important fortress town of Bergen op Zoom was repelled. However, in 1625 Maurice died while the Spanish laid siege to the city of Breda. The Spanish commander Ambrogio Spinola succeeded in conquering the city of Breda. After that victory, however, the tide changed definitively in favor of the Dutch Republic. Maurice's half-brother, Frederick Henry had succeeded his brother and took command of the army. Frederick Henry conquered the pivotal fortified city of 's-Hertogenbosch in 1629. This town, largest in the northern part of Brabant, had been considered to be impregnable from attack. Its loss was a serious blow to the Spanish
In 1632, Frederick Henry captured Venlo, Roermond, and Maastricht during his famous "March along the Meuse" in a pincer move to prepare for the conquest of the major cities of Flanders. Attempts in the next years to attack Antwerp and Brussels failed, however.
In the Western colonies, the Dutch States General mostly restricted itself to supporting privateering by their captains in the Caribbean to drain the Spanish coffers, and to fill their own. The most successful of these raids was the capture of the larger part of the Spanish treasure fleet by Piet Hein in 1628; which allowed Frederick Henry to finance the siege of 's Hertogenbosch; and seriously troubled Spanish payments of troops. The Dutch, who were at war with the Portuguese at this time, seized Brazil and Angola, but they would eventually be driven out.
End of the War
End of Spanish Sea Power
In 1639, Spain sent an armada bound for Flanders, carrying 20,000 troops to assist in a last large scale attempt to defeat the northern "rebels". The armada was decisively defeated by Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp in the Battle of the Downs. This victory had historic consequences far beyond the Eighty Years' War as it marked the end of Spain as the dominant sea power.
On January 30, 1648, the war ended with the Treaty of Münster between Spain and the Netherlands. In Münster on May 15, 1648, the parties exchanged ratified copies of the treaty. This treaty was part of the European scale Peace of Westphalia that also ended the Thirty Years' War. In the treaty, the power balance in Western Europe was readjusted to the actual geopolitical reality. This meant that de jure the Dutch Republic was recognized as an independent state and retained control over the territories that were conquered in the later stages of the war.