Tuesday, 29 December 2015

The Revolt of the Netherlands - William the Silent IV

Emblem of the Gueux
The Gathering Storm

In April 1566 Louis and Brederode, at the head of 300 armed supporters, presented Margaret with a request demanding toleration[i]. One of Margaret’s court dismissed the petitioners as ‘beggars’ or Gueux[ii]’. On 9th April Margaret issued an order modifying the application of the heresy laws. She informed Philip that his policies could not be implemented without violence. But within the week she was to hear cries in the streets, ‘vivent les Gueux’.

The same week William, Egmont and Hoorn presented the Regent with yet another ultimatum, the Compromis des Nobles; they would resign from the Council of State if Philip did not give the council a greater voice in the affairs of the Netherlands. In the matter of the Low Countries and religion, Philip was inflexible, despite agreeing that a policy of toleration was suitable in England[iii]. Early in April Elisabeth of Valois told courtiers that;

‘She knew the king, and he had told her often that he would never permit it [toleration of religion] to his subjects, and would sooner renounce ruling over them.’[iv]

The scene was set for a showdown between king and people. The compromise attracted support from not just the Protestants but Catholics also objected to Philip’s plans for religious bigotry.

Antwerp – the Birth of the Revolt

Port of Antwerp
The trouble began in Antwerp where Calvinism had taken a strong hold. Beggars’ bowls and simulacrums thereof (earrings, brooches and other jewellery) were for sale everywhere. In retaliation the Duke of Aarschot tried to promote the wearing of medallions of the Virgin which did little to rouse the faithful. Exiles started to return to support their oppressed brethren.

In May Brederode and his companions demanded that the Antwerp town council give permission to preach freely; this permission was denied in a town which had become a powder keg, armourers suddenly sold all their stock. The Protestants held meetings outside Antwerp and attempts to prevent them failed. In desperation Margaret called on William who was in Breda where Anna was shortly due to give birth.

William set off for Antwerp in July and his arrival was a triumphant procession. Dismayed at the reaction of the masses William informed Brederode;

‘Have a care what you do or you will live to regret it.’[v]

Margaret of Parma
William was torn by his duty to his king, although he firmly believed that Philip’s position over religious toleration was wrong. He was also acutely aware that at the source of the civil disobedience was the rising price of food, shortage of jobs and declining trade; all in part, at least, the results of Philip’s policies.

William called for the meetings outside town to be given up and attended mass openly. His moderation swayed the town and as proof of his sincerity William asked Anna to join him. En route Anna removed her stepdaughter Maria from the Regent’s household, a grave insult to Margaret. It was most unwelcome to William, who worried about the effect of Anna’s behaviour on Maria. Maria was returned to the Regent’s care.

In early autumn the Knights of the Golden Fleece were summonsed to Brussels and on 19th August 1566, the day on which William rode out of the city, Antwerp erupted. The rest of the Netherlands were not far behind. For five days Protestant supporters looted and/or destroyed a number of monasteries and churches across the Netherlands; defacing or smashing Catholic statues and religious objects.

The Aftermath

Philip II
Margaret mistakenly believed the riots to be the work of both the greater and lesser nobility and lost all faith in William and his colleagues. She wrote to Philip who fell ill at the news. Always slow to come to a decision, it took until the end of October for Philip to decide that a firmer hand than Margaret’s was needed to suppress opposition to the Spanish crown. To tackle both the civil and religious rebels an army was prepared and in November Alba[vi] was chosen as its commander[vii]. By the end of December the military were ready and Alba commented;

‘In this question of Flanders the issue is not one of taking steps against their religion but simply against rebels.’[viii]

Over the winter Margaret and her officials, with the aid of William and his fellow nobles, sent troops to put down the centres of sedition. William spent much of the winter touring his three provinces and preaching peace even as Louis was deliberately compromising his brother. The Estates in Holland were so thankful for the return of law that they voted William a gift of 55,000 florins[ix]; William refused for fear that Margaret would think it a bribe, and this despite his desperate need for money.

Haunted by misinformation about William Margaret decided that all her councillors should take a new oath of loyalty to Philip, hoping the knowledge that Alba was on his way, would cow the rebels. William and Hoogstraaten refused. Rumours abounded at court that Maria van Nassau would be visiting her stepmother’s family in Germany in short order.

In March 1567, joined by William, Brederode raised the standard of revolt in Amsterdam; the revolt was doomed for lack of money and outside support. The poorly prepared rebels could never hope to take on the might of the Spanish army funded by the wealth pouring in from the New World. And William’s careful earlier pacification of the north had an unwelcome effect; the north stayed quiescent under the call to arms. Margaret’s troops were able to slaughter the rebels.

The Triumph of Alba

Breda old port
Brederode and William fled Antwerp in April; William tendered his resignation to Philip on 10th April 1567. Margaret was able to inform Philip that the army was no longer needed; her message came too late; Alba and his forces were already on the march. William was intercepted at Willebroek by Egmont who implored him to stay. Ignoring this plea from an old friend William rode on to Breda where he begged his people to submit outwardly to all that Alba might throw at them.

William was joined at Breda by Maria, Anna and the 3 ½ year old Anna. The four of them left Breda and travelled to Germany via Louvain, where William met up with his son Philip William, who was to be left there to study in an attempt to allay suspicion.

Duke of Alba
Alba arrived in Brussels on August 22, 1567, at the head of a powerful army[x]. On arrival, Alba replaced Margaret of Parma as head of the civil jurisdiction. He decided that the local nobility, supporting the Protestant heresies, was in open rebellion against the king.

On 9th September Alba ordered the arrests of Egmont, Hoorn and other members of the Flemish nobility. Neither Egmont nor Hoorn had time to destroy their personal papers. Alba set up a new council he called the Council of Troubles; the locals had their own name for it, the Council of Blood.

At the same time Philip ordered the arrest of Montigny[xi] who was visiting Spain. At court Raymond de Bequarie de Fourquevaux, the French ambassador, commented;

‘They say here that the need now is not for soft words for the Flemings but severity and the bloody sword. Never was the king more happy and content.’[xii]

The length of time it took for Alba to suppress the incipient rebellion delayed Philip’s return to the Netherlands; the visit was finally cancelled due to Philip’s concerns about his son and heir Don Carlos[xiii], who appeared to want to set up his own rebellion.

The arrival of Alba along with a large force of Spanish troops led to support for the rebels, not only from Protestant England, but also from the French who feared the rise of a militant Spain on two of France’s borders.


The Age of Religious Wars – Richard S Dunn, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1971

The Revolt of the Netherlands – Pieter Geyl, Cassell History 1988

Walsingham – Alan Haynes, Sutton Publishing 2004

The Holy Roman Empire – Friedrich Heer, Phoenix 1995

The Spanish Inquisition – Henry Kamen, Phoenix 1998

Philip of Spain – Henry Kamen, Yale University Press 1998

The Spanish Armada – Colin Martin and Geoffrey Parker, Penguin Books 1992

The Grand Strategy of Philip II – Geoffrey Parker, Yale University Press 1998

Elizabeth – Anne Somerset, Harper Collins Publishers 1991

William the Silent – CV Wedgewood, Readers Union Ltd 1945

The Hapsburgs – Andrew Wheatcroft, Folio Society 2004

[i] Many of those who signed tool Louis’ name on the document as proof that William supported the demands therein
[ii] The name was taken by the rebels who called themselves the Guezen
[iii] Charles V had allowed a policy of toleration in his Interim of 1548
[iv] Philip of Spain - Kamen
[v] William the Silent - Wedgewood
[vi] An old friend of the hated Granvelle and known as the Iron Duke to the Dutch
[vii] Alba was not Philip’s first choice but the Duke of Parma and the Duke of Savoy both in good standing in the Netherlands and more importantly not Spanish) had both refused the post.
[viii] Philip of Spain - Kamen
[ix] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £18,420,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £521,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £5,780,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[x] Philip always took a long time in coming to any decision, wanting to dot every i and cross every t
[xi] He was strangled in prison
[xii] Philip of Spain - Kamen
[xiii] Who was to be murdered on his father’s orders the following year

Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Revolt of the Netherlands - William the Silent III

Anna of Saxony
Marriage Number Two

William did not marry again until three years after Anna’s death. He considered marrying the young Princess of Lorraine, but when her mother proclaimed herself the better choice, William backed off. William married Anna of Saxony, the daughter and heiress of Maurice, the Elector of Saxony, on 25 August 1561.

William may have married Anna with the aim of gaining more influence in Saxony, Hesse and the Palatinate. As far as Philip was concerned Anna was a dangerous match as William would be drawn into the orbit of the German militant Protestant tendency. William refused to insist on other than outward religious conformity for his Protestant bride and Philip sent insincere congratulations and a ring worth 3,000 eçus[i].

Anna was described by contemporaries as

‘Self-absorbed, weak, assertive, and cruel.’[ii]

Philip, Landgrave of Hesse
The dowry of 100,000 thalers[iii] was probably another attraction for the perennially cash strapped William. The marriage, originally planned for 1560, was delayed for a year by the opposition of Anna’s maternal grandfather Philip, Landgrave of Hesse who thought that William was not sufficiently high ranking powerful for the daughter of an Elector of the Holy Roman Empire. In 1561 William was appointed Stadtholder of Franche-Comté.

In 1562, just a few months after the wedding, difficulties arose between Anna and William. Anna received letters from her uncle meant for William stating he should work more towards pleasing her. The couple’s first child Anna was born on 31 October 1562; she died the same day. Their second child Anna was born in Breda on 5 November 1563[iv]. Maurice August Philip was born on 8 December 1564[v].


Floris de Montmorency
In 1562 the nobles sent Floris de Montmorency[vi], Baron Montigny to Philip with their grievances and Philip was aghast to be told that the Dutch resented Granvelle, Philip’s plan to reform the bishoprics and to introduce the Inquisition into the Low Countries. Philip assured Montigny;

‘Never in my imagination have I thought of introducing into Flanders the Inquisition of Spain.’[vii]

Philip mistrusted both of his most senior Dutch Stadtholders, both of whom he had put into key positions. William was the stadtholder[viii] of the provinces of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht and Egmont of Flanders and Artois. The mistrust was a two-way thing; the Dutch were concerned about the inner council of advisers around Margaret of Parma. Margaret had been ordered by Philip that certain matters could only be discussed with this inner coterie.

In March 1563 William, Egmont and Hoorn sent Philip an ultimatum; Granvelle must resign and they were leaving the Council of State until he did so. Margaret refused to withdraw her support from Granvelle and Philip tried to influence matters from far off Spain. Foremost among Philip’s supporters of the Dutch nobility were Philip, Count Arenberg, and Philip, Duke of Aarschot; these men were political nonentities who had little support from their fellow countrymen.

Religious Liberty

Cardinal Granvelle
But William kept pushing; he insinuated that Granvelle was considering political assassination as a way out of the impasse that both sides found themselves in. Eventually it was Philip who broke, suggesting to Granvelle that he find a personal reason to leave the Low Countries. Margaret asked William to return to the council on the understanding that Granvelle was going. William wrote to Louis on 5th March 1564;

‘Certain it is that our man is going; God send that he go so far as to never come back again.’[ix]

Granvelle left on 12th March and six days later William, Hoorn and Egmont resumed their places on the Council of State.

In December 1564 William made an impassioned speech in the council in favour of liberty of conscience. The nobles decided that their grievances should be made known to Philip personally by Egmont who journeyed to Spain in February 1565. Philip was irritated by the demands of his Dutch nobles. His answer finally came in an instruction for Margaret of 2nd April showing the depth of his opposition to the reformed religion;

‘In the question of religion, what most concerns and what I can least permit is any change, and I should count it as nothing to lose 100,000 lives, if I had them, rather than allow it.’[x]

Philip forced through his reform of the bishoprics and ordered the execution of six Anabaptists whose fate had been referred to him; his subjects in the Netherlands were up in arms. It was during this year that the Netherland’s greatest sympathiser among Philip’s secretaries, Francisco de Eraso, was disgraced. The hardliners amongst Philip’s advisers, Granvelle and the Duke of Alba, were now in the ascendant.

A Downward Spiral

William Landgrave of h
By 1565, it was well known in all the courts of Germany and the Netherlands that William and Anna’s marriage was an unhappy one. Anna was spoken of as being William’s ‘domestic curse’. Anna was known to be an unmanageable vixen who had a group of ‘lewd’ companions. She alternated between fits of drunken melancholy, when she would stay in a darkened room, and rushing off to Spa with her friends and claiming that William was trying to poison her if the question of her returning home was made. Rumours were rife about the marriage in the Netherlands.

Anna was unkind to her stepchildren and was unrestrained in public life; on one occasion she screamed across the room at William during a public dinner at the Palais de Nassau, claiming he was inadequate sexually. William wrote;

‘What happens secretly can well be borne…..but verily I found it hard enough to hear her speak such things in front of everyone.’[xi]

In 1565 William finally complained about the ‘contentious’ nature of his wife to her Saxon uncle Augustus Elector of Saxony and her Hessian uncle Landgrave Wilhelm IV of Hesse-Kassel. Anna immediately put on a show of repentance, but William was not appeased, she had done this many times before.

In the summer of 1565 William sent Philip William to study at the University of Leuven although he was only twelve years old, and asked Margaret to take his ten year old daughter Maria as one of her ladies-in-waiting. Maria’s youth made it quite clear that William did not want his children in touch with their stepmother. It was now that William turned all his endeavours to politics

The Gathering Storm

In the autumn of 1565 Philip decided to return to the Netherlands; Granvelle, from his retirement at Besançon, had suggested that Philip see how the nobility were mismanaging affairs there. While for the rebels’ part Philip’s failure to visit only showed his indifference to their country.

The harvest was poor and the price of corn rose phenomenally during early winter[xii]; people were starving and in response Philip sent one shipload of corn, which did not go far. Many artisans and their families fled to England, while wealthy burghers too were selling up in preparation to emigrate, even as Philip instructed his sister that his religious edicts must be severely enforced. For William and his colleagues the way forward was clear. William wrote;

‘It is folly to enforce the Placaten when corn is so dear.’[xiii]

Hendrik van Brederode
Margaret of Parma sought to break the bond between William and Egmont by showing preference to Egmont. One observer wrote;

‘The Countess of Egmont sits with Madame [Margaret] while the Princess of Orange is kept standing, the Prince of Orange is dying of rage.’[xiv]

Anna had promised William that she would henceforth behave but, now after Margaret’s snub, all promises were forgotten. Her behaviour was the talk of Brussels.

At the end of the year Louis and Hendrik van Brederode, along with a number of the other Dutch-Flemish lesser nobility with Calvinist inclinations, made a secret agreement to oppose the enforcement of Philip’s religious edicts.

On 24th January 1566 William informed Margaret that he wished to retire from public life. He attempted to negotiate a loan from the burghers of Antwerp; he owed one million florins[xv]. Unsurprisingly the burghers were not prepared to loan monies on such a risky return. But William did discover that the burghers and wealthy citizens on Antwerp were unhappy with Philip’s policies. One of the leading citizens of Antwerp was henceforth one of William’s most trusted advisers; the Pensionary of Antwerp, Jacob Wesembeeck. William was persuaded to withdraw his resignation.


The Age of Religious Wars – Richard S Dunn, Weidenfeld & Nicholson 1971

The Revolt of the Netherlands – Pieter Geyl, Cassell History 1988

The Holy Roman Empire – Friedrich Heer, Phoenix 1995

The Spanish Inquisition – Henry Kamen, Phoenix 1998

Philip of Spain – Henry Kamen, Yale University Press 1998

The Grand Strategy of Philip II – Geoffrey Parker, Yale University Press 1998

William the Silent – CV Wedgewood, Readers Union Ltd 1945

The Hapsburgs – Andrew Wheatcroft, Folio Society 2004

[i] A standard gift for senior nobility - in 2014 the relative: real price of that commodity is £894,600.00 www.measuringworth.com
[iii] Or £200,000.00 (see www.austriancoins.com) - in 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £59,640,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £1,990,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £23,330,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[iv] She was married on 25 November 1587 to her cousin Count William Louis of Nassau-Dillenburg
[v] He died on 3rd March 1566
[vi] Count Hoorn’s younger brother
[vii] Philip of Spain - Kamen
[viii] Governor
[ix] William the Silent - Wedgewood
[x] Philip of Spain - Kamen
[xi] William the Silent  - Wedgewood
[xii] Scandinavian countries had blocked trade in the summer in the midst of a dispute and corn imports were severely affected
[xiii] William the Silent  - Wedgewood
[xiv] Ibid
[xv] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £310,300,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £8,934,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £100,200,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com