Tuesday, 19 January 2016

The Revolt of the Netherlands - William the Silent VII

Charlotte de Bourbon-Montpensier
Marriage Number Three

In March 1572, although the divorce had not been publicised, the first news appeared of William’s impending remarriage. His chosen wife was the former Abbess of Jouarre[i], Charlotte de Bourbon-Montpensier, a daughter of Louis II of Bourbon, Duke of Montpensier, and his first wife, Jacqueline de Longwy. Anna of Saxony’s Hessian and Saxon relatives were infuriated by the rumours and on 1st October 1572 they arranged for her transfer to Beilstein castle with Christine[ii].

It was not only Anna’s relations who were annoyed by the impending remarriage; William’s brother John refused to release the divorce papers and William had the evidence re-examined by a theological commission in Holland. In April 1573 William returned to the faith of his childhood. William married the penniless Charlotte on 24th June 1575[iii]; he was in love. He wrote to John;

‘[I am tired] of this state of widowhood in which to my great regret, I have had to remain for so long.’[iv]

Anna’s Uncle August ordered the immediate transfer of his niece from Nassau to Saxony.  In December 1575 Anna learned of her forthcoming transfer to Saxony and she attempted suicide. After a long stay in Zeitz, she was taken to Dresden in December 1576. There, the windows of her room was walled up and fitted with additional iron bars[v].

Spanish Desperation

The battle of Mookerheyde
Philip William, far from home and family and a victim of Philip’s fears, was moved from fortress to fortress in Spain. His friends and trusted servants were taken away from the 19 year old; Philip William wrote to his father secretly and sent his correspondence via a washerwoman whose son was fighting in the Netherlands. William had his son’s letter by the spring; it was not the only time letters from Philip William came this same route. William could only hope that he would be able to rescue his son in an exchange of prisoners at some point.

Philip believed that as Medinaceli and Alba’s methods were incompatible they would both have to be replaced. Medinaceli’s successor as Governor was Luis de Requesens y Zúñiga who arrived in Brussels on 17th November 1573. Alba returned to Spain in December, a defeated man. Requesens launched a new military campaign.

Louis of Nassau
As a free people, the Dutch willingly accepted far higher levels of taxation to fund their freedom than had ever been imposed by Alba. The port of Middelburg fell to the rebels on 18th February 1574, with the active assistance of the Sea Beggars.

Requesens' army obtained a victory against Louis’ troops at the Battle of Mookerheyde, during which two of William's brothers, Louis and the youngest of the Nassau-Dillenberg brood Henry, were killed. William wrote to John

‘Pray you to give me good counsel what am I to tell my lady my mother, knowing not whether to condole her on the loss of my brothers, being still ignorant whether they be dead or living; I would not distress her without cause..’[vi]

But no trace of either brother’s body was found and William waited in hope for either Louis or Henry to turn up. Louis had been their mother’s favourite child and William’s grief rarely allowed him to talk of his brother again.


Luis de Requesens y Zuniga
Over the next two years the rebels made many gains until William and his supporters ruled over much of the north of the provinces. Requesens felt he had to come to an agreement with William and invoked Maximilian’s mediation; the negotiations were held in Breda. Requesens declared himself ready to remove his troops from Flanders, but in exchange Catholicism was to be the only religion. He also lifted the much Tenth Penny tax and proposed to pardon all who bowed down to Philip.

The proposals were rebuffed by the Dutch, unable to accept the religious dictat. Requesens approached William privately offering a private peace between himself and Philip; William informed Requesens that he was no longer a private person and could not accept.

Requesens restarted the military campaign and his troops occupied much of Zeeland. In 1575 the cost of maintaining a standing army, of 60,000 men, in the Netherlands was too much for the Spanish treasury and in September declared itself bankrupt, despite the monies pouring in from the Americas.

One Spanish fleet had been wrecked on the Dutch coast during 1572, the loss of which was a huge blow to the treasury. 400,000 florins[vii] for payment of the troops was held in England when the ships carrying the troops’ pay took shelter there from a storm.

When the flow of money to Flanders abruptly stopped the troops mutinied. Requesens wrote despairingly;

‘No treasury in the world would be equal to the cost of this war.’[viii]

But his master was obdurate; following mass desertions military operations were halted for one year. Requesens died suddenly at Brussels on 5th March 1576, to be replaced as Governor of the Netherlands by Don Juan of Austria[ix]. Ten days later William’s wife Charlotte bore their first child on 15th March 1576, Louise Juliana van Nassau.

A New Hand at the Tiller

Don Juan of Austria
Don Juan arrived in the Netherlands in the autumn; he was a man with a plan (albeit unrealistic); he would clear out the rats nest in Antwerp, settle the revolt, invade England, set free and marry Mary Queen of Scots and restore Catholicism to the British Isles. He was taken aback to discover the sixteen provinces ranged against him, united by the Pacification of Ghent, signed on 18th November 1576.

On 8th November 1576 the unpaid Spanish troops had sacked Antwerp with a savage brutality which became a byword for Spanish dealings with their foreign subjects.

‘They neither spared age nor sex; time nor place; person nor country; young nor old; rich nor poor…..and as great respect they had to the church and churchyard as the butcher has to his shambles. They spared neither friend nor foe, Portugal nor Turk; the Jesuits must give their ready coin and all other religious house both corn and plate.’[x]

Don Juan was relatively perspicacious in his initial actions; he sought to woo the nobles living in the southern provinces, and separate them off from the more rebellious north. Nobles like the Duke of Aerschot were ready to accept Don Juan’s promises. William stayed away from the estates General, leaving the work there to Marnix and Paul Buys, the Pensionary of Leiden.

Paulus Buys
Marnix and Buys were easily able to play the fault lines in the Estates, exacerbating the differences between the often arrogant Aerschot and his friends and the burghers. Aerschot’s unveiled ambitions led to the Second Union of Brussels, consolidating the agreements of the Pacification of Ghent. In December 1576 Queen Elizabeth offered the rebels a loan of £20,000[xi] to pay for immediate necessities and further monies if Philip proved intractable.


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, Guild Publishing 1988

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

Elizabeth – Anne Somerset, Phoenix Giant 1999

William the Silent – CV Wedgewood, Readers Union Ltd 1945

The Hapsburgs – Andrew Wheatcroft, Folio Society 2004

[i] Her father had placed her in the convent, ignoring her protests, possibly because Charlotte and her mother espoused the reformed doctrines
[ii] Christine was removed from her mother’s care three years later
[iii] Outraged at this news, some of Anna's relatives demanded the return of large wedding gifts despite her infidelity. Her Uncle August also demanded of William, whom he now called ‘Head of all the rogues and rebels’, one of the counties of Nassau, Hadamar and Diez. He also insisted that the marriage was not legally ended yet, and thus William had no right to remarry.
[iv] William the Silent - Wedgewood
[v] At the door was a square hole in the top panel that provided a narrow grid, which was closed off outside. Through this hole food and drinks were served to her. In front of the door there was an iron gate, virtually guaranteeing that Anna had no chance of escape In May 1577 Anna started having hemorrhages which continued until her death on 18th December, shortly before her 33rd birthday
[vi] William the Silent - Wedgewood
[vii] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £289,900,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £10,490,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £181,800,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com
[viii] The Spanish Armada – Martin & Parker
[ix] Another of Philip’s half-siblings and the hero of the Battle of Lepanto
[x] William the Silent - Wedgewood
[xi] In 2014 the relative: historic standard of living value of that income or wealth is £5,519,000.00 economic status value of that income or wealth is £172,000,000.00 economic power value of that income or wealth is £1,775,000,000.00 www.measuringworth.com

No comments:

Post a Comment