The Dutch Revolt: An International Context

Feb 2014
Kingdom of the Netherlands
It has been some time since the thread on the decline of the Dutch Empire has died out so I believe it is time for another Dutch topic on historum ;). I was hoping we could discuss the Nederlandse Opstand/Eighty Years war/Guerra de Flandes. It is a conflict that has often been overshadowed by the Thirty Years War, the religious wars in Germany and the Spanish struggle against the Turks. Now I realize this is more a topic that interests the Dutch and Belgian members on this forum, but I was hoping we could have some more international views on the topic at hand. Last year during my studies I had a course on this conflict at my university. It was argued that we often only shed Dutch views on the period while failing to draw international connections. Parker was one of the first historians that linked success in the lowlands to international events as well. For example Philips II was nearly always unable to concentrate his forces against the Dutch and Flemish because he was distracted elsewhere. He had a war to fight against the Turks, undertook engagements against the English. And even if he did not have a war to fight elsewhere he often simply considered the revolt in his most wealthy part of the Spanish Empire not important enough. When he finally sent a more capable commander to the lowlands to deal with the revolt, the duke of Parma, he later squandered his success by making him focus on the royal struggle in France and also on the invasion of England. The Dutch furthermore received foreign aid on numerous occasion (although not always to their benefit I must say). The French sent the duke of Anjou with over 10,000 French troops after the Dutch had renounced Philip as their king. What was meant to be a way to fill up the power vacuum by this French prince turned into a disaster when Anjou started to feel threatened by the popularity of William of Orange. Instead of aiding the Dutch, the French instead turned on the people of Antwerp. But also before that Elizabeth provided the Dutch with cash and troops under the leadership of Dudley. Now it were the Dutch who felt threatened by Dudley's constant interference in Dutch politics. The English provided the Dutch with some berating space, but help was soon squandered again when English troops sometimes turned against the Dutch populace. Nevertheless it was probably without this foreign help that the Dutch might have lost that war. There were points during the war that they were under heavy pressure by the advancing Spanish Tercio's. We should also not forget the role of some prominent commanders in that war both on the Dutch side as well as on the Spanish. Maurice of Orange-Nassau, Frederick-Henry, but also the Duke of Parma, Spinola and Duke John of Austria were probably the best of their time and certainly rank among some of the best generals of the century. For the Belgian members I have a question regarding the split between our two nations that of course happened in 1830, but the seeds were of course in this war. How are your views on this? Was such a split inevitable or were the simply the result of religious differences between the north and south? Or was it perhaps a result of Maurice's unwillingness to extent his frontier not to far south. For example their are historians who claim that Maurice did not want to annex to much land to the south because it would endanger his own position at home. Also it might have forced to policy makers of the north to do more concessions to the catholic south. All interesting issues I would say and I hope I will find some eager members who will discuss this with me. What are your views on the Dutch revolt? Was it for example crucial for the demise of the Spanish power base in Europe, was it really used a future example of a state rebelling against its sovereign and state and was the Dutch success largely based on international events or should we also give the Dutch themselves an honorable mention for their resilience?

The perfect song to get in the mood perhaps. It has English subtitles.

Jul 2012
Finally reading Jonathan Israel's The Dutch Republic - Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477-1806, recommended by PaulRycker quite some time ago. I am a slow reader so will have more to say on the matter much later.

It's already clear that direct Habsburg authority over the Low Countries was very light and depended on working with existing individuals, groups and institutions. To bring the provinces north of the rivers under Habsburg authority they had to depend on Holland to do most of the leg work, which of course strengthened the position of Holland in the Low Countries. When cause arose it was a small step to switch from pro to anti Habsburg. The geography of the country was against central authority like the Habsburgs from the start of their involvement in the Low Countries and made it easier to defend.