The great war in Europe of the 16th and 17th centuries
King Philip II of Spain became the monarch of the Hapsburg Netherlands, which included territory in modern day Holland, Belgium and Luxembourg, by the decree of Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. While the legitimacy of this act may have been indisputable according to the principles of ‘absolutist divine right’ the relationship between the new monarch and his subjects soon descended into acrimony because Spain was far from the Netherlands and France lay between the two nations making effective rule problematic. Furthermore, the Dutch had accepted the Protestant Reformation which eschewed papal authority whilst Spain remained staunchly Catholic. The oppressed northerners yearned for independence from everything they believed alien and before long the seventeen provinces rose in rebellion. There followed a long period of conflict which spanned the reigns of successive Spanish monarchs, drew in France, Scotland, the England of Elizabeth I and involved religious divisions which, as usual, justified the brutal excesses of sectarianism. The war brought forth soldiers of fortune of great talent and the redoubtable Spanish infantry tercios to the fields of conflict. Finally the Dutch prevailed, won their freedom and established a republic which heralded the ‘Dutch Golden Age’. This intriguing history, which has been taken from Grattan’s broader work on the history of the Netherlands by the Leonaur Editors, specifically describes the painful birth of what became a modern European nation.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The two monarchs stipulated in the treaty that “neither was to give support of any kind to the revolted subjects of the other.” It is nevertheless true that James did not withdraw his troops from the service of the states; but he authorised the Spaniards to levy soldiers in England. The United Provinces were at once afflicted and indignant at this equivocal conduct Their first impulse was to deprive the English of the liberty of navigating the Scheldt. They even arrested the progress of several of their merchant-ships. But soon after, gratified at finding that James received their deputy with the title of ambassador, they resolved to dissimulate their resentment
Prince Maurice and Spinola now took the field with their respective armies; and a rapid series of operations placing them in direct contact, displayed their talents in the most striking points of view. The first steps on the part of the prince were a new invasion of Flanders, and an attempt on Antwerp, which he hoped to carry before the Spanish Army could arrive to its succour. But the promptitude and sagacity of Spinola defeated this plan, which Maurice was obliged to abandon after some loss; while the royalist general resolved to signalise himself by some important movement, and, ere his design was suspected, he had penetrated into the province of Overyssel, and thus retorted his rival’s favourite measure of carrying the war into the enemy’s country. Several towns were rapidly reduced; but Maurice flew towards the threatened provinces, and by his active measures forced Spinola to fall back on the Rhine and take up a position near Roeroord, (Grotius, lib. xiv.) where he was impetuously attacked by the Dutch Army.
But the cavalry having followed up too slowly the orders of Maurice, his hope of surprising the royalists was frustrated; and the Spanish forces, gaining time by this hesitation, soon changed the fortune of the day. The Dutch cavalry shamefully took to flight, despite the gallant endeavours of both Maurice and his brother Frederick Henry; and at this juncture a large reinforcement of Spaniards arrived under the command of Velasco. Maurice now brought forward some companies of English and French infantry under Horatio Vere and D’Omerville, also a distinguished officer. The battle was again fiercely renewed; and the Spaniards now gave way, and had been completely defeated, had not Spinola put in practice an old and generally successful stratagem. He caused almost all the drums of his army to beat in one direction, so as to give the impression that a still larger reinforcement was approaching.
Maurice, apprehensive that the former panic might find a parallel in a fresh one, prudently ordered a retreat, which he was able to effect in good order, in preference to risking the total disorganisation of his troops. The loss on each side was nearly the same; but the glory of this hard-fought day remained on the side of Spinola, who proved himself a worthy successor of the great Duke of Parma, and an antagonist with whom Maurice might contend without dishonour. (Grotius, Hist. lib. xiv.)
The naval transactions of this year restored the balance which Spinola’s successes had begun to turn in favour of the royalist cause. A squadron of ships, commanded by Hautain Admiral of Zealand, attacked a superior force of Spanish vessels close to Dover, and defeated them with considerable loss. But the victory was sullied by an act of great barbarity. All the soldiers found on board the captured ships were tied two and two, and mercilessly flung into the sea. Some contrived to extricate themselves, and gained the shore by swimming; others were picked up by the English boats, whose crews witnessed the scene and hastened to their relief. The generous British seamen could not remain neuter in such a moment, nor repress their indignation against those whom they had hitherto so long considered as friends. The Dutch vessels pursuing those of Spain which fled into Dover harbour, were fired on by the cannon of the castle and forced to give up the chase.
The English loudly complained that the Dutch had on this occasion violated their territory; and this transaction laid the foundation of the quarrel which subsequently broke out between England and the republic, and which the jealousies of rival merchants in either state unceasingly fomented. In this year also, the Dutch succeeded in capturing the chief of the Dunkirk privateers, which had so long annoyed their trade; and they cruelly ordered sixty of the prisoners to be put to death. But the people, more humane than the authorities, rescued them from the executioners and set them free. (Cerisier.)
But these domestic instances of success and inhumanity, were trifling, in comparison with the splendid train of distant events, accompanied by a course of wholesale benevolence that redeemed the traits of petty guilt. The maritime enterprises of Holland, forced by the imprudent policy of Spain to seek a wider career than in the. narrow seas of Europe, were day by day extended in the Indies. To ruin if possible, their increasing trade, Philip III. sent out the Admiral Hurtado, with a fleet of eight galleons and thirty-two galleys. The Dutch squadron of five vessels, commanded by Wolfert Hermanszoon, attacked them off the coast of Malabar, and his temerity was crowned with great success. He took two of their vessels, and completely drove the remainder from the Indian seas. He then concluded a treaty with the natives of the isle of Banda, by which he promised to support them against the Spaniards and Portuguese, on condition that they were to give his fellow-countrymen the exclusive privilege of purchasing the spices of the island. This treaty was the foundation of the influence which the Dutch so soon succeeded in forming in the East Indies; and they established it by a candid, mild, and tolerant conduct, strongly contrasted with the pride and bigotry which had signalised every act of the Portuguese and Spaniards.