Now it’s the Dutch turn

Having just posted some new articles on the French Wars of Religion, I find those Sea Beggars demanding equal time.

Soen, Violet. “Reconquista and Reconciliation in the Dutch Revolt: The Campaign of Governor-General Alexander Farnese (1578-1592).” Journal of Early Modern History 16, no. 1 (2012): 1-22.

Dutch Revolt siege (photo of W. Baudartius engraving from German Ebay)

Abstract:
The campaign in the Low Countries led by governor-general Alexander Farnese from October 1578 onwards resulted in the reconquest of more cities for the King of Spain than had been achieved by any of his predecessors or successors. It serves here as a starting point for a contextual analysis of the relationship between the ruler and the city defiant during the Dutch Revolt, not only to cast new light on the oft-neglected and complex Spanish Habsburg policies, but also to understand the broader context of questions of resistance and reconciliation during the Dutch Revolt. Most capitulation treaties accorded by Farnese show at least four features at odds with the pattern of repression of urban revolts. The governor aimed at keeping the civic patrimony intact, he granted full pardon and oblivion, he conditionally restored urban privileges and he often felt obliged not to insist on immediate reconciliation with the Catholic Church. The divergent reactions to this Habsburg policy indicate that the Dutch Revolt showed striking features of a civil war, in which not only the conditions of revolt but also of reconciliation caused discord.

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10 responses to “Now it’s the Dutch turn”

  1. Ralph Hitchens says :

    I believe there is little argument about Farnese being the greatest soldier of his age, and his conciliatory policies in the Netherlands reflect a fine understanding of how to fight an insurgency. Interesting, of course, to speculate how he would have done had the Armada prevailed in the English Channel and been able to lift his army to England.

    • jostwald says :

      Alva! Alva! Alva!

      Alva crushes heretics (Duffy, Siege Warfare, 68)

    • Campmaster says :

      Interesting article professor, getting my hands on some of Violet Soen’s work has been on my to do list for a while. Within the conditions of warfare in the heavily fortified, urbanized, and densely populated Low Countries, and considering the limitations of siege attack in the age before Vaubanian methods and huge artillery trains, political and psychological factors often played a critical role in campaigns of annexation, and one with a complex relationship with logistics. Both Farnese and Alba both gained possession of multiple towns not through siegework, but through diplomacy or terror. The fact that the Governor-Generals were well aware of the fact that they lacked the resources to besiege and take every single rebel town in the Low Countries goes a long way to explaining this resort to psychological methods. The strategic collapse caused by the so-called Spanish Fury, itself the product of the strain of prolonged campaigning placed on an army that was on arrears for months gives some evidence of the huge amount of pressure that siege warfare exerted on the capabilities of the early modern state. Hence the prominence gained by the political and psychological aspect of this conflict probably reflected not only the religious and political peculiarities of the Revolt, but the logistical and siege-tactical realities of the period. A comparison with the War of the Spanish Succession in the siege-tactical,logistical, and political/psychological aspects would be quite curious.

      • jostwald says :

        Indeed. A long time ago an interesting article was published that attacked the notion that the Spanish besiegers massacred every town they came across. It argued instead that they used exemplary violence to eliminate the need for future sieges. Parker’s new edition of his Army of Flanders also includes a table illustrating how many towns were captured without the necessity of a siege.
        Charles, J.-L., “Le Sac des Villes dans les Pays-Bas au XVIe siècle. Etude critique des Règles de la Guerre,” Revue internationale d’histoire militaire, 24 (1965): 288-301.

  2. Erik Lund says :

    Cool. Though I still have no idea who the Sea Beggars were. Prosopography, anyone?

    • jostwald says :

      I would tell the curious to check out Wikipedia’s Geuzen entry, but they might take away my tenure if I did that. I guess I’ll have to recommend a Google Books search. Short answer: Dutch sea-faring pirates/rebels during the early stage of the Dutch Revolt.

  3. Erik Lund says :

    Okay, but that’s not as helpful as it might be. Prosopographically, I know that we can push things back to Charles V’s court at Brussels in the 1530s and 1540s. I assert that with some confidence mainly on the basis of trying to sort out the thicket of clan Nassau, but also from Nierop. We have an elite group of Kaisernahe aristocrats buying estates in the Low Countries, and possibly with pre-existing connections there. At the same time, we have the Habsburgs pushing north across the rivers to unite all 17 of the lowland provinces, per Israel’s revisionism a recent and comparatively feeble development.

    Which is a roundabout way of saying that we’re not surprised to find Nassaus in the lead of the revolt. We still have a problem going deeper. Who were the captains and commodores? Calling them “Calvinist Dutch nobles,” as has been the practice, just punts the ball. Define Dutch; define “Calvinist.” Where do the ships come from? Where are they rigged? By whom are they stored?

    Next step down: who are the crew? How does it happen that there are thousands of skilled sailors available to make war on Spain the summer of 1572? Calling them the desperadoes of every nation just clarifies that they were actual sailors.

    So let’s just smooth out the assumptions. We know that there was Nassau credit involved. Assume that’s it. Put religion and ideology aside. The Sea Beggars were simply what that credit called up at wharf’s head. The actual manpower was the floating proletariat of the Atlantic. We still have to explain how the rebel cause got preferential access to them. Who stood behind the Nassaus? The claim has always been that it was the Sultan. Are the Sea Beggars the direct ancestors of the Salle Rovers? It sure looks like it.

    • jostwald says :

      FWIW, an H-Albion thread c. 2/29 briefly discussed the EIC and its personnel. Cheryl Fury mentioned her two books (one of which I mentioned at the end of last year) – they’re on English seamen, but I don’t know if she discusses the cosmopolitan nature of such sailors or not.

  4. Ralph Hitchens says :

    “The floating proletariat of the Atlantic” — what an exact phrase! Histories of the age of sail (e.g., N.A.M. Rodger) as well as the better class of novels about that era (Patrick O’Brian) make it clear that there was indeed such a transnational proletariat serving in navies, the various merchant marines, and privateers — no doubt many of whom saw service in all three.

    I need to read up on the Sea Beggars, about whom I know little more than the fact that they existed.

    • jostwald says :

      Unfortunately (for anglophones) most of it is in Dutch, but there does seem to be more published on the Dutch Revolt in English (and French) over the past decade or so. And you can always check Google Books for old works. I don’t know if Grotius’ history of the Revolt talks much about the Sea Beggars – I think he was the one who also wrote a book on the laws of the sea, i.e. that there weren’t any.

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