Eighty Years War

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Eighty Years War
The Spanish troops sacked Antwerp
The Spanish troops sacked Antwerp
date 1568 to 1648
place Europe : Netherlands , Gibraltar ,
America : Cuba ,
Asia : Philippines
output Victory of the Dutch
Peace treaty Peace of Westphalia
Parties to the conflict

Republic of the Seven United ProvincesRepublic of the Seven United Provinces United Netherlands

Spain 1506Spain Spain

In the Eighty Years' War (also Spanish-Dutch War , Spanish guerra de Flandes , Dutch Tachtigjarige Oorlog ) from 1568 to 1648, the Republic of the Seven United Provinces won their independence from the Spanish crown and thus from the House of Habsburg . With its end, the northern Netherlands left the Union of the Holy Roman Empire . The southern part of the Netherlands , however, remained with Spain; Belgium emerged from this in the 19th century . The Netherlands was thus permanently divided.

The war developed out of an uprising by the Dutch against the Spanish and Catholic sovereign Philip II , which started mainly from Calvinists . After the Spaniards had been able to put down the first uprising, unrest developed again from 1572, which gradually spread to the whole country. With the exception of a twelve-year armistice in the period from 1609 to 1621, the fighting continued until 1648. Finally, Spain officially recognized the independence of the northern Netherlands in the Peace of Westphalia .


Before the war, the Netherlands, which then comprised the present-day Netherlands as well as Belgium , Luxembourg and part of northern France , belonged to the Holy Roman Empire and were ruled by the Spanish branch of the Habsburgs . They consisted of 17 provinces. Around the middle of the 16th century, the spread in the Netherlands in the course of reformation of Calvinism . The Netherlands was a major economic power at that time. Antwerp was a center of the European capital market. Thanks to their ports, Antwerp and Rotterdam were also important transshipment points for trade in goods from overseas and the new colonies in South America . Because of this concentrated economic power and because of the important strategic location, the Spanish Habsburgs were unwilling to release the Netherlands from their possession.

Philip II took over the rule of the Netherlands in 1555 from his father Charles V. He continued the persecution of heretics ( Inquisition ) that had already begun under him and that had already provoked unrest in the Netherlands. In 1559, as part of a church reorganization, he appointed new bishops, who were also to be represented in the general estates of the provinces, the so-called general states, and downsized the dioceses . With this Philip wanted on the one hand to intensify the Counter-Reformation , but on the other hand also to undo the class freedoms that had been granted to the provinces in the " Great Privilege " of 1477. He installed his half-sister Margaret of Parma as governor in the Netherlands and placed the Bishop of Mechelen , Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle , at her side as the first minister . Philip himself went back to Spain in 1560; In 1561 he withdrew his troops from the Netherlands.

The Dutch struggle for independence

Some members of the Dutch Council of State, led by William I of Orange and the Counts of Egmond and Hoorn , protested vehemently against these changes and forced Granvelle to resign in 1564. In a petition, the so-called “Nobility Compromise of Breda”, the rebels (who called themselves “ Geusen ”, translated: “beggars”) explicitly demanded that the governor Margarethe von Parma end the Inquisition and the persecution of the Protestants and restore them of their class freedoms.

Places of important military conflicts in 1568

The protest against Spanish rule reached its first climax in the same year with the iconoclasms of the Calvinists . Philip then lifted the Inquisition, but in 1567 sent the Duke of Alba , Fernando Álvarez de Toledo , as the new governor with Spanish troops on a punitive expedition to the Netherlands. Alba also initially succeeded in suppressing the regional uprisings with the help of a special court, the so-called Blood Council of Brussels. More than 6,000 insurgents were executed, including the Counts of Egmond and von Hoorn. In the same year, Alba also defeated the Dutch troops led by William I of Orange .

The battle of Heiligerlee (1568) in a contemporary illustration
The Liberation of Leiden (1574), stained glass from the Sint Janskerk in Gouda (1603)

However, with his reckless and arbitrary actions, Alba provoked new uprisings among the Dutch. Until then, the unrest was mostly regional and largely uncoordinated, but the uprising now spread across the whole country. The claim that the Congregation of the Roman and General Inquisition under Pope Pius V in a decree of February 16, 1568 actually sentenced all about three million Dutch people to death for heresy and that only a few named persons were excluded from it, is based on a forgery .

In a secret diplomatic conference from April 2-4, 1568 at Freudenberg Castle (in Siegerland , South Westphalia), a delegation from the Nobles of Gelderland was promised military support in the fight against Spain by William I of Orange. The Eighty Years War began with the first military clash between the two sides in the Battle of Heiligerlee in 1568, in which Adolf von Nassau , brother of William of Orange, was killed.

Above all, the Dutch privateers , known as the “ Wassergeusen ”, subsequently made it difficult for the Spaniards to cope with their constant attacks on sea transports and bases. In 1572 they achieved their greatest success when they conquered the provinces of Zeeland and Holland . William I of Orange was elected as governor of the liberated provinces, which in effect gave him the leadership of the resistance against Spain.

In 1573 Alba was replaced by Don Luís de Zúñiga y Requesens . Even if the new governor was initially more successful than his predecessor, the rebels achieved another great victory: They flooded the country, sailed to Leiden and freed the city from the Spanish besiegers ( Siege of Leiden ). All seventeen provinces jointly formulated their demands for the withdrawal of Spanish troops and for religious tolerance in the "Ghent pacification" (1576). It was ratified by the States General in Antwerp. The new Spanish governor, Don Juan de Austria , a half-brother of King Philip II , formally accepted the demands, but the unrest continued. The Ghent pacification was to be the final joint act of the Seventeen Dutch Provinces.

The long road to peace

In 1579, the unity of the Dutch provinces documented in the Ghent pacification broke up due to denominational differences. Some southern, mostly French-speaking provinces joined forces on January 6th to form the (Catholic) Union of Arras (Dutch: Atrecht ). The northern provinces with a predominantly Calvinist population, however, united on January 23 to form the Union of Utrecht . The states of Flanders and Brabant were also members of the Union of Utrecht. They continued to oppose Spain and demanded the right to freedom of religion. On July 24, 1581, the provinces of the Union of Utrecht formed the Republic of the United Netherlands , declared their independence from the king in the Plakkaat van Verlatinghe and appointed William I of Orange as governor in the various states. The province of Holland is considered to be the driving force behind the Union of Utrecht and the Declaration of Independence . The separation of the Netherlands into the “States General” and the “Spanish Netherlands” was now sealed. The uprising of the Netherlands against the Spanish occupiers, which began in the south, has now turned into a struggle for the independence of the States General.

Bust of Johan van Oldenbarnevelt

The parts of the southern provinces that did not join the "Union of Arras" were subjugated between 1581 and 1585, partly after difficult sieges, by the Spaniards under the new governor Alexander Farnese , the son of Margaret of Parma. Large parts of the northeastern Netherlands were also conquered by the Spanish during these years, but these conquests were reversed by the rebels after 1589. In the end, only the war of independence in the north was successful. Although Wilhelm was murdered by the Catholic Balthasar Gérard in 1584 , the States General were able to agree relatively quickly on Wilhelm's son Moritz of Orange as his successor. When Alexander Farnese conquered Antwerp in 1585, the provinces of the Union of Utrecht were in extreme danger. However, the state advocate for the province of Holland, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt , managed to negotiate a pact of the States General with England in 1596 . With his financial and military support, the war against Spain was continued. At the same time, Moritz of Orange reformed the Dutch army ( Orange Army Reform ), which was soon able to stand up to the military superiority of the Spaniards.

Philip II of Spain died in 1598. The southern, that is, the “Spanish Netherlands” passed into the hands of his daughter Isabella and her husband, Archduke Albrecht of Austria . In 1601 the Spanish troops began the heavy siege of Ostend , which was successfully ended under Ambrosio Spinola in 1604. The Dutch lost their last base in Flanders . On April 12, 1609 - two years after the sea ​​battle of Gibraltar  - both sides were able to agree in Antwerp on an armistice that lasted twelve years.

The Battle of Gibraltar in a representation by Hendrick Cornelisz. Vroom

In 1621 war broke out again as part of the Thirty Years' War . In 1624 and 1625 he was almost entirely focused on the siege and relief of Breda . It was initially unsuccessful until the Dutch under Piet Pieterszoon Heyn managed to capture the entire Spanish silver fleet . Friedrich Heinrich , brother and successor of Moritz von Nassau , financed the conquest of 's-Hertogenbosch (1629) and Maastricht (1632) with part of the booty . An alliance with France in 1635 to conquer the Spanish Netherlands was not very successful, but on the contrary led to the loss of Venlo , Roermond and other cities to the Spanish.

At that time, however, Spain was severely weakened militarily. After the loss of almost its entire war fleet, the " Armada ", which was devastated during a surprise attack by the Dutch on April 25, 1607 in the Bay of Gibraltar , Spain had lost its supremacy at sea. Therefore it sought peace with the Netherlands in order to be able to concentrate its remaining forces on the Thirty Years War. After the death of Friedrich Heinrich in 1647, the province of Holland, together with three other provinces, continued negotiations with Spain against the resistance of Friedrich Heinrich's son Wilhelm II . Along with many others, these negotiations also resulted in the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 , which marked the end of the Thirty Years 'War and the Eighty Years' War and at the same time brought international recognition to the Republic of the United Netherlands.

Fighting in the colonies

From the year 1600, Dutch pirates repeatedly invaded the waters of the Philippines and severely disrupted the trade routes. The first encounter between Spanish and Dutch galleons in the waters of the Philippines took place on December 12, 1600 and ended with the sinking of the San Diego . With the strengthening of the Dutch in Southeast Asia , they tried to conquer the archipelago of the Philippines in 1646. This attack on Spanish sovereignty was repulsed in the five naval battles of La Naval de Manila .


Goethe's tragedy Egmont is set in the city of Brussels during the uprising of the Dutch from 1566–1568 against Spanish rule; the end of the tragedy historically corresponds to the beginning of the Eighty Years' War.

Friedrich Schiller dealt with the war in his historical treatise History of the Fall of the United Netherlands from the Spanish Government . His dramatic poem Don Karlos , based in part on this historical research, is set against the backdrop of the Eighty Years' War.

Wilhelm Raabe later described the struggle of the Wassergeusen in his novella The Black Galley .

Charles de Coster describes in his Ulenspiegel the revolt of the Geusen against the Spanish oppressors.


  • Patricia Bobak, Horst Carl : Out of control? Early modern mercenaries as violent communities in the Dutch-Spanish war , in: Winfried Speitkamp (Ed.): Violence communities. From late antiquity to the 20th century. V&R unipress, Göttingen 2013, pp. 163-184, ISBN 978-3-8471-0063-8 .
  • Michael Erbe: Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg: History of the Dutch area. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart, Berlin, Cologne 1993, ISBN 3-17-010976-6 .
  • Anton van der Lem: Opstand! The uprising in the Netherlands. Wagenbach, Berlin 1996, ISBN 3-8031-2259-7 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Eighty Years War  - explanations of meanings, origins of words, synonyms, translations
Commons : Eighty Years War  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Edward Peters, Inquisition, University of California Press, Berkeley 1989, p. 152; JS Bromley / EH Kossmann, Britain and the Netherlands, Volume V: Some political mythologies, Martinus Nijhoff, Den Haag 1975, Springer 2012, p. 41 f .; Gerd Schwerhoff, The Inquisition: Persecution of Heretics in the Middle Ages and Modern Times, CH Beck, Munich 2004, p. 124/125; see Evelyn Mixture, journey of discovery into the Spanish past, BoD Norderstedt 2016, p. 348; Dirk Maczkiewitz, The Dutch Revolt against Spain (1568-1609). An analysis of communication studies, Waxmann New York / Munich / Berlin, 2007, p. 262
  2. The Philippine Islands, 1493–1803 Overview of Philippine History, p. 216