The Eighty Years War in Zwolle

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The Eighty Years war in Zwolle

Summary of The Eighty Years War

The Eighty Years war (1568 – 1648, also called The Dutch Revolt) was a war about religion and independence for the Low Countries. The war was Catholics (Spain) against Protestants (the Low Countries). 

At the time that Martin Luther published his ideas about Protestantism, Charles V was king of Spain and ruler of the Low Countries. His policy was “one Empire, one Government and one Religion”, the Catholic religion. It was not surprising that this lead to resistance in the Low Countries because a large proportion of the population was in favour of Protestantism, which was supported by prince William of Orange. When Charles V died in 1558 his son, Philip II became ruler. He was much more inflexible and cruel than his father. He was determined to suppress the people in the Low Countries and make them pay unrealistic, unacceptable taxes. To reach this goal, he sent Margaret of Parma, his sister as a regent to the Low Countries. However, she did not succeed and didn’t listen to Philip. In 1566 Iconoclasm broke out, which was a slap in the face op Philip and Catholicism. Therefore, Philip sent the loyal Duke of Alba (Fernandes Álvares de Toledo), also called the Iron Duke to the Low Countries. This cruel and inflexible nobleman used extreme force and military power to break the resistance in the Low Countries. He took over the government from Margaret and set up Councils that could arrest, torture and punish people without taking any notice of local laws. He also supported the Inquisition, which was brought to the Low Countries by Charles V. Despite all his efforts he was not very successful and was replaced by Philip II in 1573.  This happened one year after the Sea Beggars captured Brill for Prince William of Orange.

Spanish troops stayed in the Low Countries and caused severe damage to a large number of cities. But the population led by William of Orange fought back gallantly. After he was murdered in 1584, his son Maurice became an important military leader. Later, Maurice also wanted to be involved in matters of State.

Because either side (Catholics and Protestants) in this conflict made not much progress, it was decided to have a “cooling off period”, the Twelve year Truce, also known as the ‘Peace’ of Antwerp (1609 – 1621). During this Truce, the Dutch government was controlled by Johan van Oldebarnevelt, the Lawyer of State. Initially, Prince Maurice and van Oldebarnevelt worked together very well. But eventually Prince Maurice wanted to take all important decisions. This led to a successful coup, led by the Prince. Against the advice of many advisors he had van Oldebarnevelt executed as a “traitor”. A dark moment in Dutch history.

After this period the hostilities between The Low Countries and Spain continued. But the Spanish were weakened because there were so many wars fought in the countries they owned. In 1648 peace was signed, Peace of Westphalia (In Holland called vrede van Münster). This is when the war/revolt ended.

The Eighty Years War in Zwolle

The time of the Eighty Years war was harsh and terrible. This period was difficult for every person living in and around Zwolle. Constantly there were many soldiers within the city, which also cost the population lots of money. Outside of town it was dangerous because of the killing and robbing by soldiers of the Spanish armies.

The Grote Markt

Throughout the Eighty Years’ War between the Low Countries and Spain the loyalty of the city of Zwolle towards the Spanish king or the Prince of Orange changed depending on military, financial and political conditions. Especially on the Grote Markt in Zwolle a number of important events took place during this chaotic episode in Dutch history. On June 15th 1580 the Iconoclasm (Beeldenstorm) reached Zwolle: Supporters of the Prince of Orange destroyed and robbed the content of the beautiful Roman-Catholic St. Michaëlschurch on the Grote Markt. The Sea Beggars who did not come from Zwolle started fires on the Grote Markt and destroyed a number of Catholic items. A few years later, in 1583, 10 soldiers were executed to set an example to show the people and other soldiers that if they did something wrong, bad things would happen to them. Many criminals (in the eyes of the Spanish) were also decapitated right in the middle of the Grote Markt.

Why did these events take place?

The Spanish wanted to show their amount of power because they wanted everyone to obey them. This had a negative effect because the people didn’t like the Spanish way of ruling (taxes, inquisition and religious restrictions). This is why the revolt broke out.

The event of Iconoclasm in the St. Michaëlschurch was because the people who supported Protestantism wanted freedom for their own faith and they didn’t want Spain and Catholicism to set the rules and be in charge of everything. This is also the reason why the Sea Beggars destroyed Catholic items.

The remainders of The Dutch Revolt at the Grote Markt in Zwolle

Although the content of the St. Michaëlschurch was partly destroyed during the Dutch Revolt, the outer appearance of the church seems to be largely unchanged. The criminals who were going to be decapitated at the Grote Markt took their last breath in a street that is still called “de Korte Ademhalingssteeg”, meaning the Short Breath Alley. This street still exists today and still has the same name. 



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Een prachtige Engelse samenvatting van de 80-jarige oorlog en water in die periode in Zwolle plaatshad!