History of the Duke of Alva

IT was determined that the Netherland heresy should be conquered by force of arms, and an army of 10,000 picked and veteran troops was dispatched from Spain under the Duke of Alva. The Duchess Margaret made no secret of her indignation at being superseded when Alva produced his commission appointing him captain-general and begging the duchess to co-operate with him in ordering all the cities of the Netherlands to receive the garrisons which he would send them.

In September 1567 the Duke of Alva established a new court for the trial of crimes committed 'during the recent period of troubles.' It was called the 'Council of Troubles,' but will be for ever known in history as the 'Blood Council.' It superseded all other institutions.

So well did this new and terrible engine perform its work that in less than three months 1,800 of the highest, the noblest and the most virtuous men in the land, including Count Egmont and Admiral Horn, suffered death. Further than that, the whole country became a charnel-house; columns and stakes in every street, the doorposts of private houses, the fences in the fields were laden with human carcasses, strangled, burnt, beheaded. Within a few months after the arrival of Alva the spirit of the nation seemed hopelessly broken.

The Duchess of Parma, who had demanded her release from the odious position of a cipher in a land where she had so lately been sovereign, at last obtained it and took her departure in December for Parma, thus finally closing her eventful career in the Netherlands. The Duke of Alva took up his position as governor-general, and amongst his first works was the erection of the celebrated citadel of Antwerp, not to protect, but to control the commercial capital of the provinces.

Events marched swiftly. On February 16, 1568, a sentence of the Inquisition condemned all the inhabitants of the Netherlands to death as heretics. From this universal doom only a few persons, especially named, were excepted; and a proclamation of the king, dated ten days later, confirmed this decree of the Inquisition and ordered it to be carried into instant execution, without regard to age, sex or condition.

This is probably the most concise death warrant ever framed. Three millions of people, men, women and children, were sentenced to the scaffold.

THE Prince of Orange at last threw down the gauntlet and published a reply to the active condemnation which had been pronounced against him in default of appearance before the Blood Council. It would, he said, be both death and degradation to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the infamous 'Council of Blood,' and he scorned to plead before he knew not what base knaves, not fit to be the valets of his companions and himself.

Preparations were at once made to levy troops and wage war against Philip's forces in the Netherlands. Then followed the long, ghastly struggle between the armies raised by the Prince of Orange and his brother, Count Louis of Nassau, who lost his life mysteriously at the battle of Mons, and those of Alva and the other governors-general who succeeded him--Don Louis de Requesens, the 'Grand Commander,' Don John of Austria, the hero of Lepanto, and Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma.

The records of butcheries and martyrdoms, including those during the sack and burning of Antwerp by the mutinous Spanish soldiery, are only relieved by the heroic exploits of the patriotic armies and burghers in the memorable defences of Haarlem, Leyden, Alkmaar and Mons.

At one time it seemed that the Prince of Orange and his forces were about to secure a complete triumph; but the news of the massacre of St. Bartholomew in Paris brought depression to the patriotic army and corresponding spirit to the Spanish armies, and the gleam faded. The most extraordinary feature of Alva's civil administration were fiscal decrees, which imposed taxes that destroyed the trade and manufactures of the country.

There were endless negotiations inspired by the States-General, the German Emperor and the Governments of France and England to secure a settlement of the Netherlands affairs, but these, owing to insincere diplomacy, were ineffective.

Return to Outline of Great Books Volume I