2.4 The Dutch Revolt

5. The Time of Discoverers and Reformers
2.4. The Dutch Revolt 

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This lesson contains 36 slides, with interactive quizzes, text slides and 1 video.

time-iconLesson duration is: 50 min

Items in this lesson

5. The Time of Discoverers and Reformers
2.4. The Dutch Revolt 

Slide 1 - Slide

Slide 2 - Slide

What is this lesson about?
The Dutch Revolt started in 1568, but William of Orange's first attempts to defeat Alva in the Low Countries proved ineffective. The taking of Den Briel by the Geuzen however turned the tide, as the Dutch cities chose to stand with William. The northern provinces would unite with the Union of Utrecht and break off from Spain with the Act of Abjuration. In 1588, they officially declared themselves the Dutch Republic.

Slide 3 - Slide

Main Questions

  1. What did Alva do when he arrived in the Low Countries?
  2. What was the Council of Troubles?
  3. Why was it difficult for William of Orange to fight Alva?
  4. How did the tide turn for William of Orange?
  5. What was the nature of warfare in the Low Countries?
  6. When and how did the Northern Provinces break free from Spain?

Slide 4 - Slide

people in this lesson
William of Orange
Balthasar Gerards
the Duke of Alva

Slide 5 - Slide

Important dates in this lesson:

1567: Alva arrives in the Netherlands and sets up the Council of Troubles
1568: the counts of Horne and Egmont are executed by order of Alva
1568: Battle of Heiligerlee: the start of the Eighty-Year-War
1572: Watergeuzen take Den Briel in the name of William of Orange. 
1574: Leiden is liberated by the Geuzen
1579: Union of Utrecht
1581: Act of Abjuration
1584: William of Orange is murdered
1588: the 7 northern provinces declare themselves the Dutch Republic.

Slide 6 - Slide

Word Duty


Mandate: the authority to carry out a policy or specific order.
Council of Troubles: a special tribunal to convict all the people who were involved in the Iconoclasm
tribunal: a special court that is appointed to deal with particular problems.
mercenary: a professional soldier who will fight for anyone (or any country) as long as he gets paid.
to besiege: to surround a city with your army and wait until the people inside starve or give up.
Union of Utrecht: an alliance of the 7 northern provinces who promised to continue to fight against Philip II
Union of Atrecht: an alliance of several southern provinces who stayed loyal to Philip II
Act of Abjuration: the declaration of independence from king Philip II, signed by the provinces of the Union of Utrecht (Dutch: Acte van Verlatinge)

Slide 7 - Slide


When the news of the Iconoclasm reached king Philip II, he became enraged. He sent the Duke of Alva to the Low Countries with an army and with a clear mandate:
  • Arrest and punish everybody who took part in the Iconoclasm.
  • Restore order in the Low Countries.

When Alva arrived he took over power from Margaret of Parma and put soldiers in the most rebellious towns to keep control. Alva also set up the Council of Troubles, a special tribunal to convict all the people involved in the Iconoclasm. This council was soon nicknamed the Council of Blood, because it killed anyone, even if they were only slightly suspected of being part of the Iconoclasm. 

Alva presides over the Council of Troubles

Slide 8 - Slide

1. What was the Council of Troubles?
a special court that dealt with iconoclasts
a special court that imposed new taxes
a different name for Inquisition
a meeting of Alva and the Dutch troublemakers

Slide 9 - Quiz

The Council of Troubles even killed any nobles that were Protestant or had signed the Petition, believing they were partly responsible. Anyone sentenced lost all their possessions to Spain. Most nobles and other Protestants, like William of Orange, were able to flee in time. When he heard that Alva was coming, William of Orange left for his lands in Nassau, Germany. His friends, the count of Horne and the count of Egmont stayed and tried to convince William to stay too, telling him he would lose all his power and land. 
Their last words to him are said to have been: 'Farewell count without land', to which William answered: 'Farewell counts without heads.' William's prediction would prove true, as in 1567 Egmont and Horne were brought before the Council. They were decapitated in 1568.

The Spanish soldiers behaved badly, treating all Dutch as enemies. Despite food shortages and high prices Alva raised new taxes to pay for the soldiers in his army.

the counts of Egmont and Horne are executed in the market square in Brussels

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The war begins
Even though Alva drove the Dutch people to the edge of revolt, the Low Countries did not instantly rise up in revolt against him. The two main reasons for this were:
  • many people were not ready to betray their king.They believed a king was appointed by God, so he had a divine right to rule.
  • most cities feared that Alva’s troops would act brutally if they openly resisted him.
In exile in Germany, William used all his money to form a mercenary army. In 1568, he invaded the Low Countries at Heiligerlee (Groningen). This battle, a minor victory for William, is commonly seen as the start of the Dutch Revolt, also known as “The Eighty Year War”. 
William's second invasion failed because he had no money left to pay for more mercenaries. A lot of Dutch cities did not rise up along with William, because they were not convinced that he would be able to win against Alva. And without their support, William was powerless to continue his fight. 

Below: in 2012 a statue was revealed to commemorate the 444th birthday of the battle of Heiligerlee

Slide 11 - Slide

2. Read the first verse of the National Anthem
of the Netherlands.
In which sentence do you see the divine right
of the king?

Slide 12 - Open question

3. Why was money so important for William if he
wanted to fight against Alva?
without money William could not get the support of the Dutch cities
without money nobody felt that William was important enough to fight for
without money Philip II did not take William seriously
without money his mercenaries would not fight for him

Slide 13 - Quiz

The Dutch Lion in a printing press tightened by Alva, Granvelle and Margaret of Parma while Don Frederik holds the lion. The pope and the king of Spain are among the bystanders who watch
Philip II, king of Spain
the pope
Margaret of Parma
Don Frederik, Spanish commander and son of Alva
De Nederlandse Leeuw
the "Press of suppression"
The duke of Alva
torn privileges (rights) of the country
broken crown of the lion
broken freedom
Cardinal Granvelle, Catholic advisor of Margareth of Parma

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The tide turns

This all changed on 1st April 1572, when a group 
of Geuzen ended up outside the town of Den Briel (now called Brielle) in Zeeland. The Geuzen were Protestants who also had fled from Alva's Council of Troubles. Now they supported William of Orange in his rebellion. The most successful group of them operated at sea. That is why they were called Watergeuzen ('Sea Beggars'). 

A local fisherman told the Geuzen that there were only a few Spanish soldiers left in the town. The Geuzen walked into the city, and overpowered the Spanish guards. The Geuzen then claimed the city in the name of William of Orange and raised his flag above Den Briel. 

With this success against Alva the tide really turned. More cities now supported William and gave him money to hire mercenaries.

The conquering of Den Briel by the Watergeuzen on 
April 1st, 1572.

left: the admiral of the Watergeuzen fleet: admiral Lumey.

Slide 15 - Slide

4a. The Dutch cities rose up with William against Alva immediately

Slide 16 - Quiz

4b. The Watergeuzen were Protestants
that had fled the Council of Troubles

Slide 17 - Quiz

4c. A fisherman told the Geuzen that Den Briel was not well defended by the Spaniards

Slide 18 - Quiz

The nature of the war in the Low Countries 

Trying to take the Low Countries was like trying to take a country of castles. Many cities in the Low Countries had high walls and some even had water surrounding them: a moat. These cities were called fortified towns. To conquer a city, you had to breach the wall or gate and get inside. This would take a large amount of men and effort. This tactic was especially hard with an army of mercenaries. They fought for money and would not take suicidal risks. When you fight for your country you fight with your heart and you do everything to win, but when you fight for money you don’t care who wins, as long as you are paid. 

Another tactic was to besiege a city. Then the army surrounded the city, making sure no one could get in or go out. Then they waited. By this way the people in the city would starve until they gave up. A problem with this tactic was money. Alva’s mercenaries only fought as long as they were being paid. When a siege lasted several months this would become very expensive for king Philip.
In fact, the war cost Philip so much money that he would sometimes be unable to pay his mercenaries for months. When that happened mercenaries could easily switch sides and join the enemy army. Or they would attack any town or village nearby and just take everything they could.

Slide 19 - Slide

An example of a siege by 
the Spaniards was the 
city of Naarden.
The city had closed the gates, so the Spanish troops laid a siege around the city.
After several months the people of Naarden were starving.

The town council contacted the Spanish commander to discuss terms to surrender the city.
The Spanish promised to spare the inhabitants if the city would surrender
The city opened its gates and the Spanish troops entered. In the picture you can see what happened.

Slide 20 - Slide

5a. Why would the artist have produced
such a detailed picture of the siege of Naarden?

Slide 21 - Open question

5b. Look up the meaning of the word "propaganda"
Is this picture a piece of propaganda?
Explain, and use the meaning of the term in your answer.

Slide 22 - Open question

Flooding the land 

When the Spanish laid siege to Leiden in 1573, they nearly starved the city to the point of giving up. However, the Geuzen were able to get food inside in 1574, so the resistance would Last Long enough for William's men to arrive. 

The Geuzen broke the siege by breaching the dikes and flooding the area. This has been a favourite military tactic of the Dutch for centuries. This tactic stopped Spanish advances and in cases like Leiden, it turned the city into an island, making it impossible for the Spanish land army to maintain the siege.

top: schoolposter from 1969 depicting the liberation of Leiden.
right: every year on the 3rd of October in Leiden people celebrate the liberation, which they call "Het Leids ontzet". On this day they eat herring and white bread, like in 1574.

Slide 23 - Slide

6a. Why was it impossible for the Spanish
to maintain the siege of Leiden?

Slide 24 - Open question

6b. How would farmers have felt when their land was flooded?

Slide 25 - Open question

The Dutch break with Spain 

In 1579, the 7 northern provinces of the Low Countries signed the Union of Utrecht, formally promising to support each other in the war against Spain. The southern provinces signed the Union of Atrecht that same year, promising Philip II that they were still loyal to him and that they would help fight the revolt. In 1581, something unthinkable for this time happened. The States General of the Netherlands, the provinces who had signed the Union of Utrecht, created and signed the Act of Abjuration (‘Plakkaat van Verlatinge'). In this Act they wrote that Philip II had, by oppressing his people and their rights, given up his right to rule the Low Countries. This meant that they declared independence from the king and from Spain.

Official document of the Act of Abjuration

Slide 26 - Slide

7. What was the Union of Utrecht?
The agreement of the southern provinces to support each other in the war against Spain
The agreement of the northern provinces to support each other in the war against Spain
The agreement of all the 17 provinces to support each other in the war against Spain
The agreement of the southern provinces to support each other in the war against the northern provinces

Slide 27 - Quiz

the murder of William of Orange

Philip II was hugely upset by the Act of Abjuration and declared William of Orange to be an outlaw. This meant that anyone in his kingdom could murder William and would not get punished. In fact he would reward them with 25,000 crowns for the murder. 

Balthasar Gerards, a Catholic and religious fanatic, would take up this task. On 10th July 1584, he shot William of Orange on the stairs of William's home in Delft, where the two bullet holes can still be seen. Gerards was caught and executed in a brutal fashion. William's last words are said to have been: 'My God, have pity on my soul; my God have pity on this poor nation'. 

top: 16th century drawing of the murder of William of Orange.
left: a forensic expert investigates the bullet holes at the murder location.

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A Republic

Officially after the Act of Abjuration, the Union of Utrecht became the United Provinces. They would search for a new king or queen without success. Both the French king and British queen refused to become the monarch of Philip's arch enemy.

In 1588 they officially declared themselves the Dutch Republic ('Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden'). 

This did not mean the end of the war. The new republic would still continue to fight Spain for another 60 years. But despite the war, the Dutch Republic developed into a rich, powerful and confident nation in the 17th century which became known as the “Golden Age”.

Map of the Dutch Republic of the United Netherlands
in 1588.
Brabant and Zeeland were later added to the Republic.

below: coat of arms of the Dutch Republic in the 17th century

Slide 29 - Slide

8a. What part of the text shows that the northern provinces did not want to become a republic in the early 1580s?

Slide 30 - Open question

8b. Why do you think the northern provinces were
unsuccessful in their search for a new ruler?

Slide 31 - Open question

Make your own summary using the main questions:

  1. What did Alva do when he arrived in the Low Countries?
  2. What was the Council of Troubles?
  3. Why was it difficult for William of Orange to fight Alva?
  4. How did the tide turn for William of Orange?
  5. What was the nature of warfare in the Low Countries?
  6. When and how did the Northern Provinces break free from Spain?

Slide 32 - Slide

Here you can see links to five video fragments we watched in class

Slide 33 - Slide

Write down what you still don't
understand from this lesson.

Slide 34 - Open question


Slide 35 - Slide

Slide 36 - Video