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Dutch masters PDF
Saturday, 10 July 2010 00:00

As we approach the 2010 Football World Cup Final between Spain and the Netherlands on Sunday, it is interesting to note that 450-odd years ago the Low Countries (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg) were part of the Spanish Empire.

Yes,  when Charles V of Spain abdicated in October 1555, and control of the Hapsburg Empire was divided, Charles' son Philip II became ruler of the Netherlands and Spain; his brother, Ferdinand, controlled the German and Austrian lands, and his nephew (Ferdinand's son) Maximilian, was chosen to succeed as Holy Roman Emperor.

However, Philip II was wholly Spanish in his sympathies and left the Netherlands in 1559,  ignoring the opinions of the local magnates.  Local discontent in the Netherlands was complicated by the spread of Protestantism - particularly in the cities. In August 1566, Protestants in Ghent, Antwerp and other large cities rose in rebellion and began rioting and smashing images.

Philip responded in 1567, sending a large force of Italian and Spanish soldiers to the Netherlands. Their commander, the Duke of Alba, ruthlessly suppressed all opposition, and levied large taxes to pay for his army. This provoked further resistance amongst both Catholics and Protestants.

During the 1570s, Elizabeth I of England, wary of the Spanish on her doorstep, so to speak, lent small sums of money to the rebels and allowed English volunteers to go to their aid, but she was reluctant to commit troops and provoke an open breach with Spain.

In 1575, the Spanish government went bankrupt, and its unpaid troops went on a rampage. This temporarily united every important interest in the Netherlands against Spain. But when Calvinist enthusiasts in Ghent and other large cities began trying to impose their beliefs on the Catholic population, the Netherlands split in two.  In 1579, the southern provinces, corresponding roughly with present-day Belgium and Luxembourg, formed the Union of Arras, and made peace with Spain. The northern provinces, led by William of Orange, formed the Union of Utrecht, and repudiated Philip's rule in 1581.

Spain made a renewed effort to re-conquer the whole area. Philip's new commander, Alexander Farnese, had such success that in 1584 Elizabeth I finally decided that she must commit troops to prevent Dutch collapse. In December, Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester arrived with a force of about 7,000 men, although, badly-led, Leicester’s army achieved very little militarily at very considerable expense.

After continuous fighting and skirmishes involving the Spanish, the French, the English and the Irish over the following years, Spain was finally forced to acknowledge Dutch independence in 1609, thus ending a period of Spanish rule lasting some 54 years.

So, for Sunday’s final, there’s more than a bit of potential niggle.  The downtrodden Dutch up against their former masters, the Spanish.  Or is nobody really aware of this historical fact?
© Paul Whitelock



Paul Whitelock

Paul is a Joint Honours graduate in Spanish and German, a qualified teacher (PGCE) and has a Member of the Institute of Linguists (MIL) qualification.

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