Battle of Gembloux (1578)

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Battle of Gembloux
Part of the Eighty Years' War and the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604)
Batalla de Gembloux 1578.jpg
Engraving of the Battle of Gembloux by Frans Hogenberg
Date31 January 1578
Result Decisive Spanish victory [1] [2]
Statenvlag.svg States-General
Flag of England.svg  England
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Spain
Commanders and leaders
Statenvlag.svg De Goignies   (POW)
Statenvlag.svg Count of Boussu
Statenvlag.svg William de La Marck
Martin Schenck
Emanuel Philibert de Lalaing
Count of Egmont
Marquis d’Havré
Flag of England.svg Henry Balfour
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg John of Austria
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Alexander Farnese
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Cristóbal de Mondragón
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Ottavio Gonzaga
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Count of Mansfeld
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Francisco Verdugo
25,000 men 17,000–20,000 [2]
(Only engaged 1,200 cavalry in the first phase of the battle) [3]
Casualties and losses
8,000–12,000 dead
(6,000 killed in the cavalry charge led by Parma) [2]
Hundreds of prisoners [2]
15 dead or wounded
(12 dead in action) [3]

The Battle of Gembloux took place at Gembloux, near Namur, Low Countries, between the Spanish forces led by Don John of Austria ( Spanish: Don Juan de Austria), [4] Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands, and a rebel army composed of Dutch, Flemish, English, Scottish, German, French and Walloon soldiers under Antoine de Goignies, [5] during the Eighty Years' War and the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604). [1] [2] On 31 January 1578 the Spanish cavalry commanded by John's nephew, Don Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma ( Italian: Alessandro Farnese, Spanish: Alejandro Farnesio), after pushing back the Netherlandish cavalry, attacked the Netherlandish army, causing an enormous panic amongst the rebel troops. [3] The result was a crushing victory for the Spanish forces. [1] [2] The battle hastened the disintegration of the unity of the rebel provinces, and meant the end of the Union of Brussels. [6] [7]

Gembloux Municipality in French Community, Belgium

Gembloux is a Walloon municipality located in the Belgian province of Namur, on the axis Brussels–Namur

Low Countries historical coastal landscape in north western Europe

The Low Countries, the Low Lands, or historically also the Netherlands, is a coastal lowland region in northwestern Europe, forming the lower basin of the Rhine, Meuse, and Scheldt rivers, divided in the Middle Ages into numerous semi-independent principalities that consolidated in the countries of Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, as well as today's French Flanders.

John of Austria Spanish general

John of Austria was an illegitimate son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. He became a military leader in the service of his half-brother, King Philip II of Spain, and is best known for his role as the admiral of the Holy Alliance fleet at the Battle of Lepanto.



After the Sack of Antwerp [8] by Spanish mutineers on 4 November 1576, Catholics and Protestants of the Low Countries concluded the Pacification of Ghent, to remove all Spanish troops. [9] The Spanish tercios were in fact withdrawn to Italy in April 1577, after the new Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands, the famous Christian knight, and half-brother of Philip II of Spain, Don John of Austria (victor of Lepanto), had signed the Perpetual Edict. [10]

Sack of Antwerp Sack of the city of Antwerp during the Eighty Years War

The Sack of Antwerp, often known as the Spanish Fury at Antwerp, was an episode of the Eighty Years' War. It is the greatest massacre in Belgian history.

Pacification of Ghent treaty signed on 8 November 1576

The Pacification of Ghent, signed on 8 November 1576, was an alliance of the provinces of the Habsburg Netherlands for the purpose of driving mutinying Spanish mercenary troops from the country and promoting a peace treaty with the rebelling provinces of Holland and Zeeland.

<i>Tercio</i> Spanish military unit

A tercio or tercio español was a powerful Spanish infantry division during the time of Habsburg Spain known for its victories on European battlefields in the early modern period.

However, in the summer of 1577, Don John of Austria (brandishing the motto In hoc signo vici Turcos, in hoc vincam haereticos) [11] began planning for a new campaign against the Netherlandish rebels, and in July 1577 he took the Citadel of Namur by surprise without a fight. This action further destabilized the uneasy alliance between Catholics and Protestants. From December 1577, John of Austria, still based in Luxembourg, received reinforcements from Spanish Lombardy: some 9,000 battle-hardened Spanish troops under Don Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma (Duke after the death of his father, Ottavio Farnese, Duke of Parma, in September 1586), complemented by 4,000 troops from Lorraine under Peter Ernst, Count of Mansfeld, and local Walloon troops from Luxembourg and Namur. [12] By January 1578, he had between 17,000 and 20,000 men at his disposal. [12] [13]

Citadel of Namur fortress in Namur, Belgium

The Citadel or Castle of Namur is a fortress in the Walloon capital city of Namur, at the confluence of the Sambre and Meuse rivers. It is originally from the Roman era, but has been rebuilt several times. Its current form was designed by Menno van Coehoorn, and improved upon by Vauban after the siege of 1692. It has been classified as a Wallonia's Major Heritage site.

Luxembourg Grand duchy in western Europe

Luxembourg, officially the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, is a small landlocked country in western Europe. It is bordered by Belgium to the west and north, Germany to the east, and France to the south. Its capital, Luxembourg City, is one of the four official capitals of the European Union and the seat of the European Court of Justice, the highest judicial authority in the EU. Its culture, people, and languages are highly intertwined with its neighbours, making it essentially a mixture of French and German cultures, as evident by the nation's three official languages: French, German, and the national language of Luxembourgish. The repeated invasions by Germany, especially in World War II, resulted in the country's strong will for mediation between France and Germany and, among other things, led to the foundation of the European Union.

Duchy of Milan Former duchy in Italy (1395–1447; 1450–1535)

The Duchy of Milan was a state of the Holy Roman Empire in northern Italy. It was created in 1395, when it included twenty-six towns and the wide rural area of the middle Padan Plain east of the hills of Montferrat. During much of its existence, it was wedged between Savoy to the west, Venice to the east, the Swiss Confederacy to the north, and separated from the Mediterranean by Genoa to the south. The Duchy eventually fell to Habsburg Austria with the Treaty of Baden (1714), concluding the War of the Spanish Succession. The Duchy remained an Austrian possession until 1796, when a French army under Napoleon Bonaparte conquered it, and it ceased to exist a year later as a result of the Treaty of Campo Formio, when Austria ceded it to the new Cisalpine Republic.

The Union of Brussels had 25,000 fighting men, but these troops were badly equipped and led, and above all very diverse: Dutch, Flemish, English, Scottish, Walloon, German and French, and religiously ranging from staunch Catholics to zealous Calvinists. [3]

Union of Brussels

There were two Unions of Brussels, both formed in the end of the 1570s, in the opening stages of the Eighty Years' War, the war of secession from Spanish control, which lasted from 1568 to 1648. Brussels was at that time the capital of the Spanish Netherlands.

Battle of Gembloux

In the last days of January 1578, the Netherlandish army was camped between Gembloux and Namur. The army was in bad shape, with many sick. Its leaders, George de Lalaing, Count of Rennenberg, Philip de Lalaing, Robert de Melun and Valentin de Pardieu, were absent because they attended the marriage of the Baron of Beersel and Marguerite de Mérode in Brussels. The command of the army was in the hands of Antoine de Goignies, Seigneur de Vendege. [3] Other notable commanders of the Netherlandish army were the Count of Boussu, Martin Schenck (who after the defeat at Gembloux, enlisted in the Army of Flanders), Emanuel Philibert de Lalaing, Philip, Count of Egmont, William II de La Marck, Lord of Lumey, and Charles Philippe de Croÿ, Marquis d’Havré. [14]

George de Lalaing, Count of Rennenberg Dutch stadtholder

George de Lalaing count Rennenberg, was stadtholder of Friesland, Groningen, Drenthe and Overijssel in the service of Philip II of Spain from 1577 to 1581. The Lalaing family came from Hainaut and had a tradition of governing. His father was Philip de Lalaing, count of Hoogstraten; his mother, Anna of Rennenberg.

Brussels Capital region of Belgium

Brussels, officially the Brussels-Capital Region, is a region of Belgium comprising 19 municipalities, including the City of Brussels, which is the capital of Belgium. The Brussels-Capital Region is located in the central portion of the country and is a part of both the French Community of Belgium and the Flemish Community, but is separate from the Flemish Region and the Walloon Region. Brussels is the most densely populated and the richest region in Belgium in terms of GDP per capita. It covers 161 km2 (62 sq mi), a relatively small area compared to the two other regions, and has a population of 1.2 million. The metropolitan area of Brussels counts over 2.1 million people, which makes it the largest in Belgium. It is also part of a large conurbation extending towards Ghent, Antwerp, Leuven and Walloon Brabant, home to over 5 million people.

Army of Flanders

The Army of Flanders was a multinational army in the service of the kings of Spain that was based in the Netherlands during the 16th to 18th centuries. It was notable for being the longest-serving standing army of the period, being in continuous service from 1567 until its disestablishment in 1706. In addition to taking part in numerous battles of the Dutch Revolt (1567–1609) and the Thirty Years' War (1618–1648), it also employed many developing military concepts more reminiscent of later military units, enjoying permanent, standing regiments (tercios), barracks, military hospitals and rest homes long before they were adopted in most of Europe. Sustained at huge cost and at significant distances from Spain, the Army of Flanders also became infamous for successive mutinies and its ill-disciplined activity off the battlefield, including the Sack of Antwerp in 1576.

When De Goignies learned that the Spanish army was approaching Namur, he decided to withdraw to Gembloux. [15]

Parma's action

The Battle of Gembloux by Johann Wilhelm Baur Slag bij Gembloers.jpg
The Battle of Gembloux by Johann Wilhelm Baur

At dawn on 31 January, the Spanish army marched towards the rebel army, with the cavalry under Ottavio Gonzaga in forefront, followed by musketeers and infantry commanded by Don Cristóbal de Mondragón, and then the bulk of the army led by Don John of Austria and Don Alexander Farnese. [11] The rear of the army was left in the hands of the Count of Mansfeld. [11]

The Spanish cavalry had crossed the Meuse River and made contact with the rear of the rebel army. With the bulk of his army still south of the Meuse, John sent messages to his cavalry, now commanded by Alexander, not to approach the enemy too closely until the arrival of rest of the troops. [3] But Alexander, seeing the sorry state of the enemy forces and advised by Mondragón and Gonzaga of the opportunity to surprise the enemy, gave the order to charge. After several clashes with the Spanish cavalry, the Netherlandish cavalry, which was protecting the rear of their forces, fled towards the army, causing an enormous panic amongst the rebel troops. [3] The result was a crushing victory by Parma's cavalry. [15] The entire army's order disintegrated, and the almost unopposed Spanish cavalry massacred fleeing troops. [11] [15]

Destruction of the states-general's army

The Netherlandish army tried to regroup, but a cannon and its ammunition blew up, causing many deaths and renewed panic. Meanwhile, part of the rebel troops, mostly Dutch and Scots led by Colonel Henry Balfour, tried to take defensive positions, but could not withstand the musketeers and pikemen led by John, Mondragón and Gonzaga. [11] The Spanish victory was complete, [16] De Goignies was taken prisoner, along with a large number of his officers, [3] John captured 34 flags and banners [11] and all the artillery and baggage of the enemy, and thousands of rebel soldiers were killed or captured. [3] [15] The Spanish casualties, however, were minimal, about 12 dead and a few wounded. [13] Around 3,000 men reached Gembloux and closed the gates, but after negotiations the rebels surrendered to the Spaniards on 5 February and the city was spared from being sacked. [6]


Portrait of Don Alexander Farnese by Otto van Veen Vaenius - Alexander Farnese.png
Portrait of Don Alexander Farnese by Otto van Veen
Portrait of Don John of Austria, Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands. John of Austria portrait.jpg
Portrait of Don John of Austria, Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands.

The defeat at Gembloux forced Prince William of Orange, the leader of the revolt, to leave Brussels, along with its nominal governor, Matthias of Austria (the future Holy Roman Emperor), who had accepted the position of governor-general by the states-general, although he was not recognized by his uncle, Philip II of Spain. [11] The victory of John also meant the end of the Union of Brussels, and hastened the disintegration of the unity of the rebel provinces. [6]

John died nine months after the battle (probably from typhus), on 1 October 1578, and was succeeded by Farnese as governor-general (last desire of John that Philip II confirmed), who at the head of the Spanish army reconquered large parts of the Low Countries in the following years. [4]

On 6 January 1579 the provinces loyal to the Spanish Monarchy signed the defensive Union of Arras, expressed their loyalty to Philip II and recognized Farnese as Governor-General of the Netherlands. [17] In contrast, the provinces loyal to the Protestant cause signed the defensive Union of Utrecht. [17]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Tony Jaques p.368
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Colley Grattan p.157
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Colley Grattan. Holland p.113
  4. 1 2 Morris p. 268
  5. It was commanded by Antoine de Goignies, a gentleman of Hainault, and an old soldier of the school of Charles V. Holland. Grattan p.113
  6. 1 2 3 Tracy pp.140–141
  7. Morris p. 274
  8. Kamen, Henry (2005). Spain, 1469–1714: a society of conflict (3rd ed.). Harlow, United Kingdom: Pearson Education (Limited online by Google Books). p. 326.
  9. Tracy pp.135–136
  10. Tracy p.137
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Vicent p.228
  12. 1 2 Vicent pp.227–228
  13. 1 2 Grattan p.157
  14. Philip II of Spain. p.224
  15. 1 2 3 4 Jaques p.368
  16. Hernán/Maffi p.24
  17. 1 2 Israel p.191

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