Fall of Antwerp

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Siege of Antwerp
Part of the Eighty Years' War
Schip Fin de la Guerre.jpg
Dutch Finis Bellis , a fortified ship meant to break the Spanish blockade.
DateJuly 1584 – 17 August 1585
Location
Antwerp (present-day Belgium)
Result Decisive Spanish victory
Belligerents
Statenvlag.svg Estates General
Supported by:
Flag of England.svg  England
Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Spain
Commanders and leaders
Statenvlag.svg Philips van Marnix Flag of Cross of Burgundy.svg Alessandro Farnese
Strength
80,000 men
(Inhabitants)
40,000 men
Casualties and losses
8,000 Unknown

The Fall of Antwerp on 17 August 1585 took place during the Eighty Years' War, after a siege lasting over a year from July 1584 until August 1585. The city of Antwerp was the capital of the new Protestant-dominated Dutch Revolt, but was forced to surrender to the Spanish forces. Under the terms agreed all Protestants were given four years to settle their affairs and leave the city. Many migrated north, especially to Amsterdam, which became the capital of the Dutch Republic. Apart from losing a high proportion of its mercantile population, Antwerp's trade suffered for two centuries as Dutch forts blockaded the River Scheldt up to 1795.

Eighty Years War 16th and 17th-century Dutch revolt against the Habsburgs

The Eighty Years' War or Dutch War of Independence (1568–1648) was a revolt of the Seventeen Provinces of what are today the Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg against Philip II of Spain, the sovereign of the Habsburg Netherlands. After the initial stages, Philip II deployed his armies and regained control over most of the rebelling provinces. Under the leadership of the exiled William the Silent, the northern provinces continued their resistance. They eventually were able to oust the Habsburg armies, and in 1581 they established the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. The war continued in other areas, although the heartland of the republic was no longer threatened; this included the beginnings of the Dutch Colonial Empire, which at the time were conceived as carrying overseas the war with Spain. The Dutch Republic was recognized by Spain and the major European powers in 1609 at the start of the Twelve Years' Truce. Hostilities broke out again around 1619, as part of the broader Thirty Years' War. An end was reached in 1648 with the Peace of Münster, when the Dutch Republic was definitively recognised as an independent country no longer part of the Holy Roman Empire. The Peace of Münster is sometimes considered the beginning of the Dutch Golden Age.

Antwerp Municipality in Flemish Community, Belgium

Antwerp is a city in Belgium, and is the capital of Antwerp province in Flanders. With a population of 520,504, it is the most populous city proper in Belgium, and with 1,200,000 the second largest metropolitan region after Brussels.

Dutch Revolt war in the 16th century

The Dutch Revolt (1568–1648) was the revolt of the northern, largely Protestant Seven Provinces of the Low Countries against the rule of the Roman Catholic Habsburg King Philip II of Spain, hereditary ruler of the provinces. The northern provinces (Netherlands) eventually separated from the southern provinces, which continued under Habsburg Spain until 1714.

Contents

Background

At the time Antwerp, in modern Belgium, was not only the largest Dutch city, but was also the cultural, economic and financial centre of the Seventeen Provinces and of north-western Europe. On 4 November 1576, unpaid Spanish soldiery mutinied: they plundered and burnt the city during what was called the Spanish Fury. Thousands of citizens were massacred and hundreds of houses were burnt down. As a result, Antwerp became even more engaged in the rebellion against the rule of Habsburg Spain. The city joined the Union of Utrecht (1579) and became the capital of the Dutch Revolt, which no longer was merely a Protestant rebellion but had become a revolt of all Dutch provinces.

Belgium Federal constitutional monarchy in Western Europe

Belgium, officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a country in Western Europe. It is bordered by the Netherlands to the north, Germany to the east, Luxembourg to the southeast, France to the southwest, and the North Sea to the northwest. It covers an area of 30,688 square kilometres (11,849 sq mi) and has a population of more than 11.4 million. The capital and largest city is Brussels; other major cities are Antwerp, Ghent, Charleroi and Liège.

Habsburg Netherlands Historical region in the Low Countries, 1482–1581

Habsburg Netherlands, also referred to as Flanders during the early modern period, is the collective name of Holy Roman Empire fiefs in the Low Countries held by the House of Habsburg. The rule began in 1482, when after the death of the Valois-Burgundy duke Charles the Bold the Burgundian Netherlands fell to the Habsburg dynasty by the marriage of Charles's daughter Mary of Burgundy to Archduke Maximilian I of Austria. Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor was born in the Habsburg Netherlands and made the Low Countries the core of his "empire on which the sun never sets".

Seventeen Provinces Union of states in the Netherlands in the 15th and 16th centuries

The Seventeen Provinces were the Imperial states of the Habsburg Netherlands in the 16th century. They roughly covered the Low Countries, i.e. what is now the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and most of the French departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais (Artois). Also within this area were semi-independent fiefdoms, mainly ecclesiastical ones, such as Liège, Cambrai and Stavelot-Malmedy.

Relieved from the great battles with the Ottomans in the Mediterranean, Philip II of Spain turned his attention back to the uprising in the Low Countries and in 1579 sent Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma to head his army in Flanders to regain control over Flanders, Brabant and the United Provinces. When the siege of Antwerp began (1584) most of the County of Flanders and the Duchy of Brabant, including Brussels, had been recaptured in the preceding year. The army of Flanders had been reinforced in the previous years, both in quantity and quality, and in 1585 it had 61,000 men under arms.

Philip II of Spain 16th-century King of Spain who became King of England by marriage

Philip II of Spain was King of Castile and Aragon (1556–98), King of Portugal, King of Naples and Sicily, and jure uxoris King of England and Ireland. He was also Duke of Milan. From 1555 he was lord of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands.

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.

County of Flanders French fiefdom and historic territory in the Low Countries

The County of Flanders was a historic territory in the Low Countries.

The siege begins

Parma nearly died during the attack on his pontoon bridge in 1585. Famiano Strada: Histoire de la guerre des Pais-Bas, 1727. Famiano-Strada-Histoire-de-la-guerre-des-Pais-Bas MG 8979.tif
Parma nearly died during the attack on his pontoon bridge in 1585. Famiano Strada: Histoire de la guerre des Païs-Bas, 1727.
Defeat of the rebels on the Kouwensteinsedijk near the pontoon bridge, 26 May 1585. Lamberecht Cause in Famiano Strada Histoire de la guerre des Pais Bas, 1727. Famiano-Strada-Histoire-de-la-guerre-des-Pais-Bas MG 8981.tif
Defeat of the rebels on the Kouwensteinsedijk near the pontoon bridge, 26 May 1585. Lamberecht Causé in Famiano Strada Histoire de la guerre des Païs Bas, 1727.

During the recapture of Flanders and Brabant, Parma improved the logistics of the Spanish army in Flanders by further investing in what is dubbed the "Spanish Route." It was a main road leading north from Habsburg holdings in Northern Italy into the Low Countries, protected by forts built at strategic intervals, to provide the army with a reliable flow of supplies. When the siege of Antwerp began Parma's army was well supplied. The first stage of the siege saw encirclement lines constructed around Antwerp and forts built along the Scheldt estuary.

Spanish Road

The "Spanish Road" was a military supply/trade route used from 1567–1620, which stretched from Northern Italy to the Low Countries. It crossed through relatively neutral territory, and was therefore Europe's most preferred military route. In the days of its use it was known in French as "le chemin des Espagnols".

Scheldt river in France, Belgium and the Netherlands

The Scheldt is a 350-kilometre (220 mi) long river in northern France, western Belgium, and the southwestern part of the Netherlands. Its name is derived from an adjective corresponding to Old English sceald ("shallow"), Modern English shoal, Low German schol, West Frisian skol, and Swedish (obsolete) skäll ("thin").

The second stage consisted of commencing a long siege of Antwerp and constructing a bridge across the Scheldt, effectively closing off the city's waterways. The bridge, a unique feat of siege engineering at its time, consisted of a strong fort (reinforced with cannons) on each side of the Scheldt with a bridge of connected pontoons (paintings show sizable rowing boats) running between them. (This bridge is believed to have been 730m long.)

In response to the closure of the Scheldt by this bridge, the Dutch flooded the lowlands adjacent to the Scheldt, effectively submerging most roads in scattered areas and leaving Spanish forts either flooded or isolated on small islands. Despite the Dutch using these floodplains to try to regain control over the Scheldt (using low draft oar and sail boats with small cannon emplacements on them), the Spanish position largely held firm, as many of the Spanish forts had been equipped with cannon and high quality troops. Several attempts were made by the Dutch to steer "fire ships" into the Spanish pontoon bridge, but the troops stationed in the adjacent forts managed to push them off course with pikes – though with heavy loss of life when the fire ships exploded. 800 Spaniards are said to have been killed, Caspar de Robles being one of the casualties.

Hellburners

Hellburners were specialised fireships used in the Siege of Antwerp (1584-1585) during the Eighty Years' War between the Dutch rebels and the Habsburgs. They were floating bombs, also called "Antwerp Fire", and did immense damage to the Spanish besiegers. Hellburners have been described as an early form of weapons of mass destruction.

Caspar de Robles or Gaspard di Robles, also known as Billy in Artois, was Stadholder of Friesland and Groningen at the beginning of the Eighty Years' War.

At one time, the rebels sent the Finis Bellis ("End of War"), a huge floating platform into which they put great hope, against the bridge, but the mission failed. In the end the Dutch abandoned their efforts, considering Antwerp a lost cause.

Surrender

On 17 August 1585, Antwerp surrendered. After the siege, the Dutch fleet on the river Scheldt was kept in position, blocking the city's access to the sea and cutting it off from international trade. Parma stationed experienced Castilian troops within Antwerp to make sure the city would not fall into enemy hands. The moderateness of Parma's demands and the behaviour of his troops were a complete surprise given the bloodiness of the siege and the rampage of 1576. Parma issued strict orders not to sack the city. The Spanish troops behaved impeccably, and Antwerp's Protestant population was given four years to settle their affairs before leaving. [1]

Some returned to Roman Catholicism but many moved north and ended what had been a golden century for the city. Of the pre-siege population of 100,000 people, only 40,000 remained. Many of Antwerp's skilled tradesmen were included in the Protestant migration to the north, laying the commercial foundation for the subsequent "Dutch Golden Age" of the northern United Provinces. Although the city returned to prosperity, the Dutch blockade of commercial shipping in the Scheldt remained in place and prevented the city recovering its former glory. The blockade was maintained for the next two centuries and was an important and traumatic element in the history of relations between the Netherlands and what was to become Belgium.

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References

  1. Alfons K. L. Thijs, Van Geuzenstad tot katholiek bolwerk: Maatschappelijke betekenis van de kerk in contrareformatorisch Antwerpen (Antwerp, 1990), p. 102.

Further reading

Coordinates: 51°13′00″N4°24′00″E / 51.2167°N 4.4°E / 51.2167; 4.4