Spanish Road

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The Spanish Road stretched from the Duchy of Milan through the Habsburg Netherlands. After the abdication of Charles V both territories were at the same time part of the Holy Roman Empire and the Crown of Spain. Spanish Road.gif
The Spanish Road stretched from the Duchy of Milan through the Habsburg Netherlands. After the abdication of Charles V both territories were at the same time part of the Holy Roman Empire and the Crown of Spain.

The "Spanish Road" was a military supply/trade route used from 1567–1633, 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". [1]

Northern Italy Place in Italy

Northern Italy is a geographical and cultural region in the northern part of Italy. Non-administrative, it consists of eight administrative Regions in northern Italy: Aosta Valley, Piedmont, Liguria, Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol. As of 2014, its population was 27,801,460. Rhaeto-Romance and Gallo-Italic languages are spoken in the region, as opposed to the Italo-Dalmatian languages spoken in the rest of Italy.

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.


Soldiers were able to march the 1,000 km (620 mi) from Milan to Flanders an average of 23 km (14 mi) a day. Sea transport was much faster, able to cover about 200 kilometres (120 mi) a day, but was highly exposed to storms and enemy attacks. For large groups, overland communication was more reliable, allowing the Spanish to send over 123,000 men compared to only 17,600 by sea, between 1567 and 1633. [2]

Milan Italian city

Milan is a city in northern Italy, capital of Lombardy, and the second-most populous city in Italy after Rome, with the city proper having a population of 1,395,274 while its metropolitan city has a population of 3,250,315. Its continuously built-up urban area has a population estimated to be about 5,270,000 over 1,891 square kilometres. The wider Milan metropolitan area, known as Greater Milan, is a polycentric metropolitan region that extends over central Lombardy and eastern Piedmont and which counts an estimated total population of 7.5 million, making it by far the largest metropolitan area in Italy and the 54th largest in the world. Milan served as capital of the Western Roman Empire from 286 to 402 and the Duchy of Milan during the medieval period and early modern age.

Flanders Community and region of Belgium

Flanders is the Dutch-speaking northern portion of Belgium and one of the communities, regions and language areas of Belgium. However, there are several overlapping definitions, including ones related to culture, language, politics and history, and sometimes involving neighbouring countries. The demonym associated with Flanders is Fleming, while the corresponding adjective is Flemish. The official capital of Flanders is Brussels, although the Brussels Capital Region has an independent regional government, and the government of Flanders only oversees the community aspects of Flanders life in Brussels such as (Flemish) culture and education.


The conflict between Philip II of Spain and the Dutch rebels in the Spanish-ruled Habsburg Netherlands, culminating in the Eighty Years' War, symbolised the prominent European power struggle of the 16th century between Catholics and Protestants. [3] In 1550, the wars had stretched Spain's finances thin. [4] 1566 was known as the "Year of Hunger" or "Year of Wonders". When social, political and religious unrest culminated in the Compromise of Nobles and the Beeldenstorm , apparently endangering the government of Philip's Regent in Brussels, Margaret of Parma, Spanish troops under the Duke of Alba were dispatched to restore order and punish the perceived insurrectionists. [5] Those troops could at the time not be transported by sea and Philip was therefore forced to find a route to move troops from his garrisons in Spanish Italy overland to his Netherlands domains, crossing neutral territory. [6] The Spanish Road was surveyed and mapped out in 1566, and Alba used it in July 1567. [7]

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.

Philip II of Spain King of Spain and King of England by marriage to Mary I

Philip II of Spain was King of Spain (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.

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 Brussels his imperial capital.


To get to the Netherlands, the armies and travellers of the 16th century had to overcome many obstacles including extremely high mountain passes, large rivers, deep forests, and roadways filled with criminals. Therefore, it was necessary to find a route that would go around these barriers, for safer and easier travel, and the Spanish Road proved to be the answer. Parts of the road were already in use but it was Philip II, who in 1565, brought it together when he decided to link his territories through a route that travelled through them and neutral territory. Merchants came regularly to use parts of the road between France and Italy to trade goods with neighbouring countries. The main territories it linked were Franche-Comté, Luxembourg, and the territories of allies, Lorraine and Savoy. [1]

Franche-Comté Region of France

Franche-Comté is a cultural and historical region of eastern France. It is composed of the modern departments of Doubs, Jura, Haute-Saône and the Territoire de Belfort. In 2016, its population was 1,180,397.

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, 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.

Savoy Cultural-historical region between Western and Central Europe

Savoy is a cultural-historical region between Western and Central Europe. It comprises roughly the territory of the Western Alps between Lake Geneva in the north and Dauphiné in the south.

The layout of the Spanish Road was a large improvement over the previous system of moving troops through neutral territory. Maps used for Spanish expeditions had only the information that pertained directly to the military, excluding any other details. However, this forced the armies to use guides and scouts when they crossed unfamiliar terrain, since their extremely generalised maps could not guide them. Travellers on the road covered an average of 19 km (12 mi) a day, although in 1577 Spanish veterans left the Netherlands and marched 24 km (15 mi) a day because of the heat and in 1578, they made the trip at the rate of 37 km (23 mi) a day during the cold month of February. [1]


For military purposes, the Spanish Road was first used by the Duke of Alba in 1567, and the last army passed through it in 1620. It was not only utilised by troops, but also traders, and both were in need of food and shelter to complete their journeys. Shelter was rarely given to those who travelled on the road, especially soldiers. Officers would sometimes be able to stay in a nearby town, but their armies had to sleep under bushes or flimsy huts that they would make themselves. Residents of towns along the "road" were rightfully fearful of the armies that passed through because they would often find themselves victims of a robbery if they offered up their generosity. In 1580, the officers of the passing Spanish tercios occupied a house in Franche-Comté that had no furniture and temporary crockery that was guarded, because the providers were scared their possessions would be vandalised, burned or stolen. [1]

Duke of Alba noble rank

Duke of Alba de Tormes, commonly known as Duke of Alba, is a title of Spanish nobility that is accompanied by the dignity of Grandee of Spain. In 1472, the title of Count of Alba de Tormes, inherited by García Álvarez de Toledo, was elevated to the title of Duke of Alba de Tormes by King Henry IV of Castile.

<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.

County of Burgundy countship

The Free County of Burgundy was a medieval county of the Holy Roman Empire, within the modern region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, whose very name is still reminiscent of the title of its count: Freigraf. It should not be confused with the more westerly Duchy of Burgundy, a fiefdom of Francia since 843.

The Spanish Road was only used once or twice per year by the military, and the rest of the time by merchants. Because of this, military magazines were seen as unimportant by some countries. [1] The military did, however, use a system of providing staples called etapés. This system was going to be put into place after the successful proposal of Don Cristóbal de Benavente to the Council of War in Madrid. Unfortunately, the Spanish King was not impressed, so Madrid did not support them. However, some "governors" did think the etapés were a good idea, so they set them up along the Spanish Road, using commissioners sent by the governor of the Spanish Netherlands or by the governor of the Milan to work out pricing details, so that the providers were always paid for their services. The first type of etapés was permanent and found only in Savoy. It consisted of a place where soldiers and other travellers had access to food and shelter when they passed through. The second type was in Franche-Comté, Lorraine and the Low Countries, and was created only when arranged for in advance by a private contractor, who would work out the payments, shipments and quantities of food based on the type and schedule of each individual military excursion. [1] This system made the use of the Spanish Road more practical.


Along with the Spanish Road's military function it also became an important commercial route. The road also helped the Spanish establish permanent diplomatic contacts along its route, such as permanent embassies in Savoy and the Swiss Cantons that were supervised from Lombardy. [1] When the French Wars of Religion broke out, the Spanish and others used the route to provide personnel and materiel support to French Catholics in their fight against the Protestant claimant to the French throne, Henry of Navarre. [1]

One unintended effect of the route was the circulation of the plague by soldiers and commercial travellers to areas along its length.


The Treaty of Lyon (January 17, 1601) forced the Spanish Road to be reduced to a narrow valley and a bridge over the Rhône. This loss of territory made Spanish passage on the road dependent on the approval of France, which refused passage to Ambrosio Spinola (1601–1602) claiming that Spinola's troops were part of the conspiracy of Charles de Gontaut, Duc de Biron. In 1609, Savoy expelled Spanish garrisons, followed by an alliance with France against Spain in 1610 and a dynastic war over possession of Montferrat (1613–1617), settled by the Peace of Asti. Savoy allowed a Spanish-Italian army to pass through the Spanish Road in 1620 but its anti-Spanish Treaty in 1622 ended Spanish travel on the Spanish Road forever. [1]

Recorded expeditions

Recorded expeditions between 1567 & 1593

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Parker, Geoffrey (2004). The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road 1567-1659: The Logistics of Spanish Victory and Defeat in the Low Countries' Wars (Second ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  2. Wilson, Peter H. (2009). The Thirty Years War: Europe's Tragedy. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. ISBN   978-0-674-03634-5.
  3. Jonathan I. Israel, The Dutch Republic and the Hispanic World, 1606–1661 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 1–11.
  4. Herman Van der Wee, The Low Countries in the Early Modern World, trans. Elizabeth Fackelman (Great Britain: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 1993), 26.
  5. Herbert H. Rowen, ed. The Low Countries in Early Modern Times (New York: Harper and Row, Publishers, Inc., 1972), xviii.
  6. Parker, pp. 48–51
  7. William Gaunt, Flemish Cities: Their History and Art (Great Britain: William Gaunt and Paul Elek Productions Limited, 1969), 103; Parker, pp. 51–57.

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