The Inquisition

The Netherlands. 1555.
Troubles were brewing in the seventeen provinces of the Netherlands. The provinces were part of the empire of Emperor Charles V. They had their own laws and regulations, and wanted to remain independent as far as possible. But Charles V wanted more power in the Netherlands. He also wanted the Netherlands to help pay for the many wars he was waging. At the same time, supporters of the Reformation were calling for reforms within the Catholic Church. Charles, himself a Catholic, dealt ruthlessly with the reformers. He appointed a special tribunal (the Inquisition) to seek out ‘crimes’ against the Catholic faith and punish the heretics.
In 1555, Charles V abdicated as Lord of the Netherlands. His son Philip II succeeded him. Philip II lived in Spain, and therefore appointed his half-sister Margaret of Parma as Governor of the Netherlands. Philip continued his father’s strict religious policy. The priest Angelus Merula from Brielle was one of its victims.
Strong opposition arose to Philip II’s policy. In 1556, nobles in the Netherlands drew up a petition and presented it to Margaret. In the same year, the Iconoclasm broke out. Philip II sent the Duke of Alva to the Netherlands to restore order. William of Orange, stadtholder and leader of the rebels, was to become his greatest opponent. The Dutch Revolt – better known as the Eighty Years’ War – had begun.

Angelus Merula (1482-1557)
Angelus Merula (in Dutch: Engel de Merle) was born in Brielle in 1482. After studying for many years, he was ordained as a priest at the Dom Church in Utrecht on 5 April 1511. A month later he held his first mass in the Church of Saint Catharine.
Angelus Merula wanted to reform the Catholic Church by abolishing pilgrimages and the veneration of the saints. The Inquisition found him guilty of heresy. Merula refused to recant his views and was sentenced to death. On 26 July 1557, he was led to the stake by officials of the law. Merula died just before the sentence was carried out, probably from a heart attack. Angelus Merula bequeathed his house to Brielle, to be set up as an orphanage.

Presentation of the Petition
On 5 April 1566, two hundred unarmed nobles presented a petition to Governor Margaret of Parma. The petition called for an end to religious persecution and for the problems in the country to be discussed with the provinces of the Netherlands in a meeting with the States-General. At first, Margaret of Parma was alarmed by the number of nobles, but one of her councillors whispered to reassure her: “ce ne sont que des gueux” (“they are but beggars”). A few days later, the nobles decided to adopt the name ‘Geuzen’, a corruption of ‘gueux’. Thereafter, they wore a beggar’s pouch at their waist and a Sea Beggar’s medal around their neck or on their clothing.

The Iconoclasm
Supporters of the Reformation and other reformists gathered in secret on a regular basis to listen to sermons that were more in line with their beliefs. On 10 August 1566, one of these meetings resulted in the sacking of a monastery near Steenvoorde. The destruction spread and the Iconoclasm extended to the rest of the Netherlands via the Scheldt region. In various places, churches were stormed, altars, religious art and statues of saints were destroyed, and monastic treasuries were plundered. The iconoclasts removed statues of the saints, religious art and other unnecessary embellishments in order to make the churches suitable for their own services, in which only the Word of God was important. Motives such as poverty and discontent also influenced the iconoclasts.

The Duke of Alva (1507-1582)
On 22 August 1567, the Duke of Alva arrived in the Netherlands to restore order in the name of King Philip II. In 1567, he appointed the Council of Troubles with the aim of punishing everyone who had been involved in the Iconoclasm. William of Orange fled to Germany. Two other important Dutch nobles, the Count of Egmont and the Count of Horne, decided not to flee. Alva had them arrested shortly after his arrival. They were accused of treason and sentenced to death, as were many others.

William of Orange (1533-1584)
From 1555 onwards, William of Orange held several high offices. He became stadtholder and military commander of Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht. He was one of the most influential nobles in the Netherlands. His relationship with Philip II rapidly worsened when he began to oppose the latter’s strict regime. In 1567, William fled to the castle of Dillenburg in Germany. From there he led several military invasions to drive out the Duke of Alva. William and Philip wrote to each other regularly, each trying to persuade the other of his views.
On 10 July 1584, William of Orange was assassinated by the Catholic Balthasar Gerards.
William of Orange is regarded as the leader of the rebels and ‘Father of the Fatherland’.

The Taking of Brielle on 1 April 1572
Brielle. 1572.
The Dutch Revolt against King Philip II of Spain – better known as the Eighty Years’ War – is in full swing. William of Orange is leading the revolt from Dillenburg, with a great deal of support from the Sea Beggars. 
Sea Beggars are people who fled the regime of the Duke of Alva. They remained at sea, attacking ships that sailed in and out of harbours in the Netherlands. In 1572, Elizabeth I, Queen of England, decided to expel the Sea Beggars from the English ports. They headed for North Germany, but had to change course to avoid a heavy north-westerly storm. On 1 April 1572, Willem Blois van Treslong sailed the Sea Beggars’ fleet into the Maas estuary, anchoring at Brielle, his birthplace.
Admiral Lumey, leader of the Sea Beggars, and Blois van Treslong decided to capture Brielle. Coppelstock, the ferryman between Brielle and Maassluis, had to ask Mayor Koekebakker to hand over the town. The mayor refused. The town was then captured – in the name of Orange. Brielle thus became the first independent town in the Netherlands. Alva ‘lost his glasses’ (the name Brielle sounds like ‘bril’, the Dutch word for spectacles).
Even before 1 April 1572 there had been a great deal of fighting between the rebels and the Spanish, but Brielle was the first town to be captured. The Sea Beggars went on to capture other towns, including Vlissingen (Flushing), Alkmaar, Gorcum, Leiden and Haarlem. More and more territory thus fell into the hands of the Sea Beggars and the army of William of Orange. The Spanish were losing ground.
This video tells more about what happened on the 1st of april 1572.

Martyrs of Gorcum
In 1572, the hostilities between the Sea Beggars and the Catholics reached a nadir: in various places, priests and monks were murdered. When they captured Gorcum on 26/27 July 1572, the Sea Beggars also imprisoned a group of Catholic clergymen. They were tortured for almost two weeks to force them to renounce their faith. On 5 July 1572, they were taken by barge to Brielle to be questioned. In the night of 9 July, the nineteen clergymen were hanged in a barn at the Convent of Saint Elizabeth at Rugge, just outside Brielle.

Battles before and after Brielle
The capture of Brielle in 1572 was not an isolated event. In the preceding years, there had been several battles between the army of William of Orange and the Spanish army. But it was not until 1 April 1572 that the rebels were victorious over the Spanish, a turning point in history. The capture of Brielle was the first defeat for the Duke of Alva. After Brielle, the Sea Beggars also captured towns including Vlissingen, Haarlem, Alkmaar and Leiden.

The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (1588-1621)
The Netherlands. 1588.
Following the Dutch Revolt, the Netherlands became two new states: the Southern Netherlands, which remained loyal to King Philip II of Spain, and the independent Republic of the Seven United Netherlands in the north.
The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was a federation of the provinces Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Gelre, Overijssel, Groningen and Friesland. Each province was represented (usually by the stadtholder) in the States-General, the federal government. Each province thus had a say in matters concerning the Republic as a whole.
Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, Land’s Advocate and Grand Pensionary of the States of Holland, was one of the most influential people at the end of the 16th century.
From 1585 onwards, he had the support of Maurice of Nassau, second son of William of Orange.
As stadtholder of the provinces of Holland and Zeeland, and later also of Gelre, Utrecht and Overijssel, Maurice was commander of the army and one of the most powerful men in the Republic. He did not inherit the title of Prince of Orange until 1618.
This was the beginning of the Golden Age in the Republic. Trade was flourishing, money was flowing in, and Maurice’s army was gaining in strength. In 1609, the Twelve Years’ Truce brought a temporary break in the war against Spain. But things did not settle down. A religious conflict between the Remonstrants and Counter-Remonstrants almost led to civil war. The fruitful cooperation between the two most important men in the Republic, Maurice of Nassau and Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, also came under pressure – leading to a tragic end for one of them…

Brielle as security
William of Orange and the States of Holland and Zeeland needed support in their struggle against the Spanish, and asked the Protestant English for help in the form of weapons and money. After the death of William of Orange in 1584, and the rapprochement between the great Catholic powers Spain and France, Elizabeth I of England decided to give greater support to the cause, and to do so openly. In 1585, she sent money and troops to the Netherlands. In return, the English wanted a number of strategic towns in the Netherlands as security for later repayment. Brielle was one of these towns, as was Vlissingen.
Between 1585 and 1616, Brielle was in the hands of English as security for payment. During this period, a garrison of 800 English soldiers was stationed in and around Brielle. The English governors and deputy governors also lived in Brielle. In 1585, the chapel in the Jacobsgasthuis (then a hospice, now the Jacobskerk) was converted into a church for the English.

Prince Maurice (1567-1625)
After William of Orange died in 1584, his son Maurice succeeded him as stadtholder and commander of the army and fleet of Holland and Zeeland. Later he also became stadtholder of Utrecht, Gelderland and Overijssel and, from 1620, of Groningen and Drenthe. The duties of stadtholders were largely military, which meant that they were closely involved in the foreign policy of the Republic.
In 1590, Maurice was given command of the army and fleet of the whole Republic. Maurice proved to be a military innovator. Many of the tactical army reforms he introduced, such as the countermarch, made the army more effective. And he was successful, securing one victory after another over the Spanish.

The VOC and WIC
The first sea voyages from the Netherlands to Asia in 1595 were a great success: the trade route to the East was opened and merchants from Zeeland and Holland tried to surpass the Portuguese and the English. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt took the initiative to set up the Dutch East India Company (VOC, Verenigde Oostindische Compagnie). On 20 March 1602, the VOC was granted the Dutch monopoly on all trade in Asiatic waters beyond the Cape of Good Hope. The VOC had the power to conclude treaties, wage war and govern conquered territories in the name of the Republic.
On 3 June 1621, the States-General established the Dutch West India Company (WIC, West-Indische Compagnie). The WIC was granted a monopoly of all trade and shipping in West Africa and North and South America.
The VOC and WIC played a key role in the development of the Dutch Republic as a prosperous and influential power.

The Twelve Years’ Truce (1609-1621)
In 1609, there was a watershed in the Republic’s war against Spain. This did not please Maurice, who saw his power declining. The cessation of hostilities, which lasted twelve years, is known as the Twelve Years’ Truce. In this period, a conflict developed within the Reformed Church. The cause of the dispute was the doctrine of predestination. The Remonstrants no longer believed in predestination, and argued that man has a free will, the power to choose. The Counter-Remonstrants, on the other hand, believed that God has decided before someone is born whether they are destined for damnation or salvation.
Johan van Oldenbarnevelt supported the Remonstrants, and Maurice supported the Counter-Remonstrants. The religious conflict therefore became a political conflict. It led to riots in a number of towns. As stadtholder Maurice did not send in his troops to intervene, Van Oldenbarnevelt gave the cities permission to hire their own soldiers to quell the unrest.
Maurice, the military commander, found this unacceptable. He dismissed the mercenaries and staged a coup d’état: he rejected the law. This involved replacing local administrations with his own supporters. He ordered the arrest of Van Oldenbarnevelt and a number of his allies, including Hugo de Groot. De Groot was sentenced to life imprisonment at Castle Loevestein, but managed to escape in a book chest. Johan van Oldenbarnevelt was found guilty of high treason by a special tribunal, and sentenced to death. He was decapitated on 13 May 1619 at the Binnenhof.

Johan van Oldenbarnevelt (1547-1619)
From 1570, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt held several important positions in the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands. As a confidential advisor to William of Orange, and later to Maurice of Nassau, he was very powerful. Differences of opinion on military, political and religious matters led to clashes between Johan van Oldenbarnevelt and Maurice. This culminated in Van Oldenbarnevelt’s arrest and sentencing for high treason. He was decapitated on 13 May 1619 at the Binnenhof in The Hague.

The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands (1621-1648)
The Republic. 1625.
In 1625, Prince Frederick Henry (1584-1647) succeeded his half-brother Maurice as stadtholder of Holland, Zeeland, Gelderland, Utrecht, Overijssel and Groningen, and as commander of the army. The Republic had become a strong military power that was well equipped to fight the Spanish troops. Naval forces played an important role. The Brielle maritime heroes Maarten Tromp and Witte de With secured decisive victories, such as that in 1639 over a Spanish troop fleet in the Battle of the Downs.
The Eighty Years’ War ended in 1648 with the Peace of Münster. This was an important milestone, because the treaty secured international recognition for the Dutch Republic. The Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was now an independent state!
The Republic was a Protestant state and the open practice of other religions, such as Catholicism, was forbidden. As a result, ‘house churches’ (schuilkerken) were established. These were churches concealed in or behind houses, so that they could not be seen from the street. The government knew that the house churches existed, but turned a blind eye to them.

Naval Heroes of Brielle
On 21 October 1639, Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp and Vice-Admiral Witte de With, both of Brielle, secured a decisive victory in the Battle of the Downs with the destruction of a 55-ship Spanish war fleet – the Second Spanish Armada.

Prince Frederick Henry (1548-1647) and the Peace of Münster (1648)
In 1625, Prince Frederick Henry succeeded his half-brother Maurice as stadtholder and commander of the army. Like Maurice, he preferred to besiege towns rather than destroy armies. And he was successful. Under his command, the army of the Republic besieged and captured many towns from the Spanish, including Den Bosch, Breda, Venlo and Maastricht. This earned Frederick Henry the nickname of stedendwinger (‘taker of cities’). He was also a successful diplomat. He managed to persuade France (a Catholic country) and England (a Protestant country) to support the Republic. He also initiated the peace negotiations with Spain.
The Eighty Years’ War ended in 1648 with the signing of the Peace of Münster. The Spanish had been defeated and the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was internationally recognised as an independent state.

House Churches
In 1578, several years after the transition from the Roman Catholic religion to the Protestant religion, the practise of Catholicism was officially banned in Amsterdam. The open practice of other religions was also forbidden in other parts of the Republic. Schuilkerken (house churches) were set up. These were churches that were not recognisable as such, and were used by Catholics, Remonstrants, Lutherans and Baptists. The Protestant government knew that the house churches existed, but turned a blind eye to them. Brielle had at least one house church. The entrance was a door next to the premises of what is today Voorstraat 131.

The Netherlands. 1648.
With the signing of the Peace of Münster in 1648, the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands was internationally recognised as an independent state. In the years that followed, the Republic became involved in various wars in Europe. The wars with England and France proved very expensive. The Republic played an important role as England’s ally (King-Stadtholder William III) in the Nine Years’ War (1688-1697) and the War of Spanish Succession (1702-1713), and this placed an even greater strain on the Republic’s resources. The once-prosperous Netherlands was slowly but surely losing its powerful position. The Peace of Utrecht in 1713 finally brought a long period of peace.

Brielle today.
The Eighty Years’ War was a decisive period in the history of the Netherlands. During that period, the provinces freed themselves from the domination of foreign rulers. In fact, the Netherlands as we know it today was born when Brielle became the first of many towns to be captured from the Spanish. And that is the reason for the celebrations in Brielle on 1 April.