Experience the Eighty Years’ War
During a large proportion of the 16th century the seventeen counties of the Netherlands formed part of the Spanish Empire of Emperor Charles V. The provinces had their own laws and rules, and wished to remain as independent as possible. However, Charles V wanted more power. He wanted the Netherlands to contribute to the many wars that he was conducting, and at the same time he wanted to suppress the unrest being sown there by the Protestants. The Catholic Emperor set up a special tribunal (the Inquisition) to heavily punish the ‘crimes’ against the Catholic faith. Adherence to another faith was thereby considered ‘heresy’.

Charles V abdicated in 1555. His son Philip II succeeded him, and continued his father’s strict (religious) policies. Because he lived in Spain, Philip appointed his half-sister Margaret of Parma as governor of the Netherlands. However, resistance to Philip’s policies got ever stronger. In 1566 noblemen submitted a petition to Margaret, the Smeekschrift der Edelen (Nobles’ Petition). In that same year the Beeldenstorm (or Great Iconoclasm) broke out and the first conventicle - a (secret) Protestant service in the open air - took place in Zeeland. In order to restore order Philip sent his general the Duke of Alva to the Netherlands in 1567. Whilst stadholder William of Orange initially had a good relationship with Charles V and later Philip, relations rapidly deteriorated when William fled to his castle in Dillenburg, Germany, and from there set himself up as leader of the Uprising. He became Alva’s most significant opponent.

In 1568 the Eighty Years’ War, also known as the Uprising, started with the Battle of Heiligerlee. Brielle played an important role at the start of this Uprising. The notorious Sea Beggars, directed by William, were operating at sea. They attacked ships sailing to and from the Netherlands. When they were denied permission to land in the English ports by the English Queen Elizabeth I in 1572, the Sea Beggars decided to sail to northern Germany. However, a heavy storm impeded their journey, and on 1 April 1572 under the leadership of Willem Blois van Treslong they anchored off his place of birth, Brielle. Blois van Treslong and the commander of the Sea Beggars, Admiral Lumey, decided to seize Brielle in the name of William of Orange, which they did successfully. The capture of Brielle marked the Sea Beggars’ first victory over the Spaniards. On 5 April town carpenter Rochus Meeuwisz prevented the town from falling back into Spanish hands: on that day he cut open the Nieuwlandse floodgates, as a result of which the land around the town was flooded (inundation) and the enemy’s attack could be repelled. Brielle was the first taste of freedom (Libertatis Primitiae) and Alva lost his spectacles (a pun on the Dutch word ‘bril’, which means spectacles).
The capture of Brielle had a domino effect: various Dutch towns such as Vlissingen and Zutphen felt steeled in their battle against the Spanish oppressor. The Sea Beggars also sought to capture other towns, often with success, including Alkmaar, Leiden and Haarlem.

When William of Orange was murdered in 1584 his son Maurits succeeded him as stadholder and commander of the army. In 1588 the Netherlands split into the Southern Netherlands, still under the rule of the Spanish Emperor, and the independent Northern Netherlands - the Republic. The Republic received considerable support from England in the form of funds and men. Brielle was pledged as surety for these loans. Brielle ultimately remained a surety town for a total of 30 years. The English left Brielle in 1616.
Maurits’ army became ever stronger. For example, in 1600 the Republic’s army led by Maurits defeated the Spanish army at Nieuwpoort. Trade conducted by the Dutch East Indies Company and Dutch West India Company brought wealth to the Republic. Between 1609 and 1621 the Twelve Year Truce resulted in a temporary ceasefire. However, a domestic religious conflict between the Remonstrants and the Counter-Remonstrants plunged the Dutch Republic into a civil war during this period. Maurits, a fierce supporter of Counter-Remonstrant beliefs, overrode the law in various towns, such as in Brielle in September 1618: he changed the law and replaced Remonstrant town councils with Counter-Remonstrants. Maurits and his former friend Grand Pensionary Johan van Oldenbarneveldt took opposing views in this domestic conflict, which ultimately cost Van Oldenbarneveldt his life: he was beheaded on Maurits’ orders in The Hague in 1619.

Under Maurits’ influence the Republic grew to become a strong military power. Maurits died in 1625, and was succeeded by his half-brother Frederik Hendrik. The Republic’s army achieved a number of important victories over the Spanish army in the years that followed. The Treaty of Münster was signed in 1648, ending the Eighty Years’ War. The Republic of the Netherlands became an independent state and was internationally recognised.

The museum takes the visitor on an interactive voyage of discovery through the Eighty Years’ War, whereby 1 April 1572 obviously plays a key role.