5.8

Gable stone in Amsterdam, showing a coin of Charles V.

Gable stone in Amsterdam, showing a coin of Charles V.

We must not fail to mention here one remarkable aspect of the Emperor’s unification policies. Each modern unified state of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries strove to achieve three aims: un roi, une loi, une foi (one king, one law, one faith). The Pragmatic Sanction fulfilled the first of these aims and the state bodies referred to above, fulfilled the second. The Inquisition or Church court was responsible for the realization of the third aim: religious unity. Divisions could not be permitted in a modern state. Most stories about the Inquisition originate from anti-Spanish propaganda and are therefore exaggerated. But the inhabitants of the Low Countries had never been confronted with anything of this nature before and experienced the Inquisition as an unprecedented reign of terror.

The Inquisition met with stiff opposition. Before a house search was carried out on the orders of this court, members of the Calvinist community in Amsterdam usually received an anonymous tip which had most probably come from the sheriff himself: he had no appetite for burning his fellow citizens on the Dam. The Inquisition ran counter to the freedom of conscience which was a condition of the consultation culture of Holland. Moreover, the resistance to it did not only arise from religious motives: because it was one of the new centralized institutions, it was automatically suspect.

The former offices of the Inquisition (Nieuwmarkt, Amsterdam)

The former offices of the Inquisition (Nieuwmarkt, Amsterdam)

The towns held on to their privileges and opposed the central institutions. In the Meeting of the Estates, they had already sabotaged the introduction of a uniform system of taxation as they were against making money available for wars, other than those fought against commercial competitors. Moreover, what annoyed the Hollanders most was that the tacit alliance between the subjects and the ruler had, in fact, been discontinued. The region was now governed by a stadtholder, from a foreign country, who in turn fell under the Spanish viceroy in faraway Brussels. Their new governors no longer strove to get consensus but gave orders; a way of governing which hearkened back to feudal times.

In 1555, Charles V abdicated in favor of his son, Philip II, a hard-working, conscientious monarch who saw it as his task to finish the centralization of the government and to build up an efficient state structure in the Netherlands. Like his father, he was King of Spain at the same time as he was Lord of the Netherlands, but unlike Charles, he spoke poor Dutch and did not feel very comfortable in Brussels. Because of this personal factor, the clash between the reactionary towns of the Netherlands and the nascent modern state Philip was attempting to create, developed into the Eighty Years War.

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