The Martyrs of Gorcum

The Martyrs of Gorinchem

For the Hollanders and the Zeelanders, seeking to impose the alcabala was the last straw and they refused to cooperate, citing the stipulation that ‘old laws and customs are indissoluble and must remain so; if a monarch goes against this, no one is obliged to obey him’. Their towns chose the side of the so-called Geuzen (‘Beggars’), a name assumed by a group of Calvinist Dutch nobles and other malcontents, who from 1566 opposed Spanish rule in the Netherlands. In April 1572, de Geuzen, in alliance with William the Silent, captured the towns of Brill, Flushing, and Veere.

In the eyes of many contemporaries this was a revolt of Calvinists in Holland against the Catholic Spanish government. It is true that religion played an important role, but the resistance to the politics of centralization was just as big an issue. The root cause was that one of the two pillars of the consensus culture had collapsed: the governor had become too far removed from his subjects. This fact explains both the rise of Calvinism and the tenacity of the regions in holding on to their regional privileges, resisting vigorously a modern government bent on centralization. When Alva demanded rights without seeking consensus via the Estates, he pushed the regions into revolt. And from revolt came revolution.

And indeed this was a revolution with all the accompanying atrocities. The bloodbath that the Geuzen perpetrated in the monastery at Gorinchem, where nineteen monks were hanged, shocked more people than just Catholics. In great haste, the Estates of Holland met in Dordrecht on 19 July. Action had to be taken against the Geuzen, who threatened to do more harm than good. That is why those present at the meeting of the Estates voted to replace the stadtholder appointed by Alva, with the one person who could exercise any influence on the Geuzen: William the Silent.

Revolution: minutes of the meeting of the States-General of @ 1572.

Revolution: minutes of the meeting of the Estates of Holland, July 1572.

It was this meeting that was the real revolution of 1572. By convening it, the Estates had exceeded their authority. Their claim that ‘the Estates are free to meet without permission of the Count where and when they please’ was very debatable. Furthermore, the composition of the meeting was illegal: instead of six, there were eighteen towns represented.

On the other hand, the Estates of Holland could appeal to an ancient and time-honored tradition of consensus, and to the fact that there was now someone who could take over the role of ruler in a credible way. The tacit alliance had been reinstated – albeit with a prince who behaved as if he were Count of Holland – but now it was directed against the legal representative of the king.

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