To What Extent was the Dutch Revolt in 1572 Primarily Caused by Religion? Essay Sample

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By studying the Dutch Revolt and analysing the four passages, it is apparent that the three main causes were Philip, Alva and Religion; I will also argue that social tensions and economics were an additional contribution. It is clear that the presence of Calvinists in the Netherlands was not the most significant cause. Although Parker’s idea that the amount of Calvinist activity prompted the revolt seems valid, his argument is

argument is limited as it does not show Philip’s reactions to the activity. I intend to demonstrate that the underlying cause was Philip himself, consequently agreeing partially with Limm. However I will demonstrate that rather than it being Philip aiming to Hispanicise it is evident that his lack of dedication to the Netherlanders, alienation of the nobles and his leaving the country under inadequate control drove the Netherlanders into revolt.

I intend to show that the combination of Geyl and Limm’s interpretation is the most accurate, with Parker’s idea of the Calvinists being a catalyst to the revolt. Whilst Philip was an underlying cause who had created social tensions, Alva was the trigger for the revolt due to him worsening the economic crisis through forceful introduction of the Tenth Penny, implementing the “Blood Council” and his bad decision making which forced William of Orange to become Head of the revolt. I will also show that John Motley’s interpretation has an inaccurate, dramatic approach – although there was great fear at the thought of a Spanish Inquisition, it was never effective in the Netherlands so therefore could not be the main cause.

I disagree that religion was the main cause of the Dutch revolt. The Calvinists were harmless enough, but through Alva’s forceful introduction of the Tenth Penny the rulers of towns were too scared of the prospect of starvation to prevent the sea beggars’ iconoclastic destruction. The Protestants actions were hardly threatening; they attended open air services with preachers who made up in zeal what they lacked in education. However, Margaret’s exaggeration of the numbers of Calvinists present panicked Alva; as Parker says: there were “crowds of hundreds and then of thousands…” Alva acted extremely harshly towards them, setting up the cruel Blood Council, targeting around 9000 people – entirely contradicting Geoffrey Parker’s idea that the “protestants were in no danger”. Alva’s reaction caused destruction of Catholic images in the churches at Antwerp, and later branched out in 1572 into outbreaks of iconoclasm, consisting of Churches and monasteries being ransacked, Priests killed and churches overtaken by Calvinist congregations. Nonetheless this was not the most significant cause because although it provoked Philip and Alva to ensure a more drastic policy against heresy, it varied regionally, only peaking in Holland and Zealand.

The fear of the Inquisition being implemented was also a significant underlying tension, but again, caused by Philip; his suggestion of introducing the Spanish Inquisition had caused unrest as it would not be under local control like the Dutch inquisition. It was feared as being, as Motley says, a “coming evil still more terrible than any which had yet oppressed them.” Philip attempted to set up the Inquisition in Naples, but was met with revolt consistently throughout the 1490s and 1530s. Therefore it seems obvious that the popular fear of the Inquisition, the weakness of Margaret’s government, and above all the absence of Philip all served to encourage religious riot. However, I strongly disagree that the Inquisition was the cause of the Dutch Revolt, as Philip’s intention to have two Inquisitors as the assistants to the new bishops failed. “A spectre menacing fiercer flames and wider desolation than those which mere physical agencies could ever achieve.” Motley has been known to over exaggerate and construct unsupported judgements, so therefore is not a valuable source. He suggests that the Inquisitor’s are not “mere physical agencies”, painting them as demonic creatures – a dramatic and highly inaccurate description. Written in 1856, it may be that Motley’s motivation for these dramatised interpretations were because he wrote it fairly recently after the Inquisition was eradicated, suggesting he was opposing it strongly, hoping that others would join him in making sure it couldn’t be implemented again.

I agree with Parker’s interpretation that the Calvinist activity in the Netherlands precipitated a crisis, who makes a valid argument that when the “exiles began to organise open-air Calvinist services” it foreshadowed an uprising. Parker analyses the reason for the number of Calvinists, saying that the “widespread unemployment … left many men and women with nothing better to do” was the principal reason; therefore linking the influx of Calvinism to the economic crisis. Parker touches on the idea that the Calvinist’s presence provoked a reaction; however his argument is inadequate as he does not express Philip’s reaction, which essentially caused the revolt. Alternatively, Peter Limm correctly argues that it was Philip’s determination to eradicate Heresy that drove the rebels into revolting, expanding on Parker’s idea that the amount of Calvinists caused Philip to feel the need to act drastically.

I have interpreted that Philip was the principal cause of the Netherlands revolt; he had no intention of keeping traditional policies like the nobles wished, but instead wanted to pursue a stronger policy against heresy. His absence was significant; between October 1555 and August 1559 Philip spent all but three months in the Netherlands and was fully aware of the instability there, yet never returned. He effectively neglected the government by settling for Margaret, who had little administrative or diplomatic experience, which demonstrates his lack of interest in the running of the Netherlands. Philip was constantly distracted by wars with France and the Turks, and made it clear that the cost of keeping such a large army had to fall on the Netherlanders. Philip, as Peter Limm says, continually tried to centralize; “…believed that Spain, and especially Castile, was the centre of the Habsburg monarchy.” The Dutch nobility were distressed by Philip’s actions – his appointment of Granvelle to inner Spanish consultata and the new bishoprics scheme – 14 new bishoprics, each with two inquisitors as assistants caused cries of protests. Philip had no intention of letting the Dutch nobility control policy making – their desire to restore the traditional style of administration threatened his centralisation plans. Although I agree with Peter Limm that Philip was the main cause of the revolt, he is mistaken in thinking Philip’s aim was to Hispanicise. “Philip was less inclined than his father to compromise with traditional ruling” – however, Philip’s provinces were also worried about their traditional preferences being destroyed, thus contradicting strongly with Limm’s main argument.

Religion is a subordinate to this argument that Philip aimed to continue his father’s policy of persecuting heresy. October 1565, Philip wrote “As for the Inquisition, it is my intention it should be carried out … because this was done in the days of the late Emperor my lord and father[1].” This arguably supports Motley’s idea of the Inquisition being the main cause, however, Philip’s intention was never implemented, so was not powerful enough to be the “great cause of revolt”. Limm’s is mistaken when suggesting Philip tried to maintain traditional rulings, but when combined with Parker has a more valuable interpretation, as Limm describes the trigger of the revolt caused by Parker’s idea of Calvinist activity.

I have deciphered that the subsequent cause of the revolt was Alva. Whilst Philip is the underlying cause, Alva worsened the economic crisis by attempting to introduce the Tenth penny tax 31st July 1571, whilst his governing, as Geyl references, “consisted entirely of the organization and execution of a reign of terror” through the Blood Council. The Tenth penny implementation caused a tax strike, and the prospect of starvation made the inhabitants too scared to stop the Sea beggars. Alva effectively forced Orange into rebelling; Orange’s popularity decreased, but Alva’s attempt to confiscate all his property in 1567 caused him to take the head of the revolt.

Alva assisted Philip in taking away local traditional privileges, and undermined Margaret’s authority in the execution of Egmont and Hoorne. Some might argue that Philip was to blame for Alva’s actions as he appointed him; however Margaret was also under Philip’s control but managed to not provoke the rebels, so Alva is responsible for his own actions. In spite of this, Philip drove Alva into believing that “men should be intimidated”; Alva’s army was reduced and control over its financing was handed to the rival Eboli faction. Alva felt cheated of the King’s support which led to his obsession with victory, turning what might have been a reasonable response into a catastrophic regime of terror. Although Mechelen, Zutphen and Naarden surrendered to him in 1572, the inhabitants were massacred. After this date there was little Dutch surrender.

Whilst Geyl’s argument of Alva being a main cause is valid, he focuses primarily on the “Blood Council” rather than on Alva’s mistakes. Alva persecuted the Protestants, not the heretics, which not only links with Geoffrey Parker’s idea that the Calvinists precipitated a revolt, but also contradicts with Motley and Limm’s idea that the persecution of Heresy was the main reason. However, Alva was a short term problem, as he was replaced in 1573 yet the revolt still continued, supporting instead Peter Limm’s idea that it was Philip to blame, as his underlying social tensions lasted throughout his reign from paranoia of the amount of Calvinists – suggested by Geoffrey Parker. However it is important to see that Alva’s presence was a significant cause; in Alva’s absence, Orange’s 1568 revolt received no support, conversely in 1572 the rebels joined to fight with a common purpose; “freedom of conscience”[2], which significantly they said had been denied by Alva and Philip, not by the Spanish Inquisition, which contradicts Motley’s argument.

The underlying cause is Philip himself, and his lack of dedication to the Netherlanders. By being absent from the Netherlands for his entire reign and focusing primarily on his wars, he alienated the nobles by refusing to maintain traditional rights, and by aiming to preserve his Father’s policy of Heresy Philip also caused great unrest amongst religious laity. Through Philip’s lack of focus he abandoned them, leaving them under inadequate control: Philip left Margaret in charge, who was arguably an insufficient ruler, and appointed Alva as the royal presence of the King. However, whilst Philip was the underlying cause, Alva was the trigger for the revolt of 1572; the Blood Council was an overreaction to the amount of Calvinist activity, causing masses of unneeded massacre. His forceful introduction of the Tenth Penny heightened the economic crisis, and his intimidation made the rebels too afraid to surrender. Therefore the combination of Philip and Alva not only caused unrest in the Netherlands but their ill-made decisions increased William of Orange’s popularity and forced him into rebelling.

When assessing the historians, it seems that the most accurate interpretations are B, C and D. Pieter Geyl has correctly assessed the impact of Alva; he describes Alva’s Blood Council and touches on Alva’s savage ambition in intimidation. Nevertheless, Geyl only focuses on Alva’s persecution, but neglects his poor reaction to the rebels. Peter Limm touches on Philip being the main cause of the revolt, but although I agree Philip was the primary reason, it is clear that the idea of him pursuing a policy of Hispanicisation is not entirely accurate and may have been a misinterpretation of Philip’s absence. Although it was not main cause, I agree with Geoffrey Parker’s idea that the amount of Calvinist activity may have triggered the cause of the revolt; however his argument is limited as it does not show Philip’s reactions to the activity. Parker links Geyl’s and Limm’s interpretations to produce the most accurate analysis. The combination seems to form a strong basis on why the Revolt of 1572 occurred, but I strongly disagree with John Motley’s interpretation of the impact of the Spanish Inquisition, as although Philip did target heresy strongly, there were few Inquisitors in the Netherlands and the fear of the Inquisition was greater than the presence itself.

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