The Protestant Reformation: The Netherlands


Figure 1.--.

Erasmus strongly promoted reform of the Catholic church during the years leading to the Reformation. The Netherlands was by the early 16th century a non-German possession of German Hapsburg Emperor Charles V. The Emperor within the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) attempted to resolve the dispute with Luther and his followers diplomatically. His approach outside the Empire in the provinces where he ruled directly, he was not prepared to compromise and invoked the full force of the Inquisition. he University of Leuven (Louvain) condemned Luther's theses (1519). Emperor Charles appointed van der Hulst as the Inquisitor General to supress the Protestants in the Netherlands (1522). He applied the full force of the Inquisition and within a year there were executions. Count Alva's brutal methods in the southern Netherlands appered for a time to have succeded in destroying the Reformation in the Netherlands. Imperial forces were in control in the south. Alva when he left the Netherlands, however, was a hated man as was the emperor (1573). The Count was, however, was unable to completely eliminate Protestantism. To many people in the Netherlands had cinverted. Despite supression in the south, rebellion flared in the north. The provinces of Holland and Zeeland rose in revolt (1572). The most repected nobleman in the Netherlands, William of Orange-Nassau, had serious differences ith the Imperial government (1568). The fighting became a bitterly fought war and excesses and atricities were committed by both sides. The creation of Union of Utrecht brought on one of the longest struggles in European history--the Dutch War of Independence. It was foiught by the Dutch againt local Catholic forces and the Spanish. (Upon the death of Emperor Charles V, the Netherlands became a Spanish territory.) Fighting continued until the Peace of Utrecht (1648). The Dutch made Calvinim the sate religion or confession. They looked on Catholics with great suspission, although they were not arrested for their faith. Other religioins were tolerated, this included not only other Protestants, but the Jews as well. This made the Dutch the most tolerant people in Europe and the Netherlnds a refuge for those facing religious persecution. This was an element in the Dutch become the most prosperous people in Europe.

Erasmus

Erasmus in Rotterdam was a respected Humanist scholar during the Renaissance. He strongly promoted reform of the Catholic church during the years leading to the Reformation. He criticised moral abuses and superstitions in the church. He urged that Christians should follow the example of Christ as supreme teacher.

The Netherlands

The political status status of the Netherlands and the differet regions is quite complicated. At the time of the Reformation there were great differences among the different provinces. Several had developed along lines that was not common in Europe at the time. Flanders, Zeeland, Holland and Brabant were already heavily urbanized. Friesland and Groningen for centuries had not experienced feudalization and control by aristocratic lords. In these provinces and in Drente, the rural communities has established a significant degree of autonomy. Friesland and Groningen had a history of resisting any kind of central control. In the provinces to the south and east (roughly modern Belgium), the relation between nobility, clergy and cities was more like that of the rest of Europe, although the provinces were not accustomed to the centralized, absolutist rule that Charles V and Philip II were attempting to impldement.

Charles V (1500-58)

The Netherlands was by the early 16th century a non-German possession of German Hapsburg Emperor Charles V. Charles was born in 1500. He became king of Spain in 1516 and Holy Romam Emperor in 1519. His father was Hapsburg Philip I and Joanna of Castile. He was thus destined to inherit a realm of vast territory and power. Charles was born in Ghent and raised in the Netherlands until 1517. He was tutored by scholar Adrian of Utrecht and later by Pope Adrian VI. Few individuals even monarchs can be said to have been tutored by a pope. Beginning with the death of his father, Charles inherited a vast holdings and territories. Philip I left him the Netherlands and Franche-Comté (1506). Ferdinand his grandfather left him Castile (joint ruler with his insane mother (1516). This also meant he ruled Aragon, Navarre, Granada, Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, and the growing Spanish empire in America. Emperor Maximillian, his other grandfaher, left him Austria and other Hapsburg lands (1519). He was then elected Holy Roman Emperor. Charles married the infanta (princess) Isabella, sister of John III of Portugal, who had shortly before married Catherine, Charles's sister. Charles at a very young age was immediately confronted with Luther and the growing problem of the Reformation in Germany. His ability to handle the growing pronlem in Germany was complicated by a series of military confrintations with both France and the Turks. There was a campaign in Northern Italy (1521). Another campaign resulted in the sacking of Rome (1527). In command of Rome the Pope was in no position to annull the marriage between Henry VIII of England and Catherine of Aragon who was Charles' aunt. (Henry was furious and the result of course was the English Refotrmaion.) Charles summoned Martin Luther to the Diet of Worms (1521). Luther ereceived safe conduct, but when ordered to recant and he refused, Charles declared Luther and his followers outlaws. He was unable, however, to focus his resources to suppress the growing support for Luther as he was involved in a war supported by Henry VIII of England, against their common enemy--Frnce. Charles' forces captured François I of France and forced him to sign the Treaty of Madrid (1526) in François renounced claims on Northern Italy. As soon as he was released, however, François renounced the treaty. The situation in Germany worsened with the Peasants' Revolt and the growing Reformation, especially the formation of the Schmalkaldic League. Charles faced with problms abroad, delegated considerable responsibility for German domestic problems to his brother Ferdinand. Charles' principal problem was he faced a major military chalenge in the Mediterranean from Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman the Magnificent. This was componded by an alliance between Suleiman and François I which made it impossibe for Charles to concentrate his forces to deal with either as well as the Protestants within the Empire. Charles hope to resolve the Reformation with the opening of the Council of Trent (1545). This was in effect thge opening of the Counter Reformation. Charles manage to win the support of some German princes for the Catholic cause. He attacked the Schmalkaldic League and achieved battlefield successes against the protestant princes (1546). He defeated John Frederick I of Saxony and imprisoned Philip of Hesse (1547). Charles at the Diet of Augsburg supported doctrinal compromises that he hoped would bring the Protestants back to the Catholic Church (1547). Charles made the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands a seperate entity from both the Empire and from France which was called the "Pragmatic Sanction" (1548). These efforts, however, did not resolve the Reformation crisis. Charles worn down by constant domestic and international crises abdicated (1556). Most of his possesions and titles went to his son, Philip II of Spain. The Hapsburg territories in Germany and the Holy Roman Empire went to his brother, Ferdinand. Charles retired to the monastery of Yuste in Spain and may have suffered a nervous breakdown before dieing (1558).

Charles and the Refomation

The Emperor within the Holy Roman Empire (Germany) attempted to resolve the dispute with Luther and his followers diplomatically. As a result the early phase of the German Reformation was esentially legalistic and diplomatic. His approach outside the Empire in the provinces where he ruled directly, he was not prepared to compromise and invoked the full force of the Inquisition.

The Inquisition

The Holy Office of the Inquisition was a system of tribunals which became a permanent institution charged by the Catholic Church to eradicate heresies and preserve the Faith. The Catholic Church, reflecting its Roman origins had a hierarchical structure with a strong central bureaucracy. When Constantine made Christianity the state religion, heresy became a crime under civil and not just cannon law. Heretics could now be punished by secular authorities. For centuries the Church addressed heresy in an ad hoc manner. But in the Middle Ages a permanent structure came into being to deal with the problem. Beginning in the 12th century, the Church decided to create a permanent institution to fight heresy. The Church in the 12th century was at the peak of its power. Its moral authority was unquestioned. The Papacy decided that strong action was needed to disuade non-conformistrs like the Catahri. Pope Gregory IX in 1231 published a decree detailing severe punishment for heretics and created the Inquisition to enfirce hisb decree. Pope Gregory gave the Dominican Order responsible for organizing the search and investigation of heretics, although individual inquisators did not have to be Dominicans. Although created well before the Reformation, it was used by the Church to supress the Reformation. This was only possible, however, only in places like the Netherlands where the civil authorities were supportive.

Efforts at Supression

The University of Leuven (Louvain) condemned Luther's theses (1519). This provided the theological basis for the Inquisition to proceed. Charles V took personal control of the Inquisition. Emperor Charles appointed van der Hulst as the Inquisitor General to supress the Protestants in the Netherlands (1522). He applied the full force of the Inquisition. Within a year, the first two Lutherans, Endrik Voes and Jan van Essen, both from Antwerp, were burnt at the stake in Brussels (1523). Jan de Bakker, a priest from Woerden, was burnt at the stake (1525). Luther's ideas apealed tomany in the Netherlands, but the repressive measures of the Inquisition detered many and forced others into hiding.

Protestants in the Netherlands

The Germamn Protestant leader Martin Luther was, partly because he was the first to successfuly speak out. Luther was, however, not the only Protestant leder that found adherents and as the Reformation developed these other Protestant leaders, especially the Calvanists, proved the most influenhtial. There were basiclly three groupos of Protestant in the Netherlands. The smallest group was the Lutherans. The most important group were the Sacramentarians who were heavily influenced by the French theologian Jean Calvin who preached and wrote from the saftey og Geneva. There were also the Anabaptists.

The Anabaptists

An Amsterdam baker Jan Matthijs preached Anabaptism and a following developed around him. They attempted, but failed to seize control of the city. When they failed, they were were forced to flee from the Netherlands to Germany. They went to Münster in Westphalia. They seized control of the city and established a local theocracy. The city was subsequently retaken by the bishop and Matthijs and the Anabaptists supressed. The character of the Anapatist movement that remained in the Netherlands changed after Matthijs fled. Menno Simonsz played a prominent role in making Anabaptists a reclusive, pacifist community that rejected government authority.

The Mennonites

Mennonite communities emerged in isolated Friesland. They managed to survive, in part because the local authorities did not have the force to suppress them. Some Mennoites later emmigrated to America where they are often referred to as the Pennsylvania Dutch.

Spread of Calvanism

Calvinism reached the Netherlands in the 1540s well after thecReformation was established in Germany. The first Calvinist to make an impression was Pierre Brully (1545). He had studied under Calvin himself. Calvanists began to make headway in the south during the 1560s. Protestants began singing songs with religious messages called Chanteries on the street. Guido de Bries authored the Confessio Belgica which was Calvinist testimonial (1561). The Calvanists who were not allowed to build churches began holding Hedge Sermons (1562). One of the issues separating Protestants and Catholics was the veneration of icons. Protestant sympthetizers voiced increasing objections to the icons in the churches and veneration of the icons, including public processions. Eventually riots occurred in the streets. The first was at Valenciennes (1562). The Heidelberg Catechism was translated into Dutch (1563). Such publications were illgal, but even the Inquisition found it impossible to control.

Council of Trent (1545-63)

The Council of Trent was the 19th ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic church. It was a protracted assessment of the issues raised by the Reformaytion. It was held at Trent during 1545-63. The Concil was a key element in the Counter Revolution and efforts to meet the challenge of the Protestants. Church leaders had propsed a couuncil years earlier. The idea of a Council had a first been opposed by the papacy which feared it might weaken their authority. King Francis I of France opposed it because the Reformation turmoil in Germany weakened his arch opponent Charles V. The council was held in three prolonged sessions (1545-47, 1551-52, and 1562-63) during the reign of three different popes (Paul III, Julius III, Pius IV). The decrees of the Council were confirmed by Pope Pius IV in 1564. The results were announced in the Netherlands (1565).

The Pragmatic Sanction (1548)

Charles made the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands a seperate entity from both the Empire and from France which was called the "Pragmatic Sanction" (1548).

Philip II (1527-98)

Philip ascended the Spanish throne when his father Holy Roman Emperor Charles V abdicated (1556). He had previously given Philip several territories, including Naples and Sicily, the Netherlands, Franche-Comté, and the duchy of Milan. Philip's first wife, Maria of Portugal died giving birth to Don Carlos (1545-68). Philip married Englnd's Catholic Queen Mary I (1554), hoping to restore Catholicis, but there was no children. Mary almost had her Protestant half-sister Elizabeth executed, but Philip counseld against it. Philip continued his father’s confrontation with France and induced England to join the war. Spain defeated the French at St.-Quentin (1557), but England lost Calais (1558). When Mary died (1558), Philip proposed to Elizabeth, the ne queen, but she declined. Philip ended the wr wih France with the Treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis, validated by Philip’s marriage to Elizabeth of Valois (1559). Philip was devouted to the Roman Catholic Church and attempted to supress the Reformation, but often subordinated religious matters to Spanish diplomacy. Despite his Catholcism, Philip had poor relations with the papacy, in part because of Spain's Itlalian possessions. Philip's image in history is in large measure formed by his use of the Spanish Inquisition to both deal with religious heresy and deal with his policy of centralizing power and absolutist rule. The repression of the Moriscos is often noted as an exampl of religious supression (1568-71), but was also part of a joint efforts with his half-brother, John of Austria (1545-78) against the Ottomons. John defeated the Ottomons at Lepanto. Much of reign was concerned with the Netherlands. Philip appointed the Duke of Alba to replace his half-sister, Margaret of Parma, as Governor General in the Netherlands (1567). Alba’s methods achieved some success in the south, but failed to defeat the Dutch revolt in the north. Philip subsequently supported more conciliatory tactics and reconquered the southern portion of what had been the Spanish Netherlands. The Dutch were aided by the English. This support and attacks on Spanish treasure ships led Philip to the building of the enormously expensive Great Armada which was destroyed by the English and storms (1588). The Dutch were also aided by French Protestants. Philip entered the French Wars of Religion to assisst the Catholic League against the Protestant Henry of Navarre (Henry IV) (1590). In the process, Philip claimed the French throne for his daughter Isabella but was finally had to admit defeat and recognize Henry (1598). Huge quantities of gold and silver flowed into Spain from the Americ's during Philip's rule. The Spanish economy, however, was adversely affected. Incredibly Philip was also forced to impose burdensome taxes to support his wars against France, the Dutch, and the English. He also had to borrow enormous sums, which he repudiated four times. His son by Anne of Austria, Philip III, suceeded him.

Opposition Intensifies

With the accession of Philip (1558), the situation in the Netherlands only worsened. ands, Philip II continued the policies of heavy taxation instituted by his father Charles V. he continued excluding the locl nobility from royal posts, maintained a large army of occupation, and promoted the Inquisition to stop the advance of Calvinism.

Church Reform (1559)

The Catholic Church promulgated some reforms to deal administratively with some of the issues raised by the Protestants (1559). The reforms in part instituted professional education as a qualification for important Church posts. While not molifying Protestants, the reforms alienated some of the Church's most influential supporters. It meant that not only did foreigners have more opportunities for Church posts, but educated commoners now could compete with scions of nobel families who commonly had connections but few academic credentials. This created considerable opposition from nobel families that were now effectively denied positions creating considerable criticism.

The Nobility

The increasing accptance of Calvinism among the population people was creating difficulties for the local nobility. Charles and Philip's distrust of the local nobility alientated many. Calvinist leaders met with nobels to discuss the state suppression of Calvinism. A resulting petition demanding the inquisition be controlled was delivered to Charles V's Governess General, Margaret of Parma(1566). (A female Imperial official was highly unusual.) She rejected it contemptuously.

Open Revolt

The domestic situation in the Netherlands became explosive after the imperial government refused to negotiate with the Calvanists. Hedge semons increased over a wide area of the Netherlands. Domestic conditions in the Netherlands became explosive when grain prices rose to high levels. This was unrelated to the Reformation and caused by the outbreak of the Dano-Swedish War (1563-70). Iconoclastic riots occured throught the south. Open rebellion occurred in Tournai (1566). The imperial government prepared to supress treason made more henious in Philip's view because it combined with heresy. Philip issued a new sales tax of about 10 percent to finance the military expenditures.

Supression in the South (1566-1567)

The Calvinists bracing for Imperial military action raised an army. The Imperial forces first restored authority in Tournai (1567). The Imperial forces defeated the Calvinists at the Battle of Mokerhei (1567). The Emperor replaced Margaret of Parma as Governer General with Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, the Duke of Alva. The Duke created the Council of Troubles to root out the Calvanists. The Council known by the Dutch as the Council of Blood acted with great severity. The Council sentenced about 3,000 suspected Calvanists to death, including nobels like Counts Egmont and Hoorn. Here we do not have details on what happened to the families involved. We believe that most of those sentenced were men. We do not know what happened to the families. Men were of course the family providers. Often in such actions, property was also taken. We hope to eventually acquire details on this. It looked like the Reformatioin had been extinguished in the Netherlands.

William the Silent

Revolt lared again led by William the Silent of the House of Orange (1568). It ws supressed by the Duke of Alva.
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Dutch Rebellion in the North (1572-79)

Count Alva's brutal methods in the southern Netherlands appered for a time to have succeded in destroying the Reformation in the Netherlands. Imperial forces were in control in the south. Alva when he left the Netherlands, however, was a hated man as was the emperor (1573). The Count was, however, was unable to completely eliminate Protestantism. To many people in the Netherlands had cinverted. Despite supression in the south, rebellion flared in the north. The provinces of Holland and Zeeland rose in revolt (1572). The most repected nobleman in the Netherlands, William of Orange-Nassau, had serious differences ith the Imperial government (1568). The fighting became a bitterly fought war and excesses and atricities were committed by both sides. Imperial forces faced stiff opposition. The Dutch knew what awaited them if they failed. The Dutch general Watergeuzen took the town of Gorcum nd nine Catholic priests were nasacred. They became known as the Martyrs of Gorcum. Philip's Spanish troops wavered. After the Pacification of Ghent (1576), poorly supported often hungry Spanish troops that had seemd invincible, mutinied. Dutch Calvinists insisted on expelling the Spanish solders and that the Estates General should rule. The Spanish took advantage of the strong variation between the northern and southern provinces, playing local aristocrats against each other and recapturing the Southern provinces while the north would fall under the Estates-General of the United Provinces. Cities throughout the Netherlands, especially in the north, ousted the Imperial city council and replaced it with Calvinist sympithizers (1578). The French-speaking souther territories established the Union Of Arras which confirmed the acceptance of Tridentine Catholicism. The Dutch speaking provinces formed the Union of Utrecht (1579). (One can not equate this division with the modern Netherlands and Belgium. Belgium includes Dutch speaking Flanders.)

War of Dutch Independence (1579-1648)

The creation of Union of Utrecht brought on one of the longest struggles in European history--the Dutch War of Independence. It was foiught by the Dutch againt local Catholic forces and the Spanih. (Upon the death of Emperor Charles V, the Netherlands became a Spanish territory.) The Union of Utrecht upon its establidshment abolished religious persecution (1579). Religion was to be determined by the constiuent territories. Archbishop Frederik van Schenck van Toutenberg died and at that point the Calvinism was introduced in Utrecht (1580). The seven United Provinces eventually declared their independence from the Spanish king in 1581 following the Union of Utrecht of 1579. The Dutch in areas they controlled introduced a Calvinist state confession. Dutch speaking areas under Spanish control (roughly Flanders in modern Belgium--Noord Brabant, Limburg, and eastern Gelderland) experienced conversion at the hands of the Counter Reformation and were compeled to accept Tridentine Catholicsm. Here we do not yet have details on the actual process. Over the course of the war, control of these provinces swayed back and forth. The Dutch upon taking any of these areas looked on them as occupied enemy territory. Politically they were established as Lands of the Generality. They were denied representation in the Dutch Estates General. Catholics were prohibited from holding public office. Jean Taffin published his book Marks of God's Childre (1585). It was a sensation among Dutch and French Protestants. He offered encouragement to those engaged in spiritual warfare. The Dutch Government founded th University of Leiden s a Calvanist institution (1575). It became a noted center of Calvanist teaching. It was also center of a debate which developed among Calvanist threologians. Jacobus Arminius and Gaomarus were leading figures and taught differing interpretations of scripture. The followeres became known as Remonstranten (Arminius) and Contraremonstranten (Gaomarus). Upon the death of Armminius, Calninists split into rival groups (1609). Many of the city councils were Remonstranten. Stadholder, Maurice of Orange-Nassau supported the Contraremonstranten. It was the Contraremonstranten and Stadtholder Maurice who emerged victorious. Remonstranten supporter Johan Oldembarneveld, Pensionary of Holland, was tried and executed. The Council of Dordt (Dordrecht) condened the Remonstranten or Arminian interpretatioin. The Canons of the Council of Dordt are today still used by Calvanist theologiands around the world. The Calvanists punlished their vesion of the Bible, the Statenbijbel (1637). Fighting continued until the Peace of Utrecht (1648). The Dutch made Calvinim the sate religion or confession. They looked on Catholics with great suspission, although they were not arrested for their faith. Other religioins were tolerated, this included not only other Protestants, but the Jews as well. This made the Dutch the most tolerant people in Europe and the Netherlnds a refuge for those facing religious persecution. This was an element in the Dutch become the most prosperous people in Europe.

The Netherlands

The House of Orange, the dynasty of Stadholder Maurice, was to eventually become the Dutch royal family. Before that occurred, Maurice's descendents, William II and William III were to play major roles in Dutch history. William III also became king of England and carried out the Glrious Revolution. The foe he faced was Louis XIV and his effort to dominate not ony the cDutch, but much of Europe as well.

Dutch Art

Dutch artists provide us fascinating view of the every day life of Dutch Protestants. The Netherlands is a small country, but with a glorious artistic tradition. The high point is the Dutch School of the 17th century. Some of the leading artists were Frans Hals and Rembrandt. Related to the Dutch are the Flemish artists. While Flanders is today part of Belgium, the Flemish speak Dutch and it is difficult to separate them from the Dutch in the artistic tradition of northern Europe.







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Created: August 29, 2003
Last updated: October 3, 2003