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The Inquisition of the Netherlands was an extension of the Spanish Inquisition in the Spanish Netherlands, established during the reign of Charles V. Because the idea of an Inquisition was uncongenial to the Flemish temperament, the process of introduction was a slow and gradual one from the onset. In the year 1521 Francis Van der Hulst had been appointed the first Inquisitor General of the Provinces. He and his successors, like their Spanish counterparts, were empowered by the imperial edict to actively search out and rigorously punish all those guilty or even suspected of heresy, or of aiding a heretic in any way. Such a system was easily abused; in later times it was not uncommon for informers to impeach rich citizens, merely for the sake of obtaining a share in their confiscated wealth.[1]

Before the death of Charles V, the Netherlands were mainly Catholic and thus the Inquisition did not have a very drastic impact on people's lives in general. However, with the rapid spread of Calvinism in the early years of the reign of his son, Phillip II, its scope widened vastly. The Edicts of 1521 had banned all preaching or practice of the reformed religion, even in private dwellings, and this power was now brought into full swing. The greatest of the Inquisitors was Peter Titelmann, a man described by his contemporaries as being of a demon-like Goblin temperament, knowing neither fear nor mercy.[2]

The people, protesting against the introductions of the Spanish Inquisitions in direct abeyance of all their charters and the oaths of Philip on his succession, were tranquilly told by that monarch that it was a Flemish, not a Spanish, Inquisition. Indeed, Philip had no cause to rue the fact that he had been unable to bring in the system of his own country, himself saying, "Wherefore introduce the Spanish inquisition? The inquisition of the Netherlands is much more pitiless than that of Spain." [1][3]

In fact the new Inquisition was an extraordinarily efficient system; the highest court in the land, it bypassed all common forms of justice, was without the option of appeal, and spared neither rich nor poor. It had the unlimited ability from the king to arrest, torture and execute at will. The powers invested in the Inquisition had been ratified by Philip in the first month of his reign. There were hundreds of cases in these early days of luckless individuals being dragged from their families and subjected to the most gruesome tortures, before being burnt alive at the stake, were they of the masculine sex, or buried alive in the case of women.[1]

Philip next submitted a "Memorial and Representation" of the state of the Low Countries to the Spanish Inquisition, craving the judgment of the Fathers upon it. After deliberating, the inquisitors pronounced their decision on the 16th of February, 1568. It was to the effect that, "with the exception of a select list of names which had been handed to them, all the inhabitants of the Netherlands were heretics or abettors of heresy, and so had been guilty of the crime of high treason." On the 26th of the same month, Philip confirmed this sentence by a royal proclamation, in which he commanded the decree to be carried into immediate execution, without favor or respect of persons. The King of Spain actually passed sentence of death upon a whole nation. We behold him erecting a common scaffold for its execution, and digging one vast grave for all the men, and women, and children of the Low Countries. "Since the beginning of the world," says Brandt," men have not seen or heard any parallel to this horrible sentence."[4]

Eventually, Flemmings became increasingly antipathetic towards the institution, but the resistance was initially impotent, its members being arrested for heretics. Titelmann himself said that his person was comparatively safe, as he had to do only with "the innocent and virtuous, who make no resistance, and let themselves be taken like lambs".[1]

apart from the short-lived attempt by Charles V to establish a special court for the pursuit of heretics in 1522 (possibly revived in 1550), there never was any scheme to establish a Holy Office of the sort known in Castile in the Netherlands.

— Duke (1997, p. 143)

Eventually the spirit of national resistance overcame this obstacle, and the inquisition was effectively withdrawn in 1564, but the troubles of these times did not pass until the lapse of nearly a century, and the end of the Eighty Years' War.


  1. ^ a b c d Motley, John Lothrop (1855). The Rise of the Dutch Republic.
  2. ^ Kamen, Henry (2005). Spain, 1469–1714: a society of conflict.
  3. ^ Cook, Bernard (2002). Belgium: A History.
  4. ^ Wylie, J. A. (James Aitken), 1808-1890. (2002). The history of Protestantism. Rapidan, VA: Hartland Publications. ISBN 0923309802. OCLC 469789095.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)

Further readingEdit

  • Balzani, U. (1889). THE EARLY HISTORY OF THE INQUISITION IN THE NETHERLANDS. The Academy and literature, 1914-1916, (886), 283-283.
  • Beemon, F. E. (1994). The myth of the Spanish Inquisition and the preconditions for the Dutch Revolt. Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, 85(jg), 246-264.
  • Broderick, T. New Amsterdam and the Great Dutch Toleration Debates.
  • Christman, V. (2004). Orthodoxy and opposition: The creation of a secular inquisition in early modern Brabant (Belgium, Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, The Netherlands).
  • van Dixhoorn, A. (2012). The making of a public issue in early modern Europe: the Spanish inquisition and public opinion in the Netherlands. In Beyond the public sphere: opinions, publics, spaces in early modern Europe (16th-18th centuries) (Vol. 27, pp. 249–270). Il Mulino and Duncker & Humblot.
  • Duke, A. (1997). "A legend in the making: News of the 'Spanish Inquisition' in the Low Countries in German evangelical pamphlets, 1546–1550". Nederlands archief voor kerkgeschiedenis/Dutch Review of Church History. 77 (2): 125–144. JSTOR 24011467.
  • Duke, A. (2003). The Inquisition and the Repression of Religious Dissent in the Habsburg Netherlands, 1521-1566. In L'inquisizione (pp. 419–443). Biblioteca apostolica vaticana.
  • Fredericq's (dr. P.) corpus documentorum inquisitionis haereticae pravitatis neerlandicae (book review). (1889). The Academy, 35(886), 283. Retrieved from
  • GIELIS, GERT; SOEN, VIOLET (2015). "The Inquisitorial Office in the Sixteenth-Century Habsburg Low Countries: A Dynamic Perspective". The Journal of Ecclesiastical History. Cambridge University Press (CUP). 66 (01): 47–66. doi:10.1017/s0022046914001286. ISSN 0022-0469.
  • Muchembled, R. (2000). Modern Inquisition trials in the southern Netherlands, 1520-1633, vol 1, Legislation, vol 2, The victims.
  • Van Nierop, Henk. "'And Ye Shall Hear Of Wars And Rumours Of Wars'. Rumour And The Revolt Of The Netherlands". Public Opinion and Changing Identities in the Early Modern Netherlands. Brill. doi:10.1163/ej.9789004155275.i-310.11. ISBN 978-90-04-15527-5.
  • Koenigsberger, H.G. (1998). "Reviews : Henry Kamen, Philip of Spain, New Haven, CT, Yale University Press, 1997; ISBN 0-300-07081-0; xvi + 384 pp.; £25". European History Quarterly. SAGE Publications. 28 (4): 568–571. doi:10.1177/026569149802800411. ISSN 0265-6914.
  • "The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies: Sicily, Naples, Sardinia, Milan, the Canaries, Mexico, Peru, New Granada. By Henry Charles Lea, LL.D., S.T.D. (New York and London: The Macmillan Company. 1908. Pp. xvi, 564.)". The American Historical Review. Oxford University Press. 1908. doi:10.1086/ahr/13.4.847. ISSN 1937-5239.
  • Lea, H.C. (2010). The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies: Sicily, Naples, Sardinia, Milan, the Canaries, Mexico, Peru, New Granada. Cambridge Library Collection - European History. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-108-01458-8.
  • Shepherd, William R.; Lea, Henry Charles (1908). "The Inquisition in the Spanish Dependencies". Political Science Quarterly. Wiley. 23 (2): 328. doi:10.2307/2141330. ISSN 0032-3195.
  • Thon, P. (1968). Bruegel's the triumph of death reconsidered. Renaissance Quarterly, 21(3), 289-299.
  • Young, A. (1895). History of the Netherlands (Holland and Belgium). The Werner school and family library. Werner Company. pp. 67ff.