Siege of Valenciennes (1567)

The siege of Valenciennes took place between 6 December 1566 and 23 March 1567 at Valenciennes, then in the Habsburg Netherlands. It is considered the first siege of the Eighty Years' War. Among the victims of the repression that followed the fall of the city was the author of the Belgic Confession, Guido de Bres.

Siege of Valenciennes from Famiano Strada: De Bello belgico decades duae (reprint 1727)


Valenciennes in the Middle Ages was a place of refuge that offered the right of asylum to criminals and debtors. This privilege was respected by the authorities of the Habsburg Netherlands, but when the city extended it to heretics, that was a step too far.[1] Still, that happened after on 24 August 1566 ecclesiastical property was destroyed by Calvinists in the course of the Beeldenstorm, and the local authorities did nothing. The Governor of the Netherlands, Margaret of Parma, ordered several cities involved in these riots to accept garrisons of royal troops[Note 1] to prevent a recurrence, but Valenciennes was one of the cities that refused. Philip of Noircarmes the stadtholder of the County of Hainaut in which Valenciennes was located, asked the magistrates of the city to meet him in Condé in December 1566, to discuss the matter, and the pensionary of the city agreed to his demand that a garrison would be admitted. But the magistrates were not in control. In the night of 5 on 6 December a local Calvinist preacher, Peregrin de la Grange, exclaimed during a town meeting

May I grow mute like a fish; may the tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, before I persuade my people to accept a garrison of cruel mercenaries, by whom their rights of conscience are trampled upon.[2]

Consequently the city refused the demand. On 14 December Duchess-Regent Margaret issued a proclamation in which she declared the citizens of Valenciennes rebels and the city in a state of siege.[2]

The siegeEdit

At first Noircarmes limited himself to enclosing the city, without bombarding it. The defenders were very cocky, frequently sallying forth and making forays to nearby monasteries where they collected the rubble of the recent iconoclastic fury as building material for a bridge fording a nearby river (which they named the "Bridge of Idols"[3]). They mocked Noircarmes and six of his subordinates by calling them "the Seven Sleepers" for their apparent indolence.[3] Another taunt was that they painted giant "spectacles" on the ramparts so as to spy the arrival of the siege artillery that the besiegers had threatened to assemble.[3]

Meanwhile the defenders put their hope on their co-religionists for relief of the city. However forces of irregular Calvinist troops were defeated and massacred at Lannoy and Wattrelos in early January 1567.[4] Noircarmes now tightened the noose around the city, pillaging the surrounding countryside and laying waste to the fields. But the citizens rallied to the cause, forming bands of volunteer-fighters. They also appealed to the knights of the Golden Fleece to come to their aid, but without effect.[5]

Meanwhile Count Hendrick van Brederode, one of the leaders of the Compromise of Nobles, planned a diversion from his fief of Vianen. But he did not receive support of the other leader of the opposition to the regime, William of Orange, though that grandee maintained an ambiguous position, leaving the Duchess uncertain of his support. Early in February 1567 Brederode and other opposition leaders visited Orange in his fief of Breda, but the Prince did not express his support for a new petition Brederode wanted to present to the Duchess.[6] Brederode then went to Antwerp from whence he sent his petition, containing demands to allow the free exercise of the Calvinist religion, to the government in Brussels. This demand was counter-productive as the Duchess rescinded the concessions in the matter of allowing limited freedom of worship she had made the previous August in the aftermath of the Beeldenstorm. Brederode in reaction started recruiting troops[7]

But then the calamity of the Battle of Oosterweel took place on 13 March 1567. The Calvinist force that took part in that battle under the walls of Antwerp was massacred by royalist troops. This force, commanded by a brother of Philips of Marnix, Lord of Saint-Aldegonde, had intended to come to the aid of Valenciennes. But instead the defeat curbed the hopes the defenders of that city may have had.[8]

Valenciennes' sister city Doornik had already surrendered to Noircarmes in early January. Now he started the endgame at Valenciennes. First the Duchess sent Lamoral, Count of Egmont, and Philippe III de Croÿ with a final ultimatum to Valenciennes. Negotiations between these grandees and commissioners from the city remained without result, and the ultimatum was rejected.[9]

On 20 March a cannonade of the city started that lasted for 36 hours. The artillery first battered the "White tower" that bore the inscription

Quand chacun sera satisfaict/ Et la justice regnera/ Ce boulevard sera parfaict/ Et la muette parlera[Note 2]

Motley writes that this doggerel was seen as a "baleful prophecy" of things to come.[10][Note 3] On 23 March (Palm Sunday) the city surrendered on condition that it would not be sacked and that half the inhabitants would be spared.[10]


But Noircarmes almost instantly broke his promise. His soldiers were quartered upon the citizens and the most important citizens were immediately arrested. The ministers of the Protestant faith De la Grange and Guido de Bres initially escaped, but were soon brought back. They were both hanged on 31 May 1567.Many other citizens shared their fate in the coming months.[11]

Noircarmes wrote with satisfaction to Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle, the chief minister of the Duchess:

The capture of Valenciennes has worked a miracle. The other cities come all forth to meet me, putting a rope around their own necks[12]

Notes and referencesEdit


  1. ^ It is often presumed that these troops were Spanish mercenaries, but this is not correct. King Philip had commissioned Eric II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg to recruit ten thousand German landsknechte and three thousand reiter. This was later augmented with two more foreign regiments and five native Netherlandish ones, among whom two of Walloons; Cf. Davies, pp. 531, 536.
  2. ^ When every man receives his own/ And justice reigns/ Perfect shall be this Bulwark/And the dumb will speak; Motley, p. 77
  3. ^ But there is more to the story: With "la muette" was meant the city of Valenciennes that for a long time had kept quiet and peaceful, without becoming embroiled in communal discord. The city had endured many torts without complaint, but that would change when the situation described in the first three lines would come to pass; Cf. Dinaux, A., Leroy, A.N. and Le Glay, A.J.G. (1832). "Archives historiques et littéraires du nord de la France, et du midi de la Belgique". Google Books (in French). Bureau des Archives. p. 448, note 9. Retrieved June 3, 2018.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link).


  1. ^ Motley, p. 44
  2. ^ a b Motley, p. 45
  3. ^ a b c Motley, p. 47
  4. ^ Motley, pp. 48-49
  5. ^ Motley, p. 50
  6. ^ Motley, pp. 51–57
  7. ^ Motley, pp. 58–60
  8. ^ Motley, pp. 60–61, 74
  9. ^ Motley, pp. 74–76
  10. ^ a b Motley, p. 78
  11. ^ Motley, pp. 79–80
  12. ^ Motley, p. 81


Coordinates: 50°21′29″N 3°31′24″E / 50.358°N 3.5233°E / 50.358; 3.5233