The Spanish Fury (or the Spanish Terror) was a number of violent sackings of cities (lootings) in the Low Countries or Benelux, mostly by Spanish Habsburg armies, that happened in the years 1572–1579 during the Dutch Revolt. In some cases, the sack did not follow the taking of a city. In others, the sack was ordered, or at least not restrained, by Spanish commanders after the fall of a city.

Mutinous troops of the Army of Flanders ransack the Grote Markt during the sack of Antwerp in 1576. Engraving by Frans Hogenberg.

The most notorious Spanish Fury was the sack of Antwerp in November 1576. In English, this, and the mutinous campaign of 1576 in general, tends to be what is meant by "Spanish Fury". In Dutch, the term includes a wider range of sackings, in particular the city punishments of 1572.[1][2][3] The events of the Spanish Fury contributed to the creation of anti-Spanish sentiment in many parts of Europe.


The Spanish Fury of Maastricht in 1579

Several requests were made for relaxation of religious coercion in the Low Countries, including a rejected petition by a covenant of noblemen in the winter of 1565–66. The summer brought renewed violent outbursts of iconoclasm, in which 'Beeldenstorm' Calvinists destroyed religious images in Catholic monasteries and churches. The Battle of Oosterweel in March 1567 was the first Spanish military response to the many riots and a prelude to or the start of the Eighty Years' War.[Note 1] The Spanish King's captain-general Alba, the Iron Duke, with 10,000 men made the first military use of the Spanish Road. He was granted powers exceeding those of the king's half-sister Margaret of Parma, who had maneuvered both Granvelle and William the Silent of Orange to the background while trying to reconcile local priorities with Spanish orders. Upon their meeting, judging the duke's inflexibility on extreme positions, the duchess resigned. He replaced her as governor-general of the Seventeen Provinces and unlawfully instituted the Council of Troubles in September of that same year. This court-martial style tribunal often sentenced political opponents and religious Reformists to death; the more than 1,000 executions caused it to be called the 'Council of Blood'.

Don Fadrique's deployment of the Army of Flanders, 1572
Massacre of Naarden, 1 December 1572,
Spanish soldiers slaughtering local civilians
(17th century etching by J. Luyken) British Museum, London
The pillaging of Maastricht in 1576

The Sea Beggars, having been driven out of English harbours by Elizabeth I, captured Brielle on April 1, 1572. This foothold triggered an anti-royalist rebellion in the Counties of Zeeland and of Holland. Other cities in the Low Countries that showed signs of rebellion against the increased taxation and prosecution of Protestants, or did not allow troops of either side in,[4] became vigorously forced into Catholicism and total political obedience to the Spanish Crown.[5]

Spanish Furies


By underpaid military under the regular command


Looting a conquered town was not uncommon, and Governor Alba took it a step further by intentionally setting horrifying examples against sympathy for the rebels.[6][7]

  • The Spanish Fury at Mechelen was the earliest event known by this term. After Orange's lieutenant Bernard of Merode had taken and controlled the city of Mechelen for a month, he and his men left because a much stronger Spanish force was coming. Despite welcoming the latter by singing psalms of penitence in a gesture of surrender, from 2 October 1572, under command of Governor Alva's[Note 2] son Fadrique, during three days the city was sacked by his slaughtering, raping and pillaging troops. Alva reported to King Philip II (who later imprisoned him) that "no nail was left in the wall".[8][9][10]
  • The Army of Flanders that sacked Mechelen reconquered Diest and Roermond, marched on to Guelders, and in November easily regained Zutphen, which had been taken for Orange in June. Don Fadrique ordered his men to kill the garrison and allowed them to murder and plunder the city. After the Spanish Fury at Zutphen, the counties on its north capitulated.[11]
  • By December at Naarden, Holland, the inhabitants negotiated their surrender but the city was sacked and burnt down, and only 60 people survived the Massacre of Naarden.[11]
  • The Spanish Fury at Haarlem, in 1573, following the half-year-long Siege of Haarlem[12]

By December 1573, high, yet ineffective, financial expenditures, and complaints about the sheer cruelty of the governor's expeditions, led Philip II to Requesens, where he replaced Alba, who returned to Spain. The notorious 'Council of Blood' ordered no more executions, and was officially abolished in June 1574 by Requesens, but remained in session until summer of 1576.

In October 1576, during the city of Maastricht's rebellion against its fortress because of continued heavy payments, German soldiers of the Spanish garrison followed city council's orders and stood aside. While some Spanish troops held out at one of the gates, others fled with the garrison's commander Francisco de Montesdoca to captain Martín de Ayala's minor fortification at Wyck just across the River Maas bridge. Though Montesdoca was offered safety during negotiations, he was arrested in the heat of this dispute. He was liberated while soldiery arriving from Dalem and those of Wyck captured the city. As few Spanish lives had been lost, the Germans were excused but had to make camp in neighbouring villages.

  • The Spanish Fury of October 1576 refers to the subsequent punishment of the city with a pillaging bloodbath.[3][13][14][15]

By abandoned military on looting expedition


Upon Requesens' death in March 1576, the Spanish king appointed his own half-brother Don Juan as Governor-General of the Netherlands but hesitated several months before notifying him. Even then, Don Juan did not hurry to proceed to the Netherlands. The abandoned officers and ordinary soldiers were not being paid and started a mutinous looting campaign.

  • The Spanish Fury at Aalst, a city that had always been loyal, showed that the military insurgencies that had occurred more than occasionally since 1573, had totally run out of hand by July 1576.[16][17] Rampant soldiers sacked about 170 places in Brabant.[3]
  • The Spanish Fury at Antwerp, the most famous event by this name, also known as the Sack of Antwerp, occurred when the forces coming from Aalst and those from Maastricht met in November 1576. A thousand buildings were torched and as many as 17,000 men, women, and children were killed.[18]



The Pacification of Ghent by which both Calvinists and Catholics decided to expel all Spanish troops, and for which negotiations had been going on since the sack of Aalst, was signed a few days after Antwerp's fate.[17] It was acceded to on 12 February 1577 by governor-general Don Juan when he signed the Perpetual Edict. A few months later, despite the agreed terms, Don Juan began planning a new campaign against the Dutch rebels, who found an ally in England's Elizabeth I.[Note 3] Though never recognized by Philip, an arrangement by Catholics put his nephew Matthias of Austria, Duke of Burgundy and Brabant, in the position of governor of the Netherlands until 1581.[Note 4][10][19]

By uncontrolled victorious military


Alexander Farnese, son of Margaret of Parma, reconquered a large part of the Netherlands by methods found honourable by friend and foe. Thereupon the Union of Arras was signed and only weeks later, on January 23, 1579, the Union of Utrecht, at which the separation between southern and northern Netherlands became a fact. But the War was not finished.

Between 12 March and 1 July 1579, both sides suffered hard in the siege of Maastricht.[Note 5] The victorious attackers then held a second Spanish Fury at Maastricht which killed all but 400 people out of a population of 30,000.[18]

See also



  1. ^ The 80 Years' War can be seen to have started on 13 March 1567 with the defeat of the rebels at Oosterweel, or eleven days later, when besieged Valenciennes surrendered. The rebels' first victory, in May 1568 at Heiligerlee, is by the Dutch often regarded as the start of the War.
  2. ^ The Dukes of Alba that played an active role in the 16th century Netherlands, Fernando and Fadrique Álvarez de Toledo, are in the Low Countries, in their present language still, referred to as 'Alva'. Though the usual short name is 'Alba' in English, the Dutch one is occasionally borrowed for English language texts, e.g. chapter "Alva's Throne: Making Sense of the Revolt of the Netherlands" by Henk van Nierop in Graham Darby's The Origins and Development of the Dutch Revolt.
  3. ^ Queen Mary I of England had married King Philip II of Spain to ensure continued reimposing of Catholicism on England: an heir would have prevented her Protestant half-sister Elisabeth's succession to the throne. The latter had been imprisoned by Mary in the aftermath of Wyatt's rebellion. On 29 July 1554 Philip wrote to a correspondent in Brussels, "the marriage was concluded for no fleshly consideration, but to remedy the disorders of this kingdom and to preserve the Low Countries." (Porter, Linda (2007). Mary Tudor: The First Queen. pp. 464. Piatkus Books Ltd, London, UK, 2009. ISBN 978-0-7499-0982-6. p. 320) In 1558, 'Bloody Mary' had died without such heir, de facto having kept the throne of a country in crisis warm for Elizabeth.
  4. ^ Philip II would much later appoint another son of his sister Maria and Emperor Maximilian II, Matthias' brother Ernest as governor-general of the Spanish Netherlands.
  5. ^ Maastricht was besieged at many other occasions, e.g. it withstood a siege by troops of Liège and Loon in 1407–1408, lost the city's siege of 1673 during the Franco-Dutch War, and the siege of its barrier fortress, in 1748, by the end of the War of the Austrian Succession.


  1. ^ Caffin, Charles H (February 1912). "V. The Scientific-Artistic Organization of Holland in the Seventeenth Century". Art for Life's Sake – An Application of the Principles of Art to the Ideals and Conduct of Individual and Collective Life. The Prang Company, New York–Chicago–Boston–Atlanta–Dallas, USA (ex. University of Toronto Library N7445C25c.1ROBA online by p. 38. ISBN 978-1-120-15859-8. (paperback pub. by Kessinger Publishing). Archived from the original on 18 July 2011. Retrieved 4 August 2011. Philip replied by dispatching Alva and ten thousand troops, who inaugurated the 'Spanish Fury,' in which eighteen thousand six hundred persons were put to death, beside those who were killed in armed resistance.
  2. ^ Krüger: "Die 'Spaanse Furie' wütete über mehrere Jahre: Mecheln, Zutphen und Naarden wurden geplündert, ebenso Haarlem, Oudewater und Bommende. Am Schlimmsten aber traf es Antwerpen"
  3. ^ a b c Van der Schoot, Y. "De Hervorming te Brugge" (PDF) (in Dutch). Protestantse Kerk Brugge, Brugge, Belgium. Retrieved 31 July 2011. {{cite web}}: External link in |publisher= (help)
  4. ^ "Coornhert en de Opstand: geen 'zoete vrijheid' zonder religievrede" (PDF). Part from introduction to: J. Gruppelaar, Coornhert Politieke geschriften. Opstand en Religievrede, Amsterdam, AUP, 2009 (in Dutch). Online by Weet en Durf, Netherlands. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 March 2012. Retrieved 11 August 2011. {{cite web}}: External link in |publisher= (help)
  5. ^ Baelde (1976) p. 376
  6. ^ Arnade (2008) p. 225–226
  7. ^ Burg (2003, eLibrary 2005) p. 168–169: "in Madrid, Alba was accused of following his own whims rather than Philip's . According to Henry Kamen, Medinaceli reported to the king that 'Excessive rigour, the misconduct of some officers and soldiers, and the Tenth Penny, are the cause of all the ills, and not heresy or rebellion.' ... One of the governor’s officers reported that in the Netherlands 'the name of the house of Alba' was held in abhorrence."
  8. ^ Arnade (2008) p. 226–229 For the sack of Mechelen, Arnade also refers to: Marnef, Guido Het Calvinistisch bewind te Mechelen, 1580–85. Kortrijk-Heule, 1987.
  9. ^ Elsen, Jean (February 2007). "De nood- en belegeringsmunten van de Nederlandse opstand tegen Filips II – Historisch kader" (PDF). Collection J.R. Lasser (New York). Nood- en belegeringsmunten, Deel II (in Dutch). Jean Elsen & ses Fils s.a., Brussels, Belgium. p. 4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 January 2012. Retrieved 1 August 2011. {{cite web}}: External link in |publisher= (help)
  10. ^ a b Allen, Charlotte. "First Things – Books in Review: Harline, Craig; Put, Eddy. A Bishop's Tale: Mathias Hovius Among His Flock in Seventeenth-Century Flanders. Yale University Press. 387 pp". First Things, New York, USA, (c) 2001 upd. July 2002. Retrieved 19 August 2011. The Spanish Fury, which ruined Mechelin's economy, was followed by the English Fury, an invasion in 1580 launched by the Dutch ally Elizabeth I that included a spree of burning, looting, and clergy–killing
  11. ^ a b Arnade (2008) p. 232–244
  12. ^ "De geschiedenis van het duodorp Halfweg en Zwanenburg – Of: de historie van 1 Russische tsaar, 3000 Spaanse soldaten en enkele miljoenen suikerbieten" (in Dutch). Vereniging Dorpsraad Zwanenburg-Halfweg, Netherlands. Retrieved 4 August 2011. {{cite web}}: External link in |publisher= (help)
  13. ^ Hooft, Pieter Corneliszoon; ed. Hellinga, W.; ed. Tuynman, P. (1642–1647). "Nederlandsche Historien, Vol. 11". Nederlandsche Historien (in Dutch). University Press Amsterdam, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1972 (Online by dbnl, 2007). pp. 463–464. Retrieved 14 August 2011. {{cite web}}: External link in |work= (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  14. ^ Motley (1855) Vol. III, chapter V. 1576–1577
  15. ^ "Don Juan" (in Dutch). Municipality of Maastricht. 2008. Retrieved 14 August 2011.
  16. ^ Baelde (1976) p. 374
  17. ^ a b Morris (1998) p. 273
  18. ^ a b Sugg, Richard (2012). Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: the History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781136577369.
  19. ^ Russel, William (1789). "Part I. From the Rise of the Modern Kingdoms to the Peace of Westphalia, in 1648". The History of Modern Europe: With an Account of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and a View of the Progress of Society from the Rise of the Modern Kingdoms to the Peace of Paris in 1763. Vol. 3. G.G.J. – J. Robinson – A. Hamilton. pp. 9–11. Retrieved 18 August 2011.


  • Arnade, Peter J. (2008). Beggars, iconoclasts, and civic patriots: the political culture of the Dutch Revolt. Cornell University Press. p. 352. ISBN 978-0801474965. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  • Tracy, James D (2008). The Founding of the Dutch Republic – War, Finance, and Politics in Holland, 1572–1588. Oxford University Press, Oxford. p. 343. ISBN 978-0199209118.
  • Burg, David F. (2003). A World History of Tax Rebellions – An Encyclopedia of Tax Rebels, Revolts, and Riots from Antiquity to the Present. Routledge, New York & London, 2004 (Taylor & Francis e-Library, 2005). pp. 168–170: 1567 Revolt of the Netherlands. ISBN 0415924987. (alk. paper). (Master e-book). (Adobe eReader format). Or, if and while it is (again) available, the most relevant chapter only: