Revolutions: The Revolutionary Tradition in the West, 1560-1991

By David Parker | Go to book overview

2

The Dutch Revolt 1566-81

A national revolution?

Marjolein ’t Hart


Introduction

Truly, it almost drives me mad to see the difficulty with which your Majesty’s supplies are furnished, and the liberality with which the people place their lives and fortunes at the disposal of this rebel. (Governor-General Alva to the King of Spain, 11 February 1573) 1

On 19 July 1572, the Estates of the Province of Holland assembled in a truly revolutionary meeting in the old town of Dordrecht. For the first time ever they asserted sovereign powers over their territory, even though they continued to pretend loyalty to the King. Refusing a royal summons to appear at The Hague, the Dordrecht delegates also decided to proclaim William of Orange as their new Stadhouder (the representative of the lawful sovereign) instead of Count Bossu, appointed by the Governor-General, the Duke of Alva. The assembly also furnished William of Orange with the means to pursue his armed resistance by providing him with a more or less consolidated territory, with regular funds for warfare (taxation!), and with a sound political base. Without the Dordrecht meeting the Dutch Revolt would merely have constituted a curious mixture of local rebellions, piracies, religious strife and civil warfare with which the superior Spanish forces, aided by the typically factious nature of urban government, might well have coped. As it was, the revolt of the townspeople of Holland in the spring of 1572 and the subsequent convention of the independent Provincial Estates in the following summer created a focal point of resistance against Spain; this encouraged other towns and provinces to join the Revolt, and culminated in a veritable national revolution. Following Charles Tilly, I am here using the term ‘revolution’ to mean a forcible transfer of power over a state in the course of which two blocks of contenders make incompatible claims to control the state, while both blocs enjoy the support of a significant part of the population. 2

It is however necessary to go back to 1566 in order to place the meeting at Dordrecht in the widest context and to give the revolution its full significance. At that time, the Netherlands belonged to the Spanish Habsburg

-15-

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