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Religious rather than political issues were the cause of the first revolt of the Netherlands

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The First Revolt of the Netherlands came in 1565, when the ruler Phillip II returned to Spain and left his sister Margaret regent in his absence. The rebellion became a popular one when a group of lesser nobles took a petition to the regent demanding concessions on the heresy laws which they deemed too harsh. If their demands were ignored they threatened to use force. This appears that the cause of the rebellion was purely religious and as the problems increased it became clear that the rebels would stop at nothing at taking apart the established authority of the church. To call this revolt simply one of a religious nature would be an inaccuracy, as there were further reasons that led the people to rebel.

The political nature of the Netherlands was very superficial, with each of the seventeen provinces being very autonomous in nature. Each province sent a member to sit on a States-General, which negotiated with the ruler. Each province equally enjoyed its own special rights and provinces, which the ruler of the Netherlands had to be careful not to infringe. If he did so he risked a reduction in power. This was to prove crucial in the developments of the revolt. This meant that the most powerful social group in the Netherlands was the Aristocracy; a few of the most influential families included those of Egmont, Hornes and Orange-Nassau.

During the sixteenth century the Aristocracy began to suffer on several different fronts, which boiled down to them not enjoying the kind of liberties they had done previously. As the Netherlands grew economically it were the towns that were growing seeing a lack in the overall importance and dominance of the upper nobility. They would not just watch their powers dwindle, and definitely would be prepared to take severe measures to see their own privileges restored. Matyn Rady states:

‘The Revolt would be started by the aristocracy and nobility, anxious to maintain their political leadership in the face of their declining economic power.’

The Aristocracy had been consulted on all matters throughout the start of the sixteenth century, including that of religion. This was a time of great importance for the established church especially in the light of the recent emergence of the Protestant religion. The States-General was consulted on matters concerning taxation, and Charles listened to them.

Charles made the death penalty mandatory during his reign, and 200 heretics were burned. This was something that Charles had to do on a personal level, and also led to him not following his policy of ‘Government by Consent’ with the Aristocracy and the States-General. Rady states ‘Charles’s achievement in restraining heresy was made at the cost of alienating the upholders of law and order in the localities’. Those who upheld the order in the localities were indeed those who he would have been consulting in the Aristocracy. However much the Catholic faith meant to them the policy which Charles undertook undermined their established rights.

In 1555 Phillip II took charge in the Netherlands and he inherited the brewing problems in the Netherlands caused by the policies his Father had followed. He himself was to pursue these policies until they boiled over into full scale revolt. The introduction of Calvinism to the Netherlands during Phillip’s first few years led to an increase in persecution by Phillip. This further infringed established rights and procedures, which Phillip showed a clear disregard for.

Phillip’s own personality disorder was the cause of the rift with the grandees to grow. He refused to trust anyone, and set himself up with the few he did trust around him in Spain. This would not work with the system in the Netherlands, but Phillip chose to do this and subsequently ignored the Aristocracy and did not involve them with matters of government. Phillip then made relations bad with the States-General, by trying to force them to do his bidding. This went against the traditional ways of give and take, and so Phillip lost their trust. He had set himself up with a situation of distrust from his nobility, and disrespect for his policies concerning religion.

When Phillip left for Spain in 1559 he left his sister as regent. The grandees expected to be advisors to the regent as this had been traditionally the case but Phillip instead had set up an inner council called the Consulta as he feared that Margaret would have become ‘a puppet of the aristocracy’. This angered several of the grandees, especially Egmont, Hornes and Orange.

These three resented the leader of the council, a man named Granvelle who became a cardinal as well. They began a plan to have him dismissed from his position, which was the beginning of the start of rebelling against the authority. They did this under the false impression that their status would make them exempt from any punishments that could come their way.

As this was happening Phillip was also coming up with a plan for a reform of the bishoprics which threatened, unintentionally, nearly all of the influential forces in the Netherlands. The plans were never fully implemented as all these forces combined to press for Granvelle’s dismissal as they saw him as devising the plans which would have seen an end to the sons of the nobility getting jobs in religious offices.

The grandees saw a restoration in some of their rights and privileges, and decided to use this as a stepping stone to greater things. They decided to lead a fight against the heresy laws, a cause they were joined in with by a group of lesser noblemen called confederates, who were protestant sympathisers

The reasons that the Grandees targeted the heresy laws were mixed, some selfish and some it seems were in the genuine interest of peace. Firstly they did not want to see the problem lead to civil war as it had done in France. Also they believed that there was no reason differences in belief should be treated so harshly. Orange stated ‘ However strongly I am myself a Catholic, I cannot approve of Princes trying to rule the conscience of their subjects’. The final reason was that the heresy laws infringed on their ancient rights and privileges, which perhaps was most important to them.

The group of lesser nobility, known by 1566 as ‘the Compromise’ was very serious in its actions. It marched to Brussels and demanded that the regent relaxed the heresy laws. Margaret reluctantly did so, realising that the compromise would take to arms if she didn’t do anything about it. On the back of this the Calvinist movement in the Netherlands grew, and began getting violent in order to get more and more concessions. By this point the grandees had washed their hands of the movement, but it was they who started it in the first place and that it what Phillip believed when tried to solve the issue,

The revolt was now underway, and we have seen that there was a combination of factors that led to it breaking out. Religiously people were opposed to the strict heresy laws, and this had been growing for quite some time. With the support of the grandees and the lesser nobility the Calvinists began to do something about their problems.

You could equally argue that based on the evidence that the revolt was based on the growing problems facing the aristocracy concerning the harnessing of their ancient rights and privileges. The cut back stemmed initially from the growth of the towns and subsequent reduction in their economic influence, and then they had their consultation rights ignored by Charles and eventually lost all rights in parliament under Phillip. There was also a combination of social factors that were directly related to either religious or political factors, that what affected the grandees had a knock on effect at grass roots level and also with religion that the way people were allowed to pursue their own beliefs was infringed upon.

The revolt, in my opinion was a culmination of all these factors. I think they are all carefully intertwined, and so to say that religious rather than political factors were the main problem I feel is inaccurate. I believe all the problems that were felt by the grandees led them to gain support from other people who were disgruntled by the ruler, and despite the fact they disowned the movement by that stage they had led it too far, and it became religious in nature.

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