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1573 SPANISH-DUTCH EIGHTY YEARS' WAR
"SPANISH FURY" LETTER WITH 
"BODE VAN MECHELEN" MARK

FROM THE GOLD MEDAL COLLECTION OF KEES ADEMA
"MANUSCRIPT MARKINGS OF THE 16TH CENTURY"

1573 - SPANISH OFFICIALS FROM THE "BLOOD COUNCIL" IN BRUSSELS WRITE TO THE MUNICIPAL GOVERNMENT IN MECHELEN AT A CRITICAL MOMENT IN THE EIGHTY YEARS WAR. THE ADDRESS PANEL BEARS THE MARKINGS OF THE "BODE VAN MECHELEN", A PRIVATE COURIER POST.
 In October 1572, during the Eighty Years' War,
 the city had been sacked and burned by the Spanish.
Thanks to Kees Adema and Dieter Viaene, Archivist of the Mechelen Municipal Museum
 for their help in translations and authentication



LETTER DATELINE BRUSSELS DECEMBER 1573

A handwritten letter from De La Torres, a Spanish Official Member of the "Blood Council" of Brussels, to the Governor and Council of Magistrates in Mechelen. As beautiful and ornate an historical letter as you can find from this critical time in the Eighty Years War that led to the Formation of the Dutch Republic and its rise to world power; with a special rare "Bode de Mechelen" Private Courier Post marking

Historical Note

Mechelen (French Malines; English traditional name Mechlin) is a city and a municipality in the Dutch-speaking province of Antwerp, Flanders, Belgium. The municipality comprises the city of Mechelen proper, some quarters at its outskirts, the hamlets of Nekkerspoel (adjacent) and Battel (a few kilometers away), as well as the villages of Walem, Heffen, Leest, Hombeek, and Muizen. The Dijle flows through the city, hence the term 'Dijlestad' (Dijle City). Mechelen lies on the major urban & industrial axis Brussels-Antwerp, about 25 km from each city.

The highly lucrative cloth trade gained Mechelen wealth and power during the Late Middle Ages and it even became the capital of the Low Countries (very roughly the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg) in the first half of the 16th century under Margarete of Austria's reign. During the 16th century the city's political influence decreased dramatically, due to many governmental institutes being moved to Brussels. The city compensated for this by increased attention in the religious arena: in 1559 it was proclaimed an Archdiocese, for Belgium not sharing this title with Brussels before 1961. In 1572, during the Eighty Years' War, the city was burned and sacked by the Spanish.

Before 1581, the area of the Low Countries consisted of a number of duchies, counties, and independent bishoprics, not all of them part of the Holy Roman Empire. Today that area is divided between the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and parts of France and Germany. The Low Countries in the 16th century roughly corresponded to the Seventeen Provinces covered by the Pragmatic Sanction of 1549 of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Through marriage, war or sale, these states all ended up in the hands of the Habsburg emperor, Charles V, and his son, King Philip II of Spain. In 1568, the Netherlands, led by William of Orange, revolted against Philip II because of his efforts to modernize and centralize the devolved medieval government structures of the provinces, high taxes, and persecution of Protestants by the Catholic church. This was the start of the Eighty Years' War.

The Spanish King Philip II, a zealous persecutor of Protestants, sent the Duke of Alba into the Netherlands in 1567 at the head of an army of 12,000 men, with unlimited powers for the extirpation of heretics. When he arrived he soon showed how much he merited the confidence which his master reposed in him, and instantly erected a tribunal which soon became known to its victims as the "Blood Council," to try all persons who had been engaged in the late commotions that the rule of Philip had excited. During the six years of his governorship, thousands of people were executed. Dutch accounts refer to 18,000; while in Spanish history only a few hundred are mentioned. About 6,000 casualties can be considered as the most accurate estimate. He imprisoned Lamoral, Count of Egmont and Philip de Montmorency, Count of Hoorn, the two popular leaders of the dissatisfied Dutch nobles, and had them condemned to death even though they were opposed to the Protestants. His attempt to raise money by imposing the Spanish "alcabala", a tax of 10% on all sales ("tenth penny" tax), aroused the opposition of the even the Catholic Netherlanders. The exiles from the Low Countries, who called themselves Geuzen (French gueux, "beggars"), encouraged by the general resistance to Alba's government, fitted out a fleet of privateers called the Sea Beggars. The fleet of the exiles met the Spanish fleet, defeated it, and reduced Holland and Mons. The States-General, assembling at Dordrecht, openly declared against Alba's government and marshaled under the banner of William the Prince of Orange.

Alba, under the conduct of his son Don Federico, succeeded in recovering Mons, Mechelen and Zutphen. With the exception of Zeeland and Holland, he regained all the provinces. His son stormed Naarden, massacring its inhabitants, and then proceeded to invest the city of Haarlem, which, after standing an obstinate siege, was taken and pillaged. Don Federico left Mechelen, Zutphen and Naarden in ashes on the way north, slaughtering thousands of citizens in a demonstration of Spain's absolute power. In December 1572, they reached Haarlem. After a protracted siege, Don Federico won the city's unconditional surrender, but it cost him 10,000 men and a crippling seven month delay. The myth of the all-conquering Spanish military machine had been exposed by the resolve of the citizens of a poor Dutch town, who had succumbed, not to arms but to famine. Reneging on a promise to spare the city, Federico proceeded to exact a punishing revenge. Yet is can be considered that these atrocities ultimately worked against the Spanish as other Dutch towns took heart and were forewarned that the Spanish would indulge in wholesale slaughter whether challenged or not. The only way forward was open resistance. The horrors of the Siege of Haarlem were somewhat offset by subsequent events. King Philip diverted funds to his Mediterranean campaign against the Turks and Don Federico's troops mutinied due to the resultant lack of wages. They eventually moved on but failed to capture Alkmaar and Leiden. Furthermore, the Sea Beggars regrouped and wiped out the Amsterdam fleet which had initiated Haarlem's downfall. William of Orange later set up independence for the Dutch states and Calvinism became the state-favoured religion, with Catholicism still tolerated in private.



DETAIL OF TEXT OF LETTER
[Click to Enlarge]

English Explanation: A certain Jan Van Beersele has debts and had sent a petition to the Blood Council of the King. Van Beersele had asked for a delay of payment in that petition and in this letter the Councilors of Mechelen are asked to summon all the creditors of Jan Van Beersele who live on their territory and to convince them to allow a delay for the payment. If the creditors refuse, the Councilors of Mechelen are to inform the Blood Council of the King and then the King will take further measures. This letter was written in Brussels on the first day of December 1573.

The Councilors of Mechelen to whom the letter is addressed are not the regular magistrates of Mechelen. Mechelen had been sacked and burned by in 1572 and in the period that followed the regular magistrates were replaced by a governor and four Councilors. So the "beloved and loyal" Councilors to whom the letter is addressed are the four Special Councilors. The reason for that replacement is the rebellion of the Netherlands against Spain. In September 1572 Mechelen was in the hands of the rebels of William of Orange. Beginning in October 1572 Viceroy Duke Alva’s Spanish soldiers re-conquered the city, sacked it (Spanish Fury) and replaced the magistrate by the new Governor and four Councilors. The regular magistrate was restored in 1574-1575 under the new Viceroy Luis de Requesens.

Dutch Transcription: Lieve ende getrouwe ? zeynden u hier inne besloeten zekere supplicatie gepresenteert in onsen secreten rade van weghen Jan van Beersele, u ordonnerende ende bevelende dat die zelve u ghesien ende geins?teert zynde ghy ontbiedt ende doet voer ulieden commen alle des suppliants crediteuren woenachtich onder uwe jurisdictie ende die zelve om redenen inde voerseide supplicatie geallegeert ende deur andere goede middelen van persuasien die ghy daertoe wel zult connen weghen, induceert ende onderwyst te vreden te zijne den voerseide suppliant te accorderen uuytstellinge ende termyn zyne schult te betaelen zulcke als hy verzueckende es ende indien zy daertoe nyet en willen verstaen die zwaricheden by u daerinne bevonden, zult ons overscriven met ulieder advis daerop ofte onsen lieven ende getrouwen die luyden van onsen voerseiden secreten rade mits wederseukende die voerseide supplicatie om al tzelve ghesien voirts daer inne geordonneert te worden alzoet ons van rechtswegen goet duncken zal ende desen wilt nyet laten, lieve ende getrouwe den Heere God zy met u ghescreven te Bruessele den eersten dach van decembre anno 1573.


FRONT OF LETTER


REVERSE OF COVER
showing two slits of the Nizza

The letter is pierced by two slits; a variant of the Italian Nizza. This was a method of ensuring that letters were not read by unauthorized persons, probably invented in Italy in the 15th century. Part of the paper which was not written on was folded (or cut) to resemble a tongue, which could then be folded back over the cover and the tip inserted into a slit made for the purpose. It could then be sealed with wax or a wafer for security and evidence of tampering (this extra piece is no longer present)

 
BODE POST MARK

Mark: "Rio" - from Latin word “recipio”: “I have received”. Indicating that the letter was received in the local post.


DOCKETING

Dutch Transcription: "Indutie Beersele"
English Translation: "In the Matter of Jan van Beersele"

 
DETAIL OF ADDRESS PANEL

Dutch Transcription: "Onsen lieven ende getrouwen die raeden gecommitteert totter administratie vander justicie onser stede van Mechelen"
English Translation: to our beloved and loyal councilors who have been given the administration of the justice of our town Mechelen.


HEADING OF LETTER
Dutch Transcription: "Byden Coninck"
English Translation: (ordered) by the king


ORNATE SIGNATURE OF SPANISH OFFICIAL
"De La Torre"


DOCKETING NOTATION

Dutch Transcription: Tot desen inductien es geadmitteert myn here Liebart raedt ? actum 25n juny 1574 ?

English Explanation: The docketing notation states that Sir Liebaert, Councilor, has the permission to do what the king has ordered "In the Matter of Jan van Beersele". The date of the docketing is 25 June 1574. It is unclear who Liebaert was as he does not appear in the list of the City's magistrates. Likely he was one of the Four Councilors, who along with a Governor, ruled the city of Mechelen at this time. In 1574 the city regained its normal magistrate. Regarding the signature beneath: that is possibly someone of the Blood Council named Stael.

Document Description: A very fine handwritten and signed official document from a crucial moment in the Eighty Years War, coming at the moment of the Iron Duke of Alba's disgraceful recall to Spain and the appointment of Luis de Zúńiga y Requesens as Spanish Governor of the Low Countries, who, despite efforts to mollify the Dutch, failed and died at his post in Brussels, March 5, 1576. Opened letter measures 13" x 8.5" (325mm x 215). On single sheet of batonne laid paper. Some slight separations at folds not affecting signature, some toning and stains. A very scarce beautiful document from the Eighty Year's War with both rare postal history and historic markings and content. Because of the turmoil of this time, examples of such communications from the Blood Council are scarce in the marketplace.

Offered by Berryhill & Sturgeon, Ltd.

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