Useful Notes: The Eighty Years' War

aka: Eighty Years War
"I can not approve that monarchs desire to rule over the conscience of their subjects and take away from them their freedom of belief and religion."
Rebel Leader William of Orange

The Eighty Years' War or the Dutch War of Independence (1568-1648), was a war fought as the name suggests, over the course of eighty years and for the independence of the Dutch Republic (a precursor to modern day Netherlands) against the the western/'Spanish' Habsburg realms. The leaders of the rebellion cited the strict control of the monarchy over the people as their main incentive to rebel, mainly in terms such as freedom of religion, thought and the matter of taxation. More cynically-minded observers generally put the taxes first.

The event that is said to have set off the revolution is the public execution of the statesmen Lamoral, Count of Egmont and Philip de Montmorency, Count of Hoorn, on the main square in Brussels on June 5, 1568. The two were executed for their resistence to the founding of a Castilian-style Dutch Inquisition that would probably be used to weed out opponents of the monarchy much as in Castile and Aragon. William the Silent then became the leader of the rebellion and managed to escape execution using charisma and political intelligence until he could go into hiding, though he was later assassinated by a spy.

Subsequently, the Dutch revolt would break out in 1567 leading to the rise of William of Orange. Under his command hostilities between the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Habsburg realms. The conflict would manifest as multiple skirmishes, minor battles, incredibly long and tedious sieges - most of which went nowhere.

The Dutch Republic was finally given some recognition when the two belligerents contracted the Twelve Years' Truce in 1609. The peace lasted until 1619 when the Thirty Years' War broke out, returning the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Empire to opposition as the Dutch intervened. With the resolution of the Thirty Years' War, the Dutch gained French allies who aided them in a defense against the Spanish. With the Spanish forces spread far and thin they eventually were cut off from the Dutch. Peace negotiations began January 1646 which eventually lead to a peace agreement.

The war was followed by a slight upheaval of the Dutch Republic's political system. The Spanish Empire's reputation was greatly hurt by the loss, but persevered nonetheless. The war also had little effect on the Spanish-Portuguese war.

The Other Wiki has a incredibly extensive and more specific article on the Eighty Years War. See also the Thirty Years' War and The Dutch-Portuguese War.

The following tropes are used to describe the period and its events:

  • Altum Videtur: Invoked by Vargas to justify his cruelty:
    Haeretici frexentur templa, boni nihil fecerunt contra; ergo debent omnes patibulariLat. 
  • Armor Is Useless: The camisados.
  • Badass Army: Both forces; the Army of Flanders was the first modern, standing army, with permanent barracks, military hospitals, and retirement homes for soldiers before any other European army. The Dutch, meanwhile, breathed new life into Roman military drill to multiply their army's firepower. This ferocious competition between the two armies made the Netherlands the cutting edge of military innovation in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
  • Badass Bookworm: Marquis Spinola. He actually learned to command armies by reading books.
  • Bling of War: Since the armies were always moving and soldiers could be drafted for many years, bags and safes were often impractical. Instead, soldiers (specially veteran ones) would walk to the battlefield dressed in fancy clothes plus all their gold in the form of necklaces, rings, bracelets... The bodies of the fallen were extensively pillaged.
  • Boring Invincible Hero: The Spanish Tercios remained undefeated in battle till the Battle of the Dunes in 1600, a good century after their creation. When news of the defeat came to Spain, the Royal Court was understandably shocked.
  • But Not Too Foreign: The Dutch were happy while the Empire was ruled by Flemish-raised Omniglot Charles V. When he was succeeded by his die-hard Castilian son Philip II, on the other hand...
  • Butt Monkey: The Portuguese. United with Spain in 1580, they proceed to lose lots of their colonies to the Dutch in the following years while their Spanish overlords couldn't care less.
  • Dashing Hispanic
  • David Versus Goliath: A hodgepodge of tiny states that were below the water table not long ago fight for eighty years in every corner of the globe to win their independence from the greatest military power of the 16th century
  • Determinator: The both the Spaniards and the Dutch qualify in the Siege of the Dutch city Leiden, although the latter almost takes it Up to Eleven. When the Spaniards couldn't get past the city's walls, they stayed there surrounding the city for months, preventing anything or anyone from leaving or entering. As a result, the people of Leiden ran out of food, causing mass starvation. Nevertheless, Leiden never surrendered, and the mayor, Pieter van der Werff, famously offered his own arm as food to inspire his citizens and keep them from giving up. In the end, it paid off for the Dutch.
  • Eagle Squadron: English volunteers. Of course they came on their own. Good Queen Bess did not send them. She always desired the best of friendship with Spain. Didn't she?
  • Earth Is a Battlefield: Arguably, the first conflict to be fought over all continents (except, maybe, Oceania).
    • Most spectacularly demonstrated on the 9th of May, 1624. A Dutch fleet arrives off the coast of Peru at Callao to attack Lima, while a second fleet, sent an entire year after the first, arrives off the coast of Brazil, 3000 miles west, attacking two of the king of Spain's dominions on the same day.
    • Not even that exception. Sir Francis Drake would have sailed through there looking for Plunder
  • Elite Mooks: In a effectivity+reliance scale, the Spanish army chain was roughly Catholic Flemish << Germans << Italians << Iberians. Of these, the scary guys were the veterans serving on the Tercios, which usually had a 20+ years old experience and had been serving on the army since they were 13.
  • The Empire: Spain
  • The Engineer : There were dozens of sieges in this war and star players on both sides were the engineers. As the Dutch lived below sea level and had been centuries fortifying themselves against the ocean it was fairly easy to shift to dealing with mere humans.
  • Eyepatch of Power: The smoke produced by the muskets of the time damaged extensively the handler's right eye. If you didn't wear an eyepatch in battle, you certainly would upon retirement.
  • Forever War: Well, it lasted "only" 80 years. Then again, the average life expectancy of the time was barely above 40, so it's understandable it felt this way.
    • Colleges in Dutch cities had military engineering courses for generations which took for granted the assumption that graduates would right away head for what later ages would call "The Front".
    • Consider how it relates to English history. Early on The Spanish Armada was prompted partly because of Elizabeth's (limited) support for the Dutch rebels. Later, the Dutch Republic considered uniting with the English Republic under Cromwell (but ended up fighting them instead). How many wars lasted so long that everyone from the Tudors to the leaders of the English Civil War were peripherally involved in them?
  • Four-Star Badass: The Spanish had several. The Duke of Alba, Don John, and the Duke of Parma were all first-rate commanders. On the Dutch side, Maurice of Nassau was one of the great advocates of Classical style drill amongst his infantry, with good results in several battles.
  • Had To Be Sharp: The Spaniards were trained by generations of war against the Moors. The Dutch by living below sea-level and being dependent on the sea for their survival.
  • Honor Before Reason: One Spanish general complained that it was hard to get his soldiers to dig trenches because digging was commoners work and they of course were above that. By contrast,all the Dutch had to do was pay. Dutch would do anything for money.
  • Hanging Judges: Del Río and Vargas, see Altum Videtur.
  • Improvised Weapon: Dutch would blow up their dikes to flood Spanish trenches.
  • Kangaroo Court: The Council of Troubles, a special tribunal instituted by Spain to to punish the ringleaders of the political and religious "troubles" in the Netherlands, had Two Judges To Rule Them All that were such Hanging Judges that it was renamed The Council of Blood by the population.
  • Knight Templar: Phillip II. He absolutely hated Protestants.
    • Likewise, the Duke of Alba; the hardline faction in Philip's court took their name from him.
  • Money, Dear Boy:
    • The German mercenaries on the Spanish lines (called "Tudescos") were on it just for the money, and walked away or revolted as soon as payment didn't arrive as scheduled. In contrast, the Spaniards were noted to continue fighting even after months without pay, and sometimes when they had barely anything left to eat.
    • One of the main reasons the alliance with Queen Bess fell through: The man she sent to the Netherlands (Robert Dudley) insisted the Dutch merchants stop doing business with the Spaniards. The Dutch vehemently defended their right to sell weapons to the very people shooting at them.
  • More Dakka: The Trope Codifier. The Habsburgs had perfected the Tercio as a square Mighty Glacier favoring the pike in the Pike and Shot equation. The Dutch and their allies saw this, figured they couldn't outmelee them, and decided to go lean on Shot, with smaller, more flexible lines that had few pikes but took turns firing their guns for maximum Dakka. They also produced lots of cannons. They really liked cannons.
  • The Mutiny: As a result of Spain's intermittent bankruptcies, soldiers often went unpaid, and the Army of Flanders became infamous for its mutinies. Some 45 'altercations' were recorded, with the longest lasting two years, from 1602-1604. For the grisly results, see Rape, Pillage, and Burn below.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: Many if not most Spanish soldiers did not care at all about the Dutch. In their opinion, if they wanted to be "heretics" and go to Hell it was their problem. They still took the arms on behalf of their king because they understood it was their duty.
  • Pirates : Sea Beggers. And of course the Sea Beggers always wanted
  • Nightmare Fuel:
    • That spy that assassinated the Dutch equivalent of the Founding Fathers? He didn't get away. His punishment was... extensive.
    • During sieges, surgeons would pay well to any scavenger who brought a goodly supply of human fat scraped from corpses to use as balm. One doubts that all the fat donors were quite dead when they made the donation.
  • Two Judges To Rule Them All: The Council of Troubles had 12 judges, but only two (spanish) judges, Del Rio and Vargas, had vote.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The anti-Catholic riots known as the 'beeldenstorm' had already been quelled, in part by Willem of Orange himself, by the time Phillip sent the Duke of Alba to the Netherlands to restore order, but that news hadn't reached Phillip. A large dose of The Spanish Inquisition later, the rebellion started up again, this time led by that same Willem of Orange.
  • Proud Merchant Race: The Dutch.
    • Handy in a period when war was becoming a financial affair. With fortification taking up the lion's share of most states' budgets, modern financial systems kept them from being stamped flat by the Army of Flanders.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Spaniards.
    • Building and supplying the first modern, standing army hundreds of miles from the core of their territory, and seeing it to numerous victories against a determined opponent fighting in their backyard was one of Spain's crowning military achievements.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: What usually happened when a city fell to an army that had been besieging it for months - or years - with little to no pay.
  • Rebellious Rebel: Guess who
  • The Republic: Of the United Netherlands
  • The Siege: This war had dozens of sieges. With the rise of the bastioned artillery fortress, sieges were the dominant form of warfare in Western Europe.
    • When an attacking army dug siege trenches, they faced both ways, in case an attacking army arrived before the fortress fell, leading to sieges within sieges .
    • By coincidence another war had a lot of fighting in this same location. It took roughly the same form.
    • The Low Countries had a reputation for being the most fortified region in the world. Centuries of sappers would hone their skills there.
  • The Strategist: Maurice of Nassau
    • To the point that historians are unsure of his tactical ability. Maurice fought primarily through sieges and skirmishes, which, while lacking the grandeur of battles in the field, helped him preserve the army of his comparatively tiny country.
  • Training The Warlike Burghers: Dutch militia was quite formidable as militias go and had a strong sense of civic loyalty and the knowledge that their families were in for it if the enemy broke through. The Spaniards most definitely had their work cut out for them.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Little place over there, way isolated from other Spanish territories, with a north-south orientation, humid, cold, filled with fortresses and dikes, and easy access to mercenaries, markets and alliances in England, France, Sweden, and Denmark-Norway? Not surprising the modern Spanish view on this issue is pretty much this.
  • Urban Warfare
  • Virgin Power: Guess Who?
  • Warrior Prince: Don Juan of Austria. Commanding here was his reward for winning the Battle of Lepanto.

Depictions in fiction

  • The titular character in Alatriste is a Spanish veteran of the 80 Years War. The war is brought to the centerfront in the third book of the series, The Sun over Breda.
  • The setting of Age of Empires III includes this period and has the Spanish and Dutch as playable factions, although it is mostlycentered around the conquest and colonization of the Americas.

Alternative Title(s):

Eighty Years War