Faithful to the King to the Point of Beggary: Treasonous Elites and the Dutch Revolt

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This paper explores the importance of the Low Countries to Habsburg Spain in the sixteenth century and the outbreak of the Dutch Revolt. It examines the upper tiers of the Low Country nobility, the grands seigneurs and the gentileshommes, and the tensions over religious practice and political rights that developed between these regional and local elites and Habsburg central authority by the mid 1560s. I argue that the rift betwen Madrid and Brussels was neither binary nor complete, but was nevertheless remarkable because of the success with which the previously autarkic Low Country nobility had been patronized by the fifteenth-century Burgundian rulers. The Dutch Revolt was shot through with fissures among the nobility and urban elites, divided over loyalty to Philip II and confessional commitments. Many grandees were disgruntled but remained loyal, even as the Spanish court increasingly became a Castilian preserve. Other senior noblemen--William the Orange above all--began to cultivate separate client networks, especially in the German territories. The Revolt, propelled by a loose coalition of dissenting noblemen, radical Calvinists, and disaffected townspeople, fostered a patriotic lore of republican civic virtue that gave political definition to a set of territories that had been without geographical or cultural unity. While the Spanish monarchy ultimately regained the historical importance southern territories and reconciled with the southern nobility, the United Provinces gained de facto independence, and by doing so, launched with astonishing rapidity a maritime empire that would hector the Spanish overseas and establish a global commercial footprint.

Last modified
  • 01/03/2019
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  • 11-001
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