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Mayflower, Day by Day - Friday, 4 June 1621

4 Jun 2021 3:17 AM | Soule (Administrator)

Holland v. the Hapsburgs

There was a brilliant presentation online yesterday from the New York State Archives on the 400th anniversary of the charter establishing the Dutch West India Company, about which I wrote yesterday morning. Related to this, however, is one of the reasons why the Pilgrims were so keen on leaving Holland when they did: the “Twelve Years’ Truce” between the Habsburg rulers of Spain and the Southern Netherlands and the Dutch Republic was due to expire in 1621.  There was continual contact between Stadtholder Prince Maurice of Orange and the government in Brussels during 1620 and 1621 regarding a possible renewal of the Truce. Archduke Albert of Austria, Governor General of the Habsburg (Catholic) Netherlands and husband of Isabella Clara Eugenia, the daughter of King Philip II, was in favour of a renewal, especially after Maurice (falsely!) gave him the impression that a peace would be possible on the basis of a token recognition by the Republic of the sovereignty of the king of Spain. Renewal of the Truce had become less likely, as both in Spain and in the Republic more hard-line factions had come to power. The Spaniards demanded Dutch evacuation of the West and East Indies; lifting of the restrictions on Antwerp's trade by way of the Scheldt (through Dutch territory); and toleration of the public practice of the Catholic religion in the Republic. These demands were unacceptable to Maurice and the Truce expired in April 1621.

The war did not immediately resume, however. Maurice continued sending secret offers to Isabella after Albert died in July 1621, through the intermediary of the Flemish painter (!!) Peter Paul Rubens. Though the contents of these offers (which amounted to a version of the concessions demanded by Spain) were not known in the Republic, the fact of the secret negotiations became known. Proponents of restarting the war were disquieted, like the investors in the Dutch West India Company, which had just been founded with the main objective of bringing the war to the Spanish Americas. Opposition against the peace feelers therefore mounted, and nothing came of them.

Another reason the war did not immediately resume was that King Philip III died shortly before the truce ended. He was succeeded by his 16-year-old son Philip IV and a new government under Gaspar de Guzmán, Count-Duke of Olivares. The view of the Spanish government was that the truce had been economically ruinous to Spain, and had enabled the Dutch to gain very unfair advantages in trade with the Iberian Peninsula and the Mediterranean. The continued blockade of Antwerp had contributed to that city's steep decline in importance (hence the demand for the lifting of the closing of the Scheldt). The shift in trade between Spain and the Republic had resulted in a permanent trade deficit for Spain, because of a drain of Spanish silver to the Republic. The truce had also given further impetus to the Dutch penetration of the East Indies, and in 1615 a naval expedition under Joris van Spilbergen raided the West-Coast of Spanish South America. Spain felt threatened by these incursions and wanted to put a stop to them. Finally, the economic advantages had given the Republic the financial wherewithal to build a large navy during the truce and to enlarge its standing army to a size where it could rival Spanish military might. The three conditions Spain had set for a continuation of the truce had been intended to remedy these disadvantages (the demand for freedom of worship for Catholics being made as a matter of principle, but also to mobilise the still sizeable Catholic minority in the Republic and so destabilise it politically).

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