The Dutch Revolt

Graham Darby explains how and why the creation of the Dutch state preceded the existence of Dutch national feeling.

Introduction

If you asked history students for the dates of the start of, say, the Reformation, or the French Revolution, or the First World War, you would – we hope – be told 1517, 1789 and 1914 respectively. However, if you asked them the same question about the Dutch Revolt you would be much less likely to achieve a consensus. Moreover, if you asked a group of experts you might get even less. Did the revolt begin in 1566 with the iconoclastic riots? Or in 1568 with the execution of Egmont and Hornes (the '80 Years' War')? Or perhaps in 1572 with the capture of Brill by the 'Sea Beggars'? Or was there no real revolt until 1579 with the Union of Utrecht, or 1581 with the abjuration of Philip II? The problem with the Dutch Revolt is that it is a highly complex series of events, or even episodes, some of which are self-contained. Indeed in many ways the single title, 'Dutch Revolt', is deceptive as it is an umbrella term covering a number of different uprisings in different places at different times which only rarely coincided. When they did coincide, from 1576, what we observe is a number of different elements - the Northern Provinces' rebellion, noble discontents in the south, urban bourgeois coups d'état and the ambitions of the House of Orange - co-existing in a fragile and what proved to be short-lived alliance.

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