The Iron Duke

“Our Devil, who doth in Brussels dwell / Cursed be thy name in heaven and in hell”, was one of the many slurs against the Duke of Alba, the general sent to the Netherlands by the Spanish King Philip II (r. 1556-1598) to crush the Dutch Revolt. Heavy taxation and the suppression of Protestantism had caused resentment against Spanish rule in these northern regions of the Empire.

From 1567 to 1573, Alba tried to restore order, besieging rebellious cities and executing thousands of people – among them the Counts of Egmont and Horn. His ruthless rule earned him the nickname the Iron Duke. Alba became the target of fierce character attacks by Dutch rebels, who spread posters, pamphlets and even coins depicting him as a vain, bloodthirsty tyrant, a lackey of the Pope and a depraved man, with one picture showing him kissing the Whore of Babylon.

Literature

• Jochen Becker, ‘Hochmut kommt vor dem Fall. Zum Standbild Albas in der Zitadelle von Antwerpen 1571-1574‘, Simiolus: Netherlands Quarterly for the History of Art 5 (1971) 75-115
• James Tanis & Daniel Horst, Images of Discord: A Graphic Interpretation of the Opening Decades of the Eighty Years’ War (Michigan 1993)
• Henry Kamen, The Duke of Alba (New Haven – London 2004)
• Alastair Duke (eds. Judith Pollmann & Andrew Spicer), Dissident Identities in the Early Modern Low Countries (Farnham 2009)

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