In the few years prior to 1568, Dutch Protestants chafed against the repressive rule of the Spanish King Philip II, drawin gcloser to the open revolt that would soon bring on eighty years of conflict with the Iberian Catholics. In late 1567, the king dispatched Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, the 3rd Duke of Alba, to suppress to Low Countries; beginning with Brussels, the “Iron Duke” ruthlessly pursued the heretics. On 16 February, King Philip II pronouced a sentence of death over all the inhabitants of the Netherlands -- Protestant and Catholic, undifferentiated, three million people in all. Prince William of Orange, who fled Alba’s troops in 1567, wrote later that during Alba's ravages,
blood was shed in such abundance that it could be seen to flow in the streets of cities and towns. And who could without sadness and heartache tell of the pain and sorrows endured by these poor inhabitants who were tortured by the tyrants of the nation . . . They have trodden under foot our rights and privileges, and all that still remained of our glory and greatness from the past in such an audacious and haughty way, as if we were not humans anymore; yes, they spoke of us as animals.Abraham van de Valde, a Dutch historian writing in the mid-17th century, summarized the Spanish depredations as follows:
Many a time it happened that a man would attempt to save his wife from their violations, that they howled like dogs, calling: Spain, Spain, and so killed several people. Many pregnant women were ripped open, and the fruit of the womb they killed; yes, some men were skinned alive, their skins they put on their drums; others were burnt.Under Alba’s guidance, the so-called “Councils of Blood” carried out perhaps as many as 200,000 executions over the next six years.
Some were burned with red hot fire-tongs until they died, and others were tortured in many ways unto death. Parents lost their children, children lost their parents. Many bodies were exhumed and hanged in spite of God and nature.
Married woman were taken from their husbands under the guise of saying they were heretics; and against all divine and human institutions some of the richest and most beautiful of them were
given to the soldiers for loot.
In short, we are told, all love and reverence that we owe one to another was brought to nought, or openly defied by killing children who helped parents in their great need with some money, or had written them a letter for their comfort. How could a people be more oppressed, and suppressed then in this manner?