7. Chronology of the Economic Crisis, 1565-1566

Explanatory Comment : Contemporaries saw a connexion between the disturbances of 1566 and the high price of grain in the preceding years. The information in the following chronology, gathered from a wide variety of sources, enables one to piece together the development of this particular dearth. Because the harvest of 1565 was poor, municipal authorities and individuals hurried to buy grain. This precipitated a sharp rise in prices, aggravated by the conduct of the speculators. Apparently the market price began to drop in December 1565 so that the demand for the shipments of Spanish wheat failed to materialize. Speculators could make huge profits when they guessed how the markets would move and were inevitably targets of popular hatred. Government attempts to ensure reasonable supplies of grain on the home market by prohibiting grain exports annoyed those merchants who otherwise stood to gain. This may explain the complaints of the merchants from Overijssel who did much business across the border in Westphalia.

November 1563 Brussels government puts embargo on import of English cloth and wool. Disruption of cloth trade causes hardship in textile industries in Flanders and Holland.

Winter 1564/65 Exceptionally severe throughout western Europe. Freeze up began at Antwerp on 18 December and by 25 December Scheldt was frozen.


9 January Granvelle reports that messengers are reluctant to travel fearing that if they have no lodgings, they must ‘sleep on the ice’.

Frost persists until end of February 1565 . When snow melts extensive flooding occurred.

Spring Danish King closes the Sound to Dutch shipping.

20 May States of Holland, fearful of riots, petition for re-opening of the Sound.

May/June Grain prices rising sharply in Flanders and Utrecht.

Late June Sound re-opened: between June and September 1018 Dutch vessels sailed westwards through the Sound

7 September Concern about grain supplies in Antwerp.

15 September Poor Harvest. Edict forbidding export of grain from the Netherlands (until August 1566) on account of poor harvest. Leads to panic buying of grain by public.

23 September Alkmaar buying rye for distribution to poor.

25 September Local ordinance at Lille restricts number of looms owned by single master. Measure intended to protect small producers and so promote social stability.

25 September Philip II informs Margaret of Parma of his intention to allow a large shipment of Spanish wheat for sale in the Low Countries. Sale entrusted to King’s factor at Antwerp Hieronimo de Curiel.

Late (?26) September Loft belonging to Antwerp merchant Pauwels van Dale collapses into street under weight of grain stored there.

8 October Antwerp decides to buy grain in Baltic.

15-29 October Deventer seeks support of Kampen and Zwolle for suspension of edict of 15 September in province of Overijssel because it would hinder their trade with Westphalia.

17 October Hoorn decides to buy 25/30 lasts of rye.

24 October Hoorn forbids removal of grain outside town.

26 October Leiden given leave to sell annuities to raise money for purchase of grain for distribution to unemployed textile-workers. Magistrates apparently fearful that out-of-work fullers and weavers would riot.

4 November Rhetoricians of Haarlem perform morality play Van’t Coren [The Corn] in which grain merchants named Insatiable Greed and Never Enough play the part of hardnosed speculators.

5 November Stadhouder of Gelderland ordered to make inspection of grain supplies in province.

12 November Inspection of grain supplies at Antwerp.

Mid-November Fear of grain riots in Mechelen.

16 November Antwerp pensionary instructed to buy grain under licence in London.

19 November States of Holland order those with surplus grain to release it for sale on open market.

24-26 November Towns of Overijssel complain again that ban on export of grain is disrupting their trade with Westphalia.

25-26 November Bruges and Le Franc de Bruges refuse to purchase Spanish wheat on terms offered by Curiel.

Late November Inventory made of grain supplies in Flanders.

Early December Stocks reported to be fair. Since caches of hoarded grain presumably went undetected the general position was less serious than had been feared.

Before 9 December Arrival of first shipments of Spanish wheat.

17 December Antwerp magistrates learn that grain prices at Amsterdam have fallen sharply with arrival of wheat from Germany.

17 December Antwerp decides not to proceed with grain contract negotiated in London by pensionary, since town is ‘already reasonably supplied’.

18 December Hoorn lifts embargo on removal of grain from town.

22 December Grain prices falling at Antwerp.

30 December Grain prices tumbling at Antwerp as supplies from Holland, Spain and England arrive.


11 January Margaret of Parma comments on lack of demand for Spanish wheat.

20 January Proclamation in England against export of grain.

15 February Grain situation at Mechelen still considered serious.

25 February Inspection of grain supplies to be made at Hoorn.

28 February Alkmaar to buy rye for distribution to poor.

April Ghent magistrates comment on lack of demand for grain stored in town granary.

9 April Granvelle anticipates glut of grain: unusually early arrival of Baltic grain prompts speculators to sell their stocks in a hurry.

18 April Hoorn decides to sell off surplus grain.

4 May No purchasers can be found for Spanish wheat in Antwerp despite discount offer.

15 May Margaret of Parma concerned about losses incurred by Curiel as a result of his grain deal.

June Antwerp merchants, with large stocks of unsold grain, seek leave to export these to France.

21 June Margaret of Parma wishes to ship Spanish wheat back to Castile: local market will not bear price demanded.

30 June Governor of Lille, Douai and Orchies worried lest sectaries will attempt to take control of countryside before the forthcoming harvest can be distributed to towns and thereby exploit discontent among urban poor.