13. News of the Image-breaking in French Flanders

Explanatory Comment : The Calvinists’ attack on the churches began just outside Steenvoorde [then in the Westkwartier of Flanders, now just across present Belgian border in northern France, more or less midway between Cassel and Poperinge]. On Saturday 10 August Sebastian Matte incited the crowds come to hear him preach and after the sermon Jacques de Buysere hurried to attack nearby monastery of St Laurent. From there the iconoclasm quickly spread throughout the Flemish Westkwartier: châtellanies of Cassel (14-16 August), St. Winoksbergen (15-16 August), Bailleul (13-15 August), Pays de l’Alleu (15-17 August), Veurne (14-16 August), Ieper (14-23 August), Kortrijk (16-22 August). On 16 August a band of image-breakers entered the châtellanie of Lille. The events referred to in this letter occurred a few miles to the north and north-west of the town of Lille. Image-breaking was imminently expected in Lille itself between 16-23 August, though the menace had evidently passed by 27 August.

Text :
Maximilian Vilain de Gand, baron de Rassenghien, governor of Lille, Douai and Orchies to Margaret of Parma, Friday 16 August 1566

I have wanted to warn Your Highness in all haste because yesterday evening several sectaries arrived from the side of the Pays de l’Alleu, and travelling along the river Leie [Lys] on the pretext of going to their preachings, suddenly entered Mesen [Messines, 15 August], Quesnoy [c. 15 August], Warneton [Waasten, 15 August], and Comines [Komen], where aided and abetted by their local accomplices, they sacked and smashed statues and sepulchres and ran riot in the churches, hospitals and monasteries without, as far as I have heard, having killed or injured anyone, because there has been no resistance. From here, as I hear, they have headed off towards Wervik [Wervicq 15 August] and Menen [Menin 16 August] to commit, presumably, the same intimidation there and to return via Wambrechies, a village in this castellany, which is much infected [by heresy], to continue their purpose, intending to do the same hereabouts and in the town [of Lille], if they are able. And as they have their informants everywhere, it is difficult to prevent them from taking by surprise some undefended place, the more so because, fearing the intelligence which they receive from this town, I dare not leave or part with the very few soldiers at my disposition in order to relieve the countryside. The only remedy, in my opinion, is for Your Highness to send posthaste and with all speed several companies of men-at-arms and to raise troops to oppose them. In the meantime one should make certain of the nobility of the Request, lest out of despair they join forces with this multitude of people. The country will be in less danger of ruin, if they can first be satisfied that the justice, authority and obedience of His Majesty and of Your Highness can be safeguarded, until we have some apter remedy. However, if we could have at least some loyal and reliable company of men-at-arms, I trust that, with the assistance of the well-disposed, we might prevent many of the disorders, which may befall the country, until we may have another means of help. We beseech Your Highness most humbly to give orders promptly. Otherwise, the confusion and terror of good men, seeing no sign of a solution, will become so great and widespread that they may be ready to abandon their lands and houses. Nor can I be certain of this town unless I have additional help quickly, not even of the castle, as I grow more and more afraid that I am not the master of the heavy ordnance. If I have some forces for this purpose, I can at least seize the authority. If it comes to the worst, I shall not abandon the town or the castle as long as there is any opportunity of serving His Majesty. I beseech Your Highness urgently to provide a remedy as the necessity demands in order to prevent still worse danger so that I at least have the means to guard and supply the town of Douai, if I am forced to quit here. I assure Your Highness that I would not hesitate to risk my life and my fortune as often as she commands me for the service of God and His Majesty. But the confusion which I witness daily without being able to find a remedy grieves me for I do not know how to discharge the responsibility which Your Highness has entrusted to me.

I pray, Madame, that Our Lord may grant Your Highness the fulfilment of her highest and most virtuous desires, after having most humbly commended myself to her good grace.

Lille, 16 August 1566

Source : S. Deyon & A. Lottin, Les “casseurs” de l’été 1566. L’iconoclasme dans le Nord de la France (Paris, 1986) 217-218; for the situation in Lille itself at this time see R.S. Duplessis, Lille and the Dutch Revolt (Cambridge, 1991) chapter 6.