23. D isorders at Gouda, 9 April 1572

Explanatory Comment : Margaret of Parma reckoned Gouda among the ‘bonnes villes’ of Holland in 1566, and not without reason. The disturbances of 1566 had made little impact on the inland town, whose civic pride and devotion to the old religion seemed to to be reflected in the splendid stained glass windows in the parish church of the Janskerk, added after the fire of 1552. But Alva’s fiscal policies caused us much anger in Gouda as anywhere, perhaps more because the town felt entitled to some consideration in view of its past record of obedience. In October 1571 the town magistrates decided to oppose the new taxes by whatever lawful means were available. During the early months of 1572, the magistrates used delaying tactics when ordered to proceed to the collection of the tenth penny. On 28 March 1572 the town feared that there would be public disorder and urged continued resistance to the new taxes, partly because the authority of the magistrates had been sapped by their failure to gain a any reprieve from the taxes. It was in this unpropitious climate of public opinion that news of the Sea Beggars’ capture of Den Briel on 1 April. Grossly exaggerated rumours to the effect that Spanish troops had massacred the inhabitants of Rotterdam on 8 April only served to neighten tensions within Gouda. On 9 April the trouble started and the magistrates felt obliged to write to Boussu partly in order to exonerate themselves.

Text : The magistrates of Gouda to Boussu, the stadhouder, 10/11 April 1572.

High, Noble, Well-Born and Gracious Lord. My Lord, may it please your grace to know that the deputies of the town of Gouda in the name and on behalf of the same town and its inhabitants, as loyal subjects of His Majesty, our most gracious Lord, cannot neglect to set forth the circumstances of their town, being afraid that events there may otherwise be reported to your grace untruthfully, and to relate in brief what the magistrates and the faithful subjects of the said town recently suffered last Wednesday [9 April].

Certain rumours (to our deep regret) arose and spread through our town among the commonalty around midday. According to these the town of Rotterdam had been seized by troops of His Majesty; there was a great cry that all the burghers of the said town had been miserably massacred by the said soldiers, including the women and children, that people waded in blood up to their ankles and that the heads of children had been thrown over the walls. These reports were spread by some who claimed to have got over the walls and so escaped. These also alleged and spread stories that the soldiers were still continuing with their butchery. This caused a tumult (may God forgive it) to our great dismay among the rabble in our town. Directly after noon on the said day these began to assemble without arms around the townhall of the said town. They let it be known that they would speak with the burgomasters, as they said, because they had understood that some soldiers had also entered the castle of the same town. Some of the stout burghers of the schutterij, seeing that the crowd was growing and increasing, and being afraid of further troubles, warned the burgomasters of the said town about this. These had gathered in the house of one of the burgomasters to discuss town business and they hastened to the market place around the townhall, where they found the said mob gathered. The burgomasters asked why they had assembled there in such large numbers and the nature of their petition. These replied that they had heard that soldiers had entered the castle and that the town might in this way be betrayed and that a massacre like that which had taken place in Rotterdam, would happen. This they repeated and related, shouting and clamouring, as we have said, and they wanted the burgomasters to carry out an investigation.

The burgomasters then went, as they had promised, to the castle in order to calm the crowd, but despite their endeavours to keep the said rabble from following, they failed and they were therefore followed to the said castle. The said burgomasters were admitted to the forecourt of the said castle by the wicket in the gate and the door was closed after them. But some rebellious individuals from the said rabble broke down, to our great sorrow and grief, the door of the said wicket with two willow trees, which were lying close to the castle before a chair-maker’s door. When the said three burgomasters saw this, they hastened to withdraw with my lord the castellan inside the castle. When the drawbridge of the said castle was raised, the fourth burgomaster remained outside among the rabble multitude, which could not follow so quickly. The said burgomasters, perceiving the immediate danger and fearful of further troubles which might befall the residence and town of His Majesty, our most gracious Lord, took counsel with the said castellan whether, in order to calm the commonalty, it might not be advisable to admit to the said castle a few schutters, faithful subjects of His Majesty, the more so since the said castellan had asked the burgomasters for some guards after the Beggars had seized Den Briel. With these the said castellan could hold the castle, with the help of his own men, against the riotous rabble and disperse the multitude. The said castellan gave his consent and the aforesaid three burgomasters left by the postern and went to the townhall of the same town. They summoned forthwith the schutterij, from which they retained a certain number with one of the said burgomasters [for service] at the said castle. He succeeded, with the help of the said schutters, in repelling the said mob and he led the same schutters to the castle. These explained to the said rabble, as the burgomasters had already done, that there were no soldiers in the castle. But since the said rabble remained unconvinced, three of four of them were allowed into the castle with the consent of the said castellan. These reported to the rioters that there were no soldiers there and the said mob left the forecourt of the said castle.

Since there were present some rebellious individuals who alleged that the said soldiers were lodged in the Franciscan house of the said town close to the said castle, some of the demented mob (this grieves us exceedingly) broke down the door of the said friary on the pretext that they wanted to expel the soldiers. When this came to the knowledge of one of the burgomasters, who had gone back to his house, which was close to the said friary, about his own business, the same went to the said friary and used all his powers of persuasion to induce the said mob to leave the said friary. Another of the burgomasters, assisted by some schutters at the townhall, entered the said friary to evict the said rabble, which complied without causing any damage inside the said friary.

Meanwhile the two other burgomasters remained at the townhall to guard the same. To ensure the safety of the town they assembled both the schutterij and some seventy guards, whom they had previously taken into the service of the town. With the help of these the said four burgomasters kept watch all that night. In order to sow dissent among the said mob they hired next day some of these, from whom the said burgomasters succeeded in taking a proper oath of loyalty.

On that day my lord, the baljuw of Schieland, appeared before the gate of the said town with your Grace’s letter. When the burgomasters, with the help of the watch at the gate, wished to admit him, a large number of the canaille from the town ran out and took the said baljuw prisoner and brought him to the said townhall, where the said burgomasters, in the presence of the offices, took him under their protection, as you will know from the letter and report of the baljuw sent to your Grace.

The same [magistrates] beg your Grace to offer our excuses in due time to His Majesty and His Excellency, the Duke of Alva since we have done our utmost duty in the service of Almighty God and His Majesty, our most gracious Lord, to prevent all the mischief and further troubles. We hope with God’s help to keep the said town in obedience to Almighty God and His Majesty.

Source : J.C.Leeuwenburg and J.Smit, ‘De ongedrukte resolutiën der Staten van Holland van 26 April-16 Juni 1572 en van 29 October-17 November 1577’, Bijdragen en Mededeelingen van het Historisch Genootschap 61 (1940) 16-19. See also C.C.Hibben, , Gouda in Revolt. Particularism and Pacificism in the Revolt of the Netherlands, 1572-1588 (Utrecht, 1983) 48-49.