Philip II, king of Spain, born during the days of Luther, despised the Reformation. His object in life was to destroy Protestants and see Catholicism entrenched throughout Europe. It was Philip whose Spanish Inquisition snuffed out Reformation fires in Spain and Portugal. He sent his Spanish Armada against Queen Elizabeth in an attempt to reclaim England for Catholicism. And it was Philip who sent the Duke of Alva against the Dutch.
The Netherlands had long been a hotbed of Reformation ideas. The Bible was freely available there, and teachers from Germany, France, and England spread Reformation ideas, especially Calvinism, throughout the land.
Philip, occupying the Netherlands, unleashed the Spanish Inquisition and stationed the dreaded Duke of Alva in the lowlands. Hundreds who dared read the Bible or the works of the reformers were seized, strangled, killed, or burned alive. The Duke’s eight-year reign of terror left thousands of men, women, and children tortured and slain. Entire villages were massacred. Though the Netherlands were internally divided, some provinces more Catholic and others more Protestant, the Duke of Alva’s savagery united everyone against Spain and sparked a war of independence.
William, Prince of Orange, assumed leadership of the Dutch resistance, and on April 1, 1572 he launched an offensive against Spanish forces in the north, using an army of fishermen known as the Sea Beggars. They took the city of Brielle, and William captured the northern provinces one by one until the whole of Holland was freed from Spanish power. The war raged in the south. Leyden, surrounded by Spanish troops, was desperate. Inhabitants were reduced to living on cats, dogs, and rats. The king and pope promised full pardon if the city would surrender, but the citizens refused. William proposed they open the floodgates, break the dikes, and flood the plains around the city. It was harvesttime and the city’s crops would be ruined, but the people consented. The dikes were broken, the sea swept in, and William’s Sea Beggars sailed into the city. The Spanish fled in terror, and the city, liberated and grateful, gathered in the cathedral to give thanks to God.
I, the Lord God of Israel, will come to their rescue.
I won’t forget them.
I will make rivers flow on mountain peaks.
I will send streams to fill the valleys.
Dry and barren land will flow with springs And become a lake.
Everyone will see this and know that I, The holy Lord God of Israel, created it all. (Isaiah 41:17b,18,20)
Robert J. Morgan, On This Day : 265 Amazing and Inspiring Stories About Saints, Martyrs & Heroes, electronic ed. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2000, c1997). April 1.