A Brief History of Groningen

Compiled and translated by Erik Springelkamp

Main source:
History van Groningen
Wolters Noordhoff en Bouma's Boekhuis
Groningen 1981

Comments and corrections are welcome!

Email to: F.Springelkamp@inter.NL.net

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The City of Groningen

Map of Groningen in the 16th Century Map of Groningen in the 16th Century (314KB)

The Province of Groningen

The Province of Groningen. (1957 school-atlas).
The Province of Groningen
1957 school-atlas

The Eldest Times and the Middle Ages

In the aftermath of the last Ice-age (the young Dryas-time:9000-8000 b.c.) the sea-level was about 100 meters lower then today. The North Sea coastal area was sandy. When the sea-level rose quickly, drainage slowed down, many lakes formed, and peat-moor covered the area, some 100 kilometers wide. Still later, areas of the moor were covered by clay. Rivers formed estuaries at break-throughs in the dunes. So the following general profile was created: sea, dunes, tidal-march, clay, peat-moor with some sandy highgrounds.


The most important of those sandy highgrounds is the "Hondsrug" (back of the dog), some 60 km. long, from Groningen to Emmen in Drente (see map). The highest point is 30 m. above sealevel. This highground was populated more or less continuously since the neolithicum. Many megalithic chambered tombs, called 'hunebedden', can still be seen here. A few kilometers to the south of Groningen such a tomb had been in use from 2700 to 2200 b.c. The northernmost of these hunebedden was found in Delfzijl (at the coast), under a thick layer of clay.

A nice page about Hunebedden: Dolmen in the Netherlands

The Campaigns of Drusus

The Frisians

In the early Iron-age (600-400 b.c., period Hallstad/La Tene), because of overpopulation on the highgrounds, the clay-grounds were beeing colonized. Because these grounds were regularly flooded by the see, people formed artificial hills on which to live, so called 'terpen', 'wierden' or 'warden'. These people are the Frisians.

The Romans

The area of the province of Groningen has been under the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire for a short period. In 12 b.c. Drusus subdued the Frisians (see picture for Drusus'campaigns), but they revolted in 28. And in 47 the Romans retreated permanently behind the River Rhine.

The Saxons

During the Wandering of the Nations (4th - 7th century) severe floodings reduced the Frisian population. Many will have joined the Anglo-Saxons, to which they were closely related. Also some Saxons settled in Drente and other parts of the Eastern Netherlands.

The Franks

From 777 on christianisation started from Dokkum (in the North-East of modern Friesland, see map). At the same time the area becames Frankish. In 734 Frisians have been defeated by Franks in Westerlauwers-Friesland (is Frisia West of the river/estuary Lauwers), today the province of Friesland. Oosterlauwers-Friesland is what now is the Province of Groningen. There is also a 'West-Friesland', which is now the North of the province of Noord-Holland, and an 'Oost-Friesland', which is now in Germany.

The German Empire

In 843 Groningen became part of the Middle-Empire of Lotharius, and thereafter it came under the jurisdiction of the East-Frankish Empire, later the German Empire.

The Bishop

In the 11th century the area was not a political unity. Friesland was the general coastal area from The Hague to the River Weser in Germany. It had no sovereign lord. Just outside was the 'villa' (lat. village) Groningen and surrounding Go and Wold, (Gorecht). It was part of Drente, of which the countship was given 3 times to the Bishop of Utrecht (in 1024, 1025 and 1046). The Bishopric also received (in 1040) as a personal gift a 'predium' (lat. estate) in the village of Groningen, including buildings with serfs, cultivated and non-cultivated lands, pastures, waters, fishing-rights etc., but also governments-rights, mint-right and toll-right.

The City

During the reign of Bishop Hartbert (1139-1150), Groningen is an 'oppidum' (lat. town). There was a revolt in Groningen and the rebels defended themselves in the Church of St. Walburg. Afterwards Bishop Harbert made the citizens promise not to build a wall around the city. A promise they didn't keep, the cronicler says. The eldest brother of the Bishop, Ludolf, got the 'prefectuur' of the town. His youngest brother, Leffart, got the Castle of Coevorden in the South-East of Drente, the only passage from Drente to Germany through the moores. (see province map; Vancouver is named after Coevorden). Ludolf was 'Prefect', Leffart was 'kastelein', and both behaved rather independently of the Bishop in Utrecht.

A Civil War

Under Bishop Otto II van Lippe a civil war broke out in the city of Groningen between the prefect Egbert and the family of the Gelkingen, who were rich and powerfull. The 'kastelein' of Coevorden, Rudolf, joined the Gelkingen and they besieged the house of the prefect. The Bishop negociated a truce. Egbert built a castle south of the town, but Rudolf burnt it immediately with his Drenten. They chased the prefect to Friesland, that is, to the Ommelanden, as the Frisian lands around the city are now called. The Ommelanders on their turn chased Rudolf away and burnt the town, except for a few houses. This was in april 1227. The Gelkingen, Rudolf, the Drenten and many Frisians rallied and layed siege to the town. But the prefect defended with troops of the Bishop. Bishop Otto raised a great army to relieve the city. Not only knights from Utrecht participated, but also from Holland, Gelre, Kleve, Cologna and Munster. It was a total disaster: in the moores of Ane, in the south of Drente, the army of the Bishop was massacred by Rudolf and the Drenten. Rudolf was deployed behind a meadow, on a shallow hill with very good accoustic properties: he shouted at the camp of the knights, who became so angry that they charged with their horses. But, the meadow was a marsh, and the knights got stuck. The Bishop and hundreds of knights were killed. The war raged on, with many participants, until 1258.

The Low Coutries in the Middle Ages

The Low Countries in the Middle Ages

The Counts of Holland and Gelre had become the major sovereigns in the Northern parts of the Low Countries, apart from the Bishop of Utrecht. In the South the Bishopric of Luik (Liege) and the Counties of Vlaanderen (Flanders), Brabant, and Henegouwen (Henaige) were the most powerfull. In the East (now Germany), the Bishops of Munster and Keulen (Cologne), and the Counts of Oldenburg and Kleve were important. Vlaanderen was not part of the German Empire, but officially belonged to the West-Frankish Empire, that is France.

Organisation in the 13th Century


The Ommelanden were divided into several districts: Westergo in the South-West, Hunzingo in the North-West, Fivelinggo in the North-East and the Oldambts in the East. Around and South of the city was the Gorecht. ('go' or 'gouw' is the Frankish administrative county, or canton, but after 1090 there are are no more counts in the Ommelanden). These districts were subdivided into 'ambachten'. In the districts or ambachten assemblees were helt with judges ('redgers') and landowning farmers ('meente'). The position of redger circulated among the wealthy farmers. These wealthy farmers were not a nobility, but more of a class. They started to build stonehouses. On a larger scale there was a Frisian League of the Upstalboom. It used to meet during the Whitsuntide. It mediated in case of conflicts between the districts, and provided a common Law. First it gathered in Aurich, Oost-Friesland, but later in Appingedam (near Delfzijl). Appingedam derived some cityrights from the Upstalboom.


In the Stad (town) the centre of power was with the prefect until the mid 13th. century. But during the civil war, the Ommelanders had united in 1250 when the town raised the prices of grain, and they had occupied the town and made all the knights of the prefect leave. The merchants were allowed to stay. The prefect still kept his powers as a judge, which were executed by his schout (sheriff), but the the city develloped it's own magistrate as it grew and more administration became necessary. It was organized as Burgemeesters and Raden (Majors and Counsils), and the universitas, all of the citizens, who formed a representative college.

14th Century

Stad and Ommelanden

In the 14th century the cooperation between Stad and Ommelanden increased, although this was achieved through lots of conflict. Regular meetings at the cityhall were held between the judges of the Ommelanden en Drente and the burgemeesters of Groningen, as well as the abbots of Aduart and Wittewierum. Important issue here were monetary stability.


In the mean time Holland conquered West-Friesland and acquired the countship of Zeeland. Gelre acquired most of the East of the Netherlands (Gelderland and Overijssel). In France the 100 years War started. In the Netherlands an age of feuds began, where everybody was generally organized around two parties. In Holland these parties were called Hoeken and Kabeljauwen, in Friesland the Schieringers and Vetkopers. In Stad en Ommelanden this lead to a permanent opposition between Stad en Hoofdelingen (headmen) uit de Ommelanden, wealthy farmers who had strongholds and private armies, and held the positions of judges on the basis of their properties. The Stad Groningen had become unassailable. A third power was formed by the Abbeys, especially Aduart, just West of the city. By impoldering they had become very wealthy, and they had ships with which they traded (and conducted piracy).

15th Century

During the 15th century Groningen consolidated it's power in the Ommelanden, and there were continuous struggles with foreign threats. Holland, which was ruled by the Bavarian House by now, tried to get hold of Friesland and Groningen. The Bishop of Utrecht tried to effectuate his rights on Groningen and Drente. And a powerfull hoofdeling in Oost-Friesland tried to conquer the Ommelanden.


In the end all these attacks were repulsed, and Groningen became effectively an independent citystate. She had direct rule over the Gorecht and the Oldambts, and a strong treaty with the Ommelanden that gave her political and economic preponderance. Westerwolde (the current border area with Germany) was in pledge from the Bishop of Munster, and she had garrisons along the Eastern border. Large parts of Friesland were subordinate to her and in several cities in Friesland she had blockhouses with garrisons. Her coat of arms was a double imperial eagle, sign of an free imperial city. The sovereignty of the Bishop had become a hollow formality.


In the mean time, through Bourgondy, Habsburg acquired in the Netherlands Vlaanderen, Brabant, Henegouwen, Luxemburg, Limburg, Holland and Zeeland. The Duchy of Gelre had been conquered, but with the help of the French King, Duke Karel regained independance and would remain the strongest opponent to total Habsburg rule in the Netherlands.


Now that so many provinces were under one sovereign, the position of Stadhouder (governer, lit. placeholder of the sovereign in the province) became important. In 1489 Albrecht of Saksen became Stadhouder of Holland. The Dukes of Saksen, from Dresden, hoped to gain a position of power in Holland, Friesland and Groningen. In 1498 he attacked Friesland and Groningen.


In 1498 Albrecht van Saksen (centre of power in Dresden), got the countship of Friesland (that is Friesland between Zuiderzee and Ems) from Emperor Maximiliaan. He allied with Count Edzart of Oost-Friesland (East of the Ems) and layed seige to Groningen. In 1506 Edzart broke his alliance with Saxony (Albrecht had been succeeded by Georg). Price was that Groningen had to acknowledge Edzart as Lord. Long legal procedures followed at the Imperial Court, and finally Maximilian decided in favor of Saxony. The Saxon army appeared before the town again. Groningen turned to Duke Karel van Gelre for help. Karel was inaugurated as lord of Groningen in 1514. He repulsed the Saxon army.

Charles V

In 1515 Karel (Charles) V of Habsburg inherited the Bourgondic provinces (Most of the Low Countries except the North-East, which now belonged to the Duke of Gelre). Karel V also became King of Spain and German Emperor. A long struggle between Karel of Habsburg and Karel of Gelre followed, in which Gelre slowly lost ground: in 1524 Friesland, in 1528 Utrecht and Overijssel, in 1534 Groningen, and finally Gelre itself in 1543.


Groningen had now become one of the 17 provinces of the Netherlands, and was ruled by a Stadhouder in the name of the central government in Brussels. However, Groningen and the Ommelanden kept a lot of internal freedom: they appointed their own magistrate in the city and judges in the Ommelanden. In no other province 'Brussels' had so little influence as in 'Stad en Ommelanden'. Stad en Lande had develloped a common assembly, the Staten, consisting of burgemeesters and raden for 'Stad', and prelates, hoofdelingen and free-holders, and later also representatives from the parihes for 'Lande'. An executive chamber was the 'hoofdmannenkamer' (chamber of the headmen), appointed by the city out of ex-burgemeesters and raden. Because the stadhouder was often in Brussels, he himself had a placeholder, the lieutenant. The stadhouder got the precidency in the hoofdmannenkamer, and hoofdmannenkamer and lieutenant became the representatives of the central government. They also called the Staten to assembly. There were severe quarrels between city and lieutenant about authority: when the city called the Staten, it wouldn't explain the reasons to the lieutenant; 'plakkaten' (laws) from Brussels were only proclaimed when they liked them, and even then not in the name of the King, but in the name of the burgemeesters and counsel. Although Groningen had become 'Nederlands', her relations with Westfalen and North-Germany were still more important then those with the Netherlands. Internally there were always quarrels between Stad en Ommelanden about priviledges and rights that would have strong influence in the coming 'Dutch Revolt'.


The 'Dark Ages'

800-1000: In the Ommelanden people lived on 'terpen'; there were no dikes. Typically, a terp with a church would have some 100 inhabitants - 12 farms and 4 houses of craftsmen. Terps without churches would have had some 3 farms. Cattle-breeding was the most important means of support, supplemented by fishing, trading and shipping. Because relatively little land was safe from flooding, imports of grain were important It is estimated that around 900 there lived some 12 500 people in the area of the province of Groningen. The gateway to the hinterland of Drente and beyond was the tip of the sandridge de 'Hondsrug'. Two streams, the Hunze and the Aa merged into the Reitdiep (also called Hunze) that flowed to the estuary the Lauwerszee. Here was the village of Groningen.


The Ostersee (North Sea) The 'Ostersee' (=North Sea now) from the Danish coast to Zeeland, and the Rhine.

In the 11th century there was trade from Groningen over long distances. Coins from Groningen were found in Russia, Poland and Baltic countries. The merchants were organized in guilds. During expeditions they formed groups, called 'hansen'. There were 4 of those hanzen in Groningen: for Keulen (Cologne), for Utrecht, for Ripen in Sleeswijk and for Herbrun at the Ems in Oos-Friesland, from where one could navigate into Westfalen. Ripen was an important harbor on the road to the Baltic.

The Hanze

In 1258 traders from Groningen acquired the right to trade in England, and they got privileges for the trade in Holland. Groningen was a natural member of the then informally organized Hanze-league. In 1227 two Groningers were witness in Gotland (the Baltic) at a treaty between the Hanze and the prince of Smolensk. There were regular relation with Hamburg and Bremen. Some Groningers went to live there. In 1273 the abbot of Aduart got the right from the Arch-bishop of Hamburg to trade in Stade at the Elbe.

During the period 1300-1500 the active (long range) trade deminished, as did the position of the city in the Hanze. When in 1358 the city of Luebeck sent letters to all Hanzetowns about a trade-boycot of Flanders, Groningen didn't receive this letter. Burgermaster and Counsel complained about it, but said they would comply with the boycot.Ten years later Groningen wasn't part of a Hanze fleet against King Waldemar of Denmark to protect the free navigation through the Sont. Still, the city was a member, and in the early 15th century there has been a Hanze assembly in Groningen.


In 1655 there is a law about which farmers in the Ommelanden are rich enough to be free-holders (that is, they can participate in the administration). They must have land for at least 30 cattle, must be worth at least 1000 'Embder Guldens' (guilders from Emden, see province-map, in the North-East in Germany), and pay taxes worth at least 8 'Caroliguldens'. So property is measured in a different guilder than taxes!


Then I found some prices around 1620: butter: 60 guldens per 320 lbs. rye: 80 'stuivers' (5 cent pieces, a coin for daily use) per mud (100 liter, 80kg).
In 1597 a Flemish artisan in high-quality textiles is contracted by the City by offering him citizens rights, free housing, and an advance free of interest of 600 carolusguldens. (He must teach six children each two years).
Also in 1597 a Ludolph Engelstedt writes a letter from London to the City, encouraging them to compete for the stapleright of English cloth: the increased trading activities would enable the houseowners to raise their rents from 50/60 guilders to 200/400 guilders!



In 787 Karel de Grote (Charlemagne) visited the scholarly priest Liudger in Monte Cassino, Italy, and asked him to christianize the counties (gouwen) Hugmerchi, Hunusga, Fivilga, Emisga, Federitga and the isle of Bant. That is, the area of the Ommelanden and part of Oost-Friesland. Liudger was born near Utrecht, and studied under Alcuin in York. He had preached before in the neighbourhood of Dokkum, but had to leave when the Frisians and Saxons rebelled under Widukind. In 785 Karel had suppressed the rebellion, and he hoped that christianity would pacify the area.


Another priest, Willehad, had preached in Hugmerchi (Humsterland near the Lauwerszee), but he was arrested by the inhabitants for slander of their Gods. Those Gods should decide themselves whether he was guilty to death, and they threw the dice. The outcome was favourable for him and he was allowed to go. Later Willehad became bishop of Bremen.


Liudger was rather successfull and founded six churches. His greatest succes was the conversion of the poet Bernlef who recited the tales of the forefathers and the fights of the Kings. But Karel wanted to make Liudger Archbishop of Trier, and when Liudger refused, his diocees was nevertheless enlarged to the southern part of the Saxon area, where Liudger built a monastry, after which the place became known as Munster. So the Ommelanden became part of the bishopric of Munster from which they were geographically separated, while Groningen became part of the bishopric of Utrecht.


The Ommelanden became very independant of the bishop, which meant that local laymen were dean (that is, onducted legal church affairs). Even in 1493 Pope Alexander VI said that this strange situation had existed from time immemorial. Also the Frisians were allowed to build their own churches and elect their own priests, 'because Willehad had ordered the Frisians to build churches'.


The first cloisters in the Ommelanden didn't appear before the end of the 12th century. Peculiar is that many of these cloisters were 'doublecloisters', that is for monks and nuns together. The cloisters live sober, reclaimed land and built dikes, and so became wealthy. The Abbey of Aduart owned 6753.5 hectare in the 16th century, that is 3.5% of the cultivated land of the province.


Many cloisters had schools that were not only for novices, but also for ordinary children. There were also some schools in the parishes. In Groningen there was the Maartensschool, first connected to the church, later it was a cityschool. It's teachers were university graduates. In the 15th century the Abbey of Aduart was an assemblypoint for many scholars. Some humanists wrote there, like Wessel Gansfort, who around 1475 preached ideas not unlike Luther, and Rudolf Agricola.


The new humanistic ideas didn't lead to conflicts here. Everybody adopted from these ideas as he liked. As an example, there was a 'disputatio' in 1523 between the Dominicans in Groningen and the citypriests. The citypriests rejected the binding power of the edicts of the Pope and condemned the burning of heretics. There was much discussion, but the meeting was concluded with a common meal. This was the year of the first burning of heretics in Brussels.


When the controversy about protestantism sharpened, the City decided in 1536 that preachers should preach 'the right and clear gospel of God' such that everybody would 'be tought, improved and not offended'. In case of disagreement one should not 'call names nor hold in contempt'. One should not preach about disputes there were not intelligeble for the common man, but only about what concerned 'the salvation of the soul'. The preachers should gently teach the people that nobody should resist against God Allmighty, Mother Mary, God's Saints, the Sacraments, or the ordinary service, until.... it would please God in Heaven to change it! Those who didn't oblige to these rules could be banned.

Jan van Leyden

In 1534 the Baptists took up Arms in Munster. In march many Baptists from Holland went there and under Jan van Leyden they founded the Anabaptist 'Kingdom of Sion' (all property to the commune, polygamy). May 3rd Groningen ordered all foreign Baptists to leave the city; five days later they were also banned from the Ommelanden. Ommelander Baptists would have to leave for a year. In practise most baptist were only fined.


In 1535 two baptists returned to the Ommelanden and preached: "Kill! Kill the priests and papists and all government in the world, especially that rules over you! Improve yourself, because your salvation is near!" During one night 300 people were baptized 'to save them'. The stadhouder (Karel van Gelre, a bastard of the Duke) arrested some of them. The leader, Harmen Schoenmaker, would die in prison, but there were no capital punishments. Only those who persevered were banned. The authorities considered 'the gullibility and temptation'. A little later 70 baptists attacked a cloister in Warffum, but the stadhouder was there quicker and the attack was repulsed. Some baptists were killed and 30 were captured. Only one deathsentence was passed now.

The Ommelanden passed legislation the baptists would be fined three times, with 5, 10 and 15 mark. Those who persevered would be banned.

Menno Simons

After the fall of the Anabaptists in Munster, the baptists became more peacefull. In januari 1537 Menno Simons was appointed as teacher in Groningen. He became the leader of the peacefull baptists, the Mennonites. Soon afterwards he moved to Oost-Friesland.

Lieutenant Maarten van Naarden

When Karel V became sovereign of Stad en Ommelanden, his laws against the baptists were not applied. The lieutenant Maarten van Naarden wrote repeatedly about this situation to Brussels, and in 1544, 1548 and 1555 he went there personally. The city denied the right of the sovereign to enact laws on his own. In 1548 the city enacted a law that all anabaptists would be banned, although the imperial law demanded capital punishment.

Stadhouder Aremberg

The lieutenant persevered: in 1555 he heard that there were many anabaptists in the lands. He gave their names to the judges and ordered them to punish them, at the least according to the laws of 1535. Some judges collected fines, but nobody was banned. Then the lieutenant ordered punishment of the judges and asked the city to call the Staten, and although the city refused, the Staten assembled at januari 16 1556. The Staten argued that the lieutenant could only punish the judges with a fine, according to the laws of the land. The lieutenant called for help from Brussels, and they sent stadhouder Aremberg. October 28 he addressed the four burgemeesters: when they would not take sufficient action against the sects, it would be possible that the Court of Brussels would give him a special assignment for an investigation, whereby they could loose priviledges. When Aremberg had left, the burgemeesters called the citycounsel. They took some measures, like demanding a certificate from foreigners who wanted to settle in Groningen. But they questioned whether these sects would pose such danger as the stadhouder had stated. Shortly afterwards Aremberg sent the infamous Bill against the Heretics of 1550, just reconfirmed by King Philips II, for proclamation. The Staten assembled, but although they took some formal measures, the Bill was not proclaimed. On the last day of the assembly the lieutenant wrote a long letter to the King: he didn't see a solution 'as long as the city here is above the counsel, and the counsel is above the headmen, and the headmen are above the lieutenent'. A few months later he retired 'because of age', and became Counsillor in the Court of Holland.

Charles V of Habsburg (Karel V)

Charles (1500-1558) inherited the Burgondy lands from his father, Philip the fair one (+ 1506); from his mother Johanna he gained Spain, Southern Italy and the American colonies; from his uncle Maximilian he got the Austrian lands; in 1519 he was elected Emperor of Germany.

His main enemies were the German soevereigns, the protestants, France, the Turks and the Pope.


Luther was appointed professor of theology in Wittenberg by Elector Frederik (the Wise) of Saksen. October 31, 1517 he nailed his 95 theses at the church. In 1520 he was excommunicated by Pope Leo X; Luther burned this ban. Next year Luther was called by Emperor Charles to the Reichstag of Worms. Luther refused to recall his theses and he was put under the ban of the Empire.

Treaty of Augsburg

Revolutionary religious rebellions erupted: 1525 by German peasants, 1535 the Anabaptists in Munster. In 1546-47 the Schmalkaldic War. Charles' general Alva won the battle of Muehlberg, but when France united with the protestants, the piece-treaty of Augsburg was signed in 1555, according to which the German soevereigns could choose the religion in their own lands, but nobody was to be prosecuted for his beliefs.


Disappointed, Charles abdicated in 1555 in Brussels from the Netherlands, and next year from Spain and the Empire. His son Philip II inherited Spain, the Italic possessions, the Netherlands and Franche-Comte'. Charles' brother Ferdinant, already soevereign of the Austrian lands, was elected Emperor.

The Netherlands

The Netherlands under Charles V

The Netherlands under Charles V

The dashed lines indicate traderoutes. Oostvaart, Noordvaart, Westvaart: navigation to the East, North and West; Oostzee: Baltic; Rijnhandel: trade on the Rhine; Westfalen: the North-West of Germany; Dates indicate submission to Karel V.

All of the Netherlands except the bishopric Liege (Luik) had come under one soevereign, but they were not a unity, because each province, each city, had it's own special rights.

Formally these lands still belonged to the German Empire (except Vlaanderen and Artois). For the old Burgondy provinces (Holland, Brabant and the rest to the South) this had already become hollow (as well as the relation of Flanders and Artois to France). After the conquest of the Eastern provinces (Groningen to Gelre) an arangement was made in Augsburg in 1547 after Charles' victory at Muehlberg in Germany. All of the Netherlands, toghether with Lotharingen (Lorraine) and France-Comte' formed the Burgondy Kreits within the German Empire. They were exempt from Imperial jurisdiction.

A list of the Burgondy Kreits: Duchies: Lotharingen (Lorraine), Brabant, Limburg, Luxemburg and Gelre; Counties: Vlaanderen (Flanders), Artois, Franche-Comte', Henegouwen (Henaige), Holland, Zeeland ('Sealand', the isles between Holland and Vlaanderen), Namen, Zutphen (in Gelderland) and Charlerois (near Liege); Margraviate: Antwerpen (Antwerp); Seigniories: Friesland, Groningen, Overijssel (part of the bishopric of Utrecht beyond (over) the river IJssel), Utrecht, Valkenburg (near Maastricht), Daelhem (near Liege), Salins, Mechelen and Maastricht.
(The 'landschap' Drente had become so unimportant that it wasn't regarded a province).

Margaretha of Austria

The Netherlands were governed by a governess (1506-30 Margaretha of Austria, 1530-55 Maria of Hungary). She was assisted by counsils: the 'Raad van State' (high nobilty like the Stadhouders), a financial counsil, and a 'secret council' for the legislation. The provinces Holland, Zeeland, Vlaanderen, Brabant, Henegouwen, Namen and Luxemburg (the patrimonial provinces) assembled in the 'Staten-Generaal' and paid general 'benevolences' (=taxes). The other provinces only attended the Staten-Generaal occasionally when new legislation was declared.

Karel strived for centralisation, mostly gently, but sometimes harsh like in 1540 when Gent (in Flanders) refused a 'bede' (benevolence=taxes) and rebelled but was severely punished and lost all of it's priviledges.

The Reformation

The Reformation had quite a lot of influence, especially in Antwerpen with all of it's foreigners. Charles proclaimed harsh edicts against the heretics, and in 1526 the first martyrs died on the stake. Around 1550 Calvinism gained a lot of followers under the nobility and craftsmen in the South.

Phillip II and the outbreak of the Dutch Revolt

The first few years of his reign Phillip remained in the Netherlands because of his war with France, but as soon as he could travel, in 1559, he left for Spain. He would never return.

Margaretha of Parma

He appointed his half-sister Margaretha of Parma as Governess with her three counsils, the Raad van State, the Geheime (secret) Raad and the Raad van Financien, while several high noblemen were appointed Stadhouder to provinces: Egmond for Vlaanderen, Willem of Orange for Holland, Zeeland and Utrecht, Aremberg for Friesland, Groningen, Drente and Overijssel. In reality the power seated with three trusted servants of Phillip: Granvelle, Viglius and Berlaymont. Of these men Antoine Perrenot, Lord of Granvelle, was the most important.

William of Orange

Opposing him, the leader of the discontents became Willem of Orange. He had been born in 1533 at Dillenburg, Germany, as son of William the Rich and Juliana of Stolberg, but as heir of his nephew Rene' of Nassau, owner of the Principality of Orange and rich possessions in North-Brabant, he was raised in the Netherlands. He became a favourite of Charles V and was well-esteemed at the court in Brussels. His first wife, Anna van Buren owned rich possessions in the Betuwe (between the rivers Rijn and Maas) and in South-Holland. They had a son Filips Willem. Later he has been married with Anna of Saksen (son Maurits), Charlotte de Bourbon and Louise de Coligny (son Frederik Hendrik).

Kardinal Granvell

One of the reasons for discontent was the reorganisation of the archbishoprics and bishoprics in the Netherlands. This was an agreement with the Pope in order to increase the influence of the government on the church. Before 1559 the Netherlands fell under the archbishoprics of Keulen (Cologne), Reims and Trier. Granvelle was appointed Archbishop of Mechelen and soon afterwards kardinal.

Geuzen: the Beggars

The high nobility, whose influence in government was severely reduced, succeeded in putting goveness Margaretha up against Granvelle, and in 1564 the kardinal was recalled from the Netherlands. But the persecution of the heretics remained harsh. Now many lower nobles, catholics as well as protestants, united in a 'compromis', and in 1566 fourhundred nobles offered a petition to Margaretha, asking for a stop to the inquisition and leniation of the edicts. (At that occasion a courtier used the word 'geux' (fr.=beggars), and later the rebels toke this word as a name of honor: Geuzen). Margaretha promised to send the petition to her brother the King, and promised moderation of the edicts.


This triggered great activity of the calvinists: many refugees returned, preachers preached, many in the open air, and in the summer of 1566 the iconoclasm started, at first by poor weavers in Vlaanderen. Many church-interiors were destroyed and much art demolished. The 'compromis' between catholics and protestants fell apart. A small army of calvinists was defeated in 1567 at Oosterweel near Antwerpen. The fanatic calvinists appeared to be a small minority. Margaretha soon was in control again. But Phillip felt that a severe punishment was in order and sent his trusted general Alva in 1567 to the Netherlands. Many fled, mainly to England, Oost-Friesland and Kleve (just over the border in Germany near Nijmegen). In Wezel (near Kleve), and later in Emden (in Oost-Friesland near Groningen) the Nederlandse Hervormde Kerk (Dutch-Reformed church) was founded. Willem of Orange also went into exile to his castle in Dillenburg.

Alva, the Iron Duke

Margaretha resigned as governess and Alva became her successor.

Groningen on the eve of the 80 years War

In 1566, at the eve of the 80 years War, there was not much cause for rebellion in the province of Groningen. There were the usual quarrels between the Staten and the Lieutenant, but on the whole the Staten maintained their rights. There was a kind of natural peace of religion.


From 1545 till his death in the end of the 50's the humanist Regnerus Praedinius was rector of the school of St.Maarten, the city-school. Works of Melanchton, Luther, Calvin and Bullinger were read and mentioned in sermons. The old rituals had to be maintained though.

King Philip II

With Pillip II on the throne the city became a little more carefull. A pastor Hugo van Eppenhuizen was banned by the Lieutenant Maarten van Naarden because he changed the rituals too openly. And in februari 1557 a book written by schoolmaster Derck Paesschen was forbidden and printed copies were recalled. A few months later he taught his schoolchildren the catechism of Luther and he was warned again. After a third warning in juli he was banned to avoid troubles with stadhouder Aremberg. Around october the city-council also seized heretic books in the friar's house.

Johannes Eelts

In 1558 the newly appointed pastor of St. Maarten (the main parish church) Johannes Eelts left the city for Cologne it order to avoid imminent problems.

Steven Sylvius

Fear of an intervention from Brussels seems to have passed in 1559, because as the successor of Eelts the Frisian pastor Steven Sylvius was appointed, who had recently graduated as a doctor of theology at the Lutherian University of Heidelberg. Wilhelmus Lindanus, religious commissary for Friesland, alarmed the authorities in Utrecht. They sent, a year later (!), the inquisitor Nicolaus de Castro and Johan van Wee, canon at the cathedral. They arrived in june 1560. The city-administration declared flatly that they could not allow them any special authority in the city. Attempts to hear wittnesses without the presence of the city-administration were prohibited, and both gentlemen left without any results. The vicar-general of the bishopric sent their report to Brussels, stadhouder Aremberg and Lieutenant de Mepsche were called on, but all in vain: the city maintained that the three eldest priests and two eldest burgemeesters elected the pastor of St.Maarten and, if necessary, would punish him.

Johannes Eelts returned to Groningen, became pastor of the village Baflo in 1561, and pastor in Groningen in 1564!


One of the main reasons why Brussels didn't intervene in Groningen was that the central government didn't have the power in the region. The King only had small garrisons in Leeuwarden, Harlingen and Staveren (in Friesland), while Groningen was strongly fortified.

The king also worked on a reform of the church in the Netherlands, in which Groningen would get it's own bishop. Of course this bishop was refused by the city. The church in Groningen remained 'humanistic catholic'.

Feito Ruardi

Only a few protestants felt they had to leave the church. Some left the city, others went for highdays to Emden, just across the Ems estuary. In 1557 a congregation was founded in Groningen by Feito Ruardi from Emden. Meetings were held at night, but the enthousiasme was feeble. Feito returned to Emden.

In 1565 the reformed church-counsil of Emden even admitted that the Groningen pastor Steven Sylvius 'taught the truth', even though he was an idolator (for consecrating the host).

Duke Alva Governer of the Netherlands 1567-73

Soon he took harsh measures. The mighty counts Egmond and Hoorne were taken into custody and a special court was established to punish the participators of the turmoil. This 'Raad van Beroerten' (counsil of turmoil), soon to be called 'Bloedraad' (bloodcounsil) passed many death-sentences, while the properties of the convicts came to the crown. The properties of Willem of Orange were also confiscated, while his son Filips Willem, who studied at Leuven, was taken to Spain.

The Battle of Heiligerlee

Prince Willem raised an army, spending most of his remaining possessions. The plan was to invade the Netherlands at four places, in order to force Alva to split his forces. Lack of money (bad organisation?) prevented this. The first invasion was in 1568 by Willem's brother Lodewijk (Lewis) van Nassau in Groningen. He defeated Stadhouder Aremberg near Heiligerlee, in the East of the province. Aremberg died, but also Lodewijk's younger brother Adolf. This battle is regarded as the start of the 80 years War.

The Beheading of Egmond and Hoorne

Alva acted resolute. He ordered the beheading of Egmond and Hoorne, and advanced with a strong army of Spaniards to the North. Lodewijk was stalled before the city of Groningen that was strongly garrisoned. When Alva approached Lodewijk retreated to Oost-Friesland, and he was defeated near Jemmingem near the river Ems.

The failure of Prince William of Orange

A few months later the main attack of the Prince took place. He crossed the river Maas (Meuse) South of Roermond and he advanced into Brabant. But Alva followed him without offering battle. The general uprising that Willem had hoped for didn't happen, and he ran out of money. He had to dissolve his army and his effort was a total failure.

The pennies...

Alva decided to tighten his grip on the Netherlands by imposing central taxes, bypassing the Staaten-Generaal that had to approve taxes until now. A one-time 1% on all property (hundredst penny), a 5% on all sales of real estate (twentiest penny), and a 10% on all sales of movables (tenth penny). There was much opposition against the last two taxes, for fear that it would harm trade. In the end they were redeemed for two million guilders per year.

Seapower: the Watergeuzen

There was one weakness in Alva's power: he didn't rule the sea. Many refugees in England had started to privateer: the Watergeuzen. Because of their blockade of the ports, trade suffered. This increased the hate against Alva, even more so when he decided to impose the twentiest and tenth penny in 1571.


Prince Willem decided, in deliberation with watergeus De Coligny, to make a new attempt to drive the Spanish away. April 1st 1572 the watergeuzen took the city of Den Briel at the mouth of the Rhine. An effort by Stadhouder Bossu to retake the city was repulsed. Within a month they also took Vlissingen and Vere in Zeeland, thereby controlling the river Schelde. The city of Enkhuizen (North-East of the province of Holland) joined the watergeuzen, which gave them access to the Zuiderzee.

The Year 1566 (the wonderyear) in Groningen

After the offering by the nobles of the petition to the Governess in Brussels, protestant preaching was tolerated. The first preacher to use this opportunity in Groningen was an anonymous preacher in the village of Helpman (one mile to the South, now a part of the city): at the end of juli he invited an East-Frisian preacher Wicherus Milesius, and this man preached such that the church became too small for all the Groningers who came there to listen: the churchyard had to be used for the sermons.

A Church for the Protestants

Some of those who listened on september 8 asked the city-administration to clear one city-church of the images and use it for the preaching of the 'clear gospel'. Saterday september 14 the magistrate discussed the proposal, but they couldn't decide and postponed a decision till tuesday. That sunday some 6 to 7000 people came to the sermon in Helpman. In spite of the protests of Lieutenant de Mepsche the administration decided on tuesday to offer the church of the friars minor to the protestants, while at the same time forbidding to demolish anything. Two days later however they allowed the protestants to remove the statues with the help of the city-architect and city-workers. Sunday september 29 Feito Ruardo (who had tried to found an underground congregation in 1557) preached in the morning and in the afternoon for a large audience (esp. women). Before and after the service psalms were sung, and another preacher baptised three children.

In the Ommelanden a large number of preachers stopped celebrating mess, but preached in black. In some churches statues were removed, sometimes 'to save them', sometimes they were demolished.

A lively provincial assemblee of October 1 refused the lieutenant counter-measures, and even elected some of the protestant nobles deputy.

Spanish troops

In the beginning of 1567 pressure of the central government in Brussels increased, and Aremberg got 5 'vendels' (litt. colours, companies) of troops in the North. Januari 10 1567 the city of Leeuwarden in Friesland conceded, but on januari 23 Groningen still refused to give in. March 4 however the city ordered the protestants to clear the friar's church, but they were still allowed to preach in the open air. After the city of Valenciennes had fallen to the Spanish troops, on april 15 these meetings were forbidden also. In may the city even allowed a garrison in town and on june 6 Aremberg led 4 vendels infantry into the city. In the Ommelanden all protestant preaching had also been prohibited. Protestant leaders fled.

It is hard to asses the size of the protestant movement. According to the hearings of 1569 3 of the 4 burgemeesters were against the offering of the friar's church, but 12 of the 24 counsillors would have favoured it. These figures must not be trusted too much: on the one hand people tried to appear catholic during the hearings, on the other hand allowing protestant preaching didn't mean beeing a protestant: two burgemeesters under Alva (1568-75), Johan Clant and Dierck Schaffer, had voted in favour of the protestants!

According to the city-secretary, Egbert Alting, most of the guilds were catholic and against the protestants. De Mepsche wrote in april 1567 that the 'Zwingliaenen' appeared more powerfull than they were because the rich belonged to them. In the Ommelanden it was mostly the 'nobles' who were protestants: the brothers Ripperda, the brothers Starckenborch, the son of courtier Rengers.

Most of the priests who had 'preached in black' returned to the catholic church in 1567. They considered their differences 'adiaphora', that is 'free matters' in which one could behave according to the circumstances: now the circumstances required the return to the catholic rituals.

Lodewijk van Nassau

In 1568 Lodewijk van Nassau invaded the province. He moved to Appingedam where he made camp. He proclaimed to have come for freedom. Many in the province joined him, but a general uprising didn't happen: what did people know about a stranger like Lodewijk? His soldiers plundered and burned like all soldiers. In the city there was a strong garrison. Lodewijk won the battle of Heiligerlee, where Aremberg died, but he couldn't take Groningen. When Alva arrived, Lodewijk retreated to Oost-Friesland and was beaten.

Lieutenant de Mepsche

Alva declared through lieutenant de Mepsche that the province had lost it's privileges, and the appointed bishop would be installed. A castle would be built to control the city. The 'Raad van Beroerten' (the bloodcounsil) came with a list of 200 people. Most of them fled, but they lost their properties. However, the magistrate was not replaced.

The rebellion 1572-76

After the seizure of Den Briel, Vlissingen, Veere en Enkhuizen by the Watergeuzen in 1572, Lodewijk van Nassau took Bergen (Mons) in Henegouwen (Henaige) by surprize. An invasion by a French army under De Coligny and an attack by Prince Willem from Germany were imminent, and Alva concentrated his forces in the South.

The Staten of Holland in Dordrecht

Now the rebellion could spread in the North. The Prince sent his followers, mostly noble 'geuzen', to several cities, and the calvinists took control in many of them. In Holland they called an assembly of the 'Staten' in Dordrecht without stadhouder Bossu. The Staten of Holland recognized Orange as stadhouder and promised financial support. Amsterdam didn't join the rebels however.

Orange to Delft

August 24 1572 the Massacre of St.Bartholomew took place in France, and French support for the rebels stopped; the invasion of the Prince in Brabant failed, and Lodewijk had to give up Bergen. Orange disbanded his army and went to Delft in Holland: "d'illeck attendre ce qu'il Luy plaira de faire".

Don Frederik

Soon the Spaniards counterattacked: an army under Alva's son Don Frederik chastised Mechelen, plundered and massacred Zutphen and Naarden, and laid siege on Haarlem, which controlled the entrance to the North of Holland. Fro seven months the city defended itself under governer Wigbold Ripperda (from the important Ommelander family; another member of that family became prime minister of Spain in the 1720's but that is an entirely different story), but finally they had to surrender. The Spanish army had suffered enormous losses however. Don Frederik advanced and sieged Alkmaar, but strong resistance, Spanish mutiny, and water made the Spanish retreat from the North of Holland. There is a Dutch saying: "Bij Alkmaar begint de victorie", used generally when things turn for the better.

Cornelis Dirksz defeats Bossu

A few days later the geuzen under Cornelis Dirksz defeated the fleet of stadhouder Bossu on the Zuiderzee. Many smaller craft managed to take the larger Spanish ships by boarding. Bossu himself was taken prisonner. Alva's violent approach had failed, and at the end of 1573 he received his long requested dismissal, and was succeeded by Requesens.


In Zeeland the Geuzen captured in 1574 Middelburg, after defeating the Spanish fleet of the Schelde in a large battle. Here the knowledge of the local waters and sandbanks were of great advantage to the rebels in their small and mobile ships.


In the South of Holland the situation was dangerous, because the Spaniards had laid siege on Leiden in 1573. A relieve army under Lodewijk van Nassau was defeated near Mook (south of Nijmegen). Lodewijk and his brother Hendrik were killed. Famine and pest chastized the city, but it held on. The dikes were breached, and finally in october 1574 the waters reached Leiden and a fleet of the Geuzen could relieve the city. Next year Leiden recieved a university for her sufferings.

In 1576 the Spaniards captured Zierikzee, thereby separating Holland from Zeeland. The area of the rebels was now divided into three parts.

Spanish Fury

Suddenly Requesens died and there was no successor. The Spanish troops rose in mutiny, left the occupied places in the North, and moved to the South, especially to Antwerp, where they plundered and killed in a terrible way, the so-called 'Spaanse Furie' (Spanish fury). Prince Willem of Orange used the opportunity to contact the general assembly (Staten-Generaal) in Brussels and that same year in Gent a peace treaty was signed between the Staten Generaal and the Prince, Holland and Zeeland: the 'Pacificatie van Gent'. Decided was: - together they would try to repell the Spanish troops. - the full Staten-Generaal would be called to take control. - in matters of religion nothing would change.

Groningen and the Rebellion

In Groningen and Delfzijl Spanish garrisons were placed in 1568 to control the province. The old magistrate remained in place, but in 1569 no new election was allowed. Quarrels between Stad an Ommelanden kept going on. Both protested against the infamous 100st, 20st and 10th penny, but the Ommelanden bought them off for 28800 guilders, which angered the city. Legal cases continued about the stapleright of the Stad. Sometimes arbitrators arrived from Brussels, sometimes deputies from Stad and Ommelanden travelled South. In 1571 Alva decided provisionally in favour of the Stad, but gave the Ommelanden their own right of assembly and finance. In 1575 the Ommelanden denounced the treaty of 1482 on the beer and grain monopoly of the Stad.
Maybe to be continued....
Map of Groningen in the 17th Century Map of Groningen in the 17th Century (1MB)
This map comes from Dutch City maps from Blaeu's Toonneel der Steden
Email to: F.Springelkamp@inter.NL.net

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Last updated on december 13, 1997