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0040 Tamar Cholcman, Views of Peace and Prosperity – Hopes for Autonomy and Self-Government, Antwerp 1599

RIHA Journal 0040 | 20 June 2012

Views of Peace and Prosperity – Hopes for Autonomy and Self-Government, Antwerp 1599

Tamar Cholcman

Editing and peer review managed by:

Simon Laevers, Institut Royal du Patrimoine Artistique – Koninlijk Instituut voor het Kunstpatrimonium (IRPA-KIK), Brussels


Ralph Dekoninck, Natasja Peeters


In Flanders, the Entry of a new ruler into one of the cities of his domain (Joyeuse Entrée) transformed the urban landscape into a visual pamphlet – an opportunity to lay out the most urgent needs, hopes and demands of the people through a series of ephemeral monuments and civic ceremonies. The triumphal procession of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella into Antwerp in 1599, was likewise used by the city and by the creator of the pageant, humanist and city secretary Johannes Bochius, to lay out the main concerns and worries of their time. The article focuses on two of the monuments and the two ceremonies of oath taking in order to reveal the use of the pageant's structure as a 'progressing viewing experience'. The consideration of the viewing order reveals not only the strive for peace and the call to establish a self-governmental system under the rule of the new governors, but also the political thought of the time and the surprising demand to establish a mixed government, containing the fundaments of aristocracy and democracy within the monarchic rule of Spain.


Introduction: The Triumphal Entry of the Archduke Albert and the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia into Antwerp, 1599

[1] In the Seventeen Provinces of the Low Countries, after decades of strife and discontent, civil war and religious turmoil, Archduke Albert of Austria and the Infanta Isabella Clara Eugenia, the newly appointed Spanish governors of the Netherlands, were regarded by most in the southern provinces as the great hope for a future of peace and prosperity. Led through the city streets of Antwerp, the entering archdukes were presented with the demands and expectations of the city and its citizens of them – demands, which called for autonomy and self-government; and expectations, which called for the implementation of a virtuous, just and good government.

[2] Their procession through the city – their Triumphal Entry – was planned by the City Council in honor of their arrival. In fact, for the city of Antwerp, Albert and Isabella's Entry provided a unique opportunity – as stated by the City Council:

So as not to do less than all the other cities and to show them the honor they deserve especially to the Infanta, who has never before visited our city […] and of whom are expected the benefactions, help and support that good old states can and must expect from their Princes in order to see the country and the city once again in its old prosperity and unity, for which we have been praying to God Almighty, for so many years, and are still doing so.1

[3] As it turned out, Antwerp's voice seems to have found an attentive audience in Albert and Isabella. Instead of pursuing the imperial aims, they implemented a national policy that met the expectations presented to them at their Triumphal Entry, bringing respite to the country and partial economic recovery along with cultural prosperity.2

[4] The Triumphal Entry of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella into Antwerp was afterwards recorded in a book describing the pageant in its entirety.3 Published in 1602, it was written by Johannes Bochius, humanist and Antwerp city secretary,4 who had also been entrusted by the city to plan and execute the actual Triumphal Entry – both the ceremonies and the monuments.5 The fact that Bochius was both 'inventor' (inventeur) and documenter of the same event, allows us to understand his account, not as a mere description of a viewer or witness, but as a re-creation of the visual and ephemeral image. Accordingly, we can analyze the text with the tools of the art historian, treating the order of description as the description of a composition.6 As a historical document this book, written at a time of great changes, presents a valuable insight into the central and internal expectations and main concerns of the city. This insight is more so significant when considering the choice of imagery and the order of viewing it.

[5] These will be demonstrated through two of the monuments, positioned in the two most distinguished locations, i.e., at the Meir-Bourg Square the Versatile Theater, and at the market square, in front of the City Hall, the Political Stage; as well as through the two vow-taking ceremonies, celebrated on the first and last days of the Entry. I will argue that beyond the actual analysis of each of the monuments and their imagery, we can also detect a visual and thematic connection between the two monuments and the final ceremony.

[6] These examples stress the importance of considering the Entry as a 'progressing viewing experience' – a dynamic depiction of the needs and demands of the city that could only have been revealed in its full meaning, and consequently understood in its entirety, by progressing along the route of the procession. That is by walking, seeing, considering and contemplating over the various stages and by applying the intrinsic connections between the different ephemeral monuments, ceremonies and city scenery.


War and Discontent: The Spanish Rule over the Netherlands

[7] Antwerp, one of the main trade centers in the early modern world, was considered by its own citizens to be unique amongst the provinces of the Low Countries. They took pride in their city's pluralist nature and in maintaining their privileges and self-government.7 This unique character became even more distinctive after the city joined the Protestants against Spain on 4 November 1576. Two main factors may explain the distinction of Antwerp and why it led to its uniting with the Protestants. The first was the necessity to maintain accessibility to the river Schelde, which had been under the control of the Protestants since 1572. The second, as demonstrated by Marnef, was rooted in the long struggle between the local government, which tried to obtain autonomous rule, and the Spanish government.8 This struggle had its roots in Charles V's time, long before the contentions of the 1570s.

[8] Charles V had led an economic and pragmatic policy which was guided by the understanding that in order to safeguard Antwerp's commercial and economic prosperity, he had to maintain a delicate balance between the local and the general government. Thus, in spite of his ideology and his wishes to enforce imperial and religious hegemony, he maintained Antwerp's privileges, including the protection of Protestant and other non-Catholic traders. This situation was preserved even after 1520, when Protestants were persecuted all through the Empire. Marnef argues that Charles V's reason for guarding this political and social status quo was his understanding that Antwerp's prosperity depended on the presence of foreign traders in the city and consequently on allowing freedom of beliefs.9

[9] This delicate balance was violated when Philip II, upon gaining the throne, decided to forsake his father's pragmatic policy and adopt an aggressive anti-Protestant policy. Before long, this policy led to an economic crisis and to a radical contradiction between Antwerp's and Philip II's interests, leading eventually to the joining of Antwerp with the Protestants. As a result, Philip II ordered Alexander Farnese to re-conquer Antwerp, who, after a fourteen month siege (1584-1585), regained control of the city and was appointed by the king as its governor.

[10] Philip II's problems continued well into the 1590s with his failure to capture the French Crown, along with the continuing Protestant revolt, which had increased the danger of losing the Low Countries.10 The loss of the territory would have cost too dearly to Philip II. Indeed, it would have weakened the Spanish Crown's position in Europe as well as in the New World; compromised Philip II's own position and authority – especially morally as the defender of the Christian Empire; and above all, it would have threatened the Spanish House of Habsburg's title as the champion of the war against heresy.11 This had engendered a change of policy in the Spanish Court, and as a result, Philip II tried to bring about an accord between Spain and the dissidents in the Low Countries and France through diplomatic means rather than force. Ensuing this change of policy, Philip II had appointed Cardinal Archduke Albert VII of Austria as the governor of the Spanish Netherlands in 1595 and consequently sent the newly appointed governor to try and dissolve the volatile situation in the Low Countries.

[11] Albert arrived in Brussels in 1596 and, following the Spanish Court's instructions, he signed the Treaty of Vervins in 1598, ending Spain's war with France. However, his efforts to reach a similar agreement with the United Provinces ended with his defeat in a battle near Turnhout. Philip II, in a final attempt to maintain Spanish control, turned again to the political sphere, married his daughter Isabella Clara Eugenia to Albert,12 and appointed them as independent, joint governors of the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands. Thus, by giving the new governors autonomy, but for several restrictions, Philip II managed to ensure Spain's continuing rule over the region.13

[12] On 5 September 1599 the new governors entered Brussels. However, the hope that the autonomy granted by the Spanish Crown would satisfy the Protestants was shattered immediately upon the arrival of the governors with a pamphlet published by the Protestants expressing their distrust of the new regime and the scheme contrived by Philip II:

[…] by a sterile marriage they want to mislead us and tempt us to return under the Spanish yoke, and the Archduke, surrounded by weapons and Spanish councilors, has beside the name of a governor, nothing but a fake title of a Prince.14

[13] The southern provinces, despite an appearance of delight and joy expressed by Triumphal Entries celebrated in the honor of the new governors, welcomed them with mixed feelings and skepticism, taught by history to mistrust the Spanish Crown's promises.

[14] A year before the arrival of Albert and Isabella, the General Council of Brabant sent a letter to Jean Richardot, president of the State Council, calling for truthful and real autonomy under the new rulers. In this letter they wished to ensure the authority and functions of the council, withdraw all foreign armies from the lands of Flanders, diminish the influence of foreigners in the government of the state, and strive for peace with the Protestant provinces.15 Spain, however, had no intention of accepting these demands. In fact, all through the period of Albert's and Isabella's 'autonomous' reign, the army was financed and controlled by the Spanish Crown and, accordingly, the governors had been divested of all real authority and leadership. For example, the fortresses in Antwerp, Ghent, and Cambrai, as well as some other fortresses that were conquered from Holland and France, remained under the Spanish Crown's control and were directed by a commander appointed in Madrid, whose loyalty was, of course, to the Spanish Crown and not to its representatives in the area. Thus, although Albert was appointed as supreme commander of all armed forces in the area, all major strategic military and political decisions were taken in Madrid and not in Brussels. In addition, a secret clause in the autonomy agreement determined that Albert and Isabella were compelled to combat heresy, and thus, from the very onset could not – in effect – attempt any type of treaty for peace or reunification with the Protestant northern provinces.16 Thus, despite the support the new governors had encountered upon their arrival, they also had to confront some criticism, or at the very least some amount of skepticism.

[15] The contemporary historian Emmanuel van Meteren (1535-1612) reported a charged atmosphere at the first meeting held in Nivelles between Albert and Isabella and the representatives of Brabant's cities. Albert, according to Van Meteren, did not remove his hat, and the Infanta did not want to vow to hold and protect Belgian privileges, claiming that those lands were given to her as a present from her father. However, continues Van Meteren, they soon understood that,

it will be less harmful for them to pledge than to object, for they will be able to get possession of all the property, and thus even if only for appearance sake, it would be best to accept Brabant's demands.17

[16] Admittedly, this report cannot be entirely trusted, as it reflects to some extent Van Meteren's own views, who was at the time in England, having joined the Protestant representatives. Nevertheless, it can serve as an indication of the complex situation the archdukes found upon their arrival. In other words, beside the joy and bliss expressed in Antwerp's Triumphal Entry, they encountered among their new subjects also the hope for a truthful execution of the apparently promised autonomy mandate. Among these claims was, first and foremost, the call for participation in the local government, and second, the call to try and reach a peace treaty and reunion with the northern provinces.

[17] These hopes, as the skeptics had foretold, were only partially realized. In lack of an heir, autonomy only lasted until Albert's death in 1621. Peace had not been achieved; the war with the United Provinces ended only temporarily in 1609, when Spain agreed to a truce with the Dutch and granted them full independence – even if only de facto – in the 'Twelve Years Truce'.18 In effect, peace was only achieved when Spain accepted the Northern Provinces' claim for independence, and not by the attempt to compel the idea of autonomous Spanish governors.19 It was in this atmosphere that the City Council of Antwerp decided, on 18 August 1599, to welcome the new governors of their country with a Triumphal Entry, which was entrusted to Bochius. No doubt, this was a mission of great complexity – a delicate balance between the needs to proclaim Antwerp's wishes, the political necessities and the city's duty to satisfy the new governors.

[18] Less than four months later, on 9 December 1599, the two governors arrived in Antwerp. Albert's and Isabella's triumphal procession began the very next day, on 10 December at the city gates (Sint-Jorispoort or Porta Caesarea). The order of the procession was both historical and symbolic as it was set according to the plan of Cornelius Grapheus, the city secretary at the times of Charles V, for the 1549 Prince Philip's Entry to Antwerp.20


First and Last: The Ceremonies of the Taking of the Oaths

[19] The first section of the reception took place outside the walls in front of a large crowd. Entry of a ruler in Flanders was not just symbolic in character, but judicial as well. It was a contract drawn between the ruler and his subjects containing the legal form of the Joyeuse Entrée.21 Thus, the description of the multitude gathering outside the city walls served to depict the people as the second party of this contract and as active participants in the civic event.

[20] A round ephemeral chapel was built to host the ceremony of the solemn vow of the archdukes (Fig. 1). The chapel was twenty feet wide with eight Doric columns decorated with golden ivy leaves and above them an inscription reading: "If this one is guarded, we will all be guarded".22 According to Bochius, the director and inventor of both ceremonial event and ephemeral monuments, this was meant to address the two most significant matters that were both valid and fitting for the event. On the one hand it addresses the need to guard the privileges as vowed upon on this occasion, and on the other the need to safeguard the Catholic faith.23 Thus, both the chapel and inscription point to a religious significance for the ceremony of the first vow, set outside the city walls. Accordingly, both the administrators and the actual characteristics of the ceremony were of a liturgical and ecclesiastic nature. In front of the chapel stood all of Antwerp's clergy, headed by the Bishop Guillaume de Berghès, who welcomed the archdukes and handed them a crucifix, which they kissed while kneeling. Then, holding the Holy Scriptures and facing the chancellor of Brabant and all the clergy, the archdukes vowed to preserve the rights and privileges of Brabant.24