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12. The Image-breaking in Antwerp, Flanders, Tournai, Holland, Utrecht and Friesland


Explanatory Comment: On Brandt's outlook see introductory remarks to document 11. He drew on several sources for his account of the image-breaking, in particular Pieter Bor, Oorsprongk, begin ende vervolgh der Nederlantscher oorlogen (1595), Hugo Grotius, Annales et historiae de rebus belgiciis (1658), P.C. Hooft, Nederlandsche historiën (1642) and, for Amsterdam, the already mentioned Gedenkschriften of Laurens Jacobsz. Reael. When describing the iconoclasm at Antwerp he relied on the Jesuit historian Famiano Strada whose De bello belgico decades duo appeared in 1632. 

Text: The plundering of the churches, that dreadful tumult, not unlike the frequent rebellions of the Jews, and the storm of the iconoclasts, or image-breakers, that spread itself over Greece, 1 began in West Flanders between the Leie and the sea on 14 August 1566, the day which preceded the great festival of the papists, the Ascension of the Virgin Mary.

Some few of the vilest of the mob, to whom several robbers, thieves and whores had joined themselves, were those that began the dance, being cheered on by nobody knows whom. Their arms were staves, hatchets, hammers, ladders, ropes, and other tools more proper to demolish than to fight with; some few were provided with guns and swords. At first (being emboldened by the absence of the Count of Egmont, the Governor of that province, who had been called to court by the Regent the Lady Margaret) they attacked the crosses and images that had been erected along the roads in the countryside; next, those in villages; and lastly, those in the towns. All the chapels, churches, and convents which they found shut, they forced open, breaking, tearing and destroying all the images, pictures, shrines, altars, and other consecrated treasures they met with: some did not scruple to lay their hands upon libraries, epitaphs, tombs, and even corpses. Swift as lightning the evil struck and flew on so that in the space of three days above four hundred churches were plundered. In some places the magistrates themselves pulled down the images, to prevent the mob from doing the same; whereupon they boasted of their foresight in this matter, the President Viglius told them, that insaniebant cum ratione, they had been wisely mad. In other places this wild rage of the mob was curbed by power and prudent order.

Burgundius writes that the first iconoclasts came from the neighbourhood of St. Omer, and that the nunnery of Wulveringem [or Wulvergem] not far from Kortrijk, where the nuns had been locked up, was the first to be attacked and plundered and that they marched from thence into the jurisdiction of Kassel, and committed like outrages in the monastery of Belle, and other places. Strada tells us that the ransacking of churches first happened about St.Omer and that the rioters, upon meeting with no opposition, grew bolder, and cried,'To Ieper! to Ieper!' On their way there their number increased, in the same way as a snowball rolling through the snow from the top of a mountain grows in size: the further the people went, the larger their train of followers became. Having plundered some churches outside Ieper, they were let into the town by the inhabitants on the Assumption, where, while others demolished the images, some of them fired Bishop Martinus Rithovius' library. The next day another bunch of such men assembled themselves, whether by design or encouraged by the success of their comrades and marched into the country. These plundered the churches of several small towns on the Leie, such as Menen, Comines, Wervik, and other places about Kortrijk. Crossing the river, they invaded the castellany of Lille, and forced the monastery called Marquette. From there one part of this rabble went towards Douai, and the other to Seclin; but the inhabitants of Seclin, and of the neighbouring villages getting together, and arming themselves with the first weapons they could find, marched out against the church-plunderers, defeated and dispersed them.

The magistrates of Antwerp feared that in the absence of the Prince of Orange, who had been summoned to Brussels on the morning of 19 August by the Regent, the storm against images might blow likewise that way, the more because it was the fair, and the town was full of strangers. They therefore caused the image of the Virgin Mary (which otherwise used to be exposed for a week together on that occasion) to be removed in the afternoon from the body of the church into the choir that it might give no offence. But their good intentions produced bad effects, and their care for the public peace brought forth public tumults, for the mob observing the fears of the magistrates, began to grow insolent; and some of them, in a sarcastic way, asked the image, whether her fright had driven her so far from her post and whether she would join in crying, 'Vive les Gueux', and other mockeries. A bunch of young lads was playing about the pulpit, and one of them went into it and began to mimic the preaching [of the monks and priests]. Some were for hearing, others for pulling him down, but he defended himself with his feet against them, until at last a young shipmaster climbed above him on the other side and threw him down headlong. The men espoused the boy's quarrel, and daggers were drawn against the shipmaster, who though wounded escaped out of the church after being examined by the schout and his men. After much ado, the mob was prevailed upon to clear the place by the intervention of the officers that belonged to the church, and the doors were immediately shut, and remained so that day.

The magistrates, (whether it was that their courage and prudence failed them at that juncture) though they had the whole night following to consider what they should do, could resolve upon nothing to stifle the smouldering embers of mutiny. They even neglected to feel the pulse of the schutterijen and guilds, whether they were disposed to stand by them against these insolences, which threatened the common weal. However, they were not slow to signify the importance of this affair to their Governor the Prince of Orange, by letter and to desire his advice. They also informed him how Herman Modet, and other teachers, had upon the same day inveighed against idols, saying, that 'they ought to be removed from our sight, as well as from our hearts'.

The next day when the mob gathered in and about the aforesaid church, the contentions relating to Our Lady began afresh. An old woman sitting before the choir to sell wax-tapers, and to receive oblations, began to scold the people, and to throw ashes and filth at the boys, provoked, perhaps, at their telling her that her wares were out of fashion and that it was high time she shut up shop. The officers of the church seeing that as the mob increased so also did their insolence, endeavoured to clear the church of them, and to shut it up, but nobody heeded them. When the schout and the magistrates, gathered at the townhall were informed of these disorders, they repaired to the said church, and admonished the people to leave it, as some did; but others pretended, that they had a mind to hear the 'Salve Regina' after vespers; these were told, that there would be none that evening. Whereupon they replied that they would then sing it themselves; and accordingly one was heard to begin a psalm or hymn in one corner of the church, which was at once taken up by the others. Some of the young fellows played with balls and kicked stones about the church, others threw them about the church and yet others threw them at the altars.

This was the prelude to the mischief. Some thought that if the magistrates left the church, they might draw or carry away the mob after them. Therefore the burgomasters repaired to the Council Chamber and eventually they resolved to arm the schutters and to summon them to the townhall. They also urged the crowd which stood outside to disperse. In the meantime they caused the church doors to be shut, save for one wicket, to let out the remainder of the people. The schout having laboured with his men to dismiss those that stayed outside, went again into the church, and endeavoured, together with some other magistrates, to clear the remnant. These included the most obstinate, who had therefore stayed the longest: these refused with stern countenance and rebellious language. In the meanwhile, a great mob rushed in at the little gate, and the schout was forced to give up and quit the church. The moment he was gone, they began to sing psalms lustily. The treasurer, and other officers of the church having secured the holy relics and other valuables, fled out by the north door. The rabble that were outside, forced their way in, and broke open all the doors. Hearing this, the schout and other magistrates went there again, but being terrified at the countless mass of people, and the shouts and noise that echoed from the church, they thought they would have enough to do to secure the townhall, which did not remain unthreatened. In the meanwhile the rabble locked up, closed the doors and as the sun declined, set about the breaking, robbing and plundering.

The Virgin's image, that had been carried about in procession only two days before, was the first to suffer. The chapel in which it stood was entered by force, and the idol thrown down and dashed to pieces, all the people roaring, 'Vive les Gueux'. They then attacked the other statues, pictures and altars as well as the organ, heedless of their antiquity, beauty or value. They cast down or plundered these with such vehemence and headlong insolence that before midnight they had reduced one of the largest, most glorious and splendidly-adorned churches in Europe with its seventy altars to an empty and ghastly hulk. No locks were strong enough to protect the treasures entrusted to them. Yet there was no quarrelling about the booty: indeed, no less strange, in the confused commotion of this raging mob, which perpetrated so many excesses, there was such unity and orderliness that it seemed as if each person had been allotted his task beforehand. Remarkably, while they vied with one another to climb the ladders, laboured to cast down the great marble-stones and heavy pieces of copper, and eagerly plundered the choicest pieces, not one out of this entire multitude hurt himself by falling and no one was injured in the slightest by the descent of objects as they crashed down and fragments flew in all directions, or by colliding and knocking into those who, wielding their instruments of destruction, pressed on to break everything. In the eyes of some this appeared so strange that they attributed a role to the hellish spirits in this transaction, scarcely believing that it could be the work of men. When they had finished in the principal church, they ran through the streets, carrying lighted candles and stolen tapers, like men possessed and escaped lunatics, roaring 'Vive les Gueux' and demolishing all the crosses and images in sight. Driven on by the same fury, and reinforced by fresh numbers, they flew to other churches, chapels and monasteries, where they not only mishandled stocks and stones, but living creatures too, among whom the Franciscans fared the worst. They broke open chambers and cellars; stove in all the barrels, and set the floor awash with beer and wine. There was a Carmelite, or discalced monk, that had reason to remember their pranks with gratitude, for they delivered him from a prison to which he had been confined about twelve years. Neither did they spare the prisons of the civil magistrate releasing several out of them, including a baker, who had lain there for about a year and a half. They likewise forced the convents of nuns who fearing worse things, made their escape during the plundering, and retired to their friends.

Strada adds that they laid hands on the sacrament or mass wafers, trampling them under their feet. The consecrated chalices they filled with the wine they found in the churches, and drank to one another's health. They smeared their shoes with the holy oil, defiled the church vestments with ordure, and daubing the books with butter, threw them into the fire. Some of the images were kicked up and down; others they thrust through with swords, or chopped off their heads with axes; they put others in armour, and then tilted against them with spears out of wantonness, until the images fell down, and then they mocked and jeered at them.

The Papists relate that a certain minister, accompanying the mob, and endeavouring in the nunnery of the Poor Clares to convert some of the nuns, when he observed how they fixed their eyes on the ground on the instruction of their superior, and poured out their prayers to God, was struck dumb with wonder, and despite the urging of spectators could not resume his address. Each person must judge for himself whether this was not strange or whether this should be regarded as something miraculous.

At daybreak, these destroyers of images sallied out of the town, and fell to plundering the Abbey of St. Bernard, and other religious houses roundabout, sparing none that were in their way or sight. The rest of their gang that stayed within the town made an end of all that remained there. This rage, which grew unchecked through the perplexity of the magistrates, lasted for three days. In addition the mob grew yet more bold because some people of quality and means, armed with pistols and daggers under their clothes, mixing with them and lurking in corners and side streets, terrified all that were inclined to oppose them, to such an extent that some watches of burghers, who sought to protect these, were filled and overcome by fear. The burghers dared not exert themselves, for the Papists, suspecting that the Reformed had unanimously plotted their ruin, did not dare to oppose the violence for fear of being fallen upon, and the Reformed fearing these disorders would be revenged upon them, thought they did enough in keeping a watchful eye on the Romanists. In one thing however they all agreed, viz. in keeping the rabble out of their houses and from their coffers. Consequently the Roman Catholics [of the Low Countries] have since been often reproached by the Spaniards, with having looked to their own temporal concerns more carefully than the property of the Church and their religion.


All this violence, plundering and desolation was, according to the Spanish faction, committed by about a hundred unarmed rabble at the most, and a bunch of whores and boys instigated by the Reformed, who might have been hired by either party for eight or ten stivers a day. But what Hooft, the Dutch historian, says of this matter, is worth reading: 'As I should not easily have ventured my salvation in the company of people who, in a sudden fit of flaming zeal for religion, abandoned themselves thus to all kinds of villainy, by trampling under foot all divine and human laws; so neither do I think it strange (since there are good and bad men to be found in all sects) that the vilest of the party showed their temper by these extravagances; or that others fed their eyes with a sport that became a plague, which they thought the clergy had justly deserved by the rage of their persecutions. Others again, probably, did not trouble themselves about the matter, hoping that one madness might prove a cure for another, and so produce in the factions a desire for moderation. But the generality of the Reformed certainly behaved themselves decently, censuring a fit work because it had been brought about improperly.'

Herman Modet, one of the most zealous preachers, declares in his Apologie ofte Verantwoordinghe [Apology] which he published soon after these disorders: 'That neither he, nor any of the consistory, had any more knowledge of this design of destroying images when it was first contrived, than of the hour of their death; and that the Duchess, the entire Court, and the magistrates of Antwerp were, on the contrary, very well apprised of the intentions of the [Reformed] congregations at this time, namely, that some of the chief persons among them should repair to Brussels, in order to present a general petition about matters of the Religion; and that for this purpose, there were not only some from Flanders, but also about twelve or fourteen hundred persons deputed from all the churches of the Low Countries had already arrived at Antwerp; that the time of this meeting was not unknown to the magistrates, for the Pensionary Jacob van Wesenbeke was informed of it two days before by himself and his colleague Georgius Sylvanus [Joris Wybo]; that they were together that day, being 20 August (intending to go next day to Court) from the morning till six o'clock in the evening, preparing for the journey and the petition which they were about to make; that following a resolution to send two ministers there from Antwerp, one in the name of the Dutch, the other in the name of the Walloons, he was deputed on the part of the former; but as he was returning to his lodgings in the evening, he was first informed in the Huidevetterstraat that the church was full of people, and he had barely entered the house, when he heard that they had fallen upon the images. It was objected against him, that he was in the church whilst they were breaking them: this he owns was true, but it was at the desire of the magistrates themselves, and at the peril of his own life, that he went there to quiet the mob. Though he could not be heard, he had been pulled from the pulpit and thrust out of the church; that he returned there after about five hours, having been requested to do so, in order that he might warn the people not to plunder and steal, on the pretext of demolishing idols.

On learning that the mob had set about the house of the Grey Friars rather roughly, he had gone there at the desire of some of his friends; and when he found that the people were gone from there, he went on to the Dominicans; learning there that the convent of the Poor Clares was in distress, he made his way there, and did his utmost by begging and entreating, to get the people, who had forced their way as far as the entrance to the middle chapterhouse, to depart. Fifty or sixty nuns, who were there, could testify to this, if they would speak the truth. This was all the concern he had in that affair. The accusation therefore that he had excited these tumults by his preaching, was like accusing Elijah of having troubled Israel with his teaching: it is well known what answer the Prophet returned to the King upon such accusation [1 Kings 18 v. 18]. He comforted himself likewise with the consideration of what had happened to all the Prophets in their attempts to restore the worship of God from its dilapidated condition as also to our Saviour Christ, and the Apostle Paul on account of preaching the Truth.' This is the substance of what Modet says in his defence, with respect to the plundering of the churches, but without taking notice of what happened at the introduction of preaching in the Grote Kerk.

The Magistrates being informed on 22 August that the Protestants intended to meet that forenoon in two of the principal churches, ordered the Pensionary van Wesenbeke to use his utmost endeavours with the ministers and others to prevent it. On learning that it had been resolved that Herman Modet should preach at eight o'clock in the Grote Kerk and Jean Taffin at ten in the Burchtkerk, he informed the magistrates, who also found that the people were assembling there, and therefore sent him there with all possible haste. In the churchyard he met the Walloon preacher Taffin. This person who came from an honourable family, and not like many others from the dregs of the people, was by nature and education inclined to modesty, and he received the orders of the magistrates, promising all possible obedience. 'He was sorry,' he said, 'that he had not sooner known the good pleasure of the magistrates. But this assembly should tend only to securing the peace and assurance of the inhabitants, for they already agreed to exhort the people to restore what they had plundered, and to practise modesty and submission [to the magistrates] but it was now too late suddenly to dissolve the assembly, for he had just come out of the church, and had seen the minister in the pulpit.' Nevertheless he returned, at the request of the Pensionary, and making his way through the crowd, ascended the pulpit to Modet, (while van Wesenbeke stayed at the foot) and there informed him that the Pensionary, who remained below, had been sent by the magistrates to beseech him not to preach. But Modet replied that the people would not be pleased to be dismissed without hearing something, he promised however, that instead of a sermon, he would only make a short exhortation and prayer; and he kept his word, except that his prayer lasted quite a long time. Those who expected to hear Taffin, were gathered together at the Burchtkerk, where he sent word there would be no preaching on this occasion. But as they stayed there, he went himself, and represented to them, in such pressing terms, the request or ordinance of the magistrates, and their obligations to submit, that they suffered themselves to be persuaded, and took home nothing apart from the aforesaid lesson [of obedience], which was as good as any sermon. And though some took this amiss of him, he repeated the same in the afternoon, informing his hearers what became them as subjects, and that they should abstain from sermons for a day or two, at the behest of the magistrates. For both these services he was thanked by the magistrates, who likewise declared to his honour, that he had twice kept his word better than Modet for the latter pretended that after the complaint of the people that he had dismissed them in the morning with a partial sermon, he could not avoid disappointing another meeting at two o'clock, and though he promised to be as brief as possible, and even to exhort them at the church door to return home, he went on with his preaching as usual,and encouraged the people to press through the guards, which at his own request were placed by the magistrates at the approaches to the churchyard, and at the doors of the church.

Next day no church or monastery was open, except the Grote Kerk. In the meantime, a great part of the most valuable goods, which had been missing ever since the tumult, was voluntarily delivered either to the magistrates or their owners, but a great quantity of still greater value was kept back. This occasioned an ordinance, published the same day requiring the restoration of all stolen goods to the owners within twenty-four hours, and an end to violence on pain of the gallows, which was set up immediately in the Grote Markt, and defended by armed men. But to prevent fresh troubles arising from such a proclamation, it was agreed to inform those of the Religion, both Dutch and Walloons, and that the Pensionary van Wesenbeke should prevail upon the ministers by arguments and promises, to censure the insolence and plundering of the people in their sermons, to persuade them to restore the stolen goods, to exhort them to live quietly for the future, and to submit to their magistrates, and lastly, to make them acquainted with the ordinances lately made. But whilst the ministers were preparing an answer to these propositions, in the consistory, there were further disorders that afternoon in the Grote Kerk. They went on plundering and defaced the royal coat of arms and those of the Knights of the Golden Fleece, that were finely painted in the choir, though some say they were broken by a crucifix, which fell upon them accidentally from a great height. This was looked upon as a violation of the civil authority, and the magistrates were sensibly affected at it. Hereupon the Markgraaf (who was likewise the Schout) with some of the magistrates, sergeants and guilds marched there, and the mob retired as fast as they could but ten or twelve of them were seized. By this one could appreciate what loss had occurred through their not acting with such zeal at the outset.

That evening Taffin delivered to the Burgomaster Jacob vander Heyden and the Pensionary van Wesenbeke, in the name of the other ministers and elders of the Dutch and Walloon congregations, a written answer to what had been proposed to them in the morning by the said Pensionary. First, they called God as their witness, that what happened in the taking away and destroying of the images, was done without either their knowledge or consent. Upon this occasion they declared their detestation of those plunderings, robberies, drunkenness and other disorders that followed. They therefore promised that the ministers would warn their auditors to desist from the like in future, and to restore to the magistrates what had been taken away. Those who belonged to their congregations were ready to obey the magistrates in all things, and to submit to the ordinances they made against plundering and other kinds of violence. They likewise acknowledged their lordships to have been ordained to the office of magistrate by God and their obligation to obey them, not only out of fear, but for conscience' sake. They therefore declared they were willing to pay scot and lot, tolls and imposts. For greater security, the ministers and directors of the church were ready to take an oath of fidelity to the magistrates. Then they prayed that they might be allowed to assemble in some churches, fit and large enough for that purpose, in order to exercise their faith, under the authority and protection of the magistrates. They likewise hoped that they should be excused if they were obliged to use some churches, until further directions could be given. Meanwhile they did not desire to compel any man's conscience, or to introduce their religion by force, being contented and giving God thanks for the opportunity of serving him according to their own consciences, and of exercising their own religion in freedom. Finally, they most humbly craved that both parties might be strictly enjoined to desist from slander or provocation, either by word or deed, on account of different religious opinions.

Though at the same time the Reformed were informed that the magistrates would not permit or agree, whether tacitly, by connivance or in any other way to their preaching or occupying any churches or monasteries within the town, yet they were given to understand that for particular reasons they should entirely abstain from the Grote Kerk and St. Joris (to which were later added the abbey and church of St. Michiel and that of St. Jacob). The Reformed were content to leave alone these four places and supposed they would be allowed the use of all the rest. Consequently the Dutch preached on Saturday morning in the Burchtkerk and the Walloons intended to do likewise in the Dominican church. But when the Prince of Orange sent to them two gentlemen, the lords of Tholouse and Hames, who had signed the Confederacy of the Nobility, desiring that they be content to preach in the Nieuwstad [New Town], they submitted to that request.

But the magistrates considered it very dangerous to allow the Reformed to assemble within their walls, whilst the Lutherans, or Evangelicals (for so they were likewise called) went out of the town in great numbers to their meetings. They therefore asked the minister of the Kiel in future to use the St. Joriskerk. It was thought that the magistrates endeavoured by this mark of favour to the Lutherans to render them more odious to the Reformed and thus by extending the quarrel between these two, to weaken both parties by fomenting disunity.

Whilst Antwerp, the most powerful emporium in the Low Countries, laboured under these evils, other towns also suffered many shocks and convulsions. The madness of people spread like wild-fire, appearing here sooner, there later. At 's-Hertogenbosch they began to smash the images in St. Janskerk in the evening of 22 August, but about ten o'clock they were driven away by the town militia. Next day the magistrates ordered the church doors to be kept locked and set guards at them until they could remove the town charters, and the clergy their deeds and church treasure. This being done, the church was abandoned to the fury of the mob, which resumed the work of image-breaking. The choir of Our Lady was secured above by the care of Dominicus Beyens, a Carmelite (from whose manuscript this account is taken) and six soldiers. The rest of the choir with all its furnishings was, except for two bronze statues of Moses and David, mostly demolished. Afterwards the Carmelites carried away Our Lady's Altar themselves, together with the statues and copperwork in the choir of Our Lady and then the image-breakers dashed everything that remained to pieces. This done, away they marched to the other churches and convents inside and outside the town, and committed like outrages there. They broke into the nunneries everywhere, so that the nuns, with many of the sisters, finding themselves free, forsook their cells.


Cornelius van Diest, a minister of the Reformed, who had preached the first public sermon in the Boschveld outside the town on 21 July, delivered the first [Reformed] sermons in the Janskerk on St. Bartholomew's Day [24 August] and the following Sunday, when he zealously inveighed against the mass, comparing it to juggling and monkey-tricks. After which some other ministers preached in the churches of St. Jacob and St. Pieter, and in the chapels of St. Cornelis and St. Anna.

Breda, Bergen-op-Zoom and other towns of Brabant, underwent the same fate of image-breaking. At Lier there appeared eight men, who came, as they said, from Antwerp to see if the idols were taken down. The magistrates surprised by so confident an assertion, allowed two of the company to come into the town, and to be led from one church to another, removing whatever they ordered, without once asking them by whose authority they came. At last one of the magistrates that attended them, ventured to ask that question: 'My Lords,' they said, 'we are in your hands. Do you imagine that we would presume to do this off our own heads? You shall soon know with whom you have to do.' This short and bold answer satisfied them. They went on with the work, and when the two persons said it was sufficient, their expenses at the inn were likewise defrayed by the town. At Mechelen the mob presumed to lay their hands upon the convent of the Franciscans, and other consecrated places, but met with such resistance as made their courage fail them.

Franciscus Junius gives an account of what befell him at the time of the image-breaking in Ghent (for after his return from the Assembly at St.Truiden [St.Trond], he went there at the request of the Church, having already stayed there at the request of the brethren in July). He tells us first that the image-breakers, who were unknown to him and his brethren, had been incited against their will by rash (as he thought) or malicious men, fell upon the churches and statues. He calls to witness those who then sat in the high Council of Flanders as to how faithfully he acquitted himself, when he and some other ministers were deputed on the authority of and at the instance of this Council to discourse with these and to learn their intentions. 'In truth,' he says, 'I never approved such violent and disorderly counsels; nor did I ever show by the least token, that their proceedings were agreeable to me. By this testimony I openly declare the loyalty and fidelity of myself and all my worthy colleagues; and as for those disorderly and self-willed ring-leaders of tumults, I do not own them to be of us.' Among those who worked with Junius to oppose the image-breakers were Jacobus van der Hagen, the heer van Gothem, who was subsequently burgomaster of Ghent, Pieter Carpentier, minister of God's Word, and others.

But no sooner was the news of the image-breaking of Antwerp arrived at Ghent than people tried the same game there. All through the night, the organpipes that had been brought from Antwerp, were dragged about the streets. The mob gathered and impetuously decided to destroy all the images. They arranged to meet next day at the Vismarkt, from where they intended, with as much order as they were capable, to set about purging the churches and casting down the images. In the meantime, about three hours before they were thoroughly engaged in the work, one Lieven Onghena (who is mentioned in the Histoire des martyrs) came to Junius, asking him, whether, if the people of Ghent, in imitation of those of Antwerp, were to demolish the images, he should also concern himself in the same business. To which Junius tells us, he made the following answer: 'We ought to do nothing unless we are called; you have no ordinary call, since you are not a magistrate, nor are you invested with any other ordinary authority: neither have you any extraordinary call, since you apply to me for advice, and thereby as it were declare, that you are not called extraordinarily to this work.' Thus Junius dissuaded him from meddling with that matter, and Lieven acquiesced in his advice; but afterwards by endeavouring to prevent I know not what public mischief, he brought destruction upon himself. But notwithstanding Junius openly did all he could to hinder these popular tumults, not without giving them great offence, yet almost all the adversaries looked upon him as a contriver of the whole business: a certain priest at Ghent had the boldness to tell him so to his face, four days after the image-breaking; at the same time demanding the great silver seal of the canons of St. Jan from him.

What the Histoire des martyrs relates of Lieven Ongena (if he was the same person we mentioned above), shows that he did not much regard the counsel which Junius gave him. For when a great number of the craftsmen assembled on 25 August, with the intention of following the example of Antwerp, and demolish the images, he and his brother advised them that to prevent their being charged with raising riots, they should early next morning attend the Hoogbaljuw [High Bailiff] of Ghent, Adolf of Burgundy, Baron of Wakkene, and Vice-Admiral at Sea, and inform him that there was a general commission to demolish the images. They did accordingly, and when the Hoogbaljuw asked them, in great surprise, from whom the order came, they replied, 'From His Majesty', holding a folded piece of parchment in their hands. Thinking of no other Majesty but that of Spain, he desired of them, without inquiring further into the matter, to keep the people still for an hour or two, so that the work should be performed decently. He likewise gave them some of his halberdiers and two of the town sergeants to attend them, and issued an order, in his name, that none should presume to exceed the commission brought by the said Ongena, namely that they should cast down the images, without stealing or taking away anything, upon pain of being proceeded against as rebels. He likewise required that none should presume to deny them entrance into any church, chapel, or convent, on the like penalty. Immediately they went to work on the images, marching from one church to another; and when they had thrown down the images, they smashed the organs to pieces, and tore up the manuscripts and pictures. The next day they did the same to all the consecrated places, within a radius of five or six miles around the town, and then returned to their respective employments. Though the Hoogbaljuw discovered his error, he could only atone for it by uttering threats and afterwards by severely persecuting those who had misled him.

At Oudenaarde the images had been demolished sometime before. At Aalst, Dendermonde, and Kortrijk, the church-plunderers were denied entry and at Bruges the iconoclasts found the towngates closed against them. At Tournai, under pretence of image-breaking, everything was destroyed or plundered, that violence or avarice could lay hold on. At the last they even began to delve into the bowels of the earth. For the canons foreseeing this storm, had buried all their gold and silver, their most valuable images, with the richest vestments, but this was divulged by an unknown person to the church plunderers.


At the same time it happened that they broke into the vault of Adolf van Egmond Duke of Gelre [d. 1477]. The corpse of the said Prince, which had been preserved intact by embalming to that very day, was taken out of the coffin, and, as if he had not been sufficiently punished in his life-time, they mocked his dead bones, crying out that he who had offered violence to those that brought him into the world, was not worthy to rest in the earth. For he had formerly laid violent hands upon his aged father Duke Arnold, and drawing him out of his bed, had obliged him to walk five German miles without clothes and barefoot, on a bitterly cold night, from the town of Grave to Buren, while he rode on horseback; and when he had brought him there, he had him thrown him into the bottom of a dark tower, where he kept him prisoner for the space of six months, for no other reason, than to extort from the old prince that dominion which after his death would have devolved upon him naturally. Being disinherited on this account, and endeavouring however to possess himself of the Duchy, he was himself detained for several years in prison by Duke Charles of Burgundy, until at last he was released by the rebellious Ghentenaars, after the death of Charles, and putting himself at their head, he was defeated and slain before Tournai by the French, and there interred, becoming an example to posterity that parricide can never be sufficiently atoned for by any punishment.

After the demolition of the images in the aforesaid town, the churches were not only converted to the use of the new preachers, but the [Reformed] congregation, proceeded to arm themselves against the magistrates and the Papists (who made up less than one quarter of the inhabitants); in particular they endeavoured to secure themselves against the garrison of the castle.

At Valenciennes, after the mob had carried out the image-breaking, the Reformed also seized some churches for their own use. There were likewise several abbeys plundered in that district, on which occasion the famous library at Vicoigne was burnt. They intended to seize the abbey of Anchin; but Robert de Longueval, the Seigneur de la Tour, and the bailli of Anchin [Fery de Guyon] drawing together a body of the inhabitants, killed four hundred of them, and dispersed the rest.


At nine o'clock on the morning of 23 August several merchants, both burghers and strangers, gathered at the Amsterdam exchange in the Warmoesstraat and related what they had seen a few days before of the image-breaking at Antwerp. To prove that they were telling the truth, they exhibited several pieces from altars and images of alabaster and different kinds of marble, adding that this fragment came from such and such an altar and that from such and such a famous image, where so many miracles have been wrought.2 Jacob Gerrit Teeuwesz. and Floris Dircksz. den Otter alias De Bral [the Braggart], hearing this, immediately made their way across the Nieuwe Brug to 't Torentje.3 Laurens Jacobsz. Reael, guessing their intentions, followed them. Immediately the burgomasters caused notice to be given to the parish priests, monks and beguines, to the effect that they should conceal the most valuable possessions of their respective churches and convents. This order was as imprudent as its execution was clumsy. The clergy were seen hurrying about the streets with their valuables including plate, chalices, sacrament houses, patens, and vestments. This was going on at eleven o'clock in the morning when the craftsmen were returning from their work to dinner; they therefore saw the most valuable possessions of their parish and guild dragged and carried through the streets by their mass-priest. Everyone had his eye on his own, or what had been taken from his own guild altar. Some opposed these removals, and relieving the priests of their burdens, restored them to the churches where they belonged; others repaired to the Oude Kerk and the Nieuwe Kerk, in both of which great numbers were assembled. No disorders were committed in the Nieuwe Kerk, where the clergy omitted to sing vespers and some of the burghers, giving the mob fair words, prevailed on them to disperse, and then locked up the doors. In the Oude Kerk all was quiet at first, but at two o'clock they began to sing vespers; several children were brought to be baptized, but when the chaplains performed the exorcisms or conjurations, some cried out, 'You! Priest, quit conjuring the devil out of them; you have deceived the world for too long; baptize in the name of Jesus, as the Apostles did.' Whereupon some of the women returned home with their children unbaptized: others were blessed and christened in Dutch, and vespers were finished despite the murmuring of the people. But between three and four o'clock a certain corn-porter, called Jasper, went to the north-east end of the church, close to the sacrament house where he accosted the wife of the burgomaster Simon Claesz. Cops, saying, 'Look, there hang those abominable and blasphemous verses!' and, at the same time taking hold of a panel that hung near him, he read out the inscription which was in verse, the first four lines of which ran as follows: 'Jesus Christ is shut up in this box: He is truly God and Man, being born of the Virgin Mary: Whoever believes not this, is damned.' When he had finished (for it was some twenty-five or thirty verses long), he threw it upon the ground and broke it all to pieces; and being encased in glass the sound echoed through the whole church. Immediately some boys began to throw stones at the altars. Laurens Jacobsz.Reael, who was present, went with Reynier Cant, Vranck de Wael and Cornelis Jansz. Coster, out of the church to the market,4 where they walked for a while to show that they neither had nor wanted any part in what was going on there. Meanwhile the mob fell upon the images and altars. Among those damaged was a particular statue of the Virgin, about a foot and half long, with the body of Christ in her lap [Pietá]. Sir Simon Slecht, the chaplain of this church, had caused it to be carved at Haarlem, put into a glass case, and placed upon the altar in front of the choir of St. Sebastiaan, on the south side of the church. In honour of the said image a gild of the Virgin, whose members were spinsters, was established and these used to come to him for confession and the offertory and to receive the sacrament; these also decked out the statue with many costly decorations. Weyn Adriaen Ockersdr., the wife of Jurriaen ter Meulen, threw her slipper at the head of this wooden statue of Mary, which act later cost her and her maid who was with her their lives.

In the meantime the burgomasters met in the schepenszaal, inviting there not only all the schepenen, but also three of the principal burghers of the Reformed Religion, by name Egbert Roeloffsz., Adriaen Paeuw and Arent Brouwer. They entreated these three to propose some expedient to pacify the people, but being unprepared to give an answer, they asked to have until the next day to consider. This was agreed and they were ordered to put their thoughts in writing; but before they went away, Cornelis Jacobsz. Brouwer one of the burgomasters rushed into the room in dismay, shouting, 'All the saints in the Oude Kerk are broken in pieces!' Egbert Roeloffsz., who was of a different disposition, replied warmly, 'Are they anything more than images? That's very different from the saints of God.' Immediately the three schutterijen were ordered to come armed to the market [the Dam]. The Schout Pieter Pietersz. immediately marched with forty of the town watch from the townhall to the church, in order to stop the progress of the mob, attacking them at first with staves and halberds, and threatening to fire into the crowd; and one musket was discharged. This caused many of the boys to stampede in order to get outside and in the crush by the south door, a young girl was trampled to death. The rest who remained in the church defended themselves, and obliged the Schout to retire. Then they went on with their image-breaking. The burgomasters, perceiving they could do no good by force, had recourse to gentler methods. They entreated three companies, one from each of the schutterijen to hasten to the church, and to try by fair words to persuade the people to leave. By means of kind words and entreaties this was accomplished, and the doors were shut. The next night a one regiment of schutters kept guard on the market. The magistrates, conscious of their past severities and present weakness, were so afraid that next day the vroedschap appointed five or six halberdiers for each burgomaster. The three above-mentioned burghers were sent for again. Adriaen Paeuw had drawn up certain articles which he handed to the burgomasters. Next day these drew up with the schepenen, having taken the advice of the vroedschap, a particular ordinance and regulation to pacify the commonalty. This was laid before and approved by the three schutterijen for it went still further than the proposals made by Paeuw. First it was agreed (albeit, as the ordinance states, for the present perilous time and until such time as the Duchess and the Knights of the Golden Fleece otherwise direct) that all the images should be removed out from churches both large and small, and the churches shut until further notice; that the preachings should take place outside the town; that no obstacle be placed in the way of either the ministers or their hearers; and that in the event of bad weather, they might use the Leprozenkerk; that the burghers should be permitted, in case of sickness, to make use either of a priest or a minister, as their consciences should direct; that when the parish priests carried the sacrament through the streets, they should not tinkle the bell to avoid giving offence or causing disturbances; that the desecration of churches should be prohibited on pain of corporal punishment, to be inflicted at the direction of the magistrates, as the case might require; that no one should reproach or exasperate another by word or deed, on account of his religion, but should suffer the other to live peaceably upon pain of arbitrary correction by the court, according to the nature of the offence; that in case of tumults or emergency everyone could take up arms in self-defence, but they should not pass beyond the thresholds of their houses, though, in the event of fire all those charged and bound to attend should do so; and, lastly, that a captain should be placed in charge of every district, whose orders were to be obeyed.

On 26 August the burgomasters sent in the morning for some of the most substantial of the inhabitants, who were thought to be chiefly concerned in the affairs of the Reformed. The aforesaid ordinance was read out and they were asked whether if this were put into execution, the people would be satisfied. They replied that they could not say, since neither they, nor their preachers, who had always exhorted the people to peace according to the genius of the gospel, had any hand in the tumult. 'You, my Lords,' they continued, 'provoke the mob to many things; we cannot pacify them. If you have the means, we shall be glad. We ask only that Christ may be preached; for which purpose the field outside the town suits us well enough; you need neither open the Leprozenkerk, nor shut the rest on our account. We have been always accused and charged by you with inciting disturbances, but now you have the testimony of many credible persons, as to what is preached among us. If you cannot believe it we entreat you to come and hear for yourselves, so that you may judge from your own experience.'

The same day the magistrates caused the aforesaid decree to be published to the sound of trumpets, not only in the presence of the burgomaster Jan Claesz. van Hoppen, but also of Adriaen Paeuw, Egbert Roeloffsz. and Arent Brouwer, to the end it might have the more weight and influence upon the burghers. The next day being 27 August the burgomasters asked the officers of each schutterij to choose two persons from each company as captains-in-chief, to whom the people might bring their complaints, which they should lay before the magistrates so that they might be redressed as promptly as possible. Accordingly Andries Boelens and Adriaen Paeuw were chosen from the hackbutters; Herman Rodenburch de Oude and Claes Reyersz. from the crossbowmen and Jan Bethsz. Rodenburg and Arent Cornelisz. Cool from the longbowmen. This choice was confirmed by the burgomasters and the vroedschap; those chosen were granted a commission appointing them to the said office, and given an undertaking that whatever they did in this capacity, would never be held against them. Soon afterwards the Regent wrote a very sharp letter to the magistrates of Amsterdam, reproaching them with having made so many concessions to the Gueux and the new preachers, and that (according to the letter) voluntarily and of their own free will. Joost Buyck, who had been burgomaster the previous year and was then town treasurer and had gone to Brussels with the schepen Gerbrand Benningh Pos in order to present the ordinance made in respect of the Reformed to the Duchess on behalf of the town, reported to the Council and the six captains, that she had said, 'Amsterdam has not exactly sweated blood in this matter'. 

In The Hague two men, by name Adriaen Menninck and Dirk Joosten were so brazen as to apply to the President Suis and other members of the [provincial] Court for workmen to break down the images, or so at least Bor, Hooft and others tell us. But Reael says that the President himself sent for one of them, Dirk Joosten, the treasurer of The Hague, and asked him whether he had a commission to demolish the images. He replied affirmatively, whereupon being asked where it was, he boldly lied, and laying his hand on his heart, said that it was here. The Lords, including Hippolytus van Persijn, the President of the Court of Utrecht, being by chance then at The Hague, whether struck with terror, or thinking that their courage and confidence was their commission, did as they desired, without any further enquiry. They begged them only to do the work peaceably, and without causing any disturbance, granting them twelve labourers, who were to receive seven stivers a day for their pains, which they were also paid. During the demolition, the churchdoors were guarded by the apparitors of the Court and by the schutters. Little was gained by such docility, which supposedly stemmed from fear, for various people, who had secreted some statues in good time in their houses, were forced to deliver these for destruction. All this caused a huge sensation in the whole country, especially among the mob, who now reckoned they had a licence to proceed with their image-breaking, since the President had not only appointed men for this purpose, but had also paid for it to be done.

At Delft it was not enough that the churches and convents were purged by order of the magistrates, for the mob destroyed everything that remained, despite the resistance of the watch and the guilds. The magistrates were besides compelled to allow a search of all the monasteries and hospitals to see no strangers were concealed there. After this some of the sacrilegious rabble (Strada says they were women) plundered the Franciscan convent, and used the church to preach in. In Leiden, Den Briel and other towns of Holland, the images were likewise demolished. At Dordrecht, Gouda, Rotterdam, Haarlem, and several other places, as some write, the magistrates, perceiving they could not weather the storm, thought fit to prevent the rebel rabble by doing themselves what they would otherwise have been forced to suffer, and gave orders for the orderly removal of images. But according to Pieter Hooft, the riots were only prevented at Dordrecht, by the infinite pains of the burgomaster and others, and similarly at Gouda, chiefly by the prudence of the castellan, who was the son of the aforesaid burgomaster. Though [Hooft] does not furnish their names, I have found that the Heer Arent van der Mijle was that year burgomaster in Dordrecht and that jonker Cornelis van der Mijle had charge over the castle at Gouda. At Hoorn no churches were violated, nor images demolished, partly through the prudence of the magistrates, and partly through the discretion of Clement Maertensz. and other leading Reformed who kept the disorderly mob within bounds by their good exhortations. The Heer van Brederode, following the example of the Count of Culemborg, cast out the images from the churches within his lordships.

In the island of Walcheren [Zeeland] not one church remained intact. At Middelburg they not only broke down the altars and images, and plundered the consecrated places, though they were opposed for two days by the magistrates and the schutters. But on 24 August the common people, coming together again in great numbers, demanded that the Bishop and the civil magistrates should release all such as were imprisoned for the sake of religion, and deliver them up; otherwise threatening to force the doors of the prison. To avoid a massacre, they were obliged to release twenty-one prisoners, and to allow the Reformed to preach in the town churches.

When news of the outrages committed in Flanders and Brabant, and particularly at Antwerp, without being opposed or subsequently punished, had reached as far as Utrecht, with the usual additional rumour that eight thousand armed men were marching through the country to do likewise everywhere, the whole town was stunned. But the Reformed were emboldened to demand directly after they had finished preaching on the morning of 24 August that the magistrates give them two churches. The magistrates replied that such a thing was not in their power, but they would assemble the Council about it. Yet in the afternoon, as soon as the sermon outside the Tolsteegpoort had ended, some of the New Religion went directly to the parish church of St. Geerte, and began breaking the images. The magistrates immediately sent several sergeants there. The plundering ceased and it was later discovered that it had been the work of some young journeymen reinforced by others armed with guns. Next day the aforementioned request was renewed by the deputies of the Reformed in the Council, who demanded the churches belonging to the Franciscans and Dominicans, adding that their congregation had resolved to remove the abomination of images, though without prejudice to the person or goods of any man, or damage to the valuables belonging to the churches. The Council declined to come to any resolution, on the pretext that they were below strength because several members were absent. Whereupon one of the deputies of the Reformed retorted, 'Eat mustard with your ham, then you will be strong', which impertinence afterwards cost him his life. After consultation with the members of the provincial Court, the governor of the castle Vredenburg, several of the principal nobility (some of whom had signed the Compromise) and the most substantial burghers, they replied to the Reformed as follows: that the town had no power to open any of the churches, which they demanded, but in view of the troubles that would certainly follow, if the Reformed persisted in their resolve to take these by force, (as they boasted) they asked for a delay of one week, so that in the interval they could learn the pleasure of the Duchess of Parma, and the Prince of Orange. This proposal was qualified with many plausible reasons to make it acceptable to the deputies, and was at their request communicated by some magistrates, charged with this errand, to the Reformed, who were waiting in great numbers in the churchyard of St.Marie, well armed and ready to effect their design. They consented to it at last, on condition that the clergy should be forbidden in the meanwhile to rail at the Reformed, and the Franciscans and Dominicans not be allowed to exercise their functions. This agreement was ratified by some of the chief of the New Religion, but it was observed only until the Council broke up. Then an armed mob fell upon the Buurkerk in a most riotous manner, and likewise upon the church of St. Jacobs, and the churches of the Franciscans and Dominicans. The images were broken, all the rich furnishings either profaned or plundered, and the missal, and other books there, cut or torn in pieces. The magistrates, being too weak to oppose them, did nothing else but secure the townhall, and the next night caused it to be guarded by 160 of the most reliable among the guilds. The following day, which was 26 August, they entered into a fresh negotiations with the Reformed, who had re-assembled again in the Plaats of St.Marie, about 500 or 600 strong, and well armed, intending to put their further designs into execution. At last the magistrates obtained a truce for four days in order in the meanwhile to make their demands known to the Duchess [of Parma] and the Prince. But whilst they were thus treating, some of the crowd made their way to the churches of St. Nicolaas and St. Geerte where they again attacked the images. But some of the magistrates who had been sent there, used such great endeavours, that it was left at that. On the 27 August, to prevent the further violence with which the town was threatened, the magistrates found themselves obliged to make a new agreement with Jacob Cosijnsz. and Dirk Cater, deputed by the Reformed to promote their request. The Reformed were granted in the name of three estates of the province of Utrecht and the Court of Justice, (though with the proviso that the Regent and the stadhouder should approve) several points tending, among other things, to their security and they were given the St. Jacobskerk with the promise of another in case that should prove too small.

The peace of Friesland was not disturbed until somewhat later, perhaps because those who had there forsaken the Church of Rome, [d'Onroomschen] consisted for the most part of Mennonites, an inoffensive people, who did not trust their own strength, or perhaps because the fires of wrath burned less fiercely there for want of fuel. Certainly in no other province was the matter of religion treated with more propriety, and where less innocent blood was spilt on that account. The credit for this belongs in great measure to the Count of Aremberg, stadhouder of Friesland, who with a peculiar dexterity, prudence and modesty, knew how to moderate the rigour of the placards, the cruelty of the clergy, and the impatience of the persecuted. Nevertheless at Leeuwarden on 6 September all the images, altars and other ornaments were cast out of the three parish churches. But this was done with the permission of the presiding burgomaster, Tjerk Walles, and the majority of the Council, some of whom even joined with the armed burghers in escorting the Reformed ministers to the pulpit in one of those churches, namely Oldenhove, Antonius Nicolai preached there in the morning, and Martinus Eliacus in the afternoon. On 15 September the Lord's Supper was administered. When Arenberg was informed of this, he hastened there, but required no more than the restoration of the church and the liturgy to its former state, and the dismissal of the ministers. But when it was objected that this not practicable by reason of the number of the Reformed, he contented himself with reinforcing the fort with men and provisions against the threats of the tumultuous people, who boasted that they did not lack the means to become masters of it. At Sneek the breaking of the images was prevented by the care of the magistrates and the opposition of the burghers, but they were obliged to suspend the saying of mass, and other church services. The same happened at Franeker, where the Reformed preached several times, but without plundering the churches. Groningen, where no one had seen any man put to death for religion, was among the last towns to be involved in these disturbances. But the example of Leeuwarden and other places stirred the zeal of the Reformed in that town, who however went no further than to take possession of the Franciscan church, cheerfully demolishing the images and altars, with the permission of the magistrates, who sent them workmen to clear the floor of debris and other obstacles, and make the place fit for preaching, which nevertheless cost some of those workmen their lives in l569. In the villages of the Ommelanden -- Winsum, Garsthuizen, Westeremden, Ten Post, Middelstum and elsewhere --, the peasants, incited by the gentry, plundered many churches, in spite of the authorities, who were of the opinion that, it was reasonable to spare the clergy this trouble on account of the liberty of conscience always enjoyed in those parts. In Gelderland the iconoclasm struck the churches of Arnhem, Nijmegen, Roermond, Venlo, Harderwijk and other adjacent towns and villages. Several towns in Overijssel suffered the same insolencies, particularly Kampen and Zwolle. But at Deventer where Caspar Coolhaes preached from 5 September of this year until 6 May of the following, with the knowledge and consent, and even at the invitation of the magistrates, there was no complaint of riots and tumults. No images were demolished there, nor were the Papists interrupted in the exercise of their religion, otherwise than by the public preaching, and private teaching from the Word of God, and that too without bitterness or calumny. By such mild treatment both confessions lived together in concord as became fellow burghers and many forsook the Popish Religion. In Luxemburg, Artois, parts of Hainaut, Namur, and the places adjacent, there was neither preaching nor plundering.

Source: G. Brandt, The History of the Reformation and other Ecclesiastical Transactions in and about the Low Countries, I (London, 1720) 191-204 revised after consultation with the original Historie der reformatie en andre kerkelycke geschiedenissen in en ontrent de Nederlanden, I (Amsterdam, l671) 341-66. Place names have been modernised and proper names modified to conform with current usage.

1 A reference to the destruction of images which occurred in the Greek Church during the iconoclastic controversy from c. 725 to 842.
2 Two merchants from Edam in Waterland, who had been on business in Antwerp, returned from there with pieces of black marble, perhaps from the Sint Michielsabdij, which they displayed at Amsterdam and subsequently at Edam. ARAB, Raad van Beroerten, 115 (125) fo. 267vo-68. Likewise at Estaires in French Flanders someone who had been in Antwerp during the iconoclasm returned with 'une ymaige de bois doré de quelque saincte qu'il disoit avoir rapporté de l'Eglise Nostre-Dame d'Anvers, où elle estoit rompu'. E. De Coussemaker, Troubles religieux du XVIe siècle dans la Flandre Maritime II, (Bruges, 1870) 270. 
3 The Chamber in the townhall where the burgomasters used to meet, so called because it was situated in the tower of the medieval stadhuis. 
4 The market in Amsterdam took place on the Dam before the Town Hall.

Last Modified: 24-4-2010 13:00