Chapter 7 1566: The Beeldenstorm and Its Aftermath

In: The Matter of Piety
Ruben Suykerbuyk
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Figure 127, detail Anonymous, Man in Geuzen costume, with medal, The Hague, Nationaal Archief, Collectie Handschriften van het voormalige Rijksarchief in Zuid-Holland,, inv. 1462

Destructions and Descriptions

Because of their defiantly Catholic character, sacrament houses became one of the primary targets of the violent iconoclastic attacks of 1566.1 Many of the magnificent examples that had been constructed after 1520 were dramatically torn down, giving rise to both vivid and horrifying descriptions by contemporaries. In his description of the first phase of iconoclasm in the Low Countries (between 10 and 20 August 1566, in the Flemish Westkwartier), Marcus van Vaernewijck narrates with awe how an army of around 3000 members travelled in small gangs from village to village and destroyed the interior of every church they crossed on their path.2 One of the gangs went to the ‘rich and very powerful Abbey of the Dunes (…) where they broke the sacrament house made of marble, touchstone and alabaster, which had been commissioned by the previous abbot [Robert II Leclercq]’ (fig. 122).3 A stone fragment of a Last Supper (fig. 126) that has been identified as coming from the structure illustrates how the iconoclasts went about: the figures were meticulously deprived of their heads and hands, just like at so many other places where representations of human figures were disarmed of their potentially most dangerous, i.e. recognizable and speaking features.

Figure 126
Figure 126

Anonymous, Fragment of a Last Supper from the sacrament house, c. 1540–1565, Koksijde, Abdijmuseum Ten Duinen

Photo: Lambert J. Derenette

The sacrament house that was donated by Andries Seys in Ghent and built between 1553 and 1555 befell the same fate. In his diary, merchant Cornelis van Campene described its destruction and emphasized that it had been ‘donated shortly before’.4 These examples should caution against a too univocal interpretation of the Beeldenstorm as nothing more than a destruction of the religious material culture of a preceding, medieval era that was definitively over. The demolition of these imposing structures made as clear a statement as their donation had only a few years before. Authors such as Van Campene and Van Vaernewijck still knew the names of prominent donors, and several of them or their close relatives must have been still alive when these large-scale destructions took place. Moreover, objects in churches often were directly linked to the private lives of donors, such as the epitaphs of Strijrode and Spieken in Zoutleeuw. All of this adds a very personal touch to the iconoclastic attacks. The same goes for the creators of these objects, because even the most recent works, made by artists that were still alive, were subjected to fierce attacks during the Wonderyear. Throughout his Schilder-Boeck (1604), Karel van Mander gives many examples of paintings that he ranked among the most artful creations of the mid-sixteenth century that were ‘smashed by desecrating hands, to the distress of Art, by fierce stupidity’.5 Such was the case with a large altarpiece painted by Pieter Aertsen for a church in Warmenhuizen, near Alkmaar in Holland. Van Mander writes that a prominent lady from Alkmaar tried to prevent the triptych’s destruction by offering 100 pounds, but ‘just when it was taken out of the church to hand it over to her, the peasants furiously threw themselves on it and annihilated the beautiful art’.6

Our knowledge of Aertsen’s religious oeuvre is limited, which in part is certainly the result of the large-scale destructions in the various sixteenth-century waves of iconoclasm. Van Mander even recounts that it drove the painter ‘beside himself with despair that the things he meant to leave the world in memory were nullified like that’.7 But Aertsen was of course far from the only artist who witnessed his production being devastated. Frans Floris is another case in point, with regard to whom it has even been suggested that the psychological shock caused by the sight of his own artworks being destroyed might well explain his diminished output after 1566.8 One of his absolute masterpieces must have been the Assumption of the Virgin, on which he worked from 1561 to 1564, for the high altar of the church of Our Lady in his hometown Antwerp, which at the time had only recently been elevated to the rank of cathedral. Just like Aertsen’s altarpieces, this work was allegedly severely damaged when iconoclasts ransacked the church on 20 August 1566. Reporting that it was broken into pieces, Van Mander especially praised the work’s composition, while an anonymous chronicler mostly deplored its artful and costly character.9 In Zoutleeuw, on the contrary, Floris’ and Aertsen’s creations were spared. And although sacrament houses were violently attacked by iconoclasts all over the Low Countries, the structure in Zoutleeuw remained standing. How was this possible? While research on the so-called Wonderyear (spring 1566–spring 1567) has largely focused on Protestant action or governmental reaction, this chapter argues that local Catholic agency was of equally vital importance during this period.10

The Wonderyear: Facts and Theories

1566 saw the convergence of a number of slumbering tensions. A broad resistance against the harshness of the central government’s heresy laws was joined by the nobility’s and political elites’ profound discontent with King Philip II’s centralizing politics. This combination created the unique political and religious climate that would characterize the Wonderyear.11 The traditional starting point is 5 April 1566, when over 200 armed members of the confederate lesser nobility organized a march on Brussels and presented governess Margaret of Parma with a petition to abolish the Inquisition and suspend the edicts against heresy. The overall tone of the text was moderate and loyal, but the action in itself was absolutely revolutionary.12 Many inhabitants of the Habsburg Low Countries were hopeful, but tensions immediately ran high and in cities such as Antwerp and Brussels a permanent watch was installed. From this point onwards, the events became international news and foreign observers kept close track of the developments in the Low Countries.13 Governess Margaret of Parma panicked and proclaimed a moderation a few days later, in anticipation of an official answer from King Philip II. This apparent tolerance was soon misinterpreted, and inhabitants who had been banned for religious reasons in previous years now returned to their home country. Shortly after, Calvinists came out into the open and organized massively attended hedge-preachings outside many cities. These sermons gradually took on a militant tone, and were soon attended by an armed audience.14 Thus, during the summer of 1566, Calvinism grew rapidly from a persecuted underground church into a large, popular and increasingly well-organized movement.

One such sermon was delivered on 10 August by Sebastiaan Matte in Steenvoorde (Flanders). Matte urged the crowd to break the images and other religious objects in the nearby convent of Saint Lawrence, which was ritually celebrating its patron saint’s day with a procession. This particular event is traditionally identified as the start of the Beeldenstorm: in the week following Matte’s sermon, many sacred places in the Westkwartier in the south-west of the County of Flanders were attacked by wandering bands of iconoclasts under the guidance of Calvinist preachers. The intense iconoclastic attacks in Antwerp on 20 August were a crucial turning point, since they functioned as a catalyst for further destruction. Important cities such as Ghent and Tournai soon followed, and the fury spread to Holland, before finally reaching the northernmost provinces in September and October 1566 (compare with map 5).15

The interpretation of these iconoclastic events has evolved significantly over time. The most notorious view is probably that of Marxist historian Erich Kuttner, who analyzed the Beeldenstorm as a dramatic expression of class struggle, identifying slumbering socio-economic tensions as its main trigger. His methods and interpretation of the events were soon met with fierce criticism, but other economic readings were still advocated afterwards.16 Herman Van der Wee, for example, made a crucial and nuancing contribution to the debate by pointing to the essential role of the middle-classes. As a result of both economic and climatologic factors, their prosperity was threatened quite suddenly during the early 1560s, which Van der Wee interpreted as an important push-factor towards Calvinist teachings.17 These economic interpretations were able to account for the arising of unrest, but they cannot explain the particular actions and the form they took.18 Iconoclasm was no haphazard vandalism, but instead targeted specific objects, such as sacrament houses, and was symbolically charged, as the many mock trials against images illustrate. Furthermore, the example of Aertsen’s altarpiece in Warmenhuizen demonstrates that iconoclasts refused sums of money, and that at other places they would rather urinate into sacred vessels instead of stealing and selling them.

Recent studies of the Beeldenstorm have proposed more cultural readings. Peter Arnade, for instance, explained the events by referring to the traditional, political culture of the Burgundian Low Countries.19 Most importantly, the religious basis of the controversy was brought back into the debate. In her pioneering work, Nathalie Zemon Davis showed that the iconoclastic attacks in France were indeed all about religious convictions.20 For the Low Countries in particular, David Freedberg has made important contributions by showing the importance of theological motivations for these destructive actions, and how the latter were in fact inherent to the Judeo-Christian tradition, and even human psychology in general.21 These theoretical underpinnings and the various stances of their ideologists have been amply discussed above. Scholars have also shown how the iconoclastic wave fits in a much larger sixteenth-century, European pattern. After all, many countries north of the Alps had already been confronted with iconoclasm before 1566 (Chapter 4). Still, although the practice of destroying images was hardly unique, the scope and intensity of the wave of 1566 in the Low Countries was exceptional. Unlike anywhere else, the destructions were not the result of an official command, nor were the iconoclasts’ actions approved by local authorities, or limited to individual places. Although the central government had evidently not consented, the upheaval still spread throughout almost all of the provinces, from Steenvoorde in the southwest to Groningen in the northeast. Sergiusz Michalski even spoke of an ‘iconoclastic psychosis’ in the Low Countries, emphasizing how exceptional it was from a European point of view.22

Les villes bonnes

Because of its exceptional character, many chroniclers – both contemporary and later – saw the Beeldenstorm as a unique chain of events. The traditional world of the Low Countries was turned upside down in an almost carnivalesque manner. Shouting ‘the king drinks!’ to a priest consuming the consecrated wine, comparing organ music to pastoral musettes and holding mock trials against images are all clear indications of this. Yet, although the iconoclastic scare must have been enormous and the actual impact of the attacks of the summer and autumn of 1566 can hardly be exaggerated, the Beeldenstorm was not as comprehensive as it seemed to contemporaries and subsequent historians.23 In fact, a considerable number of important economic, political or religious centers in the Habsburg Netherlands were able to ward off destruction. In the Duchy of Brabant, both Brussels and Leuven were spared, as were Bruges and Lille in Flanders – two of the territories’ largest cities in terms of inhabitants (map 5).24 Thus, all over the Low Countries, there were cities that were left untouched.

Nevertheless, the situation remained tense. A good case in point is the city of Leuven, located just off the western border of the Hageland region. The course of events in this town is very well documented thanks to the letters of Maximilien Morillon, the diligent informant of Cardinal Antoine Perrenot de Granvelle in Rome. On Saturday 31 August 1566, in the midst of the iconoclastic upheaval, Morillon apologized for not being able to provide as much information as usual on the precarious situation in the Netherlands. ‘I cannot leave this city as they keep it closed’, he wrote, ‘which is the reason why I cannot report as fully as I could while being in Brussels. But the danger is too great there’. At the same time, he expressed his gloomy prognosis for the future: ‘The good order is maintained here and one keeps great watch, but I am afraid that in the end the inhabitants will get angry’.25 However, almost two months later and after several weeks of ostentatious destruction in churches, chapels and cloisters all over the Habsburg Netherlands, Governess Margaret of Parma wrote the city of Leuven about ‘the satisfaction that His Majesty got from seeing the good work done by his good and loyal subjects in order to preserve and maintain their ancient devotion, both with regard to religion as to the service of His Majesty’.26 This example illustrates how real the iconoclastic scare was and indicates that the city of Leuven did suffer genuine threats. Yet, it also prompts the question of how it succeeded in warding off the attacks and, as a result, the city’s two magnificent sacrament houses were not hewn down as they were at so many other places during the Beeldenstorm.

Three days later, on 28 October 1566, Margaret of Parma again sent a letter to Leuven and sixteen other cities in the Low Countries, which she referred to as villes bonnes, i.e. those who had remained loyal to the King and the Catholic religion during the troubles, as opposed to les villes mauvaises (map 5).27 The abundance of studies charting the local development of the Beeldenstorm illustrates that it was certainly not a homogenous movement that struck identically everywhere it occurred. Instead, it was highly heterogeneous, characterized by pluralism and particularism.28 Peter Arnade has aptly shown that, in the cases of Antwerp, Ghent and Ieper, the motivations for and precise developments of the iconoclastic acts differed significantly from place to place.29 Hence, we may conclude that the reasons why certain cities resisted also differed considerably, and were dependent on a variety of factors. For instance, Robert Scribner has observed ‘that the failure of the Reformation in Cologne was as much a product of the urban environment as its success elsewhere’.30 However, as the iconoclastic scare seems to have been omnipresent, all cities felt threatened and consequently started taking measures. Contemporary Netherlandish sources are rather pessimistic about the resistance and remain silent about the measures taken, but these issues received much more attention in Italian reports on the quick succession of events in the Low Countries.31 Giovanni Battista Guicciardini, sometime merchant in Brussels and informant for the Medici court, is one of the few authors who offered a succinct analysis of the resistance. He mentions three main reasons for the success of cities such as Brussels and Leuven that remained intatto: they closed the city gates, organized a guard that patrolled day and night, and provided armed watchmen to protect the local churches.32 These are indeed the measures that recur in the cases of the cities that were spared.33

Map 5
Map 5

Villes bonnes in the circular letters of Governess Margaret of Parma, 1566–1567

Map: Ruben Suykerbuyk & Hans Blomme

By closing the gates and sealing the city’s jurisdiction, the magistrates sought to prevent citizens from attending the sermons of hedge-preachers outside the city walls, but it also allowed them to keep a close watch on people coming in. Names, places of origins as well as lodging were registered, while strangers or vagabonds were straightforwardly refused entry. In many cases, non-inhabitants that had already been in the city for a significant period were expelled. In Leuven, for example, all but two gates were closed on 29 August – a policy of which Morillon felt the consequences.34 In reports on the events and adopted policies, which were later requested by the Council of Troubles, cities were often quick to emphasize that none of their inhabitants had been involved in any of the troubles.35 However, the actual events seem to have been the result of a combination of internal and external factors. One measure that was meant to counter the danger from the inside was guarding of the churches and chapels in town, or even completely closing them by means of a temporary suspension of its liturgical services. Such was the case in the Church of Saints Michael and Gudula in Brussels. As a reaction to the news of the destructions in Antwerp on 20 August, the Brussels magistracy decided the very next day to put watchmen in the church towers, and all churchwardens were advised to personally stand guard in their churches.36 Tensions were indeed running high, and a few days later, on 24 August, the word on the street was that a Calvinist sermon and the despoiling of Brussels’ main church were being planned. Morillon was convinced that this destruction would indeed have taken place that day if the local authorities had not intervened: the divine office was suspended, the building was closed, and guards were stationed in and around the church.37 One week later, on Sunday 1 September, the church was opened again for a limited number of services and under heavy protection, and the very next day the governess had a Te Deum sung to celebrate the birth of Infanta Isabella. On this occasion, chronicler Pierre Gaiffier expressed his amazement about the strict surveillance. ‘It was very strange to see arquebusiers and a great number of armed soldiers in the church. There were so many that one only had access to the church after great pains and difficulty, through a narrow passage, one after another’.38 It was only on 15 October that the magistrates decided to officially reopen the church, albeit with limited opening hours.39

These examples show that local counter-moves were crucial. In Brussels, military organization was essential, but there was a dire need for soldiers, and for most of them, payment was far in arrears. Several cities made urgent bids for troops, but the central government was often unable to send any at all. As a result, some cities, among which Brussels and Leuven, put up temporary civic armies, paid by local authorities and institutions, both secular and religious.40 In Leuven, the necessary funds were provided by donations from ‘good citizens’.41 Yet, in addition to these official measures and arrangements, the Catholic population could also take matters into their own hands by firmly resisting iconoclasts. A telling example is the town of Veurne: although it had closed its gates, a number of iconoclasts nevertheless were able to force their way in, and started causing devastation. However, the inhabitants themselves quickly managed to drive them back out.42 Somewhat less glorious, but apparently equally effective, was to chase the attacking iconoclasts away by using dung, a tactic successfully employed by the inhabitants of Hoorn.43 These examples illustrate the importance of local factors: in places where the reform-minded were not dominant, the iconoclasts often had severe difficulties carrying out their plans.

Logically, scholars have posited the existence of a correlation between the degree of success of rising Protestantism and iconoclasm.44 However, this does not mean that the threats were insignificant in the cities that were able to ward off iconoclasm. In fact, there were definitely Protestant communities in several of the villes bonnes, and the iconoclastic scare evoked in Morillon and the governess’ many letters was doubtlessly fueled by real threats. In Brussels, the Calvinists were well organized by the time of the Wonderyear, and the university town of Leuven also saw considerable support for Protestant ideas, due to its many contacts with German and Swiss cities. The notorious trial of 1543 has already been mentioned above (Chapter 6): 42 persons were accused of Protestantism, and military security measures had to be taken during both the legal proceedings and the executions.45

And of course, iconoclasm could also come from out of town, as the example of Diksmuide shows.46 When Sebastiaan Matte – the minister who had preached the notorious instigating sermon at Steenvoorde – sent a small army to the city, demanding that they be let in, the magistracy stubbornly refused. Yet, although the population appears to have been predominantly Catholic, they did fear bloody reprisals, and put pressure on the magistrates to let them do their job. Nevertheless, the churchwardens of the parish church of Saint Nicholas took the initiative to bring as much of the interior as possible to safety. During several days, some fifteen men were paid to hide or carry away most of the church’s furniture. The sculptures of the rood loft were taken away, as well as the triumphal cross with the images of Our Lady and John the Baptist. The organ was partly protected, while parts of it were hidden in a parishioner’s house, as was the baptismal font. Finally, wooden sculptures of the saints (de houten santen) were hidden in the church tower, and the brass screen around the sacrament house was carried away.47 Iconoclasts indeed managed to enter the church and afflicted some damage, but later on magistrates explicitly declared that there were no citizens who had been involved: ‘strangers’ were said to have carried out an iconoclastic cleansing of the church. However, all of this had happened under the supervision of the bailiff, who made sure that the ‘principal ornaments’, including the rood loft dating from 1536–1543 and the – presumably contemporaneous – sacrament house, were spared.48

Zoutleeuw and the Hageland Region

The analysis above contradicts the idea of the Beeldenstorm as an all-destructive wave, and brings some nuance to the cliché that the passivity of magistrates was the main reason for losses. In several cases, such as in Leuven for example, acute and genuine threats were certainly met with active resistance sponsored by at least some of the city’s inhabitants. Yet, it is hard to assess how broad-fronted this opposition was, and in certain areas, the threats must have been considerably less immediate. Contemporary correspondence and chronicles clarify that the cities in the southern counties of Artois, Hainaut and Namur and the Duchy of Luxembourg ‘remained constant in their Catholic religion’.49 Their inhabitants were predominantly Catholic, and no gangs of iconoclasts are known to have wandered through their territories. Returning to the particular case of Zoutleeuw: what was the situation in this town during the summer of 1566?

In the middle of July 1566, the fear that King Philip II would send an army to the Low Countries urged the confederate nobility to convene a meeting in Sint-Truiden – only six kilometers east of Zoutleeuw – to discuss protection measures. For the first time in the Hageland, this entailed a heightened Calvinist presence, since the assembly was attended by delegates of the consistories, including the notorious preacher Herman Moded.50 Morillon reported that it also attracted ‘many merchants of Antwerp and Tournai, infected with heresy (…) threatening to exterminate and massacre the clergy’.51 It did not come to this, but there were some sporadic cases of occasional iconoclasm, such as in Hasselt – 15 kilometers northeast of Sint-Truiden – where crucifixes and images of saints located outdoors were smashed, and the cemetery was desecrated.52

Nothing of the sort happened in Zoutleeuw. The town kept close watch over who entered the town, and peace soon returned to the Hageland.53 Even in the midst of the iconoclastic upheavals that struck the Low Countries, the town never appears to have been under direct threat. One nightwatchman was installed by the civic authorities from 23 August onwards, when the Beeldenstorm had reached the cities of Mechelen and Turnhout, but the very next week, they still had to send out letters to Diest and Rotem (near Halen) ‘to have tidings from the Geuzen’.54 However, tensions increased in early December 1566, when the churchwardens took measures as well. Already in 1556, a man was paid to keep watch in the church during the four nights around Pentecost, and vigilance gradually increased in the following years (Chapter 4). From early December 1566 onwards, the churchwardens first appointed four watchmen to guard the church during daytime as well. Later, the granary (coerenhuys) was temporarily refurnished and equipped for these watchmen.55 This heightened surveillance was probably a consequence of the increased tensions in and around Hasselt. After having been accused of being one of the principal leaders of the iconoclastic uprisings in the territories of Flanders and Brabant, Calvinist preacher Herman Moded fled to the politically independent Prince-Bishopric of Liège. After 5 December 1566 he preached to much acclaim in the city of Hasselt, and just over one month later, on 19 January, the city’s parish church was ransacked by iconoclasts.56 However, these events did not trigger similar uprisings in Zoutleeuw, and at the end of May 1567, the town’s nightwatchman was discharged.57

Zoutleeuw was definitely not an isolated case, but the situation is difficult to assess since most available studies predominantly focus on uprising and revolt.58 Much in the same way as Scribner referred to local, urban and communal structures in his explanation of the success or failure of the Reformation, explanations for the existence of continuity and relative stability in the Low Countries should probably be sought on a more structural level.59 The analysis above has shown that the complex mechanisms behind the Beeldenstorm consisted essentially of a combination of internal and external factors, and both were lacking in Zoutleeuw. There are no indications of threats from within, as the evidence at hand suggests that support for Protestantism in town was fractional or even non-existent. Not a single inhabitant is known to have been condemned for heresy by the Council of Troubles and in his history of the town of Zoutleeuw, published in 1606, court historian Gramaye stated that no inhabitant ‘has ever been suspected of heresy during these troublesome times’.60

Modest measures were taken to counter potential attacks, but Zoutleeuw never really suffered immediate, external threats of iconoclasm either. In the Hageland, there were no gangs of iconoclasts such as those that sacked the Abbey of the Dunes or threatened the city of Diksmuide. The town of Diest, for instance, remained untouched by the Beeldenstorm as well, but nevertheless took preventive measures. A nightly guard was organized on 6 August already, and from early September until the end of April 1567, the civic militia served as an additional vigilante patrol.61 Measures were also taken at the shrine of Saint Job in Wezemaal, where the offertory boxes were emptied and much of the church furniture – including the cult statue – was brought in safety to the city of Leuven on 24 August. But no iconoclasts came, and in April 1567, everything was returned.62 Tienen also escaped. In the earliest stages of the Reformation, some inhabitants had been accused of adhering to Luther in the 1520s and 1530s, but in 1566, no iconoclastic cleansing of churches occurred. Not without pride, the magistracy later reported that ‘concerning those who would have been the leaders and promotors of the despoiling and sacking of the churches, we announce to your Excellency that we do not know of any, as such events did not happen in this town. God be praised!’63 Finally, in and around Aarschot, Duke Philippe III de Croÿ (1526–1595) acted firmly. A loyal councilor to the governess, he was known as both an ardent opponent of the Confederation of Nobles and a staunch supporter of the Church of Rome. In response to the Geuzen, who collectively identified themselves by wearing medals depicting a beggar’s pouch (fig. 127), De Croÿ is said to have issued a silver pilgrim badge depicting Our Lady of Halle. He forced his servants to wear it on their hats ‘to show that they remained loyal to the papal church and opposed the Geuzen’.64 De Croÿ’s initiative found significant support, and word of the vigorous and efficacious actions he led during the Beeldenstorm was met with praise at the Spanish court.65

Figure 127
Figure 127

Anonymous, Man in Geuzen costume, with medal, The Hague, Nationaal Archief, Collectie Handschriften van het voormalige Rijksarchief in Zuid-Holland,, inv. 1462

De Croÿ’s badge is yet another example that demonstrates how traditional elements from the Low Countries’ devotional culture received a new, confessional dimension in the mid-sixteenth century. Much like the sacrament house in Zoutleeuw, it testifies to the complex interplay between tradition and innovation in these times of religious change. Instead of accommodating the Protestant critique, the attacks were countered with even more magnificence, either in ornament – in music or in stone –, height, or iconography, but regardless of all this novelty, the basic forms remained the same. Hence, the sacrament house is exemplary for the religious developments in Zoutleeuw, which by no means suggest devotional decline. Parishioners seem to have upheld participation in the sacraments, and pilgrims continued to visit the shrine of Saint Leonard and attend the yearly Whit Monday procession. It is impossible to measure precisely to what extent this was due to public, orthodox projects such as Van Wilre’s or De Croÿ’s. The evidence at hand suggests that such initiatives were partially preceded by patterns of growth in traditional piety, but it is not unlikely that, within the intense religious debates of the time, the voices of local elites had an important impact on the communities they governed. In any case, they were clear local experiments in providing a material response to Protestantism.

Despite this relative stability in the summer and autumn of 1566, the Wonderyear marked the start of a particularly hard time for the town of Zoutleeuw. While devotional revenues had remained more or less stable throughout the earlier decades of the sixteenth century, the first considerable blow occurred in the financial year 1566, which included the revenues of the first Whit Monday procession after the upheavals of 1566. The procession immediately preceding the Beeldenstorm resulted in a normal sum of 3403,31 stuivers. However, the very next year, the sum was more than halved, to a mere 1477,125 stuivers. The same trend is notable in the total monetary offerings, 4394,94 and 2207,6 stuivers respectively (graph 4). The decline was followed by a modest recovery, but throughout the years to come, like the rest of Brabant and the Low Countries, the town went through a particularly distressful period, mostly due to the civil war that ensued after the Wonderyear.66 Due to the town’s strategic location at the border of the Duchy of Brabant, Zoutleeuw and its surroundings were particularly hit by the raging war. This had disastrous consequences for the population, and farmers were regularly exempted from payments due to ‘great damage inflicted by the Geuzen’.67 Furthermore, a garrison was installed in town, which not only resulted in high maintenance costs, but also in the frequent mutiny and grave misbehavior on behalf of the soldiers. When William of Orange approached the town during his invasions of Brabant of 1568 and 1572, it remained loyal to the Spanish-Habsburg authority. However, between 1575 and 1578, Zoutleeuw temporarily chose the side of the rebellious States Army.68 This led the Spanish to quarter yet more soldiers in the garrison in 1578 and 1590, respectively. Notorious phases of mutiny followed. These events, combined with a number plague epidemics in the 1570s, had far-reaching consequences for the population figure: in 1581, there were reportedly some 60 households. In 1594 there were only 30, and in a petition from 1601 to the Court of Accounts, the widow of the deceased meier claimed that the majority of the inhabitants had died.69 The situation also had its repercussions on the administration of the fabrica ecclesiae: we only have fragmentary accounts on the period between 1566 and 1600, and it would not be surprising if these missing accounts had never been made at all.70 In every respect 1566, much more than 1520, represents the real rupture in the history of the Low Countries.

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