Siege of Mons (1572)

The siege of Mons of 1572 took place at Mons, capital of the County of Hainaut, Spanish Netherlands (present-day Belgium), between 23 June and 19 September 1572, as part of the Eighty Years' War, the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604), and the French Wars of Religion.[1][6] In the spring of 1572, after the capture of Valenciennes by a Protestant force under Louis of Nassau, the Dutch commander continued with his offensive and took Mons by surprise on 24 May.[6][12] After three months of siege, and the defeats of the armies of Jean de Hangest, seigneur d'Yvoy and Genlis, and William the Silent, Prince of Orange (Dutch: Willem van Oranje), by the Spanish army led by Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba ("The Iron Duke"), Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands,[5] and his son, Don Fadrique de Toledo,[6] Louis of Nassau's forces, isolated and without any hope of help, surrendered Mons to the Duke of Alba on 19 September.[6][13][14]

Siege of Mons (1572)
Part of the Eighty Years' War and the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604)

Mons in 1572 by Frans Hogenberg
Date23 June – 19 September 1572

Spanish victory[1][2][3]

Dutch Rebels
French Huguenot forces
Commanders and leaders
William of Orange
Louis of Nassau
Jean de Hangest  (POW)
Duke of Alba
Fadrique de Toledo
Julián Romero
Louis of Nassau:
6,000–6,500 men[8]
Jean de Hangest:
10,000 men[9]
William of Orange:
14,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry[10]
36 cannons


In early May 1572 Louis of Nassau, one of the major commanders of the Dutch rebel forces, encouraged by the victory at Brielle by the Sea Beggars (1 April),[15] and supported by the Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny, invaded the Spanish Netherlands with an army composed by German, English, Scottish, and French soldiers, and took Valenciennes on 21 May.[12][16] On 23 May Louis of Nassau arrived at Mons with 1,000 infantry and 500 cavalry, who encamped in the environs of the city.[17] At the next day, after finding out the schedules of opening of the doors of Mons, Nassau entered the city by surprise with the cavalry, and then the rest of his forces, defeating the small Spanish garrison.[18] Louis took control of the city, and a few days later, was reinforced by about 4,500 infantry and cavalry under the command of the Count of Montgomery.[5]

When the news reached the Spanish headquarters, Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba, Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands, and commander-in-chief of the Spanish forces in the Low Countries, sent his son Don Fadrique with 4,000 soldiers[9] (another 16,000 soldiers were coming from the north), along with the Maestre de Campo Chiappino Vitelli, to defeat Louis of Nassau and retrieve Mons.[3] On 23 June Fadrique's forces arrived at Mons and laid siege to the city.[3] Furthermore, in early June, the Duke of Alba, at the head of the bulk of the Spanish army, recaptured Valenciennes after a feeble defence of the Protestant garrison, depriving the rebels, and their French allies, of one of their main bases.[3]

Meanwhile, William of Orange, Prince of Orange, had recruited in Germany an army of 14,000 soldiers of infantry and 3,000 of cavalry (11,000 infantry and 6,000 cavalry according to other sources),[4] and on 7 July William crossed the Rhine, entering the Netherlands.[10]


Old map of the fortress-city of Mons
Siege of Mons by Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alba, 1572 – Bor Nederlantsche Oorloghen

Louis of Nassau, aware of the progress of his brother, sent Jean de Hangest, seigneur d'Yvoy and Genlis, to France for more reinforcements, and in mid-July, Genlis, with an army of 10,000 men, crossed the border again, and marched towards Mons.[9] Louis sent a message to Genlis, urging that he should join with the army of his brother, William of Orange, but Genlis ignored the message, and advanced against the Spaniards.[19]

Battle of Saint-Ghislain

On 19 July Genlis and his forces encamped near Mons, in a circular plane. Don Fadrique, aware of his arrival, advanced towards him with 4,000 infantry, 1,500 cavalry, and 3,000 armed villagers for the occasion.[19] Genlis sent a detachment to reconnoitre, but after seeing the advance of the Spanish forces, these troops retreated to the French camp at full speed.[19] "Don Frederic de Toledo is coming upon us", they cried.[19] The Spanish cavalry of Philip of Noircarmes, without delay, charged against the French army, followed by infantry, while the rear was protected by the cavalry of Don Bernardino de Mendoza.[4] The attack caused panic among the French Huguenots, and then, the Spanish infantry shattered the French army.[4] The Spanish victory was complete, and the army of Genlis was entirely routed.[20] About 2,000 French soldiers were killed or wounded, and 700 captured, including 70 nobles and officers (in the following days, more than 4,000 were captured).[4][19] The leader of the French army, Jean de Hangest, was also captured, and taken prisoner to Antwerp.[21] The Captain Francisco Arias de Bobadilla was honored with carrying the news of the victory to King Philip II, for the proven value during the battle.[4]

Meantime, the Prince of Orange with his new army continued to advance towards Mons. On 23 July, after the capture of Roermond, his troops mutinied. On 27 August, with guarantees of payment of some cities in Holland, crossed the Meuse, advancing over Diest, Termonde, Oudenaarde, and Nivelles.[4][22]

St. Bartholomew's Day

On 11 August Gaspard de Coligny, with the approval of King Charles IX, had written to the Prince, that he expected soon to begin his march towards the Netherlands.[22] However, in France, Charles IX lost his nerve, fearing a Spanish invasion and a Catholic rebellion if he persisted in the planned invasion of the Netherlands to support the Huguenots and the Dutch Protestants.[21] The result was St. Bartholomew's Day massacre on 23 August.[21][23] When the news reached the Netherlands, it affected the morale of the Protestant troops (especially in the army of Louis of Nassau at Mons, because a great part of his troops were Huguenots), while in the Spanish camp it was celebrated by bonfires and illuminations, even in the St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral, the Catholic population sang anthems in honor of "the most Christian King of France".[24]

In early September, Don Fernando, Duke of Alba (who despite being a strong defender of Catholicism, described the massacre as an atrocity), arrived at Mons with reinforcements and took command of the operations.[24] The Prince of Orange continued to advance through the Netherlands, and some cities and villages were forced to open the doors to its passage for fear (Alba was specially angry for this), although some, such as Leuven, prevented the Orange's troops entering the city, in exchange for supplies.[22] On 10 September the army arrived near Mons, and Alba, knowing the Orange's arrival, positioned his troops for a possible attack.[24]

William of Orange's army

William of Orange, leader of the Dutch Revolt, by Adriaen Thomasz. Key

On the same day, as expected, the Orange's cavalry attacked the flank of the Spanish army, but was repulsed by the Spanish arquebusiers, led in the first line by the Duke of Alba, his son Don Fadrique, and the Duke of Medinaceli, causing multiple casualties in the Orange's cavalry.[25][26] After the failed attack, the Prince retreated to the village of Harmignies, about a league from Mons.[24]

On the night of 11 September the Spanish commander, Maestre de Campo Julián Romero, entered the camp of William of Orange commanding 600 arquebusiers, remaining as a reserve, in rear, the same number, supported by units of infantry and light cavalry, whose purpose was to protect the withdrawal.[27] In this raid 600 rebels were killed, for only 60 Spaniards.[27] Hundred of horses were captured, and a great part of the tents and the supplies were destroyed and burned. During the action, William of Orange himself was in profound slumber, and was saved by the barking of his Spaniel dog, who slept beside him.[27]

With a heavy heart, William wrote to his brother Louis of his forlorn condition and inability to relieve Mons.[28] The Prince retreated with his army to Nivelles and Mechelen, marching to the Rhine, and finally the bulk of his troops, mutinous for lack of pay, dispersed towards Germany. Thereafter he made his way almost alone to Holland, the only province which still remained true to him.[28]


After the defeat of the army of French Huguenots under Jean de Hangest, and the withdrawal of the army of William of Orange, Louis of Nassau found himself isolated in Mons.[21] Even the French Huguenots under his command mutinied as a consequence for the support of the King of France to the massacre of St. Bartholomew.[29] On 19 September Louis of Nassau surrendered Mons to the Duke of Alba and the terms of the capitulation were agreed between the Dutch and the Spaniards.[29]

Immediate consequences

Portrait of Louis of Nassau by Adriaen Thomasz Key

Louis of Nassau would be received by the Duke of Alba, the Duke of Medinaceli, and Don Fadrique. The city would be evacuated on 21 September, and on 24 September the Duke of Alba entered Mons.[29] Philip of Noircames, by his position as Governor of Hainaut, took command of the city.[29]

All towns that had accepted the authority of Prince William of Orange, many for fear of reprisals, returned to the allegiance to the Duke of Alba.[30] However, Alba advanced over Mechelen, one of the cities that lent support to the Orange's army, and where the Prince had left a small garrison.[30] In retaliation for the assistance provided by the city to the rebel army of William of Orange, and to satisfy the arrears of pay of the soldiers of the Spanish regiments, the Duke of Alba ordered the troops under the command of his son Don Fadrique to sack the city.[30][31]

After dealing with Orange's threat in the south, Alba sent his son Don Fadrique to the two rebellious provinces Gelderland and Holland. Fadrique started his campaign by the capture of the fortress-city of Zutphen in Gelderland.[30] On his way to Amsterdam, Don Fadrique came across Naarden, which surrendered on 22 November 1572.[30]

Long-term consequences

The loss of Mons proved irreversible. The Dutch Revolt never got another chance to rally the Walloon Protestants to its cause, which remained confined to the North. Nine years later Mons became part of the staunchly Catholic Union of Arras which accepted the Spanish rule, and Protestantism there was stamped out. Thus, the Dutch rebels losing the chance to gain Mons was an important step towards the division of what had been the single Habsburg Netherlands into two distinct entities - ultimately the present Netherlands and Belgium.

See also


  1. David J.B. Trim p.162
  2. Macgregor pp.211–212
  3. Duffy. Siege Warfare: Fortress in the Early Modern World
  4. Los Tercios de Flandes. Giménez Martín
  5. Tracy pp.78–79
  6. Jaques p.676
  7. With hope of French aid end at the St. Bartholomew's Eve massacre and the repulse of a relief army at Havré, the city surrendered. Jaques p. 676
  8. Macgregor p.205
  9. Macgregor p.207
  10. Macgregor pp.205–206
  11. Macgregor pp.207–214
  12. The Eighty Years War (1568-1648)
  13. Hernán/Maffi p.24
  14. Without French assistance, William of Orange, leading a German mercenary army to aid his brother, was driven back into Germany; the garrison of Mons was thus cut off and –eventually– forced to accept the terms. Trim p.162
  15. Elliott p.140
  16. Tracy p.82
  17. Macgregor p.204
  18. Mons was the capital of Hainaut, and an important town, protected by lofty walls, a triple moat, and a strong citadel. Macgregor p.203
  19. Macgregor p.208
  20. The panic this caused among the French Huguenots was not easily allayed, and before they were aware, Noircarmes was charging upon them at the head of his cavalry, and the infantry arriving directly after, the army of Genlis was entirely routed. Macgregor p. 208
  21. Trim p.162
  22. Macgregor p.209
  23. Calvin's book was "Praelectiones in librum prophetiarum Danielis". Geneva and Laon, 1561. Holt (2005) p.81
  24. Macgregor p.210
  25. Jaques (2007) p.676
  26. Viéndolos en lugar tan peligroso, hiciera con más razón juicio del ser soldados muy arriesgados que no generales. Giménez Martín.
  27. Macgregor p. 210–211
  28. Macgregor p.211
  29. Macgregor pp.212–213
  30. Israel p.178
  31. Macgregor p.214


  • MacGregor, Mary. The Netherlands (Yesterday's Classics). First published in 2007. ISBN 1-59915-184-7
  • Parker, Geoffrey. The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659. Cambridge. 1972. ISBN 0-521-83600-X
  • Elliott, John Huxtable (2000). Europe Divided, 1559-1598. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-21780-0
  • García Hernán, Enrique./Maffi, Davide. Guerra y Sociedad en la Monarquía Hispánica. Volume 1. Published 2007. ISBN 978-84-8483-224-9
  • Duffy, Christopher (1996). Siege Warfare: Fortress in the Early Modern World, 1494–1660. Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • David J.B. Trim. The Huguenots: History and Memory in Transnational Context. 2011. ISBN 978-90-04-20775-2
  • Israel, Jonathan (1995). The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness, and Fall 1477–1806. Clarendon Press. Oxford. ISBN 0-19-873072-1
  • Tracy, J.D. (2008). The Founding of the Dutch Republic: War, Finance, and Politics in Holland 1572–1588. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-920911-8
  • Jaques, Tony (2007). Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A Guide to 8,500 Battles from Antiquity Through the Twenty-first Century. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-33537-2

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