There have been wars that lasted a few days; the Great War lasted a terrible four years, and the Second World War six. There was a thirty year war that nobody needed, except perhaps for giving employment to soldiers, but many died where they stood and were not recorded as thinking it worthwhile. The Punic Wars took forty-three years to complete, and Rome won them all anyway. It is possible to find a war endured by its participants for eighty years (1568 – 1648) and naturally the conflict was over Habsburg domination.
Seventeen provinces in the Low Countries rose up in battle against the Spanish Habsburgs, in ‘The War of Independence’, ‘The Revolt of the Netherlands’ and the ‘Dutch Revolt’ as they were separately named, but it is easier to call them ‘The Eighty Years War’.
The provinces had previously been separate principalities under strong Burgundian influence, but they were united by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain. Philip II (he of the Spanish Armada) was Charles’s son, and he decided to rule through his regents in each ex-principality, following to the letter a policy of decentralisation, increased taxation and continued persecution of non-Catholics.
Organized resistance began in the 1550s. The wars then became interminable, and ten of the southern provinces were retained by the Spanish, though they were in effect devastated. The rebels were led by William of Orange and his Protestant forces, known as ‘Beggars’, who established themselves in the remaining seven (northern) provinces, mainly Holland. These seven were declared a Republic in 1588, with the family of Orange installed as Stadholders. Still, it took until 1648 for the apparently interminable fighting to stop, when Spain finally recognised their independence.
In modern Spain Spanish people who know their history still make a grimace when the subject of the Low Countries arises in conversation. The eighty years were grim enough, and the atmosphere was not lightened by the Council of Blood, set up in 1567 and lasting ten years. This was the work of the Duke of Alba, a name still unpopular in Holland and Belgium. Alba established the Council on Philip II’s orders to suppress heresy and revolt in the Netherlands. The committee was also known as ‘The Council of Troubles’. Its proceedings were draconian, rigorous and strict and aimed principally at Protestants, of whatever rank, status or privilege. The Council of Blood greatly helped to lengthen the Eighty Years War.