Siege of Leiden

The Siege of Leiden occurred during the Eighty Years' War and the Anglo–Spanish War in 1573 and 1574, when the Spanish under Francisco de Valdez attempted to capture the rebellious city of Leiden, South Holland, the Netherlands. In the end the siege failed when the city was successfully relieved in October 1574.[1]

Siege of Leiden
Part of the Eighty Years' War & the Anglo–Spanish War

Relief of Leiden by the Geuzen on flat-bottomed boats, on 3 October 1574. Otto van Veen.
DateOctober 1573 - 3 October 1574
Leiden (present-day Netherlands)
Result States-allied victory
Dutch Republic Dutch Rebels
England England
Croix huguenote.svg French Huguenots
Spain Spain
Commanders and leaders
Pieter Adriaanszoon van der Werff (Mayor of Leiden) Francisco de Valdez
11,000 15,000
Casualties and losses
500 2,000


In the war (eventually called the Eighty Years' War) that had broken out, Dutch rebels took up arms against the king of Spain, whose family had inherited the Seventeen Provinces of the Netherlands. Most of the counties of Holland and Zeeland were occupied by rebels in 1572, who sought to end the harsh rule of the Spanish Duke of Alba, governor-general of the Netherlands. This territory had a very high density of cities, which were protected by huge defense works and by the low-lying boglands, which could easily be flooded by opening the dykes and letting in the sea.

The Duke of Alba tried to break resistance using brute force. He used Amsterdam as a base, as this was the only city in the country of Holland that had remained loyal to the Spanish government. Alba's cruel treatment of the populations of Naarden and Haarlem was notorious. The rebels learned that no mercy was shown there and were determined to hold out as long as possible. The county of Holland was split in two when Haarlem was conquered by the Spanish after a costly seven-month siege. Thereafter, Alba attempted to conquer Alkmaar in the north, but the city withstood the Spanish attack. Alba then sent his officer Francisco de Valdez to attack the southern rebel territory, starting with Leiden. In the meantime, due to his failure to quell the rebellion as quickly as he had intended, Alba submitted his resignation, which king Philip accepted in December. The less harsh and more politic Luis de Zúñiga y Requesens replaced him as governor-general.

First siege of Leiden

The city of Leiden had plenty of food stored for the siege when it started in October 1573. The siege was very difficult for the Spanish, because the soil was too loose to dig holes, and the city defense works were hard to break. Defending Leiden was a Dutch States rebel army which consisted of English, Scottish and Huguenot French troops.[2][3] The leader of the Dutch rebels, William the Silent, Prince of Orange, tried to relieve Leiden by sending an army into the Netherlands under the command of his brother, Louis of Nassau. Valdez halted the siege in April 1574 to face the invading rebel troops, but Sancho d'Avila reached them first and defeated the army of Orange in the Battle of Mookerheyde, where Louis fell.

Second siege, and relief, of Leiden

Magdalena Moons & Francisco Valdez
The legend of Magdalena Moons and Francisco de Valdez grew out of the siege of 1574: painting by Simon Opzoomer, ca 1845.

During the brief respite from the siege, Orange had counselled the citizens of Leiden to restock their city with supplies, and take in a larger rebel garrison to help defend the town. They disregarded his advice however, with the result that when Valdez' army returned to continue the siege on May 26, 1574, they were in as poor a condition as they had been previously. The city considered surrendering, because there was almost no chance of relief and supplies were dwindling. The rebel army was defeated and the rebel territory was very small compared to the huge Spanish empire.

The Prince of Orange, however, was determined to relieve the city. Therefore, he sent a carrier pigeon into the city pleading for it to hold out for three months. To fulfil this promise, he wished to break the dikes, allow the sea to flood the low-lying land (in the same fashion that Alkmaar was saved), so that the siege could be lifted using the rebel fleet, and the Spaniards forced to retire before the incoming sea. But the damage to the surrounding countryside would be enormous, and therefore the population of the area resisted the cutting of the dikes. However, in the end, the Prince prevailed and the outer dikes were broken on August 3. Previously, the Prince's Admiral Louis Boisot had assembled a fleet of more than two hundred small vessels, manned by 2,500 veteran Dutch seamen, and carrying a large store of provisions that had been collected in preparation to lift the siege. Soon after the first dikes were broken, the Prince of Orange came down with a violent fever and as he was the moving force in all these machinations, the planned relief of the besieged city came to a grinding halt. More importantly, the flooding of the outskirts took longer than expected because the wind was not favourable. During this time, on August 21, the inhabitants of Leiden sent a message to the Prince saying that they had held out for three months, two with food and one without food. The Prince answered them, again by carrier pigeon that the dikes were all pierced and relief would come soon.[4]

However, only by the first day of September, when the Prince had recovered from his ailment, did the expedition continue in earnest. More than 15 miles lay between the relieving rebel fleet and Leiden, but ten miles were covered without difficulty. On the night of September 10, the fleet came upon the Land-scheiding, which blocked their path to Leiden and captured it in a night surprise attack which was successful. The Spaniards had neglected to strongly fortify this important post. The next morning, the Spaniards countered to try to regain the position but were repulsed with the loss of several hundred men. The dike was cut through, and the fleet proceeded through the breach towards Leiden.

Beleg en ontzet van Leiden in 1574
Map of the Siege of Leiden

Admiral Boisot and the Prince of Orange had been misinformed as to the lie of the lands, and had assumed that the rupture of the Land-scheiding would flood the country inland all the way to Leiden. Instead, the rebel flotilla once again found their path blocked, this time by the Greenway dike, less than a mile inland of the Land-scheiding, which was still a foot above the water level. Again however the Spaniards had left the dike largely undefended, and the Dutch broke through it without much difficulty. Due to easterly winds driving the water back seawards, and the ever growing surface area of the land that the water covered, the flooding was by this time so shallow that the fleet was all but stranded. The only way that was deep enough for them to proceed was by a canal, leading to a large inland lake called the Zoetermeer (southern lake). This canal, and the bridge over it, were strongly defended by the Spaniards, and after a brief amphibious struggle, the Admiral gave up the venture. He dispatched a despondent message to the Prince, saying that unless the wind turned, and they could sail around the canal, they were lost.

Meanwhile, in the city, the inhabitants clamoured for surrender when they saw that their countrymen had run aground. But Mayor van der Werff inspired his citizens to hold on, telling them they would have to kill him before the city could surrender, and that they could eat his arm if they were really that desperate. In fact thousands of inhabitants died of starvation. To add to their troubles, as so often happened in that age, the plague appeared in the city streets and near eight thousand died from that cause alone. The city only held out because they knew that the Spanish soldiers would massacre the whole population in any case, to set an example to the rest of the country, as had happened in Naarden and the other cities that had been sacked. Admiral Boisot sent a dove into the town, assuring them of speedy succour.

On the 18th the wind shifted again, and blowing strongly from the west, piled the sea against the dams. With the rising water level, the flotilla was soon able to make a circuit around the bridge and canal, and successfully enter the Zoetermeer. In October, the Dutch patriots lead by William the Silent destroyed the dykes on 4 locations in order to form an obstacle the Spanish troops could not overcome. As a result of this and the coming of a strong wind from the West, the water rose and Spanish troops lost their mobility. On one of these 4 locations, a monument has been established in remembrance of what happened called the Groenedijk Monument. The Sea Beggars had ships to successfully use the water to their advantage. [5] A succession of fortified villages now stood in the way of the patriot fleet, and the Dutch Admiral was afraid even now of losing his prize, but the Spaniards, panicked by the rising waters, barely offered any resistance. Every one of their strongholds, now become islands, were deserted by the Royalist troops in their flight, except for the village of Lammen. This was a small fort under the command of Colonel Borgia, and situated about three-quarters of a mile from the walls of Leiden.

This was a formidable obstacle, but the Spaniards, adept at land fighting and not amphibious warfare, had despaired of maintaining so unequal a contest against the combined forces of the sea and the veteran Dutch seamen. Accordingly, the Spanish commander Valdez ordered a retreat in the night of October 2, and the army fled, rendered more fearful by a terrible crash they heard from the city, and assumed to be the men of Leiden breaking still another dam upon them. In fact, part of the wall of Leiden, eroded by the sea water, had fallen, leaving the city completely vulnerable to attack, had any chosen to remain.

The next day, the relieving rebels arrived at the city, feeding the citizens with herring and white bread. The people also feasted on hutspot (carrot and onion stew) in the evening. According to legend, a little orphan boy named Cornelis Joppenszoon found a cooking pot full with hutspot that the Spaniards had had to leave behind when they left their camp, the Lammenschans, in a hurry to escape from the rising waters.[6]


In 1575, the Spanish treasury ran dry, so that the Spanish army could not be paid anymore and it mutinied. After the pillaging of Antwerp, the whole of the Netherlands rebelled against Spain. Leiden was once again safe.

The Leiden University was founded by William of Orange in recognition of the city's sacrifice in the siege. According to the ironical fiction still maintained by the Prince, that he was acting in behalf of his master Philip of Spain, against whom he was in fact in open rebellion, the university was endowed in the King's name.

The 3 October Festival is celebrated every year in Leiden. It is a festival, with a funfair and a dozen open air discos in the night.[7] The municipality gives free herring and white bread to the citizens of Leiden.


  • There was an earlier Siege of Leiden (1420).


  1. ^ Fissel, pg 141
  2. ^ Van Dorsten, pg 2–3
  3. ^ Trim, pg 164
  4. ^ Motley, John Lothrop (1855). The Rise of the Dutch Republic.
  5. ^ Battles, James B. (September 2014). "Sea Beggars, Loaves, Fishes, and Turkey: The influence of Leidens Ontzet (Relief of Leiden) on the Pilgrims Thanksgiving" (PDF). the Mayflower Quarterly: 136. Retrieved 11/10/2018.
  6. ^ Motley, John Lothrop (1855). The Rise of the Dutch Republic.
  7. ^ "Leidens Onzet"


  • Fissel, Mark Charles (2001). English warfare, 1511–1642; Warfare and history. London, UK: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-21481-0.
  • Henty, G. A. (2002). By Pike and Dyke. Robinson Books. ISBN 978-1-59087-041-9.
  • Motley, John Lothrop. The Rise of the Dutch Republic, Entire 1566–74.
  • Trim, David (2011). The Huguenots: History and Memory in Transnational Context:. Brill Academic Publishers. ISBN 978-90-04-20775-2.
  • Van Dorsten, J. A. (1962). Poets, Patrons and Professors: Sir Philip Sidney, Daniel Rogers and the Leiden Humanists. BRILL: Architecture. ISBN 978-90-04-06605-2.

Coordinates: 52°09′00″N 4°29′00″E / 52.1500°N 4.4833°E

Battle of Mookerheyde

In the Battle of Mookerheyde, Spanish forces defeated Dutch forces composed of German mercenaries on 14 April 1574 during the Eighty Years' War near the village Mook and the river Meuse not far from Nijmegen in Gelderland. Two leaders of the Dutch forces, brothers of William the Silent, were killed: Louis of Nassau (born 1538) and Henry of Nassau-Dillenburg (born 1550).During the winter of 1573/74, Louis and Henry of Nassau raised a mercenary army in Germany of 6500 infantry and 3000 cavalry. They proceeded towards Maastricht to rendezvous with their elder brother William the Silent, Prince of Orange, who led 6000 Dutchmen. They planned to march their combined forces toward Leiden, which was under siege by a large Spanish force since October 1573.

The strength of Count Louis' forces diminished en route. More than a thousand men deserted and seven hundred were killed by the Spanish in a night attack. The remaining troops were mutinous because the Dutch had been unable to pay them. Louis crossed the Meuse with only 5,500 infantry and 2,600 cavalry. Before Louis could join forces with William, Luis de Requesens temporarily lifted the Siege of Leiden so that 5,000 infantry and 800 cavalry could counter Louis' advance. The Spanish army was led by Sancho d'Avila and Bernardino de Mendoza. The armies met near the village of Mook. Well timed attacks by the Spanish lancers destroyed the Dutch cavalry, and the Spanish proved victorious.

The Dutch suffered a disastrous defeat, losing at least 3,000 men. The Dutch army of mercenaries, still not paid, soon dispersed. William long hoped that his brothers had been captured, but Louis and Henry were apparently killed and their bodies were never recovered.The Spanish then resumed the siege of Leiden, which failed when Dutch forces relieved the city in October.In the course of the battle, Spanish forces seized the command baton that William the Silent had given his brother Louis. The baton, long forgotten, was discovered at the Jesuit residence in San Cugat in Catalonia. In 2017, the General Superior of the Jesuits, Arturo Sosa, returned the baton to King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands in a ceremony at the Vatican. The transfer was symbolic, in that ownership of the baton is retained by Catalonia as part of its cultural and historic patrimony. The baton had passed to the Jesuits as part of the estate of Luis de Requesens, Governor General of the Spanish Netherlands in 1574. The Dutch plan to display it at the National Military Museum.

Capture of Valkenburg (1574)

The Capture of Valkenburg of 1574, also known as the Capture of Valkenburg Castle, took place in early February 1574, at Valkenburg fortress (Valkenburg Castle), Limburg, Flanders (present-day the Netherlands), during the Eighty Years' War and the Anglo-Spanish War (1585–1604), in the context of the Siege of Leiden. The fortress of Valkenburg (northwest of Leiden), garrisoned by five English companies commanded by Colonel Edward Chester, was of strategic importance to facilitate (or complicate) the Spanish efforts at Leiden. In early February, when the Spanish troops (sent by Maestre de Campo Don Francisco de Valdés) advanced over Valkenburg Castle, the English troops surrendered the fortress to the Spaniards and fled towards Leiden. Then, the Spanish forces entered and took possession of the fortress (Spanish: tomando la fortaleza a placer). For the cowardice demonstrated at Valkenburg, the English troops were rejected by the Dutch rebel army at Leiden, and finally Chester's troops surrendered to the Spanish army.Soon after, the English forces at Alphen (now called Alphen aan den Rijn, southwest Leiden), were defeated as well, and at Gouda, another English force was surprised and defeated by a contingent of Spanish troops, with the loss of 300 men and three colours for the English.In April 1574, Francisco de Valdés halted the siege of Leiden, to face the invading rebel army led by Louis of Nassau and Henry of Nassau-Dillenburg (brothers of Prince William of Orange), but the Spanish forces commanded by General Don Sancho d'Avila reached them first, leading to the Battle of Mookerheyde. The Dutch suffered a disastrous defeat, losing at least 3,000 men, with both Louis and Henry killed. Finally, the rebel army dispersed due to lack of pay.

Francisco de Valdez

Francisco Valdez (1522? – 1580?) was a Spanish general during the Eighty Years War. He had command over the besieging forces of the Army of Flanders during the Siege of Leiden commencing in 1573 and led the failed attack on the city of Delft the same year.

Groenedijk Monument

The Groenedijk Monument also known as the Dukdalf, is a monument in Capelle aan den IJssel which serves as a memorial for the events that took place in 1574 related to the Dutch Tachtigjarige Oorlog; internationally known as the Dutch Revolt. During the conflict, William the Silent ordered the destruction of several dykes in order to stop the Spaniards who were at that time surrounding the Dutch city of Leiden. This tactic proved to be successful as the Spanish troops were greatly affected by the incoming water that took them by surprise. The Spanish troops lost their mobility whereas the troops mustered by William the Silent had prepared for the water using small ships. With the help of the controlled destruction of dykes in 4 strategic locations, the city of Leiden could be freed with the help of the Sea Beggars, better known as the Geuzen. Now, the people in Leiden who had been starving for months could be fed with herring, which became a Dutch tradition in the remembrance of The Siege of Leiden.


The hochepot (Dutch: hutsepot) is a sort of stew much appreciated in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region of France, and in Flanders and Hainaut in Belgium. Its origins go back to the Middle Ages and its first known recipes are in the Manuscript of Sion, the oldest treatise of cooking written in French around the 13th century. Although almost the same word is used in both Dutch and French, it has nothing to do with Dutch hutspot which is a dish made from mashed potato and whose recipe is said to have been concocted during the siege of Leiden in 1574.


Hutspot (Dutch), hochepot (French), or hotchpotch (English), is a dish of boiled and mashed potatoes, carrots, and onions with a long history in traditional Dutch cuisine.


Inundation (from the Latin inundatio, flood) is both the act of intentionally flooding land that would otherwise remain dry, for military, agricultural, or river-management purposes, and the result of such an act.

Isaac Claesz. van Swanenburg

Isaak Nicolai or Isaac Claesz van Swanenburg (1537 – 1614 in Leiden) was a Dutch Renaissance painter and glazier active in Leiden and Gouda. He was a city council member from 1576 and became mayor of Leiden five times.


Lammenschans refers to a former fort located in Leiden along the Vliet. Today the Leiden Lammenschans railway station is located there. According to local legend, a large Spanish cooking pot filled with hutspot was found there on 3 Oktober 1574 by Cornelis Joppenszoon after the Spanish forces fled at the conclusion of the Siege of Leiden. Later historians have concluded that this pot, which today is in the collection of the Museum De Lakenhal, was actually found by Gijsbert Cornelisz. Schaeck and was engraved with the story by his son in the 17th century. A statue of Cornelis Joppensz with his pot can be seen at the train station today. The Leiden rescue, or Leiden Ontzet is celebrated each year in Leiden on October 3rd.

Leiden Guild of St. Luke

The Leiden Guild of Saint Luke refers to three artist collectives in Leiden; the Leidsche St. Lucas Gilde dating from 1648, the newer Leidse Tekenacademie established in 1694, and the collective known as Ars Aemula Naturae (art competes with nature) established in 1799.

Leiden Lammenschans railway station

Leiden Lammenschans is a railway station in Leiden, Netherlands. The station, designed by Koen van der Gaast, was opened on 18 May 1961. It is served by trains running between Leiden Centraal and Utrecht Centraal, and by RijnGouweLijn trains running between Leiden Centraal and Gouda at peak hours.

Leiden Lammenschans was named after the nearby fortification Schans Lammen, the encampment of the Spanish troops during the Siege of Leiden in 1573 and 1574.

List of battles of the Eighty Years' War

List of battles of the Eighty Years' War:

Battle of Oosterweel: March 13, 1567

Battle of Rheindalen: April 23, 1568

Battle of Heiligerlee: May 23, 1568

Battle of Jemmingen: July 21, 1568

Battle of Jodoigne: October 20, 1568

Capture of Brielle: April 1, 1572

Siege of Haarlem: 1572–1573

Battle of Flushing: April 17, 1573

Battle of Borsele: April 22, 1573

Battle on the Zuiderzee: October 11, 1573

Siege of Alkmaar: 1573

Siege of Leiden: 1573–1574

Battle of Reimerswaal: January 29, 1574

Battle of Mookerheyde: April 14, 1574

Battle of Gembloux: January 31, 1578

Siege of Maastricht: 1579

Battle of Punta Delgada: July 26, 1582

Siege of Antwerp: 1584–1585

Battle of Boksum: January 17, 1586

Battle of Zutphen: September 22, 1586

Battle of Gravelines: July 29, 1588

Capture of Breda: 1590

Battle of Turnhout: January 24, 1597

Siege of Groenlo (1597): 1597

Siege of Bredevoort (1597): 1597

Battle of Nieuwpoort: July 2, 1600

Siege of Ostend: 1601–1604

Battle of Sluys: May 26, 1603

Siege of Groenlo (1606): 1606

Battle of Gibraltar: April 25, 1607

Battle of Playa-Honda: April 15, 1617

Battle of Gibraltar (1621): August 6, 1621

1st Siege of Breda: 1624–1625

Siege of Groenlo (1627): 1627

Battle in the Bay of Matanzas: September 7–8, 1628

Siege of 's-Hertogenbosch: 1629

Capture of Maastricht: 1632

2nd Siege of Breda: 1637

Battle of Kallo: June 20, 1638

Battle of the Downs: October 31, 1639

Siege of Hulst: 1645

Battle of Puerto de Cavite: June 10, 1647

October 3

October 3 is the 276th day of the year (277th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. 89 days remain until the end of the year.

Paulus Buys

Paulus Buys, heer van Zevenhoven and (from 1592) Capelle ter Vliet (Amersfoort, 1531 – IJsselstein, Manor house Capelle ter Vliet, 4 May 1594 [1]) was Grand Pensionary of Holland between 1572 and 1584.

Prince's Flag

The Prince's Flag (Dutch: Prinsenvlag) is a Dutch flag, first used in the Dutch Revolt during the late 16th century.

The Prince's Flag is based on the Flag of Prince William of Orange-Nassau, hence the name. The colours are orange, white and blue, which is why the flag is often called oranje-blanje-bleu (or even: ranje-blanje-bleu) in Dutch.

Stedelijk Gymnasium Leiden

Stedelijk Gymnasium Leiden is a gymnasium in the Netherlands. Located in Leiden, it is one of the oldest schools in the Netherlands. Its history dates back to the Middle Ages. The Stedelijk Gymnasium Leiden is the biggest gymnasium-only school in the Netherlands, with over 1,800 pupils (in 2014).

Timeline of Leiden

The following is a timeline of the history of the municipality of Leiden, Netherlands.

Union of Brussels

There were two Unions of Brussels, both formed in the end of the 1570s, in the opening stages of the Eighty Years' War, the war of secession from Spanish control, which lasted from 1568 to 1648. Brussels was at that time the capital of the Spanish Netherlands.

Van der Werff

Van der Werff, Van der Werf, or Van de Werf are Dutch toponymic surnames, originally meaning "from the yard". Notable people with the surname include:

Van der WerffAdriaen van der Werff (1659–1722), Dutch painter

Aucke van der Werff (born 1953), Dutch politician

Bo van der Werff (born 1992), Dutch speed skater

Henk van der Werff (born 1946), Dutch botanist

Maikel van der Werff (born 1989), Dutch footballer

Pieter van der Werff (1665–1722), Dutch painter

Pieter Adriaansz van der Werff (1529–1604), Dutch mayor during the Siege of LeidenVan der WerfBo Van Der Werf (born 1969), Belgian jazz saxophonist

Gerwin van der Werf (born 1969), Dutch writer

Marieke van der Werf (born 1959), Dutch politician

Stephanie Vander Werf (born 1986), Panamanian TV host, model and beauty pageantVan de WerfFrans Van de Werf (born 1950s), Belgian cardiologist

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