Inquisition of the Netherlands

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The Inquisition of the Netherlands was an extension of the Papal Inquisition[1] in the Netherlands, established during the reign of Charles V. Although it was widely believed at the time that the government intended to introduce the Spanish Inquisition into the Netherlands, this was a product of Protestant propaganda. The Inquisition in the Netheralnds remained separate from that of Spain.Template:Sfn

Because the idea of an Inquisition was uncongenial to the Flemish temperament, the process of introduction was a slow and gradual one from the onset. On 23 April 1523, Charles V appointed Frans Van der Hulst the first inquisitor general of the Seventeen Provinces, an appointment ratified by Pope Adrian IV.[2][3] He and his successors were empowered by the imperial edict to actively search out and rigorously punish all those guilty or even suspected of heresy, or of aiding a heretic in any way. Such a system was easily abused; in later times it was not uncommon for informers to impeach rich citizens, merely for the sake of obtaining a share in their confiscated wealth.[4] He was appointed inquisitor for County of Flanders in 1545 and was in office until the operation of the inquisition was suspended in 1566.[5]

Before the death of Charles V, the Netherlands were mainly Catholic and thus the Inquisition did not have a very drastic impact on people's lives in general. However, with the rapid spread of Calvinism in the early years of the reign of his son, Phillip II, its scope widened vastly. The Edicts of 1521 had banned all preaching or practice of the reformed religion, even in private dwellings, and this power was now brought into full swing. The greatest of the Inquisitors was Peter Titelmann, a man described by his contemporaries as being of a demon-like Goblin temperament, knowing neither fear nor mercy.[6]

The people, protesting against the introductions of the Inquisitions in direct abeyance of all their charters and the oaths of Philip on his succession, were tranquilly told by that monarch that it was not the Spanish Inquisition but a distinctly Flemish one. Indeed, Philip had no cause to rue the fact that he had been unable to bring in the system of his own country, himself saying, "Wherefore introduce the Spanish inquisition? The inquisition of the Netherlands is much more pitiless than that of Spain." [4][7]

In fact the new Inquisition was an extraordinarily efficient system; the highest court in the land, it bypassed all common forms of justice, was without the option of appeal, and spared neither rich nor poor. It had the unlimited ability from the king to arrest, torture and execute at will. The powers invested in the Inquisition had been ratified by Philip in the first month of his reign. There were hundreds of cases in these early days of luckless individuals being dragged from their families and subjected to the most gruesome tortures, before being burnt alive at the stake, were they of the masculine sex, or buried alive in the case of women.[4]

Philip next submitted a "Memorial and Representation" of the state of the Low Countries to the Spanish Inquisition, craving the judgment of the Fathers upon it. After deliberating, the inquisitors pronounced their decision on the 16th of February, 1568. It was to the effect that, "with the exception of a select list of names which had been handed to them, all the inhabitants of the Netherlands were heretics or abettors of heresy, and so had been guilty of the crime of high treason." On the 26th of the same month, Philip confirmed this sentence by a royal proclamation, in which he commanded the decree to be carried into immediate execution, without favor or respect of persons. The King of Spain actually passed sentence of death upon a whole nation. We behold him erecting a common scaffold for its execution, and digging one vast grave for all the men, and women, and children of the Low Countries. "Since the beginning of the world," says Brandt," men have not seen or heard any parallel to this horrible sentence."[8]

Eventually, Flemmings became increasingly antipathetic towards the institution, but the resistance was initially impotent, its members being arrested for heretics. Titelmann himself said that his person was comparatively safe, as he had to do only with "the innocent and virtuous, who make no resistance, and let themselves be taken like lambs".[4]


Eventually the spirit of national resistance overcame this obstacle, and the inquisition was effectively withdrawn in 1564, but the troubles of these times did not pass until the lapse of nearly a century, and the end of the Eighty Years' War.


  1. Joseph Blötzer, "Inquisition", in The Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. 8 (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910). Retrieved 8 December 2019.
  2. J. I. Israel, The Dutch Republic: its rise, greatness, and fall (Oxford University Press) 1995), 82.
  3. Herman J. Selderhuis and Peter Nissen, "The Sixteenth Century", in Handbook of Dutch Church History (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014), p. 189.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Motley, John Lothrop (1855). The Rise of the Dutch Republic. 
  5. J.I. Israel, The Dutch Republic: its rise, greatness, and fall (Oxford University Press) 1995), 99 144-6.
  6. Kamen, Henry (2005). Spain, 1469–1714: a society of conflict. 
  7. Cook, Bernard (2002). Belgium: A History. 
  8. Wylie, J. A. (James Aitken), 1808-1890. (2002). The history of Protestantism. Rapidan, VA: Hartland Publications. ISBN 0923309802. OCLC 469789095. 

Further reading



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