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The Pacification of Ghent, 1576, was one of the defining moments in the history of Belgium and the Netherlands - it was the last time that the two countries were united. Masterminded by William of Orange it was brought into place to present a united front against the leaderless1 mutinying Spanish soldiers that were ravaging the Netherlands after receiving no pay from Philip II due to his state of bankruptcy.

However before wide support could be gained for the Pacification the Stadholders of each state had to be won over and thus the States General. To do this Orange allied with the most powerful Walloon (Southern) noble, the Duke of Aerschott. Aerschott himself was no huge fan of Orange but he wanted his old privileges and local liberties back that had been taken away under Philip II and more importantly he was loath to see an out of control Spanish army tearing through his country. With these aims in mind he was forced to team up with Orange as Orange had gained control of the Patriot party, a new radical group within the States General who blocked any moves to expel the Spanish troops until Aerschott negotiated with Orange. Following these secret talks Aerschott ousted opposition members of the States General and on October 16th an armistice was signed with the States of Holland and Zeeland and on November 8th the Pacification itself was signed by Aerschott (the States) and Orange (the Rebels).

The fact that the original armistice agreement (8th Oct) was signed before the Spanish Fury and Sack of Antwerp (3-5th Nov) shows that Orange had seen the chance to gain control of the entire Netherlands with a leaderless Spanish army on the lose. Orange saw the Pacification of Ghent as the realisation of his ultimate ambition, a United Netherlands strong enough to resist Philip's interference. He did not want a independent Netherlands, the Pacification itself clearly states the Netherlands continued to allegiance to Philip II and the Spanish crown, but he did want a return to the rights and privileges granted under Charles V and more importantly freedom of religion. This desire for a freedom of religion was the key ideal that was not supported by Aerschott and the Walloon nobles and is what ultimately led to the breakdown of the Pacification.

In 1579 Allesandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, became Governor General of the Netherlands and he immediately offered the nobles their original privileges back. With the Spanish army under control and their local liberties returned the Walloon nobles and Southern provinces no longer had any reason to rebel. However the Northern, Calvinist controlled provinces were as unwilling to give up their religion as Philip II was to allow them to practice it:

I would rather lose all my lands and a hundred lives if I had them because I do not propose to be a ruler over heretics - Philip II, 1566


1 - Don Luis de Requesens y Zuniga, Governor General, had died in March of that year and his replacement, Don John of Austria, was slow to arrive.

http://whatsaiththescripture.com/Voice/History.Protestant.v3.b18.html - "The History of Protestantism" Volume Three, Book 18 - James A Wylie
My own notes made in class
"The Netherlands: Revolt and Independence, 1550-1650" - Martyn Rady, Arnold 1987
"Years of Renewal: European History 1470-1600" - Edited by John Lotherington, Hodder and Stoughton, 1991
"The Dutch Revolt, 1559-1648" - Peter Limm, Longman 1989

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