The Duke Of Alba: Favorite April Fool Of The Dutch

Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel,
third duke of Alba
Photograph Wikimedia Commons

Tomorrow, April 1, the Dutch celebrate Fools’ Day just as a lot of other countries worldwide. I personally enjoy this day very much, even though I usually fall prey to many pranks. This is no wonder since I’ve got three boys that love to poke mommy: one is 4 years old, the other almost 6 and the third is 40 ;o)). Last year they all had a great time planting a fake tarantula on my bedroom floor, which looked alarmingly real!

Where this odd custom came from, nobody actually knows. The most plausible, though not proven, theory I read about is that the feast is a variation of celebrations of the coming Spring. However, for many Dutch the origin is clear: the feast started on April 1, 1572. On this day the Duke of Alba, known to the Dutch as Alva, lost the city of Brielle to the Dutch rebels. Now why was this so important to the Dutch?

In the 16th century, The Netherlands had become part of the Catholic Spanish empire. The Dutch however, embraced the new protestant ideas enthusiastically and soon much of the northern Netherlands abandoned Catholicism. This much to the dislike of the Spanish emperor Philip II.

He sent Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, third duke of Alba to the Low Countries to restore order. Alba managed to become intensely hated by the locals in just a few years. His Council of Troubles that chased the protestants soon became known as the Council of Blood. An estimated 12,000 people were prosecuted and around a 1,000 were executed by this council. Alba made his final political mistake when executing two prominent catholic noblemen and imposing a 10% tax on all sales.

At that point, the Dutch had had enough. Local noblemen formed an army of revolutionaries and started to fight Alba’s rule. In 1572, they had their first big victory by taking the city of Brielle. And although the city had to be given back to the Spaniards soon after, it had given the rebels strength and hope to keep fighting. The rebellion lasted until 1588 when the Netherlands finally became an independent Republic.

Until this day, Dutch children are taught this victory over Spanish rule with the slightly mocking, rhyming phrase: “Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril”, meaning on April 1, Alva lost his glasses. This sounds very odd for non-Dutch speaking people but the Dutch word for glasses “bril” resembles very much “Brielle”. But not only did Alba loose Brielle, he also lost his “sight”, his power, his ability to see clearly who was in charge.

Have a happy Fools’ Day!

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