The siege of Alkmaar

by Andrea Visser

The siege of Alkmaar lasted from the 21st of August till the 8th of October 1573. Alkmaar was besieged by the Spanish army, led by Don Frederic, the son of the Duke of Alva. The siege ended when the order was issued that the dikes around Alkmaar were to be breached. This made it impossible for the Spaniards to continue the siege. Their withdrawal is now know as the delivery of Alkmaar. Alkmaar was one of the first cities from Holland to be liberated. Till this day this event is celebrated every year at the 8th of October.

Alkmaar used to be a city of great strategic value, being the gate to the northern part of Holland. In that time the polders Beemster and Schermer were not yet reclaimed, so any traffic to the north had to pass Alkmaar. After the siege of Haarlem, the Watergeuzen went to the Alkmaar, under order of William of Orange to enter the city. Alkmaar initially refused the Watergeuzen entrance, but when the Spanish army also appeared at the Gates, they chose to side with Orange. The Watergeuzen took garrison in Alkmaar and decided to defend the city against Don Frederic.

The exhaustive description of the siege of Alkmaar was provided to us by Nanning van Foreest , a protestant nobleman in the employment of the city council at the time, who wrote a detailed chronicle of the siege, called “Een cort verhael van ‘t belegh van Alcmaer bij de Spaengiaers in ‘t jaer 1573 strengelick belegert, ende met schande ende schade derselver naeghelaten”.

At first the siege did not look good for Alkmaar. Theirs defences were not in good repair, and they had to make rushed adjustments. Fortunately the Spanish troops had suffered heavy losses at the siege of Haarlem. Furthermore the ground around Alkmaar was very wet and marsh like, making it difficult for the Spanish to move their siege equipment.

At Monday 13 July the Watergeuzen asked to enter the city. The council was still considering this. The next Thursday, they entered the city because the Spanish army is approaching. It is unknown whether this was accompanied with force. At Wednesday the 5th of august the Spanish soldiers get paid extra after a mutiny. Friday 21th, Alkmaar is being surrounded. The next day was the first attack on the city, causing casualties on both sides. The defenders kept the Spaniards at a distance with boiling tar and burning branches. At Sunday the leader of the Watergeuzen, Cabeliau, wrote a letter too Diederik Sonoy, the governor of Orange. He asks for support and he requests that the lands around Alkmaar were put under water. Tuesday 25th August; the Spaniards plan a feigned attack on the Kennermerpoort (gate) to cause confusion with the defenders. Meanwhile the Alkmaarder courier van der Meij had reached Sonoy. At Friday 15th September the Spanish army stage a great attack at the walls of Alkmaar. The cause a lot of damage at the city. Three times they stormed the Friese Poort (gate), but the assaults were warded off. The turning point of the battle was when Sonoy ordered the sluices to be opened and the dikes to breached. The surroundings of Alkmaar became flooded and the Spaniards had to end their siege. Finally at the 8th of October the whole Spanish army had left and Alkmaar was free.


Siege of Alkmaar in 1573, seen from the south. Painting by Pieter Adriaensz Cluyt from 1580. In the foreground left the Spanish army camp with Don Frederick, commander of the Spanish army and son of the Duke of Alba, on horseback.
©This image is put at disposal for this project by the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar. All rights are reserved for the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar.


Siege of Alkmaar in 1573, seen from the north. Painting by Pieter Adriaensz Cluyt from 1580. Spanish soldiers are storming the city. In the foreground a cartouche containing a text to an image of a pontoon bridge as used by the Spaniards
©This image is put at disposal for this project by the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar. All rights are reserved for the Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar.


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