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Siege of Leiden: Wikis


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Siege of Leiden
Part of the Eighty Years' War
Date 1574
Location Leiden
Result Dutch rebel victory
Dutch rebels Flag of New Spain.svg Spain
Pieter Adriaansz. van der Werff, Mayor of Leiden Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alva
11,000 15,000
Casualties and losses
500 2,000

The Siege of Leiden occurred during the Eighty Years' War in 1573 and 1574, when the Spanish attempted to capture the rebellious city of Leiden, South Holland, Netherlands, but ultimately failed.



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 defenseworks and by the boglands, which could easily be put under water.

The Duke of Alba tried to break resistance using brute force. He used Amsterdam as a base. This was the only city that remained on the Spanish side. Alba's cruel treatment of the population of Naarden and Haarlem was notorious. The rebels learned that no mercy was shown there. The county of Holland was split in two when Haarlem was conquered by the Spaniards. First Alba failed to conquer Alkmaar in the north, but the city held out for a long time and Alba decided to turn south to the main territory of the rebels, heading for Leiden.

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 very good. The leader of the rebels, William the Silent, Prince of Orange, tried to help Leiden by sending an army into the Netherlands. Alba halted the siege in April 1574 and defeated the army of Orange in the Battle of Mookerheyde.

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

Second siege of Leiden

Alba's army returned to continue the siege in June 1574. The city considered surrendering, because there was nearly no chance of relief. The rebel army was defeated and the rebel territory was very small compared to the huge Spanish empire.

In September 1574, the Dutch decided to break the dikes in the south to let in seawater and so relieve the siege. However, in the absence of storms, for months the water did not rise high enough to flood the area and so lift the siege. Mayor van der Werff inspired his citizens to hold on by offering his arm as food. Thousands of inhabitants died of starvation. They held on because they knew that the Spanish would kill them all to set an example, as had happened in Naarden and Haarlem.


On 2 and 3 October, after the storms finally came, a relief force of Watergeuzen were approaching Leiden via flat-bottomed boats. The waterlogged Spanish army lifted the siege. The rebel fleets brought herring and white bread to the starving population. The people also got '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.


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.

October 3 is celebrated every year in Leiden. It is a huge party, with an enormous funfair and a dozen open air discos in the night.[1] The municipality gives free herring and white bread to the citizens of Leiden.


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


  1. ^ "Leidens Onzet"

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