Inquisition of the Netherlands

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The Inquisition of the Netherlands was a branch of the Spanish Inquisition, established in the reign of Charles V of Spain. 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. In the year 1521 Francis Van der Hulst had been appointed the first Inquisitor General of the Provinces. He and his successors, like their Spanish counterparts, 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.[1]

Before the decease 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 Phillip II his son, 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. Now in the 1550s, 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.[2]

The people, protesting against the introductions of the Spanish 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 a Flemish, not a Spanish, Inquisition. 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." [3][4]

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 nether 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.[5]

As time passed, the people of the Netherlands became more and more antipathetic towards the institution, but it was little in their power to resist it – all who did so were instantly denounced as heretics themselves. Titelmann himself averred 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”.[6]

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. Motley, John Lothrop (1855). The Rise of the Dutch Republic.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Kamen, Henry (2005). Spain, 1469–1714: a society of conflict.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Motley
  4. Cook, Bernard (2002). Belgium: A History.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Motley
  6. Motley

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