The Siege of Leyden refers to the siege of the Dutch city of Leyden southeast of Haarlem and Amsterdam by the Spanish in 1574. In that year only two of the seventeen provinces that made up the Netherlands remained unconquered by the Spanish King — Holland and Zeeland (an area to Holland's southeast). After the Spanish took Amsterdam, Haarlem, and their surrounding lakes, the city of Leyden stood as the Spanish's forces' next obstacle in their subjugation of the lands to the south. Therefore, under the command of Fransisco de Valdez, the Spanish army marched south and began building barricades around the city by June of 1574. They occupied various towns and by early July getting messages or supplies in and out of the city was nearly impossible. Through August the city slowly starved and, as food and word of relief became increasingly scarce, the city's people became increasingly divided.
Meanwhile, in the south, Prince William of Orange, the ruler of Holland and leader of country's resistance, planned a relief expedition. He devised a plan in which the dikes and levies in the surrounding area and along the various rivers of Holland would be cut, and the water that they held back released thereby flooding the lowlands, and allowing a flotilla of reinforcements to reach Leyden. Though sick for most of August, the Prince completed preparations, and by the middle of September the expedition made up of French, German, and Dutch forces set out, cutting dams as they went. Storms and rainy weather swelled the floodwaters, and soon the force reached their destination. By October 1st, Valdez was forced to retreat as William of Orange's forces fought their way to the Spanish garrison just south of Leyden. On October 2nd, the city's soldiers issued forth and found the garrison empty, the Spanish gone, and the siege of their city lifted.
Many scholars of European and especially religious history view the Siege of Leyden, in which the Protestant forces of Europe held out to defeat the Catholic forces of Spain as an important point in European history in which the ideas of religious freedom, representative government, and a free Europe were preserved against the powerful Spanish Monarchy. Carlyle refers to the siege here as an example of the glorious and even mythic events in a country's history that have the power to change society for better. However, he says that these types of events no longer occur, and we instead stagnate and become lesser nations as we lose the heroism to the past.
Fruin, R., The Siege and Relief of Leyden. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1927.
Synge, M. B., "The Siege of Leyden," The Baldwin Project, accessed 3/24/09.
Last modified 30 March 2009