In a Leiden park, there is a stone structure with four faces etched into it. This is a monument to remember the Leidse Ontzet (Seige of Leiden), a key event in Dutch history…
The monument was established in 1924, the 350th anniversary of the historical event. The statue was created by Dutch sculpture Johan C. Altorf and it was unveiled by Queen Wilhelmina on 3rd October 1924.
If you’re not familiar with the Leidse Ontzet (Seige of Leiden) event, here is a little background…
In the 1500s, the geographic area which today makes up the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg was part of the Spanish empire, and was under the harsh local rule of the Duke of Alba. During this time, landowners had to pay large sums of money to the Spanish government headed by the King of Spain. This created animosity and frustration since the farmers, fisherman and business owners had no say in how they were governed.
At the same time, the powerful Catholic church was growing in influence. Spain, as a devoutly Catholic country, was not tolerant of alternative religions, including the various Protestant factions, such as Calvinism, whose followers were growing in number in the north. Spain began persecuting non-Catholics through the ‘Inquisition’.
The King of Spain sent one of his top military commanders, Francisco de Valdez, to the lowlands to put down the growing rebellion taking shape in Holland and Zeeland under the leadership of former ‘staatsholder’ William of Oranje’, who by then had been labeled an enemy of the crown.
A number of rebel cities, including Haarlem and Naarden, tried to resist the Spanish incursion, but eventually were forced to surrender. The Spanish army then proceeded to torture and kill members of the resistance and others sympathetic to the cause.
Leiden was one of the largest cities in Holland at the time and was protected by a perimeter wall. It supported Willem of Oranje and the rebel cause, and would not surrender to the demands of the Spanish army. Unable to break through the city’s defenses, the army placed it under siege, stopping shipments of food or supplies from making their way into Leiden.
The siege began in October 1573 and only stopped for a few weeks in April-May 1574 when the Spanish army left to fight off a rebel attack coming in from Germany, led by two of Prince Willem’s brothers. A second Spanish army division reached the rebels first, defeating them in the Battle of Mookerheid. This allowed the first division to return and once again enforce the Leiden blockade by late May 1574.
The second siege had a far greater impact on the ill-prepared city. It ran out of food within two months and hundreds of people started to die of starvation. A second attempt was made by the rebel navy in August, but it was halted when Willem of Oranje came down with fever. It was once again undertaken in early September at a time when the city was on the verge of surrender.
The Prince sent a message to the city letting them know the dikes had been breached and relief would arrive soon. The mayor convince the citizens to hold out a short while longer even though by then thousands had succumbed to starvation.
Finally, in early October, the direction of the winds changed and the lands began to flood with enough water for the fleet to reach the city while at the same time forcing the Spanish army to retreat. On 3rd October 1574, the city of Leiden was liberated, and just in the nick of time as a major section of the city’s wall collapsed the following day.
The Leidse Ontzet stone monument is etched with the faces of four people who played a vital part in the liberation of Leiden
- Willem of Orange – Leader of the Dutch rebellion
- Louis de Boisot – Commander of the rebel navy
- Jan van der Does – Lord of Noordwijk and commander of the Leiden resistance
- Jan van Hout – City secretary of Leiden
The monument is located in a park in the southeast section of the Leiden city center, near the Jan van Hout bridge and Oranjeboomstraat.