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The Relief of Leiden through the eyes of Spanish officers

Did Francisco de Valdés indeed spare Leiden because his beloved Magdalena Moons had family living here? Historian Raymond Fagel gave a lecture on 24 September on the siege of Leiden, looking at the many myths that still exist.

Exactly twenty years ago Fagel took the initiative of giving a historical lecture in the run-up to the Relief of Leiden. 'At that time, I thought it was mad: the Relief of Leiden is such an enormous historic celebration, but as a University we close our doors and send our students home.' The lecture was a great success and since then the University has organised a historical lecture every year, together with the 3 October Association. For the past few years there has even been the 3 October University as well, when Leiden scientists give lectures on topics of interest to the public. 

Dutch-Spanish relations

Fagel gave the first historical lecture on the siege of Leiden through Spanish eyes, his own specialist subject. He researches the relationship beween the Dutch and Spain in the 16th century. In 2017 he gave another lecture dealing with the Spanish perspective, on 24 September in the Academy Building, this time through the eyes of the Spanish officers. How did they experience the Dutch Revolt and the resistance of those stubborn Leideners? 

Role of Magdalena Moons

The lecture results from Fagel's research project Facing the Enemy. The Spanish Army Commanders during the First Decade of the Dutch Revolt (1567-1577). Together with three PhD candidates, he analyses the letters of Spanish officers from the time. Spanish commander Francisco de Valdés played a leading role. In Leiden he is still remembered as the much-feared commander who fortunately fell in love with Magdalena Moons from The Hague. Valdés is said to have spared Leiden because Magdalena had family living here. 

Debunking myths

Did Fagel find anything on this subject in the letters? He's not prepared to divulge his findings yet. He does say that analysing myths is an impartant part of historical lectures. 'I will explore some of the rich stories and explain what we really know.' The myth of heroic Mayor Van der Werf, for example, has already been disproved. 'He was apparently fired by William of Orange because he was not good at his job. Yet in Leiden he is still revered as a great hero.' 

Leiden population divided

Another myth is that the people of Leiden were so united during the siege. 'But letters - and other sources - show that Catholics and Protestants in Leiden were divided and that they came to blows with one another.' 

Valdés became irritated

Is there anything else he is prepared to reveal about the letters? ' We Dutch always paint the Spanish of the period as the great enemy. But the officers were just humans too. The military often write that they want to return home and that they miss their families.' The letters also show that Valdés started to think differently about the Dutch. 'First he writes in neutral terms about the people here, but after a few years of hard struggles, he becomes more irritated,' Fagel explains. 'For him it was incomprehensible that they flooded their own land.' 

Palace archive of the Duke of Alba 

Fagel is thankful to descendents of Alba, the 'iron' Spanish duke, for their mania for keeping thing, which led to the 80 or so letters written by Valdés being preserved. The current Duke of Alba still lives in a palace in Madrid with an archive stretching back centuries, where Fagel was able to study the letters.  

Photo: Magdalena Moons begs her fiancé Francisco Valdez to delay storming Leiden another night, 1574: a scene from the Eighty Years War,  Simon Opzoomer, 1840 - 1850 (National Museum).

(LvP)