Luc Duerloo. Dynasty and Piety: Archduke Albert (1598-1621) and Habsburg Political Culture in an Age of Religious Wars. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2012. ISBN 9780754669043. Notes. Figures. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xvii, 592. $154.95 (Hardcover)
The rule of the Archdukes Albert and Isabella over the Habsburg Netherlands lies in the midst of international relations dealing with the Eighty Years War (1568-1648), Anglo-Spanish War of 1585-1604, War of the Jülich Succession (1609-14), and outbreak of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). Dr Luc Duerloo, Professor of Early Modern Political History at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, focuses this study on Archduke Albert VII of Austria (1559-1621) and his control over the Spanish Netherlands from 1598 to 1621. The study is the winner of the Filips von Marnix van Sint-Aldegonde Prize for 2011. Duerloo is co-editor (with Werner Thomas) of Albert and Isabella, 1598-1621: Essays (1998).
Duerloo explores the life of Albert of Austria, the fifth and youngest son of Maximilian II, the Holy Roman Emperor (r.1554-76), and nephew of Philip II of Spain (r.1556-98). He was educated in Spain and groomed for a church career, becoming a cardinal in 1577. Albert became the first Viceroy of Portugal (1583). Albert returned to Madrid in 1593, and then, in 1596, he succeeded his brother Archduke Ernest as the Governor-General of the Spanish Netherlands. As such, Albert was tasked by Philip II to achieve military victories against the Dutch rebels in the ongoing Eighty Years’ War, English in the Anglo-Spanish War, and French in the Franco-Spanish War (1595-98). Duerloo describes Albert’s military efforts against Maurice of Nassau and Henry IV of France. He acquired a peace settlement with France in the Treaty of Vervins (1598) but the struggle with the Dutch revolt continued.
Dynastic needs determined Albert’s destiny. In 1598, Philip II decided that his eldest daughter, Infanta Isabella, would marry her cousin Albert of Austria. He gave them, the Archdukes, sovereignty over the Habsburg Netherlands in the Act of Cession (1598). Duerloo, employing extensive archival research, examines what this meant. Albert and Isabella would rule over the Habsburg Netherlands as a sovereign state. Duerloo stresses that the Archdukes were not Spanish lackeys and conducted their own foreign policy with foreign ambassadors and envoys assigned to the Court of Brussels. Albert played a dominant role in diplomatic and military affairs. The Archdukes, however, kept Habsburg dynastic concerns in the forefront. The Spanish Army of Flanders continued to play a strong role in the Habsburg Netherlands. In the end, an important stipulation of the Act of Cession came into play. The Archdukes produced no heir to the Netherlands, and, as such, the Low Countries returned to Spanish sovereignty in 1621.
War with England and the Dutch rebels dominated the first years of the rule of Albert and Isabella. Albert ignored most instructions coming from Spain and served as the chief decision-maker in the Habsburg Netherlands. Military success, however, eluded the Archdukes. Albert and the Army of Flanders failed to defeat Maurice of Nassau at the battle of Nieuwpoort (1600) or achieve success in the long siege of Ostend. This changed when Ambrogio Spinola took over the siege and succeeded in 1604. Meanwhile, Albert and Isabella influenced the talks that led to the Anglo-Spanish peace agreement in the Treaty of London (1604). As for the Dutch revolt, Albert soon became convinced that the Habsburgs could not reconquer the Northern Netherlands. Spinola, however, achieved military victories that forced the Dutch to agree to a ceasefire in 1607. With Albert’s conditional acceptance of the independence of the United Provinces the ceasefire became the Twelve Years’ Truce (1609-21).
In regards to this era of peace, Duerloo discusses Archduke Albert’s politics, court, and government. He especially addresses the dynastic politics of the Austrian Habsburgs. The author examines the Bruderzwist of 1608 and its sequel in 1611-12. In the meantime, the Habsburg Netherlands became involved in the Jülich-Cleves succession crises (1609-14) over the inheritance of territories. The final crisis was settled in the Treaty of Xanten (1614). During the Bohemian revolt (1618-20), Albert sent troops to his cousin Emperor Ferdinand II (r.1619-37) and pressed Philip III of Spain (r.1598-1621) for financial support to prop up the Austrian Habsburgs. He was unable to renew the Twelve Years’ Truce before his death in 1621, and Spain and the Dutch Republic resumed the Eighty Years’ War that would last until 1648.
Duerloo provides a thorough look at the reign of Archduke Albert and the political culture of the Habsburgs. The author shows that the Archduke had a significant degree of autonomy from Spanish direction. For readers interested in international affairs, this work is valuable for its wide-ranging discussion of the role of the Habsburg Netherlands in the war and diplomacy of the era. Habsburg interests in the Southern Netherlands, Spain, and Austria are explored. The study is based on archival research in Belgium, Austria, Spain, Italy, Germany, and France. It is a fine addition to the historiography of the Low Countries and the history of international relations.
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota