The Disastrous Governorship of the Earl of Leicester
LOW COUNTRIES, Republiek der Zeven Verenigde Nederlanden (Dutch Republic). Holland.
|CNG 90, Lot: 2314. Estimate $750.
Sold for $4250. This amount does not include the buyer’s fee.
1581-1795. AR Leicesterrijksdaalder (41mm, 28.93 g, 2h). Dated 1587. Laureate and armored half-length bust of Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, right, holding sword and bundle of arrows / Coat-of-arms of de Verenigde Provinciën
flanked by tendrils; date above. P&W Ho 32; Delmonte 900; Passon 2.18.44; Davenport 8843. VF, toned, slight double strike on reverse, a few small flan flaws.
From the HLT Collection.
Beginning in July 1584, events had gone badly for the Dutch Republic. Willem van Oranje was assassinated and succeeded as stadhouder by his sixteen-year-old son, Maurits van Nassau. At about the same time, the important commercial city of Antwerp was besieged by the Spanish (July 1584-August 1585). Since Maurits was still in his minority, and the war had turned against them, the Estates General sought the direct sovereign protection of France and England, an offer that both monarchies refused. When Spain and France signed the secret Treaty of Joinville on 31 December 1584, a treaty that appeared to unite Catholic France and Spain against the Protestant forces, especially England, Elizabeth I began to take direct action in the Dutch revolt. On 10 August 1585 at Nonsuch Palace, a treaty was signed between England and the Estates General. Under its terms, Elizabeth would supply 5,000 foot soldiers and 1,000 cavalry, ostensibly to assist in lifting the siege of Antwerp (which surrendered to the Spanish a week later), as well as an annual subsidy in return for the English receipt of the Dutch cities, Brielle, and Vlissingen as garrisons. The Dutch used this treaty to attempt to make Elizabeth their sovereign protector by offering her the title of Governor General (Gouverneur-generaal), but she refused.
To lead the English forces, Elizabeth appointed Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. Leicester seemed the obvious choice. As Elizabeth's favorite courtier and confidante, he would be her representative and could keep her apprised of the situation. He also supported the Dutch cause, arguing since 1577 for direct English assistance to them. Willem van Oranje held him in high esteem, and he was popular among the Dutch people. Although the terms of his position and authority had only been vaguely defined in the treaty, and Elizabeth had given him specific instructions, when Leicester arrived in the Netherlands, he was received as a second Charles V and treated as though he would have "absolute power and authority" (R.C. Strong and J.A. van Dorsten, Leicester's Triumph [Oxford: 1964], p. 53). On 25 January 1586, upon the urging of the Estates General, Leicester accepted the title of Governor General. Elizabeth was furious with Leicester's acceptance of the post. She sent a privy councilor, Sir Thomas Heneage, with a letter of royal protest to be publicly read in the earl's presence and ordering him to resign the post. Although both Leicester and the Estates General tried to argue against it, in October 1586, the earl gave in.
Leicester, contrary to the queen's express orders, began to engage the Spanish directly. After some initial success, he soon became embroiled in quarrels with the other commanders, an inability keep his soldiers supplied, and the loss of key positions. Leicester's execution of Baron Hemart, the governor of Grave, in punishment for the loss of that city to the Spanish, viewing the revolt in terms of his enthusiastic pro-Protestant leanings, and assuming a more authoritarian method of governance, disenchanted the Dutch nobility with him. Due to these problems, in December 1586, Leicester returned to England. While there, the Catholic officers he had placed in command of Deventer and Zutphen went over to the Spanish. Both Leicester's Dutch friends and English critics pressed him to return to the Netherlands. Shortly after his arrival in June 1587, however, the English-held town of Sluis fell to the Spanish, in part because Leicester was unable to exert his authority over the Dutch allies in relieving the town. Soon after, Elizabeth entered into peace negotiations with the Spanish commander in the Netherlands, the Duke of Parma. By December 1587, Leicester asked to be recalled and surrendered his post, a defeated and financially ruined man.