The whole of the Netherlands knows about the Relief of Leiden, but who remembers that Alkmaar was the first Dutch town to withstand a Spanish siege during the Eighty Years’ War? For many this milestone in the history of the Netherlands appears to have been undeservedly forgotten. Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar has changed that. In the permanent display 'Victory! The Siege of Alkmaar in 1573' visitors can experience the Siege from day to day. The period of growth that followed can be seen in ‘The Golden Age of Alkmaar'.
To Alkmaar the Victory
‘To Alkmaar the Victory’, the expression goes. Alkmaar was the first Dutch town to hold off the mighty Spanish army during the Eighty Years’ War. After seven long weeks of hardship in the boggy Dutch soil the Spanish finally ended the Siege of Alkmaar on 8 October 1573. The victory gave the Dutch rebels courage; after Alkmaar other towns also held off the Spanish troops, including Leiden a year later. The Relief of Alkmaar heralded a series of important historical events that eventually led to the creation of the independent Republic of the United Netherlands and the flowering of the Golden Age.
A Provincial Town against the mighty Spanish Enemy
Victory! ‘The Siege of Alkmaar in 1573’ follows the events of the Spanish siege day by day on the basis of the surviving eye-witness account by Pensionary Nanning van Foreest. Visitors meet figures like Beggar Jacob, Catholic farmer Dirk, Protestant townswoman Cornelia and Spanish soldier Juan. They present the choices the people had and the dilemmas they faced. The population of Alkmaar was not undivided: do we support William of Orange’s Revolt or do we obey King Philip of Spain?
Passages from Nanning van Foreest’s diary, dramatic visualisations and paintings of the Siege, letters, musket balls, armour and artillery – including a canon dating from around 1570 – give a realistic image of the battle.
The first stage of the modernization (2012) of Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar was made possible in part by Alkmaar City Council, 8 October Vereeniging 'Alkmaar Onzet', ABN AMRO, Stichting Vrienden en Schutters van Stedelijk Museum Alkmaar, Vereniging Rembrandt, VSBfonds, Mondriaan Fonds and various other funds, sponsors and donors.
A major part of the display is the result of a huge excavation in Alkmaar. In 2010 archaeologists discovered two mass graves in the Paardenmarkt. The skeletons recovered from the graves were thoroughly researched by the University of Leiden and the Netherlands Forensic Institute. What did they discover? They were the remains of residents who defended the town.
The pictures of the siege are a feast for the eyes. So much is going on. In this detail you can see the courting couple (lower left) and the soldier who really needs to urinate (upper right).