Lamoral-art - 9/4/00
"Lamoral, Count of Egmont (the Spanish-Dutch war, part I)"
by Jan van Seist. (humor).
NOTE: See also the files: War-o-t-Roses-art, Charlemagne-art, Isabella-art,
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called Stefan’s Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
[NOTE - originally written for Storm Tidings, the newsletter of
the Shire of Adamastor (Cape Town) in the Kingdom of Drakenwald]
Lamoral, Count of Egmont (the Spanish-Dutch war, part I)
by Jan van Seist
Fair gentlefolk of the shire of Adamastor, once again I must crave your
indulgence. Not only am I about to inflict upon you yet another offering in my
occasional series of very dodgy historical articles, but I am also going to
indulge myself by telling a tale based on what, for my persona, is both recent
and local history. I most humbly beg your forgiveness for my impudence and
sincerely hope that, despite its many and manifold shortcomings, my tale
provides you with some little pleasure.
Of the many tragedies that occurred within the Spanish-Dutch war, one of the
saddest was the senseless and treacherous murder of Lamoral, Count of Egmont,
the most dashing and romantic cavalier of his time. This is not the story of
that tragedy. This is the story of the glorious days that preceded it (1). I
have decided to exercise my editorial discretion and present for you only the
opening act of the tragic tale, not, I must confess, out of any serious academic
motives, but merely because I have a strong personal preference for happy
Our story opens in Brussels. A 16th century Brussels, sprouting with colour and
atmosphere, for today the glamour boys of European chivalry have turned out in
force to witness the abdication of Charles V in favour of his son, Philip II.
The previous year Charles had handed over the Holy Roman Empire to the tender
mercies of his brother Maximilian (3). This year, he was to hand his remaining
possessions (the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Morocco, the Americas and a few
other odds and ends) to his son Philip.
Philip was delighted and couldn’t wait to begin playing with all his new toys
(4). As soon as the formalities were over (a few oaths here, a few documents
signed there), he gathered his generals together and unleashed them on a not
altogether unsuspecting France. His most experienced general, Fernando Alvarez
de Toledo, Duke of Alva, was placed in charge of the invading army and King
Philip remained in Brussels with a small force under the command of the Count of
Now Pope Paul IV wasn't exactly overjoyed at being summarily handed over to
Spain by Charles and threw his weight behind the French. In response, the Duke
of Alva crossed the Alps, demolished the Papal army and seized most of the
Pope's lands. Hearing that the Spanish army was [on] the other side of the
Alps, Coligny, the recently appointed Admiral of France, decided to hop into
Flanders and do a bit of plundering. So far, so good. Pretty much a normal day
at the office for 16th century Europe.
At this point Egmont stepped in. Young counts aren't particularly good at
garrison duty at the best of times. When it’s their land being plundered, it
takes a lot more than an order to stay put to stop them taking revenge. Coligny
was halfway home and feeling very pleased with himself when he suddenly
discovered that the entire northern division of the Spanish-Dutch army was
bearing down on him at full speed. Pausing only for a suitably French
expletive, the Admiral bolted for the nearby castle of St. Quentin and locked
the doors behind him.
Montmorency, the Constable of France, had originally been a little put out by
Coligny's decision to wander off plundering on his own, but now that the Admiral
had given him the chance to destroy Philip's army of the north, all was
forgiven. The Constable gathered together the flower of French chivalry and
marched north to relieve St. Quentin.
Commonsense suggests that this would have been a good point for Egmont & co. to
shuffle off home with the booty they had acquired en route. However,
commonsense and Lamoral, Count of Egmont had at best only a nodding
acquaintance. The young cavalier saw before him a superior force, composed of
the cream of the French army and led by its most senior commander. Immediately,
all of his neurons marked ‘chance of immortal glory’ kicked into overdrive (5).
The French (for fairly obvious reasons) were not expecting the Count to attack.
Nor were they expecting his strategy of dispensing with the usual preliminaries
and launching straight into the suicidal cavalry charge phase. One of the
advantages of having a commander with the tactical ability of a rabid mongoose
is that the enemy finds him somewhat unpredictable. The Admiral, looking on
from the safety of his castle, watched in disbelief as Egmont and his fellow
psychopaths proceeded to annihilate the French army.
When King Philip turned up a little later on the young count was able to present
him with: the French standards, the French guns, the Constable of France, one
Prince, one Marshal, three Dukes, half a dozen Counts and one somewhat ruffled
partridge in a pear tree. The King was rather chuffed and gave young Eggie a
big pat on the back. However, he decided that knocking over the castle of St
Quentin was more important than conquering France, so he decided to stop the
advance at this point (6).
This unexpected pause allowed the emissaries of Pope Paul IV to catch up to the
king. They tore strips off the till now triumphant monarch for daring to seize
Papal lands. Philip was surprised by their vehemence. Hadn't the Pope attacked
him first? Still, popes will be popes. Philip told the messengers that it had
all been a silly misunderstanding and sent a message to Alva ordering him to
return all his conquests and to apologise personally to the Pope for his
impudence. The King then arranged a treaty with France and told Egmont to take
his army home.
So ended the first campaign of King Philip II. It had no effect whatsoever on
the borders of Europe (7). As far as I can tell, its only major effects were to
infuriate the Duke, to humiliate the French and to convert the Admiral (8).
Still, King Philip seemed happy and Egmont was the toast of Flanders.
Less than a year later, the French couldn’t stand the humiliation any longer.
They tore up the treaty, sacked Calais (held at the time by Philip’s English
allies) and invaded Flanders. The Duke of Alva was delighted. Here was his
chance to win some victories that no one could throw away. He had just dug up
all his old plans when suddenly he was struck by a horrible thought. That idiot
Egmont was closer to the enemy than he was. The Duke immediately whipped off a
despatch, ordering the Count to wait for him (9).
Egmont added the remnants of the English forces to his army, and marched south
to meet the invaders, pausing only to throw Alva’s orders in the nearest canal.
The French, hearing of his advance, prepared a well-defended position near
Gravelines on the banks of the Aa, one of Europe’s more imaginatively named
rivers (10). Once again, the French forces were stronger and they had had time
to prepare. Cold hard logic suggested that the misgivings of the Duke of Alva
(who was riding post-haste with the King and the remainder of the forces to try
and save the Netherlands from Egmont’s stupidity) were well founded. Alas for
the French, cold hard logic was out to lunch.
Egmont surveyed the scene before him. The battle was raging, the infantry were
slowly but surely being forced back by the French, his commander was coming to
replace him and there, behind him, was the might of Flemish chivalry. They were
mounted on their finest horses, their armour glinted in the sun, their pennants
streamed out behind them. It was for Egmont a matter of a moment to take in the
scene, point at the strongest point of the French defences, cry ‘Havoc’ (11) and
let slip the clogs of war.
The French defenders saw the charge. No doubt they shrugged their shoulders in
that charming Gallic way. They loaded the artillery and calmly demolished the
front rank of Egmontís cavalry. They then paused to admire their handiwork and
wait for the smoke to clear. At this point, the second, third and fourth ranks
of Egmont’s cavalry (followed by the Count on a new horse (all heroes get their
horses shot out from under them at least once in my stories) smashed through and
proceeded to slaughter the French centre. King Philip and the Duke arrived on
the scene a few hours later to find the victory complete, the road to Paris open
and the French even more abject than before.
King Philip was over the moon (12). He upgraded the Count to stateholder of
Flanders and Artois (13) as a reward for his suicidal insanity and chided Alva
for his caution. The Duke finally snapped. He stood up in front of Philip and
gave Egmont a very precise and very personal description of his (Egmont’s)
ancestry, intelligence and personal appearance. The Count’s response of ‘Who
won the war then, garlic breath?’ completely failed to soothe the Duke’s savage
breast. From that point on, relations between the two great generals were
always somewhat less than cordial. However, let us not allow this petty quarrel
to mar our celebrations. This is the happy part of King Philip’s reign and the
very zenith of Egmont’s star: let us stop and savour the moment.
Victory and its reflected glory shine on all concerned. King Philip II, after
less than a year on the throne has France at his feet. The Count of Egmont is
being fited in every town in the Netherlands and even the Duke of Alva can
console himself that man is mortal (tactless counts doubly so) and that temporal
glory is but a passing thing. Now, rise and drink a toast to the gallant
Lamoral, Count of Egmont, the bravest, if not the brightest, military leader of
Wass Heil! (14)
1) The Dutch establishment of the 16th century were classophiles of the 1st
order. Prince Maurice of Nassau (the inventor of parade ground drill and the
patron unsaint of private soldiers for the last 400 years) based his strategies
on Caesar’s propaganda pamphlets and Hugo de Groot’s (a) claim to fame was a
rehash of the old Roman legal system. As ancient Greek tragedies all start with
great victories, triumphs and celebrations, it is hardly surprising that the
tragedy of Egmont followed the same pattern (b).
a) What other country would give a lawyer the byname ‘de Groot’?
b) Its continuation contained more low comedy than high tragedy but at least
they got the start right.
2) If you are interested in the full story, it is now available in Opera at
all good opera houses and other venues where Goethe is sold.
3) Sans Italy and the Pope. The mutual admiration, respect and co-operation
between Pope and Emperor had not exactly been a by-word since the inception of
the Holy Roman Empire in 800AD and neither side was entirely sorry to see the
back of the other. (Remembering, of course, that if you can see your opponentís
back, you can always stick a knife in it.)
4) Up until then he had been King of England, France and Jerusalem.
Unfortunately, Henry II and Suleyman the magnificent had their own opinions
about the latter two titles and his missus, Queen Vodka and Tomato Juice
herself, had the final say in matters north of the channel. The number of
kingdoms actually controlled by Philip prior to 1550 could be counted on the
fingers of a single foot.
5) Egmont's speech before St. Quentin in which he pleads with his officers
for the chance to cross swords with the Constable could have come straight from
the mouth of one of M. Dumas' musketeers or Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle's Sir Nigel.
I have a recurring nightmare. In it, I am posted to a regiment on active
service and I see on the top of the notice board the words "Commanding Officer:
Lamoral, Count of Egmont".
6) When Charles heard the Philip had passed up the chance to conquer France
in order to secure a half-starved castle in Picardy, he did his nut. The staff
at the retirement village spent the remainder of the campaign in fear of more
bad news from Philip. It is amazing how difficult it is to force-feed nice warm
gruel to an old age pensioner who insists on yelling and screaming and belting
you with his walking stick.
7) That is, if we ignore Florence, or more accurately, Cosimo de’ Medici,
quietly acquiring Siena while no one was looking.
8) It is unclear whether true responsibility for the Admiral’s conversion
lies with his famous oath (a) or with his Aide de Camp’s lesser known response
a) ‘By St. Bartholomew, if the T’te de fromage win this I’ll turn Huguenot!’
b) ‘I’ve got 50 gold Louis that say that you won’t.’
9) Something along the lines of ‘To the high born lord, Lamoral, Count of
Egmont, greetings. If you even think about moving your forces until I join you
and take command, I will cut off your spectacles (a) and feed them to my pet
wolfhound. I remain, for my sins, your commanding officer (and don’t you forget
it), Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alva‘.
a) The ink was a bit smudged at this point. Throwing military despatches in
canals is a sure-fire way to annoy future historians.
10) Possibly short for ‘Aaagh’, The drowning cry of an early explorer.
Alternatively after ‘Ah’, the noise made during a thoughtful pause by a Batavian
celt confronted with a Roman general inquiring in Latin as to the name of a
11) Actually, he is supposed to have said ‘The foe is ours already. Follow
me, all who love the fatherland’. I reckon he probably said
‘Aaaaaaaaaaargh!!!’. Regardless, the intention was the same.
12) As opposed to ‘off the planet’, his normal state of mental health.
13) The latter being a particularly Stella appointment.
14) I am well aware that ‘Vivat!’ is the more normal toast in this
shire. However, as the Count was axed by his commander-in-chief in 1567, it
seemed a little tactless.
Copyright 1998 by Dr. I.G. van Tets. <email@example.com>
Mitrani Dept. of Desert Ecology
Blaustein Institute for Desert Research
Permission is granted for republication in SCA-related publications,
provided the author is credited and receives a copy.
If this article is reprinted in a publication, I would appreciate a notice in
the publication that you found this article in the Florilegium. I would also
appreciate an email to myself, so that I can track which articles are being
reprinted. Thanks. -Stefan.
Copyright © Mark S. Harris (Lord Stefan li Rous)
All Rights Reserved
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