The Battle of Empel or Miracle of Empel (Milagro de Empel in Spanish) was a battle fought on December 7 and December 8, 1585 near the place of Empel, as part of the Eighty Years' War, in which a Spanish force miraculously escaped destruction. In Spain the battle is still remembered as it is believed that the army was saved due to intervention of Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
After the campaign of 1585, Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma decided to go into winter quarters on Dutch territory. The troops of Karl von Mansfeld occupied the area around 's-Hertogenbosch. Some 5000 experienced troops, including Juan del Águila, under Maestre de Campo Francisco de Bobadilla were stationed on Bommelerwaard, which was supposed to be rich enough to support these troops through the winter. But all farmers had left the island, taking their livestock with them.
To make the situation of the hungry and wet spaniards troops even worse, Philip of Hohenlohe-Neuenstein appeared with a strong force and 100 ships. He breached the dikes of Bommelwaard, forcing the Spanish back over the Rhine to Empel. There they were unable to reach 's-Hertogenbosch, because the terrain was flooded and guarded by the fleet of Hohenlohe. The island was attacked as well by artillery fire coming from a fort, at the other side of the river.
The situation for the Spanish looked desperate, until a Spanish soldier, while digging a trench, as he said: "it is more to be my grave than a trench", around the church, found a painting representing Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
Bobadilla saw the discovery as a sign from God, and had the painting put on the Spanish flag for veneration.
The next day the wind turned, and an intense cold made the water freeze, which is still unknown how could it had happend, because it is not normal and never experienced before there. The Dutch fleet, surrounding the island, was stuck, and the exhausted Spanish, after beeing aware of what happened to the river, assaulted the fleet and took it all, leaving ten ships whole and sinking the rest of the fleet. The Dutch land bastion, with panic because they heard the fight in their ships, was assaulted and taken as well. Few, or nearly none, Spaniards died, and the force escaped from a sure annihilation.
The same day, Mary of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed patroness of the Tercios of Flanders and Italy.
In the 19th century
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary; In 1892, Maria Cristina of Austria (Maria Christina Désirée Henriette Felicitas Rainiera von Habsburg-Lothringen, u Österreich), Queen Regent of Spain, proclaimed Mary of the Immaculate Conception patroness of the entire Spanish Infantry.
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