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Map of the Habsburg Netherlands (1579).The members of the union of Arras in blue

The Union of Arras (Dutch: Unie van Atrecht, Spanish: Unión de Arrás) was an alliance of a number of provinces in the southern part of the Habsburg Netherlands, who (dissatisfied with the religious policies of the Prince of Orange and the States General of the Netherlands) signed a declaration on 6 January 1579 about their intent to offer a vigorous defense of the Roman Catholic religion against what they saw as the encroachments of the Calvinists in other provinces. They started negotiations about a separate peace with the Spanish Crown in the Eighty Years' War which resulted in the Peace Treaty of Arras of 17 May 1579.


After the Pacification of Ghent the entire Habsburg Netherlands united in opposition to the government of king Philip II of Spain, the overlord of the Netherlands. They formed the Union of Brussels that constituted a formal government, formed by the States General and a governor-general who was appointed by the States General: the archduke Matthias, in competition with the royal governor-general, Don Juan of Austria.[Note 1] Orange, the leader of the originally rebelling provinces, Holland and Zeeland, had a leading role in the Council of State that formed the executive for the States General.[1] One of the important provisions of the Pacification was that the Calvinists received freedom of religion in Holland and Zeeland, and would be tolerated elsewhere in the Netherlands, but that the other 15 provinces would officially maintain the Catholic Church as the dominant one.[2] Calvinists in other provinces soon also claimed freedom of religion. In Flanders and Brabant they even used force to change the government of cities like Ghent, Bruges, and Antwerp to obtain this objective, much to the dismay of Catholic politicians in the southern part of the country. Orange tried to promote civil peace with a policy of "religious peace," allowing freedom of worship to both Catholics and Protestants in the entire Netherlands.[3]

Declaration of 6 January 1579

Don Juan died in October 1578 and was replaced as commander of the Spanish Army of Flanders and royal governor-general by Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma, who proved an able diplomat, adept at driving wedges between the Catholic nobles in the South and the regime of Orange and the States General.[Note 2] In opposition to the policies of Orange a group of Catholic nobles, known in historiography by the name "Malcontents," had formed under the leadership of the stadtholder of Hainaut, Philip de Lalaing, 3rd Count of Lalaing and Emanuel Philibert de Lalaing. Parma opened negotiations with the Malcontents and they brought about an alliance of Hainaut, Artois, and the cities of Lille, Douay and Orchies, which on 6 January 1579 subscribed to a declaration in which they expressed their discontent about the events since the Pacification of Ghent, and (without naming names) rejected the "religious peace" policy of Orange.[4] The declaration issued in the following rousing promise:

A ceste cause, en vertu de nos povoirs et commissions, respectivement et aultrement, avons promis et juré, promettons et jurons les uns aux aultres, en foy de chrestiens et gens de bien, pour nous et noz successeurs à jamais, suyvant le contenu exprès de ladicte union, et à l'effect et accomplissement d'icelle, de persévérer et maintenir nostredicte saincte foy catholique, apostolique, romaine, deue obéissance de Sa Majesté et pacification de Gand, aussy procurer le bien, salut, paix et repos de nostre patrie tant désolée, conservant nos priviléges, droicts, franchises, coustumes et usances anciennes; de résister et opposer, par toutes voyes et manières licites, deues et raisonnables, à tous ceulx qui vouldroient attenter au contraire, et à ces fins ayder, conforter et assister l'un l'aultre, et de commune main emploier noz vies, corps, biens et tous aultres moyens, nous submettans à toutes résolutions que par commun advis seront faictes pour le bien et advancement de ceste cause, soit pour levée de deniers, de gens de guerre ou aultremen;...[Note 3]

Beyond this promise the declaration did not contain more concrete resolutions, such as the formation of a defensive alliance, like a number of the northern provinces formed later in January 1579 in the form of the Union of Utrecht. But this was not to be expected, as the signers of the declaration considered themselves the "true" defenders of the Union of Brussels, that they intended to continue.[5]

Peace of Arras

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However, the members of the Union of Arras soon opened peace negotiations with Parma, which resulted in the signing of the Treaty of Arras (1579) on 17 May 1579. These were the main conditions:

  • The provisions of the Pacification of Ghent, the Perpetual Edict and the Union of Brussels were reaffirmed, both by the Spanish Crown and the members of the Union of Arras;
  • There should be no more garrisons of foreign mercenary troops, either paid by Spain or by the States General;
  • The Council of State should be organized like that of the time of Charles V;
  • Two-thirds of the council members should be installed by all States of the member provinces consenting;
  • All privileges that were in force at the time of the reign of Charles V should be reinstated;
  • Taxes imposed after the reign of Charles V were to be abolished;
  • Roman Catholicism was the only allowed religion. Any other religion (i.e. Calvinism) should be prohibited.[6]

The provinces that signed the Peace were:

  • County of Hainaut
  • County of Artois
  • Lille, Douai and Orchies (Walloon Flanders)
  • Bishopric of Cambrai

The regions that favored the Peace, but did not sign it at time (though they later acceded), were

Parma used these "reconciled" counties as a base to start his reconquest of the "disobedient" provinces (members of the Union of Utrecht).

See also

Notes and references


  1. Don Juan had initially recognized the Union of Brussels and even concluded the Perpetual Edict, but he broke in July 1577 with the States General; cf. Israel, p.187
  2. Who had moved from Brussels to Antwerp after the disastrous defeat of the Dutch States Army at the Battle of Gembloux (1578); Israel, p. 194
  3. "To this end, by virtue of our powers and commissions, respectively and at different times, we have promised and sworn, promise and swear to one another, in faith of Christians and good people, for us and our successors forever, following the express content of said union, and to the effect and fulfillment thereof, to persevere and maintain our holy faith, Catholic, apostolic, Roman, due obedience to His Majesty and the pacification of Ghent, also to procure the well-being, welfare, peace, and repose of our country so desolate, preserving our privileges, rights, franchises, customs and old usages; to resist and oppose, by all licit, due and reasonable ways and means, all those who would attempt the opposite, and for these purposes to help, comfort and assist one another, and in common employ our lives, bodies, properties, and all other means; submitting to all resolutions that by common advice will be made for the good and advancement of this cause, whether for the raising of funds, of troops, or otherwise;" Cf. text in Union d'Arras


  1. Israel, pp.186–187
  2. Israel, p. 186
  3. Israel, pp. 193–196
  4. Edmundson, p. 71
  5. Cf. the text of the declaration in Union d'Arras
  6. Cf. Rowen


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