The Duke of Alva

The Duke of Alva


Fernando Alvarez de Toledo, “The Duke of Alva, ” was born in Piedrahita in Avila, a province in Spain. Known as “Alva,” he came from a family of distinguished warriors. Alva’s father was killed in battle when he was only three years old and he was reared by his grandfather.

Alva entered the Spanish army and fought the French at the siege of Fuenterrabia (1524). Alva won the attention of King Charles I of Spain, with whom he served in Italy and Hungary against the Ottoman Turks.

Alva led the king’s troops at the siege of Tunis in 1535, and led the abortive campaign against Moslem Algeria in 1541.

Named com- mander-in-chief of the Spanish armies fighting in Germany, Alva defeated John Frederick, the Protestant elector of Saxony, at the Battle of Muhlberg (1547). During a conflict between Alba’s new sovereign, King Philip II, and the pope, Alva marched his men up to the gates of Rome, menacing the papal city until the pope and the king came to terms.

King Philip II was a committed Catholic; he hated the new Protestant sects. He sent Alva as captain-general to the Netherlands (1567) with orders to put down a revolt there.

Given the additional titles of governor and regent, Alva embarked on a rigorous oppres¬ sion of the Calvinists in Holland. He founded the Council of Troubles (which the Calvinists called the “Council of Blood”) and thousands of persons were condemned to death by it without any hope of appeal.

Alva defeated the Protestant leader Louis of Nassau at Jemmingen in 1568, and he forced William the Silent to leave the country and take refuge in Germany. Alva seemed on the verge of success when the Dutch formed an independence movement called the Sea Beggars. These coastal privateers harassed

Alva’s supply lines and promoted fur¬ ther rebellions in the Netherlands. Alva marched lllk?iNv against his foes on land and defeated the Calvinists at Mons, Zutphen, Naarden and Haarlem (all in 1572), but the overall effect of his campaign was only to stiffen the resolve of the Protestant revolu¬ tionaries.

Seeing the failure of Alva’s policy, Philip II recalled his general to Spain in 1573. Alva received a cool reception at Philip’s palace, the Escorial, and he was exiled to his estates.

He was recalled to service in 1580, when Philip invaded Portugal. Alva won the Battle of the Bridge of Alcantara, which won Portugal for Philip, but he received scant reward for his victory.

Before he died at Lisbon in 1582, Alva made a state¬ ment about the relationship between soldiers and rulers that has a ring of truth: “Kings treat men like oranges. They go for the juice, and once they have sucked them dry, they throw them aside.”