A reader reports that I was wrong to say that the Duke of Alba had burned 18,000 heretics, but perhaps not wrong to call him “bloodthirsty”:
Although Alba earned a reputation as a ruthless
general and administrator, I don’t recall reading a
report of 18,000 burned heretics ever before.
The claim of 18,000 executed is too high by at least a factor of ten. Geoffrey Parker, whose “The Dutch
Revolt” strikes me as the most even-handed account of the conflict, gives a figure of over a thousand executions out of some 12,000 tried by Alba’s “Council of Troubles,” and many of of these were condemned for political rebellion rather than religious dissent.
The Inquisition was not re-imposed on the Netherlands after Alba crushed the first revolt. Only Calvinist ministers and iconoclasts (and those who sheltered them) were condemned on religious grounds. Moreover, burning was not a favored method of execution; even the extravagantly anti-Spanish J.L. Motley describes the executions almost exclusively as beheadings and hangings.
I suspect that Hume understood how much better
burnings, especially of heretics, would sell to
In any case, Alba’s special court certainly inspired
fear, but this was as much a result of its secrecy and
reach as its bloodiness.
I also think that Alba’s conduct as a general provides far more notable instances of his ruthlessness–especially his exemplary sackings of Mechelen, Zutphen, and Naarden and his massacre of the surrendered garrison of Haarlem.