Fernando Alvarez de Toledo (1507–1582)

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Fernando Alvarez de Toledo (15071582)

The hereditary Duke of Alba, a skilled military commander and a Spanish governor of the Low Countries, whose reign over the Dutch was known for its cruelty. In 1525, he took part in the Battle of Pavia, a key event in the Italian Wars in which the king of France was taken prisoner. Showing skill and daring in the field, he was appointed by Emperor Charles V to lead the siege of Tunis, a city on the North African coast, in 1535. In 1547, he also took part in the Battle of Mühlberg, where the emperor defeated an alliance of German Protestant princes. When Charles V abdicated the throne, his successor Philip II kept Alvarez in his service, giving Alba appointments as military commander and sending the duke abroad at the head of an important embassy to the king of France.

Pleased with Alvarez's service, Philip sent Alba to the Netherlands in 1567, with his mission being to put down Dutch rebels who were fighting for their Protestant faith and for independence from Spain. Alba marched an army of ten thousand Spanish troops into the city of Brussels and set up a court, commonly known as the Council of Blood, that tried and executed thousands of Philip's opponents, including members of the nobility who had supported the rebellion. His most unpopular measure, however, was the imposition of a heavy tax, known as the alcabala, on the sale of any and all goods.

Alba's enemies organized a large fleet, known as the Sea Beggars, to oppose the Spanish at sea, where the skill of the Dutch and the environment favored the rebels. The Sea Beggars harassed Spanish coastal forts and shipping. In the meantime, a parliament, known as the States-General, then gathered at the town of Dordrecht and declared war on the Spanish. The effort was taken up by the Prince of Orange, while Alba organized a powerful army to crush this revolt. The Spanish laid siege to several Dutch cities, eventually breaching their defenses and committing atrocities against their civilian populations. In 1573, Alba resigned from Philip's service and returned to Spain. In 1580, he was appointed as commander in Portugal, which he subdued in Philip's name and brought under the Spanish crown. Spanish troops pillaged the Portuguese capital of Lisbon, where Alba died in 1582.

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Fernando Alvarez de Toledo (1507–1582)

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