The (Staggering) Siege of Breda 1624/25 [2]

He had soldiers patrolling and guarding strategic points such as crossings and waterways while cavalry units were guarding the convoys. Additionally, infantrymen accompanied the transport vehicles. Maurits of Nassau was well aware that his army was not large enough to relieve Breda in a major attack.

Thus, he had considerable interest in interrupting the Spanish supply lines. This would force Spinola to lift the siege. So, Maurits’ troops were regularly raiding the Spanish convoys, most importantly one cavalry detachment which was stationed in Wouw. However, to interrupt the Spanish supply lines completely the Dutch had to capture Antwerp. On the night of 12-13 October a number of Maurits’ best men dressed up as Spanish soldiers and left for Antwerp. They were in wagons with Burgundian crosses on them, the sign of the Spanish. Covered by a dark and windy night they reached the gates of the castle of Antwerp unnoticed. When they tried to break through the city gate, however, a Spanish guard discovered them and rang the alarm.

A Game of Starvation:

The dressed-up Dutchmen immediately turned back and fled. A second try somewhat later was cancelled when the approaching Dutch saw fires on the rampart and thought they had been discovered. Antwerp remained in Spanish hands. Up to October 1624 the main route of supply was Lier-Antwerp-Ginneken. But on 23 October the camp of the field army of the Dutch Republic was moved from Made.

One part under Maurits of Nassau set up camp near Bergen-op-Zoom which was much better situated to attack passing convoys, the other under his half-brother Frederik Hendrik went via Geertruidenberg to Sprang, northeast of Breda. Subsequently, the Spanish supply route was changed to Lier-Rijkevorsel-Ginneken.

Because the warehouses in Lier were not big enough, additional depots were set up in Herentals from where the convoys went to Ginneken via Turnhout. For safety reasons the convoys travelled only in daylight and spent the nights in fortified towns. This meant that the shorter days of winter slowed down the transport significantly and detours were required to reach a safe town before sundown. But despite all efforts the raids of the army of the Dutch Republic, organizational problems and poor roads hampered the supply so much so that the besiegers suffered from hunger. One commander of the Spanish reserve allegedly noted that the garrison was fed better than his own army. While Spinola struggled to supply his men, the inhabitants of Breda were well fed.

Siege of Breda 1624/25

The food in stock was sufficient to nourish the garrison for the whole duration of the siege and at the end of the struggle, there were even some reserves left. The stock for the civil inhabitants was formidable as well. It only began to run low after nine months. Only two things had gotten scarce quickly: tobacco and butter. Because of this the number of smugglers sneaking past the Spanish lines under the cover of night was growing quickly. The trade with these goods was very lucrative and worth the risky journey for many. Smuggling was especially common in the early days of the siege when the Spanish lines had not yet been finished. Also,

by way of smuggling, intelligence and letters were brought to and from the town. Delivering intelligence involved a higher risk since caught messengers were usually not questioned in a very friendly manner. As the Spanish lines connected and the encirclement became completed, smuggling became very risky and only few managed to get out and in.By early December, it became clear that the States could not sufficiently hinder the supply of the Spanish to force them to lift the siege. However,

Siege of Breda 1624/25 History

the Dutch were well aware that their food wouldn’t last forever. In consequence, Maurits decided to break through the lines in December to supply the town by ship. He chose the night of 10 December because then the moon was full and the water would be high, which made it possible to sail up the river Mark with large ships. But while the position of the moon was favorable the wind was not. A stiff breeze blew towards the sea and thus the water in the Mark was pushed out and was too shallow to sail on it with big ships. The attack had to be called off. For the same reason, Maurits had his men built two large dams in the Mark, one near Zevenbergen (where the Roode Vaart joins the Mark) and when that failed, another one further east.

An attempt to flood the an area near Breda, which would make it navigable for loaded rowboats, also failed.Diseases such as Dysentery and Scurvy, on the other hand, were pretty common and spread quickly. These illnesses were facilitated by the high density of the population whose resistance was decreasing due to food shortages and mediocre hygiene. Apart from these physical threats, paying the soldiers became a problem, too. Because the garrison was numerous and the city soon cut off, the governor had trouble to find money to pay his soldiers in time. As a solution the city council issued an order that all citizens be ordered to bring their silverware to the city hall, where various kinds of coins were minted from it. Chapter 6: A Last Ditch EffortThe 23 April 1625 was a bad day for the Dutch. Prince Maurits of Nassau died after a brief period of illness.

Siege of Breda 1624/25 History In English

But there was a shimmer of hope: Maurits was succeeded as commander of the army by his half-brother Frederik Hendrik who wanted to undertake a last effort to relief the city. By and by, a large force of 40,000 infantrymen and 6,000 to 7,000 cavalrymen had gathered in Geertruidenberg. Spinola’s intelligence informed him about this but due to conflicting reports he did not know whether ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the Teteringen section or his supply lines would be the target. Spinola wanted to play it safe and had all possible points of attack reinforced. On 2 May the army of the States made its move. It split up and one part under Frederik Hendrik went to ‘s Gravenmoer, while Count Ernst van Mansfeld went to Dongen with the other part. Frederik Hendrik held a council of war. He wanted to avoid an open-field battle against Spinola’s general reserve and thus resorted to a surprise attack on the Terheijden section. The plan was as follows: An infantry detachment should occupy the village of Terheijden, after which a larger force of cavalry would storm the Hartelbergen.

In English Siege of Breda 1624/25 History

In the meantime, Count Mansfeld was to carry out diversionary maneuvers at the Teteringen section. Once the Hartelbergen was taken, all obstacles on the Mark should be cleared and a fleet should sail to Breda to supply the town and relieve the garrison. 5,000 horsemen and 975 foot soldiers were selected as attacking force while the rest of the army settled behind the natural barrier of the river Donge.On 15 May the attacking force left for Terheijden. A first redoubt was soon taken with hand grenades, but the noise alarmed the Spanish. The next obstacle was a so-called tambour, a small outwork defending an entrance. One part of the attackers approached it frontally while the other part went around its flank, captured an outwork nearby and then attacked from the side. When the defenders saw this, they fled. The commander of the section then sent a company of Italian mercenaries to drive the attackers back. However, after a short and bloody fight they had to give way to the hard-pressing Dutch who marched forward and finally stood before the last trench and the corresponding wall. Because they had no storm ladders, they had to climb the rampart on all fours while the Spaniards were stabbing them with their pikes from above. Despite being an easy target, the Dutch finally won the upper hand and slowly climbed the earthen wall. But right at this moment, when victory was nigh, Paolo Baglione, the commander of the Hartelbergen, arrived with an overwhelming force. The soldiers of the Dutch Republic had no choice but to retreat. After this failed attempt Frederik Hendrik retreated. On 24 May, he sent an encrypted letter to the governor of Breda, allowing him to surrender on the most favorable terms possible. This came at the right time since there was only food for 11 days left in Breda. Spinola knew about this because he had decoded such a secret message. He did not want to wait for the city’s offer of capitulation and sent a messenger to Breda requesting negotiations.

Justinus of Nassau, quite boldly, sent the man back with a note that the town would soon be relieved. The same happened when Spinola sent a second messenger carrying the deciphered message the Spaniards had intercepted. Only when a third messenger arrived at the gates of Breda, Justinus accepted. After that negotiations were held in a tent outside the city’s fortifications. Spinola was quite courteous and accepted all of Justinus’ conditions except for the request for religious freedom within the city after surrender. Breda surrendered on 2 June 1625. On June 5 the 3’500 remaining men of the garrison left the town armed,

with fluttering banners, drum rolls and trumpet blasts. Even before the siege of Breda came to an end, the Spanish Council of State decided that they wouldn’t besiege Dutch towns anymore. The costs in men and material were too high. Still, this victory cleared Spinolas good name. After the siege, he was appointed Grand Commander in the Order of St. James by the Spanish King Philip IV. While the casualties of the field army of the Republic are unknown, the Spaniards lost about 12’000 men. As for Breda,

historians estimate that about 38% of the garrison and 35% of the civilians died. The remaining Catholic inhabitants celebrated Spinola as liberator while most protestants left. For a long time, nobody took their place. In 1631 about 700 of the city’s houses remained uninhabited. For several years, Breda had become a ghost town. If you like the way we present history, then please consider donating via Patreon. These post take both a lot of time and effort to create and a small tip allows us to cover more nieche topics like the siege of Breda.

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