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Early modern war narratives and the Revolt in the Low Countries$

Raymond Fagel, Leonor Álvarez Francés, and Beatriz Santiago Belmonte

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781526140869

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: January 2021

DOI: 10.7765/9781526140876

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Narrating mutiny in the army of Flanders: Cristóbal Rodríguez Alva’s La inquieta Flandes (1594)

Narrating mutiny in the army of Flanders: Cristóbal Rodríguez Alva’s La inquieta Flandes (1594)

(p.89) 5 Narrating mutiny in the army of Flanders: Cristóbal Rodríguez Alva’s La inquieta Flandes (1594)
Early modern war narratives and the Revolt in the Low Countries

Miguel Martínez

Manchester University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter explores how the mutinies of the army of Flanders were narrated by contemporary witnesses, historians and participant actors. In addition to revisiting the repertoire of collective actions of the mutineers themselves, it attempts to analyse their imaginaries, as well as the tropes and emplotment strategies that shaped the documents they produced. The chapter focuses on a long epic poem written by Cristóbal Rodríguez Alva, who had been active in the military both in Italy and in the Low Countries. This unknown manuscript text, consisting of more than 18,000 verses, is used to analyse the language of the mutineers, as the author of the poem was an eyewitness and a participant in mutinies in the Low Countries.

Keywords:   epic poetry, Cristóbal Rodríguez Alva, Spanish tercios, Mutiny, Dutch Revolt, war narratives

‘Mutinies have happened since armies were first gathered for war and slaves for work, and the first crews of ships endured the sea.’ This sentence opened Tom H. Wintringham’s survey of mutiny throughout history, from Spartacus to the French soldiers of the Western Front in 1917.1 Wintringham (1898–1949), who had been a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain since 1923, was a veteran of the Great War, and an experienced mutineer himself when he wrote the book in 1936. Pioneering in many ways, his work reinscribed mutiny, ‘the revolt of men under discipline of life and death’, into a Marxist metanarrative – the history of all societies, he seems to say, is the history of that particular form of class struggle represented by mutiny.2 Wintringham’s bold gesture, however disputable, had the virtue of linking soldierly unrest to larger issues of social and cultural history that more focused and rigorous military historians have occasionally tended to avoid. What is most interesting about Wintrigham’s wide-ranging survey, however, is that, while most accounts of mutiny have historically come from the officers in charge of repressing them, he offered a view from the ranks that was very attentive to the rationale, the feelings and the narratives of the mutineers themselves.

Mutiny was inseparable from the practice of warfare in early modern Europe, and it has been well studied.3 Thanks to the masterful studies of Geoffrey Parker, moreover, soldierly riots in the army of Flanders have been at the centre of almost all historical accounts of the Eighty Years’ War.4 The cultural dimensions of mutiny, the ways in which its protagonists imagined, discussed and made sense of their actions are nonetheless in need of more scholarly attention. How do mutineers think about their own practices? How did they articulate collective subjects around a concrete set of limited demands? What is their capacity to define the terms of the conflict with (p.90) authority? What are the vocabularies that articulate the language of protest in the documents they produced? And finally, and more importantly for the theme of this volume, how do they tell the story of their own uprising against their commanders and their king? While some of these questions require further research, this chapter is a preliminary attempt to explore the ways in which participant soldiers imagined mutiny during the Eighty Years’ War by narrating it in epic verse. By focusing on one particular text depicting soldierly revolt, I aim to contribute to the study of the practices and imaginaries of early modern mutineers, their repertoires of collective action, and the tropes and emplotment strategies that shaped the documents they produced. In this particular case, rather than focusing on letters and treatises or capitulaciones, I focus on an outstanding narrative poem produced by an infantry soldier who served in the army of Flanders in the last two decades of the sixteenth century, and who witnessed and participated in mutinies.

Cristóbal Rodríguez Alva was a professional soldier who fought in Italy and the Low Countries. In 1594, in Turin, he finished an epic poem in ottava rima titled La inquieta Flandes. Poesía heroica de Christóual Rodríguez Alua, natural de la ciudad de Mérida. Debaxo de la qual se cuentan verdaderamente los ssuçessos de Flandes desde el año de mill y quis ochenta y çinco hasta el de nouenta. Dirigida a don Joan de Ydiáquez, comendador de Socuéllamos y de los Consejos de Estado y Guerra del rey nuestro señor. La inquieta Flandes, or The Restless Flanders, is preserved in a single – to my knowledge – manuscript copy now kept at Spain’s National Library in Madrid (BNE).5 Both the paper and the clear handwriting, perhaps by more than one copyist, seem to be consistent with the time of composition in the last two decades of the sixteenth century. The neatness of the surviving copy and the manuscript signatures at the bottom of the recto side of some folios – which indicate gatherings of eighteen pages – suggest that the poem was almost ready for the printing press. In 1895, the manuscript belonged to the Biblioteca di S. Ignazio in Vigevano, a small town in the province of Pavia, close to Milan. This library was formed by the canon of the Vigevano cathedral, Giovanni Maria Ferrara, in 1694. According to Parker, the manuscript was acquired by the BNE in 1993.6 A cursory material history of the volume indicates that La inquieta Flandes must have not been widely read and its circulation, if any, may have never gone very far beyond its place of composition in northern Italy.

The poem narrates in 28 detailed cantos and over 18,000 verses the events of the war in the Netherlands from 1585 to 1590, when Rodríguez Alva saw action under the command of his dedicatee, maestre de campo Alonso de Idiáquez. Although we know nothing about the author’s biographical background, he seems to have been well connected with some important leaders of the army of Flanders: a good number of high-ranking commanding officers (p.91) provided commendatory pieces for his promising epic.7 The writers of preliminary poems would have not failed to note if Rodríguez Alva was a hidalgo, had he been one. Despite the courteous ways of laudatory sonnets and epigrams, the poet is never addressed as don. Among his poet and soldier friends, Sánchez de León lists ‘ingenuity, intelligence, valour, and art’ (ingenio, discreción, esfuerzo y arte) as the author’s conventional virtues.8 The fact that nobility is not listed among them could persuade us that Cristóbal Rodríguez Alva was a commoner despite his good standing in the army of Flanders.

In 1577, Pedro Cornejo published in Lyon his Sumario de las guerras civiles, y causas de la rebelión de Flandres; and Bernardino de Mendoza’s Comentarios de lo sucedido en las guerras de los Países Bajos desde el año de 1567 hasta el de 1577 appeared in Madrid in 1592. Neither of these works covers the period 1585–90, which is the focus of Rodríguez Alva’s historical poem. La inquieta Flandes, while written in ottava rima, as is characteristic of Renaissance epic poetry, predates most of the Spanish narrative accounts of the Eighty Years’ War, such as Carlos Coloma’s Las guerras de los Estados Bajos desde el 1588 hasta el 1599 (1622), Francesco Lanario’s Las Guerras de Flandes, desde el año de mil y quinientos y cincuenta y nueve hasta el de seiscientos y nueve (1623), or Antonio Carnero’s Historia de las guerras civilies que ha habido en los estados de Flandes desde el año 1559 hasta el de 1609 (1625), to name a few. The same is true for works by Diego de Villalobos, Alonso Vázquez and Francisco Verdugo. Rodríguez Alva’s poem thus constitutes a crucial, though overlooked, source for the study of war narratives of the Revolt in the Low Countries and certainly deserves a critical edition and historiographical attention.9

Rodríguez Alva maintained that the events depicted in his epic poem ‘have been entirely seen by my eyes’ (es toda obra por mis ojos vista) as did many other soldiers who offered their own firsthand accounts of their and their comrades’ exploits; he claimed, moreover, that the lines of his poem were ‘watered with the blood of [his] veins, and written among the arms and the furor of death’ (regada con la sangre de mis venas y escrita en medio de armas y furor de muerte). As I have argued elsewhere, writing on the front line entailed a sort of precarious survival amidst the violent urgencies and unpredictable contingencies of early modern warfare.10

That Rodríguez Alva witnessed most of the events he recounted is undoubtedly true. So is his claim that his history of the war was written in the ‘truthful fashion’ (estilo verdadero) of soldierly writing and contained ‘many details that are necessary to know for the practice of warfare’ (muchas curiosidades que en la milicia es forzoso saber). These included practical instructions not only on how to batter and assault a city, or to defend a position, but also on how to recount and represent battles.11 This insistent rhetoric of truthful eyewitnessing notwithstanding, Rodríguez Alva’s Flemish epic draws heavily (p.92) on the previous tradition of Renaissance heroic poetry written in Spanish. In particular he imitates Alonso de Ercilla’s La Araucana (1569–89), a hugely influential epic poem on the Spanish attempts to quell the first general rebellion of the Chilean Mapuche in the 1550s. Like Rodríguez Alva, Ercilla was a first-hand witness to some of the war events he wrote about. While never mentioned explicitly, La Araucana remains a powerful, yet problematic, model for Rodríguez Alva’s epic of Flanders, which replicates some of Ercilla’s most characteristic structural and rhetorical devices, fictional characters and episodes, and the soldierly ethos of the narrative.12

Rodríguez Alva sings, says the exordium of his poem,

  • el valor, proezas, gallardía.
  • altas impresas y efectos altos
  • de los varones que la España envía
  • contra las belgas gentes de fe faltos.13
  • the valour, deeds, gallantry,
  • high endeavours and achievements
  • of those men that Spain sends
  • against the infidel Belgian people.

He describes, in Ercilla’s fashion, the landscape, economy, political organization and customs of the ‘Belgians’. His protagonists are not only the commanders of the two armies, but also the low-ranking officers (sergeants, lieutenants, corporals) and rank-and-file pikemen and arquebusiers that he tirelessly lists taking part in different military actions. The poetic catalogue, a time-honoured narrative and prosodic device in the epic tradition, becomes in La inquieta Flandes a key strategy to give identity to some of the lesser protagonists of the Eighty Years’ War. Some of the plebeian names of the common soldiers reappear in more than one canto, as if giving momentary biographical continuity to the lives of fighting men, running against the ‘unnatural anonymity [that] marks late Renaissance battlefields and siege trenches’, according to John Hale.14

These common soldiers, however, did not only take part in sieges, defences, trench warfare or ambushes – the kind of military actions that win battles, gain honour and determine the outcome of a war. One of the most interesting aspects of Rodríguez Alva’s text is that it embraces the narration of mutiny with the same enthusiasm with which it extols the military virtue of his fighting comrades. In one of the preliminary poems to the epic, Francisco Calderón includes mutiny, ‘fierce uprisings’ (alborotos fieros), as a legitimate matter of the narrative. Mutinies are not, in Rodríguez Alva’s text, an exception, just as they were not an exception in the war. At least cantos 3, 4, 13, 26 and 28 narrate riots against military authorities. As paradoxical as it may seem, (p.93) armed disobedience – and even rebellion – against the chain of command seems to have been a perfectly epic matter for some narratives about the war in the Low Countries.15

The first ‘alteration’ Rodríguez Alva narrates is the mutiny of Bommel (Bommelerwaard) in the summer of 1589.16 The main motive for the uprising was, as usual, ‘that they had been campaigning / for more than five years with much affliction / having received not even fifteen payments’ (el haber que servían en campaña/ cinco años y más con muchas plagas/ no habiendo recebido quince pagas).17 The problem, however, was never exclusively the king’s delays in paying the soldiers’ salaries. In this case servicemen associated their misery with the corruption of officers and administrators:

  • [El dinero] nadie sabía qué se hiciese,
  • ni a do se despendía ni en qué parte,
  • y cuanto a Flandes le venía de allende
  • parecía moneda ser de duende.
  • [The money,] nobody knew where it went,
  • or where it was spent,
  • and all that came to Flanders
  • seemed to be leprechaun coin.

Several tercios, with Lombardy’s tercio viejo taking a leading role, exploded and rebelled – the metaphorical figuration of mutiny in both poetic and prose narratives always has to do with bursting, detonating, overflowing:

  • En fin la hinchazón que ya brotaba
  • saltó de golpe la represa amarga:
  • dos tercios fueron en común consejo
  • y en el primer crujido el tercio viejo.
  • Finally the swelling build-up
  • burst out from the bitter dam,
  • two tercios collectively decided [to rebel]
  • and the Lombardy’s tercio joined at the first crack.

The mutiny would last for only one day: the authorities disrupted it by immediately ‘reforming’ or discharging the entire units involved in the tumults.18 In Rodríguez Alva’s text, a marginal annotation calls the attention of the reader to one particular stanza that openly criticizes the dismantling (reformación) of the unit:

  • ¡Oh Madre España cuánto te ha costado
  • esta reformación que aquí heciste!
  • Pues como fue tu mando ejecutado
  • de tristísimo luto nos cubriste,
  • (p.94) el ánimo perdió cada soldado
  • y al enemigo fiero se le diste:
  • tanto que desde entonces hasta agora
  • no has sacado una mano vencedora.
  • Oh Mother Spain, how much
  • this dismissal has cost you!
  • For as soon as your orders were executed
  • you threw us in the saddest mourning,
  • every soldier lost his valour
  • and emboldened the fierce enemy:
  • so much so that ever since then
  • you have not played a single winning hand.

What caused the turn of fortune in the war – announces the vatic voice of the poet with the emphatic address of prosopopeia, ‘¡Oh Madre España …!’ – is not mutiny itself, but the decision made to tackle it by dismissing the units. A few folios ahead, in canto 4, Rodríguez Alva has no problem in acknowledging that he personally participated in a mutiny which he refers to as ‘our discontent’ (nuestro descontento).19 The common soldiery of the army of Flanders, who are the true heroes of the epic plot in this narrative, are always on the verge of rioting, when they are not well into their mutinies already.

The restlessness of The Restless Flanders is thus not only the rebellion of the States, but also the permanent social and labour tension within the massive armies of the monarchy – Gabriel Wymans had spoken of ‘chronic revolt’.20 Indeed, Rodríguez Alva also registers the mutinies that took place in the enemy’s camp. Those who are heretics when found in the opposite trench are capable of ‘valiant deeds’ (gallardos hechos) when fighting for their lives and against their own commanders.21 Rodríguez Alva might very well have heard about the events in the town of Geertruidenberg (Gitrenbergue in the Spanish text), where the Dutch mutinied. But in any case, the dynamics of mutiny, its practices and social meanings, were very similar on both sides of a conflict always fought by multinational armies. In fact, the Dutch seem to have learned how to mutiny from the Spanish.22

The rumours of the offended troops always precede the explosion of an organized uprising in the garrison: ‘Coteries gather every day / and they murmur about the delays in payment’ (corrillos van haciendo cada día / y el dilatar de pagas se murmura).23 Corrillos refer to the popular sphere of soldierly public opinion, which Sancho de Londoño’s foundational regulations attempted to suppress: ‘there shall not be secret gatherings or public coteries, because that is where mutinies are formed and they conjecture about what has been discussed in secret by the military command, from which many times (p.95) the enemy is warned and the defenders of posts are discouraged’ (que no haya juntas secretas ni corrillos públicos, porque en los tales se fabrican los motines y se trata por conjecturas de quanto pasa en los consejos secretos, de que procede avisar a los enemigos para que se aperciban y muchas veces desaniman a los que tienen cargos de defender fortalezas).24 Once it starts, the mutiny wreaks havoc in the army:

  • Quien mata al capitán, quien descalabra
  • al sargento, o al alférez que cogía,
  • quien a menudo pasa la palabra
  • ‘¡muera el traidor que esto defendía!’
  • Quien con bastón ñudoso allí le labra
  • al soldado que blando le sentía
  • crece el rumor confuso de tal suerte
  • que los unos a otros se dan muerte.25
  • Someone kills the captain, someone wounds
  • the sergeant, or the caught lieutenant;
  • someone spreads the word:
  • ‘Death to the traitor who defends this!’
  • Someone with a hard stick hits
  • the soldier he deemed too soft.
  • The perplexing uproar mounts to the point
  • that everyone starts killing one another.

Like other narratives dealing with mutiny, Rodríguez Alva’s account depicts the outbreak of a mutiny as disorderly and confusing. Very quickly, however, two sides are formed: those who support it and those who do not. According to some testimonies, ‘¡afuera los Guzmanes!’ was a common war cry among mutineers in the initial moments of a rebellion: it was used to draw the lines between the two sides and to boost the morale of the disobedient troops. The Guzmanes – the proper noun turned into a common one – were ‘men of noble lineage’ and upbringing, who ‘always go around well dressed and well equipped’ (hombres de buena casta … de buena crianza … andan siempre bien aderezados y galanes), according to Diego Montes.26 While some scholars have questioned the clear-cut social distinction that the war cry seems todraw, the performative power was undoubtedly effective to rally the rank-and-file against their military superiors.27 Rodríguez Alva’s account, however, records a slightly different oppositional logic in the Dutch mutiny of Geertruidenberg: ‘Some say “death to the bad government!” / others respond “long live Mauricio!”’ (‘Unos “el mal gobierno, dicen, muera,” / otros “¡viva Mauricio!” replicaban’): the lines that divide the rebels and the loyalists are more openly political than in other cases. The usage of a phrase such as ‘mal (p.96) gobierno’, would be consistent with Rodríguez Alva’s deployment of a political vocabulary that links the discourses of military and civilian revolt in early modern Spain.

Despite the violence of the initial moments of a mutiny, as narrated in La inquieta Flandes, those who remain loyal to the military authorities are usually allowed to leave the camp. Officers who take sides with the mutineers – not an uncommon development – are allowed to join the mutiny only if they renounce their rank and agree to serve on equal footing with rank-and-file soldiers. This kind of horizontality, as well as the rioters’ traditions of elected leadership and representational politics has been characterized by some historians as democratic.28 Rodríguez Alva’s poem recounts some of the social and political practices that sustained almost any early modern mutiny. His point of view as a rank-and-file poet soldier and very likely a mutineer himself is particularly compelling:

  • Formado el escuadrón en plaza y calles,
  • un dispuesto soldado de él sacaron
  • a quien para mandar y gobernalles
  • todos de mancomún le señalaron.29
  • Once the squadron was formed in the square and the streets
  • they selected an apt soldier,
  • whom they collectively singled out
  • to command and govern them.

The collective appointment of the electo is immediately followed by another vote to decide who will partake in the council in charge of the destinies of the mutiny. In order to avoid the usual abuses of those officers in charge of internal discipline and order, the sergeancy rotates daily among the soldiers:

  • Al consejo de guerra se han nombrado
  • seis práticos soldados animosos,
  • los cuales con acuerdo recatado
  • provean en los tránsitos forzosos
  • y a cada compañía señalado
  • hubieron de los mozos más briosos
  • un sargento, el cual pasado un día
  • provea en otro él la sargentía.30
  • Six practical valiant soldiers
  • were elected to the war council,
  • who with prudent agreement
  • would govern in troubled times;
  • and for every company they picked
  • – among the most spirited young men –
  • (p.97) a sergeant who, by the end of the day,
  • would pass on the rank to another one.

However idealized, Rodríguez Alva powerfully depicts the spaces of collective deliberation enabled by the mutineers’ rupture of military authority. The egalitarian exchange of views, the autonomy of self-government, and the handling of the negotiations by the collective body of the common soldiery are recounted by the poet:

  • Si entre ellos hay diversas opiniones
  • de algunas repentinas novedades
  • cartas, chismes, capitulaciones,
  • graves sospechas o contrariedades,
  • a modo de batalla en escuadrones
  • dicen su parecer y voluntades:
  • sobre ello se decreta muy aína
  • y lo útil se sigue y determina.31
  • Whenever there are different opinions among them
  • regarding new developments,
  • letters, rumours, agreements,
  • grave suspicions or setbacks,
  • in squadrons, as if in battle order,
  • they share their opinions and wills:
  • then a ruling is quickly made
  • and the common good is determined and followed.

The words and phrases I have highlighted – bad government (el mal gobierno), collectively (de mancomún), novelties (novedades), diverse opinions (diversas opiniones), the common good (lo útil) – constitute a rich vocabulary that links the rhetorical strategies and self-representations of the mutineers to the political language of their civilian counterparts, the language of early modern popular revolt. The egalitarianism of the escuadrón – here understood in opposition to the elected council, not as the tactical fighting unit – offered ways of socialization that are utterly opposed to the hierarchical discipline of the ideal army. Mutinies reorganized loyalties, but also allowed room for political experimentation. The class ethos of the rank-and-file in early modern armies gave way, as Parker suggested, to ephemeral egalitarian republics. The Machiavellian idea that military discipline, for instance, was one of the ‘socializing processes through which men learned to be political animals’ can give us a sense of the relevance of mutiny in the configuration of political subjectivities within the army. ‘There is an intrinsic connection’, continued Pocock in his reading of Machiavelli, ‘between military expansion, the arming of the plebeians and the vivere popolare.’32 This is why the connections between the lexicon (p.98) of Rodríguez Alva’s mutineers and the vocabularies of early modern popular republicanism deserve further study.33

The powerful performativity of a shout like ‘afuera los guzmanes’, or ‘mueran los traidores’ (death to the traitors), or ‘lo queremos todo’ (we want it all), contributed to the constitution of a coherent social subject for collective action that had the potential to persist once the mutiny was defused. Instead of being prepolitical forms of labour agitation, mutinies contributed to a radical political culture linked to the common soldiers’ socio-professional identity that transcended the immediate disputes for their salary. The texts these soldiers wrote celebrated the epic of collective action and rioting camaraderie, the self-sufficiency of a soldierly body ephemerally in power of their own destiny. As John Hale put it, ‘nothing so fused a sense of solidarity among soldiers off the battlefield as mutiny’.34

Rodríguez Alva’s La inquieta Flandes is, to my mind, a key text for us to understand the narrative cultures of Spanish soldiers in the army of Flanders and the ways they intersect with the practices and imaginaries of the early modern mutiny. In addition to soldierly protest, La inquieta Flandes provides insight into a series of heterodox practices, particularly regarding religious beliefs and sexuality that seem to have taken root in the tumultuous and plebeian cultures of the rank-and-file soldiery of the late sixteenth century.

Canto 5 recounts how the author Cristóbal Rodríguez, turned fictional protagonist of his own narrative, meets with Charlota, the daughter of magician Gociano, a fantastic character that squarely imitates Ercilla’s Fitón in La Araucana. These kinds of imaginative interludes were common in Renaissance epic poems that, while distancing themselves from the aristocratic and chivalric ethos of Ariosto’s Orlando furioso, were crucially influenced by one of the most widely read texts of Renaissance Europe. Even within the context of the most fictional passage of the entire poem, canto 6 of La inquieta Flandes surprises the reader with a stanza that has been scratched out:

  • Contra el factal destino es devaneo
  • querer torcer el hombre cosa alguna,
  • pues no puede eximirse del trofeo
  • que va predestinado su fortuna;
  • bien puede vacilando algún rodeo
  • tomar de la ocasión que le importuna,
  • pero a la fin riqueza o poderío
  • no bastan al decreto dar desvío.35
  • It is futile that a man tries to bend
  • fate or destiny in any way,
  • for he cannot avoid the outcome
  • (p.99) that fortune has predestined;
  • he can perhaps take a little detour
  • to go grab the occasion as it arrives,
  • but in the end money or power
  • will not suffice to avert the decree.

Predestination was undoubtedly one of the most divisive theological issues in post-Reformation Europe.36 However simplified in this stanza, Rodríguez Alva’s usage of loaded terms (‘factal destino’, ‘predestinado’, ‘decreto’) must have triggered all the alarms for some readers of this particular copy. The extremely controversial nature of the theme was even more troubling in a poem that narrated the Spanish Habsburgs’ desperate efforts to contain the spread of Protestantism within and without their dominions, and particularly the power of Calvinism in the Low Countries. The scratched-out lines in La inquieta Flandes, however, remind us that issues of faith and doctrine must not have been so far removed from the daily conversations of soldiers fighting in a multi-confessional army and living among ‘the infidel Belgians’ (las belgas gentes de fe faltos).37 We find deletions and corrections in other sections of the poem, yet in most cases the revision seems to obey an aesthetic or poetic logic to improve prosody, metrics or the general structure of the octave. It is certainly not the case here: whether the symptom of an underground spirituality among the soldiery or the echo of everyday conversations in the barracks and trenches of the Low Countries, religious heterodoxy emerges in the narrative texture of La inquieta Flandes; and this appearance is troubling enough to force a reader, a copyist or the author himself, to edit it out of the poem. John Milton’s Paradise Lost includes a scene where the demons discuss ‘providence, foreknowledge, will and fate / fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute, / and found no end, in wandering mazes lost’.38 That the soldiers of Satan’s cosmic rebellion appear chatting about theological topics of forbidding intricacy gives us the measure of the stanza’s significance in the context of the religious wars in the Low Countries.

Rodríguez Alva’s rich verse, its detailed narrative capaciousness, portrays a ‘society of soldiers’ that created constant trouble for the authorities that employed them, whether we think of organized labour strikes or the overly free conversations about matters of faith among loquacious infantrymen.39 La inquieta Flandes, moreover, includes a celebration of same-sex love between two soldiers that should invite scholars to further study the significance of non-normative sexualities in the spaces of war in the Low Countries. In canto 12, a story modelled after the Virgilian episode of Nisus and Euryalus in the Aeneid (Book 9), recounts the love and heroic exploits (‘heroic desire’) between soldiers Pierres Estien and Ricardo, who infiltrate the enemy lines to secretly (p.100)

Narrating mutiny in the army of Flanders: Cristóbal Rodríguez Alva’s La inquieta Flandes (1594)

4 Cristóbal Rodríguez Alva, deleted stanza on predestination, La inquieta Flandes, 1594

(p.101) introduce a military engineer into the Spanish camp of Grave, in the Duchy of Brabant. An entire canto is devoted to the fictional affair, in which the two soldiers exchange loving words (‘dulce amigo’, ‘tú eres siempre como yo soy tuyo’) and display physical affection:

  • El fuerte Pierre Estien el brazo al cuello
  • al bizarro mancebo le cruzaba,
  • y con amor y sentimiento bello,
  • las mejillas y frente le besaba;
  • al cabo dijo alzándole el cabello:
  • ‘no sé, dulce Ricardo, qué ira brava
  • me espolea, me aguija y facilita
  • y a cosas altas este pecho incita.’40
  • The strong Pierre Estien put his arm
  • around the neck of the valiant soldier,
  • and with love and kind tenderness
  • kissed his cheeks and forehead;
  • then he cleared his hair and said
  • ‘I do not know, sweet Ricardo, what’s this ire
  • that spurs, goads, and eases in
  • and to high deeds incites my heart.’

While closely following its classical source, the early modern elaboration of a romance between two male soldiers may have startled some of the author’s contemporaries. And yet, what seems to me most significant about Rodríguez Alva’s text is the naturalness with which it narrates masculinized friendship and same-sex love in the army of Flanders. Erotic restraint was certainly a crucial aspect of military discipline, and sodomy, moreover, was harshly and summarily punished in the tercios.41 And yet, some soldiers defied orders and wrote about it. Andrés Rey de Artieda, another soldier who served in the Low Countries in the late sixteenth century, rewrote the Iliadic story of Achilles and Patroclus in one sonnet titled ‘Vínculo de amistad’.42 Soldierly intimacy in the homosocial spaces of the camarada, the company, and the army at large, as well as the texts soldiers wrote about it, certainly require more scholarly attention. Rodríguez Alva’s story may suggest the existence of more widespread underground sexual cultures in open conflict with the severe ordinances of military discipline.43

Rodríguez Alva’s La inquieta Flandes is, by any measure, an outstanding text, but far from exceptional. A number of common soldiers and low-ranking officers wrote lyrics, chronicles, ballads and long narrative poems in the same vein as Rodríguez Alva’s. Many men of ‘the school of Alba’ wrote about the war. Alba’s legendary first journey along the Spanish road in 1567 is (p.102) recounted by Baltasar de Vargas’s Breve relación en octava rima de la jornada que ha hecho el ilustrísimo y excelentísimo señor Duque de Alba.44 Diego Ximénez de Ayllón, a minor noble from Andalusia, collected a series of blazon-like sonnets praising the soldiers and commanding officers of the Spanish army of Flanders. Miguel Giner, an Aragonese arquebusier, wrote El sitio y toma de Anvers (1587, 1588), a highly personal, testimonial poem about the conquest of Antwerp by Alexander Farnese between 1584 and 1585 – a text that was published subsequently in Zaragoza, Milan and Antwerp, an editorial history that almost perfectly overlaps with some nodal points in the Spanish road.45 The Portuguese soldier Emanuel Antunes served in the army from the 1580s to the 1590s and wrote Primera parte de la baxada de los españoles de Francia en Normandía in Rouen, in 1593. In the same years, soldier and lieutenant Pedro Alfonso Pimentel wrote a massive poem about the Guerras civiles de Flandes, which reads like a personal diary recounting over thirty years of campaigning in Flanders.46

While sharing a similar narrative culture and soldierly ethos, not all of these texts show the same attitudes towards soldierly protest and self-determination. And yet, we should not be surprised to find in some of these texts of the Eighty Years’ War a similar engagement with dangerous beliefs, heterodox sexualities, and especially mutiny. Take the last one I mentioned, for instance: Pedro Alfonso Pimentel’s long poem narrates the ‘fury of the rioting soldiers’ (el furor de la gente levantada) with the same enthusiasm as does Rodríguez Alva’s work and exhibits the same kind of familiarity with mutiny. Guerras civiles de Flandes narrates, at least, the alterations of Haarlem and Aalst, and weaves into the epic stanzas the versified letter of a group of mutineers from Antwerp to the authorities with whom they were negotiating. Next to some of some stanzas that discussed mutiny we find editorial marginalia, written in the same hand, according to the editor, that comment on the narrative matter. ‘Jesus! 35 months without pay!’ (¡Jesús, 35 meses sin paga!), ‘poor soldiers’ (pobres soldados), or ‘pay earlier and they would not go over to the enemy’ (pagar antes y no se pasaran al enemigo).47 Soldierly discontent is as much the narrative stuff of these texts as the sieges and assaults of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century military history.

There were forty-six mutinies between 1572 and 1607, an average of two per year, occasionally involving as many as 7,000 men.48 Already in 1574, and referring to the first mutiny of Antwerp, Luis de Requesens wrote that ‘it was not the prince of Orange who had lost the Low Countries, but the soldiers born in Valladolid and Toledo’.49 The resistance of common soldiers, whether active or passive, uncovered the limits of the expansionist and militaristic logics of early modern empires and forced the state to reconsider its foreign policy. Competent, proud, and unruly soldiers such as Rodríguez Alva, (p.103) Pimentel, and the many others who wrote mutinous texts and participated in riots did as much to win battles for the Spanish Habsburgs as they did to shake the foundations of their power. Moreover, by narrating mutiny, soldiers gave meaning to their actions and became, in the words of Michel-Rolph Trouillot, ‘purposeful subjects aware of their own voices’.50

The connections between the practices and imaginaries of mutinous soldiers and those of the popular radicalism of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries offer a promising line of research. The first English Levellers were soldiers of Cromwell’s New Model Army, which Christopher Hill saw ‘as a short-lived school of political democracy’.51 Mutinies in the Habsburg armies do not seem to have had the ideological depth of these movements, or the political capacity of mutinying Ottoman janissaries, who were able to depose and install sultans in an era that Ottomanist Baki Tezcan called ‘the age of the janissaries’ because of their political protagonism in Constantinople’s court.52 But as I have argued, there are continuities in the political vocabularies and narrative cultures of military mutineers and those of civilian popular uprisings. The relations between soldiers and civilians may not have been exclusively antagonistic.

Much remains to be studied regarding the practices and imaginaries of early modern mutineers. Practices such as the publication of carteles, the erection of ‘trees of justice’ in the garrison’s main square, the usage of collective signatures, and the writing of diplomatic letters and internal documents have been identified, but not systematically analysed across a number of mutinies. Similarly, as I have pointed out, we have a sizeable corpus of literary texts written by soldiers from the ranks, who witnessed or participated in mutinies. Cristóbal Rodríguez Alva’s La inquieta Flandes is the perfect representative of the kind of narrative and poetic culture that constituted what I have elsewhere called the soldiers’ republic of letters, but it is also a document of the defiant confidence of the mutinous rank-and-file. It is, moreover, an audacious account of the lively underground society developed, in part autonomously, by the soldiers of the army of Flanders: one that was fuelled, to a significant extent, by the pursuit of dignity and liberty in the midst of what modern mutineer Tom Wintringham deemed ‘the blind barbarities of military discipline’.53


(1) Tom H. Wintringham, Mutiny. Being a Survey of Mutinies from Spartacus to Invergordon (New York: Fortuny’s, 1936), p. 9.

(3) Geoffrey Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567–1659, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), pp. 157–76; Clare Anderson et al. (eds), Mutiny and Maritime Radicalism in the Age of Revolution. A Global Survey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013); Idan Sherer, ‘“All of us, in one voice, Demand what’s owed us”. Mutiny in the Spanish Infantry during the Italian Wars, 1525–1538’, Journal of Military History, 78 (2014), (p.104) 893–926; D.J.B. Trim, ‘Ideology, greed, and social discontent in Early Modern Europe. Mercenaries and mutinies in the rebellious Netherlands, 1568–1609’, in Jane Hathaway (ed.), Rebellion, Repression, Reinvention. Mutiny in Comparative Perspective (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2007), pp. 47–62; John Morrill, ‘Mutiny and discontent in English provincial armies, 1645–1647’, Past & Present, 56 (1972), 49–75.

(4) For mutinies in the army of Flanders, in addition to Parker’s work, see Lucas de Torre, ‘Los motines militares en Flandes’, Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y museos, 25–32 (1911–15); Gabriel Wymans, ‘Les Mutineries militaires de 1596 à 1606’, Standen en Landen, 39 (1966), 105–21; Fernando González de León, The Road to Rocroi. Class, Culture and Command in the Spanish Army of Flanders, 1567–1659 (Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2009), pp. 107–15; Lisa Kattenberg, ‘Military Rebellion and Reason of State Pacification of Mutinies in the Habsburg Army of Flanders, 1599–1601’, BMGN-Low Countries Historical Review, 131:2 (2016), 3–21.

(5) This poem (BNE, MSS/22648) has been completely neglected by literary critics. I found the reference in Parker, The Army of Flanders, p. 101, who in his turn thanks Fernando Bouza for mentioning it to him. La inquieta Flandes is the title as it appears on the first folio, but the spine reads Flandes inquieta. The heading of every folio’s verso in the volume reads ‘Sucesos de Flandes’.

(6) Geoffrey Parker, ‘Soldados del imperio. El ejército español y los Países Bajos en los inicios de la Edad Moderna’, in Werner Thomas and Robert A. Verdonk (eds), Encuentros en Flandes. Relaciones e intercambios hispano-flamencos a comienzos de la Edad Moderna (Leuven: Leuven University Press/Fundación Duques de Soria, 2000), pp. 275–90, p. 289, n. 37. See also Giuseppe Mazzatinti, Inventari dei manoscritti delle biblioteche d’Italia (Forli: Luigi Bordandini, 1895), 5: pp. 51–2.

(7) The preliminaries of La inquieta Flandes were written by Alonso de Idiáquez, Sancho Martínez de Leyva, Simón de Iturbeda, Diego Pérez Maldonado, Francisco de Miranda, Rafael de Aiyar, Diego de Ribera y Caravajal [sic], Juan Suárez Carrillo, Cristóbal Sánchez de León, Francisco Calderón, Miguel de Ayala and Francisco Cascales. Long before writing his famous Cartas filológicas (Murcia: Luis Verós, 1634), humanist Francisco Cascales was a soldier in Flanders and fought alongside Rodríguez Alva in the 1580s.

(9) On these historians, see Yolanda Rodríguez Pérez, The Dutch Revolt through Spanish Eyes. Self and Other in Historical and Literary Texts of Golden Age Spain (c.1548–1673) (Bern and Oxford: Peter Lang, 2008), and Antonio Espino López, Guerra y cultura en la época moderna (Madrid: Ministerio de Defensa, 2001), pp. 183–93.

(10) Rodríguez Alva, La inquieta Flandes, fo. 1v. Miguel Martínez, Front Lines. Soldiers’ Writing in the Early Modern Hispanic World (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016), chapters 1 and 3.

(12) I have more thoroughly discussed the solid intertextual connections between these two texts in Martínez, Front Lines, pp. 161–4.

(14) John R. Hale, War and Society in Renaissance Europe. 1450–1620 (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1998), 84. For some epic catalogues of fighting soldiers see, for instance, fos 58v–59v, 151v, 153r–v, 154r, 155r, 188r–v, 194r, 258v–261v, 295r–297r and 314v.

(15) Similarly, mutiny is the main topic and dramatic framework of a few Golden Age plays. See mainly Yolanda Rodríguez Pérez, ‘El amotinado como español ejemplar. Rojas Zorilla y Los amotinados de Flandes de Vélez de Guevara’, in Eugenia Houvenaghel and Ilse Logie (eds), Alianzas entre historia y ficcion. Homenaje a Patrick Collard (Genève: Droz, 2009), pp. 237–48.

(24) A manuscript copy of the Discurso, held by the Leiden University Library, Codices Vulcaniani 92D, was originally written in 1568. It was first printed in Brussels in 1587, but I quote from Sancho de Londoño Discurso sobre la forma de reducir la disciplina militar a meyor y antiguo estado (Brussels: Rutger Velpius, 1589), fo. 36r. For the complex textual history and transmission of this key military ordinance see G. Mazzocchi, ‘Nel testo del Discurso di Sancho de Londoño. Note bibliografiche ed ecdotiche’, in Giovanni Caravaggi (ed.), La espada y la pluma. Il mondo militare nella Lombardia spagnola cinquecentesca (Viareggio, Lucca: Mauro Baroni, 2000), pp. 563–79.

(26) Diego Montes, Instrucción y regimiento de guerra (Zaragoza: Jorge Coci, 1537), fo. aiiii–r. Similarly, Brantôme considered these men to come ‘from grand noble houses’ but serve as infantrymen ‘like the commoners’ in order to gain honour (de bonnes et grandes maisons … comme les moindres); Pierre de Bourdeille, Oeuvres complètes de Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantôme, ed. Ludovic Lalanne (Paris: 1864–82), 1, p. 335.

(27) ‘Meanwhile other disgruntled Captains channelled their frustrations into mutiny. resentment against aristocratic bias in promotions was probably behind the cry of “Afuera los guzmanes!” (Noblemen out!) often heard around a tercio’s quarters in the early moments of some mutinies. Many of the ringleaders of the rebellions that crippled the Army of Flanders in the 1590’s and early 1600’s were in fact senior Ensigns and Captains venting their frustration at the growing scarcity of promotion opportunities’ (González de León, The Road to Rocroi, p. 74).

(29) Rodríguez Alva, La inquieta Flandes, fo. 365v. My emphasis, here and below.

(30) Ibid., fos 365v–366r. See also the protagonism of Nus’s electo in fo. 369r–v.

(31) Ibid., fo. 366r.

(32) J.G.A. Pocock, The Machiavellian Moment. Florentine Political Thought and the Atlantic Republican Tradition (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975), pp. 198–9, 202.

(33) Imogen Sutton offers a detailed analysis of republicanism in Alonso de Ercilla’s La Araucana, which is, as we have seen, one of Rodríguez Alva’s most important epic predecessors; see her ‘“De gente que a ningún rey obedecen”. Republicanism and Empire in Alonso de Ercilla’s La Araucana’, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 91:4 (2014), 417–35.

(36) See, for instance, Bernard M. G. Reardon, Religious Thought in the Reformation, 2nd edn (London: Longman, 1995).

(37) For more on the depiction of heresy in La inquieta Flandes see Paolo Pintacuda, ‘El hereje desde la “épica de la pólvora”. Los rebeldes de Flandes vistos por los tercios españoles’, in Javier Burguillo López (ed.), Épica y conflicto religioso en el siglo XVI. Anglicanismo y luteranismo desde el imaginario hispánico (London: Tamesis, in press). I thank professor Pintacuda for sharing his unpublished work while the current chapter was being copy-edited.

(38) John Milton, Paradise Lost, eds Stephen Orgel and Jonathan Goldberg (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), p. 389 (book 2, lines 557–61). The moral exordium of canto 10 in La inquieta Flandes contains another potentially problematic statement, though in this case it has survived the fury of the (self-)censoring hand: ‘porque parece encanto o exorcismo/ vencer el hombre su destino mismo’ (138r).

(40) Rodríguez Alva, La inquieta Flandes, fo. 174v. See the entire sequence in fos 173v–183v.

(41) G. Civale, Guerrieri di Cristo. Inquisitori, gesuiti e soldati alla battaglia di Lepanto (Milano: Unicolpi, 2009), pp. 111–14, explored cases of sodomy in the Lepanto fleet. See also G. Civale, ‘Tunisi spagnola tra violenza e coesistenza (1573–74)’, Mediterranea: Ricerche storiche, 21 (2011), 51–88, and especially pp. 67–8.

(p.106) (42) Andrés Rey de Artieda, Discursos, epístolas y epigramas de Artemidoro, ed. Antonio Vilanova (Barcelona: Selecciones Bibliófilas, 1955), p. 198.

(43) One could envision a study similar to Brian Martin’s Napoleonic Friendship. Military Fraternity, Intimacy, and Sexuality in Nineteenth-Century France (Durham: University of New Hampshire Press, 2011) that focuses specifically on the army of Flanders. The number of people tried for sodomy in Valencia who identified as soldiers is not insignificant: Rafael Carrasco, in his Inquisición y represión sexual en Valencia. Historia de los sodomitas (1565–1785) (Barcelona: Laertes, 1985), pp. 167–8. See also the occasional references to soldiers in Cristian Berco, Sexual Hierarchies, Public Status. Men, Sodomy, and Society in Spain’s Golden Age (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007).

(44) Baltasar de Vargas’s Breve relación en octava rima de la jornada que ha hecho el ilustrísimo y excelentísimo señor Duque de Alba desde España hasta los estados de Flandes (Antwerp: Amato Tabernerio, 1568).

(45) See Paolo Pintacuda, ‘Sobre las dos versiones del Sitio y toma de Amberes de Miguel Giner’, in Paolo Pintacuda (ed.), Le vie dell’epica ispanica (Lecce: Pensa Multimedia, 2014), pp. 95–122.

(46) Diego Ximénez de Ayllón, Sonetos a illustres varones este felicísimo y católico ejército y corte (Antwerp: Viuda de Juan Lacio, 1569); Emanuel Antunes, Primera parte de la baxada de los españoles de Francia en Normandía (Rouen: George L’Oyselet, 1593; and Antwerp: Giraldo Wolsschatio, 1622); Pedro Alfonso Pimentel, Guerras civiles de Flandes, ed. María América Gómez Dovale, in ‘Una fuente inédita sobre la guerra de Flandes’ (PhD thesis, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, 1957). See Fernando González Ollé, ‘Guerras civiles de Flandes. Poema épico inédito’, Boletín de la Real Academia de la Historia, 45 (1965), 141–84.

(47) Gómez Dovale, ‘Una fuente inédita’, 327v, 346r, 366r. The letter in fos 330v–331r. See, moreover, cantos 1–6 in part I.

(50) Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past. Power and the Production of History (Boston: Beacon Press, 1995), p. 24.

(51) Christopher Hill, The World Turned Upside Down. Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (New York: Penguin Books, 1975), 128. See also Morrill, ‘Mutiny and discontent’ and Anderson et al., Mutiny.

(52) Baki Tezcan, The Second Ottoman Empire. Political and Social Transformation in the Early Modern World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010).