Gascoigne’s Globe: The Spoyle of Antwerpe and the Black Legend of Spain


Linda Bradley Salamon
George Washington University

Linda Bradley Salamon. "Gascoigne’s Globe: The Spoyle of Antwerpe and the Black Legend of Spain". Early Modern Literary Studies 14.1/Special Issue 18 (May, 2008) 7.1-38 <URL:>.


  1. As a military officer and a government agent, George Gascoigne had direct access to the action and the passion of his times; his taste for analysis and desire for fame as a writer allowed him to enter a geopolitical discourse that grew, in part, around the wars of religion in the Low Countries in which he participated.  Gascoigne’s construction of the world beyond England culminates in The Spoyle of Antwerpe (1576), his account of the sacking of that city by troops of the Habsburg Empire who, in history as in his telling, gratuitously killed, raped, and looted their way through a defeated populace.  Gascoigne’s stay in Antwerp was his last, but not his first, visit to the continent.  Across his oeuvre, the representation of  “forraine coastes” (I, 345) begins with anxieties about unknown yet stereotyped Others; it ends in open-ended curiosity about, and support for, England’s emerging endeavors to reach Cathay by “voyage…strange” (1).  But Gascoigne’s entire imaginary of the globe – contingent as it is on his experiences and on the different voices he employs – falls under the dark shadow of Spain. 
  1. The English representation of Spain in the 1570s was constituted from many sources, including powerful recent memories of Philip II’s desire for dominance of England and of deadly pursuit of Protestant leaders under “bloody” Mary, as well as uneasy awareness of the current dominance of Spain both in the Habsburg Empire and in the New World, with all its imagined riches.  Especially potent was the empire’s determination to maintain its dominance in the Low Countries by crushing Protestant-sponsored insurgents; Gascoigne bore intermittent witness to five early years of events in that four-decades-long struggle, a revolt that was initially personified for him, as for many, as a duel between the Protestant stalwart William of Orange and the severe Duke of Alba (2).  English memories and fears on all these scores were inflected by an emergent tradition of literary discourse about Spain in the new world order.  Behind Gascoigne’s direct impressions and assessments looms the increasing circulation of images of Spaniards on every front as especially, indeed spectacularly, cruel and treacherous: the grand narrative of the Black Legend, a complex mix of fact and propaganda.  For audiences from the sixteenth to the twenty-first centuries, this discourse gives fuller resonance to The Spoyle of Antwerpe, which both draws upon it and contributes to its cultural work.  In this article, I sketch the rise of the Black Legend, outline Gascoigne’s representations of the world beyond England, and present The Spoyle as a confluence of the two.  A measure of Gascoigne’s ability to create propaganda through his text, I suggest, lies in its high rhetoric: he can describe, narrate, analyze, assess, and even condemn through shifts in tone and lexicon that subtly and gradually make his meaning plain.  

The Black Legend  

  1. Modern scholars use the term Black Legend to signify the essentializing, negative discourse that, beginning in the Early Modern era, conflates Spain’s military and governing conduct in the Old World with her practices of conquest and colonization in the New.  The existence of powerful antihispanist sentiments based on hostile, sometimes scandalous anecdotes was recognized in Spain itself no later than Francisco de Quevedo’s 1604 España Defendida (3).  At that point, Spaniards had already been constructed by their opponents as cruel, dishonest, greedy, arrogant, bigoted, and sometimes licentious.  The phrase ‘Black Legend’ itself was coined in 1912 by journalist Julian Juderías y Loyot (1877-1918), who sought to counter post-Enlightenment assumptions about Spaniards as ignorant and intellectually backward – in effect, positioned outside European culture – by tracing the roots of this bias.  The designation ‘legend’ clearly raises questions of truth-claims in a text, and the qualifier ‘black’ presupposes calumny.  Yet as a modern anthologizer notes, “a legend is a story that someone else believes” (4).  Juderías and most subsequent scholars consider the originary text of the full-blown leyenda negra to be Fray Bartolomé de Las Casas’s widely read Brevissima Relacion (1551), literally A Very Brief Relation of the Destruction of the Indies.  This sincere text was readily usable for propaganda, as is evident in the English title of the seventeenth-century translation by Milton’s Puritan nephew John Phillips: The Tears of the Indians: Being an Historicall and True Account of the Cruel Massacres and Slaughters of Above Twenty Millions of Innocent People.  
  1. Las Casas and such other Spaniards as Franciso López de Gómara, in Historia General de las Indias y La Conquista de Méjico (1552), and Augustín de Zárate, in Historia del Descubrimiento y Conquista del Perú (1556), reported in appalling detail the abjection of  Mexican and South American indigenes across the preceding half-century (5).  To be sure, Las Casas’s project was not slander but critique of the lifelong servitude to Spanish landholders, just short of slavery, to which the Indians were relegated, and of the violent abuses to which that encomienda system led.  Spanish cruelty and barbarism reached always-already status in the engravings of the Grands Voyages collected by Theodor De Bry in a multi-volume publication often called America (6).  The images that accompany Milanese adventurer Girolamo Benzoni’s Historia del Nuevo Mundo, reprinted in De Bry’s volume 4, illustrate scenes that range from Balboa’s elegantly dressed, disdainful Spanish troops slaughtering naked Panamanians using dogs, to De Soto’s soldiers racking, and amputating the hands and feet of, Floridians who would not – because they could not – tell the location of gold mines.  The sexual impropriety that finds its way into the Legend probably originated in reports of Spanish relations with indigenous women, which the English particularly abhorred; Francis Drake’s chaplain, Francis Fletcher, reprehends not only Spanish whoredom but “the filthiness of Sodom” (7).  While these New World texts might not seem directly relevant to the sacking of Antwerp, some of Las Casas’s images of Spanish soldiers’ conduct are (suitably edited) prescient of Gascoigne’s Spoyle.                   

    The Spaniards with their horses, their spears, and their lances, began to commit murders and strange cruelties. They entered into Towns, Boroughs, and Villages, sparing neither Women nor children. . . .  They layed wagers such as [who] with one thrust of a sword could paunch or bowel a man in the middest, or with one blow of the sword should most readily and deliverly cut off his head. . . . They made certain Gibbets long and low, and setting to fire burned them all [alive] that were fastened.  (8)  

  1. But the seeds of the Black Legend – to borrow Gascoigne’s master metaphor – lie in accounts of early-sixteenth-century tyrannous conduct by the Aragonese in Naples and Rome and in gathering rumors about the Inquisition institutionalized by their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand and Isabella, including a report (which rapidly reached England) that Philip II meant to turn the inquisitors loose on Protestants in the Low Countries (9).  One of the most potent textual representations of the Legend was published only four years after The Spoyle of Antwerpe by Gascoigne’s sometime-military commander, Stadhouder William (the Silent) of Nassau, prince of Orange, leader of the reformist forces in the Low Countries from 1573.  After his official sovereign, Philip II, pronounced a formal proscription against him that set a price on his head, William published an Apologia (1580), a spirited defense punctuated with irony, that joins his own grievances with reports from Las Casas’s Brevissima Relacion, then newly published in Flemish.  While excusing the previous, Ghent-born emperor Charles V, William points to his Spanish subjects as wicked, angry, cruel, ambitious, proud, and malicious men who “know well how to slander and traduce, when by the grace of God they have been unable to harm with poison and sword, or receive with promises, or beguile with vain hopes” (10).  William asserts that the Spanish leaders in the Netherlands, led by Philip,                    

condemned all of you [Netherlanders] to death, believing that your condition was no different from that of beasts.  They acted as if they had the power to massacre you in the way that they have massacred in the Indies, where they have caused over 20 million persons to die miserable deaths and have wiped out a land thirty times the size of the Low Countries. There they have committed such horrible excesses that all the barbarities, cruelties, and tyrannies ever perpetrated before are only games in comparison to what has happened to the poor Indians.  (11)

This early flowering of the Legend, although propaganda with no attempt at impartiality, matches Gascoigne in content and, in part, in tone.  The resonance is not surprising: William is the prince whom Gascoigne lionizes in The Fruits of Warre. 

  1. For there is no doubt that the Black Legend reached English discourse long before the first translation of Las Casas in 1583.  In a time of ideological anxiety, created in part by the growing array around the globe of Others with inexplicable “customs” and practices, word traveled as fast as a ship could.  The Legend inflamed the open war between England and Spain in the 1580s, including the English raid on Cadiz and fear of the Armada.  It echoes in the voice of Richard Hakluyt (1584), propagandist for New World colonization, who helped to fuel the early-seventeenth-century competition over the settling and commercial exploitation of the Americas (12).  And it still resonates in the tone of John Maynard Keynes’ remark, in 1926, that classical economics “conquered England as completely as the Holy Inquisition conquered Spain” (13).  Recent Anglophone interest in the Legend began with William S. Maltby’s The Black Legend in England; The Development of Anti-Spanish Sentiment 1558-1660 (1971); it has been revived by J.N. Hillgarth’s comprehensive The Mirror of Spain, 1500-1700; The Formation of a Myth (2000) and by the collection Rereading the Black Legend: Racial and Religious Discourse in the Renaissance Empires (2007). 
  1. For twenty-first-century readers, the concept of the Black Legend needs to be inflected by two decades of scholarly exploration of the gaze of a subject upon an objectified Other.  In The Spoyle, Gascoigne looks hard at the suffering of a defeated populace, just as De Bry’s images show the disdainful Spanish gaze at abjected natives.  Scholarly studies of the Early Modern encounter with different national groups, especially beyond Europe, have pointed to the role of the eye-witness initially exemplified in the Histories of Herodotus, who emphasizes the importance of travel in grasping the world, with the ferocious Scythians as his object.  Michel de Certeau first explicated Herodotus’s use of rhetorical gestures, including a mediating figure who witnesses and interprets the exotic Other, to create a textual space that gives “credibility” to the writer’s own “testimony” (14).  Stephen Greenblatt, reading Mandeville and building on Certeau, has theorized the authoritative role of eye-witnessing as, first, a form of representative seeing, then a discursive principle in Europeans’ linguistic possession of the western hemisphere (15).  In these terms Gascoigne is a witness to atrocity whose words carry weight in the global demonization of Spain. 
  1. Gascoigne’s personal knowledge of the rudiments of the Black Legend is signified from the opening paragraph of The Spoyle of Antwerpe onwards (16).  In a neat paralipsis he hypothesizes, “If I were disposed to write maliciously agaynst the vanquishers: their former barbarous cruelty, insolences, Rapes, spoyles, Incests, and Sacriledges, committed in sundrie other places, might yeeld mee sufficiente matter without the lawful remembrance of this their late strategeme” (590; emphasis added).  The “other places,” while left mysterious, were surely in the news; the entire extended sentence is incidental to Gascoigne’s discussion of the events at Antwerp , yet highly potent.  The list of iniquities that Gascoigne sets down, moreover, suggests a broad-based critique far beyond the military conduct that might provide legitimate background for his narrative.  “Insolences,” “Incests,” and “Sacriledges” are acts of social misbehavior, sexual immorality, and religious violation that give the Legend its blackness, while the all-purpose “barbarous cruelty” evokes the savagery of conquistadores in the New World .  Gascoigne acknowledges that “manyfolde light tales…engendred by feareful …rehersals” are – to use Greenblatt’s term – in mimetic circulation; while declining to echo such tales in his truthful report, he nevertheless enters their discursive field.  In doing so, he stresses the authority of his personal observation to confirm his truth-claims.  In the opening clause he points to “the piteous spectakle” (590) he saw at Antwerp . As the confrontation approaches, “I was enforced to become an eyed witnes of [the Spanish forces’] entry and all that they did” (592); “let me also say a litle of that which I sawe executed” when he leaves the safety of the English House on word of Spanish success “to see the certainty thereof” (594).  As he emphatically saw, the sack was all too certain.  

The World According to Gascoigne

  1. Gascoigne did not represent Spaniards in The Spoyle on an empty mental map.  To be sure, he was no world traveler: at the opening of The Fruits of Warre (Dulce Bellum Inexpertis) he confesses “howe unexpert I am in feates of warre/….I have nor bene in Turkie, Denmarke, Greece ,/Ne yet in Colch, to winne a Golden fleece” (I, 141).   The concession is telling, together with its implication that one need not be Jason to know something of the world.  Seeking the equivalent of a golden fleece, with luck through royal preferment, was a constant preoccupation of the perennially debt-ridden Gascoigne.  Toward that end, fashioning himself more as poet than soldier in 1572, Gascoigne wrote two long poems and a brief one that implicate his construction of nations and races other than the familiar English (17).  They vary in source: “Gascoigne’s Voyage unto Hollande” is based on experience, while “Gascoigne’s Counsel to Wythipole” and A Devise of a Maske draw upon his imagination, fueled by reading and the common culture in which he moved.  The tone of “Counsel” is blithe, and A Devise uses violence for entertainment like a modern horror movie; “Voyage,” on the other hand, is chillingly real, preparing the ground for The Spoyle.  All three can be characterized as xenophobic; hostility to Spain, although sometimes by sidelong glance, appears in all. 
  1. The relatively slight “Counsel to Wythipole” is friendly advice in “dogrell rime” (I, 344) to a young acquaintance taking his first trip to the continent; its effect is subversion of the emerging Grand Tour.  Foreigners, Gascoigne warns generically, are thieves: “Beware therefore where ever that thou go (I, 345, emphasis added),” although “Italyan hands” are particularly ready to lift the “heavie pursse” and “billes of credit” (I, 345) that an English bumpkin carries.  The three gravest dangers, however, are poison, pride, and an unspeakable ‘P’ (presumably prostitution) that leads to “piles and pockes.”  Gascoigne points to three opportunities for poisoning; food, the most plausible, is by allusion an Italian weapon, but the other two possibilities are more pointed:                   

    Some may present thee with a pounde or twaine
    Of Spanishe soape to washe thy lynnen white:…
    Some cunning man maye teache thee for to ryde,
    And stuffe thy saddle all with Spanishe wooll…
    As both thy legges may swell thy buskins full. (I, 346)           

Without the Black Legend, imagining soap and saddle-padding as vectors for poison would be paranoid.  Pride, in Gascoigne’s view the poison of the mind, turns out to be exhibited chiefly when Englishmen imitate foreigners’ attention to hairstyles, male cosmetics, and “outlandish” tailoring.  The worst models are Italians – by allusion to Devils incarnate, Roger Ascham’s well-known epithet (18) – but one should also avoid “brave Mustachyos turned the Turky way” and hats “made on the Flemmish blocke” (I, 346).

  1. When Gascoigne moves from material commodities to the body itself, however, his warning is sharpest, and the culprits for the spread of syphilis are obvious:

    Spanish buttons can infect
    Kings, Emperours, Princes and the world so wide,
    And…those sunnes do mellowe men so fast
    As most that travayle come home very ripe. (I, 347)(19)

The creed of the loyal-hearted Englishman (I, 345) will help Withypole, properly warned, stand fast against these foreign dangers and come home unscathed.  In this little piece of provincialism, the limits of Gascoigne’s experience “abroade in forayne lands” (I, 346) lead to stereotyping, especially the blackening of Spain as the source of poison and disease.  

  1. In 1572 Gascoigne also imagined A Devise of a Maske to help celebrate a double wedding that was contextualized internationally.  While the narrator/actor is a dauntless English boy, the masque’s heroes (dictated by the name of the wedding’s host, Lord Montacute, and the prior purchase of lush Venetian costumes) are Italian soldiers and sailors who rescue the lad from captivity.  The boy, as his tale goes, had accompanied his father on a voyage of financial venture that ended at the 1571 siege of Famagusta, Cyprus by the Turks, who killed his father and seized him; only the great Christian victory at Lepanto released him.  Beyond their “strange attire (I, 76) (apparently acceptable, for this special purpose) the Venetians of the masque exhibit no other characteristics of their race but naval skill, aversion to Capulets, and the use of gondolas (I, 83, 84).  
  1. But the significant foreigners in A Devise are the ultimate Other for sixteenth-century Europe: the Ottoman Turks.  Gascoigne represents these foes in terms as nightmarish as he can summon, drawing upon the “fame which blewe about the world so wyde”: 
Howe that the Christian enemye, the Turke that Prince of pride,
Addressed had his power, to swarme uppon the Seas,…
And that he made his vaunt, the greedy fishe to glut,
With gobs of Christian carkasses, in cruell peeces cut. (I, 76)

Not only are Christians sent to swim with the fishes, but when the Turks take Famagusta they flay the governor alive, make him kiss the ground at General Mustapha’s feet, cut his ears off, and hoist him aloft to public view (I, 80) (20).  The blasphemous and “cruell Turke,” the audience learns, seeks to bring all Christians under the yoke, ravishes maidens and wives, but is particularly given to “the fowle abuse of boyes in tender yeeres” (I, 78) like the Ganymede who describes this tyrant (21).  Every conceivable danger to the Christian body is conjured here, to be defeated only by ferocious warfare, vividly described.  Once “Christ gave his flocke the victory” (I, 82) at the battle of Lepanto, revenge comes swiftly to the Turk who had enslaved our narrator:             

His head from shoulders cut, upon a Pike dyd stand,
The which Don John of Austrye, helde in his triumphant hand (I, 82)

– for every remaining pasha to view with fear.  Notably for my argument, the victorious Venetian fleet includes numerous Spanish vessels and Spanish generals, and the bloody avenger Don Juan is in fact the bastard son of Charles V and half-brother of Philip II; in an attempt to contain his aggression Philip next assigned him to the Netherlands as Alba’s replacement, where he was “completely discredited” by the siege of Antwerp (22).  In Gascoigne’s representation, Turks and Spaniards – alike proud, cruel, tyrannical, vengeful, lascivious – have been sutured together in reciprocal violence, just as William of Orange named Alba “the Moorish tiger-beast” (23).  Under that cloud, five years later, came the sack of Antwerp .  

  1. In contrast to the happy ending, home in England, of the fictionalized Devise, “Voyage unto Hollande” records Gascoigne’s disastrous sailing in March, 1572 from Gravesend to Brill, site of his initial experience in the Low Countries (and the first clash in a renewed Dutch revolt) (24).  Nearing the Dutch shore at low tide, his ship – despite prayers and psalm-singing – ran aground.  While some took to the lifeboats and in due course drowned, Gascoigne and his companions, he reports, were eventually saved by Englishmen waiting on the pier.  A vivid narrative of the shipwreck and its aftermath is framed by angry exploration of its immediate cause and, at the end, resentful denunciation of the scavenging that followed and of the smug Dutch culture that the Englishmen found in Brill.  The ship’s pilot, previously unknown to the [English] master whom Gascoigne excuses, is “a Dutche, a Devill, a swadde,/ A foole, a drunkarde, or a traytour” (I, 356).  After the wreck, Gascoigne accuses, the pilot fled in a small boat “full fraught…/ With pouder, shotte, and all our best araye” (I, 361).  Taking war-fighting ordnance is, to Gascoigne, treason – the act of a Pilate, not pilot, perhaps even a Judas.  
  1. While the ship was foundering, moreover, Dutchmen on the nearby pier did nothing, leaving Gascoigne to denigrate in thundering anaphorae,

    drunken Dutchmen standing there even still,
    For whom we came in their cause for to fight,
    For whom we came their state for to defende,
    For whom we came as friends to grieve their foes,
    They now disdaynd (in this distresse) to lend
    One helping boate for to asswage our woes. (I, 360)

These are the good burghers for whose liberty the English may give their lives.  Once landed, Gascoigne’s opinion of the Dutch race does not improve; stuffed with butter, beef, and beer, they make bombastic soldiers, weak at heart, who can only brag that the Spanish siege of Haarlem has not succeeded – yet (I, 361-62).  He rails against Dutch spying and dissembling, including secret Catholic masses, and trails off into standard Protestant agitprop about nuns as whores and brothel-keepers. 

  1. In Gascoigne’s suspicions about that inadequate Dutch pilot – and in high poetic dudgeon – he opens up the vocabulary of the Black Legend:

    What knew wee if Albaes subtill brayne
    (So to prevent our enterpryse by treazon)
    Had him subornde to tice us to this trayne…
    This must we thinke that Alba would not spare
    To give out gold for such a sinfull deede. (I, 356)

Alba: a name that signifies “the Butcher of Flanders” (25).  Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, third Duke of Alba, was a famous and successful military commander when, near the end of a long career, Philip II initially made him military captain-general in the Low Countries; within four months he also became governor-general and served in one or both posts from 1567 to 1573.  His haughty Castilian image is frozen in time and horror in Pieter Breughel’s “Massacre of the Innocents,” calmly watching imperial soldiers kill a Netherlandish village’s children – a visual representation of the Black Legend.  Alba’s royal assignment was to stamp out [indistinguishable] rebellion and heresy in the northern provinces; he fulfilled it, establishing a lasting reign of terror in the first two years, with a new Council of Troubles (“of Blood,” to the populace) that solicited denunciations from all comers, condemned almost 9000 people, executed more than a thousand, and confiscated arms, property, and wealth.  He managed to put down the revolt only until William of Orange assumed leadership.  Gascoigne heard the worst about Alba and introjected it into “Voyage,” where he is characterized by financial subversion of weak allies (26).  The events described in the poem (while exaggerated by emotion and the demands of alliterative rhymed quatrains) clearly record Gascoigne’s experience, and he ventilates in recollected fear and anger.  In Gascoigne’s construction, then, a shrewd man will keep Italians, Dutchmen, and Turks at arm’s length, but the Spaniards are the ultimate corrupting, demonic enemy. 

  1. I need to note that Gascoigne’s view of the world is not entirely xenophobic.  At a less visceral level, even in “Voyage” he promises “when riming sporte is spent” to provide a more deliberate report of the state of Holland, illustrated in empirical “Cartes, in Mappes, and eke in Models made” (I, 363).  This approach from practical intellect is not unique, and it is driven in part by his eager interest in mercantile ventures.  The farthest reach of Gascoigne’s imagination of the global landscape is dated April 12, 1576; a prefatory epistle to Sir Humphrey Gilbert’s Discourse of a Discoverie for a New Passage to Cataia, it is probably intended to aid in Gilbert’s quest for patronage or partnership for the voyage.  With this gesture Gascoigne moves into the ambit of the West Country adventurers who explored the New World with trade, monopolies, plantations, and profits in mind (27).  He expresses pride in his privateer-kinsman Martin Frobisher, who was seeking the Northwest Passage (and gold mines), and he asserts that he himself persuaded Gilbert to publish the pamphlet as “a matter whereof no man hath heretofore written particularly” (II, 565) – signs of his pursuit of the whole exploratory enterprise.  (Gilbert, among those who saw Holland as a major bastion against Spain, had been principal general in the unsuccessful – and unremunerative – summer campaign in the Low Countries in 1572.) Gascoigne privileges Gilbert’s collection of “the Tables of Ortelius [presumably the well-known cartographer and atlas-maker of Antwerp, Abraham Ortelius], and… sundrie other Cosmographicall Mappes and Charts (II, 564); attempting to confirm the accuracy of Gilbert’s navigational conjectures, he has learned that “a great learned man (even M. Dee) doth seem very well to like of this Discoverie, …the which he declareth in his Mathematical preface to th’english Euclide (II, 565).  Such expertly vetted directions are cautiously promising, and Frobisher had in fact set out for the New World.  Of Cathay Gascoigne says nothing, but in these advanced circles of empirical knowledge and global profit-seeking, he moved into a new world indeed.  Then he went to Antwerp. 

Antwerp and Its Rewards

  1. The political situation in the Low Countries that Gascoigne first entered in 1572 was complex.  In 1477, a dynastic marriage had brought the seventeen provinces (modern Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxemburg, as well as current Artois, French Flanders, and slivers of the Rhineland) under the official control of the Holy Roman Empire; when Emperor Philip I married the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1496, Spain was added to the sprawling mix.  Embattled on all sides in 1548, Charles and his Diet granted the newly-united provinces of the Netherlands a significant degree of independence.  His son Philip II, who never set foot in the Low Countries until 1549 when he was 22, acceded to the throne of Spain and its Netherlandish provinces upon Charles’s sudden abdication in 1556. Eventually Philip chose to crack down in the north: re-centralized rule, new taxes, new military garrisons, new constraints upon the prized liberties and privileges of local nobles, and of course persecution of Protestant heretics. A formidable political and military power nearing its apogee, Spain intended to dominate. 
  1. From 1567 onward, however, successive waves of Netherlandish rebellion challenged the “tyrannical” policies and practices of an absentee ruler.  William of Orange claimed that he worked only for “the liberation of a good people who are oppressed by a wicked nation” (28), but the revolt was in many respects a civil war – between two religions, at least two linguistic communities, wealthy and poor, loyalists and rebels – with all the bitterness that civil war brings.  Although political analysis is not Gascoigne’s purpose, he grasps some of what is at stake. He sees the difference between Dutch and Walloon (with little use for either); he knows Maestricht and Liege have remained loyal to Philip; he recognizes the presence in the imperial army of both Germans and Austrians (“high Almaynes”) and Spaniards; he assumes the provinces have suffered “longe susteyned injuries and yokes of untollerable bondage…of theyr tyrannies” (590-91).  Bondage would not last forever: the early phase of this protracted conflict finally ended when the Netherlands achieved virtual independence as a Protestant state in 1609 – ironically, in the Truce of Antwerp (29). 
  1. At mid-sixteenth century, Antwerp was a city of 80,000, the bustling mercantile center of northern Europe in daily commerce with Spain and Italy and – through their Mediterranean ports – with Africa, the Ottoman world, and Asia.  Although the Netherlandish political capital was Brussels, Antwerp was the “wealthiest city in the nation” and the gateway to “the richest and most influential province” of Brabant (30).  With its Beurs, or bourse, established in 1531 and prominently cited by Gascoigne in The Spoyle, it handled not only money but as much as 75% of the import/export traffic in the Low Countries; it is no wonder that the English Merchant Adventurers, accompanied by an observer like Gascoigne, were drawn there.  Antwerp could also boast of 150 schools, a century-old schoolteachers’ guild, and two Sunday schools to bring literacy to quotidian craftsmen and laborers.  “By 1561, [the French publisher Christopher Plantin] had created the largest printing house in Northern Europe” (31); between 1500 and 1540 the printing industry had already produced some 2250 editions in eight languages, only half of them in Latin.  Vernacular books are, of course, a harbinger of Protestantism (32).  Private prosperity supported some three hundred artists by 1560, along with an early, thriving art market; for public occasions the city magistrates employed five professional musicians to compose, and to play, festive songs.  In 1576, in short, this economic and cultural center was a rich prize – whether for the Estates General (the representative assemblies of the various Low Countries provinces hoping to recover hegemony from the heavy-handed Spanish) or for rampaging soldiers intent on plundering its wealth.  As Gascoigne’s biographer C.T. Prouty has noted (33), the great wealth of the city was its undoing.  
  1. Antwerp was also a military center: after 1568 it had a grand new citadel, the pride of the Duke of Alba with a tactless statue of him subduing rebels at its center (34).  Domination could not be more clearly signaled.  Gascoigne was on the scene not as a soldier but as a commissioned agent of Secretary William Cecil and the first director of intelligence, Sir Francis Walsingham (35).  Residing in the English merchants “safe house,” he could maintain surveillance on  commercial as well as politico-military affairs; his report eventually earned him 20 pounds from the Crown. On his assessment, the events of November 4-7, 1576 were the culmination of a series of skirmishes in Spain’s attempt to regain full hegemony over Antwerp, its hinterland, and the province of Brabant beyond. As The Spoyle opens, imperial forces controlled the residential/commercial city from Alba’s adjacent “Cytadell” with a garrison of sufficient size and ordnance that the citizens were functionally besieged. 

Gascoigne’s Analysis

  1. As Maltby drily notes, “it is necessary to recall that [the Black Legend] is a legend and not a myth.  It sprang, as legends do, from actual events” (36).  In The Spoyle of Antwerpe Gascoigne provides the most detailed, factual account of the sack available.  But in 1576 the power relationship between England and Spain was still completely asymmetrical; thus Gascoigne presents a narrating persona that is, like his nation, a cautious, often alarmed, but politic observer.  After all, the outcome of the Dutch revolt was unpredictable, and neither Gascoigne nor England could afford to commit to the losing side (37).  Gascoigne’s earlier skepticism of all foreigners naturally informs his report, as well.  But his outrage at the imperial troops’ conduct at Antwerp transcends any other concern; he allows himself to judge and to condemn, thereby adding to the Black Legend.  
  1. In order to maintain a semblance of detached persona, on my reading Gascoigne layers The Spoyle in three registers of prose, distinct in style and tone, that move from neutrality to outrage at the Spanish forces.  Here I follow Lance Butler’s use of the term “register,” which draws upon Bakhtinian heteroglossia.  Such a register is a style of writing – diction, syntax and sentence structure, level of abstraction or formality, use of imagery and idiom, emphasis on nominal vs. verbal constructions and first- vs. third-person assertions – suited to the particular tone and form of expression appropriate in a given situation. (To Early Modern scholars, “decorum” is obviously salient.)  Registers are, although largely conventional, not immutable; the writing practices of a specific period shape the range of possibilities for their time.  Within a specific text presented to the interpretive community of a given era, registers can readily be distinguished from one another as vocalized by different personae or points of view.  Clash in registers, Butler asserts, “constitutes, ipso facto, a culture’s self-analysis”; visible shifts in register, moreover, give “an extra semantic charge to what follows” (38).  In this vein, I contend, Gascoigne uses modulated registers in order to tell the truth about what he has seen, yet to maintain a politic third-personal distance from what are in fact expressions of shock and sorrow far beyond his soldier’s factual presentation.  Given this careful self-censorship, the three layers written into The Spoyle of Antwerpe are not sequential but interleaved, creating some ambiguities; to discern Gascoigne’s full representation of Spanish violence and cruelty requires unpacking all three.  
  1. The most accessible layer of The Spoyle is Gascoigne’s military reportage of the culminating battle and the events that led up to it (39).  In these sections, the narrative is written in declarative sentences (or at least clauses) that are relatively short and crisp: “The Castle thondred with shot at the towne: but it was a very mysty day, so that they could neither finde their markes very wel, not yet see how the streetes ends were entrenched” (592).  One key to this layer is empirical measurement.  Gascoigne reports elapsed time, the numbers of soldiers on both sides and of the squadrons in which they were arrayed, the size, location, and composition of the defenders’ trenches and barricades, and the numbers killed on each side – all with great precision.  Moreover, he names the home-bases and the leaders of each company in what I surmise to be the core intelligence he is providing to Burghley and Walsingham to augment the knowledge of the Royal Council about the Low Countries’ situation.  To underscore the integrity of his truth-claims, he is careful to distinguish between what “I have hearde credibly reported (593) and “that which I sawe executed” (594; emphasis added), and twice (593, 597) he points to Spanish officers as his sources.  In this layer of prose, Gascoigne holds anecdotes to a minimum, limits them to his personal experience, and uses them to make specific points, sometimes with hyperbolic humor.  Hastily fleeing Walloon troops, for instance, “having their leaders formost…bare me over backwardes, and ran over my belly and my face, long time before I could recover on foote,” when “another flocke of flyers came so fast that they bare me on my nose, and ran as many over my backe, as erst had marched over my guttes” (595).  There is no need for further comment on indiscipline, panic, and chicken-like cowardice.  
  1. The tone of this journalistic layer is laconic; adjectives are few and descriptive only; rhetorical devices – or even gestures – are absent or spare.  And verbally, little direct distinction is made between the Spanish forces and those of the Estates General.  An extended example of this narration will permit comparison with other layers.                   

The [imperial] Horsemen and footemen, which came from Maestrecht and Lyere, came through a village on the east side of the town called Burgerhout, about ten of the clock before noone, as before sayd: The Governour and estates being thereof advertised, sente out presently parte of their Horsemen and Footemen to discover and take knowledge of them: But before they could issue out of the gates, the Spanyardes were passed on the South[east] syde of the towne dyche, and entred at a gate which standeth on the Counterscarfe of the castle yeard, called the Windmil porte: there entred the Horsemen, and al the footemen, saving the high Almaynes, who marched round about the Castle, by a village called Keele and trayling their pikes on the ground after them, came in at a small Posterne on the Brayes by the River, and on the [west] side of the Castle.  (593)  

Even without the sketch map that Gascoigne planned to enclose with his report, the pattern is easy to discern: movement, counter-movement, [outwitted] attempt at reconnaissance, flanking maneuvers.  Care is taken to locate the reader in space and time, and visual detail helps paint the scene, but Gascoigne offers no heuristic commentary. 

  1. It is important to note that in his reportage, Gascoigne reflects a soldier’s realism about the consequences of victory.  He silently assumes that soldiers’ pay is highly unreliable, and that the spoils of a conquered town are part of the compensation to which troops may have a justified sense of right (40).  In this context the literal plundering of Antwerp would be an expected, albeit unhappy, fact of life.  Thus “the heate of the pursute was yet such, that they coulde not attend [to] the spoyle, but passed on in chase to the new towne” (595) indicates only the speed of the victory, not disapproval of its normal consequence.  It is the fury, the wretched excess with which recompense was taken that is wrong.  Gascoigne also readily acknowledges that unburied corpses and probably even hot-blooded rape are “such anoiance, as commonly happen both in campes & Castels, where martiall feates are managed” (596-97).  As Jeremy Black has warned, we must recall that violence was endemic in early modern Europe; he quotes Michael Howard’s mordant remark that in the sixteenth century war was a seasonal form of hunting (41).  But the imperial troops’ behavior in Antwerp far exceeded any conceivable expectation. 
  1. The second register of prose in The Spoyle – significantly, the tone and diction with which Gascoigne introduces the whole treatise – is one that I shall call judgment, a quality much prized in humanist pedagogy.   In this layer Gascoigne assesses the “great calamitie” that he has seen and heard, speculates on the causes behind it, and claims his own purpose for writing.  Whatever he has told the Council, now he intends to “publish a true report thereof…for the benefit of my countrie” (590; emphasis added).  In his judgments for a larger audience, he promises an even-handedness that will correct the rumors that have been circulating, so that mistakes made on both sides of the conflict may offer a warning from which the English can learn – the standard purpose of “exemplary history” that goes back at least to Plutarch.  “To that ende, all stories and Chronicles are written: and to that ende I presume to publishe this Pamphlet: protestyng that neither mallice to the one syde, nor parciall affection to the other, shall make my pen to swarve any jote from truth of that which I will set down” (590).  In this layer of the text the first-personal voice moves from constructing knowledge to invoking ethics; Gascoigne expresses value-judgments in a diction that is more highly colored and consciously – if a bit mixedly – metaphorical.  He hopes his words can shine as “a Lanterne of light beetween two perilous Rockes: That bothe amendyng the one, and detestynge the other, wee may gather fyre out of the Flint, and Hunny out of the Thystle” (590).  His tone, although more elevated than in the narrative layer, aims at calm detachment.  
  1. Informed by his narration of events, Gascoigne’s judgments gradually emerge.  To explain the astoundingly rapid victory of the Spanish, almost chorically he cites the “good order” with which the disciplined imperial troops perform.  “To speake wythout parciality: I must needs confesse, that it was the greatest victory, and the roundlyest executed, that hath bene seene, red, or heard of, in our age: and that it was a thing myraculous, to consider, how Trenches of such a height should be entred, passed over, and won by both Footemen, and Horsmen” (595).  And he notes the “valure” (593) and “manly corage” (599) that may make the “Spanierds…the best & most orderlye Souldiours in the world” (597), an opinion widely held at the time.  For an experienced soldier who knows the rival examples, this is condign praise, even if repetitious and tinctured by miracle.  The Spanish simply have the superior army – not least, because they won.  
  1. On the other side, the rebel forces may have been overconfident in the strength of their barricades (594). Worse, no plans had been made to resupply them with powder and shot or with fresh men.  “For those which came to supplye & relieve the trenches, came stragling and loose: some …came very fearfully: and many out of their lodginges, from drinking and carousing” – predictably, the Netherlanders are over-supplied with “Dutch courage.”  Equally predictably, the lesser nations on the rebel side, Gascoigne sarcastically observes, quit at the signs of a rout: “Almaynes…(when they spied the Spanyards) did gently kneele down letting their Pykes fall, and crying Oh lieve Spaniarden, lieve Spaniarden” (594) (42).  As an ultimate cause of failure, the rebels lacked “sufficient Generals & directors” (594); a surprising number of the leaders escaped unscathed or were safely captured, and “I heard of none that fought stoutly, saving onely the said Counte de Egmont (596).  Even to a modestly experienced soldier like Gascoigne, that is to say, the causes for the outcome are so obvious that he can indulge in judgmental rhetoric.  The scattered Netherlandish forces stood little chance against the well prepared, relentless Spanish.  
  1. Yet that one nobleman in the Estates’ forces was effective, and the common soldiers did fight hard: “The Wallonnes, and Almaynes, which served in the Trenches defended al this while very stoutly…many of them in this mene while being slayne and hurte” (593).  Against the charge of inadequate logistical provision, moreover, I want to set Gascoigne’s own insistence on the overdetermined intent, preparation, and even provocation of the Spanish-led attackers.  At the outset he proffers a key opinion: “the sacking & spoyle of ANTWERPE hath been (by all lykelyhoode) longe pretended by the Spanyerds: And that they have done nothing els but lien in wayte continually to fynde any least quarrell to put the same in execution” (590; emphasis added).  Thus a month before the battle, the garrison fired “certayne Canon shot out of the saide Castle, and slew certayne innocent [civilian] soules;…Thinking thereby to harden the harts of the poore Flemynges, and to make them take [Armes] for theyr just defence: whiles [the Spanish] therby might take occasion to execute theyr unjust pretence” (591).  Spaniards steadily pushed the outside of the acceptable strategic envelope.  Although the Antwerp city fathers perceived the “cruell entent of the Spanyerds,” they had no chance to stock up: Spanish troops at a new fort on the river, closer to the coast, fended off the ships bringing “al manner of Grayne and victualles, for the sustenance of the said towne” and burned all the surrounding fields “to the intent that ANTWERPE might lack provision” and “so terrified the poore people as they durst not bringe theyr commodities to the same” (591).  Using the standard siege tactics that dominated sixteenth-century warfare, the purposeful imperial juggernaut left the citizens with little possibility for defense except relief by an extraordinary force.  The city itself, meanwhile, “did yet remayne quiet, and entred not into any martiall action” (591) – the Antwerpers did not respond to provocation, and they offered none.  Thus even before the sack the Spanish appear to have practiced state-sponsored terrorism.  
  1. In short, try as he may for even-handed impartiality, Gascoigne undermines his own judgment of causes.  He must have found it difficult to accept superior Spanish strategy as sufficient explanation for the debacle that followed the brief battle, since he raises the stakes dramatically by introducing a higher judge in rhetorically potent positions near the beginning and the end of his report.  At the outset, he briefly notes that “wickednesse used in the sayde towne” of Antwerp before the event is “a sufficient cause of Gods so just a scorge and Plague” (590) as the slaughter and rape.  After the sorry story has been told, more tellingly, “I must needs attribute [the sack] unto Gods just wrath…furiouslye kindled and bent against…the inhabitants for their iniquitie…synnes, and prowde enormyties” (599) – sins that go unnamed despite Gascoigne’s attention to detail at every other point in the text.  In making Spanish troops God’s agents rather than their own, thus rhetorically reducing them to tools, Gascoigne subverts to some degree his praise for their valor and order.  The piety of the invocation is further undercut when, in the very next sentence, Gascoigne-the-soldier repeats his blame of the Walloon soldiers for headlong flight yet apparently redeems the leaderless “inhabytantes [who,] having none other order appointed, but to stande everye man armed in readynes before his doore, they dyed there (many of them) fighting manfully” (599; emphasis added).  Attribution of disaster to God’s wrath at iniquity, especially “proud enormities,” is an anti-urban trope about the destruction of cities for their pride – a kind of de casibus urborum – that recalls laments for Jerusalem and Nineveh (43).  But in the face of war crimes Gascoigne is uncomfortable with such one-sided theodicy.  In the end, he states prominently, “I leave the skanning of [Spanish] deedes unto God, who wyll bryddle theyr insolencie, when hee thinketh good and convenient” (599).  The notion of leaving future vengeance for losses in war to God is Augustinian; nevertheless, the defeat of the Armada, a decade in the future, springs to mind.  
  1. The third, epideictic layer of The Spoyle of Antwerpe is Gascoigne’s textual refraction of the scandalous Black Legend in a rendering of the killing and looting that followed the battle.  In these sections first-personal narration itself is almost effaced by omniscient declaration.  Long, sonorous sentences are constructed of balanced clauses in parataxis; more frequent use of alliteration (“wicked windes of wilinesse & wrath” (591)) recalls the poet behind the soldier.  Yet the diction is simple, which makes its presentation of horror all the more effective.  Complete representation of the “pittifull massacre” is achieved by gradual escalation of  register, through successive sentences, to a hieratic pitch (596).  First, the numerical facts: “In this conflicte there were slayne sixe hundred Spanyerds or thereaboutes: And on the Thursday next following, a view of the dead bodies in the town being taken: it was esteemed at 17,000 men, women, and children.” The contrast in body-counts is left to speak for itself.  Next, the judgment, frankly (if carefully) controverting his earlier praise: “as [Spanish] vallyaunce was to be much commended, so yet I can much discommende their barbarous cruelty.”  Then the outraged report of wholesale slaughter:                    

    They neither spared age, nor sexe: time nor place: person nor countrey: profession nor religion: yong nor olde: rich nor poore: strong nor feeble: but without any mercy, did tyrannously tryumphe when there was neither man nor meane to resist them: For age and sex, yong and old, they slew great numbers of yong children, but many moe women more then fowerscore yeares of age: For time and place, their furye was as great ten dayes after the victory, as at the tyme of their entry: and as great respect they had to the church and churchyeard,…as the Butcher hath to his shambles or slaughterhouse: For person and Country, they spared neither friende nor foe: Portingal nor Turke.  (596; emphasis added)  

And they acted not only “when the chase was hotte” but also “when the blood was colde.”  As the antitheses build, the ruthless, indiscriminate killing sounds more and more like legendary Spanish practice around the world.  The single metaphor in the passage has its own impact: the Latin word for “butcher” – carnifex – also means “executioner.” 

  1. The account of the dead (which is hyperbolic in numbers alone) is the first in a string of almost incantatory paralipses in which Gascoigne re-introduces his own voice, now as disciplined orator rather than witness: “I forbeare,” “I list not to recken,” “I set not downe… neither doo I complaine” (596).  Despite the praeteritio, he does describe the horror of men burned alive in their armor, a vision that provides a bitter anatomy lesson.  The paralipses all point to the material consequences of massacre: unburied corpses, whether drowned, burned, or stabbed.  Bodies pollute the streets, corrupt the air, and infect the survivors.  The destruction goes beyond bodies, however, to the vengeful elimination of an entire society through its archive.  The catalogue of ostensible self-restraint ends with a serious complaint: “I may not passe over with sylence, the wylfull burning and destroying of the stately Townehouse, & all the monuments & records of the Citie” (597).  When Gascoigne later asked some Spanish officers why they ordered the town hall burned, they answered that evil plans had been made there, “as though it were just that the stockes & stones should suffer for the offence of men.  But such is their obstynate pride and arrogancie” (597) – the legendary, remorseless character of Spanish aristocrats.  
  1. In this ultimate layer of his text Gascoigne uses anecdotes without either eyewitness or attributed source, an absence of inscribed authority that makes them sound like set pieces ready-made for “the great representational machine” (44) of the Black Legend.  To all the killing, an anecdote told in a final paralipsis not only adds rape but embroiders it with special, sacrilegious horror: “their shamful rapes & outragious forces presented unto sundry honest Dames & Virgins.  It is a thing too horrible to rehearse, that the Father and Mother were forced to fetche their yong daughter out of a cloyster (who had thether fled as unto Sanctuary, to keepe her body undefyled) & to bestowe her in bed betweene two Spaniards, to worke their wicked and detestable wil with her” (597) – violating virgins from sanctuary is evil, but the doubling of villainous rapists is particularly lubricious.  This story alone might “fetche brynish teares out of the most craggy rocke” (590).  
  1. Slaughter and rape are, of course, joined to pillage.  As the material spoils of war are taken, an anecdote depicts an innocent English victim’s attempts to placate his tormentors:

    A poore English marchant (who was but a servaunt) having once redeemed his Masters goods for three hundreth crownes, was yet hanged untyl he were halfe dead, because he had not two hundreth more to geve them: and the halter being cut downe, and he commen to him selfe againe, besought them on knees with bytter teares, to geve them leave to seeke & trye his creditte and friendes in the Towne, for the rest of theyr unreasonable demaund. At his retourne because he sped not (as indeede no money was then to bee had) they hong him again outright: and afterwards (of exceeding curtesie) procured the Friars Minors to burie him. (597)

The sarcasm of that last parenthesis underlines the hypocrisy of the entire performance: burial is completely inadequate relief for the abjection of the poor man’s desperate efforts.  This sensational tale was so affecting to audiences that when Gascoigne’s report was dramatized as A Larum for London or the Siedge of Antwerpe (1602), it was the central plot-point (45).  Gascoigne speculates that five thousand of the dead were slaughtered simply because they could not meet the price demanded for their lives.  Plunder is the end that, for the imperial troops, justifies any means whatsoever, with special ferocity toward common men. 

  1. Near the end, a story that Gascoigne tells from his own knowledge (rare in this register) adds to the flavor of class warfare: “the day before I gat out of the Towne I sawe three poore soules murdred in my presence, because they were pointed out to be Wallons: and it was well proved immediatly that one of them was a poore artyficer, who had dwelt in the Towne eight yeares before, & never managed armes, but truely folowed his occupation” (597).  This claim has a special ring of truth, since from Alba onwards the burgher and artisan classes bore the brunt of Spanish punishment.  In paratactic summary, “The ryche was spoyled because he had: & the [far more numerous, hence plural] poore were hanged because they had nothing” (596).  The pillaging finally reaches the house of the English merchants, Gascoigne’s hosts, who – despite the safe-conduct they had been granted and the neutrality they had maintained – are forced to “raunsom” the house from potential firing with jewels, plate, and 12,000 crowns (598).  Perhaps as a consequence, Gascoigne brings crimes of sex and of property together in a virtually racist sneer: “for every Dom Diego must walk jetting up & downe the streetes with his harlotte by him in her cheine and bracelettes of gold” (597) – a classic moment of scorn for victorious, newly enriched conquerors fawned upon by collaborating women.  No matter how victorious, Spaniards have lost all dignity.  
  1. Reading The Spoyle of Antwerpe rhetorically and materially, as I have done, gives only glancing attention to a constituting theme of the wars in the Low Countries, hence of the Black Legend: religious difference.  On this score, aside from naming Spaniards the scourge of God, Gascoigne’s caution prevails.  His condemnation of the massacre invokes the right (and by implication, the wrong) kind of Christian conduct: “when God geveth a great and myraculous victory, the conquerours ought to have great regard unto their execution… When the blood is cold, and the fury over, me thinkes that a true christian hearte should stand content with victory, and refrayne to provoke Gods wrath by sheadding of innocente blood” (596; emphasis added).  Gascoigne’s only pointed comment along sectarian lines notes that, during the sack, “the Jesuites must geve their ready coyne: and all other religious houses both coyne and plate…for all their hipocriticall boasting of the catholique religion” (596).  For in the end what matters most is commerce: “their daily trade in spoiling hath made them the cunningest ransackers of houses, and the best able to bringe a spoyle unto a quicke market, of any Souldiors, or Mastertheeves that ever I heard of” (599; emphasis added).  Antwerp has been left without money or treasure, “neither creditte nor pawne” (599), and the Bourse has literally become a casino (597).  Religion has no special salience.  Although the wars in the Netherlands would continue, with England as a frequent participant until James I made peace in 1604, the geopolitical contestation between the English and the Black Spanish would ultimately play out in the search for wealth and power in the Americas, still to come. 


  1. The Spoyle of Antwerpe, says Prouty, is “the finest extant example of Elizabethan reporting”; with greater detachment, Maltby calls the text “the most circumstantial account of the tragedy” which – although (perhaps accidentally) raising the death toll from 7,000 to 17,000 – “reflects a large measure of historical truth” (46).  In this major source for both Elizabethans’ understanding of their Spanish opponent and modern historical writing, Gascoigne observes the sack keenly and narrates his observations closely, with telling details and anecdotes.  As a soldier, he evaluates military tactics and misconduct; less consciously, he provides modern readers with the commercial context for Antwerp’s attractiveness – to the English for mercantile traffic, to the Spanish for savage plunder.  The Spoyle moves well beyond journalism, however.  With Gascoigne’s thought structured by his long-standing suspicion of foreigners, especially Spaniards, he uses well-calibrated, rising rhetoric to editorialize in condemnation of the plunder, rape, and slaughter of a defenseless citizenry. Reproving the inhumanity of Spaniards’ conduct, Gascoigne has made them Other than civilized [Protestant] Europeans.  A general statement about the proper conduct of any war lies not far beneath the surface.  But the specific meaning of this report is clear.  As Gascoigne’s language gathers power, he has no need to invoke an ominous Catholic Inquisition; theft of material goods and destruction of mortal, unresisting bodies are sufficient to castigate Spanish soldiers in this vigorous contribution to the Black Legend.   


1  George Gascoigne, The Complete Works, ed. John W. Cunliffe (Cambridge, UK, 1907), vol. II, p. 563. All quotations from Gascoigne are taken from the two-volume Cunliffe edition; within my text I cite volume and page except for The Spoyle of Antwerpe where – for brevity – I assume vol. II and cite page only.  I have expanded contractions of n and y and normalized v to u.  I use “ Netherlands ” interchangeably with “Low Countries”; Gascoigne calls the modern Netherlands “ Holland ,” silently including Zeeland and Friesland .

2 For biographical details on Gascoigne I rely on C.T. Prouty, George Gascoigne (New York, 1942); for historical information about the Low Countries, on the work of Early Modern military historian Geoffrey Parker and of Spain scholar William Maltby.  I was introduced to the Black Legend by Maltby’s pioneering work; Elliott’s comprehensive view of the Atlantic rivalry is invaluable.

3 William Maltby, The Black Legend in England (Durham, NC, 1971), p. 3. 

4 Charles Gibson, ed., The Black Legend: Anti-Spanish Attitudes in the Old World and the New (New York, 1971), p. 3. 

5 On his recall from Peru, the accountant Gómara “was made superintendent of the royal finances in Flanders” (J. M. Cohen, The Discovery and Conquest of Peru (Harmondsworth, UK, 1968), p. 6); his dedicatory epistle to Philip II is dated Antwerp, March 30, 1555.  Scholars, including Maltby, remark on the irony of the Black Legend’s origins lying in texts by Spanish writers, but the only possible observers of the 15th-century “conquests” were Spaniards. Gómara’s much-reprinted work was translated into English in 1578, Zárate in 1581. 

6 Copies of the original Grands Voyages (1590 and after) are rare; the most accessible introduction to De Bry’s work for modern readers is Michael Alexander, Discovering the New World (New York, 1976), which is copiously illustrated. 

7 On indigenous women, see John H. Elliott, Empires of the Atlantic World (New Haven, 2006), pp. 82-83; on sodomy, see Maltby, Legend, p. 30. 

8 Maltby, Legend, p. 16. 

9 Maltby, Legend, p. 31; cf. Henry A. Kamen, The Duke of Alba (New Haven, 2004), p. 80.  

10 Gibson, p. 10. 

11 Gibson, pp. 46-47. 

12 In the 1770s St. John de Crevecoeur, the “American Farmer,” unfavorably compares gaudy, delirious Latin American churches with Quaker meeting houses and Peruvians’ enslavement of Indians with William Penn, who “treated the savages as his brethren and friends” (Elliott, p. 403). 

13 Paul Krugman, “Who Was Milton Friedman?,” The New York Review of Books, 54.2 (2007), p.27.  

14 Michel de Certeau, Heterologies, trans. Brian Massimi (Minneapolis, 1985) p. 68; “scare” quotation-marks Certeau’s. 

15 Stephen Greenblatt, Marvelous Possessions (Chicago, 1991), pp. 122-30. 

16 In addition to Las Casas’s work, long circulated in Spain and almost certainly known in the Low Countries, Gascoigne could well have read the De Orbe Novo Decades (1525) of Italian humanist Peter Martyr (Pietro Martire d’Anghiera, Latin secretary to Ferdinand and Isabella) on Spanish activity in the New World, which was partially translated into English in 1555.   For Gascoigne’s knowledge of Spanish conduct in Europe, one source might be Roger Ascham’s A Report of Germany (1553), in which the greatest villain is Don Pedro de Toledo, the viceroy of Naples when it was ruled by the Aragonese.  His reign is cruel, rapacious in “exactions of money without measure,” corrupt because suitors are admitted to his presence “by favour or money,” arbitrary, and lacking in transparency (III, 23-24).  For confirmation that Gascoigne knew Ascham’s work well, see Linda Salamon, “A Face in The Glasse,” Studies in Philology, 81 (1974).   

17 I use the concept of “race” as an early sign for ethnicity through physical difference that has been elucidated by current medievalists; see Thomas Bartlett, “Medieval and Early Modern Concepts of Race and Ethnicity,” and the entire issue of the Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies 31 (2000) in which his elegant essay appears.  Gascoigne refers to the Italian race (I, 82) and the Dutch race (I, 361) with similar implications of physical strangeness.   

18 Roger Ascham, The Scholemaster, in The Whole Works, ed. J. A. Giles (London , 1864), vol. III, p. 156.  

19  The first historically recorded epidemic of syphilis in Europe occurred in 1494-’95, when French soldiers and mercenaries, returning from sacking and raping in Naples, were attacked by Spanish troops.   The hypothesis – given the timing – that Columbus’s sailors brought the bacterium from the New World and transmitted it through prostitutes is vigorously discussed by historians, epidemiologists, and physical anthropologists.  See Alfred W. Crosby, The Columbian Exchange (Westport, CT, 2003).   

20  Sensationalized as this degradation sounds, Gascoigne’s account accords well with four contemporary Venetian reports of Lala Mustafa’s treatment of the defiant governor Bragadino, one of which – by an eye-witness who was himself taken prisoner at Famagusta – was translated into a sixteen-page English pamphlet that Gascoigne evidently knew (Robert Ralston Cawley, “George Gascoigne and the Siege of Famagusta,” MLN 43 (1928), pp. 296-300).  The Turk’s head on a pike is probably also accurate.  For a clear account and assessment of the battle at Lepanto, see Andrew Wheatcroft, Infidels (New York, 2004), pp. 18-21, 26, 343.  The construction of cruel Turks in the masque is somewhat balanced by a more neutral, even positive image of Islam in the “Moors” of The Steele Glas (II, 153).  

21    This anxiety may refer not only to rumored Turkish use of catamites but to growing English awareness of Ottoman practices like circumcision and castration—especially, perhaps, of such treatment for Christian youths who became favored cadres of the sultans’ regime through devsirme, the “tax” of promising young boys exacted from the conquered Balkans and raised to be janissaries (crack soldiers) or Ottoman bureaucrats.  Gascoigne’s Devise is cited as one of the earliest captivity narratives by Nabil Matar, the founder of recent English-Ottoman studies. 

22  Geoffrey Parker, The Dutch Revolt (Ithaca, 1977), p. 179.  Ironically, Don Juan arrived in Luxemburg only on the first day of the sack, but his reputation succeeded him. 

23  J. N. Hillgarth, The Mirror of Spain, 1500-1700 (Ann Arbor, 2000), p. 315.  Italian and French Catholics, as well as Dutch and German Protestant circles, were convinced that Spain was deeply imbued, by its history, with Muslim (and Jewish) beliefs (Hillgarth, pp. 129, 313-14).  “In the British and French political imagination,…by acting as they had in America, the Spaniards, like the Turks – with whom they became increasingly identified in eighteenth-century Europe – had only destroyed those whose ends they should have been protecting” (Anthony Pagden, Lords of All the World (New Haven, 1995), pp. 87-88).  For a sixteenth-century example of the discursive displacement of Turks by Spaniards, see Linda Salamon, “Blackening “the Turk” in Roger Ascham’s Report of Germany” in Rereading the Black Legend, ed. Margaret Greer, Walter Mignolo, and Maureen Quilligan (Chicago, 2007), esp. pp. 284-89.  

24    After five years of relative quiescence, a band of Calvinist exiles (Gueux de Mer, or “Sea Beggars”) seized Brill in April, 1572 as a foothold for further raiding; Alba’s new taxation helped spur many to join them (Kamen, pp. 103-108). 

25    Kamen, p. vii.  Alba has always been a portentous figure – his “name…used to quiet unruly children for generations” (William Maltby, Alba (Berkeley, 1983), p. xi) – but until recently under-analyzed.  See also the extensive work of Parker.  “Most recent books in Spanish about the duke…tend to be frankly hagiographic” (Kamen, p. 192).  

26    Given the general hostility of Gascoigne’s representation of the Spanish as an entire race in The Spoyle, I need to point to their role in The Fruits of Warre, where his attitude is much more ambivalent.  “Thoughe my minde abhorreth/ All Spanish prankes” (I, 176) has a ritual quality, and he treats specific Spanish peers as honorable opponents: Alba simply directs fierce attacks (I, 160), Valdés offers Gascoigne a safe-conduct (I, 166), and Licques treats him graciously as prisoner of war (I, 174-76).  Subsequent events at Antwerp affected his opinion drastically.  

27    Elliott, pp. 24-25. 

28    Gibson, p. 43. 

29    Parker, Revolt, pp. 239-40. 

30    For Antwerp, see Maltby, Legend, p. 55; for Brabant, see Geoffrey Parker, Phillip II (Chicago, 2002), p. 5. 

31    Parker, Revolt, p. 26. 

32    In 1569, Alba ordered a “simultaneous swoop on all the bookshops of the Netherlands” (Parker, Revolt, p. 107); at least five hundred books deemed heretical were publicly burned in Tournai.  All information in this paragraph not otherwise attributed is drawn from Parker’s Dutch Revolt.  

33    Prouty, p. 94. 

34    Kamen, pp.117-19. 

35    Prouty, pp. 64, 94-95; John W. Cunliffe, “‘The Spoyle of Antwerpe’ (1576),” MLR 6 (1911), p. 9.  “By 1572…Walsingham had already perceived [William of] Orange as an instrument given by God to ‘entertain’ Spain; without him ‘a dangerous fire had ere this time bin kindled in our home’” (Hillgarth, p. 311).  Gascoigne is secretive about his role: “I was in…Antwerpe upon certaine private affaires of myne owne” (592). 

36    Maltby, Legend, pp. 10-11.  English and French [Protestant] support of the Dutch rebellion followed multiple examples of Spanish sectarian excess: destruction of an early Lutheran community in Seville (1557-’58), slaughter of two Huguenot colonies in Florida (1566), annihilation of Sir John Hawkins’s fleet off Veracruz (1568).  See Parker, Philip II, p. 117, Maltby, Legend, pp. 32-34. 

37    The version of The Spoyle published within a month of its delivery includes – together with errata – a preface “To the Reader” that hastens “to advertise thee, that these outrages and disordered cruelties done to our nation, proceeded but from the common Souldiers: . . .  So that I hope…the king, their Maister, will take such good order for redress thereof, as our countrymen in the end, shall rest satisfyed with reason, and the amytye betweene our most gracious Soveraigne and him, shal remain also firm & unviolate” (589).  In case Philip prevails, no Spanish gentleman-officer will stand accused.  

38    Lance Butler, Registering the Difference (Manchester, UK, 1999), pp. 84, 196.  For Butler on Bakhtin, see pp. 79-81, 93, 107-10; on decorum, pp. 26-28.  Bakhtin discusses heteroglossia in “Discourse in the Novel,” esp. pp. 265, 271-72, 281-85 in Michael Holquist’s collection The Dialogic Imagination (Austin, 1981); the concept extends readily to non-fiction prose.  Bakhtin illustrates his conception primarily in Dostoevsky; Butler analyzes register in Iris Murdoch, John Fowles, Johnson, Pope, Thackeray, R.L. Stevenson, T.E. Lawrence, and – extensively – in Hardy and Becket. 

39    The first modern scholar to examine The Spoyle of Antwerpe as a literary text was William E. Sheidley; in his sound introduction to the work, “ George Gascoigne and The Spoyle of Antwerpe” (War, Literature, and the Arts 8 (1996),) he is most effective on its presentation of Gascoigne’s personal experience as actor and interpreter. 

40    The payment of soldiers’ wages in the sixteenth century was erratic and almost always in arrears; often they were not paid until an entire campaign was over (see Geoffrey Parker, The Army of Flanders and the Spanish Road, 1567-1659 (Cambridge, UK , 2004), pp. 154-56).  For the multinational forces under Spanish control in the Low Countries, this problem was particularly pressing; although Gascoigne does not cite it, chronic underpayment was a significant cause of the imperial soldiers’ “Mewtinyes” (591) and determination to plunder the rich pickings of Antwerp.  Mutinies – with wages as a major grievance – had already occurred in the Netherlands in 1573, ’74, and ’75. 

41    Jeremy Black, The Origins of War in Early Modern Europe (Edinburgh, 1987), pp. 1, 5.  

42    Although Gascoigne comes down hard on obviously-overmatched Walloon troops for retreating in chaos, he observes one heroic leader on the Netherlandish side: “At last, a Wallon Trumpeter on horsback (who seemed to be but a Boy of yeres) drew his sworde, and layd about him crying, Ou est que vous eufuiez canaille?  faisons teste pour le honeur de la patrie.  Wherewith, fyfty or three score of them turned head, and went backewardes toward the Bource” (594).  No nation except Spain is completely contemptible. 

43    S. M. Pratt, in “Antwerp and the Elizabethan Mind,” MLQ 24 (1963), pp. 56-59, proposes a “genre of alarm” based on this concept.  After The Spoyle appeared, use of Antwerp’s destruction as a warning to rich, proud London was taken up from balladeers to Nashe, Stow , and Deloney (Pratt, pp. 54, 56-57).  The most immediate source is Peter Morwen’s 1558 translation of Joseph Ben Gorion’s History of the Latter Times of the Jews’ Commonweal.  But Gascoigne does not limit his evocation of God’s punishment to Netherlanders: the Spanish in their insolence (599) are also warned to “refrayne to provoke Gods wrath by sheadding of innocente blood” (596; emphasis added).  It is worth noting that Erasmus, among reformers from Wycliffe at least to Luther, regarded the Ottomans as God’s scourge upon Christianity, whether for Catholic error or for the schism between Protestant and Catholic (Norman Housley, The Later Crusades (Oxford, UK, 1992), pp. 132-33, 412-25).  In Crusading and Warfare in Early Modern Europe (Ashgate, 2001), Housley specifically analyzes Erasmus’s Consultatio de bello Turcis inferendo (esp. pp. 268-273).  In this vein,Gascoigne once again links Spaniards to Turks. 

44    Greenblatt, p. 145. 

45    Maltby, Legend, pp. 52-53. 

46    Prouty, p. 238; Maltby, Legend, pp. 51-52.                              


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