Battle of Empel

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El milagro de Empel, by Augusto Ferrer-Dalmau (2015).

The Battle of Empel or Miracle of Empel (Milagro de Empel in Spanish) was a battle fought on December 7 and December 8, 1585 near the place of Empel, as part of the Eighty Years' War, in which a Spanish force miraculously escaped destruction. In Spain the battle is still remembered as it is believed that the army was saved due to intervention of Mary of the Immaculate Conception.

The Battle[edit]

After the campaign of 1585, Alexander Farnese, Duke of Parma decided to go into winter quarters on Northern Dutch territory. The troops of Karl von Mansfeld occupied the area around 's-Hertogenbosch. Some 3000-4000 men of the "Tercio", including Juan del Águila, under Maestre de Campo Francisco de Bobadilla were stationed on Bommelerwaard, which was supposed to be rich enough to support these troops through the winter. But all farmers had left the island, taking their livestock with them.

To make the situation of the hungry and wet Spanish troops even worse, Philip of Hohenlohe-Neuenstein appeared with a strong force and 100 ships. The Dutch chieftain proposed then an honorable surrender to the Spaniards but the response was clear: «Los infantes españoles prefieren la muerte a la deshonra. Ya hablaremos de capitulación después de muertos.» English: «The Spaniard soldiers prefer death than dishonor. We will talk about capitulation after dying.» Philip of Hohenlohe-Neuenstein breached the dikes of Bommelwaard, forcing the Spanish back over the Rhine to Empel. There they were unable to reach 's-Hertogenbosch, because the terrain was flooded and guarded by the fleet of Hohenlohe. The island was attacked as well by artillery fire coming from a fort, at the other side of the river.

The Battle of Empel in December 1585, as pictured at the end of the 16th century by Frans Hogenberg and Georg Braun.

The situation for the Spanish looked desperate, until a Spanish soldier, while digging a trench, as he said: "it is more to be my grave than a trench", around the church, found a painting representing Mary of the Immaculate Conception.
Bobadilla saw the discovery as a sign from God, and had the painting put on the Spanish flag for worship.

The next day the wind turned, and an intense cold made the water freeze. The Dutch fleet, surrounding the island, was threatened to get stuck in the ice and had to withdraw to open water, and the exhausted Spanish, after being aware of what happened to the river, fled the island. The Dutch land bastion, where panic broke out because they heard what happened, was assaulted and taken by the "tercio". However, this did not prevent that many Spaniards (had) died as a result of the weathered hardships although the majority of the force escaped from a sure annihilation.

The same day, Mary of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed patroness of the Tercios of Flanders and Italy.

In the 19th century[edit]

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary; In 1892, Maria Cristina of Austria (Maria Christina Désirée Henriette Felicitas Rainiera von Habsburg-Lothringen, und Österreich), Queen Regent of Spain, proclaimed Mary of the Immaculate Conception patroness of the entire Spanish Infantry.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°43′52″N 5°19′38″E / 51.73111°N 5.32722°E / 51.73111; 5.32722