Siege of Zutphen (1591)

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Siege of Zutphen (1591)
Part of the Eighty Years' War & the Anglo–Spanish War
Capture of Zutphen by Maurice of Orange in 1591 - Verovering van Zutphen door Prins Maurits in 1591 (Johannes Janssonius, 1663).jpg
The Capture of Zutphen in 1591 - print by Jan Janssonius
Date 19 to 30 May 1591
Location Zutphen, Guelders
(present-day the Netherlands)
Result Dutch & English victory[1][2]
 Dutch Republic
England England
Commanders and leaders
Dutch Republic Maurice of Orange
England Francis Vere
Spain Jarich Georges Van Liauckema [3]
9000 soldiers
1,600 cavalry
1,000 (Spanish and Walloons)[4]
Casualties and losses
Light Heavy
Most captured

The Siege of Zutphen was an eleven-day siege of the city of Zutphen by Dutch and English troops led by Maurice of Nassau, during the Eighty Years' War and the Anglo–Spanish War. The siege began on 19 May 1591 after a clever ruse by the besiegers, the city was then subjected to an eleven-day siege after which the Spanish garrison surrendered.[1][5]


Zutphen was a Hanseatic city on the east bank of the River IJssel. In 1572, with the resurgence of the Dutch rebellion against Philip II of Spain, Zutphen was first conquered by State troops led by Willem IV van den Bergh. The city was later recaptured by the Spaniards led by Don Frederick, and the population was punished and then slaughtered for the surrender earlier that year.[6]

In 1586 the English under the Earl of Leicester took Zutphen's important outlying sconce but not long after English turncoat Rowland York handed the sconce over to the Spaniards leaving Zutphen in their complete control.[6] York subsequently died there of smallpox a year later although he may have been poisoned by the Spanish to keep him from betraying again.[7] As a consequence the nearby town of Deventer soon followed, handed over to the Spaniards by William Stanley.[8]

In 1590 Maurice had taken Breda by hiding soldiers within a peat barge and was thus able to use Breda as a base for further operations. The Dutch army could then launch an offensive at three points; to the South, to the East and to the North. Maurice chose the East with the towns along the River Ijssel heading towards Nijmegen.[5]

By the beginning of 1591 Maurice's first goal was to take back Zutphen. With the parallel waterways he could then move the troops and artillery as quickly as possible and also keep the Spanish from reinforcing the besieged towns.[2] The garrison of Zutphen itself consisted of nearly 1,000 Spaniards and Walloons, and on the west bank of the river lay the important sconce.[4]


Siege of Zutphen in 1591 by Bartholomeus Dolendo - The English are attacking the sconce at top of picture

Maurice's army consisted of 9000 soldiers and 1600 horsemen which marched to Zutphen, along with 100 ships.[9] The rapid march in five days meant that Maurice could then prepare his artillery, which was stored on the ships; a far easier method of transportation than trying to haul them overland over boggy ground.[10]

In order to take Zutphen, the sconce on the west bank of the river had to be taken, as it controlled the main bridge to the town. Once this had been taken the town could be besieged proper once all the heavy guns from the barges had disembarked.[4]

Maurice hoped to use another ruse similar to the one he had used at Breda with the peat barge. Francis Vere, in charge of the English troops, wanted the 'dirt' removed from the 1587 treachery and thus wanted to lead the assault.[11] Vere got his wish and Maurice ordered him to take the sconce on the Veluwe opposite Zutphen by sending no more than a dozen men and disguise them as farmers, some even dressed as women.[4] It was hoped that the Spanish would think they were refugees escaping from the Dutch army and would let them in. Once the sconce was captured Zutphen would have no hope of holding out.[12]

The disguised English soldiers take the sconce, from a Victorian book

Vere led the English troops to Doesburg and set the plan in motion. The disguised soldiers ran towards the fort, 'pursued' by a fake cavalry charge. The garrison opened the gates and let the disguised soldiers in; the English then went as far as selling the guards butter, cheese and eggs.[13] When the order was given the English cut down the guard quickly enough to allow the Dutch cavalry to rush in, followed by the rest of the troops as they had been hidden by a large mound nearby.[11] Soon the Dutch/English force overpowered the Spanish and turned the guns on Zutphen.[4]

After this successful strategy Marice then began the siege proper after easily crossing the now secured bridge and were further reinforced by Count William Louis' Frisian companies. The Dutch gunners then bought thirty artillery pieces up to three points in case the garrison tried to retake the town and then opened up a heavy bombardment.[4] Not long after this the Spanish garrison soon saw that any further resistance was now useless and surrendered to the besiegers.[11][12]


Maurice of Nassau

The town which had so eluded the Dutch was now firmly in their hands and the Spanish had lost an important town.[5] The terms of the surrender were light, the garrison were allowed to march away, the citizens were allowed three days to either depart or swear obedience to the Dutch Republic.[4] Once achieved Maurice established a strong garrison in Zutphen and then marched north with his army, his artillery and munitions being sent down the Issel in barges.[4]

Maurice's first major campaign had been a success and the strategic town of Coevorden was his next target, but first he decided to move on Deventer and after a short siege captured the city.[1] He then went on to capture Delfzijl and soon after captured Hulst before besieging and taking Groningen the following year and would give Utrecht which gave Holland itself a significant bufferzone.[2][5]

Vere was nicknamed 'the fox' after his successful ruse employed during the siege; he dug up the body of Rowland York and hanged and gibbeted it as a reminder of York's treachery.[12] Zutphen would remain in Dutch hands for the rest of the war.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Watson, Robert (1839). The History of the Reign of Philip the Second, King of Spain. Lyon Public Library: Tegg. pp. 473–74. 
  2. ^ a b c MacCaffrey pg 259
  3. ^ Cañete, p.125
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Motley pg 104-06
  5. ^ a b c d van Nimwegen pg. 155
  6. ^ a b Motley, p. 60
  7. ^ Bertie, Five Generations of a Loyal House, p. 120; but cf. Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1581–90, p. 466, where he is said to have died of the smallpox.
  8. ^ Randall, pp. 790–791
  9. ^ J Buisman, A.F.V. van Engelen (1998): Duizend jaar weer, wind en water in de Lage Landen. Deel 4: 1575-1675 Franeker: Van Wijnen ISBN 9051941439 (Dutch)
  10. ^ J. Hoffenaar, Joep van Hoof, Jaap de Moor (2002): Vuur in beweging: 325 jaar veldartillerie, 1677-2002 Uitgeverij Boom. ISBN 9053527354 (Dutch)
  11. ^ a b c Tupper, Arthur (1837). Historical Records of the British Army (Infantry), Issue 3. Great Britain. Adjutant-General's Office: University of Michigan. pp. 48–49. 
  12. ^ a b c Robinson pg. 97
  13. ^ Davies, C.M. (1842). History of Holland, from the Beginning of the Tenth to the End of the Eighteenth Century, Volume 2. Parker.