Battle of Nieuport 2 July 1600

The Battle of Nieuport (2 July 1600), also known as the Battle of the Dunes, was one of the few open field battles of the Eighty Years War, and the Dutch beat the Spanish. At that time anybody beating the Spanish was a surprise. I have reproduced Barry Nickle’s (1975) account of the 1600 campaign including the Battle of Nieuport. Then I’ve supplemented with some other sources, including Henry Hexham (1641).


Situation

Nickle (1975) has this to say about situation leading up to the Flanders campaign in 1600:

1600
The campaigns of 1598 and 1599 had been extremely expensive for both sides and, as a result, the Spanish army seemed immobilized by an enormous mutiny in 1600. Ihe Dutch launched offensive operations to take advantage of the situation. The campaign opened with an attack on Crévecoeur and St. Andries, the latter more important as it was located at the juncture of the Maas and Waal, ” … through which he [the Spaniard’ thought to have the two Streams, … with a free entry into Holland, in his power … .”87 Operations began on 8 March, 1600, Crevecoeur as the first objective. 88 The Walloon garrison of the fort was in a state of mutiny and surrendered on 24 March, with a promise of two months’ pay for entering the States’ service.89

The Dutch immediately moved to besiege St. Andries. The rivers were in flood, so the troops had to be kept on board the ships accompanying the army,90 and it was 1 May before the approaches were begun.91 The German and Walloon garrison of St.. Andries was also in mutiny and surrendered on ll May, joining the Dutch army in return for a payment of fl. 125,000.92 After St. Andries fell, the Dutch army was returned to garrison, while further operations were planned.93

The result of this planning was a massive incursion into Flanders to break the blockade of Ostend, force the States of Flanders to pay contributions94 and sieze the coastal cities, especially Dunkirk.95 The invasion was predicated on the belief that the Spanish army was immobilized by mutiny, a belief that was to prove mistaken. The invading force, assembled on Walcheren, consisted of 125 infantry companies, 25 cavalry cornets and a siege train of 30 battering pieces and 7 field pieces.96 This force was ferried to Flanders in an amphibious operation involving “. . . about two thousand ships, large and small. . . ” 97 and landed at Fort Phillipine, near the Sas van Ghent, on 22 June, 1600.98 After landing, the army marched through Flanders, taking the forts of Oudenburch, Bredene and Albert, and arriving at Nieuport on 1 July.99 Upon arriving at Nieuport, ” . . an infinity of soldiers of all nations disbanded in order to go pillaging, ….”100

Parker says (1977, p. 234)

The Dutch, however, were not interested in peach. The leader of the States of Holland, Johan van Oldenbarnevelt, had devised a plan which (he felt sure) would keep England interested in the struggle and would reduce piracy against Dutch shipping from the south Netherlands ports as well. An army of 10,000 men wold be landed in Flanders to capture the pirate strongholds of Nieuwpoort and Dunkirk (Ostend was already in the hands of the States-General). The invasion force landed on 22 June 1600, confident that a major mutiny of the Spanish veterans and a rising of the ‘oppressed’ peoples of Flanders against Spanish tyranny would paralyse all opposition. The Dutch army was ridiculously careless: there was no reconnaissance and no real attempt to sound out Flemish feeling towards their ‘brothers’ from Zealand who for fifteen years had been relentlessly plundering, looting and killing the people of the province. On 30 June the archduke suddenly appeared, having persuaded 3,000 mutinous but superbly experienced veterans to join his army, and pinned down Count Maurice and his troops on the beach at Nieuwpoort.


Map

Nickle (1975) reproduced two diagrams from Hexham (1641). I don’t have access to the originals.

Nickle Figure 1 - Dutch formation - Battle of Nieuport - Hexham Part II diagram between pp 21 and 22

Nickle Figure 1 – Dutch formation – Battle of Nieuport – Hexham Part II diagram between pp 21 and 22

Nickle Figure 2 - Spanish formation - Battle of Nieuport - Hexham Part II - diagram between pp 21 and 22

Nickle Figure 2 – Spanish formation – Battle of Nieuport – Hexham Part II – diagram between pp 21 and 22

Francis Vere chose the site of the battle:

For the space betwixt the sea and the sand-hills or Downs, was commanded by the said hills, which are of many heads reared, and commanding one another, containing so much breadth in most places that our troops could not occupy the whole, and every where so confusedly packt together, so brokenly and steeply, that the troops could neither well discern what was done a stones-cast before them, nor advance forward in any order to second, if need were. And on the other side of the Downs towards the firm land, if the whole breadth were not possessed, the enemy might passe to the haven of New∣port, where our bridge and most of our ship∣ping yet lay on the dry ground, and spoil and burn them in our view. All which inconve∣niences I was to prevent.

Finding therefore a place where the hills and Downs stood in a manner divided with a hollow bottom, the bottom narrower and the hills higher to the sea-side and North then towards the in-land and South, which ran clean thwart from the sea-sand to the in-land, the Downs also there being of no great breadth so that we might conveniently occupy them with our front; and command as well the sea-shore as the way that lay betwixt the low in-land and the foot of the Downs.

Vere deployed his vanguard in the dunes, on two hills with steep sandy sides, and a lower ridge between. Some men he:

placed on the top of a hill that lay more advanced then the rest, which being steep and sandy was not easily to be mounted, and in the top so hollow that the men lay covered from the hills on the other side, and might fight from it as from a parapett.

Just behinde this hill, about one hundred paces was another far more high, on the top of which also I placed the other two hundred men of the troop of the guard, on which also, with a little labour of the souldier, they lay at good covert.

These two hills were joyned together with a ridge somewhat lower then the foremost hill, which end-wise lay East and West, and broad-wise looked towards the South, or in-land, and commanded all the ground passable; on the out-side very steep, loose, sandy, and ill to be mounted

Vere explains that as the tide rose both armies shifted towards the dunes. Eventually the land-ward horse of both armies was deployed in the “green way betwixt the low-lands and the downs”.


Order of Battle

Dutch Order of Battle

“The Dutch formed in three corps, a van, battle and rear, drawn up one behind the other” (Nickle, 1975)

Dutch Order of battle

  • Van
    • 6 x half cannon
    • 5 x battalions from the English, Frisian and Guard Regiments
    • 2 x cavalry regiments: Marcelis Bax and Graaf Ludwig of Nassau
  • Battle
    • 4 x battalions from the French, Walloon and Swiss regiments
    • Cavalry of Frederick van Solms and Rittmeester du Bois
  • Rear
    • 3 x battalions from the German, Utrecht and Holland regiments
    • The cavalry of Rittmeester Balen and two additional cornets

Most of the order of battle above is from Nickle (1975):

The Dutch formed in three corps, a van, battle and rear, drawn up one behind the other, “. . . as the smallness of the strand would not permit the army to be extended in breadth.”195 In the van, the English, Frisian and guard regiments formed in five battalions with the cavalry regiments of Marcelis Bax and Graaf Ludwig of Nassau. The battle consisted of the French, Walloon and Swiss regiments, in four battalions, and the cavalry of Frederick van Solms and Rittmeester du Bois. The rear was formed by the German, Utrecht and Holland regiments, in three battalions with the cavalry of Rittmeester Balen and two additional cornets. The rear was not initially available as it had to watch the harbor crossings until high water to prevent a sortie by the garrison of Nieuport. Six half cannon were emplaced on the beach in front of the van.106

Francis Vere, who was present, reported:

Our army consisted of about twelve thousand footmen and three thousand horse; and was divided into three parts, commited to severall Command∣ers, viz. the Count Ernest of Nassaw, the Count Solmes, and my self; my troop consisting of one thousand six hundred English men, and two thousand five hundred Frisons, and ten Cornets of horse: with which troop I took my turn of vanguard, battel, and rereward, as it fell out.

Francis Vere described how a fair chunk of these forces were detailed:

The Count Maurice liked it well and re∣solved to send forthwith the Count Ernest with two thousand five hundred footmen and five hundred horsmen, with some artillery al∣so and provision to intrench upon the same passage

Nickle’s (1975) take on that was:

Prince Maurice immediately detached Graaf Ernst Casimir van Nassau with the Scottish and Zeeland regiments, four cornets of cavalry and two half-cannon to hold a defile at Lessinge

Spanish Order of Battle

“The Spanish army was also in three corps, placed one behind the other” (Nickle, 1975). Nickle’s Figure 2, based on Hexham, gives the Spanish infantry divided into musketeers, harquebusiers and pikemen, cavalry divided into harquebuses, lancers and cuirassiers, and artillery.

Spanish Order of battle

  • Archduke Albert
  • Van (Mutineers)
    • 1,000 infantry mutineers
    • 614 cavalry mutineers
  • Battle
    • One or more squares
  • Rear
    • One square

Nickle (1975) doesn’t say much about the Spanish order of battle:

The Spanish army was also in three corps, placed one behind the other. The van was formed by certain mutineers who agreed to serve in the battle, provided that they were given this position of honor. Duyck gives their strength as 1,000 infantry and 614 cavalry.107 The Spanish battle was formed in one or more squares and the rear consisted of one large square. The schematic from Hexham (Figure 2) appears to be fairly accurate, and the deployment of musketeers and harquebusiers in “sleeves” should be particularly noted.108


Preliminaries

The Dutch tried, but failed, to block the Spanish advance (Nickle, 1975):

Before Nieuport could be besieged, news arrived, on the night of 1-2 July, that the Spanish army was approaching and had already retaken the forts at Oudenburch and Bredene.101 Prince Maurice immediately detached Graaf Ernst Casimir van Nassau with the Scottish and Zeeland regiments, four cornets of cavalry and two half-cannon to hold a defile at Lessinge and delay the enemies advance.94 However, the Spaniards had already passed the defile before Graaf Ernst arrived and his force was scattered.193

Francis Vere explained:

The Count Maurice liked it well and re∣solved to send forthwith the Count Ernest with two thousand five hundred footmen and five hundred horsmen, with some artillery al∣so and provision to intrench upon the same passage

The Institute of Scottish Historical Research has a bit on Edmond, William [SSNE 8019] and the fate of the Scottish regiment:

In the summer of 1600, Maurice laid siege to Nieuwpoort but learned that Archduke Albert was advancing rapidly towards him. Twelve Scottish companies, seven Zealand companies, four cavalry companies and two guns were sent under Edmond and Count Ernest of Nassau to take and hold the bridge of Leffingen. The expedition found the bridge already held by the Archduke’s troops, and disaster struck when the Spaniards overwhelmed Edmond and the Count. Both guns were lost, along with 800 men, 600 of whom were Scots. Seven out twelve Scottish captains were killed, and Colonel Edmond, Sergeant-Major Brog [SSNE 7842], as well as captains Caddel [SSNE 8005], Henderson [SSNE 4975], and Ker were left to pick up the pieces of the regiment. They fled to Fort Albert, which was still held by Dutch forces, but many were killed “up to the very palisades of the fort,” (Ferguson, 31). Edmond and his remaining troops returned to Nieuwpoort and were probably participants in the battle itself. After Nieuwpoort, Edmond was sent back to Scotland to “remake his regiment,” (Ferguson, 32).


Battle

Nickle (1975) has this to say about the battle:

In the meantime, Prince Maurice had forded the harbor of Nieuport with his army and formed to fight on the beach east of the harbor.104

The Dutch formed in three corps, a van, battle and rear, drawn up one behind the other, “. . . as the smallness of the strand would not permit the army to be extended in breadth.”195 In the van, the English, Frisian and guard regiments formed in five battalions with the cavalry regiments of Marcelis Bax and Graaf Ludwig of Nassau. The battle consisted of the French, Walloon and Swiss regiments, in four battalions, and the cavalry of Frederick van Solms and Rittmeester du Bois. The rear was formed by the German, Utrecht and Holland regiments, in three battalions with the cavalry of Rittmeester Balen and two additional cornets. The rear was not initially available as it had to watch the harbor crossings until high water to prevent a sortie by the garrison of Nieuport. Six half cannon were emplaced on the beach in front of the van.106

The Spanish army was also in three corps, placed one behind the other. The van was formed by certain mutineers who agreed to serve in the battle, provided that they were given this position of honor. Duyck gives their strength as 1,000 infantry and 614 cavalry.107 The Spanish battle was formed in one or more squares and the rear consisted of one large square. The schematic from Hexham (Figure 2) appears to be fairly accurate, and the deployment of musketeers and harquebusiers in “sleeves” should be particularly noted.108

According to Reyd, Archduke Albert, the Spanish commander, was advised by some of his subordinates to break up his massive squares into smaller units, more like the Dutch battle order. The Archduke refused to do so, but one of the men who advised it, Gaspar Sapeña allegedly attempted to commit the van by succeeding ranks instead of in mass.109 Such a piece-meal attack may have been unavoidable in any case, as the battle was not fought on the beach. By the time that the armies were formed, the tide was rising, forcing both armies inland.110 The infantry fought in the dunes, with the major cavalry actions taking place inland, on the Dutch right, and only minor infantry and cavalry clashes occurred on the beach.

At the commencement of the battle, the Dutch van under Sir Francis Vere held off the attack of the Spanish van. The Archduke therefore committed his battle, forcing Maurice to send in first the Walloon, then the French and Swiss regiments to reinforce the English and Frisians. The Spaniards were still able to advance until the Dutch rear was committed, enabling the Dutch to push forward “… in moderate order.” When the Archduke ordered his rear into the battle, however, the Dutch, though not breaking, were driven back “. . . dune after dune, and place after place.111

The cavalry also fought a back and forth action, but the Dutch cavalry finally broke the Spanish, driving them into their own infantry. After this, Maurice’s infantry and cavalry advanced together and managed to destroy the demoralized and broken Spanish units.112 The battle lasted about two hours and was hardly distinguished for tactical maneuvering. The terrain made the “apt and agile motions”113 of the Dutch army almost useless, restricting movement to straightforward advances or retreats. Although the “long duration of drilling”114 probably helped the States’ army to retain its formation in the battle, the decisive factor was the greater number of tactical units, leaving the Dutch with formed, or reformed, bodies of men after the Spaniards had exhausted their resources. Because of the terrain, the battle was a Simple battle of attrition.


Aftermath

The Dutch beat the Spanish but to no great benefit.

Nickle (1975) says:

The Dutch victory was, moreover, quite indecisive. The Spanish army at Nieuport was destroyed,145 but within four days, the Archduke was gathering another army around Bruges.116 The campaign therefore had to be abandoned, with the last part of the field army leaving Flanders on 31 July, and no further major operations took place in 1600.

Parker says (1977, p. 234 – 235)

[The Spanish] inflicted heavy looses on the Dutch, and although the archduke’s forces could not destroy or drive off the invaders immediately, the blow as fatal: by the end of the month Maurice had led his men back to Zealand.

The abortive Flanders campaign of 1600 achieved a number of things. First and foremost it put paid to the idea that the south and north Netherlands could be reunited under the rule of the States-General. Secondly, it poisoned relations between Maurice and Oldenbarnevelt, between the Orangist courtiers and the States of Holland and Zealand. A private letter written by one of Count Maurice’s entourage is probably representative of the feeling among the army commanders that they had been allowed to fall into a trap: ‘Oldenbarevelt and the longcoats [sc. the deputies of the States] led us to the edge of the precipice; God, however, did not wish us to be destroyed’. On the Spanish side the invasion of Flanders and its eventual defeat convinced the south Netherlands government of two things: first, that they would have to raise more money for their own defence … and second, that the Dutch enclasve of Ostend would have to be destroyed. Accordingly, the siege of Ostend began on 15 July 1601.

For me the biggest impact of Nieuport was the dent it inflicted on the reputation of the Spanish Tercios. As a direct result of Nieuport, The general perception appears to be that “modern” Dutch (and hence Swedish) infantry tactics were superior to the “outmoded” Spanish tactics. As one example:

From 1592 onwards Maurice and Willian Louis drilled and trained the Dutch troops to a very high standard indeed, as was shown to the world on 2 July 1600 in the battle of Nieuwpoort, where they famously defeated the previously indomitable Spanish tercios. (van Nimwegen, p. 169).

The trouble is, it isn’t true. The Dutch did beat the Spanish, I’ve no argument there, but the Dutch infantry did not beat the Spanish infantry. Albert’s tercios ground up the dunes and broke the best of the Dutch infantry (the English, Frisians, and Guards), despite their training and advantageous position. What broke the tercios was being hit by Dutch cavalry when disordered.


Extract from Nickle for 1600

Back in the 1980s I was studying at Massey University in New Zealand. Massey had long moved past it’s origin as an agricultural college and, to prove it, has an amazing library. Despite studying computer science my favourite section of the library was history. One day I discovered a doctorate thesis by Barry Nickle on “The Military Reforms of Prince Maurice of Orange” (Nickle, 1975). This was before my dedication to all things Spanish, but none-the-less the thesis fascinated me. Nickle’s thesis provides a wonderful insight into this period of Dutch military reform. I photocopied large chunks of the document and it still sits on my bookshelf.

I have quoted heavily from the section on the only major battle of the period, the Battle of Nieuport (2 July 1600) and the campaign of which it was a part. Unfortunately, being a poor student I only copied essentials, and that meant I did not copy the references. A decision I now regret. So, where I quote Nickle, I include his citations but I cannot now tell you which references he is referring to.

There is one exception: Nickle includes to diagrams from Henry Hexham. I assume this is from Hexham’s 1641 piece “A trve and briefe relation of the bloody battel of Nievport in Flanders found betwixt Prince Mavrice of happy memory and Albert arch-duke of Avstria vpon the second of Iuly 1600”. It turns out I have a Pallas Armata reproduction of Hexham – yeeehaa! – but my copy lacks the diagrams (although it mentions them).


References

Hexham, H. (1641). A trve and briefe relation of the bloody battel of Nievport in Flanders found betwixt Prince Mavrice of happy memory and Albert arch-duke of Avstria vpon the second of Iuly 1600. Delft.

Nickle, B. H. (1975). The Military Reforms of Prince Maurice of Orange (doctorate thesis). University of Delaware, United States.

Parker, G. (1977). The Dutch Revolt. Cornell University Press: Ithaca, New York.
van Nimwegen, O. (2010). The transformation of army organisation in early-modern western Europe, c. 1500-1789. In F. Tallet and D. J. B. Trim (Ed.), European Warfare 1350-1750 (pp. 159-180).

Vere, F. (). The Battel at NEWPORT, In The commentaries of Sr. Francis Vere being diverse pieces of service, wherein he had command.

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