16. 1576 saw the Sack of Antwerp, a bloody but isolated event that was to have a longer-term impact on European history.
In November of 1576, Spanish soldiers stationed in the Belgian city of Antwerp rose up. The men were far from home, fighting against the Dutch in the name of the Spanish king. However, they hadn’t been paid for months. Frustrated, they snapped and went on a rampage. For three days, the laid waste to the historic city, killing large numbers of citizens. In all, it’s believed as many as 7,000 people died, many of them thrown into canals or simply chopped down with swords. But the so-called Sack of Antwerp was to have a far wider impact.
The events of that day led to a Europe-wide economic crisis. Antwerp ceased to be a major trading power, allowing Amsterdam to rise up. What’s more, Spanish troops – and, therefore, Spanish people, were henceforth portrayed as ruthless savages. This Black Legend was to endure for centuries, shaping Spanish history both at home and abroad. According to Brown University’s Professor Harold Cook, 1576 was a truly terrible year, not least considering it also marked the rise of the Holy League in neighboring France. Combined, this condemned much of Europe to a period of poverty, uncertainty and widespread violence.