Alva (or Alba), Fernando Alvarez De Toledo
Alva (Or Alba), Fernando Alvarez De Toledo
duke of, a Spanish general and statesman, notorious for his persecuting cruelty, was born of an illustrious family in 1508. He was educated by the direction of his grandfather, Frederick of Toledo, who instructed him in military and political science. He carried arms when very young at the battle of Pavia, commanded under Charles V in Hungary, also at the siege of Tunis, and in the expedition against Algiers. In his earliest military efforts, his cautious disposition led men to believe that he had but little talent in that direction. His pride was offended at the low estimation in which he was held, and his genius was roused to the performance of exploits deserving of a permanent remembrance. In 1546-47 he was general-in-chief in the war against the Smalcaldian League, winning his greatest honors in the battle of Miihlberg, in which he totally routed the Protestant forces. The elector, John Frederick of Saxony, was taken prisoner, and the duke, who presided in the council of war, sentenced him to death, and strongly urged the emperor to execute the sentence. In 1554 he went with the Spanish crown-prince to England; and in 1555, shortly before the accession of that prince as Philip II, he was commissioned as commander-in-chief of the army sent to attack the French in Italy and pope Paul IV, the irreconcilable enemy of the emperor Charles V. He gained several victories, relieved Milan, advanced to Naples, where the intrigues of the pope had stirred up a rebellion, and confirmed there the Spanish authority. He afterwards conquered the States of the Church and frustrated the efforts of the French. Philip, however, compelled him to contract an honorable peace with the pope, whom Alva wished to humble. A few years later the Netherlands revolted, and Alva advised the king to suppress the insurrection by severity and force. The king intrusted him with a considerable army and unlimited power to reduce the rebellious provinces. Scarcely had he reached Flanders when he established the Council of Blood, at the head of which stood his confidant, Juan de Vargas. This tribunal condemned, without discrimination, all whose opinions were suspected and whose riches excited their avarice. The present and the absent, the living and the dead, were subjected to trial, and their property confiscated. Many merchants and mechanics emigrated to England, more than 100,000 men abandoned their country, and others resorted to the standard of the proscribed prince of Orange. The cruelty of Alva was increased by the defeat of his lieutenant, the duke of Aremberg, and he caused the counts of Egmont and Horn to be executed on the scaffold, June 5,1568. He afterwards defeated the count of Nassau on the plains of Jemmingen. William of Orange soon advanced with a powerful army, but was forced to withdraw to Germany. The duke stained his reputation as a general by new cruelties; his executioners shed more blood than his soldiers. The pope presented him with a consecrated hat and sword, a distinction previously conferred only on princes. Holland and Zealand, however, resisted his arms. A fleet, which was fitted at his command, was annihilated, and he was everywhere met with insuperable courage. This and perhaps the fear of losing the favor of the king induced him to request his recall. Philip willingly granted it, as he perceived that the resistance of the Netherlands was rendered more obstinate by these cruelties, and was desirous of trying milder measures. In December, 1573, Alva proclaimed an amnesty, resigned the command of the troops to Luis de Requesens, and left the provinces. His parting advice was that every city in the Netherlands should be. burned to the ground except a few to be permanently garrisoned, and he boasted that during his six years' rule he had executed 18,000 men. But to this number must be added those who perished by siege, battle, and merciless slaughter, and the number cannot be computed.
He had kindled a war which burned sixty-eight years, cost Spain $800,000,000, her finest troops, and seven of her richest provinces in the Netherlands. His cruelties were inhuman. Every conceivable mode of death and torture was wreaked upon the victims of his royal master's vengeance. At the sack of Haarlem three hundred citizens, tied two and two and back to back, were thrown into the lake, and at Zutphen five hundred more were drowned in the same manner in the river Yssel. Thousands of women were publicly violated, and unborn infants ripped from the wombs of their mothers. Yet Alva complained of the ingratitude of the Netherlanders in return for his clemency! He was well received at Madrid, but did not long enjoy his former credit. One of his sons had seduced one of the queen's maids of honor under a promise of marriage, and was for that reason arrested. His father assisted him to escape, and married him to one of his relatives contrary to the will of the king. In consequence, Alva was banished from the court to his castle at Uzeda. Here he lived two years, when the troubles stirred up by Dom Antonio, prior of Crato, who had been crowned king of Portugal, made it necessary for Philip to call out Alva to subdue the enemy. Accordingly, in 1581, he led an army to Portugal, drove out Dom Antonio, and reduced the entire country to submission. He made himself master of the treasures of the capital, and permitted his soldiers to plunder the suburbs and surrounding country with their usual rapacity and cruelty. Philip was displeased with this, and disposed to institute an investigation; but knowing the character of the duke, and fearing a rebellion, he desisted. Alva died Jan. 21, 1582. He was of a proud mien and noble aspect; he was tall, thin, and strong of frame; he slept little, wrote and labored much. It is said of him that in sixty years of warfare against different enemies he never lost a battle, and was never taken by surprise. But pride, severity, and cruelty tarnished his fame, and have condemned him to lasting infamy. See Motley, Rise of the Dutch Republic; also the arts. SEE HOLLAND and SEE WILLIAM I OF ORANGE.