The history of the siege of Grolle (1627).
During the 80 years (1568-1648) revolt of the Netherlands against the Spanish King, the battle of the rebellious States of the Netherlands was successively led by Willem of Orange and his sons Maurits and Frederik Hendrik. In those days whoever ruled the cities, also ruled the surrounding countryside. Any city that closed their gates to withstand an attacking army was confronted with a siege, trying to force them to give up their resistance. Grolle (nowadays called Groenlo) in the county “Gelderse Achterhoek” was sieged a number of times by both fighting parties.
On July 14th 1595, prince Maurits arrived at Grolle, a city that was rather strong, equipped with walls of earth and 4 strongholds (“al taemelijck starck was, voorsien met eerdewallen ende 4 taemelijcke bolwercken”). But Maurits was forced to break off the siege because the skillful general Mondragon was on his way to Grolle with a big Spanish army to relief Grolle. The prince did not dare to be confronted with such Spanish army in open field.
On September 1st 1597, Maurits returns back to Grolle. After a fierce battle, on September 26th, the Spanish occupier is forced to surrender to the prince. Grolle ends up in “Staatse” hands.
Details of a historical print of the siege of 1606
On August 4th 1606, a big Spanish army, led by Spinola, arrives at the gates of Grolle. After just 10 days, the Staatse defenders have to surrender. Up till the siege of 1627, Grolle remains then in Spanish hands.
The siege of 1627.
In The Hague, the States-General gather to discuss how to pursue the war against the Spaniards. After long deliberation (the powerful regions Holland and Zeeland want to continue to wage war at sea) it is decided to attack Grolle (“die starcke stad Grol aan te tasten”).
Prince Frederik Hendrik (1584 – 1647)
The preparations took place under the greatest secrecy. De Staatse army, consisting out of 20.000 men infantry and 5000 men cavalry, was shipped via the Lek- and Rhine rivers towards the east. The Spanish knew that a large army was underway but had no clue which city was targeted. To put the Spanish enemy even more on the wrong track, a feint attack was carried out on the German town of Goch. In the meanwhile, the army’s main force disembarked at Emmerich on July 17th 1627 and went straight for Grolle. On the night of July 20th the Staatse army arrived at Grolle. The vanguard, led by Herman Otto, count of Styrum, immediately occupied the most important access roads towards the fortress. A number of commanders were sent to surrounding cities (including Lichtenvoorde and Eibergen) to occupy those. This way it was prevented that the Spaniards could use these villages as a base for a counter attack.
Overview of the siege of Grolle shown on a map from the Blaue’s Stedenatlas.
The Staatse army was divided up into three parts and was lodged in – the army quarters of prince Frederik Hendrik in the south (Lievelder Es), – the army quarters of Ernst Casimir of Nassau in the East (near the township Zwolle) – and the army quarters of Willem of Nassau in the Northwest (near the township Avest). Upon arrival, the camps immediately were equipped with big walls of earth. Next day the process of “beschansen” started; around the city of Grolle, a containment line was build, which connected the three most important army camps. Taken into account the reach of the Spanish canons, located inside the fortress, this containment line was constructed at a distance of about two kilometers from Grolle, this way ensuring that within the entrenchments and army quarters there was no dread for enemy fire. Also immediately picked up was the construction of entrenchments that had to guard the most strategic positions. The “French” entrenchment covered the road to Bredevoort while the “Friese” entrenchment guarded the road to the German city of Vreden. The “Hollandse” entrenchment guarded the road to Borculo and Zutphen. Pretty soon it became clear that count Hendrik van den Berg (first cousin of Frederik Hendrik!) was on his way with a big Spanish army to relief Grolle. Day and night 8000 entrenchment diggers and soldiers worked feverishly to complete the containment line of the Staatse army. Already the first day (21st of July 1627) they could report that they made so much progression that the line was defendable. After one week (!) the complete containment line was finished. It was clear that they ran a tight schedule; even the officers rolled up their sleeves and helped digging “sonder dat sigh selfs of Ooversten of Kolonellen ‘t werken ontsaegen”.
The created containment line was not only defendable against outside attacks, but it also cut off the city from the outside world; nobody could get in or out. Truly spoken a fortress surrounding a fortress. Hugo de Groot (famous Dutch legal expert and writer, 1583-1645), mentioned that the perfect work was even better than the work of Maurits, who before, had made use of everything he had read or seen. “dat noyt eenighe volmaekter is geweest, selfs niet onder Maurits, die alles wat ergens geleesen of gesien was in gebruyk gebraght had”. One was rightfully proud: for the first time in the 80 years war, a sieged city was completely enclosed. In that respect, the siege of Grolle can be seen as the dress rehearsal for the most glorious victory in the career of general Frederik Hendrik: the siege of ‘s-Hertogenbosch, two years later in 1629.
From within the army quarters, the Staatse soldiers started digging trenches (‘approches’) towards the city. This way, amongst others, an English and a French trench were created. In contrast when previously digging the containment lines, this time the mercenaries worked fanatically; extra premiums were paid because of the hard and dangerous work. Even soldiers, when not having to keep watch, worked on these constructions in their spare hours. Handing in found cannonballs also generated extra money.
It became a contest which trench would reach the city moat first. When reaching their target, they then started building galleries crossing the moat. A gallery is a covered corridor, in this case crossing the partly dried city moat, which somewhat protected the attackers when trying to get to the city wall. Frederik Hendrik offered a premium of 300 guilders (“drihondert guldens”) for the gallery crew that would reach the other side of the moat first. A logical consequence of the contest and the prospect of extra money was a high work pace. And of course that had a positive impact on the quick settlement of the siege. A letter that was sent to Zutphen by one of the members of the States-General, H. van Essen, shows how dangerous life in the trenches end of July 1627 was: “… a few enemy soldiers sneaked out of the city and killed two workers and a sergeant. Last night this happened again and they attacked the trench of his Grace G. Ernst van Nassau and killed five or six of us. Sergeant-major Dromont of the Brock regiment was deadly injured by a musket.”
“…zijn eenighe van den vijandt uyt die stadt gevallen, hebben twee werckluiden gedoot en eenen sargiant gevanghen […] Ghisterennacht sijn sij weederom op de approches van sijne Genade G. Ernst van Nassau uytgevallen en vijf ofte ses van die onse gedoot ofte gequetst. Den sergiant-major Dromont van ‘t regiment van Brock is in den uytval met een musqettade dootlick gequetst.”
Attack of the Spanish relief army on the army quarter of count Ernst Casimir of Nassau during the night of 15-16 August 1627.
After the first fights it became clear to the besieged that outside help was absolutely vital. In the meanwhile a big Spanish relief army arrived at Grolle. Count Hendrik van den Berg setup his camp near the township Zwillbrock, just across the German border. It was obvious to Frederik Hendrik that the biggest threat would come from the east. Therefor he commanded the containment line at that side to be extra reinforced. Also, a second wall with a moat was build. At several weak spots, so called “Hoornwerken” were constructed (consisting of two half angular structures projecting outward from the curtain wall of the fortress, so called astions).
In the night from 15-16 August, Hendrik van den Berg targeted his first attack at a “Hoornwerk” at the quarters of Ernst Casimir. After a fierce fight this relief attempt was countered and any hope that was left for the people inside the fortress was soon gone. Their future did not look bright. After the Staatse detonated a mine, fierce fights commenced on the city wall. The Spaniards were able to strike back three times but when it became clear that Frederik Hendrik was about to detonate three more mines, the city commander Matthys Dulken surrended. On August 19th 1627 the capitulation treaty was signed. Grolle became Staats and remained Staats during the remaining of the 80 years war. This victory in the east of the Staatse Netherlands was cause for a big celebration. This was the first sounding victory over the Spaniards in years. Celebrities paid great attention to this achievement. Hugo de Groot wrote his “Beleegering der stadt Grol” and the poet Joost van den Vondel wrote “Verovering van Grol door Frederick Henrick, Prince van Oranje “, a 782 verses long ode in response to the victory. Nobody doubted the capacities of Frederik Hendrik anymore. The first step, which in the end would give him the nickname “City forcer”, “Stedendwinger” was set.
The prince remained in Groenlo for another thirty days. Not all danger was over. There was still the possibility that the Spaniards would take possession over the containment line, entrenchments and trenches and that the roles suddenly might be reversed. The battered city was as quickly as possible turned back into a defensible state. The Staatse canons were brought into Groenlo and the occupation was reinforced with four “Vendelen” (about 360 infantry) and two “Vanen ruiterij” (120 cavalry). Finally the trenches towards the town were filled up and the entrenchments and other works were torn down. “de schanssen, en verder alle andere werken gesleght”.