Alva, Or Alba, Fernando Alvarez dc Toledo, duke of, a Spanish general and statesman, born in 1508, died Jan. 12, 1582. He was descended from a family which boasted its extraction from Byzantine emperors; and one of his ancestors, a Palaeologus, conquered Toledo, and transmitted its appellation as a family name. From his earliest years he was trained to arms, and imbibed a hatred of infidels, which was afterward naturally transferred to those at enmity with the church of Rome. At 16 years of age he fought at Fontarabia, and in 1530 he accompanied the emperor Charles V. in his campaign against the Turks. At this period he seemed like one of the romantic heroes of chivalry. On one occasion he rode as fast as his steed could bear him from Hungary to Spain and back again, merely for a hurried visit to his young bride. In 1535 he took part in Charles's expedition to Tunis. In 1546-7 he was generalissimo in the war against the Smal-caldian league, winning his greatest honors at the battle of Mtihlberg, in which he totally routed the Protestant forces.
In 1554 he went with the Spanish crown prince to England, and shortly before that prince's accession to the throne as Philip II. on the abdication of Charles V. was made generalissimo of the army in Italy, engaged in a war with Pope Paul IV. Although he reverenced the successor of St. Peter, he was greatly displeased with Philip for obliging him to make peace with the pontiff, whose capital he had seized. To patience and cunning he united ferocity and a thirst for blood scarcely human; he hardly knew the meaning of pity, though frequently alluding to his clemency in his letters to Philip. The personal appearance of this extraordinary man well merits description. He was tall, thin, erect, with a small head, dark sparkling eyes, cavernous cheeks, and a stern expression, rendered more striking by a long, thin, waving, and silvered beard. In manners he was cold and haughty, and was even more inaccessible than his royal master. The spoliation of the churches in the Netherlands by the iconoclasts had enraged Philip more than any of the other troubles in his Flemish provinces; and their armed invasion having been determined on, 10,000 picked veterans were placed under the command of the duke of Alva. Refused a passage through the French dominions, the force embarked at Cartagena, May 10, 1507, and landed at Genoa. The whole army was under the most perfect discipline, and attached to it was a force of 2,000 prostitutes, enrolled and distributed, doubtless to prevent the troops from any outrages in lands through which lay their march.
In three divisions they made their way over Mont Cenis, and through Savoy, Burgundy, and Lorraine, and without the least opposition entered the 'territory of the Netherlands. Great was the alarm in the disaffected provinces when it was learned that Alva was on his march. William of Orange, who was not to be deceived by any show of clemency, had retired into Germany. The duke's interviews with the duchess of Parma, then regent of the Netherlands, were brief and formal; but in spite of courtly etiquette, neither could well conceal dislike of the other. Margaret, enraged at being superseded, soon took her departure, and Alva was left alone to fulfil his mission. Establishing his headquarters at Brussels, he at once proceeded in his work of vengeance. The "Council of Troubles " was set up, to inquire into and punish all past offences; and so merciless were its labors, that it was styled by the populace the council of blood. Counts Egmont and Horn, the two idols of the people, who had been foremost in asserting the religious liberties of the Netherlands, but who were guilty of no treason, were beheaded in the great square of Brussels, June 5, 1568. The execution of other popular leaders immediately followed; burnings at the stake and decapitation thenceforth were decreed by wholesale, and during the whole period of Alva's six years' administration in the Netherlands blood flowed like water.
Throughout the land his name, and those of his terrible subordinates in the blood council, Hessels and Vargas, came to be feared and hated. The least suspicion of any person, however innocent, especially if he was rich, drew down the vengeance of the council; for Alva had promised before he left Spain to enrich the treasury of Philip by a golden river a yard deep, drawn from the confiscated wealth of heretics; he even named 500,000 ducats per annum as the sum. Military operations had begun before the fatal 5th of June. Count Louis of Nassau having invaded Friesland, Alva took measures to oppose him vigorously. At first the count met with some success, and at the battle of Heiligerlee defeated the Spaniards under the duke of Aremberg, who was killed. Alva was roused to fury at the news, and to expiate the loss of the duke beheaded 18 nobles besides hastening the execution of Egmont and Horn, and then left Brussels to meet the count in the field. An attempt to destroy the dikes and inundate the country was frustrated by the arrival of Alva's forces, and at the battle of Jem-mingen he utterly routed Louis and destroyed his army. "William of Orange persevered, and, mustering another army, sought in vain to bring Alva to an engagement.
Twenty-nine times did the prince change his encampment, and as often did the Spanish forces hover in his rear. The duke's skill in the campaign of 1568 was a masterpiece of tactics; he had nothing to gain, the prince everything to hope for, by a battle. The country people of Brabant, the scene of this masterly inactivity, refused the prince supplies; and Alva had caused the irons to be taken out of every mill, so that not a bushel of corn could be ground in the province. Frustrated in his hopes of a battle, William was further dejected by the supineness of the country. Not a single city opened its gates to him; he was forced to quit the Netherlands and disband his army soon after, while Alva erected a colossal bronze statue of himself in the citadel of Antwerp, and ordered a series of magnificent fetes to be celebrated at Brussels. He was soon engaged in a quarrel with Elizabeth of England, who had seized in her ports $800,000 of Spanish funds. Alva retaliated by ordering the arrest of every Englishman in the Netherlands, and the seizure of all their property; and between the two angry spirits, Flemish prosperity was well nigh annihilated.
But the duke was disappointed in his hopes of forcing a golden stream to flow into the king's coffers; with all his abilities as a soldier, he was a wretched financier; and so far from supporting his army on the confiscations of the people, and supplying Philip with gold besides, as he boasted he would, during the six years of his rule twenty-five millions of money were sent to him from Spain, yet he left the Netherlands without a dollar in the treasury. Among his odious schemes were a tax of the hundredth penny, or one per cent., on all property, real and personal, to be paid instantly and collected once; a perpetual tax of the twentieth penny, or 5 per cent., on every transfer of real estate; and a tax of the tenth penny, or 10 per cent., assessed upon every article of merchandise or personal property, to be paid as often as it should be sold. No sooner was this monstrous imposition declared than every one in the land excepting the duke himself perceived how utterly abortive and ridiculous a scheme it would prove. The towns rebelled, and examples by dozens were made of refractory citizens to no purpose.
The king was petitioned, and finally, after all the severity of Alva, a temporary compromise was effected, by which the towns were to pay $2,000,000 yearly for the two following years, that is, until the month of August, 1571. At length universal revolt was manifested. The shops were all closed; " the brewers refused to brew, the bakers to bake, the tapsters to tap." Alva thereupon resolved to hang 18 of the tradesmen of Brussels at the doors of their own shops, without trial. This summary work was prevented, however, by the news of the capture of Briel by the "Water Beggars," adherents of the prince of Orange. The revolution and capture of Flushing soon followed, and the first half of the year 1572 was distinguished by a series of triumphs for the patriot party. The nation shook off its fetters in one sudden bound of enthusiasm, and Oudewater, Dort, Lcyden, Gor-kum, Gouda, Horn, Alkmaar, Edam, and many other towns, ranged themselves under the standard of the prince of Orange. His triumph, however, was short, for the news of the massacre of St. Bartholomew, in August, fell with frightful effect upon his followers, utterly paralyzing their hopes and efforts; his armies melted away, the towns forswore their allegiance to him, and almost in solitude he retired to Holland, the province which best preserved its fidelity.
He had but a few days before considered Charles IX. of France as his ally, and was expecting an army of assistance led by Admiral Coligni, when he heard the news of his murder. On many of the offending cities, even those which returned to obedience, Spanish vengeance fell with terrible retribution. At length, at the siege of Alkmaar, after investing the city for seven weeks, the Spaniards were obliged to retreat; and from that moment a brighter day dawned on the Netherlands. Finally, disgusted with the hopelessness of his cause, and furious at the intrigues of those in power about him, Alva obtained his recall, received his successor, Don Luis de Requesens y Zuniga, Nov. 17, 1573, and on the 18th of the next month left the provinces for ever. 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 years1 rule he had caused 18,000 persons to be executed. But to this immense number must be added those who perished by siege, battle, and merciless slaughter; and the list defies all computation. Every conceivable mode of death and torture was wreaked upon the victims of his royal master's vengeance.
At the sack of Haarlem 300 citizens, tied two and two and back to back, were thrown into the lake; and at Zutphen 500 more, in the same manner, were drowned in the river Yssel. Thousands of women were publicly violated, and unborn infants ripped from the wombs of their mothers. Yet Alva was always complaining to Philip II. of the unjust hatred shown toward him, and the "ingratitude" of the Netherlander in return for his " clemency.11 He was well received by Philip II., but some time afterward fell into disgrace with the monarch, from espousing the cause of his own son, who had debauched a maid of honor. He was imprisoned and banished until required for the conquest of Portugal. This he accomplished in 1580, and died at the age of 74 years.