Satire against Philip II and Duke of Alba

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Thce is a print of a copper engraving made c. 1570 by an anonymous Dutch artist.
The engraving—which depicts Philip II and the 3rd Duke of Alba—is a political satire about the
Duke of Alba’s violent and despotic rule in the Netherlands. This engraving clearly portrays the
Dutch people’s feelings towards both the Duke of Alba and the Spanish crown. On the left panel,
the Duke of Alba (labeled “Alba”) is pictured sitting on a throne in formal dress, with the
severed heads and decapitated bodies of men at his feet, and a child in his left hand that he is
taking a bite out of. King Philip II is depicted on the right panel in formal attire surrounded by
priests and monks.
In 1567, King Philip II sent the 3rd Duke of Alba, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, to the
Netherlands to control religious and civil rebellions in the Spanish Low Countries. The Dutch
were both practicing Protestantism, which was viewed as heresy by the Catholic Spanish
monarchy, and engaging in civil rebellion against the Spanish rule. As a result, the Duke of Alba
was brought to the Netherlands where he earned the name of “Iron Duke” for his cruelty in the
“Council of Troubles,” popularly known as the “Court of Blood,” in which he persecuted those
involved in the revolts.
Interestingly, however, in her work Mal presagio casar lejos, Spanish writer María de
Zayas attributes a different reasoning for the Duke of Alba’s campaign in the Netherlands. In the
novella, the main character doña Blanca is savagely killed by her abusive Flemish husband and
her father-in-law. After doña Blanca’s body is returned to Spain, the Duke of Alba ravages the
Netherlands, ostensibly as a consequence of the violence against Blanca. De Zayas, who portrays
Arabella Adams
Yale Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship
this event as the final act of brutality in a series of deaths—namely, three brutal
femicides—seems to condemn the cruelty in the Netherlands as another senseless act of violence.
While the Spanish crown clearly viewed the despotism in the Netherlands as a justified and
necessary action, María de Zayas, who was born just a couple decades after the Duke of Alba’s
campaign, clearly viewed it as unnecessary. In fact, it appears that she viewed Spain’s cruelty in
the Netherlands as another futile act of male-perpetrated violence, much like the three grisly
femicides she portrays in her work.
It seems that de Zayas is attempting to draw out a crucial pattern only recently
understood by present-day psychology. Not only is she concerned with the violent men who
perpetrate the abuse and femicide in her novella, but she is troubled by the culture of violence
and dominance she observed in her society. As modern psychology has demonstrated, abuse is
also about power and control, and it is a learned behavior—most often learned from male role
models and societal values. Therefore, it seems that the connection de Zayas seemingly observes
between violence and abuse is well before her time, offering us a post-feminist critique of the
nature of her society at large, a society which ultimately formed abusers such as the men in her
In this way, de Zayas offers us a historical—and yet shockingly modern—perspective on
the violence which took place in the Netherlands. Through the converging perspectives of the
anonymous Dutch artist and María de Zayas, we can form a more complete view of the violence
in the Netherlands; not only how the Dutch viewed the Spanish rule, but also how a Spanish
woman viewed the Spanish Empire’s rule. And, in turn, de Zayas’s novel gives us an insight into
how the culture of violence and political conquest at the time affected male-female relationships
during the period.

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