Gelre and Kleve

Gelre evolved from manors Geldern en Pont along the River Niers and one further south Wassenberg  (in the Carolingian Luikgau) on the River Ruhr, on the boarder between modern day Limburg (15 kms east of Roermond) in the Netherlands and Germany.  Gelre (as in Geldern) is first mentioned in 812.

It was part of the Holy Roman Empire and together with Kleve elevated to Counties in 1046.

House Flamenses

The ancestors of what later become the Counts and Dukes of Gelre came from Flanders. They also carried the name ‘Antoing’ which could indicate the he came from Antoing near Tournai (Doornik). They were possible vassals under the Count of Valenciennes.

Gerard Flamenses came from Flanders in 1021. His father was Diederik.

Diederik Flamenses (d. 1020) had at least two sons:

  • Gerard (I van Wassenberg and later also Gerard I van Gelre) Also known as The Redhead (Rossige). He became the founder of what would become the County of Gelre.
  • Rutger who became the first Count of Kleve .

Diederik Flamenses

Born: Antoing, Flanders?
Father: Arnold of Haspengau – Count of Haspengouw
Mother: Ermengarde of Grandpré
Title: Count of the Betuwe, Maasgau and Haspengouw.
Died: 1020?
Marriage Children
Lutgard van Hameland Gerard Iof Wassenberg
Rutger of Kleve x Wazela of Lotharingia

Gerard Flamenses – Gerard I van Wassenberg

Flanders was under the suzerainty of the King of France, Gerard however, most probably supported the Emperor and his position had become untenable when Count Boudewijn IV of Flanders increased his powers and this most probably forced the Flamenses to flee.

In 1021, for his support, Emperor Henry II granted Gerard the castle of Wassenberg (Luikgau) and the fief over Geldern and Pont. He took on the title Count (of Wassenberg) however this title of count was most likely linked to properties Diedrik or Gerard Flamenses had received from the Bishop of Utrecht in the pagus Teisterband , where he was the titular Count of the Betuwe, Maasgau and Haspengau. They also benefited from the collapse of the County Hamaland and were given parts of this old pagus after Henry II had taken the title away from Meingards. The properties in Luikgau didn’t at that stage have the count title linked to them.

Gerard Flamenses (Antoing) The Redhead (Rossige)

Born: Antoing 985?
Father:Diederik Flamenses Count of the Betuwe, Maasgau and Haspengau t
Mother: NN
Title: Lord of Wassenberg (1021)
Died: 1035
Marriage Children
Bava van Hamaland daughter of Diederik of Kleve, grandparents: Immeld of West Saxon and  Adela of Hameland Gerard IIof Wassenberg

There is uncertainty about the ‘Gerards’ here as there could have been one or even two more in this lineage. Historical documents are confused regarding the various ‘Gerards’.

Gerard II van Wassenberg – Gerard I van Gelre

In 1046 Godfrey with the Beard of Lotharingia (see: The emergence of Lotharingia)granted him with the title Count of Gelre (= Gerard  I van Gelre).

Gerard II van Wassenberg

Born: 1010
Father:Gerard I of  Wassenberg
Mother:Bava of Hamaland
Title:Lord of Wassenberg and since 1046 Count Gerard I of Gelre
Died: 1082
Marriage Children
NN Heinrich of Wassenberg – (Count Van Wassenberg)  ± 1028-± 1085
Gerard III Count of Wassenberg
Diederik I  Count of  De Veluwe and Teisterband  ± 1033-1082 x Hedwig of Montaigu. He was co-regent in Gelre.
Amorik van Antoing (Lord van Antoing and Epinoy)  ± 1036-?

Gerard III van Wassenberg

Born: 1030
Father:Gerard II of  Wassenberg
Mother: NN
Title:Lord of Wassenberg and Count Gerard II of Gelre
Died: ?
Marriage Children
NN. van Houffalize Heinrich van Krieckenbeck (Count of Krieckenbeck and Wassenberg)  1050-1118  x NN of Kessel
Gerard IV Count of Wassenberg
Yolante van Wassenberg – Kriekenbeck  ± 1070-1131 xCount Baldwin III of Hainault

Gerard III was underage when his father died and his father’s brother Diederik I took the title from 1058 till 1079. In 1079 he was imprisoned by Godfrey of Bouillon at his castle in Bouillon, where he died three years later.

Gerard III became Count in 1079. He used the titles of Count of Gelre as well as that of Count of Wassenberg.

Gerard IV van Wassenberg

Born: 1050
Father:Gerard III of  Wassenberg
Mother:NN. van Houffalize
Title:Lord of Wassenberg and Count of Gelre
Died: 1129
Marriages Children
Clemencia van Poitou – Gleiberg(1053-1151)Married 1069 Gerard II van Gelre
Jutta/Judith (1074-1151), x (1110) Count Walram II van Limburg (-1139).
Sophie van Loon, daughter of Count Emmo II of Loon and Swanhilde of Holland(1062 -?)Married 1090 No children

The Wassenberg property rather quickly leaves the family as the inheritance of his daughter Jutta (Judith) van Gelre who marries Walram II of Limburg.

At the same Gerard moved to Geldern which fell within the area over which he held jurisdiction (Wassenberg lay outside this jurisdiction). The family resided here till 1347.

Gerard II of Gelre (The Tall, De Lange)

Born: 1078
Father:Gerard IV of  Wassenberg
Mother:Clemencia van Poitou – Gleiberg
Title:Count of Gelre and Zutphen
Died: 24 October 1134
Buried: Wassenberg
Marriages Children
Ermgard of Zutphen, daughter of Count Otto II of Zutphen and Judith of Supplinburg(1080-1138) Hendrik I (The Young)
Alberik van Gelre (Bishop of Luik 1136-1150)  ± 1108-?
Salome van Gelre  ± 1110-?
Agnes van Gelre  ± 1112-1196

The County of Zuthpen was situated on the eastside of the River Ijssel and included various properties in Frisia, Westphalia and Rhineland. Zutphen was also a wealthy and importantHanse city. Overlord-ship of this city therefore was of importance.

The title to Zutphen was disputed by the Bishop of Munster but Gerard successfully defended this. He was supported in this by the Duke of Lotharingia.

The Duke of Holland Albrecht of Bavaria undertook new campaigns to ‘finally’ settle the situation in Friesland. This also resulted in a split between the Hanse trading bond between the cities in Holland and those along the river IJssel. This also led to the broader split between the Hanse and Holland that started to occur after 1400. At the same time this offered new opportunities for the cities on the Gelre site of the boarder. Nijmegen became part of the Hanse in 1402, Zwolle in 1406, Stavoren (possibly in) 1412, Groningen in 1422, Kampen and Arnhem in 1441. Most of the rivers that were critical to the inland Hanse trade flowed through Gelre, the most import one of course was the Rhine, followed by the IJssel, Waal and the Lower Rhine. However, the central city in this river trade system was Köln. Most of the wealth of Gelre was linked to the flourishing river trade of its cities.

Interestingly after the collapse of the Hanse after the Thirty Year War (1618 – 1648) the IJssel cities didn’t join the Holland trading system but continued their trade with their German hinterland.

Hendrik I van Gelre and Zutphen

Born: 1105
Father:Gerard II of  Gelre
Mother:Ermgard of Zutphen
Title:Count of Gelre and Zutphen
Died: 10 September 1182
Marriages Children
Agnes van Arnstein, daughter of Count Louis II of Arnstein and Utilhildis of Odenkirchen (1105-?)Married in 1135 Adelheid (1125-1190) x (1175) Count Gerard I of Loon
Margaretha (1133 – ?) x (1155) Count Engelbert I of Diederen and Berg
Otto I
Gerard III (1150 – 1182) x (1181) Ida of Boulogne. Co-regent of Gelre 1174-1182

Hendrik was still challenged by the Bishop of Utrecht regarding his title over Zutphen, during this campaign he laid waste of the Veluwe This was further exacerbated after he signed a treaty with the Bishop’s arch enemy of the day the Count of Holland. This was challenged by Brabant and Gelre. Emperor Henry VI ended in 1196, the dispute and handed the Veluwe back to Duke and the Count.

Otto I van Gelre

Born: 1145
Father:Hendrik I of  Gelre
Mother:Agnes van Arnstein
Title:Count of Gelre and Zutphen
Died: 1231
Burried: Klooster Camp
Marriages Children
Richardis van Scheyern-Wittelsbach (Richarda of Bavaria)(1163-1231)Daughter of Count Otto I of Wittelsbach (later Duke of Bavaria) and Agnes of Loon. Gerard IV
Hendrik van Gelre  1186-? x (1205) Adelheid of Holland
Irmingard (Luitgard) 1183 -? x (1210) Count Adolf I of the Mark
Aleida (Adelheid) 1187-1218 x (1203) Willem I Count of Holland.
Machteld (Mathilde) 1190 -> 1247 x Count Heinrich (the Rich) of Nassau
Margaretha 1192-1264 x Count Lotharius II of Hochstaden
Otto 1195-1215 (Bishop)
Lodewijk 1188-? (Domproost)

Count Otto participated with Emperor Frederick II in the 3rd Crusade (1189 – 1192). See also: Crusades.

Even Ootmarsum far to the east of this region was affected by the waring Counts of Gelre .In 1195/1196 the Drents were asked by Otto van Gelre to support him during the siege of Deventer, during this campaign they burnt the church in Ootmarsum, after which date the current church was built.

Gerard III van Gelre

Born: 1185
Father:Otto I of  Gelre
Mother:Richardis van Scheyern-Wittelsbach
Title:Count of Gelrn
Died: 22 October 1229
Buried: Roermond
Marriages Children
Margaretha of Brabant (1192–1231), daughter of Hendrik I of BrabantMarried in January 1206 Hendrik (-1285) Bishop of Liège
Margarteha (1220-1240) married to Diederik II of Falkenburg and with Willem IV of Gullik
Otto II the Lame, (de Lamme) 1214-1271
Richardis ± 1210-> 1289 married to Willem IV of Gullik

Gerard III (also named as IV and V) became rather influential at Frederick’s Court, however they two fell out which led to the sacking of Roermond in 1213.

He was made prisoner during the Battle of Ane in 1227 (see: Bishopric Utrecht).

Gerard and Margaretha are buried in the beautiful polychrome  mausoleum in the Munster church of Roermond. The Count had founded a Cistercians Monastery here in 1218 on the request of his mother Richardis, she became the first abbess. (See videoclip) The double- mausoleum is the oldest in Europe. It is positioned in such a way that the couple -depicted at the ‘idealised’ age of 33 years –  looks up to another important relict in the unique (Byzantine inspired) octagonal dome of the church,  the Netherlands oldest freestanding sculpture (late 12th century)  that of Christ Triumphant; the couple is hoping for its own resurrection.  We visited this amazing Rhineland-style Romanesque church – built around 120 –  and its beautiful mausoleum in 2011.

Otto II (The Lame) van Gelre

Born: 1215
Father:Gerard IV of  Gelre
Mother:Margaretha of Brabant
Title:Count of Gelre and Zutphen
Died: 10 January 1271
Buried: Monastery Graefenthal (Goch)
Marriages Children
Margaretha of Kleve (1192–1231), daughter of Diederik of Kleve and Mechtild of DinslakenMarried in 1240 Margaretha (-1281), married to Count Enguerrand IV of Coucy
Elisabeth, married to Count Adolf V of Berg
Filippa de Dammartin, daughter of Count Simon van DammartinMarried in 1253 Reinoud
Filippa, married to Walram van Valkenburg, Monschau and Sittard
Margaretha, married to Count Diederik VIII van Kleef

Major regional power

Otto II became one of the most powerful vassals of the German Emperor and participated in many negotiations on behalf of the Emperor. In 1247 he was asked by the Pope to become the next Holy Roman Emperor (after the Duke of Brabant had already refused, also Otto refused; eventually Count Willem of Holland accepted this offer.

Otto received, in 1248, the city of Nijmegen for service provided to Emperor Willem II. Until that time the city had been an independent free city within the Holy Roman Empire.

By that time Gelre consisted of four quartes:

  • Nijmegen including Betuwe, Tielerwaard, Bommelerwaard, Land of Maas and Waal (since 1248).
  • County of Zutphen (Since 1117)
  • Veluwe (allodium)
  • Geldern  (since 1021) Later known as Upper Gelre

He also issued privileges to 12 cities within his county including: Geldern (1229), Roermond (1231), Grave (1232), and Arnhem (1233).

Otto and Margaretha also founded the Grafenthal Abbey near Goch in the county of Cleve. Margareth was the first one to get burried here. In all 13 counts, countesses and Dukes of Guelders followed until 1378.

Count Reinoud I

Born: 1255
Father:Otto II of  Gelre
Mother:Filippa de Dammartin
Title:Count of Gelre
Died: 9 October 1326
Buried: Montfort
Marriages Children
Irmgard (d. 1283) the heiress of duke Waleran IV of Limburg and Juduth of Kleve Childless
Margaretha of Flanders (1272 – 1331) daughter of Gwijde van Dampierre and Mathilde of BéthuneMarried 1286 Reinoud  II
Margaretha, married to Count Diederik IX van Kleef
Elisabeth (-1354), abbess at Colgone
Filippa, nun at Cologne

After his first wife  Irmgard died childless in 1283 a year after her father had died, Reinoud claimed the duchy. This claim was recognized by King Rudolph I of Germany. This led to the battle of Woeringen in 1288 where the Duke of Brabant defeated the Count of Gelre and his allies (See Duchy of Brabant). Limburg – that since recently had come under the control of Gelre – became now part of Brabant.

Reinoud second wife was Margaretha a daughter of  Gwijde de Dampierre, Count of Flanders. Two of her sisters were married to the other regional powers Jan II of Brabant and Jan I of Holland. To make it super confusing, Guy de Dampierre was married twice, and used the same names for the children of both marriages, so Reinoud’s mother was named Margaretha, like her older half-sister who was the mother of Jan II of Brabant.

The younger Margaretha was first married on 14 November 1282 to the Lord Alexander, heir to the throne of Scotland and nephew of Edward I, but he died in January 1284, and on 3 July 1286 she married Reinoud I.

Because of the large personal debts Reinoud had run up during the war against Brabant – in particular by private investors, – interestingly these included several Lombards in Brabant as well as the Knight Templar in Flanders and in Paris – his father-in-law Count Gwijde  became his  beneficiary, however in exchange he also became the Regent of Gelre, during which period – 1289- 1293 – Gelre’s administration was modernised and reformed. This also led,  in particular under Reinoud II, to financial arrangements with the the cities in Gelre, initially for guarantees from Jews and Lombards, but increasingly also for lending. In exchange cities often achieved tax and toll advantages and/or received income from domains or other processions of the count. Withe the Gelre  cities as guarantors the count was also active on foreign financial markets in Brabant and in North Germany, selling annuities in exchange for credits.   [1. De zaak Hendric Haech, Rudolf A.A. Bosch. Stedelijk veleden in veelvoud, 2011]

Duke Reinoud II  Gelre (The Black)

Born: 1295
Father:Reinoud I of  Gelre
Mother: Margaretha of Dampierre
Title:Duke of Gelre (1339)
Died: 12 October 1343
Buried: MonnikhuizenArnhem
Marriages Children
Sophia Berthout of Mechelen daughter of Floris Berthout and Mechtild of the Mark Margaretha (d.1344) married in 1342  Duke Willem IV of Gulik (Jülich)
Mechteld (d.1384) had three marriages: Godfried of Loon (m.1336), Jan of Kleve and Jan II of Blois
Maria (d.1397) married with Willem II of Gulik
Elisabeth (d.1376) abbess in Asperden
Eleonora (1318–1355) daughter of King Edward III of England Reinoud III
Eduard (1336 – 1371)

On 11 January 1311, Reinald was married to Sophia de Berthout at Roermond; she was the heiress of Malines and niece of the Bishop of Utrecht, and bore him four daughters. Two of them, Matilda and Marie, succeeded as Duchess of Gelderland in their own right, and Elisabeth was Abbess of Gravendaal/Graefenthal. Sophie de Berthout died in 1329.

Reinald II officially succeeded his father on 9 October 1326. However, he had declared his father unfit to rule in 1316, and imprisoned him in 1318. In May 1332, now in his forties, he married Edward II’s elder daughter Eleanor of Woodstock at Nijmegen. Eleanor was not yet fourteen (born June 1318). She had previously been considered as a bride for King Alfonso XI of Castile and the future King Jean II of France, so marriage to Reinald wasn’t a brilliant match, especially considering her younger sister Joan was Queen of Scotland.

Professor Roy Martin Haines, in his King Edward II, recounts the legend that a non-murdered Edward II was a furtive guest at his daughter’s wedding. There was much rejoicing almost exactly a year later when Eleanor, not yet fifteen, gave birth to a son, also Reinoud (born 13 May 1333). He was followed on 12 March 1336 by a second son, named Eduard after his grandfather.



The County of Jülich (Grafschaft Jülich) was first mentioned in the 11th century. In 1356, the county became a duchy. Its territory is situated in present day Germany (part of North Rhine-Westphalia) and the Netherlands (part of Limburg).

The Duchy was part of the Holy Roman Empire. It was situated on both sides of the river Ruhr, around its capital Jülich in the lower Rhineland. It was combined with the County of Berg in 1423, and from then on also known as Jülich-Berg.

Its history is closely related to that of its neighbours: the Duchies of Cleves, Berg, and Gelre and the County of Mark. In 1423, Jülich and Berg were united. In 1521 Jülich, Berg, Cleves and Mark formed the United Duchies of Jülich-Cleves-Berg in a personal union under John III, Duke of Cleves who married to Maria von Gelre, daughter of William VIII of Jülich-Berg (Source Wikepedia).

In 1339, the county of Gelre was ‘upgraded’ to a duchy, in honour of Reinald’s importance in European politics and the Hundred Years War. Emperor Louis of Bavaria granted Reinoud II in 1339 the title of Duke. In the meantime the power centre of the County/Duchy had moved northwards and for that reason Reinoud and his wife Eleonora founded the Carthusian monastery of Monnikhuizen, near Arnhem. This also became the burial site of the next few generations of the Dukes.

Reinoud IIdied in Arnhem on 12 October 1243 and was succeeded by his elder son Reinald III. Eleanor of Woodstock died on 22 April 1355, not yet thirty-seven, and was buried in Deventer Abbey, which she’d founded. As her two sons died childless, both in 1371, two of her stepdaughters succeeded as Duchess of Gelderland.

(Thanks to Kathryn Warner for her excellent blog on Edward II)


The various Gelre Wars 1343 – 1543

A good example of the effects of medieval warfare can be seen in the history of my hometown Oss. Between 1387 and 1542 the city was burnt down during the Gelre wars and ransacked six times; the population was decimated and many people became refugees in their own region, poverty, starvation and misery became the norm. What had been a thriving city for at least three hundred years became one of the poorest regions of the country, the legacy of this Medieval devastation lasted for some 500 years; the city only started to recover from all this misery towards the end of the 19th century.

There were however distinct phases in these conflicts

  • Succession wars within Gelre – 1343 – 1379 and 1423 – 1477
  • Territorial wars between Brabant and Gelre – 1387 – 1390 and 1397 – 1399
  • The wars against the Burgundians and Habsburgs – 1478 – 1481 and 1497 – 1543

Many of these wars and expeditions were financed through the above mentioned financial instruments. The result of the fact that  cities that had to cough up (forced) loans and other credit facilities was that as much as 50% of the cities expenses consisted of the payments of interests.

Two regional powers at war

Like so many other independent duchies also the new territories in the Low Countries had their origin in the anarchy that followed collapse of the Carolingian Empire. The Dukes of Brabant started to extend their powers from Leuven further north into the low-lying areas of the river Maas.  These lands were only thinly populated, with rather large estates belonging to various abbeys and lay lords which were scattered throughout the Holy Roman Empire and France.

In 1120, under Brabant Duke Godfrey I, the forest domain of Orthen (now part of Den Bosch) became part of Brabant and in 1137 under Godfrey II they took over the ownership of the domains in Lithoijen (5kms north of Oss) from the St Remigius Abby in Reims. Duke Henry I captured various ‘foreign’ domains south of the River Maas that were in the hands of the Counts of Holland and Gelre and in particular he ended the influence of Cleve and Cologne here as well. In these early stages of the formation of the Duchy of Brabant, places like St Oedenrode belonged to Gelre until 1231, and my birthplace Vught until 1202.

A similar situation occurred on the other side of the river Maas. Gelre evolved- as we saw above –  from manors Geldern and Pont along the River Niers and one further south Wassenberg on the River Roer. From here it developed further north to include from 1117 the county of Zutphen, Nijmegen was added in 1248, including the border region along Brabant (Betuwe, Tielerwaard, Bommelerwaard en Land van Maas en Waal). It also included parts of Limburg.

While there are no written sources indicating this, the first clashes between the two regional powers must have started already in the early to mid 12th century.

Animosities are becoming more serious

The expansion of Gelre was halted at the Battle of Woeringen in 1288, when Gelre and their allies were defeated by Duke Jan I of Brabant (see detailed report on this battle). This of course did set the scene for future animosities. Most of the early attacks were hit and run activities rather than a full out war, as we seen in the case of activities in the Land of Cuijk. However, this rapidly escalated and throughout the next 300 years places such a ‘s-Gravenhage (Den Haag), Antwerp and ‘s-Hertogenbosch were all attacked by Gelre.

From medieval knights to standing army

Just before the Gelre wars started the Battle of Woeringen was probably the last medieval battle; fought by knights and their helpers. By the time the Gelre wars were over we are entering the period of the start of the modern standing army.

However during these intervening 300 years, warfare was a very messy affair. Most soldiers were untrained, lacked proper gear and equipment and were often not paid. They were ‘recruited’ from the unemployed in the cities and from the peasants devastated by natural disasters. This unruly lot got billeted within already poor villages. If these villagers were lucky they were compensated for this, however payments could take years and in war situations these often never eventuated.

On top of that these unpaid mercenaries had no trouble ravaging the countryside just to survive themselves.

Slowly but surely Gelre started to push into Brabant, in 1339 it recaptured Tiel and ten years later they were in total control of the lands between the rivers Maas and Waal (Betuwe). In 1350 the Lord of Oijen had to accept Gelre as its feudal lord and parts of those processions were annexed by Gelre. Gelre claimed that because of the dykes had changed the course of the rivers these were originally lands belonging to Gelre. In 1378 Lith was attacked.

First succession war 1343 – 1379

Let’s now go back to the now Duke Reinoud II of Gelre.

Similar to the Hoekse en Kabeljouwse twisten in Holland (see Holland) and  the civil war in Friesland and Groningen known as the conflict between the Schieringen en Vetkoper (see Frisa), also Gelre had its internal troubles during that same period.

Here the conflict was between the Heeckerens en Bronckhorsten. It started in 1343 after the death of Reinoud II . The succession of the eldest son Reinoud III was challenged by the youngest Eduard. The eldest of the two  was only 10 years old at that time so it more likely where the powers behind these two sons who used this situation for their own power struggle. The party around Reinoud was led by Frederik van Heeckeren van der Eze, and the one around Eduard by Gijsbert van Bronckhorst, hence the names “Heeckerens en Bronckhorsten. Reinoud was furthermore supported by the Bishop of Utrecht and Eduard by the Count of Holland.

Dukes Reinoud III and Eduard of Gelre

Duke Reinoud III of Gelre

Born: 13 May 1333
Father:Reinoud II of  Gelre
Mother: Eleonora of England
Title:Duke of Gelre
Died: 4 December1371
Marriages Children
Maria of Brabant daughter of Jan III of Brabant and Maria of ÉvreuxMarried: 1 July 1347
Unknown He had at least one bastard son known as Jan of Hattem

Duke Eduard of Gelre

Born: 1336
Father:Reinoud II of  Gelre
Mother: Eleonora of England
Title:Duke of Gelre (1361 – 1371)
Died: 22 August1371
Marriages Children
Catherina of Bavaria (1360-1400), daughter of the Count of Holland Albrecht of Bavaria.Married: 1371

As Reinoud III was married to Maria van Brabant Brabant also become involved in this succession war and the battles were mainly fought in the river area north of Oss and the city for the first time started to seriously built defence works.

Initially Eduard (The Bronckhorsts) won this battle and became the next duke, he imprisoned his brother after the battle at Tiel in 1361. Eduard married in 1371 Catherina of Bavaria, a daughter of Count Albrecht of Holland. In 1379 Catherina married Willem III of Gulik.

In 1371 – at the battle of Blaesweiler, north of Aachen – against the Wenceslaus Duke of Brabant, Gulik  with the Bronckhorsts were victorious however Eduard – who was instrumental in the victory – died at this battle.

Duke Wenceslaus of Brabant (husband of Duchess Johanna) was made a prisoner in Ghent. Thereafter, Wenceslaus had to face continuous  internal disorders. The brinkmanship on the side of Gelre was fuelled by the increasing possibility the Duchess Johanna of Brabant would die childless. This created uncertainty regarding her succession, Gelre felt secure enough to test the borders with Brabant.

As Eduard didn’t leave a heir behind, Reinoud was freed and reinstated as the Duke however the heavily overweighted Duke also died without a legitimate heir, in that same year.

On the death of Grafenthal abbess Isabella of Guelders the house of Guelders became extinct.

Those now claiming secession rights included the two daughters of Reinoud II, the previous duke:

  • Machteld who was married to Jan III van Blois Count of Holland and
  • Maria wife of Willem II of Gulik and the mother of the seven year old heir of that Dukedom Willem III, for whom she was the regents and for whom she claimed Gelre.

Dukes Willem and Reinoud IV van Gelre

Duke William I of Gelre and  Duke William III of Gulik

Born: 5 March 1364
Father: Willem II of Gulik
Mother:Maria of Gelre (daughter of Reinoud II)
Title:Duke of Gelre (1371 – 1377, Duke of Gulik since 1393
Died: 16 February 1402 – buried  Monnikhuizen (Arnhem)
Marriages Children
Catherina of Bavaria (1360-1400), daughter of the Count of Holland Albrecht of Bavaria and the widow of Eduard of GelreMarried: 1379
Unknown Bastard daughter Maria married in 1402 John of Buren and remarried Reijnart van Crijckenbeck

While in 1377  Emperor Charles IV handed the fief of Gelre to William III of Gulik the power struggle continued. Both fractions had their own powerbrokers and war lords, but eventually it was still Maria who won that battle and in 1379 claimed the throne for her son Willem III of Gulik (1364 – 1402).

He started a campaign to extend the Gelre territory; this would become known as the start of the Gelre Wars.

Between 1383 and 1393 William also participated in several of the Teutonic Crusades in Prussia . His marriage with Catherine remained childless and his brother Reinoud van Gulik became the new Duke Reinoud IV.

The Land of Cuijk with the city of Grave was wedged between Brabant and Gelre and already since 1284 skirmished involved attacks in particular on the strategic situated city of Cuijk on the river maas. Squeezed between the two regional powers the Lords of Cuijk saw- in the second half of the 14th century –  their very significant influence in the region weakened. This eventually led – in 1400 –  to the take over of the Lands by Gelre.

Duke Reinoud IV of Gelre and Gulik

Born: 1365
Father: Willem II of Gulik
Mother:Maria of Gelre (daughter of Reinoud II)
Title:Duke of Gelre and Duke of Gulik since 1402
Died: 25 June 1423 at Terlet (near Arnhem)
Buried: MonnikhuizenArnhem
Marriages Children
Maria of Harcourt, daughter of Jan VI of Harcourt and Catherina daughter of Peter I of Bourbon.Married in 1405After Reinoud’s death she married in 1426 Robert the son of Adolf of Gulik-Berg Childless

An interesting anecdote is that in 2015, thanks to crowdfunding a start was made with the restoration of the prayer book of Maria of Harcourt (as the Duchess of Gelre). It is one of the most important manuscripts of the Northern Netherlands. The book was produced by Helmich die Lewe at the Mariënborn Monastery near Arnhem and finished on October 9th 1415 in Utrecht by the Masters van Zweders van Culemborg.

After the death of Reinoud Gullik was again split from Gelre.

Since 1407, he fought with Jan of Arkel against Holland (Arkel wars 1401-1412 – part of the Hoekse and Kabeljouwse twisten). He signed a peace treaty with Willem IV of Holland in 1412.  The war ended the independence of the Lords of Arkel. Jan became a persona non grata and moved to Gelre under the protection of Reinoud. In 1411 Reinoud offers Jan of Arkel the castle of Oijen (near Oss).

Interestingly the grandson of Reinoud’s sister Johanna (Arnoud) would later also become a Duke of Gelre.

First Gelre War 1387 – 1390

The first so called ‘proper’ Gelre war was triggered by the sale of the castle of Vucht (in the County Of Valkenburg in nowadays South Limburg different from Vught near Den Bosch). This castle was sold to Duchess Johanna of Brabant in 1363 but now the Duke Willem III of Gelre wanted to buy the castle back and when he failed in that he was looking for an opportunity to declare, together with his father,  war against Brabant. This happened in 1383 when Wenceslaus died; with his widow Johanna now in charge of the Duchy he took his changes in 1387.

Johanna immediately sends troops to Den Bosch and the most eastern boarder town Grave. However, thanks to the arrangement with Wenemar van Cuijk, in 1382, Gelre had already occupied the fortress of Grave and was laying their troops in front of Den Bosch, the lands in between these two strongholds a distance of approx. 40 kms  – and in which Oss is situated – was ransacked.

From a report made for the Duchess we know that the town was fiercely defended by the Moedel van der Donk, Jan III van Aemstel, Willem van Boxtel and Godaert and Willem van Beest. The received reinforcements from the Duchess in the form of 70 men with the siege lasted 31 days and while Oss was burned and most people had to flee during the attack, the stronghold was held for Brabant.

Legend has it the battle took place here.

Brabant fought back and forced a peace agreement with Gelre that while signed (on September 11, 1387 in Erp) was not honoured and after a short interruption the war continued. The next month Oss received the assistance from the Duchess to rebuild and reinforces its walls and fortifications by recruiting men from throughout the Marjory of Den Bosch. Jan van Wittem (a bastard son of Duke Jan III) settled in Oss to oversee the rebuilding and fortifications works. As an indication of the seriousness shown by the Duchess, she made money available from her own estate to assist in the financing of the fortifications in Oss. The total force that was stationed in Oss included 1200 cavalry and 4000 archers, significantly larger than the local population; this also must have been a logistic nightmare.

In 1388 Brabant planned a massive attack to liberate Grave, an estimated 40,000 troops, including most of the force stationed in Oss, were gathered partly knights but mostly came from the local population, again including many citizen from Oss. Some 10,000 of them crossed the Maas at Ravenstein on the 29thJuly 1388 but a brave counterattack by Willem van Gelre massacred the Brabantine only just across the river by the village Niftrik. The exact place of the battle is unknown, but local legend has it that it took place close to farm named ‘Strijdkamp” (battle field). Later Willem van Gelre built a chapel here as a thanksgiving for his victory.

This was a major blow for Brabant and the Duchess now secured the assistance of the King Charles VI of France and Gelre was forced to sign an uneasy peace treaty in Korrenzig on 12 October 1388, in 1390 and Grave was returned to Brabant.

Second Gelre War 1397 – 1399

The situation remained flammable and a cold was remained in place until a new war was launched by Gelre in 1397. The reason was a pub brawl in‘s-Hertogenbosch between two hotheads, Wouter van Overijn a supporter of Gelre was knifed down and the Duke of Gelre demanded compensation, which he didn’t receive. In the new battles that followed, both sides ransacked the border regions of each other territories. Oss, again became of victim of this war and was in the autumn of that year attacked and again ransacked in the spring of 1398.

In June 1399 an agreement was reached with Johanna, the daughter of Wenemar van Cuijk, which saw that Grave and the Lands of Cuijk were given in fief to Gelre (but Grave would still remain an open house for Brabant). This meant also the end of the once powerful Lords of Cuijk, whose influence from now on seized to exist; they were never able to recover from this.  The further establish their power the Dukes of Gelre moved to the strategically positioned castle of Grave, now in the hands of Gelre.

Twelve delegates six from each side gathered in Ravenstein. An independent domain had been established here in 1360 and Ravenstein was therefore a neutral territory. This town, also situated on the Maas, is situated midway between Grave and Oss. The war officially ended with the signing of the Peace Treaty of Ravenstein on September 9, 1399.

Also important for future developments was that the castle of Oijen, 5 km north of Oss. After the death of the above mentioned Maria van Brabant in 1399 this castle was also given to Gelre (also as an open house), theoretically  (video clip) Brabant had here the right to use both fortresses to station their own troops. The reality was that Oss literally had the enemy sitting on their doorstep. The Hertogswetering (video clip) became the border between Oss and Oijen.

Castle Oyen

In all Oss was ransacked six times during this period, but in between the more severe periods of devastation there was always the threat of new attacks and there was a continuous requirement for alertness. The local records are full of reports of reconnaissance of activities from the officials of Oss and even espionage was often authorised and paid for by the official, and financed by the Duchy.

With the newly established Gelre enclaves of Grave and Oijen, the strategic importance of the river Maas was significantly reduced for Brabant.

After the death of Johanna in 1406, Brabant became part of the Burgundian Empire.

Second succession war 1423 – 1477

By that time Reinoud IV had become the new Count of Gelre. In 1405 he had married Maria of Harcourt the daughter of the French Count Jan VI of Harcourt.

Together with the Wittlebachers in Holland he tried to stop the influence of Burgundy. After the death of Johanna van Brabant he unsuccessfully claimed Brabant and Limburg for himself.

The Court of Gelre had become one of the most important courts in the region. The total court consisted of some 250 people, the dutchess entourage alone (het huysgesynde) included 50 to 60 men and women. [2. Het Hof van Gelre. Cultuur ten tijde van de hertogen uit het Gulikse en Egmondse huis (1371 – 1473), Gerard Nijsten, p55]

Dukes Arnoud and Adolf van Gelre (House van Egmont)

Duke Arnoud of Egmond

Born: 14 July 1410 Egmond-Binnen
Father: Jan II of Egmond
Mother: Maria of Arkel
Title:Duke of Gelre
Died: 23 February 1473
Buried: St Elizabeth churchGrave
Marriages Children
Catherine of Cleves née Valois, daughter (1417-1479)of Adolf I of Kleve and a niece of Philip of BurgundyMarried: 26 January 1430 in Kleve Maria (ca.1429– 1463), married to King Jacobus II of Scotland
Willem (ca 1434, † young)
Margaretha (1436 – 1486), married  Frederik I van Palts-Simmern
Catharina (1439 – 1496), Regent of Gelre 1477-1481; married (1464) Louise de Bourbon Prince-bishop of Luik

Reinoud died childless and the Estates elected his cousin Arnoud (Arnold) of Egmond as the next Count. He descended from Reinoud’s sister, Johanna. He was born at the castle in Grave, which Reinoud had taken over from the Lords of Cuijk. Grave was one of the signatories of the charter that saw the appointment of Arnoud, an indication that the town was now firmly under the control of Gelre [3. Grave als militaire stad, J.P.C.M van Hoof en H.Roozenbeek, 1998, p11]. He provided the city with new privileges and was instrumental in the economic boom that Grave enjoyed during his reign.

This appointment was against the will of Emperor Sigismund who had favoured the appointment of Adolf van Gulik and Berg. In the end the Estates won the day.

The parents of Arnoud are Jan II van Egmond and Maria van Arkel, Maria was the daughter of Johanna van Gullik (who in turn was daughter of Willem II van Gulik en Maria van Gelre – see above). Lord Jan van Egmond (in Holland) had been the regent for Arnoud from 1423 till he became of age in 1433. The van Egmonds and the van Arkels were both influential noble family in Holland (see: Holland).

Jan and Maria had two children:

  • Arnoud (next duke)
  • Willem,  Stadholder of Gelre (provincial governor, appointed as the official representative of the Duke of Burgundy), married to Walburga van Moers

Defying the Emperor by enlarging their privileges,  Arnoud retained the confidence of the Estates of Gelre and enjoyed the support of Duke Philip of Burgundy. After Philip’s army was defeated by that of Jacoba of Bavaria, the Countess of Holland, Philip realised he needed allies in his claims to annex Holland and Zeeland to his growing empire.  Arnoud agreed to support Philip in these claims. Emperor Sigismund proclaimed that these claims were illegitimate and ordered his subjects not to do any trade with Burgundy. This had a negative effect on the international trade on which Holland and Zeeland heavily depended. However, the German states didn’t react enthusiastically to the Emperor’s order. This in turn saw that under the leadership of Arnoud the alliance was extended and now also included Utrecht (where two competing bishops were involved in their own power struggle), Brabant and Kleve. This was an unsuccessful campaign, however  this in the end did lead to the Kiss of Delft where Philip secured his future claims on the the territories.

However, Duke Arnoud fell out with his allies as his ongoing war efforts put an enormous burden on the cities and its people it finally came to a head when he interfered in the succession to the see of Utrecht. This allowed Philip of Burgundy to eventually join with the four major towns of Gelderland in the successful attempt of replace Duke Arnoud with his son Adolf. Initially it looked like Adolf would not pursue this and that the issue would be resolved in an amicable way, but after a party at the castle in Grave, on the 10th of January  1465,  he imprisoned his father in the castle of Buren took the position of Duke van Gelre.

Duke Adolf of Egmond

Born: 12 January 1438 Grave
Father: Arnoud of Egmond
Mother:Catherina of Kleve
Title:Duke of Gelre 1465 – 1471 and 1473 – 1477
Died: 27 June 1477
Buried: Doornik
Marriages Children
Catherine of Bourbon (1440-1469) daughter of Charles I of Bourbon and Agnes of BurgundyMarried 28 December 1463 Philippa (1465-1547), married in 1485 Rene I of Lorraine who in 1477 successfully had defeated Charles the Bald at the Battle of Nancy in 1477

After Charles the Bold became the next Duke of Burgundy (1467) and after rejecting a compromise re the suzerainty of Burgundy over Gelre, Arnoud – with the assistance of Burgundy –  was in 1471 reinstated as Duke and now Adolf was thrown into prison.

The situation in Gelre was rather different than that of most of the other states. Besides political opportunism, Gelre remained opposed to the Burgundian occupation. Against his own will, that of the Estates and against the law of the land, he had to pledge his duchy to Charles for 300,000 Rhenish florins. Arnoud died in his beloved city of  Grave in 1473. Willem of Egmond (brother of the late Arnoud) was now appointed by the Duke of Burgundy as the Regent of Gelre.

Despite this appointment, the Estates of Gelre only recognised Adolf as their Duke.

With the sudden death of Charles the Bold in 1477, turmoil erupted throughout the Burgundian empire and Gelre – supported by the King of France, the arch enemy of  Burgundy – used to opportunity to set itself free again. Willem was dismissed and Adolf was reinstated as Duke but also dies in that same year.

Philippa of Guelders

Philippa was to grow up to be a celebrated beauty. Her emblem was a thistle leaf with the motto “Do not touch me, or I will prick”. A marriage was arranged with René II, Duke of Lorraine and the nuptials took place on September 1, 1485 in Orléans. Phillipa and René were to have at least 13 children.

Philippa’s husband died in 1508, leaving her with many young children. She tried to undertake the duties of regent for Antoine, the new Duke of Lorraine but it was agreed he was old enough to rule on his own, even though he was only nine years old. After her husband’s death, Philippa was the supreme head of the family.

In 1519, at the age of fifty-two, Philippa’s health was in decline. She suffered from headaches, dizziness and dropsy and told her children she was going to stay for a week or two at the convent of the Poor Clares in Pont-à-Mousson, north of Nancy.

Shortly after arriving at the convent, she decided she wanted to retire and spend the rest of her life there. Her children were stunned. The Poor Clares lived in poverty and under strict guidelines. The children begged her to go to a less severe establishment and that they needed her to guide the family. She held fast to her decision and on December 19, 1519 she was inducted into the order while all her offspring and their spouses watched. She gave her blessing to everyone and retired to the cell which would be her home for the rest of her life. Her duties included cooking, weeding the garden and doing laundry. She slept on straw on bare boards, wore coarse and simple clothing and ate plain food. Her children would continue to visit her, asking for her input when in need. Even when King Francois I was having political troubles, he would come to Pont-a-Mousson to ask her advice. She raised and educated her granddaughter, Mary of Guise at the convent. She died on February 28, 1547 at the age of seventy-nine and was buried at the Cordeliers Convent in Nancy, France.

Source: Philippa of Guelders, Duchess of Lorraine, Susan Abernethy, – October 10, 2013

War against Burgundy 1478 – 1481

After an internal succession struggle the new ruler of Burgundy, the Habsburger Maximilian of Austria who was married to Maria of Brabant, together with the Duke of Cleve supported the party Willem van Egmond (as the appointee of Burgundy). The Duke of Brunswick supported the party of the other contender Adolf van Gelre, supported by the Estates and who fought for total independence. An initial battle at Grave was indecisive and Maximilian moved further south into Gelre, at this occasion Cuijk was also sacked and the church was burnt down.  Duke of Brunswick seized the opportunity and went on a rampage from Grave into the Marjory of Den Bosch.

After nearly a decade of relative peace Oss was sacked again, by 6000 troops fighting on the side of Brunswick; this war ended in 1481. In 1485 Grave and the Land of Cuijk were separated from Gelre and added to Brabant (which already had been part of the Burgundian Empire since 1407. As a result of this separation this territory was, from  1517 till 1550, given in fief by Charles V, as a repayment for his debt to him, to the Count of Buren. In 1559, again because of money problems Emperor Philip II had to given the territory in fief,  this time to William of Orange. He lost all of his properties when he led the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish occupation.

A series of new defence works were launched in the region, including the building of what was unique for this region, so called ‘blokhuizen’, sort of bunkers (block-houses), often near farmhouses.

Duke Charles van Gelre

Born: 9 November 1467 Grave
Father: Adolf of Egmond
Mother: Catherina of Bourbon
Title:Duke of Gelre and Count of Zutphen
Died: 30 June 1538 Grave
Buried: St Eusebius church Arnhem
Marriages Children
Elisabeth of Brunswijk-Lüneburg (1494-1572) daughter of Hendrik VII of Brunswijk-Lüneburg and Margaretha of Saxony.Married 7 December 1463 Childless

At the battle of Nijmegen the six year old Charles was captured by Charles the Bold and taken to the Burgundian court in Ghent were he was educated.

While fighting in the Burgundian army, Charles of Gelre was captured during the battle of Béthune (near Calais, France). After a five year imprisonment and a paying large ransom he was released in 1492 and became the official Duke of Gelre, ending the bitter internal conflict.

War against the Habsburgs 1497 – 1543

The next- and the most destructive – phase of the Gelre wars moved to a wider European theatre all aimed at grabbing maximum power in Europe, it involved all major powers however the fiercest element of it was the war between France and the Habsburgs. Gelre had signed a pact with France, whereby it committed itself to the war with Habsburg and in exchange received financial support of the king of France.

A large part of the Low Countries was already under the control of the Habsburgs, who had inherited it from the Burgundians; they included Holland, Brabant, Flanders and Hainault. The Gelre camp on the other side  also included Groningen (city and region), Frisia (including East Frisia). Utrecht was swinging between the two camps.

In all of this it became clear that the power battle for Gelre was far from over.

Without any declaration of war and rather unexpected Oss became again one of the first targets and Duke Charles of Gelre burnt and ransacked the town again during the night of the 18th and the 19thof October 1497. The Duke of Brabant immediately mounted a large force to fight Gelre, but they were already long gone before the reinforcement arrived. Further defence works were undertaken in Oss, supported by many people recruited from throughout the Marjory of Den Bosch. This event was recorder by the Chronicler of Den Bosch Peter van Os. [4. Kroniek van Peter van Oss, Geschiedenis van ’s-Hertogenbosch en Brabant van Adam tot 1532, p330]

In 1504, the new Duke Philip the Fair declared war on Gelre and personally led the attack from Den Bosch, while Gelre counter-attacked the region around Oss they didn’t dare to enter the city again, however, neighbouring towns were once again ransacked by the Gelre troops. The army stationed in Oss did also lead some of the attacks over the river into Gelre; new fortifications were once again built in Oss. In 1505 again Philip himself headed his troops into Gelre and forced Charles of Gelre to sign a piece treaty. However, after the sudden death of Philip the following year Charles of Gelre continued the war.

An important development for Oss was that in 1511 the new Governess of the Burgundian Netherlands, Margareta of Austria gave the permission to its citizens to demolish the castle of Oijen (video clip) , a job that they cheerfully undertook and finished within 10 days!

However, Charles Gelre was still able to recapture all towns conquered by Philip a few years earlier. On January 7, 1512 Gelre, this time with an army coming from Nijmegen, again surrounded Oss and the city had to pay a large sum of money to prevent yet another sacking. Despite this, the town was still sacked only a few months later, on May the 7th.

Without any serious resistance the whole area of Maasland and neighbouring Peeland were treated by the scorched earth strategy of Gelre; the devastation was unimaginable.

This time the Emperor Charles V himself, became involved and send his councillor Leonard Cottreau to this region to report directly back to him on the desperate situation in this part of his realm.

Report on the region Oss to Charles V.

“The desolation is enormous, there are ruins and burnt down houses everywhere. Some houses are somewhat repaired, others still under repair. However, these dwellings are not of any value, made from weak thin (willow) timber, most not more than daub and wattle shacks; not much more than cattle and pig stalls. Many people die in the winter because of the cold as there are no hearth to built their fires”

He only counted 91 houses and advised the emperor to reduce taxes by 50% for the next 10 years.

The devastation was followed by a four year truce. During this period however, roaming bands of unpaid soldiers was another serious problem for the region.  some time later the emperor again did send new troops to Oss.

War and trade don’t go very well together and when Habsburg under Maximillian  subsequently  declared war on Guelre the cities in Holland  were dead against it. The war was very costly and year after year  the cities were forced to pay large sums of money. At a certain stage the cities requested Governess Margaretha of Austria to negotiate a peace with Gelre on their own accord and they refused to pay the taxes (aides/bede)  to the Emperor. This led in 1508 to the’ gijzeling’ of some of the magistrates of Leiden by the Governess. In the end the cities did come to the party and paid their dues. [5. Bourgondië voorbij. Hostage -taking (gijzeling) in early sixteenth century Holland and the Guelders War. James P Ward p363]

The ongoing financial  support from France allowed the Duke to recruit one of the most brutal military leader, Maarten van Rossem, who in 1514 became the new commander-in-chief under Duke Charles of Gelre.

Van Rossem was born- in Zaltbommel and his family was a large land owner in the Bommelerwaard they had their mansion in nearby Rossem. In 2013 we visited the city castle that he built – around 1530 –  in Zaltbommel which is now home to the Maarten van Rossem museum, interestingly here he is still seen as a local hero while 5 kms further on the other side of the river, until this day his name is still linked with terror and destruction.

At times Gelre was also able to dominate Friesland and Maarten van Rossem was-  as an award for his success in Friesland made Governor of Friesland in 1518. However,  this lasted  for a very short period as in 1519 he decided to return to his military job.  Friesland remained a hard to govern region and Gelre of course didn’t stop ships from the  Frisian pirate Pier the Great, who fought the liberation war against Holland in the north, attacking the richly packed merchant ships from Holland.

Van Rossem’s  tactic was to terrorise the country side as every town and farm in lands under the control of Habsburg became fair game.

Many of the nobility within Gelre, especially the semi-dependent Counts of Buren and of Bronckhorst-Batenburg had been active in opposing Charles of Gelre’s authority. They together with others in this region including the Counts bof Bergh, Culemborg and Limburg Stirum as well as for example the City of Nijmegen, claimed the right of direct appeal to the authorities of the Holy Roman Empire.

Relationships between France and the Empire deteriorated even further in 1526 when broken marriage promises from Charles V had driven the English king Henry VIII into the arms of Francois I and the French felt strong enough again to challenge Charles V in the Low Countries, more money flowed into Gelre as a result of that.

The war often took on the nature of a guerrilla war. There were many hit and run attacks to as far as Alkmaar, Naarden (for video clip Fortress Naarden/Naarden Vesting) and Woerden – deep in the heart of Holland – and even travellers to and from Holland were ambushed near Cologne.

This finally brought several of the Dutch Provinces to negotiate with Charles V for military assistance and for the first time the Provinces voluntarily agreed to pay Charles money for these military operations. This led in 1527 to the Treaty of Schoonhoven, whereby the Bishop of Utrecht puts his territory under the sovereignty of the Emperor in exchange for financial assistance in his fight with Gelre. The following year the Emperor’s rights over Holland, Gelderland, Overijsel and Brabant were again confirmed at the Treaty of Gorinchem, thus lessening the independence of the local nobility and the local cities.

This brought some short term relief.

However, as Charles  threatened to surround Gelre from all sides, van Rossem decided – at the height of his career –  to blatantly attack the capital in the Netherlands in one of those hit and run campaigns and in 1528 he  ransacked Den Haag. He cheered his soldiers on with the promise of lots of plunder. They indeed were able to plunder the city and many other cities on the way. Cities were only saved if they paid large sums of ransom.

Castle of Maarten van Rossem in Zaltbommel
Castle of Maarten van Rossem in Zaltbommel


When in 1528 year Margareta of Austria, on her way from Mechelen to Vienna, planned to travel via Grave, she had to change her plans at the last minute because of war activities. She was accompanied by 200 cavalries under the command of Floris van Egmond. He could report from Maastricht that they had travelled 70 kms in two days and had safely passed the danger zone. From here they travelled to Aachen, Cologne and beyond. [7. Maria van Hongarije en haar hof (1505 – 1558), Jacqueline Kerkhof, 2008, p 204]

In the wake of this rampage Holland granted that year an unprecedented large sum of money, while 3,500 men were specially raised to form the core army to liberate Utrecht. They continued from here and also took Hettem, Elburg and Harderwijk . Duke Charles of Gelre  capitulated but he proved to be an astute negotiator and signed an agreement with Emperor whereby he stayed on control of Gelre, Groningen and Drenthe and  six years later he broke this of and the war continued.


Maarten van Rossum
Maarten van Rossum

As with any other army in the late Middle Ages, they often were not paid and these troops than ravaged the lands and forced farmers to give them their food and cattle and often after that their farms were burned. Such looting affairs are known from Turnhout, Den Bosch and Antwerp. It also clearly showed the Dutch Governess was unable to defend her territory; she was deeply hurt that she was often ridiculed on local pamphlets.

A half-hearted attempt by Charles V to conquer the Gelre city of Venlo failed miserably. This led to the Peace of Grave which was signed in 1536.  Charles of Gelre renounced his claims on Drenthe and Groningen and  promised (but didn’t sign)  that in the case he would die childless Gelre would become part of the Burgundian Empire.

Duke William of Gelre (House van Kleve)

However, after the death of Charles of Gelre in 1538 – which ended a 50 year reign –  the Estates  elected Willem van Kleve (he wasn’t the most direct but  a distant relative of Charles) as the viceroy of Gelre and with the protection of King Francois I and his marshal Maarten van Rossem they defied the promise made to the Emperor. While the new Governesses Queen Mary wanted to take immediate action her brother indicated he was occupied elsewhere (Battle of Tunis).

Francois used the opportunity and started to make arrangements for Duke Willem to be married to one of his family members and in England Henry VIII married Anna of Kleve. This potentially brought Charles V in further conflict with these two powerful neighbours. Cleve also  started to join the Reformation which gave him the support of the Protestant German Princes. While all of this happened Charles was in Ghent suppressing the revolt that had been going there for more than 2 years. He received here several diplomats to discuss the precarious situation he was now in [6. The Emperor Charles V, Karl Brandi, p 435].

For the next few years Charles again spend most of his time trying to find solutions for his political conflicts in France, Germany (fighting the Turks) and Italy as well as in relation to the Protestants German Princes and on top of that he continued to try and manage the complex inheritance arrangements in relation to his vast Empire.  Of interest here is the arrangement Charles made with Landgrave of Hesse at the Diet in Regensburg, The Landgrave agreed to keep Kleve out of the Schmalkaldic League and agreed not to  go into a private treaty with the Duke, he also supported the imperial claims on Zutphen and Gelre [8. The Emperor Charles V, Karl Brandi, p 451].

However, more generally Charles V had not been successful containing the Reformation, advance his family arrangements or secure peace with France. Furthermore he had run out of money (which prevented him providing assistance to his sister Mary in her troubles with Gelre) and went back to Spain from where he launched a campaign against the Turks in Africa (Algiers). He wrote to Mary that it would take him two years to settle his other affairs before he could attend to her troubles. He also asked her to have 16 large guns and 24 small field-pieces cast as well as ammunition for them and to keep that ready for him t0 be used in Mechelen. In preparation Mary started a tour throughout the Netherlands inspecting the various fortifications. However, with the revolt in Ghent fresh in her mind she knew she had to be careful in pressing the Estates of the various (rich) provinces too far for all those ongoing war efforts.

A new war started in 1542 when Francois – with the assistance of Maarten van Rossem – took possession of Stenay on the river Maas, just north of Verdun, the French King was annoyed by the overtures of the Duke of Lorraine towards the Emperor. Fog prevented further attacks from the French on Flanders and Artois.

The Danish King Christian III also signed an alliance with France in an attempt to stop the Dutch control of maritime trade to the Baltic.

Charles ordered Queen Mary to start strengthening her boarder region with France and also avoid any maritime action that would trigger a Danish attack on the exposed Dutch coast. In a tit for tat Francois funded the totally ruthless Maarten van Rossem to rampage the Netherlands and this had now become the biggest threat.  Mary took personal control of the situation and together with her Councillors she organised the defence and the attack around her territory.

Queen Mary as well as the Prince of Orange were worried that the well paid mercenary army made out of Germans, Swedes and Danes would again attack The Hague. During the rampage, van Rossem crossed the River Maas at Ravenstein on July 20th 1542 with 14000 troops and 2000 riders. Van Rossem could not control his troops and they went on a rampage through  Brabant; one of the mobs went to Oss and on October 22nd ransacked the city once again and they also took many prisoners.

From here the army marched on to Antwerp, trying to join up with the French troops. Mary was equally ruthless against any of the enemy and this stimulated the cities to double their effort regarding their protection, militias were formed and new fortifications erected. A massive effort was concentrated on Antwerp, the whole population was involved in building new defense works. The young and still somewhat inexperienced Prince of Orange was send with his troops to their rescue, on the way his was able to cause significant damage to the Gelre troops. When they arrived at Antwerp the population was able to successfully stop the first attack.Van Rossem was forced to bypass the city but spread shocking terror and damage to the less protected country side between Antwerp , Brussels and Mechelen. His next aim was Leuven he tried to get ransom money and bounty, but also here the city, led buy the students, successfully the defended the city. Finally close to the city of Metz, Gelre linked up with the French forces of the Duke or Orleans. Together they captured the town of Yvoy and from here they successfully captured Luxembourg.  For unknown reasons the attack came to a halt here.

Back in the Netherlands Queen Mary launched an attack on the Duke  William of Kleve and Gelre. The Prince of Orange captured Sittard but the city was lost in a counter attack. One of her other commanders had set up camp near Aachen. But the war effort came to a halt when winter started to set it. Another problem Mary faced was the lack of unity among her Estates , with ongoing haggling regarding financing the war effort.

In early 1543 Charles V was able to sign an agreement with Henry VIII of England aimed to harness opposition against France, in particular regarding the French alliance with Turkey. This treaty also allowed for the re-establishment of commercial relation between the Netherlands and England.

In the meantime, Maarten van Rossem , funded by new money from France went on another rampage through the Netherlands.  He again crossed the Maas at Ravenstein.  Boxtel, Vught, Vlijmen, Oisterwijk, HilvarenbeekTilburg, Esch, Helvoirt and Den Dungen were either ransacked or had to pay large ransoms to avoid it. After some initial losses, a fresh attack from the Prince of Orange led to the recapturing of Sittard.
Charles V finally was ready to make his move the main aim was to attack France. Thanks to the King of Portugal paying his daughter’s dowry to the value of 150,000 ducats he was able to send Spanish soldiers to the Netherlands and recruit others in Germany. Around that same tome Duke William had received the sacraments in both kinds and applied for admission to the Schmalkaldic League, however as promised Landgrave Philip of Hesse refused this. A last unsuccessful diplomatic attempt was launched and Charles V led his army into Germany. He entered Bonn on the 17th of August, flattened the fortress of Düren and took the fortress of Jülich, without resistance. Roermond, the first city in Gelre proper was captured on September 2nd.  By now Duke William was deserted by all of his friends and in Venlo he fell on his knees before Charles. On September 7, 1543 the capitulation was signed by Maarten van Rossem and others at the Treaty of Venlo. present here was also the young Prince William of Orange.  Gelre was officially separated from the rest of the northern Netherlands and a separate Stadholder was appointed.
Charles agreed a pardon and William gave up Zutphen and Gelre, he would abandon his allies and return to the Catholic faith. He was forced to divorce his young French bride but  in order to ensure that the Duchy would now firmly be incorporated into the Empire, the Emperor arranged in 1546 the marriage between Duke Willem and the Habsburg Maria of Austria (a niece of Emperor Charles V). It is perhaps for this reason that he received the name William the Rich.
After centuries of war between Gelre and  Brabant, Burgundy and the Holy Roman Empire,  the Duchy was finally conquered -without any further major bloodshed.
Interestingly Maarten van Rossem ended up as a military leader in the army of the Emperor and as such turned into an enemy of France. On one of his expeditions, in 1555,   he died after his military camp suffered an outbreak of the plague.
Duke William of Gelre
Born: 28 July 1516 Düsseldorf
Father: Adolf of Egmond
Mother: Catherina of Bourbon
Title:Duke of Kleve, Gulik and Berg from 1539-1543 Duke of Gelre
Died: 5 January 1592
Buried: Düsseldorf
Marriages Children
Maria of Austria (1531-1581) daughter of Emperor Ferdinand I and Anna of BohemiaMarried 18 July 1546 Marie Eleonore (June 25, 1550 – 1608) married Albert Frederick, Duke of Prussia.
Anna (March 1, 1552 – October 6, 1632) married Philip Louis, Count Palatine of Neuburg.
Magdalene (November 2, 1553 – July 30, 1633) married John I, Count Palatine of Zweibrücken, brother of Philip Louis, Count Palatine of Neuburg.
Karl Friedrich (1555–75)
Elizabeth (1556–61)
Sibylle (1557–1627) married Karl II Habsburg (1560–1618) of Austria, Margrave of Burgau, morganatic son of Ferdinand II, Archduke of Austria
John William (May 28, 1562 – March 25, 1609), Bishop of Münster, Count of Altena, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg married in 1585 to Jakobea of Baden (1558–97), daughter of Philibert, Margrave of Baden-Baden married in 1599 to Antonia of Lorraine (1568–1610), daughter of Charles III, Duke of Lorraine). He had no known legitimate children. He possibly had a son, Herman op den Graeff (b. 26 November 1585) from an unproven morganatic marriage with Anna op den Graeff van de Aldekerk (b. 1565, m. 1585, d. 1616).


During the Dutch Revolt is didn’t came as a surprise that Gelre rapidly became part of the Dutch Republic again fighting for independence this time from the combined Spanish Habsburg Empire.


In a report from the Schout of Oss from 1526 it is stated that between 1497 and 1515 the city had paid 20 thousand guilders in ransom. On top of that the damage bill stood at 40 thousand guilders. Reported theft was estimated at 1100 guilders. These are massive amounts of money for that period.

Osshad suffered very severely. In 1437 the town had 361 taxable homes; in 1515 this had been reduced to 91. In al it had been plundered and ransacked five times, generations of people didn’t know anything else than war. At the same time the town got regularly swamped by troops not just by the ones that ransacked them but also by those who came to fight Gelre from the fortress that Oss had become and I am sure that sometimes the people would have questions who was fiend and who was friend.

Poverty and misery must have been heart-rending, there was constant displacement of people; refugees everywhere, many fled to Den Bosch but equally many stayed and squatted within the walls of Oss. As we saw in the report above, people hurdled together in leaking and half-open huts unprotected from rain and wind during winters that were becoming more and severe. There was no Red Cross, no relief campaigns, people were largely left on their own to survive – perhaps with a bit of charity here and there – or as was often the case to die.

It is more than likely that Oss during these years of war also was hit by the many severe epidemics that raged through Europe between 1350 and 1450. Those recoded in the Low Countries include the outbreaks in 1360-2, 1362-4 1368-9, 1371-2, 1382-4, 1409, 1420-1, 1438-9, 1450-4, 1456-9, 1466-72, 1481-2, 1487-90 and 1492-4. A severe epidemic hit Oss furthermore in 1599.

Between 1570 and 1600 because of crop failures as a result of bad weather and of land and harvest destruction as part of the war against the Spaniards the population of the Meierij (including Oss) decreased by 70% [9. Staatsvormend Geweld, Andriesen, p360].

There is no reason to believe that the situation in  Oss during  this period would have been different from that in other devastated regions in Europe where the average lifespan had dropped from 35-40 years to below 30.

But as if this wasn’t enough, the once prosperous town did not get much time to recover as it would again become a border town in the war between the Republic of the Netherlands and Spanish-Habsburger Empire. This Eighty Years War lasted from 1568 till 1648, after which Brabant became not more than a colony of the new country until well after the French Revolution.

In 1512, in the hamlet of Scheyk, 2 kms east of Oss the St Antonius Chapel was burn down by Charles of Gelre and until its final demolition in the 1930s, was never restored and remained a ruin for 400 years,  a clear sign of the desolate situation of this city during all those centuries.

The above mentioned regional wars could also well have been a reason that when Maria of Austria abdicated as Governess in 1555, she indicated that women were not well suited to fight wars.

County of Kleve (Grafschaft Kleve)

In the 8thcentury Count Dietrich von Kleve married the heiress of Teisterbant, Countess Ida.

Ricfried (Dodo) is mentioned as Count of the Betuwe and Count of Kleve. He was a feudal lord under Louis the Pious; son of Charlemagne. In 815 his son Baldrik receives the county of Twente in fief. His son Luthardis takes over the title as Count of Twente and Kleve.

His son Rixfridus becomes the 7thprince bishop of Utrecht as well as Count of Twente and Kleve. After his death in 828 Twente gets divided in three regions and Goor and Almelo remain under direct control of Utrecht. Overtime the Count of Goor also holds Twente in fief for the Bishop.

Officially the County of Kleve, as it continued into history, was formed in the 11th century. Emperor Henry II appointed two brothers as counts of the Lower Rhine (Niederrhine), one of them Rutger  Flamenses became the founder of the Kleve  dynasty and  Gerhard became the Count of Gelre. This was made possible after the murder in 1016 of the Saxon nobleman Wichman III of Vreden by Adela of Hamaland . The Emperor confiscated her territories and Gelre and Cleve were split off and handed over to Rutger and Gerhard who, in 1033,  had lost their possessions at Ename(?)  in the pagus Bracbatensis in a war between the forces of the Emperor and Count Baldwin IV of Flanders.

A key reason for the establishment of Kleve was the management of the Reichswald (imperial forest). The local castle is first mentioned in 1092. The territory included: Kalkar, Zyfflich, Bedburg and Xanten. Rutger was also made a vassal of the Betuwe.

Properties of the van Kleve family in the Betuwe also included the town of Woudrichem with more feudal rights in this area around it.

While the exact history is not certain it looks like that his son Rutger II is the next count from 1050-1075, followed by his son Diederik II 1075-1091 (unknown if  there was a Diederik I). Diederik II 1091 – 1119 was married to Maria of Hennenburg. He participated in the First Crusade, he dies childless and his brother Arnaud I (till 1147) becomes the next count.

He married in 1128 Ida van Leuven, a sister of Count Godfrey of Bouillon. This resulted in an extension of the County and as a result Wesel was added to its territory, a strategic position on the Rhein. Their son Diederik IV (+1172) marries Adelheid of Sulzbach. His sister Adelheid marries in 1186, Dirk VII of Frisia (Holland). In order to seize power over Holland his younger brother Willem kidnapped in 1203 Aleid and he brought her to England (see Holland).

Diederik V (1160- 1198) married in 1182 Margaretha van Holland, daughter of Count Floris III of Holland. He joined Barbarossa in 1190 on the Third Crusade, together with the Counts of Flanders, Brabant and Gelre. He might have dies on this expedition.

Their son Diederik VI (1185 – 1260) . He became involved in the Loonse succession wars in 1203 when he supported his niece Ada of Holland, as the legitimate heir of the County of Holland. His daughter as saw above was married to Otto II of Gelre.

Diederik VII (+1275) marries Adelheid van Heinsberg.

Their son Diederik VIII (1256 – 1305)  fought at the famous battle of Ane in 1277 together with amongst others: Bishop Otto II van Lippe, the Bishops of Münster and Cologne, Count Gerard III of Gelre, Count Rudolf van Goor,  Count Baldewijn van Betheim and Lord Gijsbrecht II van Amstel.

In 1288, he also participated in the famous Battle of Woeringen on the side of the Duke of Brabant.

He was first succeeded by his eldest son Ott0 (1278-1310 ) and after his early death by his brother Diederik IX (1291-1347). Diederik also claimed to hold the rights to the County of Heusden, which led a to a conflict between Holland and Brabant in 1318.  Gerard I van Horne –  who was married to Diederik’s sister Irmgard van Kleve – mediated a peace treaty. Gerard was killed in the battle of Stavoren in 1345.

Diederik also died without a male successor his uncle John became the last male heir of the House of Kleve. He was the youngest son of Diederik VII. He married Mechteld of Gelre (the daughter of Reinoud II of Gelre) , but also their marriage didn’t produce a male heir.

From here the title of Count of Kleve went Adolf III of Mark (1334 1394) he was the son of Adolf II of Mark and Margarteha of Kleve, the daughter of Diederik IX.

Dutchy of Kleve

Adolf III was married to Margaretha of Gullik and their son Adolf IV of Kleve (1373-1448) married  Maria van Bourgundy (ca. 1400-1463), daughter of  Duke John the Fearless. (She is not the same as her grandniece and namesake the later Dutchess of Burgundy). Adolf was brought up at the Burgundian Court and as a result of the successes in the battle of Kleverhamm (1397) the County was elevated to a Duchy in 1417. During that battle he had also conquered Ravenstein and part of Gennep.

His eldest son John I became the next Duke. He was married to Elisabeth of Burgundy (a granddaughter of Philip the Bald). It is under his reign that the Duchy reached its largest seize, he reconquered the Duchy of Mark as well as Lobith, De Duffel, Elten and Wachtendonk.

His brother Adolf  (1425 – 1492) inherited the counties of Ravenstein, Herpen and Uden , he than becomes known as Lord of Ravenstein. He became the most important official at the Burgundian Court. However, this situation changed when he, together with other nobles and representative of the cities of Brugge and Ghent turned against Maximilian of Australia, as a result he was expelled of the Order of the Gulden Fleece.  He was married to Anna of Burgundy (of Ravenstein) a legitimate bastard daughter of Philip the Good. Thanks to Anna’s intervention he was posthumously reinstated in the Order a decade after his death.

John son John II (1458-1521) becomes the next duke and he marries Mathildis von Hessen (1437-1505). Their son John III (1490 – 1539) marries Maria van Gullik-Berg. Their daughter Anne of Cleves became the 4th wife of Henry VIII of  England, this was purely a political contract and he was able to wriggle him out of that candidly disclosing his sexual incapabilities.

Their son Willem was elected as the new Duke of Gelre (see above), after Charles of Gelre had died.  In order to legitimise this claim he joined the Protestant Schmalkaldic League. This brought him further in conflict with Charles V. Cleve also supported the Reformation, despite earlier promises not to do so. After a humiliating defeat in 1543, Cleve fell back in line and in order to appease the heavily punished Duke  a marriage was arranged – as we saw mentioned above – between Willem and a niece of Charles V.

It is interesting to note that both Kleve and Gelre had a shared start, they both became a Dutchy and 500 year later the ended up together again.

The History of Northwestern Europe (TOC)