The Robustus  Share

This month’s object is the Antwerp Robustus daalder dating from 1584. It is an emergency coin which illustrates the difficult situation then facing the city on the River Scheldt. In the 16th century, Protestantism was spreading rapidly in the Netherlands. However, the regions which had gone over to the reformed church very soon clashed head-on with the Catholic Spanish ruler. Philip II, King of Spain and son of Charles V, was determined to restore Catholicism and to root out Calvinism. This led to the Eighty Years’ War in which the Seventeen Provinces rose up against Spain. However, there were socio-economic factors involved, as well as religious motives.

F. Hogenberg (Iconoclastic fury, Antwerp, 1567)

F. Hogenberg (Iconoclastic fury, Antwerp, 1567)

The revolt against Philip II began in 1566, the crucial year in which radical protestants destroyed a number of churches and catholic symbols. Philip II responded to this iconoclastic fury by sending the Duke of Alba to the Netherlands to restore order. There followed a period of repression and radicalisation of the rebellion as a reaction to the harsh tactics of the Spaniards. It was only when Alva was recalled that the situation stabilised. With the appointment of a new governor and the signing of the Pacification of Ghent (1576), a fragile balance was restored. However, when the subsequent governor, Don Juan, disregarded this peace agreement, the Calvinists seized power in various towns in Flanders and Brabant. Calvinist rule was established in cities such as Ghent, Brussels, Mechelen, Bruges and Antwerp, so that in practice they became independent. The municipal corporations, such as the trade associations and guilds, played a key role here and saw the restoration of their mediaeval privileges.

Antwerp had enjoyed strong economic growth in the 16th century and was at the height of its prosperity around 1570, accounting for around 75% of the exports from the Spanish Netherlands. However, this trading metropolis was not spared the political and religious upheavals that ravaged the Netherlands. Calvinist rule began in Antwerp on 12 December 1577 and at that moment the city thus declared its independence from Spain and Philip II. However, Philip sent one of his most capable generals, Alexander Farnese, to the Netherlands to win back the lost territories. By military expertise and good negotiating techniques, Farnese made rapid progress northwards, reconquering city after city. The end of the Calvinist rule in Antwerp came on 19 August 1585 when, after a 14 month siege, the city had to yield to Alexander Farnese and reverted to Spanish rule. Among other things, Farnese had blockaded the Scheldt to prevent supplies getting through to the rebel city. During the surrender negotiations, he also gave the most radical elements the opportunity to leave the city and establish themselves elsewhere. However, Philip II subsequently ordered Farnese to turn his attention to the French and to end his campaign in the Netherlands. The North thus escaped the fate of the southern cities.

The fall of Antwerp was a turning point in the division of the Netherlands into North and South, a division which still persists today. The southern Netherlands became Catholic again, as part of the Habsburg empire. The North succeeded in remaining Protestant and freeing itself from the Spanish yoke. The intelligentsia left the conquered Flemish and Brabant cities and headed north, an exodus which led to the development of the North Netherlands as a prosperous trading nation in the 17th and 18th centuries, with Amsterdam as the centre. Antwerp lost its privileged trading position as a result of the blockade of the Scheldt and had to watch helplessly as the focus of economic activity shifted to Amsterdam. The war with Spain was to continue in the north until the Peace of Münster in 1648, the end of the Eighty Years’ War.

During the uprising and the independence of various cities, the coinage was also decentralised. In that connection, in the year preceding the fall of Antwerp, 1584, the Robustus daalder was minted. The coin weighed 28.6 grams and had a silver content of 83.3%. A daalder is a silver coin which was first minted around 1500 in Joachimsthal (Tyrol), hence the name ‘Joachimstaler’ which later became ‘taler’ or ‘daalder’. These coins very soon became popular because they filled the gap between gold coins and small silver coins.

Robustus (reverse and front side)

Robustus (reverse and front side)

On the face is a depiction of a soldier in Roman uniform with a helmet on his head. In his right hand he carries a sword and in his left a shield. Behind the soldier stands the Brabant lion rampant. The text on this side is from the Book of Joshua, part of the Old Testament. It reads: ‘CONFORTARE ET ESTO ROBUSTUS’, which means ‘Be strong and courageous’. These are all references to the difficult period suffered by Antwerp as a result of the Spanish siege.

On the back, we see the Brabant lion again, this time depicted on the coat of arms of the Dukes of Brabant. On either side of the coat of arms is a crowned letter ‘B’, another reference to Brabant. The inscription ‘MONAETA DUCATUS BRABANTIAE 1584’ surrounds the coat of arms, a reference to the place and date where this coin was struck.

The Antwerp mint produced 34,715 of these Robustus daalders between September 1584 and June 1585. A half Robustus daalder was also minted with the same effigy as the large coin. There were 288,145 of these placed in circulation. The design of this series of coins was new, and was not based on any existing coin. The gold coin minted by the States of Brabant was modelled on the gold coin of Philip the Good.

David Hesters,
museum guide


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