The Battle of Heiligerlee (Heiligerlee, Groningen, 23 May 1568) was fought between Dutch rebels and the Spanish army of Friesland. This was the first Dutch victory during the Eighty Years’ War.
The Groningen province of the Spanish Netherlands was invaded by an army consisting of 3,900 infantry led by Louis of Nassau and 200 cavalry led by Adolf of Nassau.
Both were brothers of William I of Orange.
The intention was to begin an armed uprising against the Spanish rulers of the Netherlands.
The Stewart of Friesland and also Duke of Aremberg, Johan de Ligne, had an army of 3,200 infantry and 20 cavalry.Aremberg initially avoided confrontation, awaiting reinforcements from the Count of Meghem. However, on 23 May, Adolf’s cavalry lured him to an ambush at the monastery of Heiligerlee. Louis’ infantry, making up the bulk of the army, defeated the Spanish force which lost 1,500–2,000 men, while the invading force lost 50, including Adolf. The rebels captured seven cannon.
The invading force however, did not capture any cities and was soon defeated at the Battle of Jemmingen.
The death of Adolf of Nassau is mentioned in the Dutch national anthem (4th verse):
“Lijf en goed al te samen
heb ik u niet verschoond,
mijn broeders hoog van namen
hebben ‘t u ook vertoond:
Graaf Adolf is gebleven
in Friesland in de slag,”
zijn ziel in ‘t eeuwig leven
verwacht de jongste dag
- “Count Adolf stayed behind, in Friesland, in the battle