Massacre of Oudewater: The Sad Context of Arminius

Derek Ouellette —  October 7, 2010

As I read through Carl Bangs biography of Jacob Arminius I can’t help but be saddened by his up bringing. Let me set the context. Arminius’ father died probably in the same year that Arminius was born, strongly suggesting that his father never even had an opportunity to lay his eyes on him. The town of Oudewater where Arminius was born and raised was under Spanish rule and thus controlled by the Roman Catholic church. A priest of protestant sympathies named Aemilius took notice of the young Arminius and took him under his wings.

Sometime during his early teens Arminius was relocated with his priest/father to the town of Utrecht where Aemilius died and – once again – left Arminius the orphan and this time away from his mother and siblings. But another man named Rudophus Sneillus took notice of Arminius (does God provide or what?) while traveling through Utrecht. Sneillus took Arminius back with him to Marburg (where Sneillus was from) and placed him in a university there. Arminius was 16.

During this whole period in Arminius’ life, his home city of Oudewater had been politically liberated from the Spanish, and turned Protestant. but in 1575 – the year that Sneillus took the young 16 year old Arminius to Marburg – Spanish forces returned to Oudewater with a vengeance. The sad story is told like this:

[As the Spanish cannons attacked] breaches were made in the town walls, however, and although they were repaired in the night, the artillery of the attacking army kept up its work of destruction faster than repairs could be maintained. The Spanish troops then entered the city itself and a new phase of the attack began.

It is not a nice story. First the defending soldiers on the walls were shot or stabbed to death. Those who fled into the town were pursued and killed. Then the massacre spread to noncombatants. Mothers were killed in front of their children; children in front of their mothers. Girls and women were raped in view of fathers and husbands, and then all were killed. No place, no person, was exempt from the pillaging invaders. When nuns in the cloisters were discovered, they pleaded that they were faithful Roman Catholics. “So much the better for your souls,” said the soldiers as they raped and murdered them…

It was in this massacre that Arminius lost his mother, his siblings, and according to earliest accounts, all his other relatives.” Carl Bangs, Arminius: A Study in the Dutch Reformation

When word reached Arminius (again, only 16) of the massacre, “after two weeks of weeping and lamentation, almost without intermission, Arminius left Marburg and returned to Holland to look once more upon his native town, though in ruins, or to meet death in the attempt”.

And this is the context that the young and brilliant reformed scholar would eventually take his tutelage in Geneva under the rule of Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor and the father of high Calvinism.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • William Birch

    I told this story to a Reformation class at Southeastern last year in Wake Forest, NC (Southeastern College at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary). My Reformation professor asked me to lead the class discussion and teach on Arminius and the Remonstrants (in lieu of writing the final paper at the end of the semester). The students were visibly upset when they heard this story. One student uttered something to himself (he was shocked). I think Arminius’s trip on foot was about 250 miles, if I remember correctly.

  • Derek Ouellette

    The story of Arminius is amazing. My previously shallow view of this man was simply that he was the father of Arminianism. But to look at his life, his character, his experiences and his intellect and wow, I’m proud to be an Arminian.

  • Niels Overhalle

    Amazing story indeed. Makes it even sadder that Arminius was wrong… it seems all so useless.

  • Nelson Banuchi


    I’m wondering if there is any supporting evidence of some kind that would lend to the theory that the trageday at Oudewater influenced, in one degree or another, Arminius’ theology, especially with reference to his opposition regarding Calvinistic notions on predestination and election.

    I’m a member at SEA, also. I’m planning to attend the Arminius Conference in California in Feb, 2012 and wanted to write a paper (although I’m not a scholar). My thesis is that, since Arminius’ theology was concerned with God’s character, the tragedy that struck his family and hometown was influential towards his theological position.

    Would you be able to direct me to any supporting evidence, if there is any?

    Thank you.