Dutch territory had been in Spanish hands since 1556, under the leadership of Philip II (1527–1598), but this started to change in 1568 when the Dutch started to rebel under the leadership of William of Orange (1533–1584) in what came to be known as the Eighty Years’ War (1568–1648).
The main complaints against Philip were his attempts to tighten his control over Dutch territory and his relentless persecution of Protestants. In response, 200 Dutch noblemen signed a petition in 1566, asking for more religious tolerance—which remained a staple of Dutch culture.
Militarily, the Dutch initially only had moderate success, but this changed in 1571 when the watergeuzen (“sea-beggars”)—a group of fugitive Protestant nobles at sea, who had joined forces with bandits and adventurers—took Den Briel and later various other cities.
In 1581, the Staten-General, the Dutch assembly, felt confident enough to sign the Act of Abjuration (“Plakkaat van Verlatinghe”)—the Dutch declaration of independence—in which they claimed Philip had forfeited his right to rule by acting like a tyrant.