"Commemoration of the Battle of Empel"
 Battlefield myth
Investigation made at:
Empel, municipality of 's-Hertogenbosch, Province of North Brabant, the Netherlands
GPS Location:
5144'12.6"N 518'06.9"E
Period Covered:
4 - 8DEC1585
Date: 2DEC2023
On Saturday 2DEC2023 , this agency witnessed the 2023 edition of the commemoration of the Battle and the Miracle of Empel.
The miracle is about a battle which turned out to be an unexpected Spanish victory on 8 DEC 1585, near Empel, in the Netherlands, as part of the 'Eighty Years' War, in which a surrounded Spanish force won against a numerical superior enemy.

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Spanish Army officers giving a speech about the Battle of Empel in 1585.
Note Battle Detective Tom on the far right behind Spanish Army security personnel

That year Spanish troops decided to go into winter quarters in the Low Countries and about 3000-4000 men of the "Tercio" under Francisco Arias de Bobadilla were stationed on Bommelerwaard; an area of land surrounded by the water of the river Meuse. The land was supposed to be rich enough to support these troops through the winter. But all the farmers had left the island, taking their cattle with them.
Desperate situation
To make matters worse for the hungry Spanish troops, the commander of their enemy, Philip of Hohenlohe, arrived with a strong land force and 100 ships. He offered an honorable surrender to the Spaniards but their response was strictly negative. Then, the dikes of Bommelwaard were breached, forcing the Spanish back over the river Maas to higher ground around the hamlet of Empel. From there they were unable to reach nearby 's-Hertogenbosch, because the terrain was flooded and guarded by Hohenlohe's fleet. The island was also under artillery fire from a fortress at the opposite side of the river. The situation for the Spanish seemed desperate.
Miracle of Empel
A Spanish soldier who was digging a trench around the church of Empel found a painting representing Mary of the Immaculate Conception. Bobadilla interpreted the discovery as a sign from God, and had the painting raised next to the Spanish flag.
That night, a sudden drop in temperature froze the shallow waters of the flooded countryside making it possible for the Spanish troops to attack the rebels and burn their ships. The next day they charged and conquered the Dutch fortress located alongside the river.
That same day, Mary of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed patroness of the Spanish Tercios of Flanders and Italy.

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Left: artist impression of the painting of Saint Mary being carried before the Spanish colors.
Right: modern Artificial Intelligence impression of the Battle of Empel

438th Anniversary
Since the year 2000, Spanish people, most of them affiliated with the military in general and the infantry branch in particular, visit the location of the battle annually.
With wool knit hats on and thick scarves around their necks, about 250 Spaniards stood along the banks of the river Maas on Saturday 2DEC2023. It made an appropriate picture, because 438 years ago this was the place where 4000 Spanish soldiers escaped death thanks to the frost.
Most Dutch people and even many people from Empel are unaware of the story. But for the Spaniards this is still a historical event that is widely commemorated. There is even a national holiday created for it on December 8. This Saturday, a week before that holiday, dozens of Spaniards will come to the hamlet in the Province of North-Brabant. The miracle was first commemorated at the river bank.

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About 250 mostly Spanish people during the commemoration on the river bank

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Video impression of the crowd and the ceremony at the Maas river bank on December 2nd, 2023

Then the audience moved to the Chapel of Saint Mary where they sang a battle song together.

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Spanish gathering at the Saint Mary chapel in Empel

Program leaflet with battle hymn of the Spanish Infantry

Their ceremony ended in church with a holy mass but we left the cold river floodplains before that.

Commemoration and not a Case File

The story of the Battle and the Miracle of Empel is a battlefield mystery that calls for further investigation. So far, however, we have found no leads or clues to investigate further into the matter. It is a fact that thermometers as we know them today had yet to be invented in 1585 and no records of meteorological data were kept at the time.
It is therefore not possible to find an explanation for the sudden freezing of the flowing water in the river Maas and the stagnant water in the floodplains.
We appreciate the story of the Miracle and the Battle of Empel as it is told today and will keep our sensors out for future investigative leads should to appear.

Back to Commemoration Page

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