On 4 November 1576, mutinous soldiers sacked Antwerp, destroying the port and buildings, and killing thousands of the city's inhabitants.
On 1 September 1575, Spain was officially bankrupt. The government of King Philip II had incurred huge debts as a result of the many wars the Spanish empire waged all over the world. Some of the soldiers stationed in the Netherlands had not received any pay in two years, and revolted.
In early October 1576, a number of Spanish officers led by Sancho d'Avila, the commander of the citadel of Antwerp, secretly met to discuss their plans to plunder the wealthy city of Antwerp. On 4 November, mutinous soldiers invaded homes, killing the men, raping the women, stealing money and jewellery. The city was sacked for three long days, and neither the rich, nor the poor were spared this fate.
The citizens defended themselves against the mutineers in Grote Markt by shooting at them from the windows of the town hall. The attackers suffered substantial losses as a result. After storming the town hall several times, however, they succeeded in getting in and setting the building on fire with bundles of straw they had with them. The fire made it impossible to defend the town hall. Anyone fleeing the building was instantly killed in the square. The fire soon spread to other houses and spread throughout the city. About 600 houses burnt down in all, most of which were located behind and next to the town hall.