Thursday, July 8, 2010

In keeping with the essentially non-serious posts of today . . . Why the Dutch are the way they are.

The Duke of Alva.

Alva, Ferdinando Alvarez de Toledo, Duke of, born in 1508. Spanish governor of the Netherlands under Philip II of Spain, and notorious for the merciless manner in which he exercised his dictatorial power. Under his rule more than 18,000 persons were sent to the scaffold, and a revolt, headed by the Prince of Orange, broke out, which, after nearly forty years of war, resulted in the independence of the provinces.

From a story about the Dutch soccer team's legendary hubris, there is this quote:

"What’s with a country that calls itself the Netherlands and Holland? Yet its people are Dutch. That’s the equivalent of referring to yourself in the third person."

The fact that Hollanders claim two names for their country is perhaps:

a. because Dutchmen are notoriously independent and hard-headed and find it difficult to agree on anything, or,

b. an understandable reaction to the fact that early on, under the Hapsburgs, the place didn't really have a name. It was called unceremoniously "De landen van herwaarts over," which means "those lands around here."

William the Silent, Prince of Orange.

Pretty funny. Even funnier is the fact that Prince William of Orange, Holland's George Washington, was born in Germany and usually spoke French. The Dutch War of Independence is also called the "Eighty Years War," because although it took forty years for the Netherlands to win her independence from Spain -- the world's mightiest empire at the time -- it took another forty years to secure it.

Think about that. Eighty. Years.

It takes a particularly stubborn people to accomplish that.

William joined the resistance to Spanish tyranny after being summoned to Alva's "Council of Troubles," which was called by the Dutch people as "The Council of Blood." William the Silent declined the honor and was declared outlaw with all his titles and lands confiscated. One of the most prominent and popular politicians of the Netherlands, William of Orange emerged as the leader of an armed resistance. In one of his first -- and most important -- acts of rebellion, he issued letters of marque and financed the Watergeuzen -- the "Beggars of the Sea."

Wikipedia offers this explanation of the name:

The leaders of the nobles . . . bound themselves to assist in defending the rights and liberties of the Netherlands against the civil and religious despotism of Philip II. . . On April 5, 1566 permission was obtained for the confederates to present a petition of grievances, called the Request, to the regent, Margaret, Duchess of Parma. About 250 nobles marched to the palace accompanied by Louis of Nassau and Bréderode. The regent was at first alarmed at the appearance of so large a body, but one of her councillors, Berlaymont, was heard to exclaim, "What, madam, is your highness afraid of these beggars?"

The appellation was not forgotten. At a great feast held by some 300 confederates at the Hotel Culemburg three days later, Bréderode in a speech declared that if need be they were all ready to become beggars in their country's cause. The name became henceforward a party title. The patriot party adopted the emblems of beggarhood . . . The original league of Beggars was short-lived, crushed by Alva, but its principles survived and were to be ultimately triumphant. In the Dutch language the word geuzennaam is used for linguistic reappropriation: a pejorative term used with pride by the people called that way.

The fierce privateers were led by a succession of daring and reckless leaders, the best-known of whom is William de la Marck, Lord of Lumey. At first they were content to merely plunder Spanish ships and harbors, carrying their booty to the English ports where they were able to refit and replenish their stores. But in 1572 Queen Elizabeth I of England abruptly refused to admit the Sea Beggars to her harbors. No longer having refuge, the Sea Beggars set sail not knowing where they would go until they learned that the Spanish garrison of the port of Brielle had sallied forth on a punitive expedition into the countryside, leaving the town largely unguarded. Betting everything in the gamble, The Sea Beggars made a desperate surprise attack upon Brielle and seized it on 1 April 1572. They decided to push their luck and then sailed to Flushing, which was also taken by a coup de main. The capture of these two towns gave the signal for a general revolt of the Netherlands, and is regarded as the real beginning of Dutch independence as the native population, sparked by the success of the Sea Beggars, rose in rebellion against "the Iron Duke" in town after town and spread the resistance southward.

In 1573 the Sea Beggars defeated a Spanish squadron under the command of Admiral Bossu off the port of Hoorn in the Battle on the Zuiderzee.

Ships of the Sea Beggars after the naval battle of the Zuiderzee.

Some of the forefathers of the great Dutch naval heroes began their naval careers as Sea Beggars and the Dutch became the premier sea-faring explorers of their day. The English didn't know an astrolabe from their ass until the Dutch pilots they employed taught them how, and the successful battle of the Dutch at Zuiderzee against a larger Spanish force was the subject of considerable study by the Englishmen who later defeated the Spanish Armada.

And the English, often as not, sailed in Dutch-built ships. The shipbuilding industry was one of the cornerstones of the economic prosperity of the Dutch "golden century." As a modern expert wrote:

By 1600 Dutch shipbuilders dominated the European market, selling their products to buyers from Riga in the Baltic to Venice in the Adriatic. The success of the industry was based on its 1ow costs and on the technical superiority of its product. Dutch shipbuilders used more efficient building methods and produced ships of better design than their European rivals. . . .(B)y the middle of the sixteenth century the Dutch had adopted the new methods and designs completely. Moreover, they improved them. They built the ship's frame first and then added the planks for the hull.

And there were hardworking van der Boeghs on the ways, carving out "catholes" for stupid Englishmen who still hadn't figured out how to do it as well themselves.

The Dutch and the British have always had a love-hate relationship, no more so than when we Americans rose in rebellion against "Fat George," as John Hancock called him. In her book The First Salute, Barbara Tuchman relates a little-known but important incident of the American Revolution: a ritual salute fired in recognition of the American ship “Andrew Doria” by the Dutch garrison at Saint Eustatius in the West Indies, the first official recognition by a foreign power of America as an independent nation. The early battles of the Revolution were fought with Dutch powder, purchased from the Dutch at St. Eustatius and and smuggled through the British blockade by ships such as the "Andrew Doria." Lacking domestic production of gunpowder, our rebellion was made possible by the Dutch. Eventually the arms trade made the English so mad, they declared war on Holland.

Then there's the whole "living-below-sea-level-on-land-you-reclaimed-over-the-centuries" thing. Stubborn? Hard working? Proud? Even, arrogant?

You bet your ass.

The Duke of Alva and the sea made the Dutch who they are. I'm damned proud that some of that blood flows in my veins. And I'll be rooting for the descendants of the Sea Beggars against the descendants of the Inquisitors on Sunday.

You can bet your ass on that, too.

Arjen Robben, Dutch forward, 2010 World Cup.


Mile66 said...


Legal Alien said...

As an ex South African boer, with lots of Dutch blood in my veins, I must say I like your slant on the Dutch.

Even though they 'disowned' South Africa during the Apartheid years - I can forgive them for that.

Well done!!!

Dennis308 said...

Mr. Vanderboegh Are we tooting our own horn today. To me the word stubborn is synonymous with tenacious.
I have a question for you does the name Vanderbough have anything to do with the Dutch word for ships carpenter or a shipwright/builder.
I´m also glad the Dutch won against Uruguay,now to defeat Spain for the World Cup. Oh how sweet that would be.
Damn Spaniards,a scourge upon them.


Pat H. said...

Always enjoy the history, Mike.

Rob Roy is my ancestor. My family has been in North America for about 300 years.

All fought for the freedom side in the War for Southern Freedom, Murray Rothbard would certainly have approved of their efforts.

And your ancestors efforts too.

Anonymous said...

USA lost :( Deutschland lost :( so yeah, up de Oranje-Vrijstaat!

Ted (not the Nuge) said...

That was a really cool chunk of history there, thanks for the write up.

Go Dutch!