The Beggars of the Sea

The Dutch Reformation has a fascinating history. Here is one of my favorite scenes from their war with the Spanish in 1573:

Since their oppressors called them beggars, that was the name they [Dutch Protestants] would give themselves. The leather bag of a beggar became the banner of rebellion…

But Philip was not a king to be swayed by his subjects’ opposition. He had declared, with vehement sincerity, that he had no desire to be “lord of heretics.”

The Protestant cause was therefore desperate. Its only hope seemed to be in the beggars of the sea, while its armies were repeatedly and roundly defeated. The crisis came at the siege of Leiden, an important trading center that had declared itself for Protestantism, and which the Spanish had surrounded. An army sent by William of Orange to break the siege was defeated by the Spnaish, and in that battle two of William’s brothers were killed. All was lost when William, whose enemies called him “the Silent” or “the Sly,” suggested that the dikes be opened, thus flooding the land around Leiden. This implied the destruction of many years of hard work, and the loss of a great deal of arable land. But the citizens agreed. In spite of an incredible shortage of food, the besieged continued their resistance during the four months that it took the sea to reach Leiden. Riding the flood, the beggars of the sea also arrived, shouting that they would rather be Turkish than Popish. Lacking naval support, the Spanish were forced to abandon the seige.

~Justo Gonzalez The Story of Christianity Vol. 2 pg. 98,100