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Geuzen (French: Les Gueux, English: the Beggars) was a name assumed by the confederacy of Calvinist Dutch nobles and other malcontents, who from 1566 opposed Spanishmarker rule in the Netherlandsmarker. The most successful group of them operated at sea, and so were called Watergeuzen (French: Gueux de mer, English: Sea Beggars). In the Eighty Years' War, the Capture of Brielle by the Watergeuzen in 1572 provided the first foothold on land for the rebels, who would conquer the northern Netherlands and establish an independent Dutch Republic.

Origin of the name

The leaders of the nobles, who signed a solemn league known as the Compromise of Breda, by which they bound themselves to assist in defending the rights and liberties of the Netherlands against the civil and religious despotism of Philip II of Spain were Louis, Count of Nassau, and Henry, Count of Bréderode. 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 (ces gueux)?"

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 wallet and the bowl, as trinkets to be worn on their hats or their girdles, and a medal was struck having on one side the head of Philip II, on the other two clasped hands with the motto Fidèle au roy, jusqu'à porter la besace ("Loyal to the King, till carrying the beggar's pouch"). 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.

Sea Beggars

William I of Orange
1569 William of Orange, who had now openly placed himself at the head of the party of revolt, granted letters of marque to a number of vessels manned by crews of desperadoes drawn from all nationalities. These fierce privateers under the command of a succession of daring and reckless leaders, the best-known of whom is William de la Marck, Lord of Lumey, were called Sea Beggars, Gueux de mer in French, or Watergeuzen in Dutch. At first they were content to merely plunder both by sea and land, and carrying their booty to the English ports where they were able to refit and replenish their stores.

However, in 1572 Queen Elizabeth abruptly refused to admit the Sea Beggars to her harbours. No longer having refuge, they made a desperate attack upon Briellemarker, which they seized by surprise in the absence of the Spanish garrison on April 1, 1572. Encouraged by this surprising success, they now sailed to Flushingmarker, 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.

In 1573 the Sea Beggars defeated a Spanish squadron under the command of Admiral Bossu off the port of Hoornmarker in the Battle on the Zuiderzeemarker. Mixing with the native population, they quickly sparked rebellions against "the Iron Duke" in town after town and spread the resistance southward.

Some of the forefathers of the great Dutch naval heroes began their naval careers as Sea Beggars, such as Evert Heindricxzen, the grandfather of Cornelis Evertsen the Elder. Many Geuzen medals were awarded.

References

  • Kervyn de Lettenhove, Les Huguenots et les Gueux, (six volumes, Brussels, 1882-85)
  • Renon de France, Histoire des causes de la désunion . . . des Pays-Bas, (three volumes, Brussels, 1886-91)
  • Jurien de la Gravìere, "Les gueux de mer" in Revue des Deux Mondes (Paris, 1891-92).
  • Van der Horst (2005) Nederland: de vaderlandse geschiedenis van de prehistorie tot nu. (3rd edition; in Dutch). Amsterdam, Bert Bakker. ISBN 90-351-2722-6. p. 132



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