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The Dutch Sea Beggars

1. Origin
In the period 1550-1560 the Dutch Provinces were trying to gain their independance from the Spanish empire of King Philip II. Consequently many Dutch people (including noblemen) were persecuted, because they committed treasonous acts against Spain. There was also the religious matter of the many protestants that were lived in the Netherlands. They were hounded by the (Spanish) inquisition which often confiscated the properties and titles of those it convicted.
Another organisation that was formed as a court of trial was the Blood council. The Spanish rulers used this organisation to try and convict those that they considered quilty of treason.
In the 1550s and 1560s groups of people began wandering and started robbing and plundering. Often monasteries and clerical travellers were their targets. These roving bands came to be known as the Wild beggars or Forest beggars. In the end a force of army-veterans managed to suppress them for a time, but in the latter half of the 1560s they resurfaced as the sea beggars.

2. Bases of operation
The sea beggars were comprised of adventurers, pirates and patriots (= those fighting against the Spanish rule in the Dutch provinces). At sea they proved to be even more succesful than on land, though not unbeatable.
For several years their bases of operation included the ports of Emden (on the coast of the Dutch Province Friesland), La Rochelle (on the coast of France) and Dover (on the coast of England). The Sea beggars attacked vessels of almost any nation as well as fishing villages and towns on the coast of the Dutch Provinces. On 10 July 1568 a Spanish fleet was attacked and defeated by the Sea beggars.

3. Willem van Oranje
Oranje was a stadhouder in the service of Spain who eventually turned against the empire in the 1560s and helped organize the Dutch struggle for independance. In the last half of the 1560s he tried to form these Sea beggars into an effective and organized fighting force against Spain. He issued letters of marque and the following orders:

Despite these orders and the letters of marque many vessels of nations other than those of Spain were attacked by the Sea beggars. Even fishing-boats and merchant vessels of the Dutch Provinces were not safe from attack. A case in point was Lord De Dolhain. For several months in 1570 he acted as Admiral for the Prince of Oranje. Because he refused to render any accounts of his expeditions he was deprived of his command. In a letter to the Church in London, dated 26 February 1573, the Prince remarked on one of the reasons why the Sea beggars often attacked ships indiscriminately: they earned their meals through the mouths of their Cannons.

4. Den Briel
A plan of attack was made that involved the Sea beggars. They would be part of a concerted attack on Spanish forces on three fronts: the Sea beggars would attack from the sea, a military force consisting of huguenots would attack from France and a another military force would attack from Germany.
The plan fell into the water due to a premature attack from the Sea beggars. Due to increasingly improving relations between Spain and England in 1572, the ships of the Sea beggars were unable to get sufficient provisions.
A fleet of 24 vessels, under the command of (among others) Willem de la Marck, Willem Blois de Treslong, Adam van Haren and Martin Brand, sailed from Dover in March of 1572. They intended to attack th island of Texel but were blown off course by bad weather. Instead they attacked and captured the city of Den Briel on April Fool's day. De la Marck wanted to sack the city, but Admiral Treslong convinced him to try to hold the city. The capture of Den Briel marks the beginning of the secession of the Northern Provinces from the Spanish empire.
The Sea beggars managed to repel an attack by a Spanish force led by count Bossu (Maximiliaan de Hennin) by flooding the surrounding land. After this the Sea beggars counter-attacked and plundered the harbour of Delft. Eventually they left Den Briel again.

5. Other actions
In 1573 the Sea beggars met with less success. A fleet of their ships was defeated by a Spanish fleet on the 8th of May. Most of the ports and towns on the coast of the Dutch Republic who had declared their alliance to the forces of Oranje in 1572 (after the succesfull attack on Den Briel) were also retaken by Spanish forces.
In October of 1573, however, the tide turned again and a fleet of Sea beggars (under the command of Cornelis Dirckszoon) of about 20 ships managed to defeat a fleet of 30 Spanish vessels. 5 ships were captured and the Admiral Count Bossu was taken prisoner.

6. Spanish privateers
The attacks of the Sea beggars on the fishing-boats and villages on the Dutch coasts resulted in a marked decrease in the number of fishers. The fisheries on the coasts of the southern Provinces never completely recovered from these attacks. In 1583 Spain used several of its harbours as bases of operation for their privateers. Spain had no difficulty in finding crews for its privateers since many people who had been active in the fisheries were without a job. The harbours of Oostende, Nieuwpoort and Duinkerken became their main bases of operation.

John Motley
The rise of the Dutch Republic: a history / by John Lotrop Motley. - London : George Routledge & Sons, 1878
Anton van der Lem
De opstand in de Nederlanden (1555-1609) / Anton van der Lem. - Utrecht [etc.] : Kosmos, 1995
Lexicon geschiedenis van Nederland & België / [eindred. : Liek Mulder ; met medew. van Jan Brouwers ... et al.]. - Utrecht [etc.] : Kosmos, 1994
S. Groenveld
De kogel door de kerk? : de opstand in de Nederlanden (1559-1609) / S. groeneveld ... [et al.]. - 3e bijgew. dr. - Zutphen : De Walburg Pers, 1991. - (De tachtigjarige oorlog ; 1)

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