Jun 4, 2008

History Slivers: The Sea Beggars

This is a recurrent feature on the site in which I briefly describe some arcane aspect of history that I came across, but about which I am too busy or lazy to write in greater depth, yet which - sliver-like - I cannot simply ignore.

I came across the group of people known as the "Sea Beggars" in Charles Boxer's 1965 text The Dutch Seaborne Empire, and just from the name I knew that I was going to have to learn more about these militant nautical rebels. Something along the lines of pious pirates, the Sea Beggars were a motley collection of Calvinist Dutch nobles, urban working class workers, and unemployed riff-raff who opposed Spanish rule in the Netherlands during the sixteenth century.

The Sea Beggars owe their name by an attempt to discredit them with the French term ces gueux ("beggars"), and they proudly modified the would-be epithet to Gueux de mer ("Sea Beggars"). While engaging in acts of piracy against Spanish shipping, the Sea Beggars nonetheless believed themselves to be among the unconditional elect, and thus their criminal acts were performed in God's name.

Illustration of the 1566 raid on Amsterdam's Haarlemmerpoort by the Sea Beggars

The Sea Beggars played an important role in the 1572 Dutch revolt against the Spanish, capturing the towns of Brielle and Flushing in that year, as well as setting an example of successful rebellion. In addition, this group of religious privateers also harassed Spanish shipping and ports as far away as Cuba, and they sound like they were tougher than a crew of New York movers.

M.B. Synge's 1909 text The Awakening of Europe contains lyrics from a sea ditty that was sung by the Sea Beggars:

Long live the Beggars! Christians, ye must cry.
Long live the Beggars! pluck up courage then.
Long live the Beggars! if ye would not die.
Long live the Beggars! shout, ye Christian men.

—Beggar's Song (1570)


Tim Higgins said...


Dutch privateers, English Privateers ... why is it that nobody seems to have like the Spanish very much?

I'm just sayin' ...

microdot said...

Tim, read your history! Being a privateer and capturing rich Spanish treasure ships was Sir Francis Drakes part time job and quite a lucrative one. He had to give a portion to The Queen! King Phillip had that damned business with the Armada...

I am finding a lot of historical paralells between Phillip the Second of Spaion and George Bush.....
A common penchant for running up insane debts, embarking on deluded military plans because of a "gut feeling". Not listening to good advice and a tendency to be isolated from reality......

Spain was the most powerful nation on earth when he reigned but then it began to sink and once the bottom fell out...

Tim Higgins said...


I try as best I can to delve into history as much and as often as possible. I even understand that privateers went after Spanish ships for the same reason gangsters robbed banks (that's where the money was).

I am not sure about the parallel you are making, but history will be the final judge of that.