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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

And in 1569 there were 18 ships engaged


Resembling

our American Revolution in the character of the struggle as well as the issues at stake--though it was far more bloody and desperate--the Dutch War of Independence was fought mainly within the country itself, with the population divided, and the Spanish depending on land forces to maintain their rule; but, as in the American war, control of the sea was a vital factor. For munitions, supplies, gold, for the transport of the troops themselves, Spain had to depend primarily on the sea. It is true one could continue on Spanish territory from Genoa, which was Spain's watergate into Italy, across the Mont Cenis Pass, and through Savoy, Burgundy, Lorraine, and Luxembourg to Brussels, and it was by this route that Parma's splendid army of 10,000 "Blackbeards" came in 1577. But this was an arduous three months' march for troops and still more difficult for supplies. To cross France was as a rule impossible; when Don Juan of Austria went to Flanders for the brief period of leadership ended by his death of camp fever in 1578, he passed through French territory disguised as a Moorish slave. By the sea route, upon which Spain was after all largely dependent, and the complete control of which would have made her task infinitely easier, she was constantly exposed to Huguenot, Dutch, and English privateers. These gentry cared little whether or not their country was actually at war with Spain, but took their letters of marque, if they carried them, from any prince or ruler who would serve their
turn.

With this opportunity to strike at Spanish communications, it will appear strange that the Dutch should not have immediately seized their advantage and made it decisive. One curious difficulty lay in the fact that throughout the war Dutch shipping actually carried the bulk of Spanish trade and drew from it immense profits. Even at the close of the century, while the war was still continuing, nine-tenths of Spain's foreign trade and five-sixths of her home trade was in foreign--and most of it in Dutch--hands. Hence any form of sea warfare was sure to injure Dutch trade. The Revolution, moreover, began slowly and feebly, with no well-thought-out plan of campaign, and could not at once fit out fully organized forces to cope with those of Spain. The Dutch early took to commerce warfare, but it was at first semi-piratical, and involved the destruction of ships of their own countrymen.

The Sea Beggars--_Zee Geuzen_ or _Gueux der Mer_--made their appearance shortly after the outbreak of rebellion. "_Vyve les geus par mer et par terre,_" wrote the patriot Count van Brederode as early as 1566. The term "beggar" is said to have arisen from a contemptuous remark by a Spanish courtier to Margaret of Parma, when the Dutch nobles presented their grievances in Brussels. Willingly accepting the name, the patriots applied it to their forces both by land and by sea. Letters of marque were first issued by Louis of Nassau, brother of William of Orange, and in 1569 there were 18 ships engaged, increased in the next year to 84. The bloody and licentious De la Marek, who wore his hair and beard unshorn till he had avenged the execution of his relative, Egmont, was a typical leader of still more wild and reckless crews. It was no uncommon practice to go over the rail of a merchant ship with pike and ax and kill every Spaniard on board. In 1569 William of Orange appointed the Seigneur de Lumbres as admiral of the beggar fleet, and issued strict instructions to him to secure better order, avoid attacks on vessels of friendly and neutral states, enforce the articles of war, and carry a preacher on each ship. The booty was to be divided one-third to the Prince for the maintenance of the war, one-third to the captains to supply their vessels, and one-third to the crews, one-tenth of this last share going to the admiral in general command.


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