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A History of Sea Power by Stevens and Westcott

The seven provinces north of the Scheldt


Though

not yet able to stand up against Spanish infantry, the Dutch in naval battles were usually successful. In the Scheldt, January 29, 1574, 75 Spanish vessels were attacked by 64 Dutch under Admiral Boisot. After a single broadside, the two fleets grappled, and in a two-hour fight at close quarters eight of the Spanish ships were captured, seven destroyed, and 1200 Spaniards killed. The Spanish commander, Julian Romero, escaped through a port-hole, is said to have remarked afterwards, "I told you I was a land fighter and no sailor; give me a hundred fleets and I would fare no better."

In September following, Admiral Boisot brought some of his victorious ships and sailors to the relief of Leyden, whose inhabitants and garrison had been reduced by siege to the very last extremities. The campaign that followed was typical of this amphibious war. Boisot's force, with those already an the scene, numbered about 2500, equipped with some 200 shallow-draft boats and row-barges mounting an average of ten guns each. Among them was the curious _Ark of Delft_, with shot-proof bulwarks and paddle-wheels turned by a crank. As a result of ruthless flooding of the country, ten of the fifteen miles between Leyden and the outer dyke were easily passed; but five miles from the city ran the Landscheidung or inner dyke, which was above water, and beyond this an intricate system of canals and flooded polders, with forts and villages held by a Spanish force four times

as strong. The most savage fighting on decks, dykes, and bridges marked every step forward; the Dutch in their native element attacking with cutlass, boathook and harpoon, while the superior military discipline of the Spanish could not come in play. But at least 20 inches of water were necessary to float the Dutch vessels, and it was not until October 3 that a spring tide and a heavy northwest gale made it possible to reach the city walls. In storm and darkness, terrified by the rising waters, the Spanish fled. The relief of the city marked a turning-point in the history of the revolt.

During the six terrible years of Alva's rule in the Netherlands (1567-1573) the Dutch sea forces contributed heavily toward the maintenance of the war, assured control of the Holland and Zealand coasts, and more than once, as at Brill and Leyden, proved the salvation of the patriot cause. Holland and Zealand, the storm-centers of rebellion, were not again so devastated, though the war dragged on for many years, maintained by the indomitable spirit of William of Orange until his assassination in 1584, and afterward by the military skill of Maurice of Nassau and the aid of foreign powers. The seven provinces north of the Scheldt, separating from the Catholic states of the south, prospered in trade and industry as they shook themselves free from the stifling rule of Spain. By a twelve-year truce, finally ratified in 1609, they became "free states over which Spain makes no pretensions," though their independence was not fully recognized until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. The war, while it ruined Antwerp, increased the prosperity of Holland and Zealand, which for at least twenty years before the truce were busily extending their trade to every part of the world.

_Growth of Dutch Commerce_

The story of this expansion of commerce is a striking record. The grain and timber of the Baltic, the wines of France and Spain, the salt of the Cape Verde Islands, the costly wares of the east, came to the ports of the Meuse and Zuyder Zee. In 1590 the first Dutch traders entered the Mediterranean, securing, eight years later, the permission of the Sultan to engage in Constantinople trade. In 1594 their ships reached the Gold Coast, and a year later four vessels visited Madagascar, Goa, Java, and the Moluccas or Spice Islands. A rich Zealand merchant had a factory at Archangel and a regular trade into the White Sea. Seeking a reward of 25,000 florins offered by the States for the discovery of a northeast passage, Jacob van Heimskirck sailed into the Arctic and wintered in Nova Zembla; Henry Hudson, in quest of a route northwestward, explored the river and the bay that bear his name and died in the Polar Seas.


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