Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
October 4, 1999
Dutch city remembers end of foreign rule
While East Timor suffers the horrendous consequences of a 25-year struggle for independence the citizens of Leyden will dig into their "hutspot" on Oct. 3 and celebrate the 425th anniversary of the liberation of their city from Spanish domination.
There will be marching bands in the flag-decked streets, followed by cheering children draped in orange banners. Street vendors will hawk white bread and salt herring, and everybody will look forward to a traditional supper of simmered meat, potatoes, carrots and onions, called "hutspot."
Why all this commotion for something that happened in 1574? The answer is that the battle for Leyden was a decisive moment in an 80-year bloody struggle between Dutch Protestant freedom fighters and the forces of the Spanish Counter-Reformation.
After five months of siege and starvation, the suffering city was liberated by a small guerilla force of "sea beggars" who had punctured the dikes, inundated the low lands and sent the Spanish troops scurrying for their lives.
Demoralized, the Spaniards must have decided to forego supper as the liberators found their pots of stew still simmering over low fires. This "hutspot" as well as herring and bread, tossed from barges into the cheering crowd of emaciated citizens, was the first hopeful sign that the brutal oppression would end.
In all, 6,000 people out of a population of 14,000 died from starvation and the plague. All the rationed provisions of corn were consumed and every animal was slaughtered and eaten. The only food left in the city was horsehide boiled in water.
One cannot help but think of the words of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright when she remarked: "Sanctions are amongst the most powerful and lethal weapons in our armoury," referring to Iraq where 6,000 children die each and every month as a direct result of a UN siege that has lasted for 10 years.
But, back to Leyden and why people are still celebrating. Phillip II, son of Charles V, Holy Roman emperor and king of Spain, was in a fierce battle with the rebellious trading cities of the northern Netherlands.
Not only was the divine right of kings being tested by a group of minor nobles and common burghers, but the one and only true faith was being questioned by Protestant heretics supported by a nouveau riche merchant class.
To control the anarchy, Phillip bypassed William of Orange Nassau, the most powerful prince in the region, and appointed his bastard sister Margaret of Parma as regent of the Low Lands and the duke of Alva as his military governor.
Spanish rule was enforced by these two with murderous efficiency. Dutch heretics and subversives were murdered with equal abandon like the pagans in the Latin American colonies were slaughtered by Phillip's conquistadors. Entire cities were razed to the ground.
People tend to revolt when they have to endure revolting circumstances for too long. A sense of nationhood swelled in the breasts of the northern citizens. While Catholicism stressed obedience to authority, Calvinism gave permission to rise up against despots.
Guided by Prince William of Orange the movement was inspired by broad popular outrage, religious conviction and a deep yearning for independence from foreign control.
The impact of the battle for Leyden was the end of Spanish homegeny in Europe and perhaps the New World. It also heralded the age of parliamentary democracy and the establishment of religious plurality.
Whether the world had become a better place as a result is a question for speculation, but for the people of Leyden the defeat of the Spaniards made a world of difference. "Hutspot," anyone?
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
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