In Search of Better Stories

Is The Netherlands really "A Great Bog, the Buttock of the World."?

  • The Netherlands, that Great Bog, the Buttock of the World

     In the 1500s, this is precisely how Spain felt about their northern neighbour. The Spanish joked that the Dutch were so geographically low that it was a strait cut to hell for them when they died! The trouble with the Dutch was that submission to a foreign power wasn’t their thing, and they had different ideas about religion. Additionally, they were hardworking, easy-trading people that knew how to make money. In contrast, the Spanish preferred poverty over labour and honour over trade. The Spanish got involved with the Dutch through royal marriage. As Spanish power grew, so did the tax burden they put on the lowlanders. Eventually, they stationed troops there to quell rebellious attitudes and stop burgeoning heresy. Matters escalated over time, and the conflict deteriorated into a quagmire of slaughter and counter-slaughter. Spain funded the brutality with new world resources, but they could not subdue the Dutch completely. After a time, it was evident that they should cut their losses in the Netherlands and get out, but such humiliation was not in the playbook for Spanish Hapsburg royalty. The conflict lasted for 80 years before the Dutch victory, and this drain was a significant factor in the Empire’s collapse. This story reminds me of Napoleon’s “Spanish Ulcer” 200 years later. Germany’s invasion of Russia in World War 2. And more than likely, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in our modern time. History is a series of re-runs!

  • Dutch Speed Skating Helped Win the War! 

    It’s the winter of 1572, and crack Spanish troops are closing in on Dutch soldiers who are short on supplies: no worries, the canals, tributaries, and waterways are covered in ice, and the women and children of the Netherlands know how to skate fast. They rip past the Spanish soldiers as they stumble on the ice re-supplying their troops just in time. 

The ice has trapped several Dutch ships, and the Spanish venture out on the ice to kill and collect the spoil. As they approach the crippled vessels, Dutch sailors transform themselves into musket-wielding speed skaters. Like angry hornets, the Dutch skaters fly out of their ships to meet the enemy. The slipping and sliding Spanish soldiers are no match for their effortlessly gliding opponents and are cut to pieces. 

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