The Dutch Army On Skates

From: "The Rise of the Dutch Republic", by John L Motley

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Background: The time is December, 1572. Don Frederic was the murderous son of the

Duke of Alva, and commander of the troops who had just butchered nearly every

citizen and soldier in the city of Naarden. After leaving the city in, ashes, Don

Frederic departed for the front at Amsterdam to meet with his father.

"Maneuvers On The Ice" (Vol. 2, Pg. 427-8)

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A little fleet of armed vessels, belonging to Holland, had been frozen

up in the neighborhood of Amsterdam. Don Frederic on his arrival from

Naarden, dispatched a large body of men over the ice to attack the

imprisoned vessels. The crews, had, however, fortified themselves by

digging a wide trench around the whole fleet, which thus became for the

moment an almost impregnable fortress. Out of this frozen citadel a strong

band of well-armed and skillful musketeers sallied forth upon skates as the

besieging force advanced. A rapid, brilliant, and slippery skirmish

succeeded, in which the Hollanders, so accustomed to such winter sport, easily

vanquished their antagonists, and drove them off the field, with the loss of

several hundred Spaniards left dead upon the ice.


'Twas a thing never heard of before today,' said Alva, 'to see a body

of arquebusiers (musketeers) thus skirmishing upon a frozen sea.' In the

course of the next four-and-twenty hours a flood and a rapid thaw released

the vessels, which all escaped to Enkhuyzen, while a frost, immediately and

strangely succeeding, made pursuit impossible.


The Spaniards were astonished at these novel maneuvers upon the ice.

It is amusing to read their elaborate descriptions of the wonderful

appendages which had enabled the Hollanders to glide so glibly into battle

against a superior force, and yet so rapidly to glance away, after achieving a

signal triumph.

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Note: Alva immediately ordered 7,000 pairs of skates for his soldiers, who

soon acquired adequate skating skills.


It's unfortunate the author didn't describe in more detail Alva's impression

of this battle, though it's not difficult to envision the humor of this

event (despite the loss of lives). After reading the horror stories of what

the Spaniards did to the Dutch in city after city, year after year, I found

myself applauding these minor Dutch victories, and admiring more and more

the courage and spirit of a people who refused to submit to Spanish

authority. Though they tried for more than 30 years, Spain never conquered Holland.

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