Monday, November 11, 2013

Travelblog 10: Rotterdam, Part 2: Oldenbarnevelt

Heroes pop up in surprising ways. There are names that need to be remembered and honored in every country among every people in the world, for their bravery and their conviction. There are stories that demand telling and re-telling for the lessons that can be learned. These stories almost always center around great sacrifice. All too often, that sacrifice is the ultimate one, given for a cause far greater than the life that is lost. What makes a hero, living or dead, is courage under fire regardless of personal safety. This truism applies to both warriors and peacemakers, who should work hand in hand. On Veteran’s Day, it seems somehow fitting for me to briefly remind the world of one hero lost trying to secure peace. My brother once told me that no one hates war more than the soldier,. For the most part, I believe this to be true. But there are warriors who love war and the glory that comes with it. These zealots will crush anyone who stands in their way. One such warrior happened to be the leader of the Dutch Republic, the Statholder and Prince of Orange, Maurits (not to be confused with his younger cousin Maurits of Mauritshuis fame; for convenience we will call him Maurice). Prince Maurice had taken over the fight to liberate Holland from Spanish control after his father was murdered on orders from the Spanish King, Phillip II. Maurice had a knack for warfare, and liked it. Unfortunately, the best the Dutch could do was hold their own against the Spanish for 25 years, even after Phillip passed away. Both sides grew tired of the fighting. The Spanish were struggling to survive as a major power, while the Dutch were busily expanding an international commercial empire. A twelve year truce began in 1609, much to the objection and then sullen acceptance of the Prince. The main architect of the truce was Johan van Oldenbarnevelt. Oldenbarnevelt had become the leading statesman of the Republic while Maurice concentrated on military matters. While Oldenbarnevelt focused on what he thought best for the economic growth of the new country, Maurice built up and trained his forces, certain that the Spanish would do the same. This is an oversimplification of events, I know. Other issues came into play as well, causing in-fighting on both religious and political grounds. Maurice used all this as an excuse to build a case of treason against the statesman. Oldenbarnevelt hoped to negotiate a lasting peace while Maurice was anxious to resume the war. As the end of the truce approached, in late 1618 Oldenbarnevelt was arrested. In May of 1619 he was tried and sentenced to death. He was beheaded on the grounds of the Binnehof in den Haag the following day. He was 71 years old. A statue in his honor towers over the street in Rotterdam. As we walked from the da Vinci exhibit to the train station to make our way back home, we passed the statue. The face looked vaguely familiar to me, so, curious, I stopped to find out who was being so honored. Of course, it was Oldenbarnevelt. Our friend Hanneke took a picture of me in front of the statue, playing tourist, dwarfed by the great man. Incidentally, the truce expired in 1621, on schedule. In 1625, Maurice died and Frederick Henry became Statholder and Prince. Henry was more liberal and tolerant than his older brother, but the fighting with Spain resumed. In 1628 Piet Heijn captured a massive amount of Spanish silver en route from the New World to Spain, virtually destroying Spain’s ability to wage war. It would be twenty more years before hostilities finally ended, closing off what has become known as the Eighty Years’ War. Today, Oldenbarnevelt’s statue graces Rotterdam, and his bust appears on at least one silver commemorative coin. His name is honored and remembered, as a man of strength, conviction and skill who was martyred, basically, for doing his job.

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