On our way back from the UK at Christmas we drove past a sign in northern Belgium saying Nieuwpoort. ‘De Slag bij Nieuwpoort!’ Husband exclaimed. The rest of the car didn’t share his enthusiasm.
De Slag bij Nieuwpoort is one of those things you learn at school here. Having learnt about other things at school, I decided to find out what it was all about.
The story begins with kapers (privateers), or zeerovers as they’re called on this site. The difference is significant, because a kaper had permission in the form of a kaperbrief (letter of marque) from a country to plunder and pillage, a piraterij-vergunning (pirate permit), as it says here. Francis Drake was therefore a privateer, to the English at least, because he had a letter of marque from Queen Elizabeth I.
A zeerover, however, is another name for a pirate, as is boekanier (like the English buccaneer it comes from the French boucanier, ‘one who dries and smokes meat on a boucan, a barbecue…’*) The Chambers Dictionary of Etymology also mentions ‘sea rovers’ in connection with buccaneers, a term I’ve never heard before.**
The Battle of Nieuwpoort was fought because kapers from the ports of Duinkerken and Nieuwpoort, which were in the hands of the Spanish – this was during the Eighty Years’ War between the Dutch and the Spanish – had a piracy permit from the high admiralty in Brussels to plunder passing ships. The Dutch Republic wasn’t pleased because this meant its ships being attacked.
It therefore decided to send in an Oranje.
Maurits van Oranje was dispatched in 1600 to what is now Belgium, and he and his troops faced the Spanish in the dunes of Nieuwpoort in what is known as the Slag bij Nieuwpoort. Despite being fewer in numbers the Dutch army managed to win the battle and beat the Spanish army.***
* Chambers Dictionary of Etymology
** Incidentally, there is an obsolete meaning of the verb rove, to roam, which is ‘to sail as pirates, roam the seas as rovers’ and a rover is a sea robber or pirate. These come from the Dutch rover, robber.
*** Despite winning the battle they didn’t manage to seize Nieuwpoort and the kapers continued their attacks.