The Sea Beggars
by Cecilia Holland
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Book Club Edition
The Netherlands in the sixteenth century: a region of bustling cities and prosporous farms, fertile plains claimed from the sea and crisscrossed with ingenious canals, a sophisticated society in which Protestants and Catholics live peaceably side by side . . . . Until late in the century, the Spanish army is ordered by King Philip II to purge the Lowlands of heretics by extending the shroud of the Inquisition. Rioting breaks out in Antwerp and normal life comes to a halt as the army, attacking unarmed men and women, makes a battlefield of the city.
Caught in the terror are Jan and Hanneke van Cleef, a young brother and sister who are the children of a prosperous merchant family, Protestants raised under the strict Calvinist hand of their father. Neither Jan's "sinful" interest in guns and fighting nor Hanneke's "heart for truth" has prepared them for the tragedies that are to occur under the new laws of persecution. Their father executed, their mother driven mad, Jan and Hanneke are suddenly set adrift, alone, in a violent and hostile world.
Hanneke remains in Antwerp to vare for her mother. Driven out of their house, destitute, Hanneke earns what little money she can from sympathetic neighbors while helplessly watching her mother slip further and further into the tormented world of her mind. Her own will to live tested again and again, she at last is compelled to leave Antwerp, joining the growing number of exiles making their way toward the German Empire; and it is only her unfaltering fauth that fuels her resolve to go on living even though there is "nothing left in her at all."
Jan had fled Antwerp already, seeking refuge with a seaman uncle and casting his lot with the Sea Beggars -- Dutch pirates who plunder the North Sea coast, foiling the powerful Spanish navy with their breathtaking daring. Manning his uncle's ship in this illegal fleet, Jan quickly suits himself to the ways of piracy, becoming an expert gunner and seaman, thrilling to the danger and excitement. With each Spanish ship bested, with each venture into England -- where support of Queen Elizabeth is brazenly sought -- Jan gains in confidence and bravado. But he is haunted by the thought that he has "no country, no family or friends, only the ship and the sea and the winds."
But in time both circumstance and an inexorable love of their country draw this brother and sister homeward and thrust them beyond the personal context of their lives. Jan, moved by the devotion of his new wife, determines to prove himself better than "just a pirate." Hanneke, impassioned by her powerful faith, sees, finally, something to fight for, "some idea of a time to come." Together now, they join a struggle that pits freedom against autocracy, tolerance against ideology -- a struggle in which the very liberty and life of their beloved homeland are at stake.
Condition: Used. Hardcover. Dust cover. Pages may be tanning and discolored from age. Previous owner's "Library Of" stamp is on the front endpaper. Dust cover and dust cover flaps are tanning and discolored from age and show a bit of edge wear.
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