THE SEA BEGGARS by Cecelia Holland


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Another solid Holland swirl of high-minded rebellion, derring-do, sex, and slaughter--this time set in the Low Countries during the 16th century, when the Netherlanders led a series of insurrections against the rule and religious persecutions of Philip II of Spain. (""The Beggars,"" a nickname used pejoratively for the Netherlander petitioners, became the rallying cry for political and religious enemies of Spain.) Holland's hero, then, is young Jan van Cleef of Antwerp, whose father was hanged in a Spanish purge. Jan flees to his Uncle Pieter, a grouchy old seaman, then plays a major role in recapturing Pieter's ship (the Wayward Girl) from the Spanish. And both Jan and Pieter will soon join the ""Sea Beggars""--though reluctantly: the Beggars' leader, after all, is the piratical, priest-hating Willem Lumey de larMarack (a real and far-from-lovable personage). Meanwhile, as Jan buckets about at sea, his sister Hanneke suffers alone in Antwerp, their mother having been driven mad by the tragic events. (She'll eventually drown.) Poor Hanneke is raped by a Spanish soldier (she'll later knife him to death); she toils at menial work; she refuses marriage to a pleasant man whom she does not love; and at last she will trail on toward Germany with other refugees--who fear another invasion by Spain's terrible Duke of Alva. (Their fellow refugee: their ruler, the Prince of Orange, who has neither the skill nor the array to turn back Alva--yet is nonetheless seen here as an exemplary fellow.) Both Hanneke and Jan will have their moments with the mighty: Hanneke exhorts the Prince to action; Jan has a diplomatic interview with Elizabeth I of England. And the siblings (Jan now wed to an Englishwoman) will meet again at The Brill as the Alva forces approach--though Hanneke, now burning with news about the Kingdom of God, will make the supreme sacrifice, dying as she cuts the dike and floods out the enemy. (The Prince--no soldier but ""a king""--is invited to rule and rebuild the Low Country civilization.) Some severe historical over-simplifications--but the sea action and sturdy storytelling make this an above-average (if not top-Holland) costume drama.

Pub Date: April 29th, 1982
Publisher: Knopf