Capture of Brielle

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Capture of Brielle
Part of the Eighty Years' War
Capture of Den Briel 1572.jpg
Depiction of the capture of Den Briel, by Anthonie Waldorp
DateApril 1, 1572
Result Great boost to the Dutch rebel cause

The Capture of Brielle by the Watergeuzen, on 1 April 1572 marked a turning point in the uprising of the Low Countries against Spain in the Eighty Years' War. Militarily the success was minor as the port of Brielle was undefended, but it provided the first foothold on land for the rebels at a time when the rebellion was all but crushed, and it offered the sign for a new revolt throughout the Netherlands which led to the formation of the Dutch Republic.


The Watergeuzen were led by William van der Marck, Lord of Lumey,[1] and by two of his captains, Willem Bloys van Treslong and Lenaert Jansz de Graeff.[2][3][4] After they were expelled from England by Elizabeth I, they needed a place to shelter their 25 ships.[1] As they sailed towards Brielle, they were surprised to find out that the Spanish garrison had left in order to deal with trouble in Utrecht. On the evening of April 1, the 600 men sacked the undefended port.[1] As they were preparing to leave, one of the men said there was no reason they should leave where they were.[5]


Dutch students are taught a short rhyme to remember this event:

Op 1 april verloor Alva zijn bril,

meaning "On April 1st, Alva lost his glasses," making a pun between bril, Dutch for 'glasses', and the name of the town, Brielle or Den Briel.[6]

"1 April" is the Dutch name for April Fools' Day.

The Capture of Brielle is still celebrated by its inhabitants each year on the first of April. Festivities include a reenactment of the battle and with a tradition called kalknacht (chalk night) where during the night before the festivities begin in earnest the mostly adolescent participants use lime chalk to write slogans and draw pictures on windows.[citation needed] The kalknacht tradition is frowned upon by many and the police often fine anyone caught with chalk after latex paint was used by a small number of participants which caused damage to cars, streets and houses in 2002.[citation needed] The kalknacht origins lie in the actions of locals who painted chalk on the doors of those citizens and officials who were loyal to Spanish rule. By doing this they targeted those houses for the Geuzen to find all people who could resist the capture.[citation needed]

In literature[edit]

The Capture of Brielle and its aftermath forms a major part of the plot in Cecelia Holland's novel The Sea Beggars - though the depiction in the book in many ways departs from the historical facts.[7]


  1. ^ a b c Elliot, p. 139
  2. ^ Lenaert Jansz de Graeffs biography at the DBNL
  3. ^ Lenaert Jansz de Graeff (Monseigneur de Graeff van Brugge) at the DBNL (nl)
  4. ^ De Opstand 1568-1648: De strijd in de Zuidelijke en Noordelijke Nederlanden, by Arnout van Cruyningen
  5. ^ Elliott, p. 140
  6. ^ April Fool’s Day — Origin. Museum of Hoaxes.
  7. ^ Harrison, Claire (6 June 1982). "THE SEA BEGGARS. By Cecelia Holland. Knopf. 305 pp. $13.95". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 30 March 2018.

Further reading[edit]

  • Elliott, John Huxtable (2000). Europe Divided, 1559-1598 (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 0-631-21780-0.

Coordinates: 51°54′00″N 4°10′00″E / 51.9°N 4.16667°E / 51.9; 4.16667