The painting depicts a famous moment in the long struggle for Dutch independence from Spain. On April 1, 1572, a motley fleet of twenty four vessels, only a few of them warships, appeared off the port of Brill (Den Breuil) in Holland. Led by the Dutch admirals de la Marck and Bloys van Treslong, and derisorily referred to by the Spanish authorities as "beggars", they took up the name of "Sea Beggars". The little fleet had been expelled from its refuge in England by Elizabeth I at the request of the Duke of Alva, Philip II's Governor of the Spanish Netherlands (which included today's Belgium and the Netherlands). Virtually starving, they were aided in their approach by Koppelstock, the ferryman, who told the terrified Brill town council that there were 5,000 men about to land, whereas in fact there were barely 300. In the resulting confusion, the beggars seized Brill, and in J.L. Motley's works "The Foundation of the Dutch Republic was laid. The weary spirit of freedom, so long a fugitive over earth and sea, at last found a resting place".
The flag in the boat in the foreground carries the inscription "Vive Les Guex" - Long Live the Beggars. The long red pennants on the Beggars' ships were painted with ten pennies, Alva's hated tax which was a touchstone of the revolt.
We are grateful to Campbell Gordon for his assistance in cataloguing this work.