1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Gueux, Les
GUEUX, LES, or “The Beggars,” a name assumed by the confederacy of nobles and other malcontents, who in 1566 opposed Spanish tyranny in the Netherlands. The leaders of the nobles, who signed a solemn league known as “the Compromise,” by which they bound themselves to assist in defending the rights and liberties of the Netherlands against the civil and religious despotism of Philip II., were Louis, count of Nassau, and Henry, count of Brederode. On the 5th of April 1566 permission was obtained for the confederates to present a petition of grievances, called “the Request,” to the regent, Margaret, duchess of Parma. About 250 nobles marched to the palace accompanied by Louis of Nassau and Brederode. The regent was at first alarmed at the appearance of so large a body, but one of her councillors, Berlaymont by name, was heard to exclaim, “What, madam, is your highness afraid of these beggars (ces gueux)?” The appellation was not forgotten. At a great feast held by some 300 confederates at the Hôtel Culemburg three days later, Brederode in a speech declared that if need be they were all ready to become “beggars” in their country’s cause. The words caught on, and the hall resounded with loud cries of “Vivent les gueux!” The name became henceforward a party appellation. The patriot party adopted the emblems of beggarhood, the wallet and the bowl, as trinkets to be worn on their hats or their girdles, and a medal was struck having on one side the head of Philip II., on the other two clasped hands with the motto “Fidèle au roy, jusques à porter la besace.” The original league of “Beggars” was short-lived, crushed by the iron hand of Alva, but its principles survived and were to be ultimately triumphant.
In the year 1569 the prince of Orange, who had now openly placed himself at the head of the party of revolt, granted letters of marque to a number of vessels manned by crews of desperadoes drawn from all nationalities. These fierce corsairs under the command of a succession of daring and reckless leaders—the best-known of whom is William de la Marek, lord of Lumey—were called “Gueux de mer,” or “Sea Beggars.” At first they were content with plundering both by sea and land and carrying their booty to the English ports where they were able to refit and replenish their stores. This went on till 1572, when Queen Elizabeth suddenly refused to admit them to her harbours. Having no longer any refuge, the Sea Beggars in desperation made an attack upon Brill, which they seized by surprise in the absence of the Spanish garrison on the 1st of April 1572. Encouraged by their unhoped-for success, they now sailed to Flushing, which was also taken by a coup de main. The capture of these two towns gave the signal for a general revolt of the northern Netherlands, and is regarded as the real beginning of the War of Dutch Independence.