Saturday, 13 June 2015

Don Frederic And The Dutch Musketeers: A Battle On The Ice


Centuries before Philippe Candeloro won his second consecutive Olympic medal with his interpretation of "The Three Musketeers", a real battle that mimicked the Frenchman's dynamic choreography on the ice played out, musketeers and all. In his 1898 book "The Rise Of The Dutch Republic", John Lothrop Motley explained that in December 1572 "Don Frederic was the murderous son of the Duke of Alva, and commander of the troops who had just butchered nearly every citizen and soldier in the city of Naarden. After leaving the city in, ashes, Don Frederic departed for the front at Amsterdam to meet with his father." To explain, Don Frederic was then the leader of the Spanish army and like father, like son, both played integral parts in attacks and sieges on the Netherlands.


In her article "The Struggle Between Spain And The Provinces Grows Desperate", Mary Macgregor elaborated that "Alva was indeed vindicating the power of the Spanish arms. Mons was taken, Mechlin sacked, and now Don Frederic was ordered to reduce the northern and eastern provinces. The dread of Alva was on the cities, and Don Frederic met with little resistance from those which but lately had received the Prince of Orange with acclamations. Zutphen in her hardihood attempted to resist the entrance of the King's troops, and terribly did she suffer for her daring. Alva ordered his son to kill every man and to burn every house to the ground. Without a moment's warning Don Frederic ordered the garrison to be massacred. The citizens were stabbed in the streets, or hanged on the trees of the city, or stripped naked and turned out into the fields to freeze to death in the wintry night. Five hundred burghers were tied, two and two back to back, and drowned in the river Yssel, while a few who escaped were afterwards dragged from their hiding-places and hanged by their feet upon the gallows, some of them suffering days and nights of agony before they died. What the fate of Zutphen had been was for days unknown, no one daring to go near the city. 'A wail of agony was heard above Zutphen last Sunday,' wrote a count to his friend, 'a sound as of a mighty massacre, but we know not what has taken place.'" That count may not have known what happened in Zutphen but it certainly wasn't good - and we can say in looking back at the facts that both Don Frederic and his father the Duke Of Alva showed no mercy to the citizens of the land they seeked to control. It actually sounds simply horrific.

Things had by this point escalated greatly and although Don Frederic may have won the war to date, he would eventually come to lose the battle. A fleet of armed vessels belonging to Holland had been frozen in the ice near Amsterdam. Confident and clearly full of the same bloodlust that found him "success" (if you want to call it that) in Naarden, Don Frederic dispatched troops over the ice to attack the ships. The Dutch ships were ready for the Spaniards though. They had dug a wide trench around the whole fleet of ships and created an icy fortress. Out came a troupe of skilled and well-armed musketeers who advanced wearing - depending on which historian you talk to - either metal crampons or skates. Things got fast, furious and quite ugly and the Spaniards were no match for the experienced Dutch military. They caused them to retreat and left several hundred Spaniards dead on the ice. Imagine! Of that initial battle, Alva said "Twas a thing never heard of before today, to see a body of arquebusiers (musketeers) thus skirmishing upon a frozen sea." Things improved even more the coming days. A rapid thaw allowed the Dutch ships to break free from the ice and escape to Enkhuyzen... and a successive frost left any chance of pursuit by Don Frederic's troops impossible. The incident became known as The Battle of Ijsselmeer.

Much like this father, Don Frederic and the Spaniard forces were completely taken aback by the completely foreign concept of being attacked by a group so proficient on ice and quickly came to realize that in this less temperate, more wintry climate they would need to keep up with the Joneses. The Duke Of Alva commissioned seven thousand pairs of ice skates for his soldiers and ensured that they were well trained for combat on ice. You know though, if you look at this time in history and the brutality with which the Spanish treated the Dutch in the manner of war... you really have to really cheer on this Dutch victory. It was one of few victories at the time and it was a decent - and very intelligent - one. You also in a way have to applaud Spain's patience. They never did conquer Holland but for thirty years they tried. That's persistence.


I think it's funny too because when I think back to Philippe Candeloro's "The Three Musketeers" program (even that very theatrical costuming) I look to years later and the huge influx of "Pirates Of The Caribbean" programs we saw over a decade later - Alena Leonova and Javier Fernandez' interpretations being among the very best choreographically. What's really quite cool in this context is that battle-ready type program from Fernandez of Spain was such a breakout piece for him and the first season he performed that free skate, he became the first Spanish man to compete at the Olympic Games in over half a century. Fernandez placed a respectable sixteenth at those Vancouver Games, ahead of skaters like Stefan Lindemann, Brian Joubert and Tomas Verner. The Netherlands didn't even have a men's entry... a far cry from the earlier days of figure skating where skaters like Sjoukje Dijkstra and Dianne de Leeuw won their country Olympic medals. When it comes to the battle on the ice in THIS century, it appears that through the ages, Spain has been doing a pretty good job of playing catch up to their former ice rivals - hell, Fernandez is the reigning World Champion! With a whole new generation of talented Dutch skaters on the rise though, perhaps in the future the tides will shift. Skating history has a funny way of repeating itself.

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