Philip was closing in on his dream of conquering Protestant England, as his battle-hardened veteran troops encamped near the Flemish town of Turnhout. First they needed to crush the ragtag Dutch rebellion and consolidate their position. Maurice of Nassau, son of William the Silent, commanded a small contingent of Calvinist Hollanders, joined by Scots and Englishmen sent by Elizabeth to aid the reformed cause.
In his History of the Netherlands, John Lothrop Motley describes January 24, 1597, as a “dismal, drizzly, foggy morning, the weather changing to steady rain as the expedition advanced.”
The Spaniards elected to retreat to the nearby fortified town of Hernethals, there to await the attack of the smaller Dutch force. Seizing opportunity, Maurice attacked the retreating Spaniards and caught them separated and disorganized, inflicting heavy casualties and soundly defeating the pride of Spanish arms. The battle was not decisive in the Eighty Years War, militarily speaking, but it confirmed the Dutch in the conviction that they would never again submit to Spanish rule.
Written anonymously and set to the tune of a popular folk melody, it became the Liberation Anthem of Dutch Protestants. The text first appeared in the Nederlandtsch Gedenckclanck, Haarlem in 1626. The Viennese choirmaster Eduard Kremser (by whose name the tune is often known) popularized a German version in the 19th Century. When American scholar Theodore Baker came across a copy published in Leipzig1 he produced the first English translation and one that we find today in many of our American hymnals.
As “We Gather Together,” let us be truly thankful for the faithfulness of those whose sacrifices have helped make us free. Soli Deo Gloria.