Everybody knew the dykes were in poor repair. Extra taxes were raised to pay for urgent maintenance work.
But the dukes of Holland, the Hoeks and the Kabaljauws, were squabbling among themselves. They spent the tax money on weapons and armies and no doubt told their subjects it was essential for ‘security’. Fixing the dykes was important, just unaffordable right now. It could wait till the threat from the enemy subsided and the economy improved.
Then came St Elizabeth’s Night, November 19th, 1421.
The dykes broke. The sea streamed in from one side, the rivers from the other. Thirty villages and thousands of villagers drowned and the rest abandoned their submerged farms. Six hundred years later, the dukes’ flooded land is still inhospitable and uninhabitable, unsuitable for agriculture.
There are no Hoeks or Kabaljauws. There’s just the Biesbosch.
The tale is told (sorry, only in Dutch) in the stylish, brand-new Biesbosch MuseumEiland, opened in June 2015.
There is an upside to the sad story.
The hardy people who continued to live and work in the flooded Biesbosch became major exporters of reeds and basketwork, some of it on display in the museum. It was a tough way to earn a living, but it could be done.
Then in WWII, the Biesbosch was one part of the Netherlands where the occupying Germans feared to tread (or should that be ‘squelch’?) The maze of waterways became an ideal hiding place for Jews, resistance fighters and downed allied pilots.
Now it’s one of the few wild areas in the country, a true nature reserve, where birdlife flourishes and even European beavers have been reintroduced.
…and this being the Netherlands, there is a bike path leading to the northern edge of the Biesbosch. We make good use of it.