Ostend Story
Early Tales of the Great Siege & the
mediating Role of Henrick van Haestens

By Anna E.C. Simoni & M.S. Sibinga
October 2003
HES & DE GRAAF Publishers
ISBN: 9061941598
232 Pages, Illustrated
$172.50 Hardcover

After the famous 'Battle of Nieuwpoort' in West Flanders in 1600, another feat of arms was to follow in the same area: the Siege of Ostend, which lasted from 1601 to 1604. Maurits was, yet again, to play the leading role and, despite the fact that the outcome was less of a success for the young Republic of the Seven United Netherlands than the battle of Nieuwpoort had been, the result was a Spanish conquest of a city of total devastation and, by then, wholly depopulated. Nevertheless a considerable impression had been made upon the Northern Netherlands. The most weird and wonderful machines of war had been tested, whilst a variety of new military siege techniques had been brought into play.

There was even talk of 'the University of Ostend', with the implication that, from a military perspective, the siege was a very instructive experience. Many, too, were the rumours and the garbled tales that began to circulate soon after the end of the affair. One example was the legend of the soldier in the Spanish army who appeared to be a woman. In this book, Dr. Simoni provides a detailed and stimulating account of the manner of, and the form by which the tales of these shocking occurrences arose soon after the events of the siege had been set down, and immediately went into print after the details had reached the North.

These reports were to leave such a lasting impression in the Republic, that 'Ostend' became one of the most well known feats of arms in the penultimate stages of the struggle for freedom from Spain. The book is, thus, a brilliant example of the received history of one of the most controversial events of the Eighty Years War. The role of the Leiden printer and publisher, Hendrick van Haestens, stands central to 'the Ostend Story'. He provides accounts of the fighting in no less than three publications. Dr. Simoni, in this study, reaches the conclusion that Haestens' reports are deserving of a more important place than they have found thus far. It is mainly to him that we owe the provision of a clear and lively picture of the famous siege.

Dr. Simoni has been working over thirty years in the Department of Printed Books in the British Library, where she originated the Netherlands' section. Numerous works from her hand have appeared about books published in the Netherlands. Her natural gifts of generosity and friendship were honored in 1991 with a 'Festschrift': Across the narrow seas. Studies in the history and bibliography of Britain and the Low Countries.

"The Siege of Ostend was a significant political and military event, not only because of its place in the struggle between the dutch rebels and Spain, but also in the context of contemporary European military reforms. Simoni's meticulous and far-reaching reconstruction of the history of Van Haestens's three books treating of this feat of arms is a great contribution to our understanding of the worth of publications surrounding such episodes" (Nicolette Mout, in: The Library, March 2004).

"The comparative and multi-disciplinarian approach that Simoni uses has led to several interesting results. Not only does she show which text is dependent on which source, but she also manages to pick holes in long-held assumptions about the text (Marja Smolenaars, in: SHARP News, vol. 13 no. 2)..

Military History
Bibliotheca Bibliographica Neerlandica, Vol. XXXVIII

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