So Rare a Gentleman - Sir Philip Sidney and the Forgotten War of 1586

Felix Barker reflects on the forgotten Low Countries war of 1586.

Four hundred years ago England embarked on a war she is disposed to forget. In history books the Low Countries campaign of 1586 is generally dismissed in a few paragraphs as a best-ignored prelude to the victory over the Armada two years later.

There are other reasons why it does not stick in the memory. Even with maps in front of us this continental involvement is confused, consisting of isolated battles – sieges, reliefs and counter-sieges of small Dutch towns – dictated by immediate necessity rather than strategic plan. Little glory was won; the outcome inconclusive. The only generally remembered incident -the wounding and death of Sir Philip Sidney – was a tragic misfortune that need never have happened.

Yet the campaign is interesting as a prototype of many subsequent expeditionary forces that have been sent abroad to fight the enemy on soil alien to both combatants. Many of the places involved in the sixteenth- century struggle with Spain -- Grave, Nijmegen, Arnhem –were again to feature in the Second World War against Germany.

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