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Dutch admiral De Ruyter celebrated as folk hero in landlocked Hungary

Archbishop offers apologies for persecution of Reformed ministers

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

BUDAPEST, Hungary - Famed seventeenth-century Dutch admiral Michiel de Ruyter has been a folk hero in the central European country of Hungary for more than three centuries. The country recently commemorated on a grand scale the 325th anniversary of the admiral’s diplomatic intervention on behalf of 26 protestant clergymen who for their convictions had been sent to Spanish galleons. The current Roman Catholic archbishop of Hungary apologized on behalf of his church for it having persecuted the men along with hundreds of others who already had died before De Ruyter could intervene.

The Hungarian capital of Budapest for years has acknowledged - with a monument - the action by De Ruyter who was instructed by the States General of the Dutch Republic to liberate these prisoners. When the admiral approached Spain - then an ally of the Dutch against England - over the plight of the Hungarian preachers only 26 of the original 350 were still alive. Forty of the ministers had been executed for their refusal to recant their beliefs. The others who had complied under duress were chained and marched from Budapest to the Italian port city of Naples. Those who survived this arduous trek were put aboard the galleons as slaves to row the warships. Eight months later their number already had dwindled to a mere 26.

The Hungarian king (of Habsburg) had been pressed by the Vatican to order his country’s Reformed ministers to recant the beliefs. This persecution still resonates with today’s large Hungarian Reformed community, of which in the post WWII era many ministers were rounded up and put into Soviet concentration camps.

In several Hungarian cities, the 1676 event was remembered with declarations, speeches and in Budapest also by the laying of wreaths at the De Ruyter cenotaph. At one of the events, ministers who had survived Soviet concentration camps were officially recognized. The Dutch ambasador to Hungary was joined by the archbishop, government officials as well as Reformed and Lutheran bishops for the occasion. In Amsterdam, a 13th generation descendant of the admiral presented a new key to De Ruyter’s burial site in the ‘Nieuwe Kerk.’

The De Ruyter commemorations in Hungary are an annual happening. The intervention by the Dutch admiral is one of the best-known historical facts in the landlocked country.