During the eighty years’ war, Leiden was under siege from October 1573 to October 1574 (with a month respite from April to May).
After the war broke out, Dutch rebels, who already occupied most counties of the Netherlands, had taken up arms against the king of Spain and sided with the Prince of Orange.
After Haarlem was conquered after a seven-month siege, the harsh ruling governor-general of the Netherlands, the Spanish Duke of Alba, sought to conquer Alkmaar, in the north. But Alkmaar withstood the Spanish attack and Alba then sent his officer Francisco de Valdez to attack the southern rebel territory, starting with Leiden.
The city of Leiden had plenty of food stored to withstand the first 7 months of the siege, but neglected to restock during the respite. When the Spanish army returned to continue the siege, the city considered surrender. Supplies were dwindling, citizens were dying of starvation and the plague and there was hardly a chance of relief.
However, the prince of Orange was determined to relieve the city and sent a carrier pigeon with a plea to hold out for three more months. The plan was to break the dikes and force the Spanish to reside due to the incoming sea. In august, the dikes were broken and the prince’s admiral, Louis Boisot, had assembled a fleet of more than 200 small vessels, manned by 2,500 veteran Dutch seamen.
Because the admiral and the prince had been misinformed as to the lie of the lands, the fleet multiple times found their pathway blocked. And due to of a shift in the wind, their only access to the city was through a canal. The bridge over that canal was heavily defended by the Spanish.
Fortunately, the city held out, because they knew the Spanish soldiers would massacre the whole population in any case, to set an example to the rest of the country.
When the winds finally shifted again, blowing strongly from the west, the water levels rose and the Spanish fled, leaving their camps behind. There, according to legends, a little orphan boy found a cooking pot full with ‘hutspot’ (carrot and onion stew). The relieving rebels arrived at the city, feeding the citizens with herring and white bread.
Thus came to be the tradition of the ‘Leidens Relief’, when every year on October 3rd, everyone in Leiden celebrates and feasts on white bread, herring and hutspot.Back to news