Historic Gigster – Redbad, the King Who Knew How to Ride the Tide
Like many people I am an Amazon Prime subscriber. It helps reduce my shipping costs, but it comes with a nice (completely unrelated) perk of a video service. Now to be honest, it pales in comparison to Netflix, but it does have its gems. I am always on the lookout for movies available in the Dutch language or that deal with Dutch history and that is where I stumbled on Redbad.
Now I consider myself quite the history buff, but I had never heard of Redbad. Frankly, the name sounded like something the folks at Disney would have dreamed up to sell more theater tickets, so I started to watch this with considerable skepticism, but I was pleasantly surprised. Now it’s not historically perfect and some of the scenes drag on far too long, but if you like the History Channel’s Vikings or you need another Braveheart-fix before you do your taxes this year, Redbad is pretty good. For me it launched a whole new interest and I started to seek out this history I knew so little about. Yes, Redbad was a real person and yes, that was his name.
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While the Frisians lived along the edges of the later Roman empire in relative peace for 300 years, they were not so welcoming of the Franks who became the dominant Germanic tribe over the Western part of the Roman Empire after the fall of Rome. During that period, the Frisians established a large maritime power along the cost of the North Sea from Belgium to Denmark and even settled in the region of Kent in England. The Franks for their part, did their best to reconquer the whole of Western Europe, but their access to the Northern sea-trade was held in check by the Frisians. This led to some clashes and one Frisian King who stands out in this history is Redbad.
While Redbad’s father, king Aldgisl, sought to coexist with the Franks and even allowed them to bring Christianity to the Frisians, Redbad saw this as one more way that the Franks would undermine the economic influence of the Frisians. When he ascended the throne he threw out the bishops and rebelled against the Franks. But he was up against the greatest and best trained army in Europe at the time and the only real hegemonic political power in the West. After some initial success, his uprising was soundly defeated at the Battle of Dorestad, his capital, in 689CE. The Franks further capitalized on this victory by taking Utrecht in 692CE, thus controlling the two most important trading towns of the Frisian realm.
It was a hard lesson, one that cost Redbad dearly. The remnants of the Frisian resistance retreated to the smaller coastal towns and islands while many even went into exile in Denmark and England. Those Frisians who were now in Frankish-occupied territory survived as best as they could. Many were forced to convert to Christianity under duress and life was difficult for those who refused. This was a difficult period for the Frisians. While the Franks could not reach the most Northern and coastal regions of Frisia, the people there retained some autonomy and continued to practice their own pagan (Norse) religious beliefs, but elsewhere life was hard.
King Redbad feigned submission as well. He was made to accept the new bishoprics in Utrecht and Dorestad, and in 711CE his daughter was even forced to marry a Frankish nobleman. There is a legend that Redbad himself was even compelled to take communion and be baptized. However, he wavered at the last minute of the baptism and rejected the Christian faith, greatly angering the Franks and the church, but also serving as a potent sign of resistance to his people.
At every turn, Redbad continued to resist the Frankish influence and waited. He had learned from his initial mistake that striking too soon with too much zeal wasn’t always going to lead to lasting success. He understood that tides roll in and then roll back out, and for the Franks, that ebb came soon enough. In 714CE the Frankish king died and there was a struggle between the nobles and different heirs to take the throne. This was the moment that Redbad had waited for.
He had no trouble raising an army among his people. Rebellion broke out across the Frisain territories. He struck hard and defeated the Franks, under the command of Charles Martel, at a historic battle near Cologne in 716CE. He then consolidated his power and took back Dorestad and Utrecht from the overwhelmed Franks. For the remained of Redbad reign, Frisia remained independent from the Franks and their Christian faith.
Unfortunately, tides come back in, too. Redbad did not live very long after that and while his son and heir continued the struggle, Frisia would eventually loose its independence and become part of the Holy Roman Empire later. After his son was killed in battle, the church in Rome forbade writings about Redbad and his heirs, effectively erasing his efforts from history. Today, Redbad is seen as a hero, not just a hero of resistance to a foreign military power, but also from forced beliefs, whether of faith or politics.
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It is this deep-rooted sentiment that helps explain the very Dutch idea that people should have religious and political freedoms. This belief had a profound influence on the 300-year resistance to Spanish rule and the welcoming in the Netherlands of persecuted peoples during the religious wars. Just as the Frisians threw off the yolk of the dominant power in Europe at the time, so too would the Dutch republic fight off the overwhelming power of the Spanish hegemony, with their superior military, wealth, and political reach across Europe.
Time and time again, this little country on the North Western coast of Europe would defy the odds against much more powerful foreign powers. The Spanish also failed to understand the tides, both figuratively and in a very real sense because they fared poorly in the frequently inundated polders of the Netherlands. History would repeat itself again and again, against the British, the French and the Germans.
Even with their overwhelming military superiority in WWII, they would never be able to fully subdue the Dutch and their stubborn defense of religious and political freedoms. As with any conflict, there are always people who collaborate to some extent, but there is also this persistent underlying resistance that just simply will not go away. It is very Dutch and is based in the long history of the people who at times have reached world-dominating status and at other times receded back to relative insignificance only to come back and do it again, later.
Perhaps it is simply because the Dutch have always had to live in harmony with a very unforgiving sea at their flank. This teaches people that some forces just need to be worked with rather than opposed directly. As a result, the Dutch are stubbornly resilient, accepting of things they cannot control, and confident that setbacks are only temporary. Redbad handling of the Franks is very much exemplary of this approach to life.
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So what lesson can entrepreneurs and small business owners take from this? Well, if you have an opportunity to hire a Dutch person, do it. They can be handy in a pinch. OK, I’m kidding a bit, but more seriously, the lesson here is while tides change, the key is being able to weather the them, work with them and ride them back to success. It takes a level of perseverance that is learned from long-term experience with continually changing ebbs & flows of success. When you listen to highly successful people speak about their success, the one learned skill they all share is resilience. The more resilient we can be as entrepreneurs, the better we can weather whatever obstacles in our path.?
This blog post was simultaneously published in The Gigster 'Zine, newsletter published by the Colégas Group discussing new and innovative part-time opportunities & success strategies for anyone with a college degree. To sign up for the newsletter, click here.