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Searching for Henry Hudson and Other Curiosities

October 24, 2014 07:30AM | Print this page
by Robert Tymstra

Searching for Henry Hudson and Other Curiosities
Photo courtesy of Robert Tymstra

I’ve often wished that I had the discipline to stick with something and attain a level of mastery but I find it impossible to concentrate in a world filled with so many wonderful distractions. Our planet is a veritable ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ and I’m constantly intrigued by everything in it. If there’s a ‘Curiosity Gene’ then surely, I’m plagued or blessed by it. I’ve been accused of changing my hobbies and interests more often than my underwear (untrue!). I’m merely obeying curiosity’s demands.

My life has been a string of road trips and flights to places near and far. Much of my energy has been expended as a birder in search of new species to add to my world list but like a wandering magpie, I also like to collect shiny baubles and tribal artifacts and seek out their backstories.

Fortunately, conditions are perfect for today’s curiosity seeker: we live in a Golden Age of travel. One can go just about anywhere on the globe in a few days at relatively little cost and boundless information is readily at hand on the Internet.

I’ve learned to embrace the life of being a nomadic dilettante and have been encouraged to write about some of the unusual objects and adventures I encounter in my journeys. I hope to cover a range of subjects from hunting dinosaurs and birds-of-paradise to collecting opium weights and playing the hurdy-gurdy.

For my first ‘discovery,’ I present the ‘Half Moon’ Medal.

One of my pet projects is trying to unravel the mystery of the disappearance of Henry Hudson. Nobody knows what happened to the great explorer after he was set adrift in a lifeboat by his mutinous crew in James Bay, Canada, in 1611. Only two years earlier, the Dutch had hired Hudson to find the Northwest Passage for them and had provided him with a sailing ship called the ‘Half Moon.’

He didn’t find the passage but did manage to ‘discover’ Manhattan and the Hudson River, which the Dutch gratefully added to their colonial collection. I was curious about the origins of the image of a ‘man in the moon’ on the ship’s stern. A bit of research soon revealed that the ‘half moon’ was a symbol of Dutch rebellion.

In 1572, Holland was ruled by the Roman Catholic Spanish. A coalition of Dutch Calvinist noblemen and some malcontents decided that freedom from Spanish rule would be a preferred state. A small fleet of boats manned by a rag-tag bunch of desperados and pirates launched a raid on the coastal Dutch port of Den Briel. Surprising everyone, they managed to seize the town! This pivotal event gave William of Orange the foothold he needed to mount a revolt that would eventually rid the lowlands of the hated Spanish and begin the Golden Age of the new Dutch nation.

The Spanish mocked these rebels calling them nothing more than harmless beggars, a mere annoyance. These ‘beggars,’ or ‘geuzen’ in Dutch, proudly adopted this new epithet and had several medals created as badges of affiliation. The ‘Half Moon’ was one of them.

The medal bears a motto that reads “LIVER TVRCX DAN PAVS” (“Rather Turkish than Papist“) and “EN DESPIT DE LA MES” (“In spite of the Mass”). They loathed the Spanish papists so much that they would rather have been ruled by Muslims (they had considered asking the Turks for assistance in

ousting the Spanish). The surly, rebellious expression on the moon’s face reflects the beggars’ determination to rid their country of the invaders. The medal maker’s privy is a small lobster (between the “PIT” and “DEL”).

An original example of this medal is on display in the Stedelijk Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden, Netherlands. The Rijksmuseum of Amsterdam also has one of these ‘geuzenpennings.’ These silver medals were alleged to have been worn by the Sea Beggars during their capture of Den Briel. The eyelet suggests that it may have been worn as a necklace.

I had a silversmith make up a few copies as keepsakes to present to the members of one of our northern expeditions to find Henry Hudson. We haven’t found him yet but the search continues!

About the Half Moon

Circa: 1572-1574
Mottoes: "Liver TVRCX DAN PAVS"
("Rather Turkish than Papist")
("In Spite of the Mass")
Size: 35mm (1 5/8") diameter
Weight: 11 grams
Value of original: Priceless
My silver copy: about $50. 

Tags: boomers curiosity henry hudson half_moon travel robert_tymstra
Article photo courtesy of Robert Tymstra

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