Chapter 6 The Treachery of Anjou and the “French Fury” Chapter 7 The Legacy of William the Silent
Thus it was arranged that, for the present, at least, the prince should exercise sovereignty over Holland and Zealand; although he had himself used his utmost exertions to induce those provinces to join the rest of the United Netherlands in the proposed election of Anjou. This, however, they sternly refused to do. There was also a great disinclination felt by many in the other states to this hazardous offer of their allegiance, and it was the personal influence of Orange that eventually carried the measure through. Looking at the position of affairs and at the character of Anjou, as they appear to us now, it seems difficult to account for the prince’s policy. It is so natural to judge only by the result, that we are ready to censure statesmen for consequences which beforehand might seem utterly incredible, and for reading falsely human characters whose entire development only a late posterity has had full opportunity to appreciate. Still, one would think that Anjou had been sufficiently known to inspire distrust.
There was but little, too, in the aspect of the French court to encourage hopes of valuable assistance from that quarter. It was urged, not without reason, that the French were as likely to become as dangerous as the Spaniards, that they would prove nearer and more troublesome masters, that France intended the incorporation of the Netherlands into her own kingdom, that the provinces would therefore be dispersed forever from the German Empire, and that it was as well to hold to the tyrant under whom they had been born, as to give themselves voluntarily to another of their own making. In short, it was maintained, in homely language, that “France and Spain were both under one coverlid.” It might have been added that only extreme misery could make the provinces take either bedfellow. Moreover, it was asserted, with reason, that Anjou would be a very expensive master, for his luxurious and extravagant habits were notorious, that he was a man in whom no confidence could be placed, and one who would grasp at arbitrary power by any means which might present themselves. Above all, it was urged that he was not of the true religion, that he hated the professors of that faith in his heart, and that it was extremely unwise for men whose dearest interests were their religious ones, to elect a sovereign of opposite creed to their own. To these plausible views the Prince of Orange and those who acted with him, had, however, sufficient answers. The Netherlands had waited long enough for assistance from other quarters. Germany would not lift a finger in the cause; on the contrary, the whole of Germany, whether Protestant or Catholic, was either openly or covertly hostile. It was madness to wait till assistance came to them from unseen sources. It was time for them to assist themselves, and to take the best they could get, for when men were starving they could not afford to be dainty. They might be bound hand and foot, they might be overwhelmed a thousand times before they would receive succor from Germany, or from any land but France. Under the circumstances in which they found themselves, hope delayed was but a cold and meager consolation.
“To speak plainly,” said Orange, “asking us to wait is very much as if you should keep a man three days without any food in the expectation of a magnificent banquet, should persuade him to refuse bread, and at the end of three days should tell him that the banquet was not ready, but that a still better one was in preparation. Would it not be better, then, that the poor man, to avoid starvation, should wait no longer, but accept bread wherever he might find it? Such is our case at present.”
It was in this vein that he ever wrote and spoke. The Netherlands were to rely upon their own exertions, and to procure the best alliance, together with the most efficient protection possible. They were not strong enough to cope single-handed with their powerful tyrant, but they were strong enough if they used the instruments which Heaven offered. It was not trusting but tempting Providence to wait supinely, instead of grasping boldly at the means of rescue within reach. It became the character of brave men to act, not to expect. “Otherwise,” said the prince, “we may climb to the tops of trees, like the Anabaptists of Munster, and expect God’s assistance to drop from the clouds.” It is only by listening to these arguments so often repeated, that we can comprehend the policy of Orange at this period. “God has said that he would furnish the ravens with food, and the lions with their prey,” said he, “but the birds and the lions do not, therefore, sit in their nests and their lairs waiting for their food to descend from heaven, but they seek it where it is to be found.” So also, at a later day, when events seemed to have justified the distrust so generally felt in Anjou, the prince, nevertheless, held similar language. “I do not,” said he, “calumniate those who tell us to put our trust in God. That is my opinion also. But it is trusting God to use the means which he places in our hands, and to ask that his blessings may come upon them.”
There was a feeling entertained by the more sanguine that the French king would heartily assist the Netherlands, after his brother should be fairly installed. He had expressly written to that effect, assuring Anjou that he would help him with all his strength, and would enter into close alliance with those Netherlands which should accept him as prince and sovereign. In another and more private letter to the duke, the king promised to assist his brother, “even to his last shirt.” There is no doubt that it was the policy of the statesmen of France to assist the Netherlands, while the “mignons” of the worthless king were of a contrary opinion. Many of them were secret partisans of Spain, and found it more agreeable to receive the secret pay of Philip than to assist his revolted provinces. They found it easy to excite the jealousy of the monarch against his brother—a passion which proved more effective than the more lofty ambition of annexing the Low Countries, according to the secret promptings of many French politicians. As for the Queen Mother, she was fierce in her determination to see fulfilled in this way the famous prediction of Nostradamus. Three of her sons had successively worn the crown of France. That she might be “the mother of four kings,” without laying a third child in the tomb, she was greedy for this proffered sovereignty to her youngest and favorite son. This well-known desire of Catherine de Medici was duly insisted upon by the advocates of the election; for her influence, it was urged, would bring the whole power of France to support the Netherlands.
At any rate, France could not be worse—could hardly be so bad—as their present tyranny. “Better the government of the Gaul, though suspect and dangerous,” said Everard Reyd, “than the truculent dominion of the Spaniard. Even thus will the partridge fly to the hand of man, to escape the talons of the hawk.” As for the individual character of Anjou, proper means would be taken, urged the advocates of his sovereignty, to keep him in check, for it was intended so closely to limit the power conferred upon him, that it would be only supreme in name. The Netherlands were to be, in reality, a republic, of which Anjou was to be a kind of Italian or Frisian podesta. “The Duke is not to act according to his pleasure,” said one of the negotiators, in a private letter to Count John, “we shall take care to provide a good muzzle for him.” How conscientiously the “muzzle” was prepared, will appear from the articles by which the states soon afterwards accepted the new sovereign. How basely he contrived to slip the muzzle, in what cruel and cowardly fashion he bathed his fangs in the blood of the flock committed to him, will also but too soon appear.
As for the religious objection to Anjou, on which more stress was laid than upon any other, the answer was equally ready. Orange professed himself “not theologian enough” to go into the subtleties brought forward. As it was intended to establish most firmly a religious peace, with entire tolerance for all creeds, he did not think it absolutely essential to require a prince of the Reformed faith. It was bigotry to dictate to the sovereign, when full liberty in religious matters was claimed for the subject. Orange was known to be a zealous professor of the Reformed worship himself, but he did not therefore reject political assistance, even though offered by a not very enthusiastic member of the ancient Church.
“If the priest and the Levite pass us by when we are fallen among thieves,” said he, with much aptness and some bitterness, “shall we reject the aid proffered by the Samaritan, because he is of a different faith from the worthy fathers who have left us to perish?” In short, it was observed with perfect truth that Philip had been removed, not because he was a Catholic, but because he was a tyrant, not because his faith was different from that of his subjects, but because he was resolved to exterminate all men whose religion differed from his own. It was not, therefore, inconsistent to choose another Catholic for a sovereign, if proper guarantees could be obtained that he would protect and not oppress the Reformed churches. “If the duke have the same designs as the king,” said Saint Aldegonde, “it would be a great piece of folly to change one tyrant and persecutor for another. If, on the contrary, instead of oppressing our liberties, he will maintain them, and in place of extirpating the disciples of the true religion, he will protect them, then are all the reasons of our opponents without vigor.”
By midsummer the Duke of Anjou made his appearance in the western part of the Netherlands. The Prince of Parma had recently come before Cambray with the intention of reducing that important city. On the arrival of Anjou, however, at the head of 5,000 cavalry—nearly all of them gentlemen of high degree, serving as volunteers—and of 12,000 infantry, Alexander raised the siege precipitately, and retired towards Tournay. Anjou victualled the city, strengthened the garrison, and then, as his cavalry had only enlisted for a summer’s amusement, and could no longer be held together, he disbanded his forces. The bulk of the infantry took service for the states under the Prince of Espinoy, Governor of Tournay. The duke himself, finding that, notwithstanding the treaty of Plessis les Tours and the present showy demonstration upon his part, the states were not yet prepared to render him formal allegiance, and being, moreover, in the heyday of what was universally considered his prosperous courtship of Queen Elizabeth, soon afterwards took his departure for England.
Parma, being thus relieved of his interference, soon afterwards laid siege to the important city of Tournay. The Prince of Espinoy was absent with the army in the North, but the princess commanded in his absence. She fulfilled her duty in a manner worthy of the house from which she sprang, for the blood of Count Horn was in her veins. The daughter of Mary de Montmorency, the admiral’s sister, answered the summons of Parma to surrender at discretion with defiance. The garrison was encouraged by her steadfastness. The princess appeared daily among her troops, superintending the defenses, and personally directing the officers. During one of the assaults, she is said, but perhaps erroneously, to have been wounded in the arm, notwithstanding which she refused to retire.
The siege lasted two months. Meantime, it became impossible for Orange and the estates, notwithstanding their efforts, to raise a sufficient force to drive Parma from his entrenchments. The city was becoming gradually and surely undermined from without, while at the same time the insidious art of a Dominican friar, Father Géry by name, had been as surely sapping the fidelity of the garrison from within. An open revolt of the Catholic population being on the point of taking place, it became impossible any longer to hold the city. Those of the Reformed faith insisted that the place should be surrendered, and the princess, being thus deserted by all parties, made an honorable capitulation with Parma. She herself, with all her garrison, was allowed to retire with personal property, and with all the honors of war, while the sack of the city was commuted for 100,000 crowns, levied upon the inhabitants. The princess, on leaving the gates, was received with such a shout of applause from the royal army that she seemed less like a defeated commander than a conqueror. Upon the 30th of November, Parma accordingly entered the place which he had been besieging since the first of October.
By the end of the autumn, the Prince of Orange, more than ever dissatisfied with the anarchical condition of affairs, and with the obstinate jealousy and parsimony of the different provinces, again summoned the country in the most earnest language to provide for the general defense, and to take measures for the inauguration of Anjou. He painted in somber colors the prospect which lay before them, if nothing was done to arrest the progress of the internal disorders and of the external foe, whose forces were steadily augmenting. Had the provinces followed his advice, instead of quarreling among themselves, they would have had a powerful army on foot to second the efforts of Anjou, and subsequently to save Tournay. They had remained supine and stolid, even while the cannonading against these beautiful cities was in their very ears. No man seemed to think himself interested in public affairs, save when his own province or village was directly attacked. The general interests of the commonwealth were forgotten in local jealousy. Had it been otherwise, the enemy would have long since been driven over the Meuse. “When money,” continued the prince, “is asked for to carry on the war, men answer as if they were talking with the dead Emperor. To say, however, that they will pay no more, is as much as to declare that they will give up their land and their religion both. I say this, not because I have any desire to put my hands into the common purse. You well know that I have never touched the public money, but it is important that you should feel that there is no war in the country except the one which concerns you all.”
The states, thus shamed and stimulated, set themselves in earnest to obey the mandates of the prince, and sent a special mission to England, to arrange with the Duke of Anjou for his formal installation as sovereign. Saint Aldegonde and other commissioners were already there. It was the memorable epoch in the Anjou wooing, when the rings were exchanged between Elizabeth and the duke, and when the world thought that the nuptials were on the point of being celebrated. Saint Aldegonde wrote to the Prince of Orange, on the 22nd of November, that the marriage had been finally settled upon that day. Throughout the Netherlands, the auspicious tidings were greeted with bonfires, illuminations, and cannonading, and the measures for hailing the prince, thus highly favored by so great a queen, as sovereign master of the provinces, were pushed forward with great energy.
Nevertheless, the marriage ended in smoke. There were plenty of tournays, pageants, and banquets—a profusion of nuptial festivities, in short, where nothing was omitted but the nuptials. By the end of January, 1582, the duke was no nearer the goal than upon his arrival three months before. Acceding, therefore, to the wishes of the Netherland envoys, he prepared for a visit to their country, where the ceremony of his joyful entrance as Duke of Brabant and sovereign of the other provinces was to take place. No open rupture with Elizabeth occurred. On the contrary, the queen accompanied the duke, with a numerous and stately retinue, as far as Canterbury, and sent a most brilliant train of her greatest nobles and gentlemen to escort him to the Netherlands, communicating at the same time, by special letter, her wishes to the estates-general, that he should be treated with as much honor “as if he were her second self.”
On the 10th of February, fifteen large vessels cast anchor at Flushing. The Duke of Anjou, attended by the Earl of Leicester, the Lords Hunsdon, Willoughby, Sheffield, Howard, Sir Philip Sidney, and many other personages of high rank and reputation, landed from this fleet. He was greeted on his arrival by the Prince of Orange, who, with the Prince of Espinoy and a large deputation of the states-general, had been for some days waiting to welcome him. The man whom the Netherlands had chosen for their new master stood on the shores of Zealand. Francis Hercules, Son of France, Duke of Alençon and Anjou, was at that time just twenty-eight years of age; yet not even his flatterers, or his “minions,” of whom he had as regular a train as his royal brother, could claim for him the external graces of youth or of princely dignity. He was below the middle height, puny and ill-shaped. His hair and eyes were brown, his face was seamed with the smallpox, his skin covered with blotches, his nose so swollen and distorted that it seemed to be double. This prominent feature did not escape the sarcasms of his countrymen, who, among other gibes, were wont to observe that the man who always wore two faces, might be expected to have two noses also. It was thought that his revolting appearance was the principal reason for the rupture of the English marriage, and it was in vain that his supporters maintained that if he could forgive her age, she might, in return, excuse his ugliness. It seemed that there was a point of hideousness beyond which even royal princes could not descend with impunity, and the only wonder seemed that Elizabeth, with the handsome Robert Dudley ever at her feet, could even tolerate the addresses of Francis Valois.
His intellect was by no means contemptible. He was not without a certain quickness of apprehension and vivacity of expression which passed current among his admirers for wit and wisdom. Even the experienced Saint Aldegonde was deceived in his character, and described him after an hour and half’s interview, as a prince overflowing with bounty, intelligence, and sincerity. That such men as Saint Aldegonde and the Prince of Orange should be at fault in their judgment, is evidence not so much of their want of discernment, as of the difference between the general reputation of the duke at that period, and that which has been eventually established for him in history. Moreover, subsequent events were to exhibit the utter baseness of his character more signally than it had been displayed during his previous career, however vacillating. No more ignoble yet more dangerous creature had yet been loosed upon the devoted soil of the Netherlands. Not one of the personages who had hitherto figured in the long drama of the revolt had enacted so sorry a part. Ambitious but trivial, enterprising but cowardly, an intriguer and a dupe, without religious convictions or political principles, save that he was willing to accept any creed or any system which might advance his own schemes, he was the most unfit protector for a people who, whether wrong or right, were at least in earnest, and who were accustomed to regard truth as one of the virtues. He was certainly not deficient in self-esteem. With a figure which was insignificant, and a countenance which was repulsive, he had hoped to efface the impression made upon Elizabeth’s imagination by the handsomest man in Europe. With a commonplace capacity, and with a narrow political education, he intended to circumvent the most profound statesman of his age. And there, upon the pier at Flushing, he stood between them both—between the magnificent Leicester, whom he had thought to outshine, and the silent Prince of Orange, whom he was determined to outwit. Posterity has long been aware how far he succeeded in the one and the other attempt.
The duke’s arrival was greeted with the roar of artillery, the ringing of bells, and the acclamations of a large concourse of the inhabitants; suitable speeches were made by the magistrates of the town, the deputies of Zealand, and other functionaries, and a stately banquet was provided, so remarkable “for its sugar-work and other delicacies, as to entirely astonish the French and English lords who partook thereof.” The duke visited Middelburg, where he was received with great state, and to the authorities of which he expressed his gratification at finding two such stately cities situate so close to each other on one little island.
On the 17th of February, he set sail for Antwerp. A fleet of fifty-four vessels, covered with flags and streamers, conveyed him and his retinue, together with the large deputation which had welcomed him at Flushing, to the great commercial metropolis. He stepped on shore at Kiel within a bowshot of the city—for, like other Dukes of Brabant, he was not to enter Antwerp until he had taken the oaths to respect the constitution—and the ceremony of inauguration was to take place outside the walls. A large platform had been erected for this purpose, commanding a view of the stately city, with its bristling fortifications and shady groves. A throne, covered with velvet and gold, was prepared, and here the duke took his seat, surrounded by a brilliant throng, including many of the most distinguished personages in Europe.
It was a bright winter’s morning. The gaily bannered fleet lay conspicuous in the river, while an enormous concourse of people were thronging from all sides to greet the new sovereign. Twenty thousand burgher troops, in bright uniforms, surrounded the platform, upon the tapestried floor of which stood the magistrates of Antwerp, the leading members of the Brabant estates, with the Prince of Orange at their head, together with many other great functionaries. The magnificence everywhere displayed, and especially the splendid costumes of the military companies, excited the profound astonishment of the French, who exclaimed that every soldier seemed a captain, and who regarded with vexation their own inferior equipments.
Andrew Hessels, doctor utriusque juris, delivered a salutatory oration, in which, among other flights of eloquence, he expressed the hope of the provinces that the duke, with the beams of his greatness, wisdom, and magnanimity, would dissipate all the mists, fogs, and other exhalations which were pernicious to their national prosperity, and that he would bring back the sunlight of their ancient glory.
Anjou answered these compliments with equal courtesy, and had much to say of his willingness to shed every drop of his blood in defense of the Brabant liberties, but it might have damped the enthusiasm of the moment, could the curtain of the not very distant future have been lifted. The audience, listening to these promises, might have seen that it was not so much his blood as theirs which he was disposed to shed, and less, too, in defense than in violation of those same liberties which he was swearing to protect.
Orator Hessels then read aloud the articles of the Joyous Entry, in the Flemish language, and the duke was asked if he required any explanations of that celebrated constitution. He replied that he had thoroughly studied its provisions, with the assistance of the Prince of Orange, during his voyage from Flushing, and was quite prepared to swear to maintain them. The oaths, according to the antique custom, were then administered. Afterwards, the ducal hat and the velvet mantle, lined with ermine, were brought, the Prince of Orange assisting his Highness to assume this historical costume of the Brabant dukes, and saying to him, as he fastened the button at the throat, “I must secure this robe so firmly, my lord, that no man may ever tear it from your shoulders.”
Thus arrayed in his garment of sovereignty, Anjou was compelled to listen to another oration from the pensionary of Antwerp, John van der Werken. He then exchanged oaths with the magistrates of the city, and received the keys, which he returned for safe-keeping to the burgomaster. Meanwhile the trumpets sounded, largess of gold and silver coins was scattered among the people, and the heralds cried aloud, “Long live the Duke of Brabant.”
A procession was then formed to escort the new duke to his commercial capital. A stately and striking procession it was. The Hanseatic merchants in ancient German attire, the English merchants in long velvet cassocks, the heralds in their quaint costume, the long train of civic militia with full bands of music, the chief functionaries of city and province in their black mantles and gold chains, all marching under emblematical standards or time-honored blazons, followed each other in dignified order. Then came the duke himself, on a white Barbary horse, caparisoned with cloth of gold. He was surrounded with English, French, and Netherland grandees, many of them of worldwide reputation. There was the stately Leicester; Sir Philip Sidney, the mirror of chivalry; the gaunt and imposing form of William the Silent; his son, Count Maurice of Nassau, destined to be the first captain of his age, then a handsome, dark-eyed lad of fifteen; the Dauphin of Auvergne; the Maréchal de Biron and his sons; the Prince of Espinoy; the Lords Sheffield, Willoughby, Howard, Hunsdon, and many others of high degree and distinguished reputation. The ancient guilds of the crossbowmen and archers of Brabant, splendidly accoutered, formed the bodyguard of the duke, while his French cavaliers, the lifeguardsmen of the Prince of Orange, and the troops of the line, followed in great numbers, their glittering uniforms all gaily intermingled, “like the flowers de luce upon a royal mantle.” The procession, thus gorgeous and gay, was terminated by a dismal group of three hundred malefactors, marching in fetters, and imploring pardon of the duke, a boon which was to be granted at evening. Great torches, although it was high noon, were burning along the road, at intervals of four or five feet, in a continuous line reaching from the platform at Kiel to the portal of Saint Joris, through which the entrance to the city was to be made.
Inside the gate a stupendous allegory was awaiting the approach of the new sovereign. A huge gilded car, crowded with those emblematical and highly bedizened personages so dear to the Netherlanders, obstructed the advance of the procession. All the virtues seemed to have come out for an airing in one chariot, and were now waiting to offer their homage to Francis Hercules Valois. Religion “in red satin,” holding the gospel in her hand, was supported by Justice, “in orange velvet,” armed with blade and beam. Prudence and Fortitude embraced each other near a column enwreathed by serpents “with their tails in their ears to typify deafness to flattery,” while Patriotism as a pelican, and Patience as a brooding hen, looked benignantly upon the scene. This greeting duly acknowledged, the procession advanced into the city. The streets were lined with troops and with citizens; the balconies were filled with fair women; “the very gables,” says an enthusiastic contemporary, “seemed to laugh with ladies’ eyes.” The market-place was filled with waxen torches and with blazing tar-barrels, while in its center stood the giant Antigonus—founder of the city 1,300 years before the Christian era—the fabulous personage who was accustomed to throw the right hands of all smuggling merchants into the Scheld. This colossal individual, attired in a “surcoat of sky-blue,” and holding a banner emblazoned with the arms of Spain, turned its head as the duke entered the square, saluted the new sovereign, and then dropping the Spanish scutcheon upon the ground, raised aloft another bearing the arms of Anjou.
And thus, amid exuberant outpouring of confidence, another lord and master had made his triumphal entrance into the Netherlands. Alas! how often had this sanguine people greeted with similar acclamations the advent of their betrayers and their tyrants! How soon were they to discover that the man whom they were thus receiving with the warmest enthusiasm was the most treacherous tyrant of all.
It was nightfall before the procession at last reached the palace of Saint Michael, which had been fitted up for the temporary reception of the duke. The next day was devoted to speech making, various deputations waiting upon the new Duke of Brabant with congratulatory addresses. The Grand Pensionary delivered a pompous oration upon a platform hung with sky-blue silk, and carpeted with cloth of gold. A committee of the German and French Reformed Churches made a long harangue, in which they expressed the hope that the Lord would make the duke “as valiant as David, as wise as Solomon, and as pious as Hezekiah.” A Roman Catholic deputation informed his Highness that for eight months the members of the Ancient Church had been forbidden all religious exercises, saving baptism, marriage, visitation of the sick, and burials. A promise was therefore made that this prohibition, which had been the result of the disturbances recorded in a preceding chapter, should be immediately modified, and on the 15th of March, accordingly, it was arranged, by command of the magistrates, that all Catholics should have permission to attend public worship, according to the ancient ceremonial, in the church of Saint Michael, which had been originally designated for the use of the new Duke of Brabant. It was, however, stipulated that all who desired to partake of this privilege should take the oath of abjuration beforehand, and go to the church without their arms.
Here then had been oaths enough, orations enough, compliments enough, to make any agreement steadfast, so far as windy suspirations could furnish a solid foundation for the social compact. Bells, trumpets, and the brazen throats of men and of cannons had made a sufficient din, torches and tar-barrels had made a sufficient glare, to confirm—so far as noise and blazing pitch could confirm—the decorous proceedings of church and Town-house, but time was soon to show the value of such demonstrations. Meantime, the “muzzle” had been fastened with solemnity and accepted with docility. The terms of the treaty concluded at Plessis les Tours and Bordeaux were made public. The duke had subscribed to twenty-seven articles, which made as stringent and sensible a constitutional compact as could be desired by any Netherland patriot. These articles, taken in connection with the ancient charters which they expressly upheld, left to the new sovereign no vestige of arbitrary power. He was merely the hereditary president of a representative republic. He was to be Duke, Count, Margrave, or Seignior of the different provinces on the same terms which his predecessors had accepted. He was to transmit the dignities to his children. If there were more than one child, the provinces were to select one of the number for their sovereign. He was to maintain all the ancient privileges, charters, statutes, and customs, and to forfeit his sovereignty at the first violation. He was to assemble the states-general at least once a year. He was always to reside in the Netherlands. He was to permit none but natives to hold office. His right of appointment to all important posts was limited to a selection from three candidates, to be proposed by the estates of the province concerned, at each vacancy. He was to maintain “the Religion” and the religious peace in the same state in which they then were, or as should afterwards be ordained by the estates of each province, without making any innovation on his own part. Holland and Zealand were to remain as they were, both in the matter of religion and otherwise. His Highness was not to permit that anyone should be examined or molested in his house, or otherwise, in the matter or under pretext of religion. He was to procure the assistance of the King of France for the Netherlands. He was to maintain a perfect and a perpetual league, offensive and defensive, between that kingdom and the provinces, without, however, permitting any incorporation of territory. He was to carry on the war against Spain with his own means and those furnished by his royal brother, in addition to a yearly contribution by the estates of 2,400,000 guldens. He was to dismiss all troops at command of the states-general. He was to make no treaty with Spain without their consent.
It would be superfluous to point out the great difference between the notions entertained upon international law in the 16th century and in our own. A state of nominal peace existed between Spain, France and England; yet here was the brother of the French monarch, at the head of French troops, and attended by the grandees of England, solemnly accepting the sovereignty over the revolted provinces of Spain. It is also curious to observe that the constitutional compact by which the new sovereign of the Netherlands was admitted to the government, would have been repudiated as revolutionary and republican by the monarchs of France or England, if an attempt had been made to apply it to their own realms, for the ancient charters—which in reality constituted a republican form of government—had all been re-established by the agreement with Anjou.
The first-fruits of the ban now began to display themselves. Sunday, March 18, 1582, was the birthday of the Duke of Anjou, and a great festival had been arranged, accordingly, for the evening, at the palace of Saint Michael, the Prince of Orange as well as all the great French lords being of course invited. The prince dined, as usual, at his house in the neighborhood of the citadel, in company with the Counts Hohenlo and Laval, and the two distinguished French commissioners, Bonnivet and Des Pruneaux. Young Maurice of Nassau, and two nephews of the prince, sons of his brother John, were also present at table. During dinner the conversation was animated, many stories being related of the cruelties which had been practiced by the Spaniards in the provinces. On rising from the table, Orange led the way from the dining room to his own apartments, showing the noblemen in his company as he passed along, a piece of tapestry upon which some Spanish soldiers were represented. At this moment, as he stood upon the threshold of the antechamber, a youth of small stature, vulgar mien, and pale dark complexion, appeared from among the servants and offered him a petition.
He took the paper, and as he did so, the stranger suddenly drew a pistol and discharged it at the head of the prince. The ball entered the neck under the right ear, passed through the roof of the mouth, and came out under the left jaw-bone, carrying with it two teeth. The pistol had been held so near, that the hair and beard of the prince were set on fire by the discharge. He remained standing, but blinded, stunned, and for a moment entirely ignorant of what had occurred. As he afterwards observed, he thought perhaps that a part of the house had suddenly fallen. Finding very soon that his hair and beard were burning, he comprehended what had occurred, and called out quickly, “Do not kill him—I forgive him my death!” and turning to the French noblemen present, he added, “Alas! what a faithful servant does his Highness lose in me!”
These were his first words, spoken when, as all believed, he had been mortally wounded. The message of mercy came, however, too late, for two of the gentlemen present, by an irresistible impulse, had run the assassin through with their rapiers. The halberdiers rushed upon him immediately after wards, so that he fell pierced in thirty-two vital places. The prince, supported by his friends, walked to his chamber, where he was put to bed, while the surgeons examined and bandaged the wound. It was most dangerous in appearance, but a very strange circumstance gave more hope than could otherwise have been entertained. The flame from the pistol had been so close that it had actually cauterized the wound inflicted by the ball. But for this, it was supposed that the flow of blood from the veins which had been shot through would have proved fatal before the wound could be dressed. The prince, after the first shock, had recovered full possession of his senses, and believing himself to be dying, he expressed the most unaffected sympathy for the condition in which the Duke of Anjou would be placed by his death. “Alas, poor prince!” he cried frequently, “alas, what troubles will now beset thee!” The surgeons enjoined and implored his silence, as speaking might cause the wound to prove immediately fatal. He complied, but wrote incessantly. As long as his heart could beat, it was impossible for him not to be occupied with his country.
Lion Petit, a trusty captain of the city guard, forced his way to the chamber, it being absolutely necessary, said the honest burgher, for him to see with his own eyes that the prince was living, and report the fact to the townspeople; otherwise, so great was the excitement, it was impossible to say what might be the result. It was in fact believed that the prince was already dead, and it was whispered that he had been assassinated by the order of Anjou. This horrible suspicion was flying through the city, and producing a fierce exasperation, as men talked of the murder of Coligny, of Saint Bartholomew, of the murderous propensities of the Valois race. Had the attempt taken place in the evening, at the birth-night banquet of Anjou, a horrible massacre would have been the inevitable issue. As it happened, however, circumstances soon occurred to remove the suspicion from the French, and to indicate the origin of the crime. Meantime, Captain Petit was urged by the prince, in writing, to go forth instantly with the news that he yet survived, but to implore the people, in case God should call him to Himself, to hold him in kind remembrance, to make no tumult, and to serve the duke obediently and faithfully.
Meantime, the youthful Maurice of Nassau was giving proof of that cool determination which already marked his character. It was natural that a boy of fifteen should be somewhat agitated at seeing such a father shot through the head before his eyes. His situation was rendered doubly grave by the suspicions which were instantly engendered as to the probable origin of the attempt. It was already whispered in the hall that the gentlemen who had been so officious in slaying the assassin, were his accomplices, who, upon the principle that dead men would tell no tales, were disposed, now that the deed was done, to preclude inconvenient revelations as to their own share in the crime. Maurice, notwithstanding these causes for perturbation, and despite his grief at his father’s probable death, remained steadily by the body of the murderer. He was determined, if possible, to unravel the plot, and he waited to possess himself of all papers and other articles which might be found upon the person of the deceased.
A scrupulous search was at once made by the attendants, and everything placed in the young count’s own hands. This done, Maurice expressed a doubt lest some of the villain’s accomplices might attempt to take the articles from him, whereupon a faithful old servant of his father came forward, who with an emphatic expression of the importance of securing such important documents, took his young master under his cloak, and led him to a retired apartment of the house. Here, after a rapid examination, it was found that the papers were all in Spanish, written by Spaniards to Spaniards, so that it was obvious that the conspiracy, if one there were, was not a French conspiracy. The servant, therefore, advised Maurice to go to his father, while he would himself instantly descend to the hall with this important intelligence. Count Hohenlo had, from the instant of the murder, ordered the doors to be fastened, and had permitted no one to enter or to leave the apartment without his permission. The information now brought by the servant as to the character of the papers caused great relief to the minds of all, for, till that moment, suspicion had even lighted upon men who were the firm friends of the prince.
Saint Aldegonde, who had meantime arrived, now proceeded, in company of the other gentlemen, to examine the papers and other articles taken from the assassin. The pistol with which he had done the deed was lying upon the floor; a naked poniard, which he would probably have used also, had his thumb not been blown off by the discharge of the pistol, was found in his trunk hose. In his pockets were an Agnus Dei, a taper of green wax, two bits of hareskin, two dried toads—which were supposed to be sorcerer’s charms—a crucifix, a Jesuit catechism, a prayer-book, a pocket-book containing two Spanish bills of exchange—one for 2,000, and one for 877 crowns—and a set of writing tablets. These last were covered with vows and pious invocations, in reference to the murderous affair which the writer had in hand. He had addressed fervent prayers to the Virgin Mary, to the Angel Gabriel, to the Savior, and to the Savior’s Son, “as if,” says the Antwerp chronicler, with simplicity, “the Lord Jesus had a son”—that they might all use their intercession with the Almighty towards the certain and safe accomplishment of the contemplated deed. Should he come off successful and unharmed, he solemnly vowed to fast a week on bread and water. Furthermore, he promised to Christ a “new coat of costly pattern,” to the Mother of God, at Guadalupe, a new gown; to Our Lady of Montserrat, a crown, a gown, and a lamp; and so on through a long list of similar presents thus contemplated for various shrines. The poor fanatical fool had been taught by deeper villains than himself that his pistol was to rid the world of a tyrant, and to open his own pathway to Heaven, if his career should be cut short on earth. To prevent so undesirable a catastrophe to himself, however, his most natural conception had been to bribe the whole heavenly host, from the Virgin Mary downwards, for he had been taught that absolution for murder was to be bought and sold like other merchandise. He had also been persuaded that, after accomplishing the deed, he would become invisible.
Saint Aldegonde hastened to lay the result of this examination before the Duke of Anjou. Information was likewise instantly conveyed to the magistrates at the Town-house, and these measures were successful in restoring confidence throughout the city as to the intentions of the new government. Anjou immediately convened the State Council, issued a summons for an early meeting of the states-general, and published a proclamation that all persons having information to give concerning the crime which had just been committed, should come instantly forward, upon pain of death. The body of the assassin was forthwith exposed upon the public square, and was soon recognized as that of one Juan Jaureguy, a servant in the employ of Gaspar d’Anastro, a Spanish merchant of Antwerp. The letters and bills of exchange had also, on nearer examination at the Town-house, implicated Anastro in the affair. His house was immediately searched, but the merchant had taken his departure, upon the previous Tuesday, under pretext of pressing affairs at Calais. His cashier, Venero, and a Dominican friar, named Antony Zimmermann, both inmates of his family, were, however, arrested upon suspicion. On the following day the watch stationed at the gate carried the foreign post-bags, as soon as they arrived, to the magistracy, when letters were found from Anastro to Venero, which made the affair quite plain. After they had been thoroughly studied, they were shown to Venero, who, seeing himself thus completely ruined, asked for pen and ink, and wrote a full confession.
It appeared that the crime was purely a commercial speculation on the part of Anastro. That merchant, being on the verge of bankruptcy, had entered with Philip into a mutual contract, which the king had signed with his hand and sealed with his seal, and according to which Anastro, within a certain period, was to take the life of William of Orange, and for so doing was to receive 80,000 ducats and the cross of Santiago. To be a knight companion of Spain’s proudest order of chivalry was the guerdon, over and above the 80,000 pieces of silver, which Spain’s monarch promised the murderer, if he should succeed. As for Anastro himself, be was too frugal and too wary to risk his own life, or to lose much of the premium. With tears streaming down his cheeks, he pointed to his faithful cashier the picture which his master would present, when men should point at him and say, “Behold yon bankrupt!” protesting, therefore, that he would murder Orange and secure the reward, or perish in the attempt. Saying this, he again shed many tears. Venero, seeing his master thus disconsolate, wept bitterly likewise, and begged him not to risk his own precious life. After this pathetic commingling of their grief, the merchant and his book-keeper became more composed, and it was at last concerted between them that John Jaureguy should be entrusted with the job.
Anastro had intended—as he said in a letter afterwards intercepted—”to accomplish the deed with his own hand; but, as God had probably reserved him for other things, and particularly to be of service to his very affectionate friends, he had thought best to entrust the execution of the design to his servant.” The price paid by the master to the man, for the work, seems to have been but 2,877 crowns. The cowardly and crafty principal escaped. He had gone post haste to Dunkirk, pretending that the sudden death of his agent in Calais required his immediate presence in that city. Governor Sweveseel, of Dunkirk, sent an orderly to get a passport for him from La Motte, commanding at Gravelingen. Anastro being on tenter-hooks lest the news should arrive that the projected murder had been consummated before he had crossed the border, testified extravagant joy on the arrival of the passport, and gave the messenger who brought it thirty pistoles. Such conduct naturally excited a vague suspicion in the mind of the governor, but the merchant’s character was good, and he had brought pressing letters from Admiral Treslong. Sweveseel did not dare to arrest him without cause, and he neither knew that any crime had been committed, nor that the man before him was the criminal. Two hours after the traveler’s departure, the news arrived of the deed, together with orders to arrest Anastro, but it was too late. The merchant had found refuge within the lines of Parma.
Meanwhile, the prince lay in a most critical condition. Believing that his end was fast approaching, he dictated letters to the states-general, entreating them to continue in their obedience to the duke, than whom he affirmed that he knew no better prince for the government of the provinces. These letters were dispatched by Saint Aldegonde to the assembly, from which body a deputation, in obedience to the wishes of Orange, was sent to Anjou, with expressions of condolence and fidelity.
On Wednesday a solemn fast was held, according to proclamation, in Antwerp, all work and all amusements being prohibited, and special prayers commanded in all the churches for the recovery of the prince. “Never, within men’s memory,” says an account published at the moment, in Antwerp, “had such crowds been seen in the churches, nor so many tears been shed.”
The process against Venero and Zimmermann was rapidly carried through, for both had made a full confession of their share in the crime. The prince had enjoined from his sickbed, however, that the case should be conducted with strict regard to justice, and, when the execution could no longer be deferred, he had sent a written request, by the hands of Saint Aldegonde, that they should be put to death in the least painful manner. The request was complied with, but there can be no doubt that the criminals, had it not been made, would have expiated their offense by the most lingering tortures. Owing to the intercession of the man who was to have been their victim, they were strangled, before being quartered, upon a scaffold erected in the market-place, opposite the Town-house. This execution took place on Wednesday, the 28th of March.
The prince, meanwhile, was thought to be mending, and thanksgivings began to be mingled with the prayers offered almost every hour in the churches, but for eighteen days he lay in a most precarious state. His wife hardly left his bedside, and his sister, Catharine, Countess of Schwartzburg, was indefatigable in her attentions. The Duke of Anjou visited him daily, and expressed the most filial anxiety for his recovery, but the hopes, which had been gradually growing stronger, were on the fifth of April exchanged for the deepest apprehensions. Upon that day the cicatrix by which the flow of blood from the neck had been prevented, almost from the first infliction of the wound, fell off. The veins poured forth a vast quantity of blood; it seemed impossible to check the hemorrhage, and all hope appeared to vanish. The prince resigned himself to his fate, and bade his children “good night for ever,” saying calmly, “it is now all over with me.”
It was difficult, without suffocating the patient, to fasten a bandage tightly enough to staunch the wound, but Leonardo Botalli, of Asti, body physician of Anjou, was nevertheless fortunate enough to devise a simple mechanical expedient, which proved successful. By his advice, a succession of attendants, relieving each other day and night, prevented the flow of blood by keeping the orifice of the wound slightly but firmly compressed with the thumb. After a period of anxious expectation, the wound again closed, and by the end of the month the prince was convalescent. On the second of May he went to offer thanksgiving in the Great Cathedral, amid the joyful sobs of a vast and most earnest throng.
The prince was saved, but unhappily the murderer had yet found an illustrious victim. The Princess of Orange, Charlotte de Bourbon—the devoted wife who for seven years had so faithfully shared his joys and sorrows—lay already on her deathbed. Exhausted by anxiety, long watching, and the alternations of hope and fear during the first eighteen days, she had been prostrated by despair at the renewed hemorrhage. A violent fever seized her, under which she sank on the fifth of May, three days after the solemn thanksgiving for her husband’s recovery. The prince, who loved her tenderly, was in great danger of relapse upon the sad event, which, although not sudden, had not been anticipated. She was laid in her grave on the ninth of May, amid the lamentations of the whole country, for her virtues were universally known and cherished. She was a woman of rare intelligence, accomplishment, and gentleness of disposition, whose only offense had been to break, by her marriage, the church vows to which she had been forced in her childhood, but which had been pronounced illegal by competent authority, both ecclesiastical and lay. For this, and for the contrast which her virtues afforded to the vices of her predecessor, she was the mark of calumny and insult. These attacks, however, had cast no shadow upon the serenity of her married life, and so long as she lived she was the trusted companion and consoler of her husband. “His Highness,” wrote Count John in 1580, “is in excellent health, and, in spite of adversity, incredible labor, perplexity, and dangers, is in such good spirits that it makes me happy to witness it. No doubt a chief reason is the consolation he derives from the pious and highly-intelligent wife whom the Lord has given him—a woman who ever conforms to his wishes, and is inexpressibly dear to him.”
Alexander, in consequence, addressed circular letters to the authorities of Antwerp, Brussels, Bruges, and other cities, calling upon them, now that they had been relieved of their tyrant and their betrayer, to return again to the path of their duty and to the ever-open arms of their lawful monarch. These letters were premature. On the other hand, the states of Holland and Zealand remained in permanent session, awaiting with extreme anxiety the result of the prince’s wound. “With the death of his Excellency, if God should please to take him to himself,” said the magistracy of Leyden, “in the death of the prince we all foresee our own death.” It was, in truth, an anxious moment, and the revulsion of feeling consequent on his recovery was proportionately intense.
In consequence of the excitement produced by this event, it was no longer possible for the prince to decline accepting the countship of Holland and Zealand, which he had refused absolutely two years before, and which he had again rejected, except for a limited period, in the year 1581. It was well understood, as appears by the treaty with Anjou, and afterwards formally arranged, “that the duke was never to claim sovereignty over Holland and Zealand,” and the offer of the sovereign countship of Holland was again made to the Prince of Orange in most urgent terms. It will be recollected that he had accepted the sovereignty on July 5, 1581, only for the term of the war. In a letter, dated Bruges, August 14, 1582, he accepted the dignity without limitation. This offer and acceptance, however, constituted but the preliminaries, for it was further necessary that the letters of “Renversal” should be drawn up, that they should be formally delivered, and that a new constitution should be laid down, and confirmed by mutual oaths. After these steps had been taken, the ceremonious inauguration or rendering of homage was to be celebrated.
All these measures were duly arranged, except the last. The installation of the new Count of Holland was prevented by his death, and the northern provinces remained a Republic, not only in fact but in name.
In political matters, the basis of the new constitution was the “Great Privilege” of the Lady Mary, the Magna Charta of the country. That memorable monument in the history of the Netherlands and of municipal progress had been overthrown by Mary’s son, with the forced acquiescence of the states, and it was therefore stipulated by the new article, that even such laws and privileges as had fallen into disuse should be revived. It was furthermore provided that the little state should be a free Countship, and should thus silently sever its connection with the Empire.
With regard to the position of the prince, as hereditary chief of the little commonwealth, his actual power was rather diminished than increased by his new dignity. What was his position at the moment? He was sovereign during the war, on the general basis of the authority, originally bestowed upon him by the king’s commission of stadholder. In 1581, his Majesty had been abjured, and the stadholder had become sovereign. He held in his hands the supreme power, legislative, judicial, executive. The Counts of Holland—and Philip as their successor—were the great fountains of that triple stream. Concessions and exceptions had become so extensive, no doubt, that the provincial charters constituted a vast body of “liberties” by which the whole country was reasonably well supplied. At the same time, all the power not expressly granted away remained in the breast of the Count. If ambition, then, had been William’s ruling principle, he had exchanged substance for shadow, for the new state now constituted was a free commonwealth—a republic in all but name.
By the new constitution he ceased to be the source of governmental life, or to derive his own authority from above by right divine. The sacred oil which had flowed from Charles the Simple’s beard was dried up. Orange’s sovereignty was from the estates, as legal representatives of the people, and, instead of exercising all the powers not otherwise granted away, he was content with those especially conferred upon him. He could neither declare war nor conclude peace without the cooperation of the representative body. The appointing power was scrupulously limited. Judges, magistrates, governors, sheriffs, provincial and municipal officers, were to be nominated by the local authorities or by the estates, on the triple principle. From these triple nominations he had only the right of selection by advice and consent of his council. He was expressly enjoined to see that the law was carried to every man’s door, without any distinction of persons, to submit himself to its behests, to watch against all impediments to the even flow of justice, to prevent false imprisonments, and to secure trials for every accused person by the local tribunals. This was certainly little in accordance with the arbitrary practice of the past quarter of a century.
With respect to the great principle of taxation, stricter bonds even were provided than those which already existed. Not only the right of taxation remained with the states, but the Count was to see that, except for war purposes, every impost was levied by a unanimous vote. He was expressly forbidden to tamper with the currency. As executive head, save in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief by land or sea, the new sovereign was, in short, strictly limited by self-imposed laws. It had rested with him to dictate or to accept a constitution. He had, in his memorable letter of August 1582 from Bruges, laid down generally the articles prepared at Plessis and Bourdeaux, for Anjou—together with all applicable provisions of the Joyous Entry of Brabant—as the outlines of the constitution for the little commonwealth then forming in the North. To these provisions he was willing to add any others which, after ripe deliberation, might be thought beneficial to the country.
Thus limited were his executive functions. As to his judicial authority, it had ceased to exist. The Count of Holland was now the guardian of the laws, but the judges were to administer them. He held the sword of justice to protect and to execute, while the scales were left in the hands which had learned to weigh and to measure.
As to the Count’s legislative authority, it had become coordinate with, if not subordinate to, that of the representative body. He was strictly prohibited from interfering with the right of the separate or the general states to assemble as often as they should think proper; and he was also forbidden to summon them outside their own territory. This was one immense step in the progress of representative liberty, and the next was equally important. It was now formally stipulated that the estates were to deliberate upon all measures which “concerned justice and polity,” and that no change was to be made—that is to say, no new law was to pass—without their consent as well as that of the council. Thus, the principle was established of two legislative chambers, with the right, but not the exclusive right, of initiation on the part of government, and in the 16th century, one would hardly look for broader views of civil liberty and representative government. The foundation of a free commonwealth was thus securely laid, which, had William lived, would have been a representative monarchy, but which his death converted into a federal republic. It was necessary for the sake of unity to give a connected outline of these proceedings with regard to the sovereignty of Orange. The formal inauguration only remained, and this, as will be seen, was forever interrupted.
During the course of the year 1582, the military operations on both sides had been languid and desultory, the Prince of Parma, not having a large force at his command, being comparatively inactive. In consequence, however, of the treaty concluded between the United States and Anjou, Parma had persuaded the Walloon provinces that it had now become absolutely necessary for them to permit the entrance of fresh Italian and Spanish troops. This, then, was the end of the famous provision against foreign soldiery in the Walloon treaty of reconciliation. The Abbot of Saint Vaast was immediately dispatched on a special mission to Spain, and the troops, by midsummer, had already begun to pour into the Netherlands.
In the meantime, Farnese, while awaiting these reinforcements, had not been idle, but had been quietly picking up several important cities. Early in the spring he had laid siege to Oudenarde, a place of considerable importance upon the Scheld, and celebrated as the birthplace of his grandmother, Margaret van Geest. The burghers were obstinate; the defense was protracted; the sorties were bold, the skirmishes frequent and sanguinary. Alexander commanded personally in the trenches, encouraging his men by his example, and often working with the mattock, or handling a spear in the assault, like a private pioneer or soldier. Towards the end of the siege, he scarcely ever left the scene of operation, and he took his meals near the outer defenses, that he might lose no opportunity of superintending the labors of his troops. One day his dinner was laid for himself and staff in the open air, close to the entrenchment. He was himself engaged in planting a battery against a weak point in the city wall, and would on no account withdraw for an instant. The tablecloth was stretched over a number of drumheads, placed close together, and several nobles of distinction—Aremberg, Montigny, Richebourg, La Motte, and others—were his guests at dinner. Hardly had the repast commenced, when a ball came flying over the table, taking off the head of a young Walloon officer who was sitting near Parma, and who was earnestly requesting a foremost place in the morrow’s assault. A portion of his skull struck out the eye of another gentleman present. A second ball from the town fortifications, equally well directed, destroyed two more of the guests as they sat at the banquet—one a German captain, the other the judge-advocate-general. The blood and brains of these unfortunate individuals were strewn over the festive board, and the others all started to their feet, having little appetite left for their dinner. Alexander alone remained in his seat, manifesting no discomposure. Quietly ordering the attendants to remove the dead bodies, and to bring a clean tablecloth, he insisted that his guests should resume their places at the banquet which had been interrupted in such ghastly fashion. He stated with very determined aspect that he could not allow the heretic burghers of Oudenarde the triumph of frightening him from his dinner, or from the post of danger. The other gentlemen could, of course, do no less than imitate the impassibility of their chief, and the repast was accordingly concluded without further interruption. Not long afterwards, the city, close pressed by so determined a commander, accepted terms, which were more favorable by reason of the respect which Alexander chose to render to his mother’s birthplace. The pillage was commuted for 30,000 crowns, and on the fifth of July, the place was surrendered to Parma almost under the very eyes of Anjou, who was making a demonstration of relieving the siege.
Ninove, a citadel then belonging to the Egmont family, was next reduced. Here, too, the defense was more obstinate than could have been expected from the importance of the place, and as the autumn advanced, Parma’s troops were nearly starved in their trenches, from the insufficient supplies furnished them. They had eaten no meat but horseflesh for weeks, and even that was gone. The cavalry horses were all consumed, and even the chargers of the officers were not respected. An aid-de-camp of Parma fastened his steed one day at the door of the prince’s tent, while he entered to receive his commander’s instructions. When he came out again, a few minutes afterwards, he found nothing but the saddle and bridle hanging where he had fastened the horse. Remonstrance was useless, for the animal had already been cut into quarters, and the only satisfaction offered to the aid-de-camp was in the shape of a steak. The famine was long familiarly known as the “Ninove starvation,” but notwithstanding this obstacle, the place was eventually surrendered.
An attempt upon Lochum, an important city in Gelderland, was unsuccessful, the place being relieved by the Duke of Anjou’s forces, and Parma’s troops forced to abandon the siege. At Steenwyk, the royal arms were more successful, Colonel Tassis, conducted by a treacherous Frisian peasant, having surprised the city which had so long and so manfully sustained itself against Renneberg during the preceding winter. With this event the active operations under Parma closed for the year. By the end of the autumn, however, he had the satisfaction of numbering, under his command, full 60,000 well-appointed and disciplined troops, including the large reinforcements recently dispatched from Spain and Italy. The monthly expense of this army—half of which was required for garrison duty, leaving only the other moiety for field operations—was estimated at 650,000 florins. The forces under Anjou and the united provinces were also largely increased, so that the marrow of the land was again in fair way of being thoroughly exhausted by its defenders and its foes.
The incidents of Anjou’s administration, meantime, during the year 1582, had been few and of no great importance. After the pompous and elaborate “homage-making” at Antwerp, he had, in the month of July, been formally accepted, by writing, as Duke of Gueldres and Lord of Friesland. In the same month he had been ceremoniously inaugurated at Bruges as Count of Flanders, an occasion upon which the Prince of Orange had been present. In that ancient and stately city there had been, accordingly, much marching about under triumphal arches, much cannonading and haranguing, much symbol work of suns dispelling fogs, with other cheerful emblems, much decoration of ducal shoulders with velvet robes lined with weasel skin, much blazing of tar-barrels and torches. In the midst of this event, an attempt was made upon the lives both of Orange and Anjou. An Italian, named Basa, and a Spaniard, called Salseda, were detected in a scheme to administer poison to both princes, and when arrested, confessed that they had been hired by the Prince of Parma to compass this double assassination. Basa destroyed himself in prison. His body was, however, gibbeted, with an inscription that he had attempted, at the instigation of Parma, to take the lives of Orange and Anjou. Salseda, less fortunate, was sent to Paris, where he was found guilty, and executed by being torn to pieces by four horses. Sad to relate, Lamoral Egmont, younger son and namesake of the great general, was intimate with Salseda, and implicated in this base design. His mother, on her deathbed, had especially recommended the youth to the kindly care of Orange. The prince had ever recognized the claim, manifesting uniform tenderness for the son of his ill-starred friend; and now the youthful Lamoral—as if the name of Egmont had not been sufficiently contaminated by the elder brother’s treason at Brussels—had become the comrade of hired conspirators against his guardian’s life. The affair was hushed up, but the story was current and generally believed that Egmont had himself undertaken to destroy the prince at his own table by means of poison which he kept concealed in a ring. Saint Aldegonde was to have been taken off in the same way, and a hollow ring filled with poison was said to have been found in Egmont’s lodgings.
The young noble was imprisoned; his guilt was far from doubtful, but the powerful intercessions of Orange himself, combined with Egmont’s near relationship to the French queen, saved his life, and he was permitted, after a brief captivity, to take his departure for France.
The Duke of Anjou, a month later, was received with equal pomp, in the city of Ghent. Here the ceremonies were interrupted in another manner. The Prince of Parma, at the head of a few regiments of Walloons, making an attack on a body of troops by which Anjou had been escorted into Flanders, the troops retreated in good order, and without much loss, under the walls of Ghent, where a long and sharp action took place, much to the disadvantage of Parma. The Prince of Orange and the Duke of Anjou were on the city walls during the whole skirmish, giving orders and superintending the movements of their troops, and at nightfall Parma was forced to retire, leaving a large number of dead behind him.
The 15th day of December, in this year was celebrated—according to the new ordinance of Gregory XIII—as Christmas. It was the occasion of more than usual merry-making among the Catholics of Antwerp, who had procured, during the preceding summer, a renewed right of public worship from Anjou and the estates. Many nobles of high rank came from France to pay their homage to the new Duke of Brabant. They secretly expressed their disgust, however, at the close constitutional bonds in which they found their own future sovereign imprisoned by the provinces. They thought it far beneath the dignity of the “Son of France” to play the secondary part of titular Duke of Brabant, Count of Flanders, Lord of Friesland, and the like, while the whole power of government was lodged with the states. They whispered that it was time to take measures for the incorporation of the Netherlands into France, and they persuaded the false and fickle Anjou that there would never be any hope of his royal brother’s assistance, except upon the understanding that the blood and treasure of Frenchmen were to be spent to increase the power, not of upstart and independent provinces, but of the French Crown.
They struck the basest chords of the duke’s base nature by awakening his jealousy of Orange. His whole soul vibrated to the appeal. He already hated the man by whose superior intellect he was overawed, and by whose pure character he was shamed. He stoutly but secretly swore that he would assert his own rights, and that he would no longer serve as a shadow, a statue, a zero, a Matthias. It is needless to add, that neither in his own judgment nor in that of his mignons, were the constitutional articles which he had recently sworn to support, or the solemn treaty which he had signed and sealed at Bordeaux, to furnish any obstacles to his seizure of unlimited power, whenever the design could be cleverly accomplished. He rested not, day or night, in the elaboration of his plan.
Early in January 1583, he sent one night for several of his intimate associates, to consult with him after he had retired to bed. He complained of the insolence of the states, of the importunity of the council which they had forced upon him, of the insufficient sums which they furnished both for him and his troops, of the daily insults offered to the Catholic religion. He protested that he should consider himself disgraced in the eyes of all Christendom, should he longer consent to occupy his present ignoble position. But two ways were open to him, he observed—either to retire altogether from the Netherlands, or to maintain his authority with the strong hand, as became a prince. The first course would cover him with disgrace. It was therefore necessary for him to adopt the other. He then unfolded his plan to his confidential friends, La Fougère, De Fazy, Valette, the sons of Maréchal Biron, and others. Upon the same day, if possible, he was determined to take possession, with his own troops, of the principal cities in Flanders. Dunkirk, Dixmuyde, Denremonde, Bruges, Ghent, Vilvoorde, Alost, and other important places, were to be simultaneously invaded, under pretext of quieting tumults artfully created and encouraged between the burghers and the garrisons, while Antwerp was reserved for his own especial enterprise. That important capital he would carry by surprise at the same moment in which the other cities were to be secured by his lieutenants.
The plot was pronounced an excellent one by the friends around his bed—all of them eager for Catholic supremacy, for the establishment of the right divine on the part of France to the Netherlands, and for their share in the sacking of so many wealthy cities at once. These worthless mignons applauded their weak master to the echo, whereupon the duke leaped from his bed, and kneeling on the floor in his nightgown, raised his eyes and his clasped hands to heaven, and piously invoked the blessing of the Almighty upon the project which he had thus announced. He added the solemn assurance that, if favored with success in his undertaking, he would abstain in future from all unchastity, and forego the irregular habits by which his youth had been stained. Having thus bribed the Deity, and received the encouragement of his flatterers, the duke got into bed again. His next care was to remove the Seigneur du Plessis, whom he had observed to be often in colloquy with the Prince of Orange, his suspicious and guilty imagination finding nothing but mischief to himself in the conjunction of two such natures. He therefore dismissed Du Plessis, under pretext of a special mission to his sister, Margaret of Navarre, but in reality, that he might rid himself of the presence of an intelligent and honorable countryman.
On January 15, 1583, the day fixed for the execution of the plot, the French commandant of Dunkirk, Captain Chamois, skillfully took advantage of a slight quarrel between the citizens and the garrison, to secure that important frontier town. The same means were employed simultaneously, with similar results, at Ostend, Dixmuyde, Denremonde, Alost, and Vilvoorde, but there was a fatal delay at one important city. La Fougère, who had been with Chamois at Dunkirk, was arrested on his way to Bruges by some patriotic citizens who had got wind of what had just been occurring in the other cities, so that when Valette, the provost of Anjou, and Colonel la Rebours, at the head of 1,500 French troops, appeared before the gates, entrance was flatly refused. De Grijse, burgomaster of Bruges, encouraged his fellow townsmen by words and stout action, to resist the nefarious project then on foot against religious liberty and free government, in favor of a new foreign tyranny. He spoke to men who could sympathize with, and second his courageous resolution, and the delay of twenty-four hours, during which the burghers had time to take the alarm, saved the city. The whole population was on the alert, and the baffled Frenchmen were forced to retire from the gates, to avoid being torn to pieces by the citizens whom they had intended to surprise.
At Antwerp, meanwhile, the Duke of Anjou had been rapidly maturing his plan, under pretext of a contemplated enterprise against the city of Endhoven, having concentrated what he esteemed a sufficient number of French troops at Borgerhout, a village close to the walls of Antwerp.
On the 16th of January, suspicion was aroused in the city. A man in a mask entered the mainguard-house in the night, mysteriously gave warning that a great crime was in contemplation, and vanished before he could be arrested. His accent proved him to be a Frenchman. Strange rumors flew about the streets. A vague uneasiness pervaded the whole population as to the intention of their new master, but nothing was definitely known, for of course there was entire ignorance of the events which were just occurring in other cities. The colonels and captains of the burgher guard came to consult the Prince of Orange. He avowed the most entire confidence in the Duke of Anjou, but, at the same time, recommended that the chains should be drawn, the lanterns hung out, and the drawbridge raised an hour earlier than usual, and that other precautions, customary in the expectation of an attack, should be duly taken. He likewise sent the Burgomaster of the Interior, Dr. Alostanus, to the Duke of Anjou, in order to communicate the suspicions created in the minds of the city authorities by the recent movements of troops.
Anjou, thus addressed, protested in the most solemn manner that nothing was farther from his thoughts than any secret enterprise against Antwerp. He was willing, according to the figure of speech which he had always ready upon every emergency, “to shed every drop of his blood in her defense.” He swore that he would signally punish all those who had dared to invent such calumnies against himself and his faithful Frenchmen, declaring earnestly, at the same time, that the troops had only been assembled in the regular course of their duty. As the duke was so loud and so fervent; as he, moreover, made no objections to the precautionary measures which had been taken; as the burgomaster thought, moreover, that the public attention thus aroused would render all evil designs futile, even if any had been entertained; it was thought that the city might sleep in security for that night at least.
On the following morning, as vague suspicions were still entertained by many influential persons, a deputation of magistrates and militia officers waited upon the duke, the Prince of Orange—although himself still feeling a confidence which seems now almost inexplicable—consenting to accompany them. The duke was more vehement than ever in his protestations of loyalty to his recent oaths, as well as of deep affection for the Netherlands—for Brabant in particular, and for Antwerp most of all—and he made use of all his vivacity to persuade the prince, the burgomasters, and the colonels, that they had deeply wronged him by such unjust suspicions. His assertions were accepted as sincere, and the deputation withdrew, Anjou having first solemnly promised—at the suggestion of Orange—not to leave the city during the whole day, in order that unnecessary suspicion might be prevented.
This pledge the duke proceeded to violate almost as soon as made. Orange returned with confidence to his own house, which was close to the citadel, and therefore far removed from the proposed point of attack, but he had hardly arrived there when he received a visit from the duke’s private secretary, Quinsay, who invited him to accompany his Highness on a visit to the camp. Orange declined the request, and sent an earnest prayer to the duke not to leave the city that morning. The duke dined as usual at noon. While at dinner, he received a letter, was observed to turn pale on reading it, and to conceal it hastily in a muff which he wore on his left arm. The repast finished, the duke ordered his horse. The animal was restive, and so strenuously resisted being mounted that, although it was his usual charger, it was exchanged for another. This second horse started in such a flurry that the duke lost his cloak, and almost his seat. He maintained his self-possession, however, and placing himself at the head of his bodyguard and some troopers, numbering in all three hundred mounted men, rode out of the palace-yard towards the Kipdorp gate.
This portal opened on the road towards Borgerhout, where his troops were stationed, and at the present day bears the name of that village. It is on the side of the city farthest removed from and exactly opposite the river. The town was very quiet, the streets almost deserted, for it was one o’clock, the universal dinner hour, and all suspicion had been disarmed by the energetic protestations of the duke. The guard at the gate looked listlessly upon the cavalcade as it approached, but as soon as Anjou had crossed the first drawbridge, he rose in his stirrups and waved his hand. “There is your city, my lads,” said he to the troopers behind him, “go and take possession of it!”
At the same time he set spurs to his horse, and galloped off towards the camp at Borgerhout. Instantly afterwards, a gentleman of his suite, Count Rochepot, affected to have broken his leg through the plunging of his horse, a circumstance by which he had been violently pressed against the wall as he entered the gate. Kaiser, the commanding officer at the guard-house, stepped kindly forward to render him assistance, and his reward was a desperate thrust from the Frenchman’s rapier. As he wore a steel cuirass, he fortunately escaped with a slight wound.
The expression “broken leg” was the watch-word, for at one and the same instant, the troopers and guardsmen of Anjou set upon the burgher watch at the gate, and butchered every man. A sufficient force was left to protect the entrance thus easily mastered, while the rest of the Frenchmen entered the town at full gallop, shrieking “Ville gaignée, ville gaignée! Vive la messe! Vive le Duc d’Anjou!” They were followed by their comrades from the camp outside, who now poured into the town at the preconcerted signal, at least 600 cavalry and 3,000 musketeers, all perfectly appointed, entering Antwerp at once. From the Kipdorp gate, two main arteries, the streets called the Kipdorp and the Meer, led quite through the heart of the city, towards the Town-house and the river beyond. Along these great thoroughfares the French soldiers advanced at a rapid pace, the cavalry clattering furiously in the van, shouting “Ville gaignée, ville gaignée! Vive la messe, vive la messe! Tue, tue, tue!“
The burghers, coming to door and window to look for the cause of all this disturbance, were saluted with volleys of musketry. They were for a moment astonished, but not appalled, for at first they believed it to be merely an accidental tumult. Observing, however, that the soldiers, meeting with but little effective resistance, were dispersing into dwellings and warehouses, particularly into the shops of the goldsmiths and lapidaries, the citizens remembered the dark suspicions which had been so rife, and many recalled to mind that distinguished French officers had during the last few days been carefully examining the treasures of the jewelers, under pretext of purchasing, but, as it now appeared, with intent to rob intelligently.
The burghers, taking this rapid view of their position, flew instantly to arms. Chains and barricades were stretched across the streets; the trumpets sounded through the city; the municipal guards swarmed to the rescue. An effective rally was made, as usual, at the Bourse, whither a large detachment of the invaders had forced their way. Inhabitants of all classes and conditions, noble and simple, Catholic and Protestant, gave each other the hand, and swore to die at each other’s side in defense of the city against the treacherous strangers. The gathering was rapid and enthusiastic. Gentlemen came with lance and cuirass, burghers with musket and bandoleer, artisans with axe, mallet, and other implements of their trade. A bold baker, standing by his oven—stark naked, according to the custom of bakers at that day—rushed to the street as the sound of the tumult reached his ear. With his heavy bread shovel, which he still held in his hand, he dealt a French cavalry officer, just riding and screaming by, such a hearty blow that he fell dead from his horse. The baker seized the officer’s sword, sprang, all unattired as he was, upon his steed, and careered furiously through the streets, encouraging his countrymen everywhere to the attack, and dealing dismay through the ranks of the enemy. His services in that eventful hour were so signal that he was publicly thanked afterwards by the magistrates for his services, and rewarded with a pension of three hundred florins for life.
The invaders had been forced from the Bourse, while another portion of them had penetrated as far as the Market-place. The resistance which they encountered became every instant more formidable, and Fervacques, a leading French officer, who was captured on the occasion, acknowledged that no regular troops could have fought more bravely than did these stalwart burghers. Women and children mounted to roof and window, whence they hurled, not only tiles and chimney pots, but tables, ponderous chairs, and other bulky articles, upon the heads of the assailants, while such citizens as had used all their bullets, loaded their pieces with the silver buttons from their doublets, or twisted gold and silver coins with their teeth into ammunition. With a population so resolute, the 4,000 invaders, however audacious, soon found themselves swallowed up. The city had closed over them like water, and within an hour nearly a third of their whole number had been slain. Very few of the burghers had perished, and fresh numbers were constantly advancing to the attack. The Frenchmen, blinded, staggering, beaten, attempted to retreat. Many threw themselves from the fortifications into the moat. The rest of the survivors struggled through the streets, falling in large numbers at every step, towards the point at which they had so lately entered the city. Here at the Kipdorp gate was a ghastly spectacle, the slain being piled up in the narrow passage full ten feet high, while some of the heap, not quite dead, were striving to extricate a hand or foot, and others feebly thrust forth their heads to gain a mouthful of air.
From the outside, some of Anjou’s officers were attempting to climb over this mass of bodies in order to enter the city; from the interior, the baffled and fugitive remnant of their comrades were attempting to force their passage through the same horrible barrier; while many dropped at every instant upon the heap of slain, under the blows of the unrelenting burghers. On the other hand, Count Rochepot himself, to whom the principal command of the enterprise had been entrusted by Anjou, stood directly in the path of his fugitive soldiers, not only bitterly upbraiding them with their cowardice but actually slaying ten or twelve of them with his own hands, was the most effectual mode of preventing their retreat. Hardly an hour had elapsed from the time when the Duke of Anjou first rode out of the Kipdorp gate, before nearly the whole of the force which he had sent to accomplish his base design was either dead or captive. Two hundred and fifty nobles of high rank and illustrious name were killed, recognized at once as they lay in the streets by their magnificent costume. A larger number of the gallant chivalry of France had been sacrificed—as Anjou confessed—in this treacherous and most shameful enterprise, than had often fallen upon noble and honorable fields. Nearly 2,000 of the rank and file had perished, and the rest were prisoners. It was at first asserted that exactly 1,583 Frenchmen had fallen, but this was only because this number happened to be the date of the year, to which the lovers of marvelous coincidences struggled very hard to make the returns of the dead correspond. Less than one hundred burghers lost their lives.
Anjou, as he looked on at a distance, was bitterly reproached for his treason by several of the high-minded gentlemen about his person, to whom he had not dared to confide his plot. The Duke of Montpensier protested vehemently that he washed his hands of the whole transaction, whatever might be the issue. He was responsible for the honor of an illustrious house, which should never be stained, he said, if he could prevent it, with such foul deeds. The same language was held by Laval, by Rochefoucauld, and by the Maréchal de Biron, the last gentleman, whose two sons were engaged in the vile enterprise, bitterly cursing the duke to his face, as he rode through the gate after revealing his secret undertaking.
Meanwhile, Anjou, in addition to the punishment of hearing these reproaches from men of honor, was the victim of a rapid and violent fluctuation of feeling. Hope, fear, triumph, doubt, remorse, alternately swayed him. As he saw the fugitives leaping from the walls, he shouted exultingly, without accurately discerning what manner of men they were, that the city was his, that 4,000 of his brave soldiers were there, and were hurling the burghers from the battlements. On being made afterwards aware of his error, he was proportionably depressed; and when it was obvious at last that the result of the enterprise was an absolute and disgraceful failure, together with a complete exposure of his treachery, he fairly mounted his horse, and fled conscience-stricken from the scene.
The attack had been so unexpected, in consequence of the credence that had been rendered by Orange and the magistracy to the solemn protestations of the duke, that it had been naturally out of anyone’s power to prevent the catastrophe. The prince was lodged in a part of the town remote from the original scene of action, and it does not appear that information had reached him that anything unusual was occurring, until the affair was approaching its termination. Then there was little for him to do. He hastened, however, to the scene, and mounting the ramparts, persuaded the citizens to cease cannonading the discomfited and retiring foe. He felt the full gravity of the situation, and the necessity of diminishing the rancor of the inhabitants against their treacherous allies, if such a result were yet possible. The burghers had done their duty, and it certainly would have been neither in his power nor his inclination to protect the French marauders from expulsion and castigation.
Such was the termination of the French Fury, and it seems sufficiently strange that it should have been so much less disastrous to Antwerp than was the Spanish Fury of 1576, to which men could still scarcely allude without a shudder. One would have thought the French more likely to prove successful in their enterprise than the Spaniards in theirs. The Spaniards were enemies against whom the city had long been on its guard. The French were friends in whose sincerity a somewhat shaken confidence had just been restored. When the Spanish attack was made, a large force of defenders was drawn up in battle array behind freshly strengthened fortifications. When the French entered at leisure through a scarcely guarded gate, the whole population and garrison of the town were quietly eating their dinners. The numbers of the invading forces on the two occasions did not materially differ, but at the time of the French Fury there was not a large force of regular troops under veteran generals to resist the attack. Perhaps this was the main reason for the result, which seems at first almost inexplicable. For protection against the Spanish invasion, the burghers relied on mercenaries, some of whom proved treacherous, while the rest became panic-struck. On the present occasion the burghers relied on themselves. Moreover, the French committed the great error of despising their enemy. Recollecting the ease with which the Spaniards had ravished the city, they believed that they had nothing to do but to enter and take possession. Instead of repressing their greediness, as the Spaniards had done, until they had overcome resistance, they dispersed almost immediately into by-streets, and entered warehouses to search for plunder. They seemed actuated by a fear that they should not have time to rifle the city before additional troops should be sent by Anjou to share in the spoil. They were less used to the sacking of Netherland cities than were the Spaniards, whom long practice had made perfect in the art of methodically butchering a population at first, before attention should be diverted to plundering and supplementary outrages. At any rate, whatever the causes, it is certain that the panic, which upon such occasions generally decides the fate of the day, seized upon the invaders and not upon the invaded, almost from the very first. As soon as the marauders faltered in their purpose and wished to retreat, it was all over with them. Returning was worse than advance, and it was the almost inevitable result that hardly a man escaped death or capture.
The duke retreated the same day in the direction of Denremonde, and on his way met with another misfortune, by which an additional number of his troops lost their lives. A dyke was cut by the Mechlin citizens to impede his march, and the swollen waters of the Dill, liberated and flowing across the country which he was to traverse, produced such an inundation, that at least a thousand of his followers were drowned.
As soon as he had established himself in a camp near Berghen, he opened a correspondence with the Prince of Orange, and with the authorities of Antwerp. His language was marked by wonderful effrontery. He found himself and soldiers suffering for want of food; he remembered that he had left much plate and valuable furniture in Antwerp; and he was therefore desirous that the citizens, whom he had so basely outraged, should at once send him supplies and restore his property. He also reclaimed the prisoners who still remained in the city, and to obtain all this he applied to the man whom he had bitterly deceived, and whose life would have been sacrificed by the duke, had the enterprise succeeded.
It had been his intention to sack the city, to re-establish exclusively the Roman Catholic worship, to trample upon the constitution which he had so recently sworn to maintain, to deprive Orange, by force, of the Renversal by which the duke recognized the prince as sovereign of Holland, Zealand, and Utrecht, yet notwithstanding that his treason had been enacted in broad daylight, and in a most deliberate manner, he had the audacity to ascribe the recent tragic occurrences to chance. He had the farther originality to speak of himself as an aggrieved person, who had rendered great services to the Netherlands, and who had only met with ingratitude in return. His envoys, Messieurs Landmater and Escolières, dispatched on the very day of the French Fury to the burgomasters and senate of Antwerp, were instructed to remind those magistrates that the duke had repeatedly exposed his life in the cause of the Netherlands. The affronts, they were to add, which he had received, and the approaching ruin of the country, which he foresaw, had so altered his excellent nature, as to engender the present calamity, which he infinitely regretted. Nevertheless, the senate was to be assured that his affection for the commonwealth was still so strong, as to induce a desire on his part to be informed what course was now to be pursued with regard to him. Information upon that important point was therefore to be requested, while at the same time the liberation of the prisoners at Antwerp, and the restoration of the duke’s furniture and papers, were to be urgently demanded.
Letters of similar import were also dispatched by the duke to the states of the Union, while to the Prince of Orange, his application was brief but brazen. “You know well, my cousin,” said he, “the just and frequent causes of offense which this people has given me. The insults which I this morning experienced cut me so deeply to the heart, that they are the only reasons of the misfortune which has happened today. Nevertheless, to those who desire my friendship I shall show equal friendship and affection. Herein I shall follow the counsel you have uniformly given me, since I know it comes from one who has always loved me. Therefore I beg that you will kindly bring it to pass, that I may obtain some decision, and that no injury may be inflicted upon my people. Otherwise the land shall pay for it dearly.”
To these appeals, neither the prince nor the authorities of Antwerp answered immediately in their own names. A general consultation was, however, immediately held with the estates-general, and an answer forthwith dispatched to the duke by the hands of his envoys. It was agreed to liberate the prisoners, to restore the furniture, and to send a special deputation for the purpose of making further arrangements with the duke by word of mouth, and for this deputation his Highness was requested to furnish a safe-conduct.
Anjou was overjoyed when he received this amicable communication. Relieved for a time from his fears as to the result of his crime, he already assumed a higher ground. He not only spoke to the states in a paternal tone, which was sufficiently ludicrous, but he had actually the coolness to assure them of his forgiveness. He felt hurt, he said, that they should deem a safe-conduct necessary for the deputation which they proposed to send. If they thought that he had reason on account of the past, to feel offended, he begged them to believe that he had forgotten it all, and that he had buried the past in its ashes, even as if it had never been. He furthermore begged them—and this seemed the greatest insult of all—in future to trust to his word, and to believe that if anything should be attempted to their disadvantage, he would be the very first to offer himself for their protection.
It will be observed that in his first letters the duke had not affected to deny his agency in the outrage—an agency so flagrant that all subterfuge seemed superfluous. He in fact avowed that the attempt had been made by his command, but sought to palliate the crime on the ground that it had been the result of the ill treatment which he had experienced from the states. “The affronts which I have received,” said he, both to the magistrates of Antwerp and to Orange, “have engendered the present calamity.” So also, in a letter written at the same time to his brother, Henry III, he observed that “the indignities which were put upon him, and the manifest intention of the states to make a Matthias of him, had been the cause of the catastrophe.”
He now, however, ventured a step farther. Presuming upon the indulgence which he had already experienced, and bravely assuming the tone of injured innocence, he ascribed the enterprise partly to accident and partly to the insubordination of his troops. This was the ground which he adopted in his interviews with the states’ commissioners. So also, in a letter addressed to Van der Tympel, commandant of Brussels, in which he begged for supplies for his troops, he described the recent invasion of Antwerp as entirely unexpected by himself and beyond his control. He had been intending, he said, to leave the city and to join his army. A tumult had accidentally arisen between his soldiers and the guard at the gate. Other troops rushing in from without, had joined in the affray, so that to his great sorrow, an extensive disorder had arisen. He manifested the same Christian inclination to forgive, however, which he had before exhibited. He observed that “good men would never grow cold in his regard, or find his affection diminished.” He assured Van der Tympel, in particular, of his ancient good will, as he knew him to be a lover of the common weal.
In his original communications he had been both cringing and threatening—but, at least, he had not denied truths which were plain as daylight. His new position considerably damaged his cause. This forgiving spirit on the part of the malefactor was a little more than the states could bear, disposed as they felt, from policy, to be indulgent, and to smooth over the crime as gently as possible. The negotiations were interrupted, and the authorities of Antwerp published a brief and spirited defense of their own conduct. They denied that any affront or want of respect on their part could have provoked the outrage of which the duke had been guilty. They severely handled his self-contradiction, in ascribing originally the recent attempt to his just vengeance for past injuries, and in afterwards imputing it to accident or sudden mutiny, while they cited the simultaneous attempts at Bruges, Denremonde, Alost, Dixmuyde, Newport, Ostend, Vilvoorde, and Dunkirk, as a series of damning proofs of a deliberate design.
The publication of such plain facts did not advance the negotiations when resumed. High and harsh words were interchanged between his Highness and the commissioners, Anjou complaining, as usual, of affronts and indignities but when pushed home for particulars, taking refuge in equivocation. “He did not wish,” he said, “to re-open wounds which had been partially healed.” He also affected benignity, and wishing to forgive and to forget, he offered some articles as the basis of a fresh agreement. Of these it is sufficient to state that they were entirely different from the terms of the Bordeaux Treaty, and that they were rejected as quite inadmissible.
He wrote again to the Prince of Orange, invoking his influence to bring about an arrangement. The prince, justly indignant at the recent treachery and the present insolence of the man whom he had so profoundly trusted, but feeling certain that the welfare of the country depended at present upon avoiding, if possible, a political catastrophe, answered the duke in plain, firm, mournful, and appropriate language. He had ever manifested to his Highness, he said, the most uniform and sincere friendship. He had, therefore, the right to tell him that affairs were now so changed that his greatness and glory had departed. Those men in the Netherlands, who, but yesterday, had been willing to die at the feet of his Highness, were now so exasperated that they avowedly preferred an open enemy to a treacherous protector. He had hoped, he said, that after what had happened in so many cities at the same moment, his Highness would have been pleased to give the deputies a different and a more becoming answer. He had hoped for some response which might lead to an arrangement. He, however, stated frankly, that the articles transmitted by his Highness were so unreasonable that no man in the land would dare open his mouth to recommend them. His Highness, by this proceeding, had much deepened the distrust. He warned the duke accordingly, that he was not taking the right course to reinstate himself in a position of honor and glory, and he begged him, therefore, to adopt more appropriate means. Such a step was now demanded of him, not only by the country, but by all Christendom.
This moderate but heartfelt appeal to the better nature of the duke, if he had a better nature, met with no immediate response. While matters were in this condition, a special envoy arrived out of France, dispatched by the king and queen-mother, on the first reception of the recent intelligence from Antwerp. M. de Mirambeau, the ambassador, whose son had been killed in the Fury, brought letters of credence to the states of the Union and to the Prince of Orange. He delivered also a short confidential note, written in her own hand, from Catherine de Medici to the prince, to the following effect:
“My Cousin— The King, my son, and myself, send you Monsieur de Mirambeau, to prove to you that we do not believe—for we esteem you an honorable man—that you would manifest ingratitude to my son, and to those who have followed him for the welfare of your country. We feel that you have too much affection for one who has the support of so powerful a prince as the King of France, as to play him so base a trick. Until I learn the truth, I shall not renounce the good hope which I have always indulged—that you would never have invited my son to your country, without intending to serve him faithfully. As long as you do this, you may ever reckon on the support of all who belong to him.
It would have been very difficult to extract much information or much comfort from this wily epistle. The menace was sufficiently plain, the promise disagreeably vague. Moreover, a letter from the same Catherine de Medici had been recently found in a casket at the duke’s lodgings in Antwerp. In that communication, she had distinctly advised her son to re-establish the Roman Catholic religion, assuring him that by so doing, he would be enabled to marry the Infanta of Spain. Nevertheless, the prince, convinced that it was his duty to bridge over the deep and fatal chasm which had opened between the French prince and the provinces, if an honorable reconciliation were possible, did not attach an undue importance either to the stimulating or to the upbraiding portion of the communication from Catherine. He was most anxious to avert the chaos which he saw returning. He knew that while the tempers of Rudolph, of the English queen, and of the Protestant princes of Germany, and the internal condition of the Netherlands remained the same, it were madness to provoke the government of France, and thus gain an additional enemy, while losing their only friend. He did not renounce the hope of forming all the Netherlands—excepting of course the Walloon provinces already reconciled to Philip—into one independent commonwealth, freed forever from Spanish tyranny. A dynasty from a foreign house he was willing to accept, but only on condition that the new royal line should become naturalized in the Netherlands, should conform itself to the strict constitutional compact established, and should employ only natives in the administration of Netherland affairs. Notwithstanding, therefore, the recent treachery of Anjou, he was willing to treat with him upon the ancient basis.
The dilemma was a very desperate one, for whatever might be his course, it was impossible that it should escape censure. Even at this day, it is difficult to decide what might have been the result of openly braving the French government, and expelling Anjou. The Prince of Parma—subtle, vigilant, prompt with word and blow—was waiting most anxiously to take advantage of every false step of his adversary. The provinces had been already summoned, in most eloquent language, to take warning by the recent fate of Antwerp, and to learn by the manifestation just made by Anjou, of his real intentions, that their only salvation lay in a return to the king’s arms. Anjou himself, as devoid of shame as of honor, was secretly holding interviews with Parma’s agents, Acosta and Flaminio Carnero, at the very moment when he was alternately expressing to the states his resentment that they dared to doubt his truth, or magnanimously extending to them his pardon for their suspicions. He was writing letters full of injured innocence to Orange and to the states, while secretly caviling over the terms of the treaty by which he was to sell himself to Spain. Scruples as to enacting so base a part did not trouble the “Son of France.” He did not hesitate at playing this doubly and trebly false game with the provinces, but he was anxious to drive the best possible bargain for himself with Parma. He offered to restore Dunkirk, Dixmuyde, and the other cities which he had so recently filched from the states, and to enter into a strict alliance with Philip, but he claimed that certain Netherland cities on the French frontier should be made over to him in exchange. He required, likewise, ample protection for his retreat from a country which was likely to be sufficiently exasperated. Parma and his agents smiled, of course, at such exorbitant terms. Nevertheless, it was necessary to deal cautiously with a man who, although but a poor baffled rogue today, might tomorrow be seated on the throne of France.
While they were all secretly haggling over the terms of the bargain, the Prince of Orange discovered the intrigue. It convinced him of the necessity of closing with a man whose baseness was so profound, but whose position made his enmity, on the whole, more dangerous than his friendship. Anjou, backed by so astute and unscrupulous a politician as Parma, was not to be trifled with. The feeling of doubt and anxiety was spreading daily through the country; many men, hitherto firm, were already wavering, while at the same time the prince had no confidence in the power of any of the states, save those of Holland and Utrecht, to maintain a resolute attitude of defiance, if not assisted from without.
He therefore endeavored to repair the breach, if possible, and thus save the Union. Mirambeau, in his conferences with the estates, suggested, on his part, all that words could effect. He expressed the hope that the estates would use their discretion “in compounding some sweet and friendly medicine” for the present disorder, and that they would not judge the duke too harshly for a fault which he assured them did not come from his natural disposition. He warned them that the enemy would be quick to take advantage of the present occasion to bring about, if possible, their destruction, and he added that he was commissioned to wait upon the Duke of Anjou, in order to assure him that, however alienated he might then be from the Netherlands, his Majesty was determined to effect an entire reconciliation.
The envoy conferred also with the Prince of Orange, and urged him most earnestly to use his efforts to heal the rupture. The prince, inspired by the sentiments already indicated, spoke with perfect sincerity. His Highness, he said, had never known a more faithful and zealous friend than himself. He had begun to lose his own credit with the people by reason of the earnestness with which he had ever advocated the duke’s cause, and he could not flatter himself that his recommendation would now be of any advantage to his Highness. It would be more injurious than his silence. Nevertheless, he was willing to make use of all the influence which was left to him for the purpose of bringing about a reconciliation, provided that the duke were acting in good faith. If his Highness were now sincerely desirous of conforming to the original treaty, and willing to atone for the faults committed by him on the same day in so many cities—offenses which could not be excused upon the ground of any affronts which he might have received from the citizens of Antwerp—it might even now be possible to find a remedy for the past. He very bluntly told the envoy, however, that the frivolous excuses offered by the duke caused more bitterness than if he had openly acknowledged his fault. It were better, he said, to express contrition, than to excuse himself by laying blame on those to whom no blame belonged, but who, on the contrary, had ever shown themselves faithful servants of his Highness.
The estates of the Union, being in great perplexity as to their proper course, now applied formally, as they always did in times of danger and doubt, to the prince, for a public expression of his views. Somewhat reluctantly, he complied with their wishes in one of the most admirable of his state papers.
He told the states that he felt some hesitation in expressing his views. The blame of the general ill success was always laid upon his shoulders, as if the chances of war could be controlled even by a great potentate with ample means at his disposal. As for himself, with so little actual power that he could never have a single city provided with what he thought a sufficient garrison, it could not be expected that he could command fortune. His advice, he said, was always asked, but ever judged good or evil according to the result, as if the issue were in any hands but God’s. It did not seem advisable for a man of his condition and years, who had so often felt the barb of calumny’s tongue, to place his honor again in the judgment scale of mankind, particularly as he was likely to incur fresh censure for another man’s crime. Nevertheless, he was willing, for the love he bore the land, once more to encounter this danger.
He then rapidly reviewed the circumstances which had led to the election of Anjou and reminded the estates that they had employed sufficient time to deliberate concerning that transaction. He recalled to their remembrance his frequent assurances of support and sympathy if they would provide any other means of self-protection than the treaty with the French prince. He thought it, therefore, unjust, now that calamity had sprung from the measure, to ascribe the blame entirely to him, even had the injury been greater than the one actually sustained. He was far from palliating the crime, or from denying that the duke’s rights under the Treaty of Bordeaux had been utterly forfeited. He was now asked what was to be done. Of three courses, he said, one must be taken—they must make their peace with the king, or consent to a reconciliation with Anjou, or use all the strength which God had given them to resist, single-handed, the enemy. With regard to the first point, he resumed the argument as to the hopelessness of a satisfactory arrangement with the monarch of Spain. The recent reconciliation of the Walloon provinces and its shameful infraction by Parma in the immediate recall of large masses of Spanish and Italian troops, showed too plainly the value of all solemn stipulations with his Catholic Majesty. Moreover, the time was unpropitious. It was idle to look, after what had recently occurred, for even fair promises. It was madness then to incur the enmity of two such powers at once. The French could do the Netherlands more harm as enemies than the Spaniards. The Spaniards would be more dangerous as friends, for in cases of a treaty with Philip, the Inquisition would be established in the place of a religious peace. For these reasons the prince declared himself entirely opposed to any negotiations with the Crown of Spain.
As to the second point, he admitted that Anjou had gained little honor by his recent course, and that it would be a mistake on their part to stumble a second time over the same stone. He foresaw, nevertheless, that the duke—irritated as he was by the loss of so many of his nobles, and by the downfall of all his hopes in the Netherlands—would be likely to inflict great injuries upon their cause. Two powerful nations like France and Spain would be too much to have on their hands at once. How much danger, too, would be incurred by braving at once the open wrath of the French king and the secret displeasure of the English queen. She had warmly recommended the Duke of Anjou. She had said that honors to him were rendered to herself, and she was now entirely opposed to their keeping the present quarrel alive. If France became their enemy, the road was at once opened through that kingdom for Spain. The estates were to ponder well whether they possessed the means to carry on such a double war without assistance. They were likewise to remember how many cities still remained in the hands of Anjou, and their possible fate if the duke were pushed to extremity.
The third point was then handled with vigor. He reminded the states of the perpetual difficulty of raising armies, of collecting money to pay for troops, of inducing cities to accept proper garrisons, of establishing a council which could make itself respected. He alluded briefly and bitterly to the perpetual quarrels of the states among themselves, to their mutual jealousy, to their obstinate parsimony, to their jealousy of the general government, to their apathy and inertness before impending ruin. He would not calumniate those, he said, who counseled trust in God. That was his sentiment also. To attempt great affairs, however, and, through avarice, to withhold sufficient means, was not trusting, but tempting God. On the contrary, it was trusting God to use the means which He offered to their hands.
With regard, then, to the three points, he rejected the first. Reconciliation with the King of Spain was impossible. For his own part, he would much prefer the third course. He had always been in favor of their maintaining independence by their own means and the assistance of the Almighty. He was obliged, however, in sadness, to confess that the narrow feeling of individual state rights, the general tendency to disunion, and the constant wrangling, had made this course a hopeless one. There remained, therefore, only the second, and they must effect an honorable reconciliation with Anjou. Whatever might be their decision, however, it was meet that it should be a speedy one. Not an hour was to be lost. Many fair churches of God, in Anjou’s power, were trembling on the issue, and religious and political liberty was more at stake than ever. In conclusion, the prince again expressed his determination, whatever might be their decision, to devote the rest of his days to the services of his country.
The result of these representations by the prince, of frequent letters from Queen Elizabeth urging a reconciliation, and of the professions made by the duke and the French envoys, was a provisional arrangement, signed on the 26th and 28th of March. According to the terms of this accord, the duke was to receive 30,000 florins for his troops, and to surrender the cities still in his power. The French prisoners were to be liberated, the duke’s property at Antwerp was to be restored, and the duke himself was to await at Dunkirk the arrival of plenipotentiaries to treat with him as to a new and perpetual arrangement.
The negotiations, however, were languid. The quarrel was healed on the surface, but confidence so recently and violently uprooted was slow to revive. On the 28th of June, the Duke of Anjou left Dunkirk for Paris, never to return to the Netherlands, but he exchanged on his departure affectionate letters with the prince and the estates. M. des Pruneaux remained as his representative, and it was understood that the arrangements for re-installing him as soon as possible in the sovereignty which he had so basely forfeited, were to be pushed forward with earnestness.
In the spring of the same year, Gerard Truchses, Archbishop of Cologne, who had lost his see for the love of Agnes Mansfeld, whom he had espoused in defiance of the pope, took refuge with the Prince of Orange at Delft. A civil war in Germany broke forth, the Protestant princes undertaking to support the archbishop, in opposition to Ernest of Bavaria, who had been appointed in his place. The palatine, John Casimir, thought it necessary to mount and ride as usual. Making his appearance at the head of a hastily collected force, and prepared for another plunge into chaos, he suddenly heard, however, of his elder brother’s death at Heidelberg. Leaving his men, as was his habit, to shift for themselves, and Baron Truchses, the archbishop’s brother, to fall into the hands of the enemy, he disappeared from the scene with great rapidity, in order that his own interests in the palatinate and in the guardianship of the young palatines might not suffer by his absence.
In the course of the summer, the states of Holland and Zealand, always bitterly opposed to the connection with Anjou, and more than ever dissatisfied with the resumption of negotiations since the Antwerp catastrophe, sent a committee to the prince in order to persuade him to set his face against the whole proceedings. They delivered at the same time a formal remonstrance, in writing (August 25, 1583), in which they explained how odious the arrangement with the duke had ever been to them. They expressed the opinion that even the wisest might be sometimes mistaken, and that the prince had been bitterly deceived by Anjou and by the French court. They besought him to rely upon the assistance of the Almighty, and upon the exertions of the nation, and they again hinted at the propriety of his accepting that supreme sovereignty over all the united provinces which would be so gladly conferred, while, for their own parts, they voluntarily offered largely to increase the sums annually contributed to the common defense.
Very soon afterwards, in August 1583, the states of the united provinces assembled at Middelburg formally offered the general government—which under the circumstances was the general sovereignty—to the prince, warmly urging his acceptance of the dignity. He manifested, however, the same reluctance which he had always expressed, demanding that the project should beforehand be laid before the councils of all the large cities, and before the estates of certain provinces which had not been represented at the Middelburg diet. He also made use of the occasion to urge the necessity of providing more generously for the army expenses and other general disbursements. As to ambitious views, he was a stranger to them, and his language at this moment was as patriotic and self-denying as at any previous period. He expressed his thanks to the estates for this renewed proof of their confidence in his character, and this additional approbation of his course, a sentiment which he was always ready “as a good patriot to justify by his most faithful service.” He reminded them however, that he was no great monarch, having in his own hands the means to help and the power to liberate them, and that even were he in possession of all which God had once given him, he should be far from strong enough to resist, single-handed, their powerful enemy. All that was left to him, he said, was an “honest and moderate experience in affairs.” With this he was ever ready to serve them to the utmost, but they knew very well that the means to make that experience available were to be drawn from the country itself. With modest simplicity, he observed that he had been at work fifteen or sixteen years, doing his best, with the grace of God, to secure the freedom of the fatherland and to resist tyranny of conscience, that he alone, assisted by his brothers and some friends and relatives, had borne the whole burthen in the beginning, and that he had afterwards been helped by the states of Holland and Zealand, so that he could not but render thanks to God for His great mercy in thus granting His blessing to so humble an instrument, and thus restoring so many beautiful provinces to their ancient freedom and to the true religion. The prince protested that this result was already a sufficient reward for his labors, a great consolation in his sufferings. He had hoped, he said, that the estates, taking into consideration his “long-continued labors,” would have been willing to excuse him from “a new load of cares,” and would have granted him “some little rest in his already advanced age,” that they would have selected “some other person more fitted for the labor,” whom he would himself faithfully promise to assist to the best of his abilities, “rendering him willing obedience proportionate to the authority conferred upon him.”
In connection with this movement, and at about the same epoch, Jacob Swerius, member of the Brabant Council, with other deputies, waited upon Orange, and formally tendered him the sovereign dukedom of Brabant, forfeited and vacant by the late crime of Anjou. The prince, however, resolutely refused to accept the dignity, assuring the committee that he had not the means to afford the country as much protection as they had a right to expect from their sovereign. He added that he “would never give the King of Spain the right to say that the Prince of Orange had been actuated by no other motives in his career than the hope of self-aggrandizement, and the desire to deprive his Majesty of the provinces in order to appropriate them to himself.”
Accordingly, firmly refusing to heed the overtures of the United States, and of Holland in particular, he continued to further the re-establishment of Anjou—a measure in which, as he deliberately believed, lay the only chance of union and independence.
The Prince of Parma, meantime, had not been idle. He had been unable to induce the provinces to listen to his wiles, and to rush to the embrace of the monarch whose arms he described as ever open to the repentant. He had, however, been busily occupied in the course of the summer in taking up many of the towns which the treason of Anjou had laid open to his attacks.
Eindhoven, Diest, Dunkirk, Newport, and other places, were successively surrendered to royalist generals. On September 22, 1583, the city of Zutphen, too, was surprised by Colonel Tassis, on the fall of which most important place, the treason of Orange’s brother-in-law, Count Van den Berg, governor of Gueldres, was revealed. His fidelity had been long suspected, particularly by Count John of Nassau, but always earnestly vouched for by his wife and by his sons. On the capture of Zutphen, however, a document was found and made public, by which Van den Berg bound himself to deliver the principal cities of Gueldres and Zutphen, beginning with Zutphen itself, into the hands of Parma, on condition of receiving the pardon and friendship of the king.
Not much better could have been expected of Van den Berg. His pusillanimous retreat from his post in Alva’s time will be recollected, and it is certain that the prince had never placed implicit confidence in his character. Nevertheless, it was the fate of this great man to be often deceived by the friends whom he trusted, although never to be outwitted by his enemies. Van den Berg was arrested, on the 15th of November, carried to the Hague, examined and imprisoned for a time in Delftshaven. After a time he was, however, liberated, when he instantly, with all his sons, took service under the king.
Towards the end of the year 1583, the Prince of Chimay, eldest son of the Duke of Aerschot, had been elected governor of that province. This noble was as unstable in character, as vain, as unscrupulous, and as ambitious as his father and uncle. He had been originally desirous of espousing the eldest daughter of the Prince of Orange, afterwards the Countess of Hohenlo, but the Duchess of Aerschot was too strict a Catholic to consent to the marriage, and her son was afterwards united to the Countess of Meghen, widow of Lancelot Berlaymont.
As affairs seemed going on prosperously for the states in the beginning of this year, the Prince of Chimay had affected a strong inclination for the Reformed religion, and as governor of Bruges, he had appointed many members of that church to important offices, to the exclusion of Catholics. By so decided a course, he acquired the confidence of the patriot party and at the end of the year he became Governor of Flanders. No sooner was he installed in this post, than he opened a private correspondence with Parma, for it was his intention to make his peace with the king, and to purchase pardon and advancement by the brilliant service which he now undertook, of restoring this important province to the royal authority. In the arrangement of his plans he was assisted by Champagny, who, as will be recollected, had long been a prisoner in Ghent, but whose confinement was not so strict as to prevent frequent intercourse with his friends without. Champagny was indeed believed to be the life of the whole intrigue. The plot was, however, forwarded by Imbize, the roaring demagogue whose republicanism could never reconcile itself with what he esteemed the aristocratic policy of Orange, and whose stern Puritanism could be satisfied with nothing short of a general extermination of Catholics. This man, after having been allowed to depart, infamous and contemptible, from the city which he had endangered, now ventured after five years, to return, and to engage in fresh schemes which were even more criminal than his previous enterprises. The uncompromising foe to Romanism, the advocate of Grecian and Genevan democracy, now allied himself with Champagny and with Chimay, to effect a surrender of Flanders to Philip and to the Inquisition. He succeeded in getting himself elected chief senator in Ghent, and forthwith began to use all his influence to further the secret plot. The joint efforts and intrigues of Parma, Champagny, Chimay, and Imbize were near being successful. Early in the spring of 1584 a formal resolution was passed by the government of Ghent, to open negotiations with Parma. Hostages were accordingly exchanged, and a truce of three weeks was agreed upon, during which an animated correspondence was maintained between the authorities of Ghent and the Prince of Chimay on the one side, and the United States-General, the magistracy of Antwerp, the states of Brabant, and other important bodies on the other.
The friends of the Union and of liberty used all their eloquence to arrest the city of Ghent in its course, and to save the province of Flanders from accepting the proposed arrangement with Parma. The people of Ghent were reminded that the chief promoter of this new negotiation was Champagny, a man who owed a deep debt of hatred to their city, for the long, and as he believed, the unjust confinement which he had endured within its walls. Moreover, he was the brother of Granvelle, source of all their woes. To take counsel with Champagny was to come within reach of a deadly foe, for “he who confesses himself to a wolf,” said the burgomasters of Antwerp, “will get wolf’s absolution.” The Flemings were warned by all their correspondents that it was puerile to hope for faith in Philip, a monarch whose first principle was that promises to heretics were void. They were entreated to pay no heed to the “sweet singing of the royalists,” who just then affected to disapprove of the practice adopted by the Spanish Inquisition, that they might more surely separate them from their friends. “Imitate not,” said the magistrates of Brussels, “the foolish sheep who made with the wolves a treaty of perpetual amity, from which the faithful dogs were to be excluded.” It was armed—and the truth was certainly beyond peradventure—that religious liberty was dead at the moment when the treaty with Parma should be signed. “To look for political privilege or evangelical liberty,” said the Antwerp authorities, “in any arrangement with the Spaniards, is to look for light in darkness, for fire in water.” “Philip is himself the slave of the Inquisition,” said the states-general, “and has but one great purpose in life—to cherish the institution everywhere, and particularly in the Netherlands. Before Margaret of Parma’s time, 100,000 Netherlanders had been burned or strangled, and Alva had spent seven years in butchering and torturing many thousands more.” The magistrates of Brussels used similar expressions. “The King of Spain,” said they to their brethren of Ghent, “is fastened to the Inquisition. Yea, he is so much in its power, that even if he desired, he is unable to maintain his promises.” The Prince of Orange, too, was indefatigable in public and private efforts to counteract the machinations of Parma and the Spanish party in Ghent. He saw with horror the progress which the political decomposition of that most important commonwealth was making, for he considered the city the keystone to the union of the provinces, for he felt with a prophetic instinct that its loss would entail that of all the southern provinces, and make a united and independent Netherland state impossible. Already in the summer of 1583, he addressed a letter full of wisdom and of warning to the authorities of Ghent, a letter in which he set fully before them the iniquity and stupidity of their proceedings, while at the same time he expressed himself with so much dexterity and caution as to avoid giving offense, by accusations which he made, as it were, hypothetically, when, in truth, they were real ones.
These remonstrances were not fruitless, and the authorities and citizens of Ghent once more paused ere they stepped from the precipice. While they were thus wavering, the whole negotiation with Parma was abruptly brought to a close by a new incident, the demagogue Imbize having been discovered in a secret attempt to obtain possession of the city of Denremonde, and deliver it to Parma. The old acquaintance, ally, and enemy of Imbize, the Seigneur de Ryhove, was commandant of the city, and information was privately conveyed to him of the design, before there had been time for its accomplishment. Ryhove, being thoroughly on his guard, arrested his old comrade, who was shortly afterwards brought to trial, and executed at Ghent. John van Imbize had returned to the city from which the contemptuous mercy of Orange had permitted him formerly to depart, only to expiate fresh turbulence and fresh treason by a felon’s death. Meanwhile the citizens of Ghent, thus warned by word and deed, passed an earnest resolution to have no more intercourse with Parma, but to abide faithfully by the Union. Their example was followed by the other Flemish cities, excepting, unfortunately, Bruges, for that important town, being entirely in the power of Chimay, was now surrendered by him to the royal government. On May 20, 1584, Baron Montigny, on the part of Parma, signed an accord with the Prince of Chimay, by which the city was restored to his Majesty, and by which all inhabitants not willing to abide by the Roman Catholic religion were permitted to leave the land. The prince was received with favor by Parma, on conclusion of the transaction, and subsequently met with advancement from the king, while the princess, who had embraced the Reformed religion, retired to Holland.
The only other city of importance gained on this occasion by the government was Ypres, which had been long besieged, and was soon afterwards forced to yield. The new bishop, on taking possession, resorted to instant measures for cleansing a place which had been so long in the hands of the infidels, and as the first step in this purification, the bodies of many heretics who had been buried for years were taken from their graves, and publicly hanged in their coffins. All living adherents to the Reformed religion were instantly expelled from the place.
Ghent and the rest of Flanders were, for the time, saved from the power of Spain, the inhabitants being confirmed in their resolution of sustaining their union with the other provinces by the news from France. Early in the spring the negotiations between Anjou and the states-general had been earnestly renewed, and Junius, Mouillerie, and Asseliers, had been dispatched on a special mission to France, for the purpose of arranging a treaty with the duke. On April 19, 1584, they arrived in Delft, on their return, bringing warm letters from the French court, full of promises to assist the Netherlands, and it was understood that a constitution, upon the basis of the original arrangement of Bordeaux, would be accepted by the duke. These arrangements were, however, forever terminated by the death of Anjou, who had been ill during the whole course of the negotiations. On the 10th of June, 1584, he expired at Chateau Thierry, in great torture, sweating blood from every pore, and under circumstances which, as usual, suggested strong suspicions of poison.
It has been seen that the Ban against the Prince of Orange had not been hitherto without fruits, for although unsuccessful, the efforts to take his life and earn the promised guerdon had been incessant. The attempt of Jaureguy at Antwerp, of Salseda and Baza at Bruges, have been related, and in March 1583, moreover, one Pietro Dordogno was executed in Antwerp for endeavoring to assassinate the prince. Before his death, he confessed that he had come from Spain solely for the purpose, and that he had conferred with La Motte, Governor of Gravelines, as to the best means of accomplishing his design. In April 1584, Hans Hanzoon, a merchant of Flushing, had been executed for attempting to destroy the prince by means of gunpowder, concealed under his house in that city, and under his seat in the church. He confessed that he had deliberately formed the intention of performing the deed, and that he had discussed the details of the enterprise with the Spanish ambassador in Paris. At about the same time, one Le Goth, a captive French officer, had been applied to by the Marquis de Richebourg, on the part of Alexander of Parma, to attempt the murder of the prince. Le Goth had consented, saying that nothing could be more easily done, and that he would undertake to poison him in a dish of eels, of which he knew him to be particularly fond. The Frenchman was liberated with this understanding, but being very much the friend of Orange, straightway told him the whole story, and remained ever afterwards a faithful servant of the states. It is to be presumed that he excused the treachery to which he owed his escape from prison on the ground that faith was no more to be kept with murderers than with heretics. Thus, within two years, there had been five distinct attempts to assassinate the prince, all of them with the privity of the Spanish government. A sixth was soon to follow.
In the summer of 1584, William of Orange was residing at Delft, where his wife, Louisa de Coligny, had given birth, in the preceding winter, to a son, afterwards the celebrated stadholder, Frederic Henry. The child had received these names from his two godfathers, the Kings of Denmark and of Navarre, and his baptism had been celebrated with much rejoicing on the 12th of June, in the place of his birth.
It was a quiet, cheerful, yet somewhat drowsy little city, that ancient burgh of Delft. The placid canals by which it was intersected in every direction were all planted with whispering, umbrageous rows of limes and poplars, and along these watery highways the traffic of the place glided so noiselessly that the town seemed the abode of silence and tranquility. The streets were clean and airy, the houses well built, the whole aspect of the place thriving.
One of the principal thoroughfares was called the old Delft-street. It was shaded on both sides by lime trees, which in that midsummer season covered the surface of the canal which flowed between them with their light and fragrant blossoms. On one side of this street was the “old kirk,” a plain, antique structure of brick, with lancet windows, and with a tall, slender tower, which inclined, at a very considerable angle, towards a house upon the other side of the canal. That house was the mansion of William the Silent. It stood directly opposite the church, being separated by a spacious courtyard from the street, while the stables and other offices in the rear extended to the city wall. A narrow lane, opening out of Delft-street, ran along the side of the house and court, in the direction of the ramparts. The house was a plain, two-storied edifice of brick, with red-tiled roof, and had formerly been a cloister dedicated to Saint Agatha, the last prior of which had been hanged by the furious Lumey de la Marck.
The news of Anjou’s death had been brought to Delft by a special messenger from the French court. On Sunday morning, July 8, 1584, the Prince of Orange, having read the dispatches before leaving his bed, caused the man who had brought them to be summoned, that he might give some particular details by word of mouth concerning the last illness of the duke. The courier was accordingly admitted to the prince’s bedchamber, and proved to be one Francis Guion, as he called himself. This man had, early in the spring, claimed and received the protection of Orange, on the ground of being the son of a Protestant at Besançon, who had suffered death for his religion, and of his own ardent attachment to the Reformed faith. A pious, psalm-singing, thoroughly Calvinistic youth he seemed to be, having a Bible or a hymnbook under his arm whenever he walked the street, and most exemplary in his attendance at sermon and lecture. For the rest, a singularly unobtrusive personage, twenty-seven years of age, low of stature, meager, mean-visaged, muddy complexioned, and altogether a man of no account—quite insignificant in the eyes of all who looked upon him. If there were one opinion in which the few who had taken the trouble to think of the puny, somewhat shambling stranger from Burgundy at all coincided, it was that he was inoffensive, but quite incapable of any important business. He seemed well educated, claimed to be of respectable parentage, and had considerable facility of speech, when any person could be found who thought it worthwhile to listen to him, but on the whole he attracted little attention.
Nevertheless, this insignificant frame locked up a desperate and daring character; this mild and inoffensive nature had gone pregnant seven years with a terrible crime, whose birth could not much longer be retarded. Francis Guion, the Calvinist, son of a martyred Calvinist, was in reality Balthazar Gérard, a fanatical Catholic, whose father and mother were still living at Villefans in Burgundy. Before reaching man’s estate, he had formed the design of murdering the Prince of Orange, “who, so long as he lived, seemed like to remain a rebel against the Catholic King, and to make every effort to disturb the repose of the Roman Catholic Apostolic religion.”
When but twenty years of age, he had struck his dagger with all his might into a door, exclaiming, as he did so, “Would that the blow had been in the heart of Orange!” For this he was rebuked by a bystander, who told him it was not for him to kill princes, and that it was not desirable to destroy so good a captain as the prince, who, after all, might one day reconcile himself with the king.
As soon as the Ban against Orange was published, Balthazar, more anxious than ever to execute his long-cherished design, left Dôle and came to Luxemburg. Here he learned that the deed had already been done by John Jaureguy. He received this intelligence at first with a sensation of relief, was glad to be excused from putting himself in danger, and believing the prince dead, took service as clerk with one John Duprel, secretary to Count Mansfeld, Governor of Luxemburg. Ere long, the ill success of Jaureguy’s attempt becoming known, the “inveterate determination” of Gérard aroused itself more fiercely than ever. He accordingly took models of Mansfeld’s official seals in wax, in order that he might make use of them as an acceptable offering to the Orange party, whose confidence he meant to gain.
Various circumstances detained him, however. A sum of money was stolen, and he was forced to stay till it was found, for fear of being arrested as the thief. Then his cousin and employer fell sick, and Gérard was obliged to wait for his recovery. At last, in March 1584, “the weather,” as he said, “appearing to be fine,” Balthazar left Luxemburg and came to Tréves. While there, he confided his scheme to the regent of the Jesuit college, a “red-haired man” whose name has not been preserved. That dignitary expressed high approbation of the plan, gave Gerard his blessing, and promised him that, if his life should be sacrificed in achieving his purpose, he should be enrolled among the martyrs. Another Jesuit, however, in the same college, with whom he likewise communicated, held very different language, making great efforts to turn the young man from his design, on the ground of the inconveniences which might arise from the forging of Mansfeld’s seals, adding that neither he nor any of the Jesuits liked to meddle with such affairs, but advising that the whole matter should be laid before the Prince of Parma. It does not appear that this personage, “an excellent man and a learned,” attempted to dissuade the young man from his project by arguments drawn from any supposed criminality in the assassination itself, or from any danger, temporal or eternal, to which the perpetrator might expose himself.
Not influenced, as it appears, except on one point, by the advice of this second ghostly confessor, Balthazar came to Tournay, and held council with a third—the celebrated Franciscan, Father Géry—by whom he was much comforted and strengthened in his determination. His next step was to lay the project before Parma, as the “excellent and learned” Jesuit at Tréves had advised. This he did by a letter, drawn up with much care, and which he evidently thought well of as a composition. One copy of this letter he deposited with the guardian of the Franciscan convent at Tournay; the other he presented with his own hand to the Prince of Parma. “The vassal,” said he, “ought always to prefer justice and the will of the king to his own life.” That being the case, he expressed his astonishment that no man had yet been found to execute the sentence against William of Nassau, “except the gentle Biscayan, since defunct.” To accomplish the task, Balthazar observed, very judiciously, that it was necessary to have access to the person of the prince—wherein consisted the difficulty. Those who had that advantage, he continued, were therefore bound to extirpate the pest at once, without obliging his Majesty to send to Rome for a chevalier, because not one of them was willing to precipitate himself into the venomous gulf, which by its contagion infected and killed the souls and bodies of all poor abused subjects exposed to its influence. Gérard avowed himself to have been so long goaded and stimulated by these considerations, so extremely nettled with displeasure and bitterness at seeing the obstinate wretch still escaping his just judgment, as to have formed the design of baiting a trap for the fox, hoping thus to gain access to him, and to take him unawares. He added, without explaining the nature of the trap and the bait, that he deemed it his duty to lay the subject before the most serene Prince of Parma, protesting at the same time that he did not contemplate the exploit for the sake of the reward mentioned in the sentence, and that he preferred trusting in that regard to the immense liberality of his Majesty.
Parma had long been looking for a good man to murder Orange, feeling—as Philip, Granvelle, and all former governors of the Netherlands had felt—that this was the only means of saving the royal authority in any part of the provinces. Many unsatisfactory assassins had presented themselves from time to time, and Alexander had paid money in hand to various individuals—Italians, Spaniards, Lorrainers, Scotchmen, Englishmen—who had generally spent the sums received without attempting the job. Others were supposed to be still engaged in the enterprise, and at that moment there were four persons—each unknown to the others, and of different nations—in the city of Delft, seeking to compass the death of William the Silent. Shag-eared, military, hirsute ruffians—ex-captains of free companies and such marauders—were daily offering their services; there was no lack of them, and they had done but little. How should Parma, seeing this obscure, under-sized, thin-bearded, runaway clerk before him, expect pith and energy from him? He thought him quite unfit for an enterprise of moment, and declared as much to his secret councillors and to the king. He soon dismissed him, after receiving his letters, and it may be supposed that the bombastic style of that epistle would not efface the unfavorable impression produced by Balthazar’s exterior. The representations of Haultepenne and others induced him so far to modify his views as to send his confidential councillor, d’Assonleville, to the stranger, in order to learn the details of the scheme. Assonleville had accordingly an interview with Gérard, in which he requested the young man to draw up a statement of his plan in writing, and this was done upon the 11th of April, 1584.
In this letter Gérard explained his plan of introducing himself to the notice of Orange, at Delft, as the son of an executed Calvinist, as himself warmly, though secretly, devoted to the Reformed faith, and as desirous, therefore, of placing himself in the prince’s service, in order to avoid the insolence of the papists. Having gained the confidence of those about the prince, he would suggest to them the great use which might be made of Mansfeld’s signet in forging passports for spies and other persons whom it might be desirous to send into the territory of the royalists. “With these or similar feints and frivolities,” continued Gérard, “he should soon obtain access to the person of the said Nassau,” repeating his protestation that nothing had moved him to his enterprise “save the good zeal which he bore to the faith and true religion guarded by the Holy Mother Church Catholic, Apostolic, and Roman, and to the service of his Majesty.” He begged pardon for having purloined the impressions of the seals—a turpitude which he would never have committed, but would sooner have suffered a thousand deaths, except for the great end in view. He particularly wished forgiveness for that crime before going to his task, “in order that he might confess, and receive the holy communion at the coming Easter, without scruples of conscience.” He likewise begged the Prince of Parma to obtain for him absolution from his Holiness for this crime of pilfering, the more so “as he was about to keep company for some time with heretics and atheists, and in some sort to conform himself to their customs.”
From the general tone of the letters of Gérard, he might be set down at once as a simple, religious fanatic, who felt sure that, in executing the command of Philip publicly issued to all the murderers of Europe, he was meriting well of God and his king. There is no doubt that he was an exalted enthusiast, but not purely an enthusiast. The man’s character offers more than one point of interest, as a psychological phenomenon. He had convinced himself that the work which he had in hand was eminently meritorious, and he was utterly without fear of consequences. He was, however, by no means so disinterested as he chose to represent himself in letters which, as he instinctively felt, were to be of perennial interest. On the contrary, in his interviews with Assonleville, he urged that he was a poor fellow, and that he had undertaken this enterprise in order to acquire property—to make himself rich—and that he depended upon the Prince of Parma’s influence in obtaining the reward promised by the Ban to the individual who should put Orange to death.
This second letter decided Parma so far that he authorized Assonleville to encourage the young man in his attempt, and to promise that the reward should be given to him in case of success, and to his heirs in the event of his death. Assonleville, in the second interview, accordingly made known these assurances in the strongest manner to Gérard, warning him, at the same time, on no account, if arrested, to inculpate the Prince of Parma. The councillor, while thus exhorting the stranger, according to Alexander’s commands, confined himself, however, to generalities, refusing even to advance crowns, which Balthazar had begged from the governor-general in order to provide for the necessary expenses of his project. Parma had made similar advances too often to men who had promised to assassinate the prince and had then done little, and he was resolute in his refusal to this new adventurer, of whom he expected absolutely nothing. Gérard, notwithstanding this rebuff, was not disheartened. “I will provide myself out of my own purse,” said he to Assonleville, “and within six weeks you will hear of me.” “Go forth, my son,” said Assonleville, paternally, upon this spirited reply, “and if you succeed in your enterprise, the king will fulfil all his promises, and you will gain an immortal name beside.”
The “inveterate deliberation,” thus thoroughly matured, Gérard now proceeded to carry into effect. He came to Delft, obtained a hearing of Villers, the clergyman and intimate friend of Orange, showed him the Mansfeld seals, and was, somewhat against his will, sent to France, to exhibit them to Maréchal Biron, who, it was thought, was soon to be appointed Governor of Cambray. Through Orange’s recommendation, the Burgundian was received into the suite of Noel de Caron, Seigneur de Schoneval, then setting forth on a special mission to the Duke of Anjou. While in France, Gérard could rest neither by day nor night, so tormented was he by the desire of accomplishing his project, and at length he obtained permission, upon the death of the duke, to carry this important intelligence to the Prince of Orange. The dispatches having been entrusted to him, he traveled post-haste to Delft, and, to his astonishment, the letters had hardly been delivered before be was summoned in person to the chamber of the prince. Here was an opportunity such as he had never dared to hope for. The arch-enemy to the Church and to the human race, whose death would confer upon his destroyer wealth and nobility in this world, besides a crown of glory in the next, lay unarmed, alone, in bed, before the man who had thirsted seven long years for his blood.
Balthazar could scarcely control his emotions sufficiently to answer the questions which the prince addressed to him concerning the death of Anjou, but Orange, deeply engaged with the dispatches, and with the reflections which their deeply important contents suggested, did not observe the countenance of the humble Calvinist exile, who had been recently recommended to his patronage by Villers. Gérard, had, moreover, made no preparation for an interview so entirely unexpected, had come unarmed, and had formed no plan for escape. He was obliged to forego his prey when most within his reach, and after communicating all the information which the prince required, he was dismissed from the chamber.
It was Sunday morning, and the bells were tolling for church. Upon leaving the house he loitered about the courtyard, furtively examining the premises, so that a sergeant of halberdiers asked him why he was waiting there. Balthazar meekly replied that he was desirous of attending divine worship in the church opposite, but added, pointing to his shabby and travel-stained attire, that, without at least a new pair of shoes and stockings, he was unfit to join the congregation. Insignificant as ever, the small, pious, dusty stranger excited no suspicion in the mind of the good-natured sergeant. He forthwith spoke of the wants of Gérard to an officer, by whom they were communicated to Orange himself, and the prince instantly ordered a sum of money to be given him. Thus Balthazar obtained from William’s charity what Parma’s thrift had denied—a fund for carrying out his purpose!
Next morning, with the money thus procured, he purchased a pair of pistols, or small carabines, from a soldier, chaffering long about the price because the vender could not supply a particular kind of chopped bullets or slugs which he desired. Before the sunset of the following day, that soldier had stabbed himself to the heart, and died despairing, on hearing for what purpose the pistols had been bought.
On Tuesday, July 10, 1584, at about half past twelve, the prince, with his wife on his arm, and followed by the ladies and gentlemen of his family, was going to the dining room. William the Silent was dressed upon that day, according to his usual custom, in very plain fashion. He wore a wide-leaved, loosely-shaped hat of dark felt, with a silken cord round the crown—such as had been worn by the Beggars in the early days of the revolt. A high ruff encircled his neck, from which also depended one of the Beggar’s medals, with the motto, “Fidèles au roy jusqu’à la besace,” while a loose surcoat of gray frieze cloth, over a tawny leather doublet, with wide, slashed underclothes completed his costume. Gérard presented himself at the doorway and demanded a passport. The princess, struck with the pale and agitated countenance of the man, anxiously questioned her husband concerning the stranger. The prince carelessly observed that “it was merely a person who came for a passport,” ordering, at the same time, a secretary forthwith to prepare one. The princess, still not relieved, observed in an undertone that “she had never seen so villainous a countenance.” Orange, however, not at all impressed with the appearance of Gérard, conducted himself at table with his usual cheerfulness, conversing much with the burgomaster of Leewarden, the only guest present at the family dinner, concerning the political and religious aspects of Friesland. At two o’clock the company rose from table. The prince led the way, intending to pass to his private apartments above. The dining room, which was on the ground floor, opened into a little square vestibule, which communicated, through an arched passageway, with the main entrance into the courtyard. This vestibule was also directly at the foot of the wooden staircase leading to the next floor, and was scarcely six feet in width. Upon its left side, as one approached the stairway, was an obscure arch, sunk deep in the wall, and completely in the shadow of the door. Behind this arch a portal opened to the narrow lane at the side of the house. The stairs themselves were completely lighted by a large window, half way up the flight. The prince came from the dining room, and began leisurely to ascend. He had only reached the second stair, when a man emerged from the sunken arch, and, standing within a foot or two of him, discharged a pistol full at his heart. Three balls entered his body, one of which, passing quite through him, struck with violence against the wall beyond. The prince exclaimed in French, as he felt the wound, “O my God, have mercy upon my soul! O my God, have mercy upon this poor people!”
These were the last words he ever spoke, save that when his sister, Catherine of Schwartzburg, immediately afterwards asked him if he commended his soul to Jesus Christ, he faintly answered, “Yes.” His master of the horse, Jacob van Maldere, had caught him in his arms as the fatal shot was fired. The prince was then placed on the stairs for an instant, when he immediately began to swoon. He was afterwards laid upon a couch in the dining room, where in a few minutes, be breathed his last in the arms of his wife and sister.
The murderer succeeded in making his escape through the side door, and sped swiftly up the narrow lane. He had almost reached the ramparts, from which he intended to spring into the moat, when he stumbled over a heap of rubbish. As he rose, he was seized by several pages and halberdiers, who had pursued him from the house. He had dropped his pistols upon the spot where he had committed the crime, and upon his person were found a couple of bladders, provided with a piece of pipe with which he had intended to assist himself across the moat, beyond which a horse was waiting for him. He made no effort to deny his identity, but boldly avowed himself and his deed. He was brought back to the house, where he immediately underwent a preliminary examination before the city magistrates. He was afterwards subjected to excruciating tortures, for the fury against the wretch who had destroyed the Father of the country was uncontrollable, and William the Silent was no longer alive to intercede, as he had often done before, in behalf of those who assailed his life.
The organization of Balthazar Gérard would furnish a subject of profound study, both for the physiologist and the metaphysician. Neither wholly a fanatic, nor entirely a ruffian, he combined the most dangerous elements of both characters. In his puny body and mean exterior were enclosed considerable mental powers and accomplishments, a daring ambition, and a courage almost superhuman. Yet those qualities led him only to form upon the threshold of life a deliberate determination to achieve greatness by the assassin’s trade. The rewards held out by the Ban, combining with his religious bigotry and his passion for distinction, fixed all his energies with patient concentration upon the one great purpose for which he seemed to have been born, and after seven years’ preparation, he had at last fulfilled his design.
When falsely informed that his victim was not dead, he showed no credulity or disappointment. He had discharged three poisoned balls into the prince’s stomach, and he knew that death must have already ensued. He expressed regret, however, that the resistance of the halberdiers had prevented him from using his second pistol, and avowed that if he were a thousand leagues away he would return in order to do the deed again, if possible. He deliberately wrote a detailed confession of his crime, and of the motives and manner of its commission, taking care, however, not to implicate Parma in the transaction. After sustaining day after day the most horrible tortures, he subsequently related his interviews with Assonleville and with the president of the Jesuit college at Tréves, adding that he had been influenced in his work by the assurance of obtaining the rewards promised by the Ban. During the intervals of repose from the rack he conversed with ease, and even eloquence, answering all questions addressed to him with apparent sincerity. His constancy in suffering so astounded his judges that they believed him supported by witchcraft. “Ecce homo!” he exclaimed, from time to time, with insane blasphemy, as he raised his blood-streaming head from the bench. In order to destroy the charm which seemed to render him insensible to pain, they sent for the shirt of a hospital patient, supposed to be a sorcerer. When clothed in this garment, however, Balthazar was nonetheless superior to the arts of the tormentors, enduring all their inflictions, according to an eyewitness, “without once exclaiming, Ah me!” and avowing that he would repeat his enterprise, if possible, were he to die a thousand deaths in consequence. Some of those present refused to believe that he was a man at all. Others asked him how long since he had sold himself to the Devil, to which he replied, mildly, that he had no acquaintance whatever with the Devil. He thanked the judges politely for the food which he received in prison, and promised to recompense them for the favor. Upon being asked how that was possible, he replied that he would serve as their advocate in Paradise.
The sentence pronounced against the assassin was execrable—a crime against the memory of the great man whom it professed to avenge. It was decreed that the right hand of Gérard should be burned off with a red-hot iron, that his flesh should be torn from his bones with pincers in six different places, that he should be quartered and disemboweled alive, that his heart should be torn from his bosom and flung in his face, and that, finally, his head should be taken off. Not even his horrible crime, with its endless consequences, nor the natural frenzy of indignation which it had excited, could justify this savage decree, to rebuke which the murdered hero might have almost risen from the sleep of death. The sentence was literally executed on the 14th of July, the criminal supporting its horrors with the same astonishing fortitude. So calm were his nerves, crippled and half roasted as he was ere he mounted the scaffold, that when one of the executioners was slightly injured in the ear by the flying from the handle of the hammer with which he was breaking the fatal pistol in pieces, as the first step in the execution—a circumstance which produced a general laugh in the crowd—a smile was observed upon Balthazar’s face in sympathy with the general hilarity. His lips were seen to move up to the moment when his heart was thrown in his face—”Then,” said a looker-on, “he gave up the ghost.”
The reward promised by Philip to the man who should murder Orange was paid to the heirs of Gérard. Parma informed his sovereign that the “poor man” had been executed, but that his father and mother were still living, to whom he recommended the payment of that “merced” which “the laudable and generous deed had so well deserved.” This was accordingly done, and the excellent parents, ennobled and enriched by the crime of their son, received instead of the 25,000 crowns promised in the Ban, the three seignories of Lievremont, Hostal, and Dampmartin, in the Franche Comté, and took their place at once among the landed aristocracy. Thus the bounty of the prince had furnished the weapon by which his life was destroyed, and his estates supplied the fund out of which the assassin’s family received the price of blood. At a later day, when the unfortunate eldest son of Orange returned from Spain after twenty-seven years’ absence, a changeling and a Spaniard, the restoration of those very estates was offered to him by Philip II, provided he would continue to pay a fixed proportion of their rents to the family of his father’s murderer. The education which Philip William had received, under the king’s auspices, had however, not entirely destroyed all his human feelings, and he rejected the proposal with scorn. The estates remained with the Gérard family, and the patents of nobility which they had received were used to justify their exemption from certain taxes, until the union of Franche Comté with France, when a French governor tore the documents in pieces and trampled them under foot.
William of Orange, at the period of his death, was aged fifty-one years and sixteen days. He left twelve children. By his first wife, Anne of Egmont, he had one son, Philip, and one daughter, Mary, afterwards married to Count Hohenlo. By his second wife, Anna of Saxony, he had one son, the celebrated Maurice of Nassau, and two daughters, Anna, married afterwards to her cousin, Count William Louis, and Emilie, who espoused the Pretender of Portugal, Prince Emanuel. By Charlotte of Bourbon, his third wife, he had six daughters, and by his fourth, Louisa de Coligny, one son, Frederic William, afterwards stadholder of the Republic in her most palmy days. The prince was entombed on the third of August, at Delft, amid the tears of a whole nation. Never was a more extensive, unaffected, and legitimate sorrow felt at the death of any human being.
The life and labors of Orange had established the emancipated commonwealth upon a secure foundation, but his death rendered the union of all the Netherlands into one republic hopeless. The efforts of the Malcontent nobles, the religious discord, the consummate ability, both political and military, of Parma, all combined with the lamentable loss of William the Silent to separate forever the southern and Catholic provinces from the northern confederacy. So long as the prince remained alive, he was the Father of the whole country, the Netherlands—saving only the two Walloon provinces—constituting a whole. Notwithstanding the spirit of faction and the blight of the long civil war, there was at least one country, or the hope of a country, one strong heart, one guiding head, for the patriotic party throughout the land. Philip and Granvelle were right in their estimate of the advantage to be derived from the prince’s death, in believing that an assassin’s hand could achieve more than all the wiles which Spanish or Italian statesmanship could teach, or all the armies which Spain or Italy could muster. The pistol of the insignificant Gérard destroyed the possibility of a united Netherland state, while during the life of William there was union in the policy, unity in the history of the country.
In the following year, Antwerp, hitherto the center around which all the national interests and historical events group themselves, fell before the scientific efforts of Parma. The city which had so long been the freest, as well as the most opulent, capital in Europe, sank forever to the position of a provincial town. With its fall, combined with other circumstances, which it is not necessary to narrate in anticipation, the final separation of the Netherlands was completed. On the other hand, at the death of Orange, whose formal inauguration as sovereign Count had not yet taken place, the states of Holland and Zealand reassumed the sovereignty. The commonwealth which William had liberated forever from Spanish tyranny continued to exist as a great and flourishing republic during more than two centuries, under the successive stadholderates of his sons and descendants.
His life gave existence to an independent country—his death defined its limits. Had he lived twenty years longer, it is probable that the seven provinces would have been seventeen, and that the Spanish title would have been forever extinguished both in Nether Germany and Celtic Gaul. Although there was to be the length of two human generations more of warfare ere Spain acknowledged the new government, yet before the termination of that period the United States had become the first naval power and one of the most considerable commonwealths in the world; while the civil and religious liberty, the political independence of the land, together with the total expulsion of the ancient foreign tyranny from the soil, had been achieved ere the eyes of William were closed. The republic existed, in fact, from the moment of the abjuration in 1581.
The most important features of the polity which thus assumed a prominent organization have been already indicated. There was no revolution, no radical change. The ancient rugged tree of Netherland liberty—with its moss-grown trunk, gnarled branches, and deep-reaching roots—which had been slowly growing for ages, was still full of sap, and was to deposit for centuries longer its annual rings of consolidated and concentric strength. Though lopped of some luxuriant boughs, it was sound at the core, and destined for a still larger life than even in the healthiest moments of its medieval existence.
The history of the rise of the Netherland Republic has been at the same time the biography of William the Silent. This, while it gives unity to the narrative, renders an elaborate description of his character superfluous. That life was a noble Christian epic, inspired with one great purpose from its commencement to its close, the stream flowing ever from one fountain with expanding fulness, but retaining all its original purity. A few general observations are all which are necessary by way of conclusion.
In person, Orange was above the middle height, perfectly well made and sinewy, but rather spare than stout. His eyes, hair, beard, and complexion were brown. His head was small, symmetrically shaped, combining the alertness and compactness characteristic of the soldier, with the capacious brow furrowed prematurely with the horizontal lines of thought, denoting the statesman and the sage. His physical appearance was, therefore, in harmony with his organization, which was of antique model. Of his moral qualities, the most prominent was his piety. He was more than anything else a religious man. From his trust in God, he ever derived support and consolation in the darkest hours. Implicitly relying upon Almighty wisdom and goodness, he looked danger in the face with a constant smile, and endured incessant labors and trials with a serenity which seemed more than human. While, however, his soul was full of piety, it was tolerant of error. Sincerely and deliberately himself a convert to the Reformed Church, he was ready to extend freedom of worship to Catholics on the one hand, and to Anabaptists on the other, for no man ever felt more keenly than he, that the Reformer who becomes in his turn a bigot is doubly odious.
His firmness was allied to his piety. His constancy in bearing the whole weight of struggle as unequal as men have ever undertaken, was the theme of admiration even to his enemies. The rock in the ocean, “tranquil amid raging billows,” was the favorite emblem by which his friends expressed their sense of his firmness. From the time when, as a hostage in France, he first discovered the plan of Philip to plant the Inquisition in the Netherlands, up to the last moment of his life, he never faltered in his determination to resist that iniquitous scheme. This resistance was the labor of his life. To exclude the Inquisition, to maintain the ancient liberties of his country, was the task which he appointed to himself when a youth of three-and-twenty. Never speaking a word concerning a heavenly mission, never deluding himself or others with the usual phraseology of enthusiasts, he accomplished the task, through danger, amid toils, and with sacrifices such as few men have ever been able to make on their country’s altar—for the disinterested benevolence of the man was as prominent as his fortitude.
A prince of high rank and with royal revenues, he stripped himself of station, wealth, almost at times of the common necessaries of life, and became, in his country’s cause, nearly a beggar as well as an outlaw. Nor was he forced into his career by an accidental impulse from which there was no recovery. Retreat was ever open to him. Not only pardon but advancement was urged upon him again and again. Officially and privately, directly and circuitously, his confiscated estates, together with indefinite and boundless favors in addition, were offered to him on every great occasion. On the arrival of Don John, at the Breda negotiations, at the Cologne conferences, we have seen how calmly these offers were waved aside, as if their rejection was so simple that it hardly required many words for its signification, yet he had mortgaged his estates so deeply that his heirs hesitated at accepting their inheritance, for fear it should involve them in debt. Ten years after his death, the account between his executors and his brother John amounted to 1,400,000 florins due to the count, secured by various pledges of real and personal property, and it was finally settled upon this basis. He was besides largely indebted to every one of his powerful relatives, so that the payment of the encumbrances upon his estate very nearly justified the fears of his children. While on the one hand, therefore, he poured out these enormous sums like water, and firmly refused a hearing to the tempting offers of the royal government, upon the other hand he proved the disinterested nature of his services by declining, year after year, the sovereignty over the provinces, and by only accepting, in the last days of his life, when refusal had become almost impossible, the limited, constitutional supremacy over that portion of them which now makes the realm of his descendants. He lived and died, not for himself, but for his country. “God pity this poor people!” were his dying words.
His intellectual faculties were various and of the highest order. He had the exact, practical, and combining qualities which make the great commander, and his friends claimed that, in military genius, he was second to no captain in Europe. This was, no doubt, an exaggeration of partial attachment, but it is certain that the Emperor Charles had an exalted opinion of his capacity for the field. His fortification of Philippeville and Charlemont, in the face of the enemy; his passage of the Meuse in Alva’s sight; his unfortunate but well-ordered campaign against that general; his sublime plan of relief, projected and successfully directed at last from his sickbed, for the besieged city of Leyden; will always remain monuments of his practical military skill.
Of the soldier’s great virtues—constancy in disaster, devotion to duty, hopefulness in defeat—no man ever possessed a larger share. He arrived, through a series of reverses, at a perfect victory. He planted a free commonwealth under the very battery of the Inquisition, in defiance of the most powerful empire existing. He was therefore a conqueror in the loftiest sense, for he conquered liberty and a national existence for a whole people. The contest was long, and he fell in the struggle, but the victory was to the dead hero, not to the living monarch. It is to be remembered, too, that he always wrought with inferior instruments. His troops were usually mercenaries, who were but too apt to mutiny upon the eve of battle, while he was opposed by the most formidable veterans of Europe, commanded successively by the first captains of the age. That, with no lieutenant of eminent valor or experience, save only his brother Louis, and with none at all after that chieftain’s death, William of Orange should succeed in baffling the efforts of Alva, Requesens, Don John of Austria, and Alexander Farnese—men whose names are among the most brilliant in the military annals of the world—is in itself sufficient evidence of his warlike ability. At the period of his death he had reduced the number of obedient provinces to two, only Artois and Hainault acknowledging Philip, while the other fifteen were in open revolt, the greater part having solemnly forsworn their sovereign.
The supremacy of his political genius was entirely beyond question. He was the first statesman of the age. The quickness of his perception was only equaled by the caution which enabled him to mature the results of his observations. His knowledge of human nature was profound. He governed the passions and sentiments of a great nation as if they had been but the keys and chords of one vast instrument, and his hand rarely failed to evoke harmony even out of the wildest storms. The turbulent city of Ghent, which could obey no other master, which even the haughty Emperor could only crush without controlling, was ever responsive to the master-hand of Orange. His presence scared away Imbize and his bat-like crew, confounded the schemes of John Casimir, frustrated the wiles of Prince Chimay, and while he lived, Ghent was what it ought always to have remained, the bulwark, as it had been the cradle, of popular liberty. After his death it became its tomb.
Ghent, saved thrice by the policy, the eloquence, the self-sacrifices of Orange, fell within three months of his murder into the hands of Parma. The loss of this most important city, followed in the next year by the downfall of Antwerp, sealed the fate of the Southern Netherlands. Had the prince lived, how different might have been the country’s fate! If seven provinces could dilate, in so brief a space, into the powerful commonwealth which the Republic soon became, what might not have been achieved by the united seventeen, a confederacy which would have united the adamantine vigor of the Batavian and Frisian races with the subtler, more delicate, and more graceful national elements in which the genius of the Frank, the Roman, and the Romanized Celt were so intimately blended. As long as the Father of the country lived, such a union was possible. His power of managing men was so unquestionable that there was always a hope, even in the darkest hour, for men felt implicit reliance, as well on his intellectual resources as on his integrity.
This power of dealing with his fellow men he manifested in the various ways in which it has been usually exhibited by statesmen. He possessed a ready eloquence, sometimes impassioned, oftener argumentative, always rational. His influence over his audience was unexampled in the annals of that country or age, yet he never condescended to flatter the people. He never followed the nation, but always led her in the path of duty and of honor, and was much more prone to rebuke the vices than to pander to the passions of his hearers. He never failed to administer ample chastisement to parsimony, to jealousy, to insubordination, to intolerance, to infidelity, wherever it was due, nor feared to confront the states or the people in their most angry hours, and to tell them the truth to their faces. This commanding position he alone could stand upon, for his countrymen knew the generosity which had sacrificed his all for them, the self-denial which had eluded rather than sought political advancement, whether from king or people, and the untiring devotion which had consecrated a whole life to toil and danger in the cause of their emancipation. While, therefore, he was ever ready to rebuke, and always too honest to flatter, he at the same time possessed the eloquence which could convince or persuade.
He knew how to reach both the mind and the heart of his hearers. His orations, whether extemporaneous or prepared; his written messages to the states-general, to the provincial authorities, to the municipal bodies; his private correspondence with men of all ranks, from emperors and kings down to secretaries, and even children—all show an easy flow of language, a fulness of thought, a power of expression rare in that age, a fund of historical allusion, a considerable power of imagination, a warmth of sentiment, a breadth of view, a directness of purpose, a range of qualities, in short, which would in themselves have stamped him as one of the master minds of his century, had there been no other monument to his memory than the remains of his spoken or written eloquence. The bulk of his performances in this department was prodigious. Not even Philip was more industrious in the cabinet. Not even Granvelle held a more facile pen. He wrote and spoke equally well in French German, or Flemish, and he possessed, besides, Spanish, Italian, Latin. The weight of his correspondence alone would have almost sufficed for the common industry of a lifetime, and although many volumes of his speeches and letters have been published, there remain in the various archives of the Netherlands and Germany many documents from his hand which will probably never see the light. If the capacity for unremitted intellectual labor in an honorable cause be the measure of human greatness, few minds could be compared to the “large composition” of this man. The efforts made to destroy the Netherlands by the most laborious and painstaking of tyrants were counteracted by the industry of the most indefatigable of patriots.
Thus his eloquence, oral or written, gave a him almost boundless power over his countrymen. He possessed, also, a rare perception of human character, together with an iron memory which never lost a face, a place, or an event, once seen or known. He read the minds, even the faces, of men, like printed books. No man could overreach him, excepting only those to whom he gave his heart. He might be mistaken where he had confided, never where he had been distrustful or indifferent. He was deceived by Renneberg, by his brother-in-law Van den Berg, by the Duke of Anjou. Had it been possible for his brother Louis or his brother John to have proved false, he might have been deceived by them. He was never outwitted by Philip, or Granvelle, or Don John, or Alexander of Parma. Anna of Saxony was false to him, and entered into correspondence with the royal governors and with the King of Spain; Charlotte of Bourbon or Louisa de Coligny might have done the same had it been possible for their natures also to descend to such depths of guile.
As for the Aerschot’s, the Havré’s, the Chimay’s, he was never influenced either by their blandishments or their plots. He was willing to use them when their interest made them friendly, or to crush them when their intrigues against his policy rendered them dangerous. The adroitness with which he converted their schemes in behalf of Matthias, of Don John, of Anjou, into so many additional weapons for his own cause, can never be too often studied. It is instructive to observe the wiles of the Machiavellian school employed by a master of the craft, to frustrate, not to advance, a knavish purpose. This character, in a great measure, marked his whole policy. He was profoundly skilled in the subtleties of Italian statesmanship, which he had learned as a youth at the Imperial court, and which he employed in his manhood in the service, not of tyranny, but of liberty. He fought the Inquisition with its own weapons. He dealt with Philip on his own ground. He excavated the earth beneath the king’s feet by a more subtle process than that practiced by the most fraudulent monarch that ever governed the Spanish empire, and Philip, chain-mailed as he was in complicated wiles, was pierced to the quick by a keener policy than his own.
Ten years long the king placed daily his most secret letters in hands which regularly transmitted copies of the correspondence to the Prince of Orange, together with a key to the ciphers and every other illustration which might be required. Thus the secrets of the king were always as well known to Orange as to himself, and the prince being as prompt as Philip was hesitating, the schemes could often be frustrated before their execution had been commenced. The crime of the unfortunate clerk, John de Castillo, was discovered in the autumn of the year 1581, and he was torn to pieces by four horses. Perhaps his treason to the monarch whose bread he was eating, while he received a regular salary from the king’s most determined foe, deserved even this horrible punishment, but casuists must determine how much guilt attaches to the prince for his share in the transaction. This history is not the eulogy of Orange, although, in discussing his character, it is difficult to avoid the monotony of panegyric. Judged by a severe moral standard, it cannot be called virtuous or honorable to suborn treachery or any other crime, even to accomplish a lofty purpose; yet the universal practice of mankind in all ages has tolerated the artifices of war, and no people has ever engaged in a holier or more mortal contest than did the Netherlands in their great struggle with Spain. Orange possessed the rare quality of caution, a characteristic by which he was distinguished from his youth. At fifteen he was the confidential counsellor, as at twenty-one he became the general-in-chief, to the most politic, as well as the most warlike potentate of his age, and if he at times indulged in wiles which modern statesmanship, even while it practices, condemns, he ever held in his hand the clue of an honorable purpose to guide him through the tortuous labyrinth.
It is difficult to find any other characteristic deserving of grave censure, but his enemies have adopted a simpler process. They have been able to find few flaws in his nature, and therefore have denounced it in gross. It is not that his character was here and there defective, but that the eternal jewel was false. The patriotism was counterfeit; the self-abnegation and the generosity were counterfeit. He was governed only by ambition, by a desire of personal advancement. They never attempted to deny his talents, his industry, his vast sacrifices of wealth and station, but they ridiculed the idea that he could have been inspired by any but unworthy motives. God alone knows the heart of man. He alone can unweave the tangled skein of human motives, and detect the hidden springs of human action, but as far as can be judged by a careful observation of undisputed facts, and by a diligent collation of public and private documents, it would seem that no man—not even Washington—has ever been inspired by a purer patriotism. At any rate, the charge of ambition and self-seeking can only be answered by a reference to the whole picture which these volumes have attempted to portray. The words, the deeds, of the man are there. As much as possible, his inmost soul is revealed in his confidential letters, and he who looks in a right spirit will hardly fail to find what he desires.
Whether originally of a timid temperament or not, he was certainly possessed of perfect courage at last. In siege and battle, in the deadly air of pestilential cities, in the long exhaustion of mind and body which comes from unduly protracted labor and anxiety, amid the countless conspiracies of assassins, he was daily exposed to death in every shape. Within two years, five different attempts against his life had been discovered. Rank and fortune were offered to any malefactor who would compass the murder. He had already been shot through the head, and almost mortally wounded. Under such circumstances even a brave man might have seen a pitfall at every step, a dagger in every hand, and poison in every cup. On the contrary, he was ever cheerful, and hardly took more precaution than usual. “God in his mercy,” said he, with unaffected simplicity, “will maintain my innocence and my honor during my life and in future ages. As to my fortune and my life, I have dedicated both, long since, to His service. He will do therewith what pleases Him for His glory and my salvation.” Thus his suspicions were not even excited by the ominous face of Gérard, when he first presented himself at the dining room door. The prince laughed off his wife’s prophetic apprehension at the sight of his murderer, and was as cheerful as usual to the last.
He possessed, too, that which to the heathen philosopher seemed the greatest good—the sound mind in the sound body. His physical frame was after death found so perfect that a long life might have been in store for him, notwithstanding all which he had endured. The desperate illness of 1574, the frightful gunshot wound inflicted by Jaureguy in 1582, had left no traces. The physicians pronounced that his body presented an aspect of perfect health. His temperament was cheerful. At table, the pleasures of which, in moderation, were his only relaxation, he was always animated and merry, and this jocoseness was partly natural, partly intentional. In the darkest hours of his country’s trial, he affected a serenity which he was far from feeling, so that his apparent gaiety at momentous epochs was even censured by dullards, who could not comprehend its philosophy, nor applaud the flippancy of William the Silent.
He went through life bearing the load of a people’s sorrows upon his shoulders with a smiling face. Their name was the last word upon his lips, save the simple affirmative, with which the soldier who had been battling for the right all his lifetime, commended his soul in dying “to his great captain, Christ.” The people were grateful and affectionate, for they trusted the character of their “Father William,” and not all the clouds which calumny could collect ever dimmed to their eyes the radiance of that lofty mind to which they were accustomed, in their darkest calamities, to look for light. As long as he lived, he was the guiding-star of a whole brave nation, and when he died the little children cried in the streets.