The Power and Self-Restraint of Orange, and the Atrocities of the Spaniards
The example thus set by Brill and Flushing was rapidly followed. The first half of the year 1572 was distinguished by a series of triumphs rendered still more remarkable by the reverses which followed at its close. Of a sudden, almost as it were by accident, a small but important seaport, the object for which the prince had so long been hoping, was secured. Instantly afterward, half the island of Walcheren renounced the yoke of Alva. Next, Enkhuizen, the key to the Zuyder Zee, the principal arsenal, and one of the first commercial cities in the Netherlands, rose against the Spanish admiral, and hung out the banner of Orange on its ramparts. The revolution effected here was purely the work of the people—of the mariners and burghers of the city. Moreover, the magistracy was set aside and the government of Alva repudiated without shedding one drop of blood, without a single wrong to person or property. By the same spontaneous movement, nearly all the important cities of Holland and Zealand raised the standard of him in whom they recognized their deliverer. The revolution was accomplished under nearly similar circumstances everywhere. With one fierce bound of enthusiasm the nation shook off its chain. Oudewater, Dort, Harlem, Leyden, Gorcum, Loewenstein, Gouda, Medenblik, Horn, Alkmaar, Edam, Monnikendam, Purmerende, as well as Flushing, Veer, and Enkhuizen, all ranged themselves under the government of Orange, as lawful stadholder for the king.
Nor was it in Holland and Zealand alone that the beacon fires of freedom were lighted. City after city in Gelderland, Overyssel, and the See of Utrecht; all the important towns of Friesland, some sooner, some later, some without a struggle, some after a short siege, some with resistance by the functionaries of government, some by amicable compromise, accepted the garrisons of the prince, and formally recognized his authority. Out of the chaos which a long and preternatural tyranny had produced, the first struggling elements of a new and a better world began to appear. It were superfluous to narrate the details which marked the sudden restoration of liberty in these various groups of cities. Traits of generosity marked the change of government in some, circumstances of ferocity disfigured the revolution in others. The island of Walcheren, equally divided as it was between the two parties, was the scene of much truculent and diabolical warfare. It is difficult to say whether the mutual hatred of race or the animosity of religious difference proved the deadlier venom. The combats were perpetual and sanguinary, the prisoners on both sides instantly executed. On more than one occasion, men were seen assisting to hang with their own hands and in cold blood their own brothers, who had been taken prisoners in the enemy’s ranks. When the captives were too many to be hanged, they were tied back to back, two and two, and thus hurled into the sea. The islanders found a fierce pleasure in these acts of cruelty. A Spaniard had ceased to be human in their eyes. On one occasion, a surgeon at Veer cut the heart from a Spanish prisoner, nailed it on a vessel’s prow, and invited the townsmen to come and fasten their teeth in it, which many did with savage satisfaction.
In other parts of the country, the revolution was, on the whole, accomplished with comparative calmness. Even traits of generosity were not uncommon. The burgomaster of Gonda, long the supple slave of Alva and the Blood Council, fled for his life as the revolt broke forth in that city. He took refuge in the house of a certain widow, and begged for a place of concealment. The widow led him to a secret closet which served as a pantry. “Shall I be secure there?” asked the fugitive functionary. “O yes, sir Burgomaster,” replied the widow, “’twas in that very place that my husband lay concealed when you, accompanied by the officers of justice, were searching the house, that you might bring him to the scaffold for his religion. Enter the pantry, your worship; I will be responsible for your safety.” Thus faithfully did the humble widow of a hunted and murdered Calvinist protect the life of the magistrate who had brought desolation to her hearth.
Not all the conquests thus rapidly achieved in the cause of liberty were destined to endure, nor were any to be retained without a struggle. The little northern cluster of republics which had now restored its honor to the ancient Batavian name was destined, however, for a long and vigorous life. From that bleak isthmus the light of freedom was to stream through many years upon struggling humanity in Europe, a guiding pharos across a stormy sea; and Harlem, Leyden, Alkmaar—names hallowed by deeds of heroism such as have not often illustrated human annals—still breathe as trumpet-tongued and perpetual a defiance to despotism as Marathon, Thermopylae, or Salamis.
A new board of magistrates had been chosen in all the redeemed cities, by popular election. They were required to take an oath of fidelity to the King of Spain, and to the Prince of Orange as his stadholder; to promise resistance to the duke of Alva, the tenth penny, and the inquisition, “to support every man’s freedom and the welfare of the country; to protect widows, orphans, and miserable persons, and to maintain justice and truth.”
Diedrich Sonoy arrived on the second of June at Enkhuizen. He was provided by the prince with a commission, appointing him Lieutenant-Governor of North Holland or Waterland. Thus, to combat the authority of Alva was set up the authority of the king. The stadholderate over Holland and Zealand, to which the prince had been appointed in 1559, he now reassumed. Upon this fiction reposed the whole provisional polity of the revolted Netherlands. The government, as it gradually unfolded itself, from this epoch forward until the declaration of independence and the absolute renunciation of the Spanish sovereign power, will be sketched in a future chapter. The people at first claimed not an iota more of freedom than was secured by Philip’s coronation oath. There was no pretense that Philip was not sovereign, but there was a pretense and a determination to worship God according to conscience, and to reclaim the ancient political “liberties” of the land. So long as Alva reigned, the Blood-Council, the inquisition, and martial law, were the only codes or courts, and every charter slept. To recover this practical liberty and these historical rights, and to shake from their shoulders a most sanguinary government, was the purpose of William and of the people. No revolutionary standard was displayed.
The written instructions given by the prince to his Lieutenant Sonoy were to “see that the Word of God was preached, without, however, suffering any hindrance to the Roman Church in the exercise of its religion; to restore fugitives and the banished for conscience sake, and to require of all magistrates and officers of guilds and brotherhoods an oath of fidelity.” The prince likewise prescribed the form of that oath, repeating therein, to his eternal honor, the same strict prohibition of intolerance. “Likewise,” said the formula, “shall those of ‘the religion’ offer no let or hindrance to the Roman churches.”
The prince was still in Germany, engaged in raising troops and providing funds. He directed, however, the affairs of the insurgent provinces in their minutest details, by virtue of the dictatorship inevitably forced upon him both by circumstances and by the people. In the meantime, Louis of Nassau, the Bayard of the Netherlands, performed a most unexpected and brilliant exploit. He had been long in France, negotiating with the leaders of the Huguenots, and, more secretly, with the court. He was supposed by all the world to be still in that kingdom, when the startling intelligence arrived that he had surprised and captured the important city of Mons. This town, the capital of Hainault, situate in a fertile, undulating, and beautiful country, protected by lofty walls, a triple moat, and a strong citadel, was one of the most flourishing and elegant places in the Netherlands. It was, moreover, from its vicinity to the frontiers of France, a most important acquisition to the insurgent party. The capture was thus accomplished. A native of Mons, one Antony Oliver, a geographical painter, had insinuated himself into the confidence of Alva, for whom he had prepared at different times some remarkably well-executed maps of the country. Having occasion to visit France, he was employed by the duke to keep a watch upon the movements of Louis of Nassau, and to make a report as to the progress of his intrigues with the court of France. The painter, however, was only a spy in disguise, being in reality devoted to the cause of freedom, and a correspondent of Orange and his family. His communications with Louis, in Paris, had therefore a far different result from the one anticipated by Alva. A large number of adherents within the city of Mons had already been secured, and a plan was now arranged between Count Louis, Genlis, De la Noue, and other distinguished Huguenot chiefs, to be carried out with the assistance of the brave and energetic artist.
On the 23rd of May, Oliver appeared at the gates of Mons, accompanied by three wagons, ostensibly containing merchandise, but in reality laden with arquebusses. These were secretly distributed among his confederates in the city. In the course of the day Count Louis arrived in the neighborhood, accompanied by five hundred horsemen and a thousand foot soldiers. This force he stationed in close concealment within the thick forests between Maubeuge and Mons. Towards evening he sent twelve of the most trusty and daring of his followers, disguised as wine merchants, into the city. These individuals proceeded boldly to a public house, ordered their supper, and while conversing with the landlord, carelessly inquired at what hour next morning the city gates would be opened. They were informed that the usual hour was four in the morning, but that a trifling present to the porter would ensure admission, if they desired it, at an earlier hour. They explained their inquiries by a statement that they had some casks of wine which they wished to introduce into the city before sunrise. Having obtained all the information which they needed, they soon afterwards left the tavern. The next day they presented themselves very early at the gate, which the porter, on promise of a handsome “drink-penny,” agreed to unlock. No sooner were the bolts withdrawn, however, than he was struck dead, while about fifty dragoons rode through the gate. The count and his followers now galloped over the city in the morning twilight, shouting “France! liberty! the town is ours!” “The Prince is coming!” “Down with the tenth penny; down with the murderous Alva!” So soon as a burgher showed his wondering face at the window, they shot at him with their carbines. They made as much noise, and conducted themselves as boldly as if they had been at least a thousand strong.
Meantime, however, the streets remained empty; not one of their secret confederates showing himself. Fifty men could surprise, but were too few to keep possession of the city. The count began to suspect a trap. As daylight approached the alarm spread; the position of the little band was critical. In his impetuosity, Louis had far outstripped his army, but they had been directed to follow hard upon his footsteps, and he was astonished that their arrival was so long delayed. The suspense becoming intolerable, he rode out of the city in quest of his adherents, and found them wandering in the woods, where they had completely lost their way. Ordering each horseman to take a foot soldier on the crupper behind him, he led them rapidly back to Mons. On the way they were encountered by La Noue, “with the iron arm,” and Genlis, who, meantime, had made an unsuccessful attack to recover Valenciennes, which within a few hours had been won and lost again. As they reached the gates of Mons, they found themselves within a hair’s breadth of being too late; their adherents had not come forth; the citizens had been aroused; the gates were all fast but one—and there the porter was quarrelling with a French soldier about an arquebus. The drawbridge across the moat was at the moment rising; the last entrance was closing, when Guitoy de Chaumont, a French officer, mounted on a light Spanish barb, sprang upon the bridge as it rose. His weight caused it to sink again, the gate was forced, and Louis with all his men rode triumphantly into the town.
The citizens were forthwith assembled by sound of bell in the market-place. The clergy, the magistracy, and the general council were all present. Genlis made the first speech, in which he disclaimed all intention of making conquests in the interest of France. This pledge having been given, Louis of Nassau next addressed the assembly. “The magistrates,” said he, “have not understood my intentions. I protest that I am no rebel to the king; I prove it by asking no new oaths from any man. Remain bound by your old oaths of allegiance; let the magistrates continue to exercise their functions—to administer justice. I imagine that no person will suspect a brother of the Prince of Orange capable of any design against the liberties of the country. As to the Catholic religion, I take it under my very particular protection. You will ask why I am in Mons at the head of an armed force: are any of you ignorant of Alva’s cruelties? The overthrow of this tyrant is as much the interest of the king as of the people, therefore there is nothing in my present conduct inconsistent with fidelity to his Majesty. Against Alva alone I have taken up arms; ’tis to protect you against his fury that I am here. It is to prevent the continuance of a general rebellion that I make war upon him. The only proposition which I have to make to you is this—I demand that you declare Alva de Toledo a traitor to the king, the executioner of the people, an enemy to the country, unworthy of the government, and hereby deprived of his authority.”
The magistracy did not dare to accept so bold a proposition; the general council, composing the more popular branch of the municipal government, were comparatively inclined to favor Nassau, and many of its members voted for the downfall of the tyrant. Nevertheless the demands of Count Louis were rejected. His position thus became critical. The civic authorities refused to pay for his troops, who were, moreover, too few in number to resist the inevitable siege. The patriotism of the citizens was not to be repressed, however, by the authority of the magistrates; many rich proprietors of the great cloth and silk manufactories, for which Mons was famous, raised and armed companies at their own expense; many volunteer troops were also speedily organized and drilled, and the fortifications were put in order. No attempt was made to force the reformed religion upon the inhabitants, and even Catholics who were discovered in secret correspondence with the enemy were treated with such extreme gentleness by Nassau as to bring upon him severe reproaches from many of his own party.
A large collection of ecclesiastical plate, jewelry, money, and other valuables, which had been sent to the city for safe keeping from the churches and convents of the provinces, was seized, and thus, with little bloodshed and no violence, was the important city secured for the insurgents. Three days afterwards, 2,000 infantry, chiefly French, arrived in the place. In the early part of the following month Louis was still further strengthened by the arrival of 1,300 foot and 1,200 horsemen, under command of Count Montgomery, the celebrated officer, whose spear at the tournament had proved fatal to Henry II.
Thus the Duke of Alva suddenly found himself exposed to a tempest of revolution. One thunderbolt after another seemed descending around him in breathless succession. Brill and Flushing had been already lost; Middelburg was so closely invested that its fall seemed imminent, and with it would go the whole island of Walcheren, the key to all the Netherlands. In one morning he had heard of the revolt of Enkhuizen and of the whole Waterland; two hours later came the news of the Valenciennes rebellion, and next day the astonishing capture of Mons. One disaster followed hard upon another. He could have sworn that the detested Louis of Nassau, who had dealt this last and most fatal stroke, was at that moment in Paris, safely watched by government emissaries; and now he had, as it were, suddenly started out of the earth, to deprive him of this important city, and to lay bare the whole frontier to the treacherous attacks of faithless France. He refused to believe the intelligence when it was first announced to him, and swore that he had certain information that Count Louis had been seen playing in the tennis-court at Paris, within so short a period as to make his presence in Hainault at that moment impossible. Forced, at last, to admit the truth of the disastrous news, he dashed his hat upon the ground in a fury, uttering imprecations upon the Queen Dowager of France, to whose perfidious intrigues he ascribed the success of the enterprise, and pledging himself to send her Spanish thistles enough in return for the Florentine lilies which she had thus bestowed upon him.
In the midst of the perplexities thus thickening around him, the duke preserved his courage, if not his temper. Blinded for a brief season by the rapid attacks made upon him, he had been uncertain whither to direct his vengeance. This last blow in so vital a quarter determined him at once. He forthwith dispatched Don Frederic to undertake the siege of Mons, and earnestly set about raising large reinforcements to his army. Don Frederic took possession, without much opposition, of the Bethlehem cloister in the immediate vicinity of the city, and with 4,000 troops began the investment in due form.
Alva had, for a long time, been most impatient to retire from the provinces. Even he was capable of human emotions. Through the sevenfold panoply of his pride he had been pierced by the sharpness of a nation’s curse. He was wearied with the unceasing execrations which assailed his ears. “The hatred which the people bear me,” said he, in a letter to Philip, “because of the chastisement which it has been necessary for me to inflict, although with all the moderation in the world, make all my efforts vain. A successor will meet more sympathy and prove more useful.” On the 10th of June, the Duke of Medina Cœli, with a fleet of more than forty sail, arrived off Blankenburg, intending to enter the Scheld. Julian Romero, with 2,000 Spaniards, was also on board the fleet. Nothing, of course, was known to the newcomers of the altered condition of affairs in the Netherlands, nor of the unwelcome reception which they were like to meet in Flushing. A few of the lighter craft having been taken by the patriot cruisers, the alarm was spread through all the fleet. Medina Cœli, with a few transports, was enabled to effect his escape to Sluys, whence he hastened to Brussels in a much less ceremonious manner than he had originally contemplated. Twelve Biscayan ships stood out to sea, descried a large Lisbon fleet, by a singular coincidence, suddenly heaving in sight, changed their course again, and with a favoring breeze bore boldly up the Hond, passed Flushing in spite of a severe cannonade from the forts, and eventually made good their entrance into Rammekens, whence the soldiery, about one half of whom had thus been saved, were transferred at a very critical moment to Middelburg.
The great Lisbon fleet followed in the wake of the Biscayans, with much inferior success. Totally ignorant of the revolution which had occurred in the Ise of Walcheren, it obeyed the summons of the rebel fort to come to anchor, and, with the exception of three or four, the vessels were all taken. It was the richest booty which the insurgents had yet acquired by sea or land. The fleet was laden with spices, money, jewelry, and the richest merchandise. Five hundred thousand crowns of gold were taken, and it was calculated that the plunder altogether would suffice to maintain the war for two years at least. One thousand Spanish soldiers, and a good amount of ammunition, were also captured. The unexpected condition of affairs made a pause natural and almost necessary, before the government could be decorously transferred. Medina Cœli, with Spanish grandiloquence, avowed his willingness to serve as a soldier, under a general whom he so much venerated, while Alva ordered that, in all respects, the same outward marks of respect should be paid to his appointed successor as to himself. Beneath all this external ceremony, however, much mutual malice was concealed.
Meantime, the duke, who was literally “without a single real,” was forced at last to smother his pride in the matter of the tenth penny. On the 24th of June, he summoned the estates of Holland to assemble on the 15th of the ensuing month. In the missive issued for this purpose, he formally agreed to abolish the whole tax, on condition that the estates-general of the Netherlands would furnish him with a yearly supply of two millions of florins. Almost at the same moment the king had dismissed the deputies of the estates from Madrid, with the public assurance that the tax was to be suspended, and a private intimation that it was not abolished in terms, only in order to save the dignity of the duke.
These healing measures came entirely too late. The estates of Holland met, indeed, on the appointed day of July, but they assembled not in obedience to Alva, but in consequence of a summons from William of Orange. They met, too, not at the Hague, but at Dort, to take formal measures for renouncing the authority of the duke. The first congress of the Netherland commonwealth still professed loyalty to the Crown, but was determined to accept the policy of Orange without a question.
The prince had again assembled an army in Germany, consisting of 15,000 foot and 7,000 horse, besides a number of Netherlanders, mostly Walloons, amounting to nearly 3,000 more. Before taking the field, however, it was necessary that he should guarantee at least three months’ pay to his troops. This he could no longer do, except by giving bonds endorsed by certain cities of Holland as his securities. He had accordingly addressed letters in his own name to all the principal cities, fervently adjuring them to remember, at last, what was due to him, to the fatherland, and to their own character. “Let not a sum of gold,” said he in one of these letters, “be to dear to you, that for its sake you will sacrifice your lives, your wives, your children, and all your descendants, to the latest generations; that you will bring sin and shame upon yourselves, and destruction upon us who have so heartily striven to assist you. Think what scorn you will incur from foreign nations, what a crime you will commit against the Lord God, what a bloody yoke ye will impose forever upon yourselves and your children, if you now seek for subterfuges; if you now prevent us from taking the field with the troops which we have enlisted. On the other hand, what inexpressible benefits you will confer on your country, if you now help us to rescue that fatherland from the power of Spanish vultures and wolves.”
This and similar missives, circulated throughout the province of Holland, produced a deep impression. In accordance with his suggestions, the deputies from the nobility and from twelve cities of that province assembled on the 15th of July, at Dort. Strictly speaking, the estates or government of Holland, the body which represented the whole people, consisted of the nobles and six great cities. On this occasion, however, Amsterdam being still in the power of the king, could send no deputies, while, on the other hand, all the small towns were invited to send up their representatives to the Congress. Eight accepted the proposal; the rest declined to appoint delegates, partly from motives of economy, partly from timidity.
These estates were the legitimate representatives of the people, but they had no legislative powers. The people had never pretended to sovereignty, nor did they claim it now. The source from which the government of the Netherlands was supposed to proceed was still the divine mandate. Even now the estates silently conceded, as they had ever done, the supreme legislative and executive functions to the land’s master. Upon Philip of Spain, as representative of Count Dirk I of Holland, had descended, through many tortuous channels, the divine effluence originally supplied by Charles the Simple of France. That supernatural power was not contested, but it was now ingeniously turned against the sovereign. The king’s authority was invoked against himself in the person of the Prince of Orange, to whom, thirteen years before, a portion of that divine right had been delegated. The estates of Holland met at Dort on the 15th of July, as representatives of the people, but they were summoned by Orange, royally commissioned in 1559 as stadholder, and therefore the supreme legislative and executive officer of certain provinces. This was the theory of the provisional government. The prince represented the royal authority, the nobles represented both themselves and the people of the open country, while the twelve cities represented the whole body of burghers. Together, they were supposed to embody all authority, both divine and human, which a congress could exercise. Thus the whole movement was directed against Alva and against Count Bossu, appointed stadholder by Alva in the place of Orange. Philip’s name was destined to figure for a long time, at the head of documents by which monies were raised, troops levied, and taxes used in deadly war against himself.
The estates were convened on the 15th of July, when Paul Buys, pensionary of Leyden, the tried and confidential friend of Orange, was elected Advocate of Holland. The convention was then adjourned till the 18th, when Saint Aldegonde made his appearance, with full powers to act provisionally in behalf of his Highness.
The distinguished plenipotentiary delivered before the Congress a long and very effective harangue. He recalled the sacrifices and efforts of the prince during previous years. He adverted to the disastrous campaign of 1568, in which the prince had appeared full of high hope, at the head of a gallant army, but had been obliged, after a short period, to retire, because not a city had opened its gates nor a Netherlander lifted his finger in the cause. Nevertheless, he had not lost courage nor closed his heart; and now that, through the blessing of God, the eyes of men had been opened, and so many cities had declared against the tyrant, the prince had found himself exposed to a bitter struggle. Although his own fortunes had been ruined in the cause, he had been unable to resist the daily flood of petitions which called upon him to come forward once more. He had again importuned his relations and powerful friends; he had at last set on foot a new and well-appointed army. The day of payment had arrived. Over his own head impended perpetual shame, over the fatherland perpetual woe, if the Congress should now refuse the necessary supplies. “Arouse ye, then,” cried the orator, with fervor, “awaken your own zeal and that of your sister cities. Seize Opportunity by the locks, who never appeared fairer than she does today.”
The impassioned eloquence of St. Aldegonde produced a profound impression. The men who had obstinately refused the demands of Alva, now unanimously resolved to pour forth their gold and their blood at the call of Orange. “Truly,” wrote the duke, a little later, “it almost drives me mad to see the difficulty with which your Majesty’s supplies are furnished, and the liberality with which the people place their lives and fortunes at the disposal of this rebel.” It seemed strange to the loyal governor that men should support their liberator with greater alacrity than that with which they served their destroyer! It was resolved that the requisite amount should be at once raised, partly from the regular imposts and current “requests,” partly by loans from the rich, from the clergy, from the guilds and brotherhoods, partly from superfluous church ornaments and other costly luxuries. It was directed that subscriptions should be immediately opened throughout the land, that gold and silver plate, furniture, jewelry, and other expensive articles should be received by voluntary contributions, for which inventories and receipts should be given by the magistrates of each city, and that upon these money should be raised, either by loan or sale. An enthusiastic and liberal spirit prevailed. All seemed determined rather than pay the tenth to Alva to pay the whole to the prince.
The estates, furthermore, by unanimous resolution, declared that they recognized the prince as the king’s lawful stadholder over Holland, Zealand, Friesland, and Utrecht, and that they would use their influence with the other provinces to procure his appointment as Protector of all the Netherlands during the king’s absence. His Highness was requested to appoint an admiral, on whom, with certain deputies from the Water-cities, the conduct of the maritime war should devolve. The conduct of the military operations by land was to be directed by Dort, Leyden, and Enkhuizen, in conjunction with the Count de la Marck. A pledge was likewise exchanged between the estates and the plenipotentiary, that neither party should enter into any treaty with the king, except by full consent and cooperation of the other. With regard to religion, it was firmly established that the public exercises of divine worship should be permitted not only to the Reformed Church, but to the Roman Catholic, the clergy of both being protected from all molestation.
After these proceedings, Count de la Marck made his appearance before the assembly. His commission from Orange was read to the deputies, and by them ratified. The prince, in that document, authorized “his dear cousin” to enlist troops, to accept the fealty of cities, to furnish them with garrisons, to re-establish all the local laws, municipal rights, and ancient privileges which had been suppressed. He was to maintain freedom of religion, under penalty of death, to those who infringed it; he was to restore all confiscated property; he was, with advice of his council, to continue in office such city magistrates as were favorable, and to remove those adverse to the cause.
The prince was, in reality, clothed with dictatorial and even regal powers. This authority had been forced upon him by the prayers of the people, but he manifested no eagerness as he partly accepted the onerous station. He was provisionally the depositary of the whole sovereignty of the northern provinces, but he cared much less for theories of government than for ways and means. It was his object to release the country from the tyrant who, five years long, had been burning and butchering the people. It was his determination to drive out the foreign soldiery. To do this, he must meet his enemy in the field. So little was he disposed to strengthen his own individual power, that he voluntarily imposed limits on himself, by an act, supplemental to the proceedings of the Congress of Dort. In this important ordinance made by the Prince of Orange, as a provisional form of government, he publicly announced “that he would do and ordain nothing except by the advice of the estates, by reason that they were best acquainted with the circumstances and the humors of the inhabitants.” He directed the estates to appoint receivers for all public taxes, and ordained that all military officers should make oath of fidelity to him, as stadholder, and to the estates of Holland, to be true and obedient, in order to liberate the land from the Albanian and Spanish tyranny, for the service of his royal Majesty as Count of Holland. The provisional constitution, thus made by a sovereign prince and actual dictator, was certainly as disinterested as it was sagacious.
Meanwhile the war had opened vigorously in Hainault. Louis of Nassau had no sooner found himself in possession of Mons than he had dispatched Genlis to France, for those reinforcements which had been promised by royal lips. On the other hand, Don Frederic held the city closely beleaguered; sharp combats before the walls were of almost daily occurrence, but it was obvious that Louis would be unable to maintain the position into which he had so chivalrously thrown himself unless he should soon receive important succor. The necessary reinforcements were soon upon the way. Genlis had made good speed with his levy, and it was soon announced that he was advancing into Hainault, with a force of Huguenots, whose numbers report magnified to 10,000 veterans. Louis dispatched an earnest message to his confederate, to use extreme caution in his approach. Above all things, he urged him, before attempting to throw reinforcements into the city, to effect a junction with the Prince of Orange, who had already crossed the Rhine with his new army.
Genlis, full of overweening confidence, and desirous of acquiring singly the whole glory of relieving the city, disregarded this advice. His rashness proved his ruin, and the temporary prostration of the cause of freedom. Pushing rapidly forward across the French frontier, he arrived, towards the middle of July, within two leagues of Mons. The Spaniards were aware of his approach, and well prepared to frustrate his project. On the 19th, he found himself upon a circular plain of about a league’s extent, surrounded with coppices and forests, and dotted with farmhouses and kitchen gardens. Here he paused to send out a reconnoitering party. The little detachment was, however, soon driven in, with the information that Don Frederic of Toledo, with 10,000 men, was coming instantly upon them. The Spanish force, in reality, numbered 4,000 infantry, and 1,500 cavalry; but 3,000 half-armed boors had been engaged by Don Frederic, to swell his apparent force. The demonstration produced its effect, and no sooner had the first panic of the intelligence been spread, than Noircarmes came charging upon them at the head of his cavalry. The infantry arrived directly afterwards, and the Huguenots were routed almost as soon as seen. It was a meeting rather than a battle. The slaughter of the French was very great, while but an insignificant number of the Spaniards fell. Chiappin Vitelli was the hero of the day. It was to his masterly arrangements before the combat, and to his animated exertions upon the field, that the victory was owing. Having been severely wounded in the thigh but a few days previously, he caused himself to be carried upon a litter in a recumbent position in front of his troops, and was everywhere seen, encouraging their exertions, and exposing himself, crippled as he was, to the whole brunt of the battle. To him the victory nearly proved fatal; to Don Frederic it brought increased renown. Vitelli’s exertions, in his precarious condition, brought on severe inflammation, under which he nearly succumbed, while the son of Alva reaped extensive fame from the total overthrow of the veteran Huguenots, due rather to his lieutenant and to Julian Romero.
The number of dead left by the French upon the plain amounted to at least 1,200, but a much larger number was butchered in detail by the peasantry, among whom they attempted to take refuge, and who had not yet forgotten the barbarities inflicted by their countrymen in the previous war. Many officers were taken prisoners, among whom was the commander-in-chief, Genlis. That unfortunate gentleman was destined to atone for his rashness and obstinacy with his life. He was carried to the castle of Antwerp, where, sixteen months afterwards, he was secretly strangled by command of Alva, who caused the report to be circulated that he had died a natural death. About one hundred foot soldiers succeeded in making their entrance into Mons, and this was all the succor which Count Louis was destined to receive from France, upon which country he had built such lofty and such reasonable hopes.
While this unfortunate event was occurring, the prince had already put his army in motion. On the seventh of July he had crossed the Rhine at Duisburg, with 14,000 foot, 7,000 horse, enlisted in Germany, besides a force of 3,000 Walloons. On the 23rd of July, he took the city of Roermond, after a sharp cannonade, at which place his troops already began to disgrace the honorable cause in which they were engaged, by imitating the cruelties and barbarities of their antagonists. The persons and property of the burghers were, with a very few exceptions, respected; but many priests and monks were put to death by the soldiery under circumstances of great barbarity. The prince, incensed at such conduct, but being unable to exercise very stringent authority over troops whose wages he was not yet able to pay in full, issued a proclamation, denouncing such excesses, and commanding his followers, upon pain of death, to respect the rights of all individuals, whether papist or Protestant, and to protect religious exercises both in Catholic and Reformed churches.
It was hardly to be expected that the troops enlisted by the prince in the same great magazine of hireling soldiers, Germany, from whence the duke also derived his annual supplies, would be likely to differ very much in their propensities from those enrolled under Spanish banners; yet there was a vast contrast between the characters of the two commanders. One leader inculcated the practice of robbery, rape, and murder, as a duty, and issued distinct orders to butcher “every mother’s son” in the cities which he captured; the other restrained every excess to the utmost of his ability, protecting not only life and property, but even the ancient religion.
The Emperor Maximilian had again issued his injunctions against the military operations of Orange. Bound to the monarch of Spain by so many family ties, being at once cousin, brother-in-law, and father-in-law of Philip, it was difficult for him to maintain the attitude which became him, as chief of that Empire to which the peace of Passau had assured religious freedom. It had, however, been sufficiently proved that remonstrances and intercessions addressed to Philip were but idle breath. It had therefore become an insult to require pacific conduct from the prince on the ground of any past or future mediation. It was a still grosser mockery to call upon him to discontinue hostilities because the Netherlands were included in the Empire, and therefore protected by the treaties of Passau and Augsburg. Well did the prince reply to his Imperial Majesty’s summons in a temperate but cogent letter, which he addressed to him from his camp, that all intercessions had proved fruitless, and that the only help for the Netherlands was the sword.
The prince had been delayed for a month at Roermonde, because, as he expressed it, “he had not a single sou,” and because, in consequence, the troops refused to advance into the Netherlands. Having at last been furnished with the requisite guarantees from the Holland cities for three months’ pay, on the 27th of August, the day of the publication of his letter to the Emperor, he crossed the Meuse and took his circuitous way through Diest, Tirlemont, Sichem, Louvain, Mechlin, Termonde, Oudenarde, Nivelles. Many cities and villages accepted his authority and admitted his garrisons. Of these Mechlin was the most considerable, in which he stationed a detachment of his troops. Its doom was sealed in that moment. Alva could not forgive this act of patriotism on the part of a town which had so recently excluded his own troops. “This is a direct permission of God,” he wrote, in the spirit of dire and revengeful prophecy, “for us to punish her as she deserves, for the image-breaking and other misdeeds done there in the time of Madame de Parma, which our Lord was not willing to pass over without chastisement.”
Meantime the prince continued his advance. Louvain purchased its neutrality for the time with 16,000 ducats; Brussels obstinately refused to listen to him, and was too powerful to be forcibly attacked at that juncture; other important cities, convinced by the arguments and won by the eloquence of the various proclamations which he scattered as he advanced, ranged themselves spontaneously and even enthusiastically upon his side. How different would have been the result of his campaign but for the unexpected earthquake which at that instant was to appall Christendom, and to scatter all his well-matured plans and legitimate hopes. His chief reliance, under Providence and his own strong heart, had been upon French assistance. Although Genlis, by his misconduct, had sacrificed his army and himself, yet the prince was still justly sanguine as to the policy of the French court. The papers which had been found in the possession of Genlis by his conquerors all spoke one language. “You would be struck with stupor,” wrote Alva’s secretary, “could you see a letter which is now in my power, addressed by the king of France to Louis of Nassau.” In that letter the king had declared his determination to employ all the forces which God had placed in his hands to rescue the Netherlands from the oppression under which they were groaning. In accordance with the whole spirit and language of the French government, was the tone of Coligny in his correspondence with Orange. The admiral assured the prince that there was no doubt as to the earnestness of the royal intentions in behalf of the Netherlands, and recommending extreme caution, announced his hope within a few days to effect a junction with him at the head of 12,000 French arquebusiers, and at least 3,000 cavalry. Well might the Prince of Orange, strong, and soon to be strengthened, boast that the Netherlands were free, and that Alva was in his power. He had a right to be sanguine, for nothing less than a miracle could now destroy his generous hopes—and, alas! the miracle took place; a miracle of perfidy and bloodshed such as the world, familiar as it had ever been and was still to be with massacre, had not yet witnessed. On the 11th of August, Coligny had written thus hopefully of his movements towards the Netherlands, sanctioned and aided by his King. A fortnight from that day occurred the “Paris wedding,” and the admiral, with thousands of his religious confederates, invited to confidence by superhuman treachery, and lulled into security by the music of august marriage bells, was suddenly butchered in the streets of Paris by royal and noble hands.
The prince proceeded on his march, during which the heavy news had been brought to him, but he felt convinced that, with the very arrival of the awful tidings, the fate of that campaign was sealed, and the fall of Mons inevitable. In his own language, he had been struck to the earth “with the blow of a sledgehammer”; nor did the enemy draw a different augury from the great event.
The crime was not committed with the connivance of the Spanish government. On the contrary, the two courts were at the moment bitterly hostile to each other. In the beginning of the summer, Charles IX and his advisers were as false to Philip, as at the end of it they were treacherous to Coligny and Orange. The massacre of the Huguenots had not even the merit of being a well-contrived and intelligently executed scheme. We have seen how steadily, seven years before, Catharine de’ Medici had rejected the advances of Alva towards the arrangement of a general plan for the extermination of all heretics within France and the Netherlands at the same moment. We have seen the disgust with which Alva turned from the wretched young king at Bayonne, when he expressed the opinion that to take arms against his own subjects was wholly out of the question, and could only be followed by general ruin. “’Tis easy to see that he has been tutored,” wrote Alva to his master. Unfortunately, the same mother, who had then instilled those lessons of hypocritical benevolence, had now wrought upon her son’s cowardly but ferocious nature with a far different intent. The incomplete assassination of Coligny, the dread of signal vengeance at the hands of the Huguenots, the necessity of taking the lead in the internecine struggle, were employed with Medicean art, and with entire success. The king was lashed into a frenzy. Starting to his feet, with a howl of rage and terror, “I agree to the scheme,” he cried, “provided not one Huguenot be left alive in France to reproach me with the deed.”
That night the slaughter commenced. The long premeditated crime was executed in a panic, but the work was thoroughly done. The king, who a few days before had written with his own hand to Louis of Nassau, expressing his firm determination to sustain the Protestant cause both in France and the Netherlands, who had employed the counsels of Coligny in the arrangement of his plans, and who had sent French troops, under Genlis and La Noue, to assist their Calvinist brethren in Flanders, now gave the signal for the general massacre of the Protestants, and with his own hands, from his own palace windows, shot his subjects with his arquebus as if they had been wild beasts.
Between Sunday and Tuesday, according to one of the most moderate calculations, 5,000 Parisians of all ranks were murdered. Within the whole kingdom, the number of victims was variously estimated at from 25,000 to 100,000. The heart of Protestant Europe, for an instant, stood still with horror. The Queen of England put on mourning weeds, and spurned the apologies of the French envoy with contempt. At Rome, on the contrary, the news of the massacre created a joy beyond description. The pope, accompanied by his cardinals, went solemnly to the church of Saint Mark to render thanks to God for the grace thus singularly vouchsafed to the Holy See and to all Christendom; and a Te Deum was performed in presence of the same august assemblage.
But nothing could exceed the satisfaction which the event occasioned in the mind of Philip II. There was an end now of all assistance from the French government to the Netherland Protestants. “The news of the events upon Saint Bartholomew’s-day,” wrote the French envoy at Madrid, Saint Goard, to Charles IX, “arrived on the 7th September. The King, on receiving the intelligence, showed, contrary to his natural custom, so much gaiety, that he seemed more delighted than with all the good fortune or happy incidents which had ever before occurred to him. He called all his familiars about him in order to assure them that your Majesty was his good brother, and that no one else deserved the title of Most Christian. He sent his secretary Cayas to me with his felicitations upon the event, and with the information that he was just going to Saint Jerome to render thanks to God, and to offer his prayers that your Majesty might receive Divine support in this great affair. I went to see him next morning, and as soon as I came into his presence he began to laugh, and with demonstrations of extreme contentment, to praise your Majesty as deserving your title of Most Christian, telling me there was no King worthy to be your Majesty’s companion, either for valor or prudence. He praised the steadfast resolution and the long dissimulation of so great an enterprise, which all the world would not be able to comprehend.”
“I thanked him,” continued the ambassador, “and I said that I thanked God for enabling your Majesty to prove to his Master that his apprentice had learned his trade, and deserved his title of most Christian King. I added, that he ought to confess that he owed the preservation of the Netherlands to your Majesty.”
Nothing certainly could, in Philip’s apprehension, be more delightful than this most unexpected and most opportune intelligence. Charles IX, whose intrigues in the Netherlands he had long known, had now been suddenly converted by this stupendous crime into his most powerful ally, while at the same time the Protestants of Europe would learn that there was still another crowned head in Christendom more deserving of abhorrence than himself. He wrote immediately to Alva, expressing his satisfaction that the King of France had disembarrassed himself of such pernicious men, because he would now be obliged to cultivate the friendship of Spain, neither the English Queen nor the German Protestants being thenceforth capable of trusting him. He informed the duke, moreover, that the French envoy, Saint Goard, had been urging him to command the immediate execution of Genlis and his companions, who had been made prisoners, as well as all the Frenchmen who would be captured in Mons, and that he fully concurred in the propriety of the measure. “The sooner,” said Philip, “these noxious plants are extirpated from the earth, the less fear there is that a fresh crop will spring up.” The monarch therefore added, with his own hand, to the letter, “I desire that if you have not already disembarrassed the world of them, you will do it immediately, and inform me thereof, for I see no reason why it should be deferred.” This is the demoniacal picture painted by the French ambassador, and by Philip’s own hand, of the Spanish monarch’s joy that his “Most Christian” brother had just murdered 25,000 of his own subjects. In this cold-blooded way, too, did his Catholic Majesty order the execution of some thousand Huguenots additionally, in order more fully to carry out his royal brother’s plans; yet Philip could write of himself, “that all the world recognized the gentleness of his nature and the mildness of his intentions.”
In truth, the advice thus given by Saint Goard on the subject of the French prisoners in Alva’s possessions, was a natural result of the Saint Bartholomew. Here were officers and soldiers whom Charles IX had himself sent into the Netherlands to fight for the Protestant cause against Philip and Alva. Already, the papers found upon them had placed him in some embarrassment, and exposed his duplicity to the Spanish government, before the great massacre had made such signal reparation for his delinquency. He had ordered Mondoucet, his envoy in the Netherlands, to use dissimulation to an unstinted amount, to continue his intrigues with the Protestants, and to deny stoutly all proofs of such connivance. “I see that the papers found upon Genlis,” he wrote twelve days before the massacre, “have been put into the hands of Assonleville, and that they know everything done by Genlis to have been committed with my consent. Nevertheless, you will tell the duke of Alva that these are lies invented to excite suspicion, against me. You will also give him occasional information of the enemy’s affairs, in order to make him believe in your integrity. Even if he does not believe you, my purpose will be answered, provided you do it dexterously. At the same time you must keep up a constant communication with the Prince of Orange, taking great care to prevent discovery of your intelligence with him.”
Were not these masterstrokes of diplomacy worthy of a king whom his mother, from boyhood upwards, had caused to study Machiavelli’s “Prince,” and who had thoroughly taken to heart the maxim, often repeated in those days, that the “science of reigning was the science of lying”?
The joy in the Spanish camp before Mons was unbounded. It was as if the only bulwark between the Netherland rebels and total destruction had been suddenly withdrawn. With anthems in Saint Gudule, with bonfires, festive illuminations, roaring artillery, with trumpets also, and with shawms, was the glorious holiday celebrated in court and camp, in honor of the vast murder committed by the Most Christian King upon his Christian subjects; nor was a moment lost in apprising the Huguenot soldiers shut up with Louis of Nassau in the beleaguered city of the great catastrophe which was to render all their valor fruitless. “’Twas a punishment,” said a Spanish soldier, who fought most courageously before Mons, and who elaborately described the siege afterwards, “well worthy of a king whose title is ‘The Most Christian,’ and it was still more honorable to inflict it with his own hands as he did.” Nor was the observation a pithy sarcasm, but a frank expression of opinion, from a man celebrated alike for the skill with which he handled both his sword and his pen.
The French envoy in the Netherlands was, of course, immediately informed by his sovereign of the great event. Charles IX gave a very pithy account of the transaction. “To prevent the success of the enterprise planned by the Admiral,” wrote the king on the 26th of August, with hands yet reeking, and while the havoc throughout France was at its height, “I have been obliged to permit the said Guises to rush upon the said Admiral, which they have done, the said admiral having been killed and all his adherents. A very great number of those belonging to the new religion have also been massacred and cut to pieces. It is probable that the fire thus kindled will spread through all the cities of my kingdom, and that all those of the said religion will be made sure of.” Not often, certainly, in history, has a Christian king spoken thus calmly of butchering his subjects while the work was proceeding all around him. It is to be observed, moreover, that the usual excuse for such enormities, religious fanaticism, can not be even suggested on this occasion. Catharine, in times past had favored Huguenots as much as Catholics, while Charles had been, up to the very moment of the crime, in strict alliance with the heretics of both France and Flanders, and furthering the schemes of Orange and Nassau. Nay, even at this very moment, and in this very letter in which he gave the news of the massacre, he charged his envoy still to maintain the closest but most secret intelligence with the Prince of Orange; taking great care that the Duke of Alva should not discover these relations. His motives were, of course, to prevent the prince from abandoning his designs, and from coming to make a disturbance in France. The king, now that the deed was done, was most anxious to reap all the fruits of his crime. “Now, M. de Mondoucet, it is necessary in such affairs,” he continued, “to have an eye to every possible contingency. I know that this news will be most agreeable to the Duke of Alva, for it is most favorable to his designs. At the same time, I don’t desire that he alone should gather the fruit. I don’t choose that he should, according to his excellent custom, conduct his affairs in such wise as to throw the Prince of Orange upon my hands, besides sending back to France Genlis and the other prisoners, as well as the French now shut up in Mons.”
This was a sufficiently plain hint, which Mondoucet could not well misunderstand. “Observe the duke’s countenance carefully when you give him this message,” added the king, “and let me know his reply.” In order, however, that there might be no mistake about the matter, Charles wrote again to his ambassador, five days afterwards, distinctly stating the regret which he should feel if Alva should not take the city of Mons, or if he should take it by composition. “Tell the Duke,” said he, “that it is most important for the service of his master and of God that those Frenchmen and others in Mons should be cut in pieces.” He wrote another letter upon the same day, such was his anxiety upon the subject, instructing the envoy to urge upon Alva the necessity of chastising those rebels to the French crown. “If he tells you,” continued Charles, “that this is tacitly requiring him to put to death all the French prisoners now in hand as well to cut in pieces every man in Mons, you will say to him that this is exactly what he ought to do, and that he will be guilty of a great wrong to Christianity if he does otherwise.” Certainly, the duke, having been thus distinctly ordered, both by his own master and by his Christian Majesty, to put every one of these Frenchmen to death, had a sufficiency of royal warrant. Nevertheless, he was not able to execute entirely these ferocious instructions. The prisoners already in his power were not destined to escape, but the city of Mons, in his own language, “proved to have sharper teeth than he supposed.”
Mondoucet lost no time in placing before Alva the urgent necessity of accomplishing the extensive and cold-blooded massacre thus proposed. “The Duke has replied,” wrote the envoy to his sovereign, ” that he is executing his prisoners every day, and that he has but a few left. Nevertheless, for some reason which he does not mention, he is reserving the principal noblemen and chiefs.” He afterwards informed his master that Genlis, Jumelles, and the other leaders, had engaged, if Alva would grant them a reasonable ransom, to induce the French in Mons to leave the city, but that the duke, although his language was growing less confident, still hoped to take the town by assault. “I have urged him,” he added, “to put them all to death, assuring him that he would be responsible for the consequences of a contrary course.” “Why does not your most Christian master,” asked Alva, “order these Frenchmen in Mons to come to him under oath to make no disturbance? Then my prisoners will be at my discretion and I shall get my city.” “Because,” answered the envoy, “they will not trust his Most Christian Majesty, and will prefer to die in Mons.”
This certainly was a most sensible reply, but it is instructive to witness the cynicism with which the envoy accepts this position for his master, while coldly recording the results of all these sanguinary conversations.
Such was the condition of affairs when the Prince of Orange arrived at Peronne, between Binche and the Duke of Alva’s entrenchments. The besieging army was rich in notabilities of elevated rank. Don Frederic of Toledo had hitherto commanded, but on the 27th of August, the Dukes of Medina Cœli and of Alva had arrived in the camp. Directly afterwards came the warlike Archbishop of Cologne, at the head of 2,000 cavalry. There was but one chance for the Prince of Orange, and experience had taught him, four years before, its slenderness. He might still provoke his adversary into a pitched battle, and he relied upon God for the result. In his own words, “he trusted ever that the great God of armies was with him, and would fight in the midst of his forces.” So long as Alva remained in his impregnable camp, it was impossible to attack him, or to throw reinforcements into Mons. The prince soon found, too, that Alva was far too wise to hazard his position by a superfluous combat. The duke knew that the cavalry of the prince was superior to his own. He expressed himself entirely unwilling to play into the prince’s hands, instead of winning the game which was no longer doubtful. The Huguenot soldiers within Mons were in despair and mutiny; Louis of Nassau lay in his bed consuming with a dangerous fever; Genlis was a prisoner, and his army cut to pieces; Coligny was murdered, and Protestant France paralyzed; the troops of Orange, enlisted but for three months, were already rebellious, and sure to break into open insubordination when the consequences of the Paris massacre should become entirely clear to them; and there were, therefore, even more cogent reasons than in 1568, why Alva should remain perfectly still, and see his enemy’s cause founder before his eyes. The valiant Archbishop of Cologne was most eager for the fray. He rode daily at the duke’s side, with harness on his back and pistols in his holsters, armed and attired like one of his own troopers, and urging the duke, with vehemence, to a pitched battle with the prince. The duke commended, but did not yield to, the prelate’s enthusiasm. “’Tis a fine figure of a man, with his corslet and pistols,” he wrote to Philip, “and he shows great affection for your Majesty’s service.”
The issue of the campaign was inevitable. On the 11th of September, Don Frederic, with a force of 4,000 picked men, established himself at Saint Florian, a village near the Havrè gate of the city, while the prince had encamped at Hermigny, within half a league of the same place, whence he attempted to introduce reinforcements into the town. On the night of the 11th and 12th, Don Frederic hazarded an encamisada upon the enemy’s camp, which proved eminently successful, and had nearly resulted in the capture of the prince himself. A chosen band of six hundred arquebusiers, attired, as was customary in these nocturnal expeditions, with their shirts outside their armor, that they might recognize each other in the darkness, were led by Julian Romero, within the lines of the enemy. The sentinels were cut down, the whole army surprised, and for a moment powerless, while, for two hours long, from one o’clock in the morning until three, the Spaniards butchered their foes, hardly aroused from their sleep, ignorant by how small a force they had been thus suddenly surprised, and unable in the confusion to distinguish between friend and foe. The boldest, led by Julian in person, made at once for the prince’s tent. His guards and himself were in profound sleep, but a small spaniel, who always passed the night upon his bed, was a more faithful sentinel. The creature sprang forward, barking furiously at the sound of hostile footsteps, and scratching his master’s face with his paws. There was but just time for the prince to mount a horse which was ready saddled, and to effect his escape through the darkness, before his enemies sprang into the tent. His servants were cut down, his master of the horse and two of his secretaries, who gained their saddles a moment later, all lost their lives, and but for the little dog’s watchfulness, William of Orange, upon whose shoulders the whole weight of his country’s fortunes depended, would have been led within a week to an ignominious death. To his dying day, the prince ever afterwards kept a spaniel of the same race in his bedchamber. The midnight slaughter still continued, but the Spaniards in their fury, set fire to the tents. The glare of the conflagration showed the Orangists by how paltry a force they had been surprised. Before they could rally, however, Romero led off his arquebusiers, every one of whom had at least killed his man. Six hundred of the prince’s troops had been put to the sword, while many others were burned in their beds, or drowned in the little rivulet which flowed outside their camp. Only sixty Spaniards lost their lives.
This disaster did not alter the plans of the prince, for those plans had already been frustrated. The whole marrow of his enterprise had been destroyed in an instant by the massacre of Saint Bartholomew. He retreated to Péronne and Nivelles, an assassin named Heist, a German by birth but a French chevalier, following him secretly in his camp, pledged to take his life for a large reward promised by Alva—an enterprise not destined, however, to be successful. The soldiers flatly refused to remain an hour longer in the field, or even to furnish an escort for Count Louis, if, by chance, he could be brought out of the town. The prince was obliged to inform his brother of the desperate state of his affairs, and to advise him to capitulate on the best terms which he could make. With a heavy heart, he left the chivalrous Louis besieged in the city which he had so gallantly captured, and took his way across the Meuse towards the Rhine. A furious mutiny broke out among his troops. His life was, with difficulty, saved from the brutal soldiery—infuriated at his inability to pay them, except in the overdue securities of the Holland cities—by the exertions of the officers who still regarded him with veneration and affection. Crossing the Rhine at Orsoy, he disbanded his army and betook himself, almost alone, to Holland.
Yet even in this hour of distress and defeat, the prince seemed more heroic than many a conqueror in his day of triumph. With all his hopes blasted, with the whole fabric of his country’s fortunes shattered by the colossal crime of his royal ally, he never lost his confidence in himself nor his unfaltering trust in God. All the cities which, but a few weeks before, had so eagerly raised his standard, now fell off at once. He went to Holland, the only province which remained true, and which still looked up to him as its savior, but he went thither expecting and prepared to perish. “There I will make my sepulchre,” was his simple and sublime expression in a private letter to his brother.
He had advanced to the rescue of Louis, with city after city opening its arms to receive him. He had expected to be joined on the march by Coligny, at the head of a chosen army, and he was now obliged to leave his brother to his fate, having the massacre of the admiral and his confederates substituted for their expected army of assistance, and with every city and every province forsaking his cause as eagerly as they had so lately embraced it. “It has pleased God,” he said, “to take away every hope which we could have founded upon man; the king has published that the massacre was by his orders, and has forbidden all his subjects, upon pain of death, to assist me; he has, moreover, sent succor to Alva. Had it not been for this, we had been masters of the duke, and should have made him capitulate at our pleasure.” Yet even then he was not cast down.
Nor was his political sagacity liable to impeachment by the extent to which he had been thus deceived by the French court. “So far from being reprehensible that I did not suspect such a crime,” he said, “I should rather be chargeable with malignity had I been capable of so sinister a suspicion. ’Tis not an ordinary thing to conceal such enormous deliberations under the plausible cover of a marriage festival.”
Meanwhile, Count Louis lay confined to his couch with a burning fever. His soldiers refused any longer to hold the city, now that the altered intentions of Charles IX were known and the forces of Orange withdrawn. Alva offered the most honorable conditions, and it was therefore impossible for the count to make longer resistance. The city was so important, and time was at that moment so valuable, that the duke was willing to forego his vengeance upon the rebel whom he so cordially detested, and to be satisfied with depriving him of the prize which he had seized with such audacity. “It would have afforded me sincere pleasure,” wrote the duke, “over and above the benefit to God and your Majesty, to have had the Count of Nassau in my power. I would overleap every obstacle to seize him, such is the particular hatred which I bear the man.” Under the circumstances, however, he acknowledged that the result of the council of war could only be to grant liberal terms.
On the 19th of September, accordingly, articles of capitulation were signed between the distinguished De la Noue with three others on the one part, and the Seigneur de Noircarmes and three others on the side of Spain. The town was given over to Alva, but all the soldiers were to go out with their weapons and property. Those of the townspeople who had borne arms against his Majesty, and all who still held to the Reformed religion, were to retire with the soldiery. The troops were to pledge themselves not to serve in future against the kings of France or Spain, but from this provision Louis, with his English and German soldiers, was expressly excepted, the count indignantly repudiating the idea of such a pledge, or of discontinuing his hostilities for an instant. It was also agreed that convoys should be furnished, and hostages exchanged, for the due observance of the terms of the treaty. The preliminaries having been thus settled, the patriot forces abandoned the town.
Count Louis, rising from his sickbed, paid his respects in person to the victorious generals, at their request. He was received in Alva’s camp with an extraordinary show of admiration and esteem. The Duke of Medina Cœli overwhelmed him with courtesies and “basolomanos,” while Don Frederic assured him, in the high-flown language of Spanish compliment, that there was nothing which he would not do to serve him, and that he would take a greater pleasure in executing his slightest wish than if he had been his next of kin.
As the count next day, still suffering with fever, and attired in his long dressing-gown, was taking his departure from the city, he ordered his carriage to stop at the entrance to Don Frederic’s quarters. That general, who had been standing incognito near the door, gazing with honest admiration at the hero of so many a hard-fought field, withdrew as he approached, that he might not give the invalid the trouble of alighting. Louis, however, recognizing him, addressed him with the Spanish salutation, “Perdone vuestra Señoria la pesedumbre,” and paused at the gate. Don Frederic, from politeness to his condition, did not present himself, but sent an aid-de-camp to express his compliments and good wishes. Having exchanged these courtesies, Louis left the city, conveyed, as had been agreed upon, by a guard of Spanish troops. There was a deep meaning in the respect with which the Spanish generals had treated the rebel chieftain. Although the massacre of Saint Bartholomew met with Alva’s entire approbation, yet it was his cue to affect a holy horror at the event, and he avowed that he would “rather cut off both his hands than be guilty of such a deed”—as if those hangman’s hands had the right to protest against any murder, however wholesale. Count Louis suspected at once, and soon afterwards thoroughly understood, the real motives of the chivalrous treatment which he had received. He well knew that these very men would have sent him to the scaffold, had he fallen into their power, and he therefore estimated their courtesy at its proper value.
It was distinctly stated, in the capitulation of the city, that all the soldiers, as well as such of the inhabitants as had borne arms, should be allowed to leave the city, with all their property. The rest of the people, it was agreed, might remain without molestation to their persons or estates. It has been the general opinion of historians that the articles of this convention were maintained by the conquerors in good faith. Never was a more signal error. The capitulation was made late at night, on the 20th of September, without the provision which Charles IX had hoped for—the massacre, namely, of De la Noue and his companions. As for Geniis and those who had been taken prisoners at his defeat, their doom had already been sealed. The city was evacuated on the 21st of September. Alva entered it upon the 24th. Most of the volunteers departed with the garrison, but many who had, most unfortunately, prolonged their farewells to their families, trusting to the word of the Spanish Captain Molinos, were thrown into prison.
Noircarmes, the butcher of Valenciennes, now made his appearance in Mons. As grand bailiff of Hainault, he came to the place as one in authority, and his deeds were now to complete the infamy which must forever surround his name. In brutal violation of the terms upon which the town had surrendered, he now set about the work of massacre and pillage. A Commission of Troubles, in close imitation of the famous Blood-Council at Brussels, was established, the members of the tribunal being appointed by Noircarmes, and all being inhabitants of the town. The council commenced proceedings by condemning all the volunteers, although expressly included in the capitulation. Their wives and children were all banished, their property all confiscated. On the 15th of December, the executions commenced. The intrepid De Leste, silk manufacturer, who had commanded a band of volunteers, and sustained during the siege the assaults of Alva’s troops with remarkable courage at a very critical moment, was one of the earliest victims. In consideration “that he was a gentleman, and not among the most malicious,” he was executed by sword. “In respect that he heard the mass, and made a sweet and Catholic end,” it was allowed that he should be “buried in consecrated earth.” Many others followed in quick succession. Some were beheaded, some were hanged, some were burned alive. All who had borne arms or worked at the fortifications were, of course, put to death. Such as refused to confess and receive the Catholic sacraments perished by fire. A poor wretch, accused of having ridiculed these mysteries, had his tongue torn out before being beheaded. A cobbler, named Blaise Bouzet, was hanged for having eaten meat-soup upon Friday. He was also accused of going to the Protestant preachings for the sake of participating in the alms distributed on these occasions, a crime for which many other paupers were executed. An old man of sixty-two was sent to the scaffold for having permitted his son to bear arms among the volunteers. At last, when all pretexts were wanting to justify executions, the council assigned as motives for its decrees an adhesion of heart on the part of the victims to the cause of the insurgents, or to the doctrines of the Reformed Church.
Ten, twelve, twenty persons were often hanged, burned, or beheaded in a single day. Gibbets laden with mutilated bodies lined the public highways, while Noircarmes, by frightful expressions of approbation, excited without ceasing the fury of his satellites. This monster would perhaps be less worthy of execration had he been governed in these foul proceedings by fanatical bigotry or by political hatred, but his motives were of the most sordid description. It was mainly to acquire gold for himself that he ordained all this carnage. With the same pen which signed the death sentences of the richest victims, he drew orders to his own benefit on their confiscated property. The lion’s share of the plunder was appropriated by himself. He desired the estate of François de Glarges, Seigneur d’Eslesmes. The gentleman had committed no offense of any kind, and, moreover, lived beyond the French frontier. Nevertheless, in contempt of international law, the neighboring territory was invaded, and d’Eslesmes dragged before the blood tribunal of Mons. Noircarmes had drawn up beforehand, in his own handwriting, both the terms of the accusation and of the sentence. The victim was innocent and a Catholic, but he was rich. He confessed to have been twice at the preaching, from curiosity, and to have omitted taking the sacrament at the previous Easter. For these offenses he was beheaded, and his confiscated estate adjudged at an almost nominal price to the secretary of Noircarmes, bidding for his master. “You can do me no greater pleasure,” wrote Noircarmes to the council, “than to make quick work with all these rebels, and to proceed with the confiscation of their estates, real and personal. Don’t fail to put all those to the torture out of whom anything can be got.’’ Notwithstanding the unexampled docility of the commissioners, they found it difficult to extract from their redoubted chief a reasonable share in the wages of blood. They did not scruple, therefore, to display their own infamy, and to enumerate their own crimes, in order to justify their demand for higher salaries. “Consider,” they said, in a petition to this end, “consider closely all that is odious in our office, and the great number of banishments and of executions which we have pronounced among all our own relations and friends.”
It may be added, moreover, as a slight palliation for the enormous crimes committed by these men, that, becoming at last weary of their business, they urged Noircarmes to desist from the work of proscription. Longehaye, one of the commissioners, even waited upon him personally, with a plea for mercy in favor of “the poor people, even beggars, who, although having borne arms during the siege, might then be pardoned.” Noircarmes, in a rage at the proposition, said that “if he did not know the commissioners to be honest men, he should believe that their palms had been oiled,” and forbade any farther words on the subject. When Longehaye still ventured to speak in favor of certain persons “who were very poor and simple, not charged with duplicity, and good Catholics besides,” he fared no better. “Away with you!” cried Noircarmes in a great fury, adding that he had already written to have execution done upon the whole of them. “Whereupon,” said poor blood-councillor Longehaye, in his letter to his colleagues, “I retired, I leave you to guess how.”
Thus the work went on day after day, month after month. Till the 27th of August of the following year (1573) the executioner never rested, and when Requesens, successor to Alva, caused the prisons of Mons to be opened, there were found still seventy-five individuals condemned to the block, and awaiting their fate.
It is the most dreadful commentary upon the times in which these transactions occurred, that they could sink so soon into oblivion. The culprits took care to hide the records of their guilt, while succeeding horrors, on a more extensive scale, at other places, effaced the memory of all these comparatively obscure murders and spoliations. The prosperity of Mons, one of the most flourishing and wealthy manufacturing towns in the Netherlands, was annihilated, but there were so many cities in the same condition that its misery was hardly remarkable. Nevertheless, in our own days, the fall of a moldering tower in the ruined Chateau de Naast at last revealed the archives of all these crimes. How the documents came to be placed there remains a mystery, but they have at last been brought to light.
The Spaniards had thus recovered Mons, by which event the temporary revolution throughout the whole southern Netherlands was at an end. The keys of that city unlocked the gates of every other in Brabant and Flanders. The towns which had so lately embraced the authority of Orange now hastened to disavow the prince, and to return to their ancient, hypocritical, and cowardly allegiance. The new oaths of fidelity were in general accepted by Alva, but the beautiful archiepiscopal city of Mechlin was selected for an example and a sacrifice.
There were heavy arrears due to the Spanish troops. To indemnify them, and to make good his blasphemous prophecy of Divine chastisement for its past misdeeds, Alva now abandoned this town to the license of his soldiery. By his command Don Frederic advanced to the gates and demanded its surrender. He was answered by a few shots from the garrison. Those cowardly troops, however, having thus plunged the city still more deeply into the disgrace which, in Alva’s eyes, they had incurred by receiving rebels within their walls after having but just before refused admittance to the Spanish forces, decamped during the night, and left the place defenseless.
Early next morning there issued from the gates a solemn procession of priests, with banner and crozier, followed by a long and suppliant throng of citizens, who attempted by this demonstration to avert the wrath of the victor. While the penitent psalms were resounding, the soldiers were busily engaged in heaping dried branches and rubbish into the moat. Before the religious exercises were concluded, thousands had forced the gates or climbed the walls, and entered the city with a celerity which only the hope of rapine could inspire. The sack instantly commenced. The property of friend and foe, of papist and Calvinist, was indiscriminately rifled. Everything was dismantled and destroyed. “Hardly a nail,” said a Spaniard, writing soon afterwards from Brussels, “was left standing in the walls.” The troops seemed to imagine themselves in a Turkish town, and wreaked the Divine vengeance which Alva had denounced upon the city with an energy which met with his fervent applause.
Three days long the horrible scene continued, one day for the benefit of the Spaniards, two more for that of the Walloons and Germans. All the churches, monasteries, religious houses of every kind, were completely sacked. Every valuable article which they contained, the ornaments of altars, the reliquaries, chalices, embroidered curtains, and carpets of velvet or damask, the golden robes of the priests, the repositories of the host, the precious vessels of chrism and extreme unction, the rich clothing and jewelry adorning the effigies of the Holy Virgin, all were indiscriminately rifled by the Spanish soldiers. The holy wafers were trampled underfoot, the sacramental wine was poured upon the ground, and, in brief, all the horrors which had been committed by the iconoclasts in their wildest moments, and for a thousandth part of which enormities heretics had been burned in droves, were now repeated in Mechlin by the especial soldiers of Christ, by Roman Catholics who had been sent to the Netherlands to avenge the insults offered to the Roman Catholic faith. The motive, too, which inspired the sacrilegious crew was not fanaticism, but the desire of plunder. The property of Romanists was taken as freely as that of Calvinists, of which sect there were, indeed, but few in the archiepiscopal city. Cardinal Granvelle’s house was rifled. The pauper funds deposited in the convents were not respected. The beds were taken from beneath sick and dying women, whether lady abbess or hospital patient, that the sacking might be torn to pieces in search of hidden treasure.
The iconoclasts of 1566 had destroyed millions of property for the sake of an idea, but they had appropriated nothing. Moreover, they had scarcely injured a human being, confining their wrath to graven images. The Spaniards at Mechlin spared neither man nor woman. The murders and outrages would be incredible, were they not attested by most respectable Catholic witnesses. Men were butchered in their houses, in the streets, at the altars. Women were violated by hundreds in churches and in graveyards. Moreover, the deed had been as deliberately arranged as it was thoroughly performed. It was sanctioned by the highest authority. Don Frederic, son of Alva, and General Noircarmes were both present at the scene, and applications were in vain made to them that the havoc might be stayed. “They were seen whispering to each other in the ear on their arrival,” says an eyewitness and a Catholic, “and it is well known that the affair had been resolved upon the preceding day. The two continued together as long as they remained in the city.” The work was, in truth, fully accomplished. The ultra-Catholic, Jean Richardot, member of the Grand Council, and nephew of the Bishop of Arras, informed the State Council that the sack of Mechlin had been so horrible that the poor and unfortunate mothers had not a single morsel of bread to put in the mouths of their children, who were dying before their eyes, so insane and cruel had been the avarice of the plunderers. “He could say more,” he added, “if his hair did not stand on end, not only at recounting, but even at remembering the scene.”
Three days long the city was abandoned to that trinity of furies which ever wait upon War’s footsteps—Murder, Lust, and Rapine—under whose promptings human beings become so much more terrible than the most ferocious beasts. In his letter to his master, the duke congratulated him upon these foul proceedings as upon a pious deed well accomplished. He thought it necessary, however, to excuse himself before the public in a document, which justified the sack of Mechlin by its refusal to accept his garrison a few months before, and by the shots which had been discharged at his troops as they approached the city. For these offenses, and by his express order, the deed was done. Upon his head must the guilt forever rest.
The Battles of Tergoes and Harlem
While thus Brabant and Flanders were scourged back to the chains which they had so recently broken, the affairs of the Prince of Orange were not improving in Zealand. Never was a twelvemonth so marked by contradictory fortune, never were the promises of a spring followed by such blight and disappointment in autumn than in the memorable year 1572. On the island of Walcheren, Middelburg and Arnemuyde still held for the king—Campveer and Flushing for the Prince of Orange. On the island of South Beveland, the city of Goes or Tergoes was still stoutly defended by a small garrison of Spanish troops. As long as the place held out, the city of Middelburg could be maintained. Should that important city fall, the Spaniards would lose all hold upon Walcheren and the province of Zealand.
Jerome de ’t Zeraerts, a brave, faithful, but singularly unlucky officer, commanded for the prince in Walcheren. He had attempted by various hastily planned expeditions to give employment to his turbulent soldiery, but fortune had refused to smile upon his efforts. He had laid siege to Middelburg and failed. He had attempted Tergoes and had been compelled ingloriously to retreat. The citizens of Flushing, on his return, had shut the gates of the town in his face, and for several days refused to admit him or his troops. To retrieve this disgrace, which had sprung rather from the insubordination of his followers and the dislike which they bore his person than from any want of courage or conduct on his part, he now assembled a force of 7,000 men, marched again to Tergoes, and upon the 26th of August laid siege to the place in form. The garrison was very insufficient, and although they conducted themselves with great bravery, it was soon evident that unless reinforced they must yield. With their overthrow it was obvious that the Spaniards would lose the important maritime province of Zealand, and the duke accordingly ordered d’Avila, who commanded in Antwerp, to throw succor into Tergoes without delay. Attempts were made, by sea and by land, to this effect, but were all unsuccessful. The Zealanders commanded the waters with their fleet, and were too much at home among those gulfs and shallows not to be more than a match for their enemies. Baffled in their attempt to relieve the town by water or by land, the Spaniards conceived an amphibious scheme. Their plan led to one of the most brilliant feats of arms which distinguishes the history of this war.
The Scheld, flowing past the city of Antwerp and separating the provinces of Flanders and Brabant, opens wide its two arms in nearly opposite directions, before it joins the sea. Between these two arms lie the isles of Zealand, half floating upon, half submerged by the waves. The town of Tergoes was the chief city of South Beveland, the most important part of this archipelago, but South Beveland had not always been an island. Fifty years before, a tempest, one of the most violent recorded in the stormy annals of that exposed country, had overthrown all barriers, the waters of the German Ocean, lashed by a succession of north winds, having been driven upon the low coast of Zealand more rapidly than they could be carried off through the narrow straits of Dover. The dykes of the island had burst, the ocean had swept over the land, hundreds of villages had been overwhelmed, and a tract of country torn from the province and buried forever beneath the sea. This “Drowned Land,” as it is called, now separated the island from the main. At low tide it was, however, possible for experienced pilots to ford the estuary, which had usurped the place of the land. The average depth was between four and five feet at low water, while the tide rose and fell at least ten feet; the bottom was muddy and treacherous, and it was moreover traversed by three living streams or channels, always much too deep to be fordable.
Captain Plomaert, a Fleming of great experience and bravery, warmly attached to the king’s cause, conceived the plan of sending reinforcements across this drowned district to the city of Tergoes. Accompanied by two peasants of the country, well acquainted with the track, he twice accomplished the dangerous and difficult passage, which, from dry land to dry land, was nearly ten English miles in length. Having thus satisfied himself as to the possibility of the enterprise, he laid his plan before the Spanish colonel, Mondragon.
That courageous veteran eagerly embraced the proposal, examined the ground, and after consultation with Sancho d’Avila, resolved in person to lead an expedition along the path suggested by Plomaert. Three thousand picked men, a thousand from each nation—Spaniards, Walloons, and Germans—were speedily and secretly assembled at Bergen op Zoom, from the neighborhood of which city, at a place called Aggier, it was necessary that the expedition should set forth. A quantity of sacks were provided, in which a supply of biscuit and of powder was placed, one to be carried by each soldier upon his head. Although it was already late in the autumn, the weather was propitious; the troops, not yet informed as to the secret enterprise for which they had been selected, were already assembled at the edge of the water, and Mondragon, who, notwithstanding his age, had resolved upon heading the hazardous expedition, now briefly, on the evening of the 20th of October, explained to them the nature of the service. His statement of the dangers which they were about to encounter, rather inflamed than diminished their ardor. Their enthusiasm became unbounded, as he described the importance of the city which they were about to save, and alluded to the glory which would be won by those who thus courageously came forward to its rescue. The time of about half ebb-tide having arrived, the veteran, preceded only by the guides and Plomaert, plunged gaily into the waves, followed by his army, almost in single file. The water was never lower than the breast, often higher than the shoulder. The distance to the island, three and a half leagues at least, was to be accomplished within at most, six hours, or the rising tide would overwhelm them forever. And thus, across the quaking and uncertain slime, which often refused them a footing, that adventurous band, five hours long, pursued their midnight march, sometimes swimming for their lives, and always struggling with the waves which every instant threatened to engulf them.
Before the tide had risen to more than half-flood, before the day had dawned, the army set foot on dry land again, at the village of Irseken. Of the whole three thousand, only nine unlucky individuals had been drowned; so much had courage and discipline availed in that dark and perilous passage through the very bottom of the sea. The Duke of Alva might well pronounce it one of the most brilliant and original achievements in the annals of war. The beacon fires were immediately lighted upon the shore, as agreed upon, to inform Sancho d’Avila, who was anxiously awaiting the result at Bergen op Zoom, of the safe arrival of the troops. A brief repose was then allowed. At the approach of daylight, they set forth from Irseken, which lay about four leagues from Tergoes. The news that a Spanish army had thus arisen from the depths of the sea, flew before them as they marched. The besieging force commanded the water with their fleet, the land with their army; yet had these indomitable Spaniards found a path which was neither land nor water, and had thus stolen upon them in the silence of night. A panic preceded them as they fell upon a foe much superior in number to their own force. It was impossible for de ’t Zeraerts to induce his soldiers to offer resistance. The patriot army fled precipitately and ignominiously to their ships, hotly pursued by the Spaniards, who overtook and destroyed the whole of their rearguard before they could embark. This done, the gallant little garrison which had so successfully held the city, was reinforced with the courageous veterans who had come to their relief. His audacious project thus brilliantly accomplished, the “good old Mondragon,” as his soldiers called him, returned to the province of Brabant.
After the capture of Mons and the sack of Mechlin, the Duke of Alva had taken his way to Nimwegen, having dispatched his son, Don Frederic, to reduce the northern and eastern country, which was only too ready to submit to the conqueror. Very little resistance was made by any of the cities which had so recently, and with such enthusiasm, embraced the cause of Orange. Zutphen attempted a feeble opposition to the entrance of the king’s troops, and received a dreadful chastisement in consequence. Alva sent orders to his son to leave not a single man alive in the city, and to burn every house to the ground. The duke’s command was almost literally obeyed. Don Frederic entered Zutphen, and without a moment’s warning put the whole garrison to the sword. The citizens next fell a defenseless prey, some being stabbed in the streets, some hanged on the trees which decorated the city, some stripped stark naked, and turned out into the fields to freeze to death in the wintry night. As the work of death became too fatiguing for the butchers, five hundred innocent burghers were tied two and two, back to back, and drowned like dogs in the river Yssel. A few stragglers who had contrived to elude pursuit at first, were afterwards taken from their hiding places, and hung upon the gallows by the feet, some of which victims suffered four days and nights of agony before death came to their relief. It is superfluous to add that the outrages upon women were no less universal in Zutphen than they had been in every city captured or occupied by the Spanish troops. These horrors continued till scarcely chastity or life remained, throughout the miserable city.
This attack and massacre had been so suddenly executed, that assistance would hardly have been possible, even had there been disposition to render it. There was, however, no such disposition. The whole country was already cowering again, except the provinces of Holland and Zealand. No one dared approach, even to learn what had occurred within the walls of the town, for days after its doom had been accomplished. “A wail of agony was heard above Zutphen last Sunday,” wrote Count Nieuwenar, “a sound as of a mighty massacre, but we know not what has taken place.”
Count Van den Berg, another brother-in-law of Orange, proved himself signally unworthy of the illustrious race to which he was allied. He had, in the earlier part of the year, received the homage of the cities of Gelderland and Overyssel, on behalf of the patriot prince. He now basely abandoned the field where he had endeavored to gather laurels while the sun of success had been shining. Having written from Kampen, whither he had retired, that he meant to hold the city to the last gasp, he immediately afterwards fled secretly and precipitately from the country. In his flight he was plundered by his own people, while his wife, Mary of Nassau, then far advanced in pregnancy, was left behind, disguised as a peasant girl, in an obscure village.
With the flight of Van den Berg, all the cities which, under his guidance, had raised the standard of Orange, deserted the cause at once. Friesland too, where Robles obtained a victory over 6,000 patriots, again submitted to the yoke. But if the ancient heart of the free Frisians was beating thus feebly, there was still spirit left among their brethren on the other side of the Zuyder Zee. It was not while William of Orange was within her borders, nor while her sister provinces had proved recreant to him, that Holland would follow their base example. No rebellion being left, except in the northwestern extremities of the Netherlands, Don Frederic was ordered to proceed from Zutphen to Amsterdam, thence to undertake the conquest of Holland. The little city of Naarden, on the coast of the Zuyder Zee, lay in his path, and had not yet formally submitted. On the 22nd of November a company of one hundred troopers was sent to the city gates to demand its surrender. The small garrison which had been left by the prince was not disposed to resist, but the spirit of the burghers was stouter than their walls. They answered the summons by a declaration that they had thus far held the city for the king and the Prince of Orange, and, with God’s help, would continue so to do. As the horsemen departed with this reply, a lunatic, called Adrian Krankhoeft, mounted the ramparts and discharged a culverine among them. No man was injured, but the words of defiance, and the shot fired by a madman’s hand, were destined to be fearfully answered.
Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the place, which was at best far from strong, and ill-provided with arms, ammunition, or soldiers, dispatched importunate messages to Sonoy, and to other patriot generals nearest to them, soliciting reinforcements. Their messengers came back almost empty-handed. They brought a little powder and a great many promises, but not a single man-at-arms, not a ducat, not a piece of artillery. The most influential commanders, moreover, advised an honorable capitulation, if it were still possible.
Thus baffled, the burghers of the little city found their proud position quite untenable. They accordingly, on the first of December, dispatched the burgomaster and a senator to Amersfoort, to make terms, if possible, with Don Frederic. When these envoys reached the place, they were refused admission to the general’s presence. The army had already been ordered to move forward to Naarden, and they were directed to accompany the advance guard, and to expect their reply at the gates of their own city. This command was sufficiently ominous. The impression which it made upon them was confirmed by the warning voices of their friends in Amersfoort, who entreated them not to return to Naarden. The advice was not lost upon one of the two envoys. After they had advanced a little distance on their journey, the burgomaster Laurentszoon slid privately out of the sledge in which they were traveling, leaving his cloak behind him. “Adieu; I think I will not venture back to Naarden at present,” said he, calmly, as he abandoned his companion to his fate. The other, who could not so easily desert his children, his wife, and his fellow citizens, in the hour of danger, went forward as calmly to share in their impending doom.
The army reached Bussem, half a league distant from Naarden, in the evening. Here Don Frederic established his headquarters, and proceeded to invest the city. Senator Gerrit was then directed to return to Naarden and to bring out a more numerous deputation on the following morning, duly empowered to surrender the place. The envoy accordingly returned next day, accompanied by Lambert Hortensius, rector of a Latin academy, together with four other citizens. Before this deputation had reached Bussem, they were met by Julian Romero, who informed them that he was commissioned to treat with them on the part of Don Frederic. He demanded the keys of the city, and gave the deputation a solemn pledge that the lives and property of all the inhabitants should be sacredly respected. To attest this assurance, Don Julian gave his hand three times to Lambert Hortensius. A soldier’s word thus plighted, the commissioners, without exchanging any written documents, surrendered the keys, and immediately afterwards accompanied Romero into the city, who was soon followed by five or six hundred musketeers.
To give these guests a hospitable reception, all the housewives of the city at once set about preparations for a sumptuous feast, to which the Spaniards did ample justice, while the colonel and his officers were entertained by Senator Gerrit at his own house. As soon as this conviviality had come to an end, Romero, accompanied by his host, walked into the square. The great bell had been meantime ringing, and the citizens had been summoned to assemble in the Gast Huis Church, then used as a town hall. In the course of a few minutes five hundred had entered the building, and stood quietly awaiting whatever measures might be offered for their deliberation. Suddenly a priest, who had been pacing to and fro before the church door, entered the building, and bade them all prepare for death; but the announcement, the preparation, and the death, were simultaneous. The door was flung open, and a band of armed Spaniards rushed across the sacred threshold. They fired a single volley upon the defenseless herd, and then sprang in upon them with sword and dagger. A yell of despair arose as the miserable victims saw how hopelessly they were engaged, and beheld the ferocious faces of their butchers. The carnage within that narrow space was compact and rapid. Within a few minutes all were dispatched, and among them Senator Gerrit, from whose table the Spanish commander had but just risen. The church was then set on fire, and the dead and dying were consumed to ashes together.
Inflamed but not satiated, the Spaniards then rushed into the streets, thirsty for fresh horrors. The houses were all rifled of their contents, and men were forced to carry the booty to the camp, who were then struck dead as their reward. The town was then fired in every direction, that the skulking citizens might be forced from their hiding places. As fast as they came forth they were put to death by their impatient foes. Some were pierced with rapiers, some were chopped to pieces with axes, some were surrounded in the blazing streets by troops of laughing soldiers, intoxicated, not with wine but with blood, who tossed them to and fro with their lances, and derived a wild amusement from their dying agonies. Those who attempted resistance were crimped alive like fishes, and left to gasp themselves to death in lingering torture. The soldiers becoming more and more insane, as the foul work went on, opened the veins of some of their victims, and drank their blood as if it were wine. Some of the burghers were for a time spared, that they might witness the violation of their wives and daughters, and were then butchered in company with these still more unfortunate victims. Miracles of brutality were accomplished. Neither church nor hearth was sacred. Men were slain, women outraged at the altars, in the streets, in their blazing homes.
The life of Lambert Hortensius was spared, out of regard to his learning and genius, but he hardly could thank his foes for the boon, for they struck his only son dead, and tore his heart out before his father’s eyes. Hardly any man or woman survived, except by accident. A body of some hundred burghers made their escape across the snow into the open country. They were, however, overtaken, stripped stark naked, and hung upon the trees by the feet, to freeze, or to perish by a more lingering death. Most of them soon died, but twenty, who happened to be wealthy, succeeded, after enduring much torture, in purchasing their lives of their inhuman persecutors. The principal burgomaster, Heinrich Lambertszoon, was less fortunate. Known to be affluent, he was tortured by exposing the soles of his feet to a fire until they were almost consumed. On promise that his life should be spared, he then agreed to pay a heavy ransom; but hardly had he furnished the stipulated sum when, by express order of Don Frederic himself, he was hanged in his own doorway, and his dissevered limbs afterwards nailed to the gates of the city.
Nearly all the inhabitants of Naarden, soldiers and citizens, were thus destroyed, and now Don Frederic issued peremptory orders that no one, on pain of death, should give lodging or food to any fugitive. He likewise forbade to the dead all that could now be forbidden them—a grave. Three weeks long did these unburied bodies pollute the streets, nor could the few wretched women who still cowered within such houses as had escaped the flames ever wave from their lurking-places without treading upon the festering remains of what had been their husbands, their fathers, or their brethren. Such was the express command of him whom the flatterers called the “most divine genius ever known.” Shortly afterwards came an order to dismantle the fortifications, which had certainly proved sufficiently feeble in the hour of need, and to raze what was left of the city from the surface of the earth. The work was faithfully accomplished, and for a long time Naarden ceased to exist.
Alva wrote, with his usual complacency in such cases, to his sovereign, that “they had cut the throats of the burghers and all the garrison, and that they had not left a mother’s son alive.” The statement was almost literally correct, nor was the cant with which these bloodhounds commented upon their crimes less odious than their guilt. “It was a permission of God,” said the duke, “that these people should have undertaken to defend a city, which was so weak that no other persons would have attempted such a thing.” Nor was the reflection of Mendoza less pious. “The sack of Naarden,” said that really brave and accomplished cavalier, “was a chastisement which must be believed to have taken place by express permission of a Divine Providence; a punishment for having been the first of the Holland towns in which heresy built its nest, whence it has taken flight to all the neighboring cities.”
It is not without reluctance, but still with a stern determination, that the historian should faithfully record these transactions. To extenuate would be base, to exaggerate impossible. It is good that the world should not forget how much wrong has been endured by a single harmless nation at the hands of despotism, and in the sacred name of God. There have been tongues and pens enough to narrate the excesses of the people, bursting from time to time out of slavery into madness. It is good, too, that those crimes should be remembered, and freshly pondered, but it is equally wholesome to study the opposite picture. Tyranny, ever young and ever old, constantly reproducing herself with the same stony features, with the same imposing mask which she has worn through all the ages, can never be too minutely examined, especially when she paints her own portrait, and when the secret history of her guilt is furnished by the confessions of her lovers. The perusal of her traits will not make us love popular liberty the less.
The history of Alva’s administration in the Netherlands is one of those pictures which strike us almost dumb with wonder. Why has the Almighty suffered such crimes to be perpetrated in His sacred name? Was it necessary that many generations should wade through this blood in order to acquire for their descendants the blessings of civil and religious freedom? Was it necessary that an Alva should ravage a peaceful nation with sword and flame—that desolation should be spread over a happy land, in order that the pure and heroic character of a William of Orange should stand forth more conspicuously, like an antique statue of spotless marble against a stormy sky?
After the army which the prince had so unsuccessfully led to the relief of Mons had been disbanded, he had himself repaired to Holland. He had come to Kampen shortly before its defection from his cause. Thence he had been escorted across the Zuyder Zee to Enkhuyzen. He came to that province, the only one which through good and ill report remained entirely faithful to him, not as a conqueror but as an unsuccessful, proscribed man. But there were warm hearts beating within those cold lagunes, and no conqueror returning from a brilliant series of victories could have been received with more affectionate respect than William in that darkest hour of the country’s history. He had but seventy horsemen at his back, all which remained of the 20,000 troops which he had a second time levied in Germany, and he felt that it would be at that period hopeless for him to attempt the formation of a third army. He had now come thither to share the fate of Holland, at least, if he could not accomplish her liberation. He went from city to city, advising with the magistracies and with the inhabitants, and arranging many matters pertaining both to peace and war. At Harlem the States of the Provinces, according to his request, had been assembled. The assembly begged him to lay before them, if it were possible, any schemes and means which he might have devised for further resistance to the Duke of Alva. Thus solicited, the prince, in a very secret session, unfolded his plans, and satisfied them as to the future prospects of the cause. His speech has nowhere been preserved. His strict injunctions as to secrecy, doubtless, prevented or effaced any record of the session. It is probable, however, that he entered more fully into the state of his negotiations with England, and into the possibility of a resumption by Count Louis of his private intercourse with the French court, than it was safe, publicly, to divulge.
While the prince had been thus occupied in preparing the stout-hearted province for the last death struggle with its foe, that mortal combat was already fast approaching; for the aspect of the contest in the Netherlands was not that of ordinary warfare. It was an encounter between two principles, in their nature so hostile to each other that the absolute destruction of one was the only possible issue. As the fight went on, each individual combatant seemed inspired by direct personal malignity, and men found a pleasure in deeds of cruelty, from which generations not educated to slaughter recoil with horror. To murder defenseless prisoners; to drink, not metaphorically but literally, the heart’s blood of an enemy; to exercise a devilish ingenuity in inventions of mutual torture, became not only a duty but a rapture. The Liberty of the Netherlands had now been hunted to its lair. It had taken its last refuge among the sands and thickets where its savage infancy had been nurtured, and had now prepared itself to crush its tormentor in a last embrace, or to die in the struggle.
After the conclusion of the sack and massacre of Naarden, Don Frederic had hastened to Amsterdam, where the duke was then quartered, that he might receive the paternal benediction for his well-accomplished work. The royal approbation was soon afterwards added to the applause of his parent, and the duke was warmly congratulated in a letter written by Philip as soon as the murderous deed was known, that Don Frederic had so plainly shown himself to be his father’s son. There was now more work for father and son. Amsterdam was the only point in Holland which held for Alva, and from that point it was determined to recover the whole province. The Prince of Orange was established in the southern district; Diedrich Sonoy, his lieutenant, was stationed in North Holland. The important city of Harlem lay between the two, at a spot where the whole breadth of the territory, from sea to sea, was less than an hour’s walk. With the fall of that city the province would be cut in twain, the rebellious forces utterly dissevered, and all further resistance, it was thought, rendered impossible.
The inhabitants of Harlem felt their danger. Bossu, Alva’s stadholder for Holland, had formally announced the system hitherto pursued at Mechlin, Zutphen, and Naarden, as the deliberate policy of the government. The king’s representative had formally proclaimed the extermination of man, woman, and child in every city which opposed his authority, but the promulgation and practice of such a system had an opposite effect to the one intended. The hearts of the Hollanders were rather steeled to resistance than awed into submission by the fate of Naarden. A fortunate event, too, was accepted as a lucky omen for the coming contest. A little fleet of armed vessels, belonging to Holland, had been frozen up in the neighborhood of Amsterdam. Don Frederic on his arrival from Naarden, dispatched a body of picked men over the ice to attack the imprisoned vessels. The crews had, however, fortified themselves by digging a wide trench around the whole fleet, which thus became from the moment an almost impregnable fortress. Out of this frozen citadel a strong band of well-armed and skilful musketeers sallied forth upon skates as the besieging force advanced. A rapid, brilliant, and slippery skirmish succeeded, in which the Hollanders, so accustomed to such sports, easily vanquished their antagonists, and drove them off the field, with the loss of several hundred left dead upon the ice. “’T was a thing never heard of before today,” said Alva, “to see a body of arquebusiers thus skirmishing upon a frozen sea.” In the course of the next four-and-twenty hours a flood and a rapid thaw released the vessels, which all escaped to Enkhuyzen, while a frost, immediately and strangely succeeding, made pursuit impossible.
The Spaniards were astonished at these novel maneuvers upon the ice. It is amusing to read their elaborate descriptions of the wonderful appendages which had enabled the Hollanders to glide so glibly into battle with a superior force, and so rapidly to glance away, after achieving a signal triumph. Nevertheless, the Spaniards could never be dismayed, and were always apt scholars, even if an enemy were the teacher. Alva immediately ordered 7,000 pairs of skates, and his soldiers soon learned to perform military evolutions with these new accoutrements as audaciously, if not as adroitly, as the Hollanders.
A portion of the Harlem magistracy, notwithstanding the spirit which pervaded the province, began to tremble as danger approached. They were base enough to enter into secret negotiations with Alva, and to send three of their own number to treat with the duke at Amsterdam. One was wise enough to remain with the enemy. The other two were arrested on their return, and condemned, after an impartial trial, to death. For, while these emissaries of a cowardly magistracy were absent, the stout commandant of the little garrison, Ripperda, had assembled the citizens and soldiers in the market-place. He warned them of the absolute necessity to make a last effort for freedom. In startling colors he held up to them the fate of Mechlin, of Zutphen, of Naarden, as a prophetic mirror, in which they might read their own fate should they be base enough to surrender the city. There was no composition possible, he urged, with foes who were as false as they were sanguinary, and whose foul passions were stimulated, not slaked, by the horrors with which they had already feasted themselves.
Ripperda addressed men who could sympathize with his bold and lofty sentiments. Soldiers and citizens cried out for defense instead of surrender, as with one voice, for there were no abject spirits at Harlem, save among the magistracy; and Saint Aldegonde, the faithful minister of Orange, was soon sent to Harlem by the prince to make a thorough change in that body.
Harlem, over whose ruins the Spanish tyranny intended to make its entrance into Holland, lay in the narrowest part of that narrow isthmus which separates the Zuyder Zee from the German Ocean. The distance from sea to sea is hardly five English miles across. Westerly from the city extended a slender strip of land, once a morass, then a fruitful meadow, maintained by unflagging fortitude in the very jaws of a stormy ocean. Between the North Sea and the outer edge of this pasture surged those wild and fantastic downs, heaped up by wind and wave in mimicry of mountains; the long coils of that rope of sand, by which, plaited into additional strength by the slenderest of bulrushes, the waves of the North Sea were made to obey the command of man. On the opposite, or eastern side, Harlem looked towards Amsterdam. That already flourishing city was distant but ten miles. The two cities were separated by an expanse of inland water, and united by a slender causeway. The Harlem Lake, formed less than a century before by the bursting of four lesser meres during a storm which had threatened to swallow the whole Peninsula, extended itself on the South and East; a sea of limited dimensions, being only fifteen feet in depth with seventy square miles of surface, but, exposed as it lay to all the winds of heaven, often lashed into storms as dangerous as those of the Atlantic. Beyond the lake, towards the North, the waters of the Y nearly swept across the Peninsula. This inlet of the Zuyder Zee was only separated from the Harlem mere by a slender thread of land. Over this ran the causeway between the two sister cities, now so unfortunately in arms against each other. Midway between the two, the dyke was pierced and closed again with a system of sluice-works, which when opened admitted the waters of the lake into those of the estuary, and caused an inundation of the surrounding country.
The city was one of the largest and most beautiful in the Netherlands. It was also one of the weakest. The walls were of antique construction, turreted, but not strong. The extent and feebleness of the defenses made a large garrison necessary, but unfortunately, the garrison was even weaker than the walls. The city’s main reliance was on the stout hearts of the inhabitants. The streets were, for that day, spacious and regular, the canals planted with limes and poplars. The ancient church of Saint Bavon, a large imposing structure of brick, stood almost in the center of the place, the most prominent object, not only of the town but of the province, visible over leagues of sea and of land more level than the sea, and seeming to gather the whole quiet little city under its sacred and protective wings. Its tall open-work leaden spire was surmounted by a colossal crown, which an exalted imagination might have regarded as the emblematic guerdon of martyrdom held aloft over the city, to reward its heroism and its agony.
It was at once obvious that the watery expanse between Harlem and Amsterdam would be the principal theatre of the operations about to commence. The siege was soon begun. The fugitive burgomaster, De Fries, had the effrontery, with the advice of Alva, to address a letter to the citizens, urging them to surrender at discretion. The messenger was hanged—a cruel but practical answer, which put an end to all further traitorous communications. This was in the first week of December. On the tenth, Don Frederic sent a strong detachment to capture the fort and village of Sparendam, as an indispensable preliminary to the commencement of the siege. A peasant having shown Zapata, the commander of the expedition, a secret passage across the flooded and frozen meadows, the Spaniards stormed the place gallantly, routed the whole garrison, killed three hundred, and took possession of the works and village. Next day, Don Frederic appeared before the walls of Harlem, and proceeded regularly to invest the place. The misty weather favored his operations, nor did he cease reinforcing himself, until at least 30,000 men, including 1,500 cavalry, had been encamped around the city. The Germans, under Count Overstein, were stationed in a beautiful and extensive grove of limes and beeches, which spread between the southern walls and the shore of Harlem Lake. Don Frederic, with his Spaniards, took up a position on the opposite side, at a place called the House of Kleef, the ruins of which still remain. The Walloons, and other regiments were distributed in different places, so as completely to encircle the town. On the edge of the mere, the Prince of Orange had already ordered a cluster of forts to be erected, by which the command of its frozen surface was at first secured for Harlem. In the course of the siege, however, other forts were erected by Don Frederic, so that the aspect of things suffered a change.
Against this immense force, nearly equal in number to that of the whole population of the city, the garrison within the walls never amounted to more than 4,000 men. In the beginning it was much less numerous. The same circumstances, however, which assisted the initiatory operations of Don Frederic, were of advantage to the Harlemers. A dense frozen fog hung continually over the surface of the lake. Covered by this curtain, large supplies of men, provisions, and ammunition were daily introduced into the city, notwithstanding all the efforts of the besieging force. Sledges skimming over the ice, men, women, and even children, moving on their skates as swiftly as the wind, all brought their contributions in the course of the short dark days and long nights of December, in which the wintry siege was opened. The garrison at last numbered about one thousand pioneers or delvers, three thousand fighting men, and about three hundred fighting women. The last was a most efficient corps, all females of respectable character, armed with sword, musket, and dagger. Their chief, Kenau Hasselaer, was a widow of distinguished family and unblemished reputation, about forty-seven years of age, who, at the head of her amazons, participated in many of the most fiercely contested actions of the siege, both within and without the walls. When such a spirit animated the maids and matrons of the city, it might be expected that the men would hardly surrender the place without a struggle. The prince had assembled a force of three or four thousand men at Leyden, which he sent before the middle of December towards the city under the command of De la Marck. These troops were, however, attacked on the way by a strong detachment under Bossu, Noircarmes, and Romero. After a sharp action in a heavy snowstorm, De la Marck was completely routed. One thousand of his soldiers were cut to pieces, and a large number carried off as prisoners to the gibbets, which were already conspicuously erected in the Spanish camp, and which from the commencement to the close of the siege were never bare of victims. Among the captives was a gallant officer, Baptist van Trier, for whom De la Marck in vain offered 2,000 crowns and nineteen Spanish prisoners. The proposition was refused with contempt. Van Trier was hanged upon the gallows by one leg until he was dead, in return for which barbarity the nineteen Spaniards were immediately gibbeted by De la Marck. With this interchange of cruelties the siege may be said to have opened.
Don Frederic had stationed himself in a position opposite to the gate of the Cross, which was not very strong, but fortified by a ravelin. Intending to make a very short siege of it, he established his batteries immediately, and on the 18th, 19th, and 20th December directed a furious cannonade against the Cross-gate, the St. John’s-gate, and the curtain between the two. Six hundred and eighty shots were discharged on the first, and nearly as many on each of the two succeeding days. The walls were much shattered, but men, women, and children worked night and day within the city, repairing the breaches as fast as made. They brought bags of sand, blocks of stone, cart-loads of earth from every quarter, and they stripped the churches of all their statues, which they threw by heaps into the gaps. They sought thus a more practical advantage from those sculptured saints than they could have gained by only imploring their interposition. The fact, however, excited horror among the besiegers. Men who were daily butchering their fellow-beings, and hanging their prisoners in cold blood, affected to shudder at the enormity of the offense thus exercised against graven images.
After three days’ cannonade, the assault was ordered, Don Frederic only intending a rapid massacre, to crown his achievements at Zutphen and Naarden. The place, he thought, would fall in a week, and after another week of sacking, killing, and ravishing, he might sweep on to “pastures new” until Holland was overwhelmed. Romero advanced to the breach, followed by a numerous storming party, but met with a resistance which astonished the Spaniards. The church bells rang the alarm throughout the city, and the whole population swarmed to the walls. The besiegers were encountered not only with sword and musket, but with every implement which the burghers’ hands could find. Heavy stones, boiling oil, live coals, were hurled upon the heads of the soldiers; hoops, smeared with pitch and set on fire, were dexterously thrown upon their necks. Even Spanish courage and Spanish ferocity were obliged to shrink before the steady determination of a whole population animated by a single spirit. Romero lost an eye in the conflict, many officers were killed and wounded, and three or four hundred soldiers left dead in the breach, while only three or four of the townsmen lost their lives. The signal of recall was reluctantly given, and the Spaniards abandoned the assault. Don Frederic was now aware that Harlem would not fall at his feet at the first sound of his trumpet. It was obvious that a siege must precede the massacre. He gave orders therefore that the ravelin should be undermined, and doubted not that, with a few days’ delay, the place would be in his hands.
Meantime, the Prince of Orange, from his headquarters at Sassenheim, on the southern extremity of the mere, made a fresh effort to throw succor into the place. Two thousand men, with seven field-pieces, and many wagon-loads of munitions, were sent forward under Batenburg. This officer had replaced De la Marck, whom the prince had at last deprived of his commission. The reckless and unprincipled freebooter was no longer to serve a cause which was more sullied by his barbarity than it could be advanced by his desperate valor. Batenburg’s expedition was, however, not more successful than the one made by his predecessor. The troops, after reaching the vicinity of the city, lost their way in the thick mists, which almost perpetually enveloped the scene. Cannons were fired, fog-bells were rung, and beacon fires were lighted on the ramparts, but the party was irretrievably lost. The Spaniards fell upon them before they could find their way to the city. Many were put to the sword, others made their escape in different directions; a very few succeeded in entering Harlem. Batenburg brought off a remnant of the forces, but all the provisions so much needed were lost, and the little army entirely destroyed.
De Koning, the second in command, was among the prisoners. The Spaniards cut off his head and threw it over the walls into the city, with this inscription: “This is the head of Captain de Koning, who is on his way with reinforcements for the good city of Harlem.” The citizens retorted with a practical jest, which was still more barbarous. They cut off the heads of eleven prisoners and put them into a barrel, which they threw into the Spanish camp. A label upon the barrel contained these words: “Deliver these ten heads to Duke Alva in payment of his ten-penny tax, with one additional head for interest.” With such ghastly merriment did besieged and besiegers vary the monotonous horror of that winter’s siege. As the sallies and skirmishes were of daily occurrence, there was a constant supply of prisoners, upon whom both parties might exercise their ingenuity, so that the gallows in camp or city was perpetually garnished.
Since the assault of the 21st of December, Don Frederic had been making his subterranean attack by regular approaches. As fast, however, as the Spaniards mined, the citizens countermined. Spaniard and Netherlander met daily in deadly combat within the bowels of the earth. Desperate and frequent were the struggles within gangways so narrow that nothing but daggers could be used, so obscure that the dim lanterns hardly lighted the death-stroke. They seemed the conflicts, not of men but of evil spirits. Nor were these hand-to-hand battles all. A shower of heads, limbs, mutilated trunks, the mangled remains of hundreds of human beings, often spouted from the earth as if from an invisible volcano. The mines were sprung with unexampled frequency and determination. Still the Spaniards toiled on with undiminished zeal, and still the besieged, undismayed, delved below their works, and checked their advance by sword, and spear, and horrible explosions.
The Prince of Orange, meanwhile, encouraged the citizens to persevere, by frequent promises of assistance. His letters, written on extremely small bits of paper, were sent into the town by carrier pigeons. On the 28th of January he dispatched a considerable supply of the two necessaries, powder and bread, on one hundred and seventy sledges across the Harlem Lake, together with four hundred veteran soldiers. The citizens continued to contest the approaches to the ravelin before the Cross-gate, but it had become obvious that they could not hold it long. Secretly, steadfastly, and swiftly they had, therefore, during the long wintry nights, been constructing a half moon of solid masonry on the inside of the same portal. Old men, feeble women, tender children, united with the able-bodied to accomplish this work, by which they hoped still to maintain themselves after the ravelin had fallen.
On the 31st of January, after two or three days’ cannonade against the gates of the Cross and of Saint John, and the intervening curtains, Don Frederic ordered a midnight assault. The walls had been much shattered, part of the John’s-gate was in ruins; the Spaniards mounted the breach in great numbers; the city was almost taken by surprise; while the commander-in-chief, sure of victory, ordered the whole of his forces under arms to cut off the population who were to stream panic-struck from every issue. The attack was unexpected, but the forty or fifty sentinels defended the walls while they sounded the alarm. The tocsin bells tolled, and the citizens, whose sleep was not apt to be heavy during that perilous winter, soon manned the ramparts again. The daylight came upon them while the fierce struggle was still at its height. The besieged, as before, defended themselves with musket and rapier, with melted pitch, with firebrands, with clubs and stones. Meantime, after morning prayers in the Spanish camp, the trumpet for a general assault was sounded. A tremendous onset was made upon the gate of the Cross, and the ravelin was carried at last. The Spaniards poured into this fort, so long the object of their attack, expecting instantly to sweep into the city with sword and fire. As they mounted its wall they became for the first time aware of the new and stronger fortification which had been secretly constructed on the inner side. The reason why the ravelin had been at last conceded was revealed. The half moon, whose existence they had not suspected, rose before them bristling with cannon. A sharp fire was instantly opened upon the besiegers, while at the same instant the ravelin, which the citizens had undermined, blew up with a severe explosion, carrying into the air all the soldiers who had just entered it so triumphantly. This was the turning point. The retreat was sounded, and the Spaniards fled to their camp, leaving at least three hundred dead beneath the walls. Thus was a second assault, made by an overwhelming force and led by the most accomplished generals of Spain, signally and gloriously repelled by the plain burghers of Harlem.
It became now almost evident that the city could be taken neither by regular approaches nor by sudden attack. It was therefore resolved that it should be reduced by famine. Still, as the winter wore on, the immense army without the walls were as great sufferers by that Scourge as the population within. The soldiers fell in heaps before the diseases engendered by intense cold and insufficient food, for, as usual in such sieges, these deaths far outnumbered those inflicted by the enemy’s hand. The sufferings inside the city necessarily increased day by day, the whole population being put on a strict allowance of food. Their supplies were daily diminishing, and with the approach of the spring and the thawing of the ice on the lake, there was danger that they would be entirely cut off. If the possession of the water were lost, they must yield or starve, and they doubted whether the prince would be able to organize a fleet. The gaunt specter of Famine already rose before them with a menace which could not be misunderstood. In their misery they longed for the assaults of the Spaniards, that they might look in the face of a less formidable foe. They paraded the ramparts daily, with drums beating, colors flying, taunting the besiegers to renewed attempts. To inflame the religious animosity of their antagonists, they attired themselves in the splendid, gold-embroidered vestments of the priests, which they took from the churches, and moved about in mock procession, bearing aloft images bedizened in ecclesiastical finery, relics, and other symbols, sacred in Catholic eyes, which they afterwards hurled from the ramparts, or broke, with derisive shouts, into a thousand fragments.
It was, however, at that season earnestly debated by the enemy whether or not to raise the siege. Don Frederic was clearly of opinion that enough had been done for the honor of the Spanish arms. He was wearied with seeing his men perish helplessly around him, and considered the prize too paltry for the lives it must cost. His father thought differently. Perhaps he recalled the siege of Metz, and the unceasing regret with which, as he believed, his imperial master had remembered the advice received from him. At any rate the duke now sent back Don Bernardino de Mendoza, whom Don Frederic had dispatched to Nimwegen, soliciting his father’s permission to raise the siege, with this reply: “Tell Don Frederic,” said Alva, “that if he be not decided to continue the siege till the town be taken, I shall no longer consider him my son, whatever my opinion may formerly have been. Should he fall in the siege, I will myself take the field to maintain it, and when we have both perished, the Duchess, my wife, shall come from Spain to do the same.”
Such language was unequivocal, and hostilities were resumed as fiercely as before. The besieged welcomed them with rapture, and, as usual, made daily the most desperate sallies. In one outbreak the Harlemers, under cover of a thick fog, marched up to the enemy’s chief battery, and attempted to spike the guns before his face. They were all slain at the cannon’s mouth, whither patriotism, not vainglory, had led them, and lay dead around the battery, with their hammers and spikes in their hands. The same spirit was daily manifested. As the spring advanced, the kine went daily out of the gates to their peaceful pasture, notwithstanding all the turmoil within and around; nor was it possible for the Spaniards to capture a single one of these creatures, without paying at least a dozen soldiers as its price.
“These citizens,” wrote Don Frederic, “do as much as the best soldiers in the world could do.”
The frost broke up by the end of February. Count Bossu, who had been building a fleet of small vessels in Amsterdam, soon afterwards succeeded in entering the lake with a few gunboats, through a breach which he had made in the Overtoom, about half a league from that city. The possession of the lake was already imperiled. The prince, however, had not been idle, and he, too, was soon ready to send his flotilla to the mere. At the same time, the city of Amsterdam was in almost as hazardous a position as Harlem. As the one on the lake, so did the other depend upon its dyke for its supplies. Should that great artificial road which led to Muyden and Utrecht be cut asunder, Amsterdam might be starved as soon as Harlem. “Since I came into the world,” wrote Alva, “I have never been in such anxiety. If they should succeed in cutting off the communication along the dykes, we should have to raise the siege of Harlem, to surrender, hands crossed, or to starve.” Orange was fully aware of the position of both places, but he was, as usual, sadly deficient in men and means. He wrote imploringly to his friends in England, in France, in Germany. He urged his brother Louis to bring a few soldiers, if it were humanly possible. “The whole country longs for you,” he wrote to Louis, “as if you were the archangel Gabriel.”
The prince, however, did all that it was possible for man, so hampered, to do. He was himself, while anxiously writing, and hoping, and waiting for supplies of troops from Germany or France, doing his best with such volunteers as he could raise. He was still established at Sassenheim, on the South of the city, while Sonoy with his slender forces was encamped on the North. He now sent that general with as large a party as he could muster to attack the Diemerdyk. His men entrenched themselves as strongly as they could between the Diemer and the Y, at the same time opening the sluices and breaking through the dyke. During the absence of their commander, who had gone to Edam for reinforcements, they were attacked by a large force from Amsterdam. A fierce amphibious contest took place, partly in boats, partly on the slippery causeway, partly in the water, resembling in character the frequent combats between the ancient Batavians and Romans during the wars of Civilis. The patriots were eventually overpowered.
Sonoy, who was on his way to their rescue, was frustrated in his design by the unexpected faint-heartedness of the volunteers whom he had enlisted at Edam. Braving a thousand perils, he advanced, almost unattended, in his little vessel, but only to witness the overthrow and expulsion of his band. It was too late for him singly to attempt to rally the retreating troops. They had fought well, but had been forced to yield before superior numbers, one individual of the little army having performed prodigies of valor. John Haring, of Horn, had planted himself entirely alone upon the dyke, where it was so narrow between the Y on the one side and the Diemer Lake on the other, that two men could hardly stand abreast. Here, armed with sword and shield, he had actually opposed and held in check one thousand of the enemy, during a period long enough to enable his own men, if they had been willing, to rally, and effectively to repel the attack. It was too late, the battle was too far lost to be restored; but still the brave soldier held the post, till, by his devotion, he had enabled all those of his compatriots who still remained in the entrenchments to make good their retreat. He then plunged into the sea, and, untouched by spear or bullet, effected his escape. Had he been a Greek or a Roman, a Horatius or a Chabrias, his name would have been famous in history—his statue erected in the market-place; for the bold Dutchman on his dyke had manifested as much valor in a sacred cause as the most classic heroes of antiquity.
This unsuccessful attempt to cut off the communication between Amsterdam and the country strengthened the hopes of Alva. Several hundreds of the patriots were killed or captured, and among the slain was Antony Oliver, the painter, through whose agency Louis of Nassau had been introduced into Mons. His head was cut off by two ensigns in Alva’s service, who received the price which had been set upon it of 2,000 caroli. It was then labeled with its owner’s name, and thrown into the city of Harlem. At the same time a new gibbet was erected in the Spanish camp before the city, in a conspicuous situation, upon which all the prisoners were hanged, some by the neck, some by the heels, in full view of their countrymen. As usual, this especial act of cruelty excited the emulation of the citizens. Two of the old board of magistrates, belonging to the Spanish party, were still imprisoned at Harlem, together with seven other persons, among whom was a priest and a boy of twelve years. They were now condemned to the gallows. The wife of one of the ex-burgomasters and his daughter, who was a beguin, went by his side as he was led to execution, piously exhorting him to sustain with courage the execrations of the populace and his ignominious doom. The rabble, irritated by such boldness, were not satisfied with wreaking their vengeance on the principal victims, but after the execution had taken place they hunted the wife and daughter into the water, where they both perished. It is right to record these instances of cruelty, sometimes perpetrated by the patriots as well as by their oppressors—a cruelty rendered almost inevitable by the incredible barbarity of the foreign invader. It was a war of wolfish malignity. In the words of Mendoza, every man within and without Harlem “seemed inspired by a spirit of special and personal vengeance.” The innocent blood poured out in Mechlin, Zutphen, Naarden, and upon a thousand scaffolds, had been crying too long from the ground. The Hollanders must have been more or less than men not to be sometimes betrayed into acts which justice and reason must denounce.
The singular mood which has been recorded of a high-spirited officer of the garrison, Captain Curey, illustrated the horror with which such scenes of carnage were regarded by noble natures. Of a gentle disposition originally, but inflamed almost to insanity by a contemplation of Spanish cruelty, he had taken up the profession of arms, to which he had a natural repugnance. Brave to recklessness, he led his men on every daring outbreak, on every perilous midnight adventure. Armed only with his rapier, without defensive armor, he was ever found where the battle raged most fiercely, and numerous were the victims who fell before his sword. On returning, however, from such excursions, he invariably shut himself in his quarters, took to his bed, and lay for days, sick with remorse, and bitterly lamenting all that bloodshed in which he had so deeply participated, and which a cruel fate seemed to render necessary. As the gentle mood subsided, his frenzy would return, and again he would rush to the field, to seek new havoc and fresh victims for his rage.
The combats before the walls were of almost daily occurrence. On the 25th of March, 1,000 of the besieged made a brilliant sally, drove in all the outposts of the enemy, burned three hundred tents, and captured seven cannon, nine standards, and many wagon-loads of provisions, all which they succeeded in bringing with them into the city. Having thus reinforced themselves, in a manner not often practiced by the citizens of a beleaguered town, in the very face of 30,000 veterans; having killed eight hundred of the enemy, which was nearly one for every man engaged, while they lost but four of their own party; the Harlemers, on their return, erected a trophy of funereal but exulting aspect. A mound of earth was constructed upon the ramparts, in the form of a colossal grave, in full view of the enemy’s camp, and upon it were planted the cannon and standards so gallantly won in the skirmish, with the taunting inscription floating from the center of the mound—”Harlem is the graveyard of the Spaniards.”
Such were the characteristics of this famous siege during the winter and early spring. Alva might well write to his sovereign, that “it was a war such as never before was seen or heard of in any land on earth.” Yet the duke had known near sixty years of warfare. He informed Philip that “never was a place defended with such skill and bravery as Harlem, either by rebels or by men fighting for their lawful Prince.” Certainly his son had discovered his mistake in asserting that the city would yield in a week; while the father, after nearly six years’ experience, had found this “people of butter” less malleable than even those “iron people” whom he boasted of having tamed. It was seen that neither the skies of Greece or Italy, nor the sublime scenery of Switzerland, were necessary to arouse the spirit of defiance to foreign oppression—a spirit which beat as proudly among the wintry mists and the level meadows of Holland as it had ever done under sunnier atmospheres and in more romantic lands.
Mendoza had accomplished his mission to Spain, and had returned with supplies of money within six weeks from the date of his departure. Owing to his representations and Alva’s entreaties, Philip had, moreover, ordered Requesens, governor of Milan, to send forward to the Netherlands three veteran Spanish regiments, which were now more required at Harlem than in Italy. While the land force had thus been strengthened, the fleet upon the lake had also been largely increased. The Prince of Orange had, on the other hand, provided more than a hundred sail of various descriptions so that the whole surface of the mere was now alive with ships. Sea-fights and skirmishes took place almost daily, and it was obvious that the life and death struggle was now to be fought upon the water. So long as the Hollanders could hold or dispute the possession of the lake, it was still possible to succor Harlem from time to time. Should the Spaniards overcome the prince’s fleet, the city must inevitably starve.
At last, on the 28th of May, a decisive engagement of the fleets took place. The vessels grappled with each other, and there was a long, fierce, hand-to-hand combat. Under Bossu were one hundred vessels; under Martin Brand, admiral of the patriot fleet, nearly one hundred and fifty, but of lesser dimensions. Batenburg commanded the troops on board the Dutch vessels. After a protracted conflict, in which several thousands were killed, the victory was decided in favor of the Spaniards. Twenty-two of the prince’s vessels being captured, and the rest totally routed, Bossu swept across the lake in triumph. The forts belonging to the patriots were immediately taken, and the Harlemers, with their friends, entirely excluded from the lake.
This was the beginning of the end. Despair took possession of the city. The whole population had been long subsisting upon an allowance of a pound of bread to each man, and half a pound for each woman; but the bread was now exhausted, the famine had already begun, and with the loss of the lake, starvation was close at their doors. They sent urgent entreaties to the prince to attempt something in their behalf. Three weeks more they assigned as the longest term during which they could possibly hold out. He sent them word by carrier pigeons to endure yet a little time, for he was assembling a force, and would still succeed in furnishing them with supplies. Meantime, through the month of June the sufferings of the inhabitants increased hourly. Ordinary food had long since vanished. The population now subsisted on linseed and rape-seed; as these supplies were exhausted they devoured cats, dogs, rats, and mice, and when at last these unclean animals had been all consumed, they boiled the hides of horses and oxen; they ate shoe-leather; they plucked the nettles and grass from the graveyards, and the weeds which grew between the stones of the pavement, that with such food they might still support life a little longer, till the promised succor should arrive. Men, women, and children fell dead by scores in the streets, perishing of pure starvation, and the survivors had hardly the heart or the strength to bury them out of their sight. They who yet lived seemed to flit like shadows to and fro, envying those whose sufferings had already been terminated by death.
Thus wore away the month of June. On the first of July the burghers consented to a parley. Deputies were sent to confer with the besiegers, but the negotiations were abruptly terminated, for no terms of compromise were admitted by Don Frederic. On the third, a tremendous cannonade was re-opened upon the city. One thousand and eight balls were discharged, the most which had ever been thrown in one day since the commencement of the siege. The walls were severely shattered, but the assault was not ordered, because the besiegers were assured that it was physically impossible for the inhabitants to hold out many days longer. A last letter, written in blood, was now dispatched to the Prince of Orange, stating the forlorn condition to which they were reduced. At the same time, with the derision of despair, they flung into the hostile camp the few loaves of bread which yet remained within the city walls. A day or two later, a second and third parley were held, with no more satisfactory result than had attended the first. A black flag was now hoisted on the cathedral tower, the signal of despair to friend and foe, but a pigeon soon afterwards flew into the town with a letter from the prince, begging them to maintain themselves two days longer, because succor was approaching.
The prince had indeed been doing all which, under the circumstances, was possible. He assembled the citizens of Delft in the market-place, and announced his intention of marching in person to the relief of the city, in the face of the besieging army, if any troops could be obtained. Soldiers there were none; but there was the deepest sympathy for Harlem throughout its sister cities, Delft, Rotterdam, Gouda. A numerous mass of burghers, many of them persons of station, all people of respectability, volunteered to march to the rescue. The prince highly disapproved of this miscellaneous army, whose steadfastness he could not trust. As a soldier, he knew that for such a momentous enterprise, enthusiasm could not supply the place of experience. Nevertheless, as no regular troops could be had, and as the emergency allowed no delay, he drew up a commission, appointing Paulus Buys to be governor during his absence, and provisional stadholder, should he fall in the expedition. Four thousand armed volunteers, with six hundred mounted troopers, under Carlo de Noot, had been assembled, and the prince now placed himself at their head. There was, however, a universal cry of remonstrance from the magistracies and burghers of all the towns, and from the troops themselves, at this project. They would not consent that a life so precious, so indispensable to the existence of Holland, should be needlessly hazarded. It was important to succor Harlem, but the prince was of more value than many cities. He at last reluctantly consented, therefore, to abandon the command of the expedition to Baron Batenburg, the less willingly from the want of confidence which he could not help feeling in the character of the forces. On the eighth of July, at dusk, the expedition set forth from Sassenheim. It numbered nearly five thousand men, who had with them four hundred wagon-loads of provisions and seven field-pieces. Among the volunteers, Oldenbarneveld, afterwards so illustrious in the history of the Republic, marched in the ranks, with his musket on his shoulder. Such was a sample of the spirit which pervaded the population of the province.
Batenburg came to a halt in the woods of Nordwyk, on the south side of the city, where he remained till midnight. All seemed still in the enemy’s camp. After prayers, he gave orders to push forward, hoping to steal through the lines of his sleeping adversaries and accomplish the relief by surprise. He was destined to be bitterly disappointed. His plans and his numbers were thoroughly known to the Spaniards, two doves, bearing letters which contained the details of the intended expedition, having been shot and brought into Don Frederic’s camp.
The citizens, it appeared, had broken through the curtain work on the side where Batenburg was expected, in order that a sally might be made in cooperation with the relieving force, as soon as it should appear. Signal fires had been agreed upon, by which the besieged were to be made aware of the approach of their friends. The Spanish Commander accordingly ordered a mass of green branches, pitch, and straw, to be lighted opposite to the gap in the city wall. Behind it he stationed 5,000 picked troops. Five thousand more, with a force of cavalry, were placed in the neighborhood of the downs, with orders to attack the patriot army on the left. Six regiments, under Romero, were ordered to move eastward, and assail their right. The dense mass of smoke concealed the beacon lights displayed by Batenburg from the observation of the townspeople, and hid the 5,000 Spaniards from the advancing Hollanders. As Batenburg emerged from the wood, he found himself attacked by a force superior to his own, while a few minutes later he was entirely enveloped by overwhelming numbers. The whole Spanish army was, indeed, under arms, and had been expecting him for two days. The unfortunate citizens alone were ignorant of his arrival. The noise of the conflict they supposed to be a false alarm created by the Spaniards, to draw them into their camp, and they declined a challenge which they were in no condition to accept. Batenburg was soon slain, and his troops utterly routed. The number killed was variously estimated at from six hundred to two and even three thousand. It is, at any rate, certain that the whole force was entirely destroyed or dispersed, and the attempt to relieve the city completely frustrated. The death of Batenburg was the less regretted, because he was accused, probably with great injustice, of having been intoxicated at the time of action, and therefore incapable of properly conducting the enterprise entrusted to him.
The Spaniards now cut off the nose and ears of a prisoner and sent him into the city to announce the news, while a few heads were also thrown over the walls to confirm the intelligence. When this decisive overthrow became known in Delft, there was even an outbreak of indignation against Orange. According to a statement of Alva, which, however, is to be received with great distrust, some of the populace wished to sack the prince’s house, and offered him personal indignities. Certainly, if these demonstrations were made, popular anger was never more senseless; but the tale rests entirely upon a vague assertion of the duke, and is entirely at variance with every other contemporaneous account of these transactions. It had now become absolutely necessary, however, for the heroic but wretched town to abandon itself to its fate. It was impossible to attempt anything more in its behalf. The lake and its forts were in the hands of the enemy, the best force which could be mustered to make head against the besieging army had been cut to pieces, and the Prince of Orange, with a heavy heart, now sent word that the burghers were to make the best terms they could with the enemy.
The tidings of despair created a terrible commotion in the starving city. There was no hope either in submission or resistance. Massacre or starvation was the only alternative. But if there was no hope within the walls, without there was still a soldier’s death. For a moment the garrison and the able-bodied citizens resolved to advance from the gates in a solid column, to cut their way through the enemy’s camp, or to perish on the field. It was thought that the helpless and the infirm, who would alone be left in the city, might be treated with indulgence after the fighting men had all been slain. At any rate, by remaining, the strong could neither protect nor comfort them. As soon, however, as this resolve was known, there was such wailing and outcry of women and children as pierced the hearts of the soldiers and burghers, and caused them to forego the project. They felt that it was cowardly not to die in their presence. It was then determined to form all the females, the sick, the aged, and the children, into a square, to surround them with all the able-bodied men who still remained, and thus arrayed to fight their way forth from the gates, and to conquer by the strength of despair, or at least to perish all together.
These desperate projects, which the besieged were thought quite capable of executing, were soon known in the Spanish camp. Don Frederic felt, after what he had witnessed in the past seven months, that there was nothing which the Harlemers could not do or dare. He feared lest they should set fire to their city, and consume their houses, themselves, and their children, to ashes together; and he was unwilling that the fruits of his victory, purchased at such a vast expense, should be snatched from his hand as he was about to gather them. A letter was accordingly, by his order, sent to the magistracy and leading citizens, in the name of Count Overstein, commander of the German forces in the besieging army. This dispatch invited a surrender at discretion, but contained the solemn assurance that no punishment should be inflicted except upon those who, in the judgment of the citizens themselves, had deserved it, and promised ample forgiveness if the town should submit without further delay. At the moment of sending this letter, Don Frederic was in possession of strict orders from his father not to leave a man alive of the garrison, excepting only the Germans, and to execute besides a large number of the burghers. These commands he dared not disobey, even if he had felt any inclination to do so. In consequence of the semi-official letter of Overstein, however, the city formally surrendered at discretion on the 12th of July.
The great bell was tolled, and orders were issued that all arms in the possession of the garrison or the inhabitants should be brought to the town-house. The men were then ordered to assemble in the cloister of Zyl, the women in the cathedral. On the same day, Don Frederic, accompanied by Count Bossu and a numerous staff, rode into the city. The scene which met his view might have moved a heart of stone. Everywhere was evidence of the misery which had been so bravely endured during that seven months’ siege. The smoldering ruins of houses, which had been set on fire by balls; the shattered fortifications; the felled trunks of trees; upturned pavements; broken images and other materials for repairing gaps made by the daily cannonade, strewn around in all directions; the skeletons of unclean animals from which the flesh had been gnawed; the unburied bodies of men and women who had fallen dead in the public thoroughfares; more than all, the gaunt and emaciated forms of those who still survived, the ghosts of their former selves; all might have induced at least a doubt whether the suffering inflicted already were not a sufficient punishment, even for crimes so deep as heresy and schism. But this was far from being the sentiment of Don Frederic. He seemed to read defiance as well as despair in the sunken eyes which glared upon him as he entered the place, and he took no thought of the pledge which he had informally but sacredly given.
All the officers of the garrison were at once arrested. Some of them had anticipated the sentence of their conqueror by a voluntary death. Captain Bordet, a French officer of distinction, like Brutus, compelled his servant to hold the sword upon which he fell, rather than yield himself alive to the vengeance of the Spaniards. Traits of generosity were not wanting. Instead of Peter Hasselaer, a young officer who had displayed remarkable bravery throughout the siege, the Spaniards by mistake arrested his cousin Nicholas. The prisoner was suffering himself to be led away to the inevitable scaffold without remonstrance, when Peter Hasselaer pushed his way violently through the ranks of the captors. “If you want Ensign Hasselaer, I am the man. Let this innocent person depart,” he cried. Before the sun set his head had fallen. All the officers were taken to the House of Kleef, where they were immediately executed. Captain Ripperda, who had so heroically rebuked the craven conduct of the magistracy, whose eloquence had inflamed the soldiers and citizens to resistance, and whose skill and courage had sustained the siege so long, was among the first to suffer. A natural son of Cardinal Granvelle, who could have easily saved his life by proclaiming a parentage which he loathed, and Lancelot Brederode, an illegitimate scion of that ancient house, were also among these earliest victims.
The next day Alva came over to the camp. He rode about the place, examining the condition of the fortifications from the outside, but returned to Amsterdam without having entered the city. On the following morning the massacre commenced. The plunder had been commuted for 240,000 guilders, which the citizens bound themselves to pay in four installments; but murder was an indispensable accompaniment of victory, and admitted of no compromise. Moreover, Alva had already expressed the determination to effect a general massacre upon this occasion. The garrison, during the siege, had been reduced from 4,000 to 1,800. Of these the Germans, six hundred in number, were, by Alva’s order, dismissed, on a pledge to serve no more against the king. All the rest of the garrison were immediately butchered, with at least as many citizens. Drummers went about the city daily, proclaiming that all who harbored persons having, at any former period, been fugitives, were immediately to give them up, on pain of being instantly hanged themselves in their own doors. Upon these refugees and upon the soldiery fell the brunt of the slaughter; although, from day to day, reasons were perpetually discovered for putting to death every individual at all distinguished by service, station, wealth, or liberal principles; for the carnage could not be accomplished at once, but, with all the industry and heartiness employed, was necessarily protracted through several days. Five executioners, with their attendants, were kept constantly at work; and when at last they were exhausted with fatigue, or perhaps sickened with horror, three hundred wretches were tied two and two, back to back, and drowned in the Harlem Lake.
At last, after twenty-three hundred human creatures had been murdered in cold blood, within a city where so many thousands had previously perished by violent or by lingering deaths; the blasphemous farce of a pardon was enacted. Fifty-seven of the most prominent burghers of the place were, however, excepted from the act of amnesty, and taken into custody as security for the future good conduct of the other citizens. Of these hostages some were soon executed, some died in prison, and all would have been eventually sacrificed, had not the naval defeat of Bossu soon afterwards enabled the Prince of Orange to rescue the remaining prisoners. Ten thousand two hundred and fifty-six shots had been discharged against the walls during the siege. Twelve thousand of the besieging army had died of wounds or disease, during the seven months and two days, between the investment and the surrender. In the earlier part of August, after the executions had been satisfactorily accomplished, Don Frederic made his triumphal entry, and the first chapter in the invasion of Holland was closed. Such was the memorable siege of Harlem, an event in which we are called upon to wonder equally at human capacity to inflict and to endure misery.
The Spaniards celebrated a victory, while in Utrecht they made an effigy of the Prince of Orange, which they carried about in procession, broke upon the wheel, and burned. It was, however, obvious, that if the reduction of Harlem were a triumph, it was one which the conquerors might well exchange for a defeat. At any rate, it was certain that the Spanish empire was not strong enough to sustain many more such victories. If it had required 30,000 choice troops, among which were three regiments called by Alva respectively, the “Invincibles,” the “Immortals,” and the “None-such,” to conquer the weakest city of Holland in seven months, and with the loss of 12,000 men; how many men, how long a time, and how many deaths would it require to reduce the rest of that little province? For, as the sack of Naarden had produced the contrary effect from the one intended, inflaming rather than subduing the spirit of Dutch resistance, so the long and glorious defense of Harlem, notwithstanding its tragical termination, had only served to strain to the highest pitch the hatred and patriotism of the other cities in the province. Even the treasures of the New World were inadequate to pay for the conquest of that little sand-bank. Within five years, twenty-five millions of florins had been sent from Spain for war expenses in the Netherlands. Yet, this amount, with the addition of large sums annually derived from confiscations, of five millions, at which the proceeds of the hundredth penny was estimated, and the two millions yearly, for which the tenth and twentieth pence had been compounded, was insufficient to save the treasury from beggary and the unpaid troops from mutiny.
Nevertheless, for the moment the joy created was intense. Philip was lying dangerously ill at the wood of Segovia, when the happy tidings of the reduction of Harlem, with its accompanying butchery, arrived. The account of all the misery, minutely detailed to him by Alva, acted like magic. The blood of twenty-three hundred of his fellow creatures—coldly murdered, by his orders, in a single city—proved for the sanguinary monarch the elixir of life; he drank and was refreshed. “The principal medicine which has cured his Majesty,” wrote Secretary Cayas from Madrid to Alva, “is the joy caused to him by the good news which you have communicated of the surrender of Harlem.” In the height of his exultation, the king forgot how much dissatisfaction he had recently felt with the progress of events in the Netherlands, how much treasure had been annually expended with an insufficient result. “Knowing your necessity,” continued Cayas, “his Majesty instantly sent for Doctor Velasco, and ordered him to provide you with funds, if he had to descend into the earth to dig for it.” While such was the exultation of the Spaniards, the Prince of Orange was neither dismayed nor despondent. As usual, he trusted to a higher power than man. “I had hoped to send you better news,” he wrote to Count Louis, “nevertheless, since it has otherwise pleased the good God, we must conform ourselves to His divine will. I take the same God to witness that I have done everything according to my means, which was possible, to succor the city.” A few days later, writing in the same spirit, he informed his brother that the Zealanders had succeeded in capturing the castle of Rammekens, on the isle of Walcheren. “I hope,” he said, “that this will reduce the pride of our enemies, who, after the surrender of Harlem, have thought that they were about to swallow us alive. I assure myself, however, that they will find a very different piece of work from the one which they expect.”
The Siege of Alkmaar and the Eventual Failure of the Duke of Alva
For the sake of continuity in the narrative, the siege of Harlem has been related until its conclusion. This great event constituted, moreover, the principal stuff in Netherland history, up to the middle of the year 1573. A few loose threads must be now taken up before we can proceed farther.
Alva had for some time felt himself in a false and uncomfortable position. While he continued to be the object of a popular hatred as intense as ever glowed, he had gradually lost his hold upon those who, at the outset of his career, had been loudest and lowest in their demonstrations of respect. “Believe me,” wrote Secretary Albornoz to Secretary Cayas, “this people abhor our nation worse than they abhor the Devil. As for the Duke of Alva, they foam at the mouth when they hear his name.” Viglius, although still maintaining smooth relations with the governor, had been, in reality, long since estranged from him. Even Aerschot, for whom the duke had long maintained an intimacy half affectionate, half contemptuous, now began to treat him with a contumely which it was difficult for so proud a stomach to digest.
But the main source of discomfort was doubtless the presence of Medina Cœli. This was the perpetual thorn in his side, which no cunning could extract. A successor who would not and could not succeed him, yet who attended him as his shadow and his evil genius; a confidential colleague who betrayed his confidence, mocked his projects, derided his authority, and yet complained of ill treatment; a rival who was neither compeer nor subaltern, and who affected to be his censor; a functionary of a purely anomalous character, sheltering himself under his abnegation of an authority which he had not dared to assume, and criticizing measures which he was not competent to grasp—such was the Duke of Medina Cœli, in Alva’s estimation.
The bickering between the two dukes became unceasing and disgraceful. Of course, each complained to the king, and each, according to his own account, was a martyr to the other’s tyranny, but the meekness manifested by Alva, in all his relations with the newcomer, was wonderful, if we are to believe the accounts furnished by himself and by his confidential secretary. On the other hand, Medina Cœli wrote to the king, complaining of Alva in most unmitigated strains, and asserting that he was himself never allowed to see any dispatches, nor to have the slightest information as to the policy of the government. He reproached the duke with shrinking from personal participation in military operations, and begged the royal forgiveness if he withdrew from a scene where he felt himself to be superfluous.
Accordingly, towards the end of November, he took his departure, without paying his respects. The governor complained to the king of this unceremonious proceeding, and assured His Majesty that never were courtesy and gentleness so ill requited as his had been by this ingrate and cankered duke. “He told me,” said Alva, “that if I did not stay in the field, he would not remain with me in peaceful cities, and he asked me if I intended to march into Holland with the troops which were to winter there. I answered, that I should go wherever it was necessary, even should I be obliged to swim through all the canals of Holland.” After giving these details, the duke added, with great appearance of candor and meekness, that he was certain Medina Cœli had only been influenced by extreme zeal for His Majesty’s service, and that, finding so little for him to do in the Netherlands, he had become dissatisfied with his position.
Immediately after the fall of Harlem, another attempt was made by Alva to win back the allegiance of the other cities by proclamations. It had become obvious to the governor that so determined a resistance on the part of the first place besieged augured many long campaigns before the whole province could be subdued. A circular was accordingly issued upon the 26th of July from Utrecht, and published immediately afterwards in all the cities of the Netherlands. It was a paper of singular character, commingling an affectation of almost ludicrous clemency, with honest and hearty brutality. There was consequently something very grotesque about the document. Philip, in the outset, was made to sustain towards his undutiful subjects the characters of the brooding hen and the prodigal’s father, a range of impersonation hardly to be allowed him, even by the most abject flattery. “Ye are well aware,” thus ran the address, “that the king has, over and over again, manifested his willingness to receive his children, in however forlorn a condition the prodigals might return. His Majesty assures you once more that your sins, however black they may have been, shall be forgiven and forgotten in the plenitude of royal kindness, if you repent and return in season to his Majesty’s embrace. Notwithstanding your manifold crimes, his Majesty still seeks, like a hen calling her chickens, to gather you all under the parental wing. The King hereby warns you once more, therefore, to place yourselves in his royal hands, and not to wait for his rage, cruelty, and fury, and the approach of his army.”
The affectionate character of the address, already fading towards the end of the preamble, soon changes to bitterness. The domestic maternal fowl dilates into the sanguinary dragon as the address proceeds. “But if,” continues the monarch, “ye disregard these offers of mercy, receiving them with closed ears, as heretofore, then we warn you that there is no rigor, nor cruelty, however great, which you are not to expect by laying waste, starvation, and the sword, in such manner that nowhere shall remain a relic of that which at present exists, but his Majesty will strip bare and utterly depopulate the land, and cause it to be inhabited again by strangers; since otherwise his Majesty could not believe that the will of God and of his Majesty had been accomplished.”
It is almost superfluous to add that this circular remained fruitless. The royal wrath, thus blasphemously identifying itself with divine vengeance, inspired no terror, the royal blandishments no affection.
The next point of attack was the city of Alkmaar, situate quite at the termination of the Peninsula, among the lagunes and redeemed prairies of North Holland. The Prince of Orange had already provided it with a small garrison. The city had been summoned to surrender by the middle of July, and had returned a bold refusal. Meantime, the Spaniards had retired from before the walls, while the surrender and chastisement of Harlem occupied them during the next succeeding weeks. The month of August, moreover, was mainly consumed by Alva in quelling a dangerous and protracted mutiny, which broke out among the Spanish soldiers at Harlem, between three and four thousand of them having been quartered upon the ill-fated population of that city. Unceasing misery was endured by the inhabitants at the hands of the ferocious Spaniards, flushed with victory, mutinous for long arrears of pay, and greedy for the booty which had been denied. At times, however, the fury of the soldiery was more violently directed against their own commanders than against the enemy. A project was even formed by the malcontent troops to deliver Harlem into the hands of Orange. A party of them, disguised as Baltic merchants, waited upon the prince at Delft, and were secretly admitted to his bedside before he had risen. They declared to him that they were Spanish soldiers, who had compassion on his cause, were dissatisfied with their own government, and were ready, upon receipt of 40,000 guilders, to deliver the city into his hands. The prince took the matter into consideration, and promised to accept the offer if he could raise the required sum. This, however, he found himself unable to do within the stipulated time, and thus, for want of so paltry a sum, the offer was of necessity declined.
Various were the excesses committed by the insubordinate troops in every province in the Netherlands upon the longsuffering inhabitants. Nothing, wrote Alva, had given him so much pain during his forty years of service. He avowed his determination to go to Amsterdam in order to offer himself as a hostage to the soldiery, if by so doing he could quell the mutiny. He went to Amsterdam accordingly, where by his exertions, ably seconded by those of the Marquis Vitelli, and by the payment of thirty crowns to each soldier—fourteen on account of arrearages and sixteen as his share in the Harlem compensation money—the rebellion was appeased, and obedience restored.
There was now leisure for the general to devote his whole energies against the little city of Alkmaar. On that bank and shoal, the extreme verge of habitable earth, the spirit of Holland’s Freedom stood at bay. The gray towers of Egmont Castle and of Egmont Abbey rose between the city and the sea, and there the troops sent by the Prince of Orange were quartered during the very brief period in which the citizens wavered as to receiving them. The die was soon cast, however, and the prince’s garrison admitted. The Spaniards advanced, burned the village of Egmont to the ground as soon as the patriots had left it, and on the 21st of August, Don Frederic, appearing before the walls, proceeded formally to invest Alkmaar.* In a few days this had been so thoroughly accomplished that, in Alva’s language, “it was impossible for a sparrow to enter or go out of the city.” The odds were somewhat unequal. Sixteen thousand veteran troops constituted the besieging force. Within the city were a garrison of eight hundred soldiers, together with thirteen hundred burghers capable of bearing arms. The rest of the population consisted of a very few refugees, besides the women and children. Two thousand one hundred able-bodied men, of whom only about one third were soldiers, to resist sixteen thousand regulars?
- This is much the most important and detailed account of the siege of Alkmaar. The story is told with vigor and ferocity by a man who was daily and nightly on the walls during the whole siege, and who wrote his narrative as soon as the Spaniards had been repulsed.
The author [Kort Verhael], who was a magistrate and a pensionary of the city, observes that his “slumberous and sleepy fellow burghers were converted into experienced soldiers by the Spaniard, who summoned them every moment out of bed to the walls.”
Nor was there any doubt as to the fate which was reserved for them, should they succumb. The duke was vociferous at the ingratitude with which his clemency had hitherto been requited. He complained bitterly of the ill success which had attended his monitory circulars, reproached himself with incredible vehemence, for his previous mildness, and protested that, after having executed only twenty-three hundred persons at the surrender of Harlem, besides a few additional burghers since, he had met with no correspondent demonstrations of affection. He promised himself, however, an ample compensation for all this ingratitude in the wholesale vengeance which he purposed to wreak upon Alkmaar. Already he gloated in anticipation over the havoc which would soon be let loose within those walls. Such ravings, if invented by the pen of fiction, would seem a puerile caricature; proceeding, authentically, from his own, they still appear almost too exaggerated for belief. “If I take Alkmaar,” he wrote to Philip, “I am resolved not to leave a single creature alive; the knife shall be put to every throat. Since the example of Harlem has proved of no use, perhaps an example of cruelty will bring the other cities to their senses.”
He took occasion also to read a lecture to the party of conciliation in Madrid, whose counsels, as he believed, his sovereign was beginning to heed. Nothing, he maintained, could be more senseless than the idea of pardon and clemency. This had been sufficiently proved by recent events. It was easy for people at a distance to talk about gentleness, but those upon the spot knew better. Gentleness had produced nothing, so far; violence alone could succeed in future. “Let your Majesty,” he said, “be disabused of the impression, that with kindness anything can be done with these people. Already have matters reached such a point that many of those born in the country, who have hitherto advocated clemency, are now undeceived, and acknowledge their mistake. They are of opinion that not a living soul should be left in Alkmaar, but that every individual should be put to the sword.” At the same time he took occasion, even in these ferocious letters, which seem dripping with blood, to commend his own natural benignity of disposition. “Your Majesty may be certain,” he said, “that no man on earth desires the path of clemency more than I do, notwithstanding my particular hatred for heretics and traitors.” It was therefore with regret that he saw himself obliged to take the opposite course, and to stifle all his gentler sentiments.
Upon Diedrich Sonoy, lieutenant-governor for Orange in the province of North Holland, devolved the immediate responsibility of defending this part of the country. As the storm rolled slowly up from the South, even that experienced officer became uneasy at the unequal conflict impending. He dispatched a letter to his chief, giving a gloomy picture of his position. All looked instinctively towards the prince, as to a God in their time of danger; all felt as if upon his genius and fortitude depended the whole welfare of the fatherland. It was hoped, too, that some resource had been provided in a secret foreign alliance. “If your princely grace,” wrote Sonoy, “have made a contract for assistance with any powerful potentate, it is of the highest importance that it should be known to all the cities, in order to put an end to the emigration, and to console the people in their affliction.”
The answer of the prince was full of lofty enthusiasm. He reprimanded with gentle but earnest eloquence the despondency and little faith of his lieutenant and other adherents. He had not expected, he said, that they would have so soon forgotten their manly courage. They seemed to consider the whole fate of the country attached to the city of Harlem. He took God to witness that he had spared no pains, and would willingly have spared no drop of his blood to save that devoted city. “But as, notwithstanding our efforts,” he continued, “it has pleased God Almighty to dispose of Harlem according to His divine will, shall we, therefore, deny and deride His holy word? Has the strong arm of the Lord thereby grown weaker? Has his Church therefore come to nought? You ask if I have entered into a firm treaty with any great king or potentate, to which I answer, that before I ever took up the cause of the oppressed Christians in these provinces, I had entered into a close alliance with the King of kings; and I am firmly convinced that all who put their trust in Him shall be saved by His almighty hand. The God of armies will raise up armies for us to do battle with our enemies and His own.” In conclusion, he stated his preparations for attacking the enemy by sea as well as by land, and encouraged his lieutenant and the citizens of the northern quarter to maintain a bold front before the advancing foe.
And now, with the dismantled and desolate Harlem before their eyes, a prophetic phantom, perhaps, of their own imminent fate, did the handful of people shut up within Alkmaar prepare for the worst. Their main hope lay in the friendly sea. The vast sluices called the Zyp, through which an inundation of the whole northern province could be very soon effected, were but a few miles distant. By opening these gates, and by piercing a few dykes, the ocean might be made to fight for them. To obtain this result, however, the consent of the inhabitants was requisite, as the destruction of all the standing crops would be inevitable. The city was so closely invested, that it was a matter of life and death to venture forth, and it was difficult, therefore, to find an envoy for this hazardous mission. At last, a carpenter in the city, Peter Van der Mey by name, undertook the adventure, and was entrusted with letters to Sonoy, to the Prince of Orange, and to the leading personages in several cities of the province. These papers were enclosed in a hollow walking staff, carefully made fast at the top.
Affairs soon approached a crisis within the beleaguered city. Daily skirmishes, without decisive result, had taken place outside the walls. At last, on the 18th of September, after a steady cannonade of nearly twelve hours, Don Frederic, at three in the afternoon, ordered an assault. Notwithstanding his seven months’ experience at Harlem, he still believed it certain that he should carry Alkmaar by storm. The attack took place at once upon the Frisian gate and upon the red tower on the opposite side. Two choice regiments, recently arrived from Lombardy, led the onset, rending the air with their shouts, and confident of an easy victory. They were sustained by what seemed an overwhelming force of disciplined troops. Yet never, even in the recent history of Harlem, had an attack been received by more dauntless breasts. Every living man was on the walls. The storming parties were assailed with cannon, with musketry, with pistols. Boiling water, pitch and oil, molten lead, and unslaked lime, were poured upon them every moment. Hundreds of tarred and burning hoops were skillfully quoited around the necks of the soldiers, who struggled in vain to extricate themselves from these fiery ruffs, while as fast as any of the invaders planted foot upon the breach, they were confronted face to face with sword and dagger by the burghers, who hurled them headlong into the moat below.
Thrice was the attack renewed with ever-increasing rage—thrice repulsed with unflinching fortitude. The storm continued four hours long. During all that period, not one of the defenders left his post, till he dropped from it dead or wounded. The women and children, unscared by the balls flying in every direction, or by the hand-to-hand conflicts on the ramparts, passed steadily to and fro from the arsenals to the fortifications, constantly supplying their fathers, husbands, and brothers with powder and ball. Thus, every human being in the city that could walk had become a soldier. At last darkness fell upon the scene. The trumpet of recall was sounded, and the Spaniards, utterly discomfited, retired from the walls, leaving at least one thousand dead in the trenches, while only thirteen burghers and twenty-four of the garrison lost their lives. Thus was Alkmaar preserved for a little longer, thus a large and well-appointed army signally defeated by a handful of men fighting for their firesides and altars. Ensign Solis, who had mounted the breach for an instant, and miraculously escaped with life, after having been hurled from the battlements, reported that he had seen “neither helmet nor harness,” as he looked down into the city—only some plain-looking people, generally dressed like fishermen. Yet these plain-looking fishermen had defeated the veterans of Alva.
The citizens felt encouraged by the results of that day’s work. Moreover, they already possessed such information concerning the condition of affairs in the camp of the enemy as gave them additional confidence. A Spaniard, named Jeronimo, had been taken prisoner and brought into the city. On receiving a promise of pardon, he had revealed many secrets concerning the position and intentions of the besieging army. It is painful to add that the prisoner, notwithstanding his disclosures and the promise under which they had been made, was treacherously executed. He begged hard for his life as he was led to the gallows, offering fresh revelations, which, however, after the ample communications already made, were esteemed superfluous. Finding this of no avail, he promised his captors, with perfect simplicity, to go down on his knees and worship the Devil precisely as they did, if by so doing he might obtain mercy. It may be supposed that such a proposition was not likely to gain additional favor for him in the eyes of these rigid Calvinists, and the poor wretch was accordingly hanged.
The day following the assault, a fresh cannonade was opened upon the city. Seven hundred shots having been discharged, the attack was ordered. It was in vain; neither threats nor entreaties could induce the Spaniards, hitherto so indomitable, to mount the breach. The place seemed to their imagination protected by more than mortal powers—otherwise how was it possible that a few half-starved fishermen could already have so triumphantly overthrown the time-honored legions of Spain? It was thought, no doubt, that the Devil, whom they worshipped, would continue to protect his children. Neither the entreaties nor the menaces of Don Frederic were of any avail. Several soldiers allowed themselves to be run through the body by their own officers, rather than advance to the walls, and the assault was accordingly postponed to an indefinite period.
Meantime, as Governor Sonoy had opened many of the dykes, the land in the neighborhood of the camp was becoming plashy, although as yet the threatened inundation had not taken place. The soldiers were already very uncomfortable and very refractory. The carpenter-envoy had not been idle, having, upon the 26th of September, arrived at Sonoy’s quarters, bearing letters from the Prince of Orange. These dispatches gave distinct directions to Sonoy to flood the country at all risks, rather than allow Alkmaar to fall into the enemy’s hands. The dykes and sluices were to be protected by a strong guard, lest the peasants, in order to save their crops, should repair or close them in the night-time. The letters of Orange were copied, and, together with fresh communications from Sonoy, delivered to the carpenter. A note on the margin of the prince’s letter directed the citizens to kindle four beacon fires in specified places, as soon as it should prove necessary to resort to extreme measures. When that moment should arrive, it was solemnly promised that an inundation should be created which should sweep the whole Spanish army into the sea. The work had, in fact, been commenced. The Zyp and other sluices had already been opened, and a vast body of water, driven by a strong northwest wind, had rushed in from the ocean. It needed only that two great dykes should be pierced to render the deluge and the desolation complete. The harvests were doomed to destruction, and a frightful loss of property rendered inevitable, but, at any rate, the Spaniards, if this last measure were taken, must fly or perish to a man.
This decisive blow having been thus ordered and promised, the carpenter set forth towards the city. He was, however, not so successful in accomplishing his entrance unmolested, as he had been in effecting his departure. He narrowly escaped with his life in passing through the enemy’s lines, and while occupied in saving himself was so unlucky, or, as it proved, so fortunate, as to lose the stick in which his dispatches were enclosed. He made good his entrance into the city, where, by word of mouth, he encouraged his fellow burghers as to the intentions of the prince and Sonoy. In the meantime his letters were laid before the general of the besieging army. The resolution taken by Orange, of which Don Frederic was thus unintentionally made aware, to flood the country far and near, rather than fail to protect Alkmaar, made a profound impression upon his mind. It was obvious that he was dealing with a determined leader and with desperate men. His attempt to carry the place by storm had signally failed, and he could not deceive himself as to the temper and disposition of his troops ever since that repulse. When it should become known that they were threatened with submersion in the ocean, in addition to all the other horrors of war, he had reason to believe that they would retire ignominiously from that remote and desolate sand hook, where, by remaining, they could only find a watery grave. These views having been discussed in a council of officers, the result was reached that sufficient had been already accomplished for the glory of Spanish arms. Neither honor nor loyalty, it was thought, required that 16,000 soldiers should be sacrificed in a contest, not with man but with the ocean.
On the eighth of October, accordingly, the siege, which had lasted seven weeks, was raised,** and Don Frederic rejoined his father in Amsterdam. Ready to die in the last ditch and to overwhelm both themselves and their foes in a common catastrophe, the Hollanders had at last compelled their haughty enemy to fly from a position which he had so insolently assumed.
** Kort Verhael, etc. The stout pensionary, after recording the events of the siege, before the smoke had fairly rolled away, gives his readers two ballads, effusions of the same spirit which had pervaded the city during its energetic resistance. They are as usual, martial and jocular; a single verse may be translated as a specimen:
De stad van Alkmaer behielt de kroon Zy gaaven de Spangaeds kranssen. Pypen en trommeln gingen daer schoon; Men spelde daer vreemde danssen.
De Spangaerds stonden char vergaart; Zy tansten ecee nieuwe Spaansche galjaert, Maar zy vergeten to komen in de schanssen…
With double-quick time the Spaniard proud Against Alkmaar advances. The piping and drumming are merry and loud; We play them the best of dances.
The Spaniards stop, though they look very big; They dance a very new Spanish jig, But forget the use of their lances…
These public transactions and military operations were not the only important events which affected the fate of Holland and its sister provinces at this juncture. The secret relations which had already been renewed between Louis of Nassau, as plenipotentiary of his brother, and the French court, had for some time excited great uneasiness in the mind of Alva. Count Louis was known to be as skillful a negotiator as he was valiant and accomplished as a soldier. His frankness and boldness created confidence. The “brave spirit in the loyal breast” inspired all his dealing; his experience and quick perception of character prevented his becoming a dupe of even the most adroit politicians, while his truth of purpose made him incapable either of overreaching an ally or of betraying a trust. His career indicated that diplomacy might be sometimes successful, even although founded upon sincerity.
Alva secretly expressed to his sovereign much suspicion of France. He reminded him that Charles IX, during the early part of the preceding year, had given the assurance that he was secretly dealing with Louis of Nassau, only that he might induce the Count to pass over to Philip’s service. At the same time Charles had been doing all he could to succor Mons, and had written the memorable letter which had fallen into Alva’s hands on the capture of Genlis, and which expressed such a fixed determination to inflict a deadly blow upon the king, whom the writer was thus endeavoring to cajole. All this the governor recalled to the recollection of his sovereign. In view of this increasing repugnance of the English court, Alva recommended that fair words should be employed, hinting, however, that it would be by no means necessary for his master to consider himself very strictly bound by any such pledges to Elizabeth, if they should happen to become inconveniently pressing. “A monarch’s promises,” he delicately suggested, “were not to be considered so sacred as those of humbler mortals.” “Not that the king should directly violate his word, but at the same time,” continued the duke, “I have thought all my life, and I have learned it from the Emperor, your Majesty’s father, that the negotiations of kings depend upon different principles from those of us private gentlemen who walk the world; and in this manner I always observed that your Majesty’s father, who was so great a gentleman and so powerful a prince, conducted his affairs.” The governor took occasion, likewise, to express his regrets at the awkward manner in which the Ridolfi scheme had been managed. Had he been consulted at an earlier day, the affair could have been treated much more delicately; as it was, there could be little doubt but that the discovery of the plot had prejudiced the mind of Elizabeth against Spain. “From that dust,” concluded the duke, “has resulted all this dirt.” It could hardly be matter of surprise, either to Philip or his viceroy, that the discovery by Elizabeth of a plot upon their parts to take her life and place the crown upon the head of her hated rival, should have engendered unamiable feelings in her bosom towards them. For the moment, however, Alva’s negotiations were apparently successful.
On the first of May, 1573, the articles of convention between England and Spain, with regard to the Netherland difficulty, had been formally published in Brussels. The duke, in communicating the termination of these arrangements, quietly recommended his master thenceforth to take the English ministry into his pay. In particular he advised his Majesty to bestow an annual bribe upon Lord Burleigh, “who held the kingdom in his hand.” “For it has always been my opinion,” he continued, “that it was an excellent practice for princes to give pensions to the ministers of other potentates, and to keep those at home who took bribes from nobody.”
On the other hand, the negotiations of Orange with the English court were not yet successful, and he still found it almost impossible to raise the requisite funds for carrying on the war. Certainly, his private letters showed that neither he nor his brothers were self-seekers in their negotiations. “You know,” said he in a letter to his brothers, “that my intention has never been to seek my private advantage. I have only aspired for the liberty of the country, in conscience and in polity, which foreigners have sought to oppress. I have no other articles to propose, save that religion, reformed according to the Word of God, should be permitted, that then the commonwealth should be restored to its ancient liberty, and, to that end, that the Spaniards and other soldiery should be compelled to retire.”
The restoration of civil and religious liberty, the establishment of the great principle of toleration in matters of conscience, constituted the purpose to which his days and nights were devoted, his princely fortune sacrificed, his life-blood risked. At the same time, his enforcement of toleration to both religions excited calumny against him among the bigoted adherents of both. By the Catholics he was accused of having instigated the excesses which he had done everything in his power to repress. The enormities of De la Marck, which had inspired the prince’s indignation, were even laid at the door of him who had risked his life to prevent and to chastise them. De la Marck had, indeed, more than counterbalanced his great service in the taking of Brill, by his subsequent cruelties. At last, Father Cornelius Musius, pastor of Saint Agatha, at the age of seventy-two, a man highly esteemed by the Prince of Orange, had been put to torture and death by this barbarian, under circumstances of great atrocity. The horrid deed cost the prince many tears, aroused the indignation of the estates of Holland, and produced the dismissal of the perpetrator from their service. It was considered expedient, however, in view of his past services, his powerful connections, and his troublesome character, that he should be induced peaceably to leave the country.
It was long before the prince and the estates could succeed in ridding themselves of this encumbrance. He created several riots in different parts of the province, and boasted that he had many fine ships of war and 3,000 men, devoted to him, by whose assistance he could make the estates “dance after his pipe.” At the beginning of the following year (1574), he was at last compelled to leave the provinces, which he never again troubled with his presence. Some years afterwards, he died of the bite of a mad dog—an end not inappropriate to a man of so rabid a disposition.
While the prince was thus steadily striving for a lofty and generous purpose, he was, of course, represented by his implacable enemies as a man playing a game which, unfortunately for himself, was a losing one. “That poor prince,” said Granvelle, “has been ill advised. I doubt now whether he will ever be able to make his peace, and I think we shall rather try to get rid of him and his brother as if they were Turks. The marriage with the daughter of Maurice, unde mala et quia ipse talis, and his brothers have done him much harm. So have Schwendi and German intimacies. I saw it all very plainly, but he did not choose to believe me.”
Ill-starred, worse counseled William of Orange! Had he but taken the friendly cardinal’s advice, kept his hand from German marriages and his feet from conventicles; had he assisted his sovereign in burning heretics and hunting rebels, it would not then have become necessary “to treat him like a Turk.” This is unquestionable. It is equally so that there would have been one great lamp the less in that strait and difficult pathway which leads to the temple of true glory.
The main reliance of Orange was upon the secret negotiations which his brother Louis was then renewing with the French government. The prince had felt an almost insurmountable repugnance towards entertaining any relation with that blood-stained court, since the massacre of Saint Bartholomew. But a new face had recently been put upon that transaction. Instead of glorying in their crime, the king and his mother now assumed a tone of compunction, and averred that the deed had been unpremeditated; that it had been the result of a panic or an ecstasy of fear inspired by the suddenly discovered designs of the Huguenots; and that, in the instinct of self-preservation, the king, with his family and immediate friends, had plunged into a crime which they now bitterly lamented. The French envoys at the different courts of Europe were directed to impress this view upon the minds of the monarchs to whom they were accredited. It was certainly a very different instruction from that which they had at first received. Their cue had originally been to claim a full meed of praise and thanksgiving in behalf of their sovereign for his meritorious exploit. The salvos of artillery, the illuminations and rejoicings, the solemn processions and masses by which the auspicious event had been celebrated, were yet fresh in the memory of men. The ambassadors were sufficiently embarrassed by the distinct and determined approbation which they had recently expressed. Although the king, by formal proclamation, had assumed the whole responsibility, as he had notoriously been one of the chief perpetrators of the deed, his agents were now to stultify themselves and their monarch by representing, as a deplorable act of frenzy, the massacre which they had already extolled to the echo as a skillfully executed and entirely commendable achievement.
To humble the power of Spain, to obtain the hand of Queen Elizabeth for the Duke d’Alençon, to establish an insidious kind of protectorate over the Protestant princes of Germany, to obtain the throne of Poland for the Duke of Anjou, and even to obtain the imperial crown for the house of Valois—all these cherished projects seemed dashed to the ground by the Paris massacre and the abhorrence which it had created. Charles and Catharine were not slow to discover the false position in which they had placed themselves, while the Spanish jocularity at the immense error committed by France was visible enough through the assumed mask of holy horror.
Philip and Alva listened with mischievous joy to the howl of execration which swept through Christendom upon every wind. They rejoiced as heartily in the humiliation of the malefactors as they did in the perpetration of the crime. “Your Majesty,” wrote Louis of Nassau, very bluntly, to King Charles, “sees how the Spaniard, your mortal enemy, feasts himself full with the desolation of your affairs; how he laughs, to split his sides, at your misfortunes. This massacre has enabled him to weaken your Majesty more than he could have done by a war of thirty years.”
Before the year had revolved, Charles had become thoroughly convinced of the fatal impression produced by the event. Bitter and almost abject were his whinings at the Catholic king’s desertion of his cause. “He knows well,” wrote Charles to Saint Goard, “that if he can terminate these troubles and leave me alone in the dance, he will have leisure and means to establish his authority, not only in the Netherlands but elsewhere, and that he will render himself more grand and formidable than he has ever been. This is the return they render for the good received from me, which is such as every one knows.”
Gaspar de Schomberg, the adroit and honorable agent of Charles in Germany, had at a very early day warned his royal master of the ill effect of the massacre upon all the schemes which he had been pursuing, and especially upon those which referred to the crowns of the Empire and of Poland. The first project was destined to be soon abandoned. It was reserved neither for Charles nor Philip to divert the succession in Germany from the numerous offspring of Maximilian; yet it is instructive to observe the unprincipled avidity with which the prize was sought by both. Each was willing to effect its purchase by abjuring what were supposed his most cherished principles. Philip of Spain, whose mission was to extirpate heresy throughout his realms, and who, in pursuance of that mission, had already perpetrated more crimes, and waded more deeply in the blood of his subjects, than monarch had often done before—Philip, for whom his apologists have never found any defense, save that he believed it his duty to God rather to depopulate his territories than to permit a single heretic within their limits—now entered into secret negotiations with the princes of the Empire. He pledged himself, if they would confer the crown upon him, that he would withdraw the Spaniards from the Netherlands; that he would tolerate in those provinces the exercise of the Reformed religion; that he would recognize their union with the rest of the German Empire, and their consequent claim to the benefits of the Passau treaty; that he would restore the Prince of Orange “and all his accomplices” to their former possessions, dignities, and condition; and that he would cause to be observed, throughout every realm incorporated with the Empire, all the edicts and ordinances which had been constructed to secure religious freedom in Germany. In brief, Philip was willing, in case the crown of Charlemagne should be promised him, to undo the work of his life, to reinstate the arch-rebel whom he had hunted and proscribed, and to bow before that Reformation whose disciples he had so long burned and butchered. So much extent and no more had that religious conviction by which he had for years had the effrontery to excuse the enormities practiced in the Netherlands. God would never forgive him so long as one heretic remained unburned in the provinces, yet give him the Imperial scepter, and every heretic, without forswearing his heresy, should be purged with hyssop and become whiter than snow.
Charles IX, too, although it was not possible for him to recall to life the countless victims of the Parisian wedding, was yet ready to explain those murders to the satisfaction of every unprejudiced mind. This had become strictly necessary. Although the accession of either his Most Christian or Most Catholic Majesty to the throne of the Caesars was a most improbable event, yet the humbler elective throne actually vacant was indirectly in the gift of the same powers. It was possible that the crown of Poland might be secured for the Duke of Anjou. That key unlocks the complicated policy of this and the succeeding year. The Polish election is the clue to the labyrinthian intrigues and royal tergiversations during the period of the interregnum. Sigismund Augustus, last of the Jagellon’s, had died on July 7, 1512. The prominent candidates to succeed him were the Archduke Ernest, son of the Emperor, and Henry of Anjou. The Prince of Orange was not forgotten. A strong party were in favor of compassing his election, as the most signal triumph which Protestantism could gain, but his ambition had not been excited by the prospect of such a prize. His own work required all the energies of all his life. His influence, however, was powerful, and eagerly sought by the partisans of Anjou. The Lutherans and Moravians in Poland were numerous, the Protestant party there and in Germany holding the whole balance of the election in their hands.
It was difficult for the prince to overcome his repugnance to the very name of the man whose crime had at once made France desolate, and blighted the fair prospects under which he and his brother had, the year before, entered the Netherlands. Nevertheless, he was willing to listen to the statements by which the king and his ministers endeavored, not entirely without success, to remove from their reputations, if not from their souls, the guilt of deep design. It was something, that the murderers now affected to expiate their offense in sackcloth and ashes; it was something that, by favoring the pretensions of Anjou, and by listening with indulgence to the repentance of Charles, the siege of Rochelle could be terminated, the Huguenots restored to freedom of conscience, and an alliance with a powerful nation established, by aid of which the Netherlands might once more lift their heads. The French government, deeply hostile to Spain, both from passion and policy, was capable of rendering much assistance to the revolted provinces.
“I entreat you most humbly, my good master,” wrote Schomberg to Charles IX, “to beware of allowing the electors to take into their heads that you are favoring the affairs of the King of Spain in any manner whatsoever. Commit against him no act of open hostility, if you think that imprudent; but look sharp! if you do not wish to be thrown clean out of your saddle. I should split with rage if I should see you, in consequence of the wicked calumnies of your enemies, fail to secure the prize.” Orange was induced, therefore, to accept, however distrustfully, the expression of a repentance which was to be accompanied with healing measures. He allowed his brother Louis to resume negotiations with Schomberg, in Germany. He drew up and transmitted to him the outlines of a treaty which he was willing to make with Charles. The main conditions of this arrangement illustrated the disinterested character of the man. He stipulated that the king of France should immediately make peace with his subjects, declaring expressly that he had been abused by those, who, under pretext of his service, had sought their own profit at the price of ruin to the crown and people. The king should make religion free. The edict to that effect should be confirmed by all the parliaments and estates of the kingdom, and such confirmations should be distributed without reserve or deceit among all the princes of Germany.
If his Majesty were not inclined to make war for the liberation of the Netherlands, he was to furnish the Prince of Orange with 100,000 crowns at once, and every three months with another 100,000. The prince was to have liberty to raise 1,000 cavalry and 7,000 infantry in France. Every city or town in the provinces which should be conquered by his arms, except in Holland or Zealand, should be placed under the scepter, and in the hands of the king of France. The provinces of Holland and Zealand should also be placed under his protection, but should be governed by their own gentlemen and citizens. Perfect religious liberty and maintenance of the ancient constitutions, privileges, and charters were to be guaranteed “without any cavilling whatsoever.” The Prince of Orange, or the estates of Holland or Zealand, were to reimburse his Christian Majesty for the sums which he was to advance. In this last clause was the only mention which the prince made of himself, excepting in the stipulation that he was to be allowed a levy of troops in France. His only personal claims were to enlist soldiers to fight the battles of freedom, and to pay their expense, if it should not be provided for by the estates. At nearly the same period, he furnished his secret envoys, Lumbres and Doctor Taijaert, who were to proceed to Paris, with similar instructions.
The indefatigable exertions of Schomberg, and the almost passionate explanations on the part of the court of France, at length produced their effect. “You will constantly assure the princes,” wrote the Duke of Anjou to Schomberg, “that the things written to you concerning that which had happened in this kingdom are true; that the events occurred suddenly, without having been in any manner premeditated; that neither the king nor myself have ever had any intelligence with the King of Spain, against those of the religion, and that all is utter imposture which is daily said on this subject to the princes.”
Count Louis required peremptorily, however, that the royal repentance should bring forth the fruit of salvation for the remaining victims. Out of the nettles of these dangerous intrigues his fearless hand plucked the “flower of safety” for his downtrodden cause. He demanded not words, but deeds, or at least pledges. He maintained with the agents of Charles and with the monarch himself the same hardy skepticism which was manifested by the Huguenot deputies in their conferences with Catharine de Medici. “Is the word of a king,” said the dowager to the commissioners, who were insisting upon guarantees, “is the word of a king not sufficient?” “No, madam,” replied one of them, “by Saint Bartholomew, no!” Count Louis told Schomberg roundly, and repeated it many times, that he must have in a very few days a categorical response, “not to consist in words alone, but in deeds, and that he could not, and would not, risk for ever the honor of his brother, nor the property, blood, and life of those poor people who favored the cause.”
On March 23, 1573, Schomberg had an interview with Count Louis, which lasted seven or eight hours. In that interview, the enterprises of the count, “which,” said Schomberg, “are assuredly grand and beautiful,” were thoroughly discussed, and a series of conditions, drawn up partly in the hand of one, partly in that of the other negotiator, definitely agreed upon. These conditions were on the basis of a protectorate over Holland and Zealand for the King of France, with sovereignty over the other places to be acquired in the Netherlands. They were in strict accordance with the articles furnished by the Prince of Orange. Liberty of worship for those of both religions, sacred preservation of municipal charters, and stipulation of certain annual subsidies on the part of France, in case his Majesty should not take the field, were the principal features.
Ten days later, Schomberg wrote to his master that the count was willing to use all the influence of his family to procure for Anjou the crown of Poland, while Louis, having thus completed his negotiations with the agent, addressed a long and earnest letter to the royal principal. This remarkable dispatch was stamped throughout with the impress of the writer’s frank and fearless character. “Thus diddest thou” has rarely been addressed to anointed monarch in such unequivocal tones. The letter painted the favorable position in which the king had been placed previously to the fatal summer of 1572. The Queen of England was then most amicably disposed towards him, and inclined to a yet closer connection with his family. The German princes were desirous to elect him King of the Romans, a dignity for which his grandfather had so fruitlessly contended. The Netherlanders, driven to despair by the tyranny of their own sovereign, were eager to throw themselves into his arms. All this had been owing to his edict of religious pacification. How changed the picture now! Who now did reverence to a king so criminal and so fallen? “Your Majesty today,” said Louis, earnestly and plainly, “is near to ruin. The State, crumbling on every side and almost abandoned, is a prey to any one who wishes to seize upon it; the more so, because your Majesty, having, by the late excess and by the wars previously made, endeavored to force men’s consciences, is now so destitute, not only of nobility and soldiery, but of that which constitutes the strongest column of the throne, the love and good wishes of the lieges, that your Majesty resembles an ancient building propped up, day after day, with piles, but which it will be impossible long to prevent from falling to the earth.” Certainly, here were wholesome truths told in straightforward style.
The count proceeded to remind the king of the joy which the “Spaniard, his mortal enemy,” had conceived from the desolation of his affairs, being assured that he should, by the troubles in France, be enabled to accomplish his own purposes without striking a blow. This, he observed, had been the secret of the courtesy with which the writer himself had been treated by the Duke of Alva at the surrender of Mons. Louis assured the king, in continuation, that if he persevered in these oppressive courses towards his subjects of the new religion, there was no hope for him, and that his two brothers would, to no purpose, take their departure for England and for Poland, leaving him with a difficult and dangerous war upon his hands. So long as he maintained a hostile attitude towards the Protestants in his own kingdom, his fair words would produce no effect elsewhere. “We are beginning to be vexed,” said the count, “with the manner of negotiation practiced by France. Men do not proceed roundly to business there, but angle with their dissimulation as with a hook.”
He bluntly reminded the king of the deceit which he had practiced towards the admiral—a sufficient reason why no reliance could in future be placed upon his word. Signal vengeance on those concerned in the attempted assassination of that great man had been promised, in the royal letters to the Prince of Orange, just before St. Bartholomew. “Two days afterwards,” said Louis, “your Majesty took that vengeance, but in rather ill fashion.” It was certain that the king was surrounded by men who desired to work his ruin, and who, for their own purposes, would cause him “to bathe still deeper than he had done before in the blood of his subjects. This ruin his Majesty could still avert, by making peace in his kingdom, and by ceasing to torment his poor subjects of the religion.”
In conclusion, the count, with a few simple but eloquent, phrases, alluded to the impossibility of chaining men’s thoughts. The soul, being immortal, was beyond the reach of kings. Conscience was not to be conquered, nor the religious spirit imprisoned. This had been discovered by the Emperor Charles, who had taken all the cities and great personages of Germany captive, but who had nevertheless been unable to take religion captive. “That is a sentiment,” said Louis, “deeply rooted in the hearts of men, which is not to be plucked out by force of arms. Let your Majesty, therefore not be deceived by the flattery of those who, like bad physicians, keep their patients in ignorance of their disease, whence comes their ruin.”
It would be impossible, without insight into these private and most important transactions, to penetrate the heart of the mystery which enwrapped at this period the relations of the great powers with each other. Enough has been seen to silence forever the plea, often entered in behalf of religious tyranny, that the tyrant acts in obedience to a sincere conviction of duty; that, in performing his deeds of darkness, he believes himself to be accomplishing the will of Heaven. Here we have seen Philip, offering to restore the Prince of Orange, and to establish freedom of religion in the Netherlands, if by such promises he can lay hold of the Imperial diadem. Here also we have Charles IX and his mother, their hands reeking with the heretic blood of St. Bartholomew, making formal engagements with heretics to protect heresy everywhere, if by such pledges the crown of the Jagellon’s and the hand of Elizabeth can be secured.
While Louis was thus busily engaged in Germany, Orange was usually established at Delft. He felt the want of his brother daily, for the solitude of the prince, in the midst of such fiery trials, amounted almost to desolation. Not often have circumstances invested an individual with so much responsibility and so little power. He was regarded as the protector and father of the country, but from his own brains and his own resources he was to furnish himself with the means of fulfilling those high functions. He was anxious thoroughly to discharge the duties of a dictatorship without grasping any more of its power than was indispensable to his purpose. But he was alone on that little isthmus, in single combat with the great Spanish monarchy. It was to him that all eyes turned, during the infinite horrors of the Harlem siege, and in the more prosperous leaguer of Alkmaar. What he could do, he did. He devised every possible means to succor Harlem, and was only restrained from going personally to its rescue by the tears of the whole population of Holland. By his decision and the spirit which he diffused through the country, the people were lifted to a pitch of heroism by which Alkmaar was saved. Yet, during all this harassing period, be had no one to lean upon but himself. “Our affairs are in pretty good condition in Holland and Zealand,” he wrote, “if I only had some aid. ’Tis impossible for me to support alone so many labors, and the weight of such great affairs as come upon me hourly—financial, military, political. I have no one to help me, not a single man, wherefore I leave you to suppose in what trouble I find myself.”
For it was not alone the battles and sieges which furnished him with occupation and filled him with anxiety. Alone, he directed in secret the politics of the country, and, powerless and outlawed though he seemed, was in daily correspondence not only with the estates of Holland and Zealand, whose deliberations he guided, but with the principal governments of Europe. The estates of the Netherlands, moreover, had been formally assembled by Alva in September, at Brussels, to devise ways and means for continuing the struggle. It seemed to the prince a good opportunity to make an appeal to the patriotism of the whole country. He furnished the province of Holland, accordingly, with the outlines of an address which was forthwith dispatched in their own and his name, to the general assembly of the Netherlands. The document was a nervous and rapid review of the course of late events in the provinces, with a cogent statement of the reasons which should influence them all to unite in the common cause against the common enemy. It referred to the old affection and true-heartedness with which they had formerly regarded each other, and to the certainty that the inquisition would be forever established in the land, upon the ruins of all their ancient institutions, unless they now united to overthrow it for ever. It demanded of the people, thus assembled through their representatives, how they could endure the tyranny, murders, and extortions of the Duke of Alva. The Princes of Flanders, Burgundy, Brabant, or Holland, had never made war or peace, coined money, or exacted a stiver from the people without the consent of the estates. How could the nation now consent to the daily impositions which were practiced? Had Amsterdam and Middelburg remained true, had those important cities not allowed themselves to be seduced from the cause of freedom, the northern provinces would have been impregnable. “’Tis only by the Netherlands that the Netherlands are crushed,” said the appeal. “Whence has the Duke of Alva the power of which he boasts, but from yourselves—from Netherland cities? Whence his ships, supplies, money, weapons, soldiers? From the Netherland people. Why has poor Netherland thus become degenerate and bastard? Whither has fled the noble spirit of our brave forefathers, that never brooked the tyranny of foreign nations, nor suffered a stranger even to hold office within our borders? If the little province of Holland can thus hold at bay the power of Spain, what could not all the Netherlands, Brabant, Flanders, Friesland, and the rest united, accomplish?” In conclusion, the estates-general were earnestly adjured to come forward like brothers in blood, and join hands with Holland, that together they might rescue the fatherland and restore its ancient prosperity and bloom.
At almost the same time the prince drew up and put in circulation one of the most vigorous and impassioned productions which ever came from his pen. It was entitled, an “Epistle, in form of supplication, to his royal Majesty of Spain, from the Prince of Orange and the estates of Holland and Zealand.” The document produced a profound impression throughout Christendom. It was a loyal appeal to the monarch’s loyalty—a demand that the land-privileges should be restored, and the Duke of Alva removed. It contained a startling picture of his atrocities and the nation’s misery, and, with a few energetic strokes, demolished the pretense that these sorrows had been caused by the people’s guilt. In this connection the prince alluded to those acts of condemnation which the governor-general had promulgated under the name of pardons, and treated with scorn the hypothesis that any crimes had been committed for Alva to forgive. “We take God and your Majesty to witness,” said the epistle, “that if we have done such misdeeds as are charged in the pardon, we neither desire nor deserve the pardon. Like the most abject creatures which crawl the earth, we will be content to atone for our misdeeds with our lives. We will not murmur, O merciful King, if we be seized one after another, and torn limb from limb, if it can be proved that we have committed the crimes of which we have been accused.”
After having thus set forth the tyranny of the government and the innocence of the people, the prince, in his own name and that of the estates, announced the determination at which they had arrived. “The tyrant,” he continued, “would rather stain every river and brook with our blood, and hang our bodies upon every tree in the country, than not feed to the full his vengeance, and steep himself to the lips in our misery. Therefore we have taken up arms against the Duke of Alva and his adherents, to free ourselves, our wives and children, from his bloodthirsty hands. If he prove too strong for us, we will rather die an honorable death and leave a praiseworthy fame, than bend our necks, and reduce our dear fatherland to such slavery. Herein are all our cities pledged to each other to stand every siege, to dare the utmost, to endure every possible misery, yea, rather to set fire to all our homes, and be consumed with them into ashes together, than ever submit to the decrees of this cruel tyrant.”
These were brave words, and destined to be bravely fulfilled, as the life and death of the writer and the records of his country proved, from generation unto generation. If we seek for the mainspring of the energy which thus sustained the prince in the unequal conflict to which he had devoted his life, we shall find it in the one pervading principle of his nature—confidence in God. He was the champion of the political rights of his country, but before all he was the defender of its religion. Liberty of conscience for his people was his first object. To establish Luther’s axiom, that thoughts are toll-free, was his determination. The Peace of Passau, and far more than the Peace of Passau, was the goal for which he leas striving. Freedom of worship for all denominations, toleration for all forms of faith, this was the great good in his philosophy. For himself, he had now become a member of the Calvinist, or Reformed Church, having delayed for a time his public adhesion to this communion, in order not to give offence to the Lutherans and to the Emperor. He was never a dogmatist, however, and he sought in Christianity for that which unites, rather than for that which separates Christians. In the course of October he publicly joined the church at Dort.
The happy termination of the siege of Alkmaar was followed, three days afterwards, by another signal success on the part of the patriots. Count Bossu, who had constructed or collected a considerable fleet at Amsterdam, had, early in October, sailed into the Zuyder Zee, notwithstanding the sunken wrecks and other obstructions by which the patriots had endeavored to render the passage of the Y impracticable. The patriots of North Holland had, however, not been idle, and a fleet of five-and-twenty vessels, under Admiral Dirkzoon, was soon cruising in the same waters. A few skirmishes took place, but Bossu’s ships, which were larger, and provided with heavier cannon, were apparently not inclined for the close quarters which the patriots sought. The Spanish admiral, Hollander as he was, knew the mettle of his countrymen in a close encounter at sea, and preferred to trust to the caliber of his cannon. On the 11th of October, however, the whole patriot fleet, favored by a strong easterly breeze, bore down upon the Spanish armada, which, numbering now thirty sail of all denominations, was lying off and on in the neighborhood of Horn and Enkhuyzen.
After a short and general engagement, nearly all the Spanish fleet retired with precipitation, closely pursued by most of the patriot Dutch vessels. Five of the king’s ships were eventually taken; the rest effected their escape. Only the admiral remained, who scorned to yield, although his forces had thus basely deserted him. His ship, the “Inquisition,” for such was her insolent appellation, was far the largest and best manned of both the fleets. Most of the enemy had gone in pursuit of the fugitives, but four vessels of inferior size had attacked the “Inquisition” at the commencement of the action. Of these, one had soon been silenced, while the other three had grappled themselves inextricably to her sides and prow. The four drifted together, before wind and tide, a severe and savage action going on incessantly, during which the navigation of the ships was entirely abandoned. No scientific gunnery, no military or naval tactics were displayed or required in such a conflict. It was a life-and-death combat, such as always occurred when Spaniard and Netherlander met, whether on land or water. Bossu and his men, armed in bulletproof coats of mail, stood with shield and sword on the deck of the “Inquisition,” ready to repel all attempts to board. The Hollander, as usual, attacked with pitch hoops, boiling oil, and molten lead. Repeatedly they effected their entrance to the Admiral’s ship, and as often they were repulsed and slain in heaps, or hurled into the sea. The battle began at three in the afternoon, and continued without intermission through the whole night. The vessels, drifting together, struck on the shoal called the Nek, near Wydeness. In the heat of the action the occurrence was hardly heeded. In the morning twilight, John Haring, of Horn, the hero who had kept 1,000 soldiers at bay upon the Diemer dyke, clambered on board the “Inquisition” and hauled her colors down. The gallant but premature achievement cost him his life. He was shot through the body and died on the deck of the ship, which was not quite ready to strike her flag. In the course of the forenoon, however, it became obvious to Bossu that further resistance was idle. The ships were aground near a hostile coast, his own fleet was hopelessly dispersed, three quarters of his crew were dead or disabled, while the vessels with which he was engaged were constantly recruited by boats from the shore, which brought fresh men and ammunition, and removed their killed and wounded. At eleven o’clock, Admiral Bossu surrendered, and with three hundred prisoners was carried into Holland. Bossu was himself imprisoned at Horn, in which city he was received, on his arrival, with great demonstrations of popular hatred. The massacre of Rotterdam, due to his cruelty and treachery, had not yet been forgotten or forgiven.
This victory, following so hard upon the triumph at Alkmaar, was as gratifying to the patriots as it was galling to Alva. As his administration drew to a close, it was marked by disaster and disgrace on land and sea. The brilliant exploits by which he had struck terror into the heart of the Netherlanders, at Jemmingen and in Brabant, had been effaced by the valor of a handful of Hollanders, without discipline or experience. To the patriots, the opportune capture of so considerable a personage as the admiral and governor of the northern province was of great advantage. Such of the hostages from Harlem as had not yet been executed, now escaped with their lives. Moreover, Saint Aldegonde, the eloquent patriot and confidential friend of Orange, who was taken prisoner a few weeks later, in an action at Maeslandsluis, was preserved from inevitable destruction by the same cause. The prince hastened to assure the Duke of Alva that the same measure would be dealt to Bossu as should be meted to Saint Aldegonde. It was, therefore, impossible for the governor-general to execute his prisoner, and he was obliged to submit to the vexation of seeing a leading rebel and heretic in his power, whom he dared not strike. Both the distinguished prisoners eventually regained their liberty.
The duke was, doubtless, lower sunk in the estimation of all classes than he had ever been before, during his long and generally successful life. The reverses sustained by his army, the belief that his master had grown cold towards him, the certainty that his career in the Netherlands was closing without a satisfactory result, the natural weariness produced upon men’s minds by the contemplation of so monotonous and unmitigated a tyranny during so many years, all contributed to diminish his reputation. He felt himself odious alike to princes and to plebeians. With his cabinet councillors he had long been upon unsatisfactory terms. President Tisnacq had died early in the summer, and Viglius, much against his will, had been induced, provisionally, to supply his place. But there was now hardly a pretense of friendship between the learned Frisian and the governor. Each cordially detested the other. Alva was weary of Flemish and Frisian advisers, however subservient, and was anxious to fill the whole council with Spaniards of the Vargas stamp. He had forced Viglius once more into office, only that, by a little delay, he might expel him and every Netherlander at the same moment. “Till this ancient set of dogmatizers be removed,” he wrote to Philip, “with Viglius, their chief, who teaches them all their lessons, nothing will go right. ’Tis of no use adding one or two Spaniards to fill vacancies; that is only pouring a flask of good wine into a hogshead of vinegar; it changes to vinegar likewise. Your Majesty will soon be able to reorganize the council at a blow; so that Italians or Spaniards, as you choose, may entirely govern the country.”
Such being his private sentiments with regard to his confidential advisers, it may be supposed that his intercourse with his council during the year was not like to be amicable. Moreover, he had kept himself, for the most part, at a distance from the seat of government. During the military operations in Holland, his headquarters had been at Amsterdam. Here, as the year drew to its close, he had become as unpopular as in Brussels. The time-serving and unpatriotic burghers, who, at the beginning of the spring, set up his bust in their houses, and would give large sums for his picture in little, now broke his images and tore his portraits from their walls, for it was evident that the power of his name was gone, both with prince and people. Yet, certainly, those fierce demonstrations which had formerly surrounded his person with such an atmosphere of terror had not slackened or become less frequent than heretofore. He continued to prove that he could be barbarous, both on a grand and a minute scale. Even as in preceding years, he could ordain wholesale massacres with a breath, and superintend in person the executions of individuals. This was illustrated, among other instances, by the cruel fate of Uitenhoove. That unfortunate nobleman, who had been taken prisoner in the course of the summer, was accused of having been engaged in the capture of Brill, and was, therefore, condemned by the duke to be roasted to death before a slow fire. He was accordingly fastened by a chain, a few feet in length, to a stake, around which the fagots were lighted. Here he was kept in slow torture for a long time, insulted by the gibes of the laughing Spaniards who surrounded him, until the executioner and his assistants, more humane than their superior, dispatched the victim with their spears—a mitigation of punishment, which was ill received by Alva. The governor had, however, no reason to remain longer in Amsterdam. Harlem had fallen; Alkmaar was relieved; and Leyden—destined in its second siege to furnish so signal a chapter to the history of the war—was beleaguered, it was true, but, because known to be imperfectly supplied, was to be reduced by blockade rather than by active operations. Don Francis Valdez was accordingly left in command of the siege, which, however, after no memorable occurrences, was raised, as will soon be related.
The duke had contracted in Amsterdam an enormous amount of debt, both public and private. He accordingly, early in November, caused a proclamation to be made throughout the city by sound of trumpet, that all persons having demands upon him were to present their claims, in person, upon a specified day. During the night preceding the day so appointed, the duke and his train very noiselessly took their departure, without notice or beat of drum. By this masterly generalship his unhappy creditors were foiled upon the very eve of their anticipated triumph; the heavy accounts which had been contracted on the faith of the king and the governor, remained for the most part unpaid, and many opulent and respectable families were reduced to beggary. Such was the consequence of the unlimited confidence which they had reposed in the honor of their tyrant.
On the 17th of November, Don Luis de Requesens y Cuñiga, Grand Commander of Saint Jago, the appointed successor of Alva, arrived in Brussels, where he was received with great rejoicings. The duke, on the same day, wrote to the king, “kissing his feet” for thus relieving him of his functions. There was, of course, a profuse interchange of courtesy between the departing and the newly-arrived governors. Alva was willing to remain a little while, to assist his successor with his advice, but preferred that the Grand Commander should immediately assume the reins of office. To this, Requesens, after much respectful reluctance, at length consented. On the 29th of November, he accordingly took the oaths, at Brussels, as lieutenant-governor and captain-general, in presence of the Duke of Aerschot, Baron Berlaymont, the President of the Council, and other functionaries.
On the 18th of December, the Duke of Alva departed from the provinces forever. With his further career this history has no concern, and it is not desirable to enlarge upon the personal biography of one whose name certainly never excites pleasing emotions. He had kept his bed for the greater part of the time during the last few weeks of his government—partly on account of his gout, partly to avoid being seen in his humiliation, but mainly, it was said, to escape the pressing demands of his creditors. He expressed a fear of traveling homeward through France, on the ground that he might very probably receive a shot out of a window as he went by. He complained pathetically that, after all his labors, he had not “gained the approbation of the king,” while he had incurred “the malevolence and universal hatred of every individual in the country.” Mondoucet, to whom he made the observation, was of the same opinion, and informed his master that the duke “had engendered such an extraordinary hatred in the hearts of all persons in the land, that they would have fireworks in honor of his departure if they dared.”
On his journey from the Netherlands, he is said to have boasted that he had caused 18,600 inhabitants of the provinces to be executed during the period of his government. The number of those who had perished by battle, siege, starvation, and massacre, defied computation. The duke was well received by his royal master, and remained in favor until a new adventure of Don Frederic brought father and son into disgrace. Having deceived and abandoned a maid of honor, he suddenly espoused his cousin, in order to avoid that reparation by marriage which was demanded for his offense. In consequence, both the duke and Don Frederic were imprisoned and banished, nor was Alva released till a general of experience was required for the conquest of Portugal. Thither, as it were with fetters on his legs, he went. After having accomplished the military enterprise entrusted to him, he fell into a lingering fever, at the termination of which he was so much reduced that he was only kept alive by milk, which he drank from a woman’s breast. Such was the gentle second childhood of the man who had almost literally been drinking blood for seventy years. He died on the 12th of December, 1582.
The preceding pages have been written in vain, if an elaborate estimate be now required of his character. His picture has been painted, as far as possible, by his own hand. His deeds, which are not disputed, and his written words, illustrate his nature more fully than could be done by the most eloquent pen. No attempt has been made to exaggerate his crimes, or to extenuate his superior qualities. Virtues he had none, unless military excellence be deemed, as by the Romans, a virtue. In war, both as a science and a practical art, he excelled all the generals who were opposed to him in the Netherlands, and he was inferior to no commander in the world during the long and belligerent period to which his life belonged. Louis of Nassau possessed high reputation throughout Europe as a skillful and daring general. With raw volunteers he had overthrown an army of Spanish regulars, led by a Netherland chieftain of fame and experience; but when Alva took the field in person the scene was totally changed. The duke dealt him such a blow at Jemmingen as would have disheartened forever a less indomitable champion. Never had a defeat been more absolute. The patriot army was dashed out of existence, almost to a man, and its leader, naked and beggared, though not disheartened, sent back into Germany to construct his force and his schemes anew.
Having thus flashed before the eyes of the country the full terrors of his name, and vindicated the ancient military renown of his nation, the duke was at liberty to employ the consummate tactics, in which he could have given instruction to all the world, against his most formidable antagonist. The country, paralyzed with fear, looked anxiously but supinely upon the scientific combat between the two great champions of Despotism and Protestantism which succeeded. It was soon evident that the conflict could terminate in but one way. The prince had considerable military abilities, and enthusiastic courage; he lost none of his well-deserved reputation by the unfortunate issue of his campaign; he measured himself in arms with the great commander of the age, and defied him, day after day, in vain, to mortal combat; but it was equally certain that the duke’s quiet game was played in the most masterly manner. His positions and his encampments were taken with faultless judgment, his skirmishes wisely and coldly kept within the prescribed control, while the inevitable dissolution of the opposing force took place exactly as he had foreseen, and within the limits which he had predicted. Nor in the disastrous commencement of the year 1572 did the duke less signally manifest his military genius. Assailed as he was at every point, with the soil suddenly upheaving all around him, as by an earthquake, he did not lose his firmness nor his perspicacity. Certainly, if he had not been so soon assisted by that other earthquake, which on Saint Bartholomew’s Day caused all Christendom to tremble, and shattered the recent structure of Protestant Freedom in the Netherlands, it might have been worse for his reputation. With Mons safe, the Flemish frontier guarded, France faithful, and 30,000 men under the Prince of Orange in Brabant, the heroic brothers might well believe that the duke was “at their mercy.” The treason of Charles IX “smote them as with a club,” as the prince exclaimed in the bitterness of his spirit. Under the circumstances, his second campaign was a predestined failure, and Alva easily vanquished him by a renewed application of those dilatory arts which he so well understood.
The duke’s military fame was unquestionable when he came to the provinces, and both in stricken fields and in long campaigns, he showed how thoroughly it had been deserved; yet he left the Netherlands a baffled man. The prince might be many times defeated, but he was not to be conquered. As Alva penetrated into the heart of the ancient Batavian land, he found himself overmatched as he had never been before, even by the most potent generals of his day. More audacious, more inventive, more desperate than all the commanders of that or any other age, the spirit of national freedom, now taught the oppressor that it was invincible, except by annihilation. The same lesson had been read in the same thickets by the Nervii to Julius Caesar, by the Batavians to the legions of Vespasian; and now a loftier and a purer flame than that which inspired the national struggles against Rome glowed within the breasts of the descendants of the same people, and inspired them with the strength which comes front religious enthusiasm. More experienced, more subtle, more politic than Hermann; more devoted, more patient, more magnanimous than Civilis, and equal to either in valor and determination, William of Orange was a worthy embodiment of the Christian national resistance of the German race to a foreign tyranny. Alva had entered the Netherlands to deal with them as with conquered provinces. He found that the conquest was still to be made, and he left the land without having accomplished it. Through the sea of blood, the Hollanders felt that they were passing to the promised land. More royal soldiers fell during the seven months’ siege of Harlem than the rebels had lost in the defeat of Jemmingen, and in the famous campaign of Brabant. At Alkmaar the rolling waves of insolent conquest were stayed, and the tide then ebbed forever.
The accomplished soldier struggled hopelessly with the wild and passionate hatred which his tyranny had provoked. Neither his legions nor his consummate strategy availed him against an entirely desperate people. As a military commander, therefore, he gained, upon the whole, no additional laurels during his long administration of the Netherlands. Of all the other attributes to be expected in a man appointed to deal with a free country, in a state of incipient rebellion, he manifested a signal deficiency. As a financier, he exhibited a wonderful ignorance of the first principles of political economy. No man before, ever gravely proposed to establish confiscation as a permanent source of revenue to the state; yet the annual product from the escheated property of slaughtered heretics was regularly relied upon, during his administration, to replenish the king’s treasury, and to support the war of extermination against the king’s subjects. Nor did statesman ever before expect a vast income from the commerce of a nation devoted to almost universal massacre. During the daily decimation of the people’s lives, he thought a daily decimation of their industry possible. His persecutions swept the land of those industrious classes which had made it the rich and prosperous commonwealth it had been so lately; while, at the same time, he found a “Peruvian mine,” as he pretended, in the imposition of a tenth penny upon every one of its commercial transactions. He thought that a people, crippled as this had been by the operations of the Blood-Council, could pay ten percent, not annually but daily; not upon its income, but upon its capital; not once only, but every time the value constituting the capital changed hands. He had boasted that he should require no funds from Spain, but that, on the contrary, he should make annual remittances to the royal treasury at home, from the proceeds of his imposts and confiscations; yet, notwithstanding these resources, and notwithstanding twenty-five millions of gold in five years, sent by Philip from Madrid, the exchequer of the provinces was barren and bankrupt when his successor arrived. Requesens found neither a penny in the public treasury nor the means of raising one.
As an administrator of the civil and judicial affairs of the country, Alva at once reduced its institutions to a frightful simplicity. In the place of the ancient laws of which the Netherlanders were so proud, he substituted the Blood-Council. This tribunal was even more arbitrary than the Inquisition. Never was a simpler apparatus for tyranny devised, than this great labor-saving machine. Never was so great a quantity of murder and robbery achieved with such dispatch and regularity. Sentences, executions, and confiscations, to an incredible extent, were turned out daily with appalling precision. For this invention, Alva is alone responsible. The tribunal and its councillors were the work and the creatures of his hand, and faithfully did they accomplish the dark purpose of their existence. Nor can it be urged, in extenuation of the governor’s crimes, that he was but the blind and fanatically loyal slave of his sovereign. A noble nature could not have contaminated itself with such slaughterhouse work, but might have sought to mitigate the royal policy, without forswearing allegiance. A nature less rigid than iron would at least have manifested compunction, as it found itself converted into a fleshless instrument of massacre. More decided than his master, however, he seemed, by his promptness, to rebuke the dilatory genius of Philip. The king seemed, at times, to loiter over his work, teasing and tantalizing his appetite for vengeance, before it should be gratified. Alva, rapid and brutal, scorned such epicureanism. He strode with gigantic steps over haughty statutes and popular constitutions, crushing alike the magnates who claimed a bench of monarchs for their jury and the ignoble artisans who could appeal only to the laws of their land. From the pompous and theatrical scaffolds of Egmont and Horn, to the nineteen halters prepared by Master Karl, to hang up the chief bakers and brewers of Brussels on their own thresholds; from the beheading of the twenty nobles on the Horse-market, in the opening of the Governor’s career, to the roasting alive of Uitenhoove at its close; from the block on which fell the honored head of Antony Straalen, to the obscure chair in which the ancient gentlewoman of Amsterdam suffered death for an act of vicarious mercy; from one year’s end to another’s; from the most signal to the most squalid scenes of sacrifice, the eye and hand of the great master directed, without weariness, the task imposed by the sovereign.
No doubt the work of almost indiscriminate massacre had been duly mapped out. Not often in history has a governor arrived to administer the affairs of a province, where the whole population, three millions strong, had been formally sentenced to death. As time wore on, however, he even surpassed the bloody instructions which he had received. He waved aside the recommendations of the Blood-Council to mercy; he dissuaded the monarch from attempting the path of clemency, which, for secret reasons, Philip was inclined at one period to attempt. The governor had, as he assured the king, been using gentleness in vain, and he was now determined to try what a little wholesome severity could effect. These words were written immediately after the massacres at Harlem.
With all the bloodshed at Mons, and Naarden, and Mechlin, and by the Council of Tumults, daily, for six years long, still crying from the ground, he taxed himself with a misplaced and foolish tenderness to the people. He assured the king that when Alkmaar should be taken, he would not spare a “living soul among its whole population,” and, as his parting advice, he recommended that every city in the Netherlands should be burned to the ground, except a few which could be occupied permanently by the royal troops. On the whole, so finished a picture of a perfect and absolute tyranny has rarely been presented to mankind by history, as in Alva’s administration of the Netherlands.
The tens of thousands in those miserable provinces who fell victims to the gallows, the sword, the stake, the living grave, or to living banishment, have never been counted; for those statistics of barbarity are often effaced from human record. Enough, however, is known, and enough has been recited in the preceding pages. No mode in which human beings have ever caused their fellow-creatures to suffer was omitted from daily practice. Men, women, and children, old and young, nobles and paupers, opulent burghers, hospital patients, lunatics, dead bodies, all were indiscriminately made to furnish food for the scaffold and the stake. Men were tortured, beheaded, hanged by the neck and by the legs, burned before slow fires, pinched to death with red-hot tongs, broken upon the wheel, starved, and flayed alive. Their skins, stripped from the living body, were stretched upon drums, to be beaten in the march of their brethren to the gallows. The bodies of many who had died a natural death were exhumed, and their festering remains hanged upon the gibbet, on pretext that they had died without receiving the sacrament, but in reality that their property might become the legitimate prey of the treasury. Marriages of long standing were dissolved by order of government, that rich heiresses might be married against their will to foreigners whom they abhorred. Women and children were executed for the crime of assisting their fugitive husbands and parents with a penny in their utmost need, and even for consoling them with a letter in their exile. Such was the regular course of affairs as administered by the Blood-Council. The additional barbarities committed amid the sack and ruin of those blazing and starving cities, are almost beyond belief; unborn infants were torn from the living bodies of their mothers; women and children were violated by thousands; and whole populations burned and hacked to pieces by soldiers in every mode which cruelty, in its wanton ingenuity, could devise. Such was the administration, of which Vargas affirmed, at its close, that too much mercy, “nimia misericordia,” had been its ruin.
Even Philip, inspired by secret views, became wearied of the governor, who, at an early period, had already given offense by his arrogance. To commemorate his victories, the viceroy had erected a colossal statue, not to his monarch, but to himself. To proclaim the royal pardon, he had seated himself upon a golden throne. Such insolent airs could be ill forgiven by the absolute king. Too cautious to provoke an open rupture, he allowed the governor, after he had done all his work, and more than all his work, to retire without disgrace, but without a triumph. For the sins of that administration, master and servant are in equal measure responsible.
The character of the Duke of Alva, so far as the Netherlands are concerned, seems almost like a caricature. As a creation of fiction, it would seem grotesque; yet even that hardy, historical skepticism, which delights in reversing the judgment of centuries, and in re-establishing reputations long since degraded to the dust, must find it difficult to alter this man’s position. No historical decision is final; an appeal to a more remote posterity, founded upon more accurate evidence, is always valid, but when the verdict has been pronounced upon facts which are undisputed, and upon testimony from the criminal’s lips, there is little chance of a reversal of the sentence.*** It is an affectation of philosophical candor to extenuate vices which are not only avowed, but claimed as virtues.
*** The time is past when it could be said that the cruelty of Alva, or the enormities of his administration, have been exaggerated by party violence. Human invention is incapable of outstripping the truth upon this subject. To attempt the defense of either the man or his measures at the present day is to convict oneself of an amount of ignorance or of bigotry against which history and argument are alike powerless. The publication of the duke’s letters in the correspondence of Simancas and in the Besançon papers, together with that compact mass of horror, long before the world under the title of “Sententien van Alva,” in which a portion only of the sentences of death and banishment pronounced by him during his reign, have been copied from the official records—these in themselves would be a sufficient justification of all the charges ever brought by the most bitter contemporary of Holland or Flanders. If the investigator should remain skeptical, however, let him examine the “Registre des Condamnés et Bannis à Cause des Troubles des Pays Bas,” in three, together with the Records of the “Conseil des Troubles,” in forty-three folio volumes, in the Royal Archives at Brussels. After going through all these chronicles of iniquity, the most determined historic doubter will probably throw up the case.
As specimens of the songs made by the people while Alva was making their laws, the author ventures the following translations of popular ballads. The originals may be found, the one in the collection of Ernst Münch, Nederlandsches Museum, I, 125, 126; the other in Van Vloten’s excellent republication of Netherland Historical Songs—Nederlandsche Geschiedzangen, I, 393. Professor Altmeyer has also quoted them in his “Succursale du Tribunal de Sang.”
Slaet op den tromele, van dirre dom deyne; Slaet op den tromele, van dirre dom does; Slaet op den tromele, van dirre dom deyne; Vive le geus! is nu de loes.
De Spaensche Inquisitie, voor Godt malitie, De Spaensche Inquisitie, als draecx bloet fel; De Spaensche Inquisitie ghevoelt punitie De Spaensche Inquisitie ontvaelt haer spel.
Vive le geus! wilt christenlyk leven; Vive le geus! houdt fraeye moet; Vive le geus! Godt behoedt voor sneven; Vive le geus! edel christen bloedt.
Beat the drum gaily, rub a dow, rub a dub; Beat the drum gaily, rub a dub, rub a dow; Beat the drum gaily, rub a dow, rub a dub; Long live the Beggars! is the watchword now.
The Spanish Inquisition, without intermission, The Spanish Inquisition has drunk our blood; The Spanish Inquisition, map God’s malediction Blast the Spanish Inquisition and all her brood.
Long live the Beggars! wilt thou Christ’s word cherish; Long live the Beggars! be bold of heart and hand; Long live the Beggars! God will not see thee perish; Long live the Beggars! oh noble Christian band.
De Paus en Papisten, Gods handt doet beven; Do Paus en Papisten zyn t’ eynden haer raet; De Paus en Papisten wreet boven schreven; Ghy Paus en Papisten, soet nu oflaet!
’T swaert is getrokken, certeyn godts wraec naect; ’T swaert is getrokken, daer Joannes a schryft; ’T swaert is getrokken, dat Apocalypsis maect, naect; ’T swaert is getrokken, ghy wert nu ontlyft.
’T onschuldig bloet dat ghy heft vergoten, ’T onschuldig bloet royt over u wraeck, ’T onschuldig bloet te storten heeft u niet verdroten, ’T onschuldig bloet dat dronet ghy met den draeck.
U vleisschen arm, daer ghy op betroude; U vleisschen arm beschwyckt u nu; U vleisschen arm die u huys houde; U vleisschen arm, wyckt van u schoon.
The Pope and Papists are shivering and shaking; The Pope and Papists are at their wits’ ends; The Pope and Papists at God’s right hand are quaking; Pope and Papists, find absolution now, my friends!
The sword is drawn now, God’s wakened vengeance lowers; The sword is drawn now, the Apocalypse unrolled; The sword is drawn now, God’s sword and wrath are ours; The sword is drawn now which Apostle John foretold.
The innocent blood which ye’ve caused to flow like water, The innocent blood which your wicked hands hath stained, The innocent blood cries out for blood and slaughter, That innocent blood which, like dragons fell, ye drained.
Your fleshly arm is withering and shrinking; Your fleshly arm which ye trusted fierce and bold; Your fleshly arm and the house it built are sinking; Your fleshly arm now is marrowless and cold.
The bitter blasphemy of the following is but a faint expression of the hatred which the tyranny of Alva had excited in the popular heart. It is called the Ghent Paternoster (Gentsch Vaderonze), and is addressed to the Duke of Alva.
Helsche duvel, die tot Brussel syt, Uwen naem ende faem sy vermaledyt. U ryck vergae sonder respyt, Want heeft geduyrt te langen tyd. Uwen willen sal nict gewerden, Noch in hemel noch op erden.
Ghy beneempt ons huyden ons dagelicx broot; Wyff ende knyderen hebben ’t groote noot. Ghy en vergeeft niemant syn schult; Want ghy met haet ende nyt syt vervult. Ghy en laet niemant ongetempteert; Alle dese landen ghy perturbeert.
O hemelschen vader, die in den hemel syt, Maeckt ons desen helschen duvel quyt, Met synen bloedigen, valschen raet, Daer hy meede handelt alle quaet. En syn spaens chrychsvolk allegaer, ’T welck leeft of sy des duvels waer. Amen.
Our devil, who dost in Brussels dwell, Curst be thy name in earth and hell. Thy kingdom speedily pass away, Which hath blasted and blighted us many a day. Thy will nevermore be done, In heaven above nor under the sun.
Thou takest daily our daily bread; Our wives and children lie starving or dead. No man’s trespasses thou forgivest; Revenge is the food on which thou livest. Thou leadest all men into temptation; Unto evil thou hast delivered this nation.
Our Father, in heaven which art, Grant that this hellish devil may soon depart, And with him his Council false and bloody, Who make murder and rapine their daily study. And all his savage war-dogs of Spain, Oh send them back to the Devil, their father, again. Amen.
End of Part Three