The horrors of Alva’s administration had caused men to look back with fondness upon the milder and more vacillating tyranny of the Duchess Margaret. From the same cause the advent of the Grand Commander was hailed with pleasure and with a momentary gleam of hope. At any rate, it was a relief that the man in whom an almost impossible perfection of cruelty seemed embodied was at last to be withdrawn. It was certain that his successor, however ambitious of following in Alva’s footsteps, would never be able to rival the intensity and the unswerving directness of purpose which it had been permitted to the duke’s nature to attain. The new governor-general was, doubtless, human, and it had been long since the Netherlanders imagined anything in common between themselves and the late viceroy.
Apart from this hope, however, there was little encouragement to be derived from anything positively known of the new functionary, or the policy which he was to represent. Don Luis de Requesens and Cuñiga, Grand Commander of Castile and late Governor of Milan, was a man of mediocre abilities, who possessed a reputation for moderation and sagacity which he hardly deserved. His military prowess had been chiefly displayed in the bloody and barren battle of Lepanto, where his conduct and counsel were supposed to have contributed, in some measure, to the victorious result. His administration at Milan had been characterized as firm and moderate. Nevertheless, his character was regarded with anything but favorable eyes in the Netherlands. Men told each other of his broken faith to the Moors in Granada, and of his unpopularity in Milan, where, notwithstanding his boasted moderation, he had, in reality, so oppressed the people as to gain their deadly hatred. They complained, too, that it was an insult to send, as governor-general of the provinces, not a prince of the blood, as used to be the case, but a simple “gentleman of cloak and sword.”
Any person, however, who represented the royal authority in the provinces was under historical disadvantage. He was literally no more than an actor, hardly even that. It was Philip’s policy and pride to direct all the machinery of his extensive empire, and to pull every string himself. His puppets, however magnificently attired, moved only in obedience to his impulse, and spoke no syllable but with his voice. Upon the table in his cabinet was arranged all the business of his various realms, even to the most minute particulars. Plans, petty or vast, affecting the interests of empires and ages, or bounded within the narrow limits of trivial and evanescent detail, encumbered his memory and consumed his time. His ambition to do all the work of his kingdoms was aided by an inconceivable greediness for labor. He loved the routine of business, as some monarchs have loved war, as others have loved pleasure. The object, alike paltry and impossible, of this ambition, bespoke the narrow mind. His estates were regarded by him as private property; measures affecting the temporal and eternal interests of millions were regarded as domestic affairs, and the eye of the master was considered the only one which could duly superintend these estates and those interests. Much incapacity to govern was revealed in this inordinate passion to administer. His mind, constantly fatigued by petty labors, was never enabled to survey his wide domains from the height of majesty.
In Alva, certainly, he had employed an unquestionable reality; but Alva, by a fortunate coincidence of character, had seemed his second self. He was now gone, however, and although the royal purpose had not altered, the royal circumstances were changed. The moment had arrived when it was thought that the mask and cothurn might again be assumed with effect, when a grave and conventional personage might decorously make his appearance to perform an interlude of clemency and moderation with satisfactory results. Accordingly, the Great Commander, heralded by rumors of amnesty, was commissioned to assume the government which Alva had been permitted to resign.
It had been industriously circulated that a change of policy was intended. It was even supposed by the more sanguine that the duke had retired in disgrace. A show of coldness was manifested towards him on his return by the king, while Vargas, who had accompanied the governor, was peremptorily forbidden to appear within five leagues of the court. The more discerning, however, perceived much affectation in this apparent displeasure. Saint Goard, the keen observer of Philip’s moods and measures, wrote to his sovereign that he had narrowly observed the countenances of both Philip and Alva; that he had informed himself as thoroughly as possible with regard to the course of policy intended; that he had arrived at the conclusion that the royal chagrin was but dissimulation, intended to dispose the Netherlanders to thoughts of an impossible peace, and that he considered the present merely a breathing time, in which still more active preparations might be made for crushing the rebellion. It was now evident to the world that the revolt had reached a stage in which it could be terminated only by absolute conquest or concession.
To conquer the people of the provinces, except by extermination, seemed difficult to judge by the seven years of execution, sieges, and campaigns, which had now passed without a definite result. It was, therefore, thought expedient to employ concession. The new governor accordingly, in case the Netherlanders would abandon every object for which they had been so heroically contending, was empowered to concede a pardon. It was expressly enjoined upon him, however, that no conciliatory measures should be adopted in which the king’s absolute supremacy, and the total prohibition of every form of worship but the Roman Catholic, were not assumed as a basis. Now, as the people had been contending at least ten years long for constitutional rights against prerogative, and at least seven for liberty of conscience against papistry, it was easy to foretell how much effect any negotiations thus commenced were likely to produce.
Yet, no doubt, in the Netherlands there was a most earnest longing for peace. The Catholic portion of the population were desirous of a reconciliation with their brethren of the new religion. The universal vengeance which had descended upon heresy had not struck the heretics only. It was difficult to find a fireside, Protestant or Catholic, which had not been made desolate by execution, banishment, or confiscation. The common people and the grand seigniors were alike weary of the war. Not only Aerschot and Viglius, but Noircarmes and Berlaymont, were desirous that peace should be at last compassed upon liberal terms, and the Prince of Orange fully and unconditionally pardoned. Even the Spanish commanders had become disgusted with the monotonous butchery which had stained their swords. Julian Romero, the fierce and unscrupulous soldier upon whose head rested the guilt of the Naarden massacre, addressed several letters to William of Orange, full of courtesy and good wishes for a speedy termination of the war, and for an entire reconciliation of the prince with his sovereign. Noircarmes also opened a correspondence with the great leader of the revolt, and offered to do all in his power to restore peace and prosperity to the country. The prince answered the courtesy of the Spaniard with equal, but barren, courtesy; for it was obvious that no definite result could be derived from such informal negotiations. To Noircarmes he responded in terms of gentle but grave rebuke, expressing deep regret that a Netherland noble of such eminence, with so many others of rank and authority, should so long have supported the king in his tyranny. He, however, expressed his satisfaction that their eyes, however late, had opened to the enormous iniquity which had been practiced in the country, and he accepted the offers of friendship as frankly as they had been made. Not long afterwards, the prince furnished his correspondent with a proof of his sincerity, by forwarding to him two letters which had been intercepted, from certain agents of government to Alva, in which Noircarmes and others who had so long supported the king against their own country, were spoken of in terms of menace and distrust. The prince accordingly warned his new correspondent that, in spite of all the proofs of uncompromising loyalty which he had exhibited, he was yet moving upon a dark and slippery pathway, and might even like Egmont and Horn, find a scaffold as the end and the reward of his career. So profound was that abyss of dissimulation which constituted the royal policy towards the Netherlands, that the most unscrupulous partisans of government could only see doubt and danger with regard to their future destiny, and were sometimes only saved by an opportune death from disgrace and the hangman’s hands.
Such, then, were the sentiments of many eminent personages, even among the most devoted loyalists. All longed for peace; many even definitely expected it, upon the arrival of the Great Commander. Moreover, that functionary discovered, at his first glance into the disorderly state of the exchequer, that at least a short respite was desirable before proceeding with the interminable measures of hostility against the rebellion. If any man had been ever disposed to give Alva credit for administrative ability, such delusion must have vanished at the spectacle of confusion and bankruptcy which presented itself at the termination of his government. He resolutely declined to give his successor any information whatever as to his financial position. So far from furnishing a detailed statement, such as might naturally be expected upon so momentous an occasion, he informed the Grand Commander that even a sketch was entirely out of the question, and would require more time and labor than he could then afford. He took his departure, accordingly, leaving Requesens in profound ignorance as to his past accounts, an ignorance in which it is probable that the duke himself shared to the fullest extent. His enemies stoutly maintained that however loosely his accounts had been kept, he had been very careful to make no mistakes against himself, and that he had retired full of wealth, if not of honor, from his long and terrible administration.
His own letters, on the contrary, accused the king of ingratitude, in permitting an old soldier to ruin himself, not only in health but in fortune, for want of proper recompense during an arduous administration. At any rate it is very certain that the rebellion had already been an expensive matter to the Crown. The army in the Netherlands numbered more than 62,000 men, 8,000 being Spaniards, the rest Walloons and Germans. Forty millions of dollars had already been sunk, and it seemed probable that it would require nearly the whole annual produce of the American mines to sustain the war. The transatlantic gold and silver, disinterred from the depths where they had been buried for ages, were employed, not to expand the current of a healthy, life-giving commerce, but to be melted into blood. The sweat and the tortures of the king’s pagan subjects in the primeval forests of the New World, were made subsidiary to the extermination of his Netherland people, and the destruction of an ancient civilization. To this end had Columbus discovered a hemisphere for Castile and Aragon, and the new Indies revealed their hidden treasures?
Forty millions of ducats had been spent. Six and a half millions of arrearages were due to the army, while its current expenses were 600,000 a month. The military expenses alone of the Netherlands were accordingly more than seven millions of dollars yearly, and the mines of the New World produced, during the half century of Philip’s reign, an average of only eleven. Against this constantly increasing deficit, there was not a stiver in the exchequer, nor the means of raising one. The tenth penny had been long virtually extinct, and was soon to be formally abolished. Confiscation had ceased to afford a permanent revenue, and the estates obstinately refused to grant a dollar. Such was the condition to which the unrelenting tyranny and the financial experiments of Alva had reduced the country.
It was, therefore, obvious to Requesens that it would be useful at the moment to hold out hopes of pardon and reconciliation. He saw what he had not at first comprehended, and what few bigoted supporters of absolutism in any age have ever comprehended, that national enthusiasm, when profound and general, makes a rebellion more expensive to the despot than to the insurgents. “Before my arrival,” wrote the Grand Commander to his sovereign, “I did not understand how the rebels could maintain such considerable fleets, while your Majesty could not support a single one. It appears, however, that men who are fighting for their lives, their firesides, their property, and their false religion, for their own cause, in short, are contented to receive rations only, without receiving pay.” The moral which the new governor drew from his correct diagnosis of the prevailing disorder was, not that this national enthusiasm should be respected, but that it should be deceived. He deceived no one but himself, however. He censured Noircarmes and Romero for their intermeddling, but held out hopes of a general pacification. He repudiated the idea of any reconciliation between the king and the Prince of Orange, but proposed at the same time a settlement of the revolt. He had not yet learned that the revolt and William of Orange were one. Although the prince himself had repeatedly offered to withdraw forever from the country, if his absence would expedite a settlement satisfactory to the provinces, there was not a patriot in the Netherlands who could contemplate his departure without despair. Moreover, they all knew better than did Requesens, the inevitable result of the pacific measures which had been daily foreshadowed.
The appointment of the Grand Commander was in truth a desperate attempt to deceive the Netherlanders. He approved distinctly and heartily of Alva’s policy, but wrote to the king that it was desirable to amuse the people with the idea of another and a milder scheme. He affected to believe, and perhaps really did believe, that the nation would accept the destruction of all their institutions, provided that penitent heretics were allowed to be reconciled to the Mother Church, and obstinate ones permitted to go into perpetual exile, taking with them a small portion of their worldly goods. For being willing to make this last and almost incredible concession, he begged pardon sincerely of the king. If censurable, he ought not, he thought, to be too severely blamed, for his loyalty was known. The world was aware how often he had risked his life for his Majesty, and how gladly and how many more times he was ready to risk it in future. In his opinion, religion had, after all, but very little to do with the troubles, and so he confidentially informed his sovereign. Egmont and Horn had died Catholics, the people did not rise to assist the prince’s invasion in 1568, and the new religion was only a lever by which a few artful demagogues had attempted to overthrow the king’s authority.
Such views as these revealed the measures of the new governor’s capacity. The people had really refused to rise in 1568, not because they were without sympathy for Orange, but because they were paralyzed by their fear of Alva. Since those days, however, the new religion had increased and multiplied everywhere, in the blood which had rained upon it. It was now difficult to find a Catholic in Holland and Zealand, who was not a government agent. The prince had been a moderate Catholic, in the opening scenes of the rebellion, while he came forward as the champion of liberty for all forms of Christianity. He had now become a convert to the new religion without receding an inch from his position in favor of universal toleration. The new religion was, therefore, not an instrument devised by a faction, but had expanded into the atmosphere of the people’s daily life. Individuals might be executed for claiming to breathe it, but it was itself impalpable to the attacks of despotism. Yet the Grand Commander persuaded himself that religion had little or nothing to do with the state of the Netherlands. Nothing more was necessary, he thought, or affected to think, in order to restore tranquility, than once more to spread the net of a general amnesty.
The Duke of Alva knew better. That functionary, with whom, before his departure from the provinces, Requesens had been commanded to confer, distinctly stated his opinion that there was no use of talking about pardon. Brutally, but candidly, he maintained that there was nothing to be done but to continue the process of extermination. It was necessary, he said, to reduce the country to a dead level of unresisting misery, before an act of oblivion could be securely laid down as the foundation of a new and permanent order of society. He had already given his advice to his Majesty, that every town in the country should be burned to the ground, except those which could be permanently occupied by the royal troops. The king, however, in his access of clemency at the appointment of a new administration, instructed the Grand Commander not to resort to this measure unless it should become strictly necessary.” Such were the opposite opinions of the old and new governors with regard to the pardon. The learned Viglius sided with Alva, although manifestly against his will. “It is both the duke’s opinion and my own,” wrote the Commander, “that Viglius does not dare to express his real opinion, and that he is secretly desirous of an arrangement with the rebels.” With a good deal of inconsistency, the governor was offended, not only with those who opposed his plans, but with those who favored them. He was angry with Viglius, who, at least nominally, disapproved of the pardon, and with Noircarmes, Aerschot, and others, who manifested a wish for a pacification. Of the chief characteristic ascribed to the people by Julius Caesar, namely, that they forgot neither favors nor injuries, the second half only, in the Grand Commander’s opinion, had been retained. Not only did they never forget injuries, but their memory, said he, was so good, that they recollected many which they had never received.
On the whole, however, in the embarrassed condition of affairs, and while waiting for further supplies, the Commander was secretly disposed to try the effect of a pardon. The object was to deceive the people and to gain time, for there was no intention of conceding liberty of conscience, of withdrawing foreign troops, or of assembling the states-general. It was, however, not possible to apply these hypocritical measures of conciliation immediately. The war was in full career and could not be arrested even in that wintry season. The patriots held Mondragon closely besieged in Middelburg, the last point in the Isle of Walcheren which held for the king. There was a considerable treasure in money and merchandise shut up in that city; and, moreover, so deserving and distinguished an officer as Mondragon could not be abandoned to his fate. At the same time, famine was pressing him sorely, and, by the end of the year, garrison and townspeople had nothing but rats, mice, dogs, cats, and such repulsive substitutes for food, to support life withal. It was necessary to take immediate measures to relieve the place.
On the other hand, the situation of the patriots was not very encouraging. Their superiority on the sea was unquestionable, for the Hollanders and Zealanders were the best sailors in the world, and they asked of their country no payment for their blood, but thanks. The land forces, however, were usually mercenaries, who were apt to mutiny at the commencement of an action if, as was too often the case, their wages could not be paid. Holland was entirely cut in twain by the loss of Harlem and the leaguer of Leyden, no communication between the dissevered portions being possible, except with difficulty and danger. The estates, although they had done much for the cause, and were prepared to do much more, were too apt to wrangle about economical details. They irritated the Prince of Orange by huckstering about subsidies to a degree which his proud and generous nature could hardly brook. He had strong hopes from France. Louis of Nassau had held secret interviews with the Duke of Alençon and the Duke of Anjou, now King of Poland, at Blamont. Alençon had assured him secretly, affectionately, and warmly, that he would be as sincere a friend to the cause as were his two royal brothers. The count had even received 100,000 livres in hand, as an earnest of the favorable intentions of France, and was now busily engaged, at the instance of the prince, in levying an army in Germany for the relief of Leyden and the rest of Holland, while William, on his part, was omitting nothing, whether by representations to the estates or by secret foreign missions and correspondence, to further the cause of the suffering country.
At the same time, the prince dreaded the effect of the promised pardon. He had reason to be distrustful of the general temper of the nation when a man like Saint Aldegonde, the enlightened patriot and his own tried friend, was influenced, by the discouraging and dangerous position in which he found himself, to abandon the high ground upon which they had both so long and so firmly stood. Saint Aldegonde had been held a strict prisoner since his capture at Maeslandsluis, at the close of Alva’s administration. It was, no doubt, a predicament attended with much keen suffering and positive danger. It had hitherto been the uniform policy of the government to kill all prisoners, of whatever rank. Accordingly, some had been drowned, some had been hanged, some beheaded, some poisoned in their dungeons—all had been murdered. This had been Alva’s course. The Grand Commander also highly approved of the system, but the capture of Count Bossu by the patriots had necessitated a suspension of such rigor. It was certain that Bossu’s head would fall as soon as Saint Aldegonde’s, the prince having expressly warned the government of this inevitable result. Notwithstanding that security, however, for his eventual restoration to liberty, a Netherland rebel in a Spanish prison could hardly feel himself at ease. There were so many footmarks into the cave and not a single one coming forth. Yet it was not singular, however, that the prince should read with regret the somewhat insincere casuistry with which Saint Aldegonde sought to persuade himself and his fellow countrymen that a reconciliation with the monarch was desirable, even upon unworthy terms. He was somewhat shocked that so valiant and eloquent a supporter of the Reformation should coolly express his opinion that the king would probably refuse liberty of conscience to the Netherlanders, but would, no doubt, permit heretics to go into banishment. “Perhaps, after we have gone into exile,” added Saint Aldegonde, almost with baseness, “God may give us an opportunity of doing such good service to the king, that he will lend us a more favorable ear, and, peradventure, permit our return to the country.”
Certainly, such language was not becoming the pen which wrote the famous Compromise. The prince himself was, however, not to be induced, even by the captivity and the remonstrances of so valued a friend, to swerve from the path of duty. He still maintained, in public and private, that the withdrawal of foreign troops from the provinces, the restoration of the old constitutional privileges, and the entire freedom of conscience in religious matters, were the indispensable conditions of any pacification. It was plain to him that the Spaniards were not ready to grant these conditions, but he felt confident that he should accomplish the release of Saint Aldegonde without condescending to an ignominious peace.
The most pressing matter, upon the Great Commander’s arrival, was obviously to relieve the city of Middelburg. Mondragon, after so stanch a defense, would soon be obliged to capitulate, unless he should promptly receive supplies. Requesens, accordingly, collected seventy-five ships at Bergen op Zoom, which were placed nominally under the command of Admiral de Glimes, but in reality under that of Julian Romero. Another fleet of thirty vessels had been assembled at Antwerp under Sancho d’Avila. Both, amply freighted with provisions, were destined to make their way to Middelburg by the two different passages of the Honde and the Eastern Scheld. On the other hand, the Prince of Orange had repaired to Flushing to superintend the operations of Admiral Boisot, who already, in obedience to his orders, had got a powerful squadron in readiness at that place. Late in January 1574, d’Avila arrived in the neighborhood of Flushing, where he awaited the arrival of Romero’s fleet. United, the two commanders were to make a determined attempt to reinforce the starving city of Middelburg. At the same time, Governor Requesens made his appearance in person at Bergen op Zoom to expedite the departure of the stronger fleet, but it was not the intention of the Prince of Orange to allow this expedition to save the city. The Spanish generals, however valiant, were to learn that their genius was not amphibious, and that the Beggars of the Sea were still invincible on their own element, even if their brethren of the land had occasionally quailed.
Admiral Boisot’s fleet had already moved up the Scheld and taken a position nearly opposite to Bergen op Zoom. On the 20th of January, the Prince of Orange, embarking from Zierick Zee, came to make them a visit before the impending action. His galley, conspicuous for its elegant decorations, was exposed for some time to the artillery of the fort, but providentially escaped unharmed. He assembled all the officers of his armada, and, in brief but eloquent language, reminded them how necessary it was to the salvation of the whole country that they should prevent the city of Middelburg—the key to the whole of Zealand, already upon the point of falling into the hands of the patriots—from being now wrested from their grasp. On the sea, at least, the Hollanders and Zealanders were at home. The officers and men, with one accord, rent the air with their cheers. They swore that they would shed every drop of blood in their veins, but they would sustain the prince and the country; and they solemnly vowed not only to serve, if necessary, without wages, but to sacrifice all that they possessed in the world rather than abandon the cause of their fatherland. Having by his presence and his language aroused their valor to so high a pitch of enthusiasm, the prince departed for Delft, to make arrangements to drive the Spaniards from the siege of Leyden.
On the 29th of January, the fleet of Romero sailed from Bergen, disposed in three divisions, each numbering twenty-five vessels of different sizes. As the Grand Commander stood on the dyke of Schakerloo to witness the departure, a general salute was fired by the fleet in his honor, but with most unfortunate augury. The discharge, by some accident, set fire to the magazines of one of the ships, which blew up with a terrible explosion, every soul on board perishing. The expedition, nevertheless, continued its way. Opposite Romerswael, the fleet of Boisot awaited them, drawn up in battle array. As an indication of the spirit which animated this hardy race, it may be mentioned that Schot, captain of the flagship, had been left on shore, dying of a pestilential fever. Admiral Boisot had appointed a Flushinger, Klaaf Klaafzoon, in his place. Just before the action, however, Schot, “scarcely able to blow a feather from his mouth,” staggered on board his ship, and claimed the command. There was no disputing a precedency which he had risen from his deathbed to vindicate. There was, however, a short discussion, as the enemy’s fleet approached, between these rival captains regarding the manner in which the Spaniards should be received. Klaafzoon was of opinion that most of the men should go below till after the enemy’s first discharge. Schot insisted that all should remain on deck, ready to grapple with the Spanish fleet, and to board them without the least delay. The sentiment of Schot prevailed, and all hands stood on deck, ready with boarding pikes and grappling irons.
The first division of Romero came nearer, and delivered its first broadside, when Schot and Klaafzoon both fell mortally wounded. Admiral Boisot lost an eye, and many officers and sailors in the other vessels were killed or wounded. This was, however, the first and last of the cannonading. As many of Romero’s vessels as could be grappled with in the narrow estuary found themselves locked in close embrace with their enemies. A murderous hand-to-hand conflict succeeded. Battle axe, boarding pike, pistol, and dagger were the weapons. Every man who yielded himself a prisoner was instantly stabbed and tossed into the sea by the remorseless Zealanders. Fighting only to kill, and not to plunder, they did not even stop to take the gold chains which many Spaniards wore on their necks. It had, however, been obvious from the beginning that the Spanish fleet were not likely to achieve that triumph over the patriots which was necessary before they could relieve Middelburg. The battle continued a little longer, but after fifteen ships had been taken and twelve hundred royalists slain, the remainder of the enemy’s fleet retreated into Bergen. Romero himself, whose ship had grounded, sprang out of a porthole and swam ashore, followed by such of his men as were able to imitate him. He landed at the very feet of the Grand Commander, who, wet and cold, had been standing all day upon the dyke of Schakerloo, in the midst of a pouring rain, only to witness the total defeat of his armada at last. “I told your Excellency,” said Romero, coolly, as he climbed, all dripping, on the bank, “that I was a land-fighter and not a sailor. If you were to give me the command of a hundred fleets, I believe that none of them would fare better than this has done.” The governor and his discomfited, but philosophical lieutenant, then returned to Bergen, and thence to Brussels, acknowledging that the city of Middelburg must fall, while Sancho d’Avila, hearing of the disaster which had befallen his countrymen, brought his fleet, with the greatest expedition back to Antwerp. Thus the gallant Mondragon was abandoned to his fate.
That fate could no longer be protracted. The city of Middelburg had reached and passed the starvation point. Still Mondragon was determined not to yield at discretion, although very willing to capitulate. The Prince of Orange, after the victory of Bergen, was desirous of an unconditional surrender, believing it to be his right, and knowing that he could not be supposed capable of practicing upon Middelburg the vengeance which had been wreaked on Naarden, Zutphen, and Harlem. Mondragon, however, swore that he would set fire to the city in twenty places, and perish with every soldier and burgher in the flames together, rather than abandon himself to the enemy’s mercy. The prince knew that the brave Spaniard was entirely capable of executing his threat. He granted honorable conditions, which, on the 18th of February, were drawn up in five articles, and signed. It was agreed that Mondragon and his troops should leave the place, with their arms, ammunition, and all their personal property. The citizens who remained were to take oath of fidelity to the prince, as stadholder for his Majesty, and were to pay besides a subsidy of 300,000 florins. Mondragon was, furthermore, to procure the discharge of Saint Aldegonde, and of four other prisoners of rank, or, failing in the attempt, was to return within two months, and constitute himself prisoner of war. The Catholic priests were to take away from the city none of their property but their clothes. In accordance with this capitulation, Mondragon, and those who wished to accompany him, left the city on the 21st of February, and were conveyed to the Flemish shore at Neuz. It will be seen in the sequel that the governor neither granted him the release of the five prisoners, nor permitted him to return, according to his parole. A few days afterwards, the prince entered the city, re-organized the magistracy, received the allegiance of the inhabitants, restored the ancient constitution, and liberally remitted two thirds of the sum in which they had been mulcted.
The Spaniards had thus been successfully driven from the isle of Walcheren, leaving the Hollanders and Zealanders masters of the seacoast. Since the siege of Alkmaar had been raised, however, the enemy had remained within the territory of Holland. Leyden was closely invested, the country in a desperate condition, and all communication between its different cities nearly suspended. It was comparatively easy for the Prince of Orange to equip and man his fleets. The genius and habits of the people made them at home upon the water, and inspired them with a feeling of superiority to their adversaries. It was not so upon land. Strong to resist, patient to suffer, the Hollanders, although terrible in defense, had not the necessary discipline or experience to meet the veteran legions of Spain, with confidence, in the open field. To raise the siege of Leyden, the main reliance of the prince was upon Count Louis, who was again in Germany. In the latter days of Alva’s administration, William had written to his brothers, urging them speedily to arrange the details of a campaign, of which he forwarded them a sketch. As soon as a sufficient force had been levied in Germany, an attempt was to be made upon Maestricht. If that failed, Louis was to cross the Meuse, in the neighborhood of Stochem, make his way towards the prince’s own city of Gertruidenberg, and thence make a junction with his brother in the neighborhood of Delft. They were then to take up a position together between Harlem and Leyden. In that case it seemed probable that the Spaniards would find themselves obliged to fight at a great disadvantage, or to abandon the country. “In short,” said the prince, “if this enterprise be arranged with due diligence and discretion, I hold it as the only certain means for putting a speedy end to the war, and for driving these devils of Spaniards out of the country, before the Duke of Alva has time to raise another army to support them.”
In pursuance of this plan, Louis had been actively engaged all the earlier part of the winter in levying troops and raising supplies. He had been assisted by the French princes with considerable sums of money, as an earnest of what he was in future to expect from that source. He had made an unsuccessful attempt to effect the capture of Requesens, on his way to take the government of the Netherlands. He had then passed to the frontier of France, where he had held his important interview with Catharine de’ Medici and the Duke of Anjou, then on the point of departure to ascend the throne of Poland. He had received liberal presents, and still more liberal promises. Anjou had assured him that he would go as far as any of the German princes in rendering active and sincere assistance to the Protestant cause in the Netherlands. The Duke d’Alençon—soon, in his brother’s absence, to succeed to the chieftainship of the new alliance between the “politiques” and the Huguenots—had also pressed his hand, whispering in his ear, as he did so, that the government of France now belonged to him, as it had recently done to Anjou, and that the prince might reckon upon his friendship with entire security.
These fine words, which cost nothing when whispered in secret, were not destined to fructify into a very rich harvest, for the mutual jealousy of France and England, lest either should acquire ascendency in the Netherlands, made both governments prodigal of promises, while the common fear entertained by them of the power of Spain rendered both languid, insincere, and mischievous allies. Count John, however, was indefatigable in arranging the finances of the proposed expedition, and in levying contributions among his numerous relatives and allies in Germany, while Louis had profited by the occasion of Anjou’s passage into Poland, to acquire for himself 2,000 German and French cavalry, who had served to escort that prince, and who, being now thrown out of employment, were glad to have a job offered them by a general who was thought to be in funds. Another thousand of cavalry and 6,000 foot were soon assembled, from those ever-swarming nurseries of mercenary warriors, the smaller German states. With these, towards the end of February, Louis crossed the Rhine in a heavy snowstorm, and bent his course towards Maestricht. All the three brothers of the prince accompanied this little army, besides Duke Christopher, son of the Elector Palatine.
Before the end of the month the army reached the Meuse, and encamped within four miles of Maestricht, on the opposite side of the river. The garrison, commanded by Montesdoca, was weak, but the news of the warlike preparations in Germany had preceded the arrival of Count Louis. Requesens, feeling the gravity of the occasion, had issued orders for an immediate levy of 8,000 cavalry in Germany, with a proportionate number of infantry. At the same time he had directed Don Bernardino de Mendoza, with some companies of cavalry, then stationed in Breda, to throw himself without delay into Maestricht. Don Sancho d’Avila was entrusted with the general care of resisting the hostile expedition. That general had forthwith collected all the troops which could be spared from every town where they were stationed, had strengthened the cities of Antwerp, Ghent, Nimwegen, and Valenciennes, where there were known to be many secret adherents of Orange; and with the remainder of his forces had put himself in motion, to oppose the entrance of Louis into Brabant and his junction with his brother in Holland. Braccamonte had been dispatched to Leyden, in order instantly to draw off the forces which were besieging the city. Thus Louis had already effected something of importance by the very news of his approach.
Meantime the Prince of Orange had raised 6,000 infantry, whose rendezvous was the Isle of Bommel. He was disappointed at the paucity of the troops which Louis had been able to collect, but he sent messengers immediately to him, with a statement of his own condition, and with directions to join him in the Isle of Bommel, as soon as Maestricht should be reduced. It was, however, not in the destiny of Louis to reduce Maestricht. His expedition had been marked with disaster from the beginning. A dark and threatening prophecy had, even before its commencement, enwrapped Louis, his brethren, and his little army, in a funeral pall. More than a thousand of his men had deserted before he reached the Meuse. When he encamped, opposite Maestricht, he found the river neither frozen nor open, the ice obstructing the navigation, but being too weak for the weight of an army. While he was thus delayed and embarrassed, Mendoza arrived in the city with reinforcements. It seemed already necessary for Louis to abandon his hopes of Maestricht, but he was at least desirous of crossing the river in that neighborhood, in order to effect his junction with the prince at the earliest possible moment. While the stream was still encumbered with ice, however, the enemy removed all the boats. On the third of March, Avila arrived with a large body of troops at Maestricht, and on the 18th, Mendoza crossed the river in the night, giving the patriots so severe an encamisada, that seven hundred were killed, at the expense of only seven of his own party. Harassed, but not dispirited by these disasters, Louis broke up his camp on the 21st, and took a position farther down the river, at Fauquemont and Gulpen, castles in the Duchy of Limburg. On the third of April, Braccamonte arrived at Maestricht, with twenty-five companies of Spaniards and three of cavalry, while on the same day Mondragon reached the scene of action with his sixteen companies of veterans.
It was now obvious to Louis, not only that he should not take Maestricht, but that his eventual junction with his brother was at least doubtful, every soldier who could possibly be spared seeming in motion to oppose his progress. He was to be sure, not yet outnumbered, but the enemy was increasing, and his own force diminishing daily. Moreover, the Spaniards were highly disciplined and experienced troops; while his own soldiers were mercenaries, already clamorous and insubordinate. On the eighth of April, he again shifted his encampment, and took his course along the right bank of the Meuse, between that river and the Rhine, in the direction of Nimwegen. Avila promptly decided to follow him, upon the opposite bank of the Meuse, intending to throw himself between Louis and the Prince of Orange, and by a rapid march to give the count battle, before he could join his brother.
On the eighth of April, at early dawn, Louis had left the neighborhood of Maestricht, and on the 13th he encamped at the village of Mook, on the Meuse, near the confines of Cleves. Sending out his scouts, he learned, to his vexation, that the enemy had outmarched him, and were now within cannon-shot. On the 13th, Avila had constructed a bridge of boats, over which he had effected the passage of the Meuse with his whole army, so that on the count’s arrival at Mook, he found the enemy facing him, on the same side of the river, and directly in his path. It was, therefore, obvious that, in this narrow space between the Waal and the Meuse, where they were now all assembled, Louis must achieve a victory, unaided, or abandon his expedition, and leave the Hollanders to despair. He was distressed at the position in which he found himself, for he had hoped to reduce Maestricht, and to join his brother in Holland. Together, they could, at least, have expelled the Spaniards from that territory, in which case it was probable that a large part of the population in the different provinces would have risen. According to present aspects, the destiny of the country, for some time to come, was likely to hang upon the issue of a battle which he had not planned, and for which he was not fully prepared. Still he was not the man to be disheartened, nor had he ever possessed the courage to refuse a battle when offered. Upon this occasion, it would be difficult to retreat without disaster and disgrace, but it was equally difficult to achieve a victory. Thrust, as he was, like a wedge into the very heart of a hostile country, he was obliged to force his way through, or to remain in his enemy’s power. Moreover, and worst of all, his troops were in a state of mutiny for their wages. While he talked to them of honor, they howled to him for money. It was the custom of these mercenaries to mutiny on the eve of battle—of the Spaniards, after it had been fought. By the one course, a victory was often lost which might have been achieved; by the other, when won, it was rendered fruitless.
Avila had chosen his place of battle with great skill. On the right bank of the Meuse, upon a narrow plain which spread from the river to a chain of hills within cannon-shot on the North, lay the little village of Mook. The Spanish general knew that his adversary had the superiority in cavalry, and that within this compressed space it would not be possible to derive much advantage from the circumstance.
On the 14th, both armies were drawn up in battle array at earliest dawn, Louis having strengthened his position by a deep trench, which extended from Mook, where he had stationed ten companies of infantry, which thus rested on the village and the river. Next came the bulk of his infantry, disposed in a single square. On their right was his cavalry, arranged in four squadrons, as well as the narrow limits of the field would allow. A small portion of them, for want of space, were stationed on the hillside.
Opposite, the forces of Don Sancho were drawn up in somewhat similar fashion. Twenty-five companies of Spaniards were disposed in four bodies of pikemen and musketeers, their right resting on the river. On their left was the cavalry, disposed by Mendoza in the form of a half moon—the horns garnished by two small bodies of sharpshooters. In the front ranks of the cavalry were the mounted carabineers of Schenk; behind were the Spanish lancers. The village of Mook lay between the two armies.
The skirmishing began at early dawn, with an attack upon the trench, and continued some hours, without bringing on a general engagement. Towards ten o’clock, Count Louis became impatient. All the trumpets of the patriots now rang out a challenge to their adversaries, and the Spaniards were just returning the defiance, and preparing a general onset, when the Seigneur de Hierges and Baron Chevreaux arrived on the field. They brought with them a reinforcement of more than a thousand men, and the intelligence that Valdez was on his way with nearly five thousand more. As he might be expected on the following morning, a short deliberation was held as to the expediency of deferring the action. Count Louis was at the head of 6,000 foot and 2,000 cavalry. Avila mustered only 4,000 infantry and not quite a thousand horse. This inferiority would be changed on the morrow into an overwhelming superiority. Meantime, it was well to remember the punishment endured by Aremberg at Heiliger-Lee, for not waiting till Meghen’s arrival. This prudent counsel was, however, very generally scouted, and by none more loudly than by Hierges and Chevreaux, who had brought the intelligence. It was thought that at this juncture nothing could be more indiscreet than discretion. They had a wary and audacious general to deal with. While they were waiting for their reinforcements, he was quite capable of giving them the slip. He might thus effect the passage of the stream and that union with his brother which had been thus far so successfully prevented. This reasoning prevailed, and the skirmishing at the trench was renewed with redoubled vigor, an additional force being sent against it. After a short and fierce struggle it was carried, and the Spaniards rushed into the village, but were soon dislodged by a larger detachment of infantry, which Count Louis sent to the rescue. The battle now became general at this point.
Nearly all the patriot infantry were employed to defend the post; nearly all the Spanish infantry were ordered to assail it. The Spaniards, dropping on their knees, according to custom, said a Paternoster and an Ave Mary, and then rushed, in mass, to the attack. After a short but sharp conflict, the trench was again carried, and the patriots completely routed. Upon this, Count Louis charged with all his cavalry upon the enemy’s horse, which had hitherto remained motionless. With the first shock the mounted arquebusiers of Schenk, constituting the vanguard, were broken, and fled in all directions. So great was their panic, as Louis drove them before him, that they never stopped till they had swum or been drowned in the river, the survivors carrying the news to Grave and to other cities that the royalists had been completely routed. This was, however, very far from the truth. The patriot cavalry, mostly carabineers, wheeled after the first discharge, and retired to reload their pieces, but before they were ready for another attack, the Spanish lancers and the German black troopers, who had all remained firm, set upon them with great spirit. A fierce, bloody, and confused action succeeded, in which the patriots were completely overthrown.
Count Louis, finding that the day was lost, and his army cut to pieces, rallied around him a little band of troopers, among whom were his brother, Count Henry, and Duke Christopher, and together they made a final and desperate charge. It was the last that was ever seen of them on earth. They all went down together, in the midst of the fight, and were never heard of more. The battle terminated, as usual in those conflicts of mutual hatred, in a horrible butchery, hardly any of the patriot army being left to tell the tale of their disaster. At least 4,000 were killed, including those who were slain on the field, those who were suffocated in the marshes or the river, and those who were burned in the farmhouses where they had taken refuge. It was uncertain which of those various modes of death had been the lot of Count Louis, his brother, and his friend. The mystery was never solved. They had, probably, all died on the field; but, stripped of their clothing, with their faces trampled upon by the hoofs of horses, it was not possible to distinguish them from the less illustrious dead. It was the opinion of many that they had been drowned in the river; of others, that they had been burned. There was a vague tale that Louis, bleeding but not killed, had struggled forth from the heap of corpses where he had been thrown, had crept to the riverside, and, while washing his wounds, had been surprised and butchered by a party of rustics. The story was not generally credited, but no man knew, or was destined to learn, the truth.
A dark and fatal termination to this last enterprise of Count Louis had been anticipated by many. In that superstitious age, when emperors and princes daily investigated the future, by alchemy, by astrology, and by books of fate, filled with formulæ, as gravely and precisely set forth as algebraical equations; when men of every class, from monarch to peasant, implicitly believed in supernatural portents and prophecies, it was not singular that a somewhat striking appearance, observed in the sky some weeks previously to the battle of Mookerheyde, should have inspired many persons with a shuddering sense of impending evil.
Early in February, five soldiers of the burgher guard at Utrecht, being on their midnight watch, beheld in the sky above them the representation of a furious battle. The sky was extremely dark, except directly over their heads, where, for a space equal in extent to the length of the city, and in breadth to that of an ordinary chamber, two armies, in battle array, were seen advancing upon each other. The one moved rapidly up from the Northwest, with banners waving, spears flashing, trumpets sounding, accompanied by heavy artillery and by squadrons of cavalry. The other came slowly forward from the Southeast, as if from an entrenched camp, to encounter their assailants. There was a fierce action for a few moments, the shouts of the combatants, the heavy discharge of cannon, the rattle of musketry, the tramp of heavy-armed foot soldiers, the rush of cavalry, being distinctly heard. The firmament trembled with the shock of the contending hosts, and was lurid with the rapid discharges of their artillery. After a short, fierce engagement, the northwestern army was beaten back in disorder, but rallied again, after a breathing time, formed again into solid column, and again advanced. Their foes, arrayed, as the witnesses affirmed, in a square and closely serried grove of spears and muskets, again awaited the attack. Once more the aerial cohorts closed upon each other, all the signs and sounds of a desperate encounter being distinctly recognized by the eager witnesses. The struggle seemed but short. The lances of the southeastern army seemed to snap “like hemp-stalks,” while their firm columns all went down together in mass, beneath the onset of their enemies. The overthrow was complete, victors and vanquished had faded, the clear blue space, surrounded by black clouds, was empty, when suddenly its whole extent, where the conflict had so lately raged, was streaked with blood, flowing athwart the sky in broad crimson streams; nor was it till the five witnesses had fully watched and pondered over these portents that the vision entirely vanished.
So impressed were the grave magistrates of Utrecht with the account given next day by the sentinels, that a formal examination of the circumstances was made, the deposition of each witness, under oath, duly recorded, and a vast deal of consultation of soothsayers’ books and other auguries employed to elucidate the mystery. It was universally considered typical of the anticipated battle between Count Louis and the Spaniards. When, therefore, it was known that the patriots, moving from the Southeast, had arrived at Mookerheyde, and that their adversaries, crossing the Meuse at Grave, had advanced upon them from the Northwest, the result of the battle was considered inevitable, the phantom battle of Utrecht its infallible precursor.
Thus perished Louis of Nassau in the flower of his manhood, in the midst of a career already crowded with events such as might suffice for a century of ordinary existence. It is difficult to find in history a more frank and loyal character. His life was noble, the elements of the heroic and the genial so mixed in him that the imagination contemplates him, after three centuries, with an almost affectionate interest. He was not a great man. He was far from possessing the subtle genius or the expansive views of his brother; but, called as he was to play a prominent part in one of the most complicated and imposing dramas ever enacted by man, he nevertheless always acquitted himself with honor. His direct, fearless and energetic nature commanded alike the respect of friend and foe. As a politician, a soldier, and a diplomatist, he was busy, bold, and true. He accomplished by sincerity what many thought could only be compassed by trickery. Dealing often with the most adroit and most treacherous of princes and statesmen, he frequently carried his point, and he never stooped to flattery. From the time when, attended by his “twelve disciples,” he assumed the most prominent part in the negotiations with Margaret of Parma, through all the various scenes of the revolution, through all the conferences with Spaniards, Italians, Huguenots, Malcontents, Flemish councillors, or German princes, he was the consistent and unflinching supporter of religious liberty and constitutional law.
The Battle of Heiliger-Lee and the capture of Mons were his most signal triumphs, but the fruits of both were annihilated by subsequent disaster. His headlong courage was his chief foible. The French accused him of losing the battle of Moncontour by his impatience to engage, yet they acknowledged that to his masterly conduct it was owing that their retreat was effected in so successful, and even so brilliant a manner. He was censured for rashness and precipitancy in this last and fatal enterprise, but the reproach seems entirely without foundation. The expedition as already stated, had been deliberately arranged, with the full cooperation of his brother, and had been preparing several months. That he was able to set no larger force on foot than that which he led into Gueldres was not his fault. But for the floating ice which barred his passage of the Meuse, he would have surprised Maestricht; but for the mutiny, which rendered his mercenary soldiers cowards, he might have defeated Avila at Mookerheyde. Had he done so, he would have joined his brother in the Isle of Bommel in triumph; the Spaniards would, probably, have been expelled from Holland, and Leyden saved the horrors of that memorable siege which she was soon called upon to endure. These results were not in his destiny. Providence had decreed that he should perish in the midst of his usefulness, that the prince, in his death, should lose the right hand which had been so swift to execute his various plans, and the faithful fraternal heart which had always responded so readily to every throb of his own.
In figure, he was below the middle height, but martial and noble in his bearing. The expression of his countenance was lively, his manner frank and engaging. All who knew him personally loved him, and he was the idol of his gallant brethren. His mother always addressed him as her dearly beloved, her heart’s-cherished Louis. “You must come soon to me,” she wrote in the last year of his life, “for I have many matters to ask your advice upon; and I thank you beforehand, for you have loved me as your mother all the days of your life; for which may God Almighty have you in his holy keeping.”
It was the doom of this high-born, true-hearted dame to be called upon to weep oftener for her children than is the usual lot of mothers. Count Adolphus had already perished in his youth on the field of Heiliger-Lee, and now Louis and his young brother Henry, who had scarcely attained his twenty-sixth year, and whose short life had been passed in that faithful service to the cause of freedom which was the instinct of his race, had both found a bloody and an unknown grave. Count John, who had already done so much for the cause, was fortunately spared to do much more. Although of the expedition, and expecting to participate in the battle, he had, at the urgent solicitation of all the leaders, left the army for a brief season, in order to obtain at Cologne a supply of money for the mutinous troops. He had started upon this mission two days before the action in which he, too, would otherwise have been sacrificed. The young Duke Christopher, “optimæ indolis et magnæ spei adolescens,” who had perished on the same field, was sincerely mourned by the lovers of freedom. His father, the elector, found his consolation in the Scriptures, and in the reflection that his son had died in the bed of honor, fighting for the cause of God. “’T was better thus,” said that stern Calvinist, whose dearest wish was to “Calvinize the world,” “than to have passed his time in idleness, which is the Devil’s pillow.”
Vague rumors of the catastrophe had spread far and wide. It was soon certain that Louis had been defeated, but, for a long time, conflicting reports were in circulation as to the fate of the leaders. The Prince of Orange, meanwhile, passed days of intense anxiety, expecting hourly to hear from his brothers, listening to dark rumors, which he refused to credit and could not contradict, and writing letters, day after day, long after the eyes which should have read the friendly missives were closed.
The victory of the king’s army at Mookerheyde had been rendered comparatively barren by the mutiny which broke forth the day after the battle. Three years’ pay were due to the Spanish troops, and it was not surprising that upon this occasion one of those periodic rebellions should break forth, by which the royal cause was frequently so much weakened, and the royal governors so intolerably perplexed. These mutinies were of almost regular occurrence, and attended by as regular a series of phenomena. The Spanish troops, living so far from their own country, but surrounded by their women, and constantly increasing swarms of children, constituted a locomotive city of considerable population, permanently established on a foreign soil. It was a city walled in by bayonets, and still further isolated from the people around by the impassable moat of mutual hatred. It was a city obeying the articles of war, governed by despotic authority, and yet occasionally revealing, in full force, the irrepressible democratic element. At periods which could almost be calculated, the military populace were wont to rise upon the privileged classes, to deprive them of office and liberty, and to set up in their place commanders of their own election. A governor-in-chief, a sergeant-major, a board of councillors and various other functionaries, were chosen by acclamation and universal suffrage. The Eletto, or chief officer thus appointed, was clothed with supreme power, but forbidden to exercise it. He was surrounded by councillors, who watched his every motion, read all his correspondence, and assisted at all his conferences, while the councillors were themselves narrowly watched by the commonalty. These movements were, however, in general, marked by the most exemplary order. Anarchy became a system of government; rebellion enacted and enforced the strictest rules of discipline; theft, drunkenness, violence to women, were severely punished. As soon as the mutiny broke forth, the first object was to take possession of the nearest city, where the Eletto was usually established in the town-house, and the soldiery quartered upon the citizens.
Nothing in the shape of food or lodging was too good for these marauders. Men who had lived for years on camp rations—coarse knaves who had held the plough till compelled to handle the musket—now slept in fine linen and demanded from the trembling burghers the daintiest viands. They ate the land bare, like a swarm of locusts. “Chickens and partridges,” says the thrifty chronicler of Antwerp, “capons and pheasants, bares and rabbits, two kinds of wines; for sauces, capers and olives, citrons and oranges, spices and sweetmeats; wheaten bread for their dogs, and even wine to wash the feet of their horses”—such was the entertainment demanded and obtained by the mutinous troops. They were very willing both to enjoy the luxury of this forage, and to induce the citizens, from weariness of affording compelled hospitality, to submit to a taxation by which the military claims might be liquidated.
A city thus occupied was at the mercy of a foreign soldiery, which had renounced all authority but that of self-imposed laws. The king’s officers were degraded, perhaps murdered, while those chosen to supply their places had only a nominal control. The Eletto, day by day, proclaimed from the balcony of the town-house the latest rules and regulations. If satisfactory, there was a clamor of applause; if objectionable, they were rejected with a tempest of hisses, with discharges of musketry. The Eletto did not govern; he was a dictator who could not dictate, but could only register decrees. If too honest, too firm, or too dull for his place, he was deprived of his office and sometimes of his life. Another was chosen in his room, often to be succeeded by a series of others, destined to the same fate. Such were the main characteristics of those formidable mutinies, the result of the unthriftiness and dishonesty by which the soldiery engaged in these interminable hostilities were deprived of their dearly earned wages. The expense of the war was bad enough at best, but when it is remembered that of three or four dollars sent from Spain, or contributed by the provinces for the support of the army, hardly one reached the pockets of the soldier, the frightful expenditure which took place may be imagined. It was not surprising that so much peculation should engender revolt.
The mutiny which broke out after the defeat of Count Louis was marked with the most pronounced and inflammatory of these symptoms. Three years’ pay was due to the Spaniards, who, having just achieved a signal victory, were disposed to reap its fruits, by fair means or by force. On receiving nothing but promises, in answer to their clamorous demands, they mutinied to a man, and crossed the Meuse to Grave, whence, after accomplishing the usual elections, they took their course to Antwerp. Being in such strong force, they determined to strike at the capital. Rumor flew before them. Champagny, brother of Granvelle, and royal governor of the city, wrote in haste to apprise Requesens of the approaching danger. The Grand Commander, attended only by Vitelli, repaired instantly to Antwerp. Champagny advised throwing up a breastwork with bales of merchandise, upon the esplanade, between the citadel and the town, for it was at this point, where the connection between the fortifications of the castle and those of the city had never been thoroughly completed, that the invasion might be expected. Requesens hesitated. He trembled at a conflict with his own soldiery. If successful, he could only be so by trampling upon the flower of his army. If defeated, what would become of the king’s authority, with rebellious troops triumphant in rebellious provinces? Sorely perplexed, the commander could think of no expedient. Not knowing what to do, he did nothing. In the meantime, Champagny, who felt himself odious to the soldiery, retreated to the Newtown, and barricaded himself, with a few followers, in the house of the Baltic merchants.
On the 26th of April, the mutinous troops in perfect order, marched into the city, effecting their entrance precisely at the weak point where they had been expected. Numbering at least 3,000, they encamped on the esplanade, where Requesens appeared before them alone on horseback, and made them an oration. They listened with composure, but answered briefly and with one accord, “Dineros y non palabras”—dollars not speeches. Requesens promised profusely, but the time was past for promises. Hard silver dollars would alone content an army which, after three years of bloodshed and starvation, had at last taken the law into their own hands. Requesens withdrew to consult the Broad Council of the city. He was without money himself, but he demanded 400,000 crowns of the city. This was at first refused, but the troops knew the strength of their position, for these mutinies were never repressed, and rarely punished. On this occasion the commander was afraid to employ force, and the burghers, after the army had been quartered upon them for a time, would gladly pay a heavy ransom to be rid of their odious and expensive guests. The mutineers foreseeing that the work might last a few weeks, and determined to proceed leisurely, took possession of the great square. The Eletto, with his staff of councillors, was quartered in the town-house, while the soldiers distributed themselves among the houses of the most opulent citizens, no one escaping a billet who was rich enough to receive such company—bishop or burgomaster, margrave or merchant. The most famous kitchens were naturally the most eagerly sought, and sumptuous apartments, luxurious dishes, delicate wines, were daily demanded. The burghers dared not refuse.
The six hundred Walloons, who had been previously quartered in the city, were expelled, and for many days the mutiny reigned paramount. Day after day the magistracy, the heads of guilds, all the representatives of the citizens were assembled in the Broad Council. The governor-general insisted on his demand of 400,000 crowns, representing, with great justice, that the mutineers would remain in the city until they had eaten and drunk to that amount, and that there would still be the arrearages, for which the city would be obliged to raise the funds. On the ninth of May, the authorities made an offer, which was duly communicated to the Eletto. That functionary stood forth on a window-sill of the town-house, and addressed the soldiery. He informed them that the Grand Commander proposed to pay ten months’ arrears in cash, five months’ in silks and woolen cloths, and the balance in promises, to be fulfilled within a few days. The terms were not considered satisfactory, and were received with groans of derision. The Eletto, on the contrary, declared them very liberal, and reminded the soldiers of the perilous condition in which they stood, guilty to a man of high treason, with a rope around every neck. It was well worth their while to accept the offer made them, together with the absolute pardon for the past, by which it was accompanied. For himself, he washed his hands of the consequences if the offer were rejected. The soldiers answered by deposing the Eletto and choosing another in his room.
Three days after, a mutiny broke out in the citadel—an unexampled occurrence. The rebels ordered Sancho d’Avila, the commandant, to deliver the keys of the fortress. He refused to surrender them but with his life. They then contented themselves with compelling his lieutenant to leave the citadel, and with sending their Eletto to confer with the Grand Commander, as well as with the Eletto of the army. After accomplishing his mission, he returned, accompanied by Chiappin Vitelli, as envoy of the governor-general. No sooner, however, had the Eletto set foot on the drawbridge than he was attacked by Ensign Salvatierra of the Spanish garrison, who stabbed him to the heart and threw him into the moat. The ensign, who was renowned in the army for his ferocious courage, and who wore embroidered upon his trunk hose the inscription, “El castigador de los Flamencos,” then rushed upon the sergeant-major of the mutineers, dispatched him in the same way, and tossed him likewise into the moat. These preliminaries being settled, a satisfactory arrangement was negotiated between Vitelli and the rebellious garrison. Pardon for the past and payment upon the same terms as those offered in the city were accepted, and the mutiny of the citadel was quelled. It was, however, necessary that Salvatierra should conceal himself for a long time, to escape being torn to pieces by the incensed soldiery.
Meantime, affairs in the city were more difficult to adjust. The mutineers raised an altar of chests and bales upon the public square, and celebrated mass under the open sky, solemnly swearing to be true to each other to the last. The scenes of carousing and merry-making were renewed at the expense of the citizens, who were again exposed to nightly alarms from the boisterous mirth and ceaseless mischief-making of the soldiers. Before the end of the month, the Broad Council, exhausted by the incubus which had afflicted them so many weeks, acceded to the demand of Requesens. The 400,000 crowns were furnished, the Grand Commander accepting them as a loan, and giving in return bonds duly signed and countersigned, together with a mortgage upon all the royal domains. The citizens received the documents, as a matter of form, but they had handled such securities before, and valued them but slightly. The mutineers now agreed to settle with the governor-general, on condition of receiving all their wages, either in cash or cloth, together with a solemn promise of pardon for all their acts of insubordination. This pledge was formally rendered with appropriate religious ceremonies, by Requesens, in the cathedral. The payments were made directly afterwards, and a great banquet was held on the same day, by the whole mass of the soldiery, to celebrate the event. The feast took place on the place of the Meer, and was a scene of furious revelry. The soldiers, more thoughtless than children, had arrayed themselves in extemporaneous costumes, cut from the cloth which they had at last received in payment of their sufferings and their blood. Broadcloths, silks, satins, and gold-embroidered brocades, worthy of a queen’s wardrobe, were hung in fantastic drapery around the sinewy forms and bronzed faces of the soldiery, who, the day before, had been clothed in rags. The mirth was fast and furious, and scarce was the banquet finished before every drumhead became a gaming table, around which gathered groups eager to sacrifice in a moment their dearly-bought gold.
The fortunate or the prudent had not yet succeeded in entirely plundering their companions, when the distant booming of cannon was heard from the river. Instantly, accoutered as they were in their holiday and fantastic costumes, the soldiers, no longer mutinous, were summoned from banquet and gaming table, and were ordered forth upon the dykes. The patriot Admiral Boisot, who had so recently defeated the fleet of Bergen, under the eyes of the Grand Commander, had unexpectedly sailed up the Scheld, determined to destroy the fleet of Antwerp, which upon that occasion had escaped. Between the forts of Lillo and Callao, he met with twenty-two vessels under the command of Vice-Admiral Haemstede. After a short and sharp action, he was completely victorious. Fourteen of the enemy’s ships were burned or sunk, with all their crews, and Admiral Haemstede was taken prisoner. The soldiers opened a warm fire of musketry upon Boisot from the dyke, to which he responded with his cannon. The distance of the combatants, however, made the action unimportant, and the patriots retired down the river, after achieving a complete victory. The Grand Commander was farther than ever from obtaining that foothold on the sea, which as he had informed his sovereign, was the only means by which the Netherlands could be reduced.
The invasion of Louis of Nassau had, as already stated, effected the raising of the first siege of Leyden. That leaguer had lasted from the 31st of October, 1573, to the 21st of March, 1574, when the soldiers were summoned away to defend the frontier. By an extraordinary and culpable carelessness, the citizens, neglecting the advice of the prince, had not taken advantage of the breathing time thus afforded them to victual the city and strengthen the garrison. They seemed to reckon more confidently upon the success of Count Louis than he had even done himself, for it was very probable that, in case of his defeat, the siege would be instantly resumed. This natural result was not long in following the Battle of Mookerheyde.
On the 26th of May, Valdez reappeared before the place, at the head of 8,000 Walloons and Germans, and Leyden was now destined to pass through a fiery ordeal. This city was one of the most beautiful in the Netherlands. Placed in the midst of broad and fruitful pastures, which had been reclaimed by the hand of industry from the bottom of the sea, it was fringed with smiling villages, blooming gardens, fruitful orchards. The ancient and, at last, decrepit Rhine, flowing languidly towards its sandy deathbed, had been multiplied into innumerable artificial currents, by which the city was completely interlaced. These watery streets were shaded by lime trees, poplars, and willows, and crossed by one hundred and forty-five bridges, mostly of hammered stone. The houses were elegant, the squares and streets spacious, airy and clean, the churches and public edifices imposing, while the whole aspect of the place suggested thrift, industry, and comfort. Upon an artificial elevation, in the center of the city, rose a ruined tower of unknown antiquity. By some it was considered to be of Roman origin, while others preferred to regard it as a work of the Anglo-Saxon Hengist, raised to commemorate his conquest of England. Surrounded by fruit trees, and overgrown in the center with oaks, it afforded, from its moldering battlements, a charming prospect over a wide expanse of level country, with the spires of neighboring cities rising in every direction. It was from this commanding height, during the long and terrible summer days which were approaching, that many an eye was to be strained anxiously seaward, watching if yet the ocean had begun to roll over the land.
Valdez lost no time in securing himself in the possession of Maeslandsluis, Vlaardingen, and the Hague. Five hundred English, under command of Colonel Edward Chester, abandoned the fortress of Valkenburg, and fled towards Leyden. Refused admittance by the citizens, who now, with reason, distrusted them, they surrendered to Valdez, and were afterwards sent back to England. In the course of a few days, Leyden was thoroughly invested, no less than sixty-two redoubts, some of them having remained undestroyed from the previous siege, now girdling the city, while the besiegers already numbered nearly 8,000, a force to be daily increased. On the other hand, there were no troops in the town, save a small corps of “freebooters,” and five companies of the burgher guard. John Van der Does, Seigneur of Nordwyck, a gentleman of distinguished family, but still more distinguished for his learning, his poetical genius, and his valor, had accepted the office of military commandant.
The main reliance of the city, under God, was on the stout hearts of its inhabitants within the walls, and on the sleepless energy of William the Silent without. The prince, hastening to comfort and encourage the citizens, although he had been justly irritated by their negligence in having omitted to provide more sufficiently against the emergency while there had yet been time, now reminded them that they were not about to contend for themselves alone, but that the fate of their country and of unborn generations would, in all human probability, depend on the issue about to be tried. Eternal glory would be their portion if they manifested a courage worthy of their race and of the sacred cause of religion and liberty. He implored them to hold out at least three months, assuring them that he would, within that time, devise the means of their deliverance. The citizens responded, courageously and confidently, to these missives, and assured the prince of their firm confidence in their own fortitude and his exertions.
And truly they had a right to rely on that calm and unflinching soul, as on a rock of adamant. All alone, without a being near him to consult, his right arm struck from him by the death of Louis, with no brother left to him but the untiring and faithful John, he prepared without delay for the new task imposed upon him. France, since the defeat and death of Louis, and the busy intrigues which had followed the accession of Henry III, had but small sympathy for the Netherlands. The English government, relieved from the fear of France, was more cold and haughty than ever. An Englishman, employed by Requesens to assassinate the Prince of Orange, had been arrested in Zealand, who impudently pretended that he had undertaken to perform the same office for Count John, with the full consent and privity of Queen Elizabeth. The provinces of Holland and Zealand were stanch and true, but the inequality of the contest between a few brave men, upon that handbreadth of territory, and the powerful Spanish Empire, seemed to render the issue hopeless.
Moreover, it was now thought expedient to publish the amnesty which had been so long in preparation, and this time the trap was more liberally baited. The pardon, which had passed the seals upon the eighth of March, was formally issued by the Grand Commander on the sixth of June. By the terms of this document the king invited all his erring and repentant subjects to return to his arms, and to accept a full forgiveness for their past offenses, upon the sole condition that they should once more throw themselves upon the bosom of the Mother Church. There were but few exceptions to the amnesty, a small number of individuals, all mentioned by name, being alone excluded; but although these terms were ample, the act was liable to a few stern objections. It was easier now for the Hollanders to go to their graves than to mass, for the contest, in its progress, had now entirely assumed the aspect of a religious war. Instead of a limited number of heretics in a state which, although constitutional was Catholic, there was now hardly a papist to be found among the natives. To accept the pardon then was to concede the victory, and the Hollanders had not yet discovered that they were conquered. They were resolved, too, not only to be conquered, but annihilated, before the Roman Church should be re-established on their soil, to the entire exclusion of the Reformed worship. They responded with steadfast enthusiasm to the sentiment expressed by the Prince of Orange, after the second siege of Leyden had been commenced: “As long as there is a living man left in the country, we will contend for our liberty and our religion.” The single condition of the amnesty assumed, in a phrase, what Spain had fruitlessly striven to establish by a hundred battles, and the Hollanders had not faced their enemy on land and sea for seven years to succumb to a phrase at last.
Moreover, the pardon came from the wrong direction. The malefactor gravely extended forgiveness to his victims. Although the Hollanders had not yet disembarrassed their minds of the supernatural theory of government, and felt still the reverence of habit for regal divinity, they naturally considered themselves outraged by the trick now played before them. The man who had violated all his oaths; trampled upon all their constitutional liberties; burned and sacked their cities; confiscated their wealth; hanged, beheaded, burned, and buried alive their innocent brethren, now came forward, not to implore, but to offer forgiveness. Not in sackcloth, but in royal robes; not with ashes, but with a diadem upon his head, did the murderer present himself vicariously upon the scene of his crimes. It may be supposed that, even in the sixteenth century, there were many minds which would revolt at such blasphemy. Furthermore, even had the people of Holland been weak enough to accept the pardon, it was impossible to believe that the promise would be fulfilled. It was sufficiently known how much faith was likely to be kept with heretics, notwithstanding that the act was fortified by a papal bull, dated on the 30th of April, by which Gregory XIII promised forgiveness to those Netherland sinners who duly repented and sought absolution for their crimes, even although they had sinned more than seven times seven.
For a moment the prince had feared lest the pardon might produce some effect upon men wearied by interminable suffering, but the event proved him wrong. It was received with universal and absolute contempt. No man came forward to take advantage of its conditions, save one brewer in Utrecht, and the son of a refugee peddler from Leyden. With these exceptions, the only ones recorded, Holland remained deaf to the royal voice. The city of Leyden was equally cold to the messages of mercy, which were especially addressed to its population by Valdez and his agents. Certain Netherlanders, belonging to the king’s party, and familiarly called “Glippers,” dispatched from the camp many letters to their rebellious acquaintances in the city. In these epistles the citizens of Leyden were urgently and even pathetically exhorted to submission by their loyal brethren, and were implored “to take pity upon their poor old fathers, their daughters, and their wives.” But the burghers of Leyden thought that the best pity which they could show to those poor old fathers, daughters, and wives, was to keep them from the clutches of the Spanish soldiery; so they made no answer to the Clippers, save by this single line, which they wrote on a sheet of paper, and forwarded, like a letter, to Valdez:
According to the advice early given by the Prince of Orange, the citizens had taken an account of their provisions of all kinds, including the livestock. By the end of June, the city was placed on a strict allowance of food, all the provisions being purchased by the authorities at an equitable price. Half a pound of meat and half a pound of bread was allotted to a full grown man, and to the rest, a due proportion. The city being strictly invested, no communication, save by carrier pigeons and by a few swift and skillful messengers called jumpers, was possible. Sorties and fierce combats were, however, of daily occurrence, and a handsome bounty was offered to any man who brought into the city gates the head of a Spaniard. The reward was paid many times, but the population was becoming so excited and so apt, that the authorities felt it dangerous to permit the continuance of these conflicts. Lest the city, little by little, should lose its few disciplined defenders, it was now proclaimed, by sound of church bell, that in future no man should leave the gates.
The prince had his headquarters at Delft and at Rotterdam. Between those two cities, an important fortress, called Polderwaert, secured him in the control of the alluvial quadrangle, watered on two sides by the Yssel and the Meuse. On the 29th of June, the Spaniards, feeling its value, had made an unsuccessful effort to carry this fort by storm. They had been beaten off, with the loss of several hundred men, the prince remaining in possession of the position, from which alone he could hope to relieve Leyden. He still held in his hand the keys with which he could unlock the ocean gates and let the waters in upon the land, and he had long been convinced that nothing could save the city but to break the dykes. Leyden was not upon the sea, but he could send the sea to Leyden, although an army fit to encounter the besieging force under Valdez could not be levied. The battle of Mookerheyde had, for the present, quite settled the question of land relief, but it was possible to besiege the besiegers with the waves of the ocean. The Spaniards occupied the coast from the Hague to Vlaardingen, but the dykes along the Meuse and Yssel were in possession of the prince. He determined that these should be pierced, while, at the same time, the great sluices at Rotterdam, Schiedam, and Delftshaven should be opened. The damage to the fields, villages, and growing crops would be enormous, but he felt that no other course could rescue Leyden, and with it the whole of Holland from destruction. His clear expositions and impassioned eloquence at last overcame all resistance. By the middle of July the estates fully consented to his plan, and its execution was immediately undertaken. “Better a drowned land than a lost land,” cried the patriots, with enthusiasm, as they devoted their fertile fields to desolation. The enterprise for restoring their territory, for a season, to the waves, from which it had been so patiently rescued, was conducted with as much regularity as if it had been a profitable undertaking. A capital was formally subscribed, for which a certain number of bonds were issued, payable at a long date. In addition to this preliminary fund, a monthly allowance of forty-five guldens was voted by the estates, until the work should be completed, and a large sum was contributed by the ladies of the land, who freely furnished their plate, jewelry, and costly furniture to the furtherance of the scheme.
Meantime, Valdez, on the 30th of July, issued most urgent and ample offers of pardon to the citizens, if they would consent to open their gates and accept the king’s authority, but his overtures were received with silent contempt, notwithstanding that the population was already approaching the starvation point. Although not yet fully informed of the active measures taken by the prince, yet they still chose to rely upon his energy and their own fortitude, rather than upon the honied words which had formerly been heard at the gates of Harlem and of Naarden. On the third of August, the prince, accompanied by Paul Buys, chief of the commission appointed to execute the enterprise, went in person along the Yssel, as far as Kappelle, and superintended the rupture of the dykes in sixteen places. The gates at Schiedam and Rotterdam were opened, and the ocean began to pour over the land. While waiting for the waters to rise, provisions were rapidly collected, according to an edict of the prince, in all the principal towns of the neighborhood, and some two hundred vessels, of various sizes, had also been got ready at Rotterdam, Delfthaven, and other ports.
The citizens of Leyden were, however, already becoming impatient, for their bread was gone, and of its substitute malt cake, they had but slender provision. On the 12th of August they received a letter from the prince, encouraging them to resistance, and assuring them of a speedy relief, and on the 21st they addressed a dispatch to him in reply, stating that they had now fulfilled their original promise, for they had held out two months with food, and another month without food. If not soon assisted, human strength could do no more; their malt cake would last but four days, and after that was gone, there was nothing left but starvation. Upon the same day, however, they received a letter, dictated by the prince, who now lay in bed at Rotterdam with a violent fever, assuring them that the dykes were all pierced, and that the water was rising upon the “Land-scheiding,” the great outer barrier which separated the city from the sea. He said nothing however of his own illness, which would have cast a deep shadow over the joy which now broke forth among the burghers.
The letter was read publicly in the market-place, and to increase the cheerfulness, burgomaster Van der Werf, knowing the sensibility of his countrymen to music, ordered the city musicians to perambulate the streets, playing lively melodies and martial airs. Salvos of cannon were likewise fired, and the starving city for a brief space put on the aspect of a holiday, much to the astonishment of the besieging forces, who were not yet aware of the prince’s efforts. They perceived very soon, however, as the water everywhere about Leyden had risen to the depth of ten inches, that they stood in a perilous position. It was no trifling danger to be thus attacked by the waves of the ocean, which seemed about to obey with docility the command of William the Silent. Valdez became anxious and uncomfortable at the strange aspect of affairs; for the besieging army was now in its turn beleaguered, and by a stronger power than man’s. He consulted with the most experienced of his officers, with the country people, with the most distinguished among the Glippers, and derived encouragement from their views concerning the prince’s plan. They pronounced it utterly futile and hopeless. The Glippers knew the country well, and ridiculed the desperate project in unmeasured terms.
Even in the city itself, a dull distrust had succeeded to the first vivid gleam of hope, while the few royalists among the population boldly taunted their fellow citizens to their faces with the absurd vision of relief which they had so fondly welcomed. “Go up to the tower, ye Beggars,” was the frequent and taunting cry, “go up to the tower, and tell us if ye can see the ocean coming over the dry land to your relief”; and day after day they did go up to the ancient tower of Hengist, with heavy heart and anxious eye, watching, hoping, praying, fearing, and at last almost despairing of relief by God or man. On the 27th they addressed a desponding letter to the estates, complaining that the city had been forgotten in its utmost need, and on the same day a prompt and warm-hearted reply was received, in which the citizens were assured that every human effort was to be made for their relief. “Rather,” said the estates, “will we see our whole land and all our possessions perish in the waves, than forsake thee, Leyden. We know full well, moreover, that with Leyden, all Holland must perish also.” They excused themselves for not having more frequently written, upon the ground that the whole management of the measures for their relief had been entrusted to the prince, by whom alone all the details had been administered, and all the correspondence conducted.
The fever of the prince had, meanwhile, reached its height. He lay at Rotterdam, utterly prostrate in body, and with mind agitated nearly to delirium, by the perpetual and almost unassisted schemes which he was constructing. Relief, not only for Leyden, but for the whole country, now apparently sinking into the abyss, was the vision which he pursued as he tossed upon his restless couch. Never was illness more unseasonable. His attendants were in despair, for it was necessary that his mind should for a time be spared the agitation of business. The physicians who attended him agreed, as to his disorder, only in this, that it was the result of mental fatigue and melancholy, and could be cured only by removing all distressing and perplexing subjects from his thoughts, but all the physicians in the world could not have succeeded in turning his attention for an instant from the great cause of his country. Leyden lay, as it were, anxious and despairing at his feet, and it was impossible for him to close his ears to her cry. Therefore, from his sickbed he continued to dictate words of counsel and encouragement to the city; to Admiral Boisot, commanding the fleet, minute directions and precautions. Towards the end of August a vague report had found its way into his sick chamber that Leyden had fallen, and although he refused to credit the tale, yet it served to harass his mind, and to heighten fever. Cornelius Van Mierop, Receiver General of Holland, had occasion to visit him at Rotterdam, and strange to relate, found the house almost deserted. Penetrating, unattended, to the prince’s bedchamber, he found him lying quite alone. Inquiring what had become of all his attendants, he was answered by the prince, in a very feeble voice, that he had sent them all away. The receiver-general seems, from this, to have rather hastily arrived at the conclusion that the prince’s disorder was the pest, and that his servants and friends had all deserted him from cowardice.
This was very far from being the case. His private secretary and his maître d’hôtel watched, day and night, by his couch, and the best physicians of the city were in constant attendance. By a singular accident, all had been dispatched on different errands, at the express desire of their master, but there had never been a suspicion that his disorder was the pest, or pestilential. Nerves of steel, and a frame of adamant could alone have resisted the constant anxiety and the consuming fatigue to which he had so long been exposed. His illness had been aggravated by the rumor of Leyden’s fall, a fiction which Cornelius Mierop was now enabled flatly to contradict. The prince began to mend from that hour. By the end of the first week of September, he wrote a long letter to his brother, assuring him of his convalescence, and expressing, as usual, a calm confidence in the divine decrees: “God will ordain for me,” said he, “all which is necessary for my good and my salvation. He will load me with no more afflictions than the fragility of this nature can sustain.”
The preparations for the relief of Leyden, which, notwithstanding his exertions, had grown slack during his sickness, were now vigorously resumed. On the first of September, Admiral Boisot arrived out of Zealand with a small number of vessels, and with eight hundred veteran sailors. A wild and ferocious crew were those eight hundred Zealanders. Scarred, hacked, and even maimed, in the unceasing conflicts in which their lives had passed; wearing crescents in their caps, with the inscription, “Rather Turkish than Popish,” renowned far and wide, as much for their ferocity as for their nautical skill; the appearance of these wildest of the “Sea-beggars” was both eccentric and terrific. They were known never to give nor to take quarter, for they went to mortal combat only, and had sworn to spare neither noble nor simple, neither king, kaiser, nor pope, should they fall into their power.
More than two hundred vessels had been now assembled, carrying generally ten pieces of cannon, with from ten to eighteen oars, and manned with twenty-five hundred veterans, experienced both on land and water. The work was now undertaken in earnest. The distance from Leyden to the outer dyke, over whose ruins the ocean had already been admitted, was nearly fifteen miles. This reclaimed territory, however, was not maintained against the sea by these external barriers alone. The flotilla made its way with ease to the Land-scheiding, a strong dyke within five miles of Leyden, but here its progress was arrested. The approach to the city was surrounded by many strong ramparts, one within the other, by which it was defended against its ancient enemy, the ocean, precisely like the circumvallations by means of which it was now assailed by its more recent enemy, the Spaniard. To enable the fleet, however, to sail over the land, it was necessary to break through this twofold series of defenses. Between the Land-scheiding and Leyden were several dykes, which kept out the water; upon the level territory, thus encircled, were many villages, together with a chain of sixty-two forts, which completely occupied the land. All these villages and fortresses were held by the veteran troops of the king, the besieging force being about four times as strong as that which was coming to the rescue.
The prince had given orders that the Land-scheiding, which was still one and a half feet above water, should be taken possession of, at every hazard. On the night of the 10th and 11th of September this was accomplished, by surprise, and in a masterly manner. The few Spaniards who had been stationed upon the dyke were all dispatched or driven off, and the patriots fortified themselves upon it, without the loss of a man. As the day dawned the Spaniards saw the fatal error which they had committed in leaving this bulwark so feebly defended, and from two villages which stood close to the dyke, the troops now rushed in considerable force to recover what they had lost. A hot action succeeded, but the patriots had too securely established themselves. They completely defeated the enemy, who retired, leaving hundreds of dead on the field, and the patriots in complete possession of the Land-scheiding. This first action was sanguinary and desperate. It gave an earnest of what these people, who came to relieve their brethren, by sacrificing their property and their lives, were determined to effect. It gave a revolting proof, too, of the intense hatred which nerved their arms. A Zealander, having struck down a Spaniard on the dyke, knelt on his bleeding enemy, tore his heart from his bosom, fastened his teeth in it for an instant, and then threw it to a dog, with the exclamation, “’Tis too bitter.” The Spanish heart was, however, rescued, and kept for years, with the marks of the soldier’s teeth upon it, a sad testimonial of the ferocity engendered by this war for national existence.
The great dyke having been thus occupied, no time was lust in breaking it through in several places, a work which was accomplished under the very eyes of the enemy. The fleet sailed through the gaps; but, after their passage had been effected in good order, the admiral found, to his surprise, that it was not the only rampart to be carried. The prince had been informed, by those who claimed to know the country, that, when once the Land-scheiding had been passed, the water would flood the country as far as Leyden, but the “Green-way,” another long dyke, three quarters of a mile farther inward, now rose at least a foot above the water, to oppose their further progress. Fortunately, by a second and still more culpable carelessness, this dyke had been left by the Spaniards in as unprotected a state as the first had been. Promptly and audaciously Admiral Boisot took possession of this barrier also, leveled it in many places, and brought his flotilla, in triumph, over its ruins. Again, however, he was doomed to disappointment. A large mere, called the Freshwater Lake, was known to extend itself directly in his path about midway between the Land-scheiding and the city. To this piece of water, into which he expected to have instantly floated, his only passage lay through one deep canal. The sea which had thus far borne him on, now diffusing itself over a very wide surface, and under the influence of an adverse wind, had become too shallow for his ships. The canal alone was deep enough, but it led directly towards a bridge, strongly occupied by the enemy. Hostile troops, moreover, to the amount of 3,000, occupied both sides of the canal. The bold Boisot, nevertheless, determined to force his passage, if possible. Selecting a few of his strongest vessels, his heaviest artillery, and his bravest sailors, he led the van himself, in a desperate attempt to make his way to the mere. He opened a hot fire upon the bridge, then converted into a fortress, while his men engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a succession of skirmishers from the troops along the canal. After losing a few men, and ascertaining the impregnable position of the enemy, he was obliged to withdraw, defeated, and almost despairing.
A week had elapsed since the great dyke had been pierced, and the flotilla now lay motionless in shallow water, having accomplished less than two miles. The wind, too, was easterly, causing the sea rather to sink than to rise. Everything wore a gloomy aspect, when, fortunately, on the 18th, the wind shifted to the northwest, and for three days blew a gale. The waters rose rapidly, and before the second day was closed the armada was afloat again. Some fugitives from Zoetermeer village now arrived, and informed the admiral that, by making a detour to the right, he could completely circumvent the bridge and the mere. They guided him, accordingly, to a comparatively low dyke, which led between the villages of Zoetermeer and Benthuyzen. A strong force of Spaniards was stationed in each place, but, seized with a panic, instead of sallying to defend the barrier, they fled inwardly towards Leyden, and halted at the village of North Aa. It was natural that they should be amazed. Nothing is more appalling to the imagination than the rising ocean tide, when man feels himself within its power; and here were the waters, hourly deepening and closing around them, devouring the earth beneath their feet, while on the waves rode a flotilla, manned by a determined race, whose courage and ferocity were known throughout the world. The Spanish soldiers, brave as they were on land, were not sailors, and in the naval contests which had taken place between them and the Hollanders had been almost invariably defeated. It was not surprising, in these amphibious skirmishes, where discipline was of little avail, and habitual audacity faltered at the vague dangers which encompassed them, that the foreign troops should lose their presence of mind.
Three barriers, one within the other, had now been passed, and the flotilla, advancing with the advancing waves, and driving the enemy steadily before it, was drawing nearer to the beleaguered city. As one circle after another was passed, the besieging army found itself compressed within a constantly contracting field. The “Ark of Delft,” an enormous vessel, with shot-proof bulwarks, and moved by paddle-wheels turned by a crank, now arrived at Zoetermeer, and was soon followed by the whole fleet. After a brief delay, sufficient to allow the few remaining villagers to escape, both Zoetermeer and Benthuyzen, with the fortifications, were set on fire, and abandoned to their fate. The blaze lighted up the desolate and watery waste around, and was seen at Leyden, where it was hailed as the beacon of hope. Without further impediment, the armada proceeded to North Aa, the enemy retreating from this position also, and flying to Zoeterwoude, a strongly fortified village but a mile and three quarters from the city walls. It was now swarming with troops, for the bulk of the besieging army had gradually been driven into a narrow circle of forts, within the immediate neighborhood of Leyden. Besides Zoeterwoude, the two posts where they were principally established were Lammen and Leyderdorp, each within three hundred rods of the town. At Leyderdorp were the headquarters of Valdez; Colonel Borgia commanded in the very strong fortress of Lammen.
The fleet was, however, delayed at North Aa by another barrier, called the “Kirk-way.” The waters, too, spreading once more over a wider space, and diminishing under an east wind, which had again arisen, no longer permitted their progress, so that very soon the whole armada was stranded anew. The waters fell to the depth of nine inches, while the vessels required eighteen and twenty. Day after day the fleet lay motionless upon the shallow sea. Orange, rising from his sickbed as soon as he could stand, now came on board the fleet. His presence diffused universal joy; his words inspired his desponding army with fresh hope. He rebuked the impatient spirits who, weary of their compulsory idleness, had shown symptoms of ill-timed ferocity, and those eight hundred mad Zealanders, so frantic in their hatred to the foreigners, who had so long profaned their land, were as docile as children to the prince. He reconnoitered the whole ground, and issued orders for the immediate destruction of the Kirk-way, the last important barrier which separated the fleet from Leyden. Then, after a long conference with Admiral Boisot, he returned to Delft.
Meantime, the besieged city was at its last gasp. The burghers had been in a state of uncertainty for many days, being aware that the fleet had set forth for their relief, but knowing full well the thousand obstacles which it had to surmount. They had guessed its progress by the illumination from the blazing villages; they had heard its salvos of artillery, on its arrival at North Aa; but since then, all had been dark and mournful again, hope and fear, in sickening alternation, distracting every breast. They knew that the wind was unfavorable, and at the dawn of each day every eye was turned wistfully to the vanes of the steeples. So long as the easterly breeze prevailed, they felt, as they anxiously stood on towers and housetops, that they must look in vain for the welcome ocean. Yet, while thus patiently waiting, they were literally starving, for even the misery endured at Harlem had not reached that depth and intensity of agony to which Leyden was now reduced. Bread, malt-cake, horseflesh, had entirely disappeared; dogs, cats, rats, and other vermin, were esteemed luxuries. A small number of cows, kept as long as possible, for their milk, still remained; but a few were killed from day to day, and distributed in minute proportions, hardly sufficient to support life among the famishing population. Starving wretches swarmed daily around the shambles where these cattle were slaughtered, contending for any morsel which might fall, and lapping eagerly the blood as it ran along the pavement; while the hides, chopped and boiled, were greedily devoured. Women and children, all day long, were seen searching gutters and dunghills for morsels of food, which they disputed fiercely with the famishing dogs. The green leaves were stripped from the trees, every living herb was converted into human food, but these expedients could not avert starvation. The daily mortality was frightful; infants starved to death on the maternal breasts, which famine had parched and withered; mothers dropped dead in the streets, with their dead children in their arms. In many a house the watchmen, in their rounds, found a whole family of corpses—father, mother, and children, side by side; for a disorder called the plague, naturally engendered of hardship and famine, now came, as if in kindness, to abridge the agony of the people. The pestilence stalked at noonday through the city, and the doomed inhabitants fell like grass beneath its scythe. From 6,000 to 8,000 human beings sank before this scourge alone, yet the people resolutely held out, women and men mutually encouraging each other to resist the entrance of their foreign foe—an evil more horrible than pest or famine.
The missives from Valdez, who saw more vividly than the besieged could do, the uncertainty of his own position, now poured daily into the city, the enemy becoming more prodigal of his vows, as he felt that the ocean might yet save the victims from his grasp. The inhabitants, in their ignorance, had gradually abandoned their hopes of relief, but they spurned the summons to surrender. Leyden was sublime in its despair. A few murmurs were, however, occasionally heard at the steadfastness of the magistrates, and a dead body was placed at the door of the burgomaster, as a silent witness against his inflexibility. A party of the more faint-hearted even assailed the heroic Adrian Van der Werf with threats and reproaches as he passed through the streets. A crowd had gathered around him, as he reached a triangular place in the center of the town, into which many of the principal streets emptied themselves, and upon one side of which stood the church of Saint Pancras, with its high brick tower surmounted by two pointed turrets, and with two ancient lime trees at its entrance. There stood the burgomaster, a tall, haggard, imposing figure, with dark visage, and a tranquil but commanding eye. He waved his broadleaved felt hat for silence, and then exclaimed, in language which has been almost literally preserved, “What would ye, my friends? Why do ye murmur that we do not break our vows and surrender the city to the Spaniards? a fate more horrible than the agony which she now endures. I tell you I have made an oath to hold the city, and may God give me strength to keep my oath! I can die but once; whether by your hands, the enemy’s, or by the hand of God. My own fate is indifferent to me, not so that of the city entrusted to my care. I know that we shall starve if not soon relieved, but starvation is preferable to the dishonored death which is the only alternative. Your menaces move me not; my life is at your disposal; here is my sword, plunge it into my breast, and divide my flesh among you. Take my body to appease your hunger, but expect no surrender, so long as I remain alive.”
The words of the stout burgomaster inspired a new courage in the hearts of those who heard him, and a shout of applause and defiance arose from the famishing but enthusiastic crowd. They left the place, after exchanging new vows of fidelity with their magistrate, and again ascended tower and battlement to watch for the coming fleet. From the ramparts they hurled renewed defiance at the enemy. “Ye call us rat-eaters and dog-eaters,” they cried, “and it is true. So long, then, as ye hear dog bark or cat mew within the walls, ye may know that the city holds out. And when all has perished but ourselves, be sure that we will each devour our left arms, retaining our right to defend our women, our liberty, and our religion, against the foreign tyrant. Should God, in his wrath, doom us to destruction, and deny us all relief, even then will we maintain ourselves forever against your entrance. When the last hour has come, with our own hands we will set fire to the city and perish, men, women, and children together in the flames, rather than suffer our homes to be polluted and our liberties to be crushed.” Such words of defiance, thundered daily from the battlements, sufficiently informed Valdez as to his chance of conquering the city, either by force or fraud, but at the same time, he felt comparatively relieved by the inactivity of Boisot’s fleet, which still lay stranded at North Aa. “As well,” shouted the Spaniards, derisively, to the citizens, “as well can the Prince of Orange pluck the stars from the sky as bring the ocean to the walls of Leyden for your relief.”
On the 28th of September, a dove flew into the city, bringing a letter from Admiral Boisot. In this dispatch, the position of the fleet at North Aa was described in encouraging terms, and the inhabitants were assured that, in a very few days at furthest, the long-expected relief would enter their gates. The letter was read publicly upon the market-place, and the bells were rung for joy. Nevertheless, on the morrow, the vanes pointed to the east, the waters, so far from rising, continued to sink, and Admiral Boisot was almost in despair. He wrote to the prince, that if the spring-tide, now to be expected, should not, together with a strong and favorable wind, come immediately to their relief, it would be in vain to attempt anything further, and that the expedition would, of necessity, be abandoned. The tempest came to their relief. A violent equinoctial gale, on the night of the first and second of October, came storming from the Northwest, shifting after a few hours full eight points, and then blowing still more violently from the Southwest. The waters of the North Sea were piled in vast masses upon the southern coast of Holland, and then dashed furiously landward, the ocean rising over the earth, and sweeping with unrestrained power across the ruined dykes.
In the course of twenty-four hours, the fleet at North Aa, instead of nine inches, had more than two feet of water. No time was lost. The Kirk-way, which had been broken through according to the prince’s instructions, was now completely overflowed, and the fleet sailed at midnight, in the midst of the storm and darkness. A few sentinel vessels of the enemy challenged them as they steadily rowed towards Zoeterwoude. The answer was a flash from Boisot’s cannon, lighting up the black waste of waters. There was a fierce naval midnight battle, a strange spectacle among the branches of those quiet orchards, and with the chimney stacks of half-submerged farmhouses rising around the contending vessels. The neighboring village of Zoeterwoude shook with the discharges of the Zealanders’ cannon, and the Spaniards assembled in that fortress knew that the rebel admiral was at last afloat and on his course. The enemy’s vessels were soon sunk, their crews hurled into the waves. On went the fleet, sweeping over the broad waters which lay between Zoeterwoude and Zwieten. As they approached some shallows, which led into the great mere, the Zealanders dashed into the sea, and with sheer strength shouldered every vessel through. Two obstacles lay still in their path—the forts of Zoeterwoude and Lammen, distant from the city five hundred and two hundred and fifty yards respectively. Strong redoubts, both well supplied with troops and artillery, they were likely to give a rough reception to the light flotilla, but the panic, which had hitherto driven their foes before the advancing patriots, had reached Zoeterwoude. Hardly was the fleet in sight when the Spaniards, in the early morning, poured out from the fortress, and fled precipitately to the left, along a road which led in a westerly direction towards the Hague. Their narrow path was rapidly vanishing in the waves, and hundreds sank beneath the constantly deepening and treacherous flood. The wild Zealanders, too, sprang from their vessels upon the crumbling dyke and drove their retreating foes into the sea. They hurled their harpoons at them, with an accuracy acquired in many a polar chase; they plunged into the waves in the keen pursuit, attacking them with boat-hook and dagger. The numbers who thus fell beneath these corsairs, who neither gave nor took quarter, were never counted, but probably not less than a thousand perished. The rest effected their escape to the Hague.
The first fortress was thus seized, dismantled, set on fire, and passed, and a few strokes of the oars brought the whole fleet close to Lammen. This last obstacle rose formidable and frowning directly across their path. Swarming as it was with soldiers, and bristling with artillery, it seemed to defy the armada either to carry it by storm or to pass under its guns into the city. It appeared that the enterprise was, after all, to founder within sight of the long expecting and expected haven. Boisot anchored his fleet within a respectful distance, and spent what remained of the day in carefully reconnoitering the fort, which seemed only too strong. In conjunction with Leyderdorp, the headquarters of Valdez, a mile and a half distant on the right, and within a mile of the city, it seemed so insuperable an impediment that Boisot wrote in despondent tone to the Prince of Orange. He announced his intention of carrying the fort, if it were possible, on the following morning, but if obliged to retreat, he observed, with something like despair, that there would be nothing for it but to wait for another gale of wind. If the waters should rise sufficiently to enable them to make a wide detour, it might be possible, if, in the meantime, Leyden did not starve or surrender, to enter its gates from the opposite side.
Meantime, the citizens had grown wild with expectation. A dove had been dispatched by Boisot, informing them of his precise position, and a number of citizens accompanied the burgomaster, at nightfall, toward the tower of Hengist. “Yonder,” cried the magistrate, stretching out his hand towards Lammen, “yonder, behind that fort, are bread and meat, and brethren in thousands. Shall all this be destroyed by the Spanish guns, or shall we rush to the rescue of our friends?” “We will tear the fortress to fragments with our teeth and nails,” was the reply, “before the relief, so long expected, shall be wrested from us.” It was resolved that a sortie, in conjunction with the operations of Boisot, should be made against Lammen with the earliest dawn. Night descended upon the scene, a pitch dark night, full of anxiety to the Spaniards, to the armada, to Leyden. Strange sights and sounds occurred at different moments to bewilder the anxious sentinels. A long procession of lights issuing from the fort was seen to flit across the black face of the waters, in the dead of night, and the whole of the city wall, between the Cow-gate and the Tower of Burgundy, fell with aloud crash. The horrorstruck citizens thought that the Spaniards were upon them at last; the Spaniards imagined the noise to indicate a desperate sortie of the citizens. Everything was vague and mysterious.
Day dawned, at length, after the feverish night, and the admiral prepared for the assault. Within the fortress reigned a death-like stillness, which inspired a sickening suspicion. Had the city, indeed, been carried in the night; had the massacre already commenced; had all this labor and audacity been expended in vain? Suddenly a man was descried, wading breast-high through the water from Lammen towards the fleet, while at the same time, one solitary boy was seen to wave his cap from the summit of the fort. After a moment of doubt, the happy mystery was solved. The Spaniards had fled, panic-struck, during the darkness. Their position would still have enabled them, with firmness, to frustrate the enterprise of the patriots, but the hand of God, which had sent the ocean and the tempest to the deliverance of Leyden, had struck her enemies with terror likewise. The lights which had been seen moving during the night were the lanterns of the retreating Spaniards, and the boy who was now waving his triumphant signal from the battlements had alone witnessed the spectacle. So confident was he in the conclusion to which it led him, that he had volunteered at daybreak to go thither all alone. The magistrates, fearing a trap, hesitated for a moment to believe the truth, which soon, however, became quite evident. Valdez, flying himself from Leyderdorp, had ordered Colonel Borgia to retire with all his troops from Lammen. Thus, the Spaniards had retreated at the very moment that an extraordinary accident had laid bare a whole side of the city for their entrance. The noise of the wall, as it fell, only inspired them with fresh alarm; for they believed that the citizens had sallied forth in the darkness, to aid the advancing flood in the work of destruction. All obstacles being now removed, the fleet of Boisot swept by Lammen, and entered the city on the morning of the third of October. Leyden was relieved.
The quays were lined with the famishing population, as the fleet rowed through the canals, every human being who could stand, coming forth to greet the preservers of the city. Bread was thrown from every vessel among the crowd. The poor creatures who, for two months had tasted no wholesome human food, and who had literally been living within the jaws of death, snatched eagerly the blessed gift, at last too liberally bestowed. Many choked themselves to death, in the greediness with which they devoured their bread; others became ill with the effects of plenty thus suddenly succeeding starvation; but these were isolated cases, a repetition of which was prevented. The admiral, stepping ashore, was welcomed by the magistracy, and a solemn procession was immediately formed. Magistrates and citizens, wild Zealanders, emaciated burgher guards, sailors, soldiers, women, children, nearly every living person within the walls, all repaired without delay to the great church, stout Admiral Boisot leading the way. The starving and heroic city, which had been so firm in its resistance to an earthly king, now bent itself in humble gratitude before the King of kings. After prayers, the whole vast congregation joined in the thanksgiving hymn. Thousands of voices raised the song, but few were able to carry it to its conclusion, for the universal emotion, deepened by the music, became too full for utterance. The hymn was abruptly suspended, while the multitude wept like children. This scene of honest pathos terminated, the necessary measures for distributing the food and for relieving the sick were taken by the magistracy. A note dispatched to the Prince of Orange, was received by him at two o’clock, as he sat in church at Delft. It was of a somewhat different purport from that of the letter which he had received early in the same day from Boisot—the letter in which the admiral had informed him that the success of the enterprise depended, after all, upon the desperate assault upon a nearly impregnable fort. The joy of the prince may be easily imagined, and so soon as the sermon was concluded, he handed the letter just received to the minister, to be read to the congregation. Thus, all participated in his joy, and united with him in thanksgiving.
The next day, notwithstanding the urgent entreaties of his friends, who were anxious lest his life should be endangered by breathing, in his scarcely convalescent state, the air of the city where so many thousands had been dying of the pestilence, the prince repaired to Leyden. He, at least, had never doubted his own or his country’s fortitude. They could, therefore, most sincerely congratulate each other, now that the victory had been achieved. “If we are doomed to perish,” he had said a little before the commencement of the siege, “in the name of God, be it so! At any rate, we shall have the honor to have done what no nation ever did before us—that of having defended and maintained ourselves, unaided, in so small a country, against the tremendous efforts of such powerful enemies. So long as the poor inhabitants here, though deserted by all the world, hold firm, it will still cost the Spaniards the half of Spain, in money and in men, before they can make an end of us.”
The termination of the terrible siege of Leyden was a convincing proof to the Spaniards that they had not yet made an end of the Hollanders. It furnished, also, a sufficient presumption that until they had made an end of them, even unto the last Hollander, there would never be an end of the struggle in which they were engaged. It was a slender consolation to the governor-general, that his troops had been vanquished, not by the enemy, but by the ocean. An enemy whom the ocean obeyed with such docility might well be deemed invincible by man. In the headquarters of Valdez, at Leydordorp, many plans of Leyden and the neighborhood were found lying in confusion about the room. Upon the table was a hurried farewell of that general to the scenes of his discomfiture, written in a Latin worthy of Juan Vargas: “Vale civitas, valete castelli parvi, qui relicti estis propter aquam et non per vim inimicorum!” In his precipitate retreat before the advancing rebels, the commander had but just found time for this elegant effusion, and for his parting instructions to Colonel Borgia that the fortress of Lammen was to be forthwith abandoned. These having been reduced to writing, Valdez had fled so speedily as to give rise to much censure and more scandal. He was even accused of having been bribed by the Hollanders to desert his post, a tale which many repeated, and a few believed. On the fourth of October, the day following that on which the relief of the city was effected, the wind shifted to the Northeast, and again blew a tempest. It was as if the waters, having now done their work, had been rolled back to the ocean by an Omnipotent hand, for in the course of a few days, the land was bare again, and the work of reconstructing the dykes commenced.
After a brief interval of repose, Leyden had regained its former position. The prince, with advice of the estates, had granted the city, as a reward for its sufferings, a ten days’ annual fair, without tolls or taxes, “and as a further manifestation of the gratitude entertained by the people of Holland and Zealand for the heroism of the citizens, it was resolved that an academy or university should be forthwith established within their walls. The University of Leyden, afterwards so illustrious, was thus founded in the very darkest period of the country’s struggle.
The university was endowed with a handsome revenue, principally derived from the ancient abbey of Egmont, and was provided with a number of professors, selected for their genius, learning, and piety among all the most distinguished scholars of the Netherlands. The document by which the institution was founded was certainly a masterpiece of ponderous irony, for as the fiction of the king’s sovereignty was still maintained, Philip was gravely made to establish the university, as a reward to Leyden for rebellion to himself. “Considering,” said this wonderful charter, “that during these present wearisome wars within our provinces of Holland and Zealand, all good instruction of youth in the sciences and liberal arts is likely to come into entire oblivion. … Considering the differences of religion—considering that we are inclined to gratify our city of Leyden, with its burghers, on account of the heavy burthens sustained by them during this war with such faithfulness—we have resolved, after ripely deliberating with our dear cousin, William, Prince of Orange, stadholder, to erect a free public school and university,” etc., etc., etc. So ran the document establishing this famous academy, all needful regulations for the government and police of the institution being entrusted by Philip to his “above-mentioned dear cousin of Orange.”
The university having been founded, endowed, and supplied with its teachers, it was solemnly consecrated in the following winter, and it is agreeable to contemplate this scene of harmless pedantry, interposed, as it was, between the acts of the longest and dreariest tragedy of modern time. On the fifth of February, 1575, the city of Leyden, so lately the victim of famine and pestilence, had crowned itself with flowers. At seven in the morning, after a solemn religious celebration in the Church of St. Peter, a grand procession was formed. It was preceded by a military escort, consisting of the burgher militia and the five companies of infantry stationed in the city. Then came, drawn by four horses, a splendid triumphal chariot, on which sat a female figure, arrayed in snow-white garments. This was the Holy Gospel. She was attended by the Four Evangelists, who walked on foot at each side of her chariot. Next followed Justice, with sword and scales, mounted, blindfold, upon a unicorn, while those learned doctors, Julian, Papinian, Ulpian, and Tribonian, rode on either side, attended by two lackeys and four men-at-arms. After these came Medicine, on horseback, holding in one hand a treatise of the healing art, in the other a garland of drugs. The curative goddess rode between the four eminent physicians, Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides, and Theophrastus, and was attended by two footmen and four pike-bearers. Last of the allegorical personages came Minerva, prancing in complete steel, with lance in rest, and bearing her Medusa shield. Aristotle and Plato, Cicero and Virgil, all on horseback, with attendants in antique armor at their back, surrounded the daughter of Jupiter, while the city band, discoursing eloquent music from hautboy and viol, came upon the heels of the allegory. Then followed the mace-bearers and other officials, escorting the orator of the day, the newly-appointed professors and doctors, the magistrates and dignitaries, and the body of the citizens generally completing the procession.
Marshaled in this order, through triumphal arches, and over a pavement strewed with flowers, the procession moved slowly up and down the different streets, and along the quiet canals of the city. As it reached the Nuns’ Bridge, a barge of triumph, gorgeously decorated, came floating slowly down the sluggish Rhine. Upon its deck, under a canopy enwreathed with laurels and oranges, and adorned with tapestry, sat Apollo, attended by the Nine Muses, all in classical costume; at the helm stood Neptune with his trident. The Muses executed some beautiful concerted pieces; Apollo twanged his lute. Having reached the landing-place, this deputation from Parnassus stepped on shore, and stood awaiting the arrival of the procession. Each professor, as he advanced, was gravely embraced and kissed by Apollo and all the Nine Muses in turn, who greeted their arrival besides with the recitation of an elegant Latin poem. This classical ceremony terminated, the whole procession marched together to the cloister of Saint Barbara, the place prepared for the new university, where they listened to an eloquent oration by the Rev. Caspar Kolhas, after which they partook of a magnificent banquet. With this memorable feast, in the place where famine had so lately reigned, the ceremonies were concluded.
The Council of Troubles, or, as it will be forever denominated in history, the Council of Blood, still existed, although the Grand Commander, upon his arrival in the Netherlands, had advised his sovereign to consent to the immediate abolition of so odious an institution. Philip, accepting the advice of his governor and his cabinet, had accordingly authorized him by a letter of March 10, 1574, to take that step if he continued to believe it advisable.
Requesens had made use of this permission to extort money from the obedient portion of the provinces. An assembly of deputies was held at Brussels on June 7, 1574, and there was a tedious interchange of protocols, reports, and remonstrances. The estates, not satisfied with the extinction of a tribunal which had at last worn itself out by its own violence, and had become inactive through lack of victims, insisted on greater concessions. They demanded the departure of the Spanish troops, the establishment of a council of Netherlanders in Spain for Netherland affairs, the restoration to offices in the provinces, of natives and natives only; for these drawers of documents thought it possible, at that epoch, to recover by pedantry what their brethren of Holland and Zealand were maintaining with the sword. It was not the moment for historical disquisition, citations from Solomon, nor chopping of logic; yet with such lucubrations were reams of paper filled, and days and weeks occupied. The result was what might have been expected. The Grand Commander obtained but little money; the estates obtained none of their demands; and the Blood-Council remained, as it were, suspended in mid-air. It continued to transact business at intervals during the administration of Requesens, and at last, after nine years of existence, was destroyed by the violent imprisonment of the Council of State at Brussels. This event, however, belongs to a subsequent page of this history.
Noircarmes had argued, from the tenor of Saint Aldegonde’s letters, that the prince would be ready to accept his pardon upon almost any terms. Noircarmes was now dead, but Saint Aldegonde still remained in prison, very anxious for his release, and as well disposed as ever to render services in any secret negotiation. It will be recollected that, at the capitulation of Middelburg, it had been distinctly stipulated by the prince that Colonel Mondragon should at once effect the liberation of Saint Aldegonde, with certain other prisoners, or himself return into confinement. He had done neither the one nor the other. The patriots still languished in prison, some of them being subjected to exceedingly harsh treatment, but Mondragon, although repeatedly summoned as an officer and a gentleman, by the prince, to return to captivity, had been forbidden by the Grand Commander to redeem his pledge.
Saint Aldegonde was now released from prison upon parole, and dispatched on a secret mission to the prince and estates. As before, he was instructed that two points were to be left untouched—the authority of the king and the question of religion. Nothing could be more preposterous than to commence a negotiation from which the two important points were thus carefully eliminated. The king’s authority and the question of religion covered the whole ground upon which the Spaniards and the Hollanders had been battling for six years, and were destined to battle for three quarters of a century longer. Yet, although other affairs might be discussed, those two points were to be reserved for the more conclusive arbitration of gunpowder. The result of negotiations upon such a basis was easily to be foreseen. Breath, time, and paper were profusely wasted and nothing gained. The prince assured his friend, as he had done secret agents previously sent to him, that he was himself ready to leave the land, if by so doing he could confer upon it the blessing of peace; but that all hopes of reaching a reasonable conclusion from the premises established was futile. The envoy treated also with the estates, and received from them in return an elaborate report, which was addressed immediately to the king. The style of this paper was bold and blunt, its substance bitter and indigestible. It informed Philip what he had heard often enough before, that the Spaniards must go and the exiles come back, the inquisition be abolished and the ancient privileges restored, the Roman Catholic religion renounce its supremacy, and the Reformed religion receive permission to exist unmolested, before he could call himself master of that little hook of sand in the North Sea. With this paper, which was entrusted to Saint Aldegonde, by him to be delivered to the Grand Commander, who was, after reading it, to forward it to its destination, the negotiator returned to his prison. Thence he did not emerge again till the course of events released him, upon the 15th of October, 1574.
This report was far from agreeable to the governor, and it became the object of a fresh correspondence between his confidential agent, Champagny, and the learned and astute Junius de Jonge, representative of the Prince of Orange and Governor of Veere. The communication of De Jonge consisted of a brief note and a long discourse. The note was sharp and stinging, the discourse elaborate and somewhat pedantic. Unnecessarily historical and unmercifully extended, it was yet bold, bitter, and eloquent. The presence of foreigners was proved to have been, from the beginning of Philip’s reign, the curse of the country. Doctor Sonnius, with his batch of bishops, had sowed the seed of the first disorder. A prince, ruling in the Netherlands, had no right to turn a deaf ear to the petitions of his subjects. If he did so, the Hollanders would tell him, as the old woman had told the Emperor Adrian, that the potentate who had no time to attend to the interests of his subjects, had not leisure enough to be a sovereign. While Holland refused to bow its neck to the Inquisition, the King of Spain dreaded the thunder and lightning of the pope. The Hollanders would, with pleasure, emancipate Philip from his own thralldom, but it was absurd that he, who was himself a slave to another potentate, should effect unlimited control over a free people. It was Philip’s councillors, not the Hollanders, who were his real enemies, for it was they who held him in the subjection by which his power was neutralized and his crown degraded.
It may be supposed that many long pages, conceived in this spirit and expressed with great vigor, would hardly smooth the way for the more official negotiations which were soon to take place, yet Doctor Junius fairly and faithfully represented the sentiment of his nation.
Towards the close of the year, Doctor Elbertus Leoninus, professor of Louvain, together with Hugo Bonte, ex-pensionary of Middelburg, was commissioned by the Grand Commander to treat secretly with the prince. He was, however, not found very tractable when the commissioners opened the subject of his own pardon and reconciliation with the king, and he absolutely refused to treat at all except with the cooperation of the estates. He, moreover, objected to the use the word “pardon” on the ground that he had never done anything requiring his Majesty’s forgiveness. If adversity should visit him, he cared but little for it; he had lived long enough, he said, and should die with some glory, regretting the disorders and oppressions which had taken place, but conscious that it had not been in his power to remedy them. When reminded by the commissioners of the king’s power, he replied that he knew his Majesty to be very mighty, but that there was a King more powerful still—even God the Creator, who, as he humbly hoped, was upon his side.
At a subsequent interview with Hugo Bonte, the prince declared it almost impossible for himself or the estates to hold any formal communication with the Spanish government, as such communications were not safe. No trust could be reposed either in safe-conducts or hostages. Faith had been too often broken by the administration. The promise made by the Duchess of Parma to the nobles, and afterwards violated, the recent treachery of Mondragon, the return of three exchanged prisoners from the Hague, who died next day of poison administered before their release, the frequent attempts upon his own life—all such constantly recurring crimes made it doubtful, in the opinion of the prince, whether it would be possible to find commissioners to treat with his Majesty’s government. All would fear assassination, afterwards to be disavowed by the king and pardoned by the pope. After much conversation in this vein, the prince gave the Spanish agents warning that he might eventually be obliged to seek the protection of some foreign power for the provinces. In this connection he made use of the memorable metaphor, so often repeated afterwards, that “the country was a beautiful damsel, who certainly did not lack suitors able and willing to accept her and defend her against the world.” As to the matter of religion, he said he was willing to leave it to be settled by the estates-general, but doubted whether anything short of entire liberty of worship would ever satisfy the people.
Subsequently there were held other conferences, between the prince and Doctor Leoninus, with a similar result, all attempts proving fruitless to induce him to abandon his position upon the subject of religion, or to accept a pardon on any terms save the departure of the foreign troops, the assembling of the estates-general, and entire freedom of religion. Even if he were willing to concede the religious question himself, he observed that it was idle to hope either from the estates or people a handbreadth of concession upon that point. Leoninus was subsequently admitted to a secret conference with the estates of Holland, where his representations were firmly met by the same arguments as those already used by the prince.
These proceedings on the part of Saint Aldegonde, Champagny, Junius, and Elbertus Leoninus extended through the whole summer and autumn of 1574, and were not terminated until January of the following year.
Changes, fast becoming necessary in the internal government of the provinces, were also undertaken during this year. Hitherto the prince had exercised his power under the convenient fiction of the king’s authority, systematically conducting the rebellion in the name of his Majesty, and as his Majesty’s stadholder. By this process an immense power was lodged in his hands, nothing less, indeed, than the supreme executive and legislative functions of the land; while since the revolt had become, as it were, perpetual, ample but anomalous functions had been additionally thrust upon him by the estates and by the general voice of the people.
The two provinces, even while deprived of Harlem and Amsterdam, now raised 210,000 florins monthly, whereas Alva had never been able to extract from Holland more than 271,000 florins yearly. They paid all rather than pay a tenth. In consequence of this liberality, the cities insensibly acquired a greater influence in the government. The coming contest between the centrifugal aristocratic principle, represented by these corporations, and the central popular authority of the stadholder, was already foreshadowed, but at first the estates were in perfect harmony with the prince. They even urged upon him more power than he desired, and declined functions which he wished them to exercise. On September 7, 1573, it had been formally proposed by the general council to confer a regular and unlimited dictatorship upon him, but in the course of a year from that time, the cities had begun to feel their increasing importance. Moreover, while growing more ambitious, they became less liberal.
The prince, dissatisfied with the conduct of the cities, brought the whole subject before an assembly of the estates of Holland on October 20, 1574. He stated the inconveniences produced by the anomalous condition of the government. He complained that the common people had often fallen into the error that the money raised for public purposes had been levied for his benefit only, and that they had, therefore, been less willing to contribute to the taxes. As the only remedy for these evils, he tendered his resignation of all the powers with which he was clothed, so that the estates might then take the government, which they could exercise without conflict or control. For himself, he had never desired power, except as a means of being useful to his country, and he did not offer his resignation from unwillingness to stand by the cause, but from a hearty desire to save it from disputes among its friends. He was ready, now as ever, to shed the last drop of his blood to maintain the freedom of the land.
This straightforward language produced an instantaneous effect. The estates knew that they were dealing with a man whose life was governed by lofty principles, and they felt that they were in danger of losing him through their own selfishness and low ambition. They were embarrassed, for they did not like to relinquish the authority which they had begun to relish, nor to accept the resignation of a man who was indispensable. They felt that to give up William of Orange at that time was to accept the Spanish yoke for ever. At an assembly held at Delft on November 12, 1574, they accordingly requested him “to continue in his blessed government, with the council established near him,” and for this end, they formally offered to him, “under the name of Governor or Regent,” absolute power, authority, and sovereign command. In particular, they conferred on him the entire control of all the ships of war, hitherto reserved to the different cities, together with the right to dispose of all prizes and all monies raised for the support of fleets. They gave him also unlimited power over the domains; they agreed that all magistracies, militia bands, guilds, and communities should make solemn oath to contribute taxes and to receive garrisons, exactly as the prince, with his council, should ordain; but they made it a condition that the estates should be convened and consulted upon requests, impositions, and upon all changes in the governing body. It was also stipulated that the judges of the supreme court and of the exchequer, with other high officers, should be appointed by and with the consent of the estates.
The prince expressed himself willing to accept the government upon these terms. He, however, demanded an allowance of 45,000 florins monthly for the army expenses and other current outlays. Here, however, the estates refused their consent. In a mercantile spirit, unworthy the occasion and the man with whom they were dealing, they endeavored to chaffer where they should have been only too willing to comply, and they attempted to reduce the reasonable demand of the prince to 30,000 florins. The prince, who had poured out his own wealth so lavishly in the cause—who, together with his brothers, particularly the generous John of Nassau, had contributed all which they could raise by mortgage, sales of jewelry and furniture, and by extensive loans, subjecting themselves to constant embarrassment, and almost to penury, felt himself outraged by the paltriness of this conduct. He expressed his indignation, and denounced the niggardliness of the estates in the strongest language, and declared that he would rather leave the country forever, with the maintenance of his own honor, than accept the government upon such disgraceful terms. The estates, disturbed by his vehemence, and struck with its justice, instantly, and without further deliberation, consented to his demand. They granted the 45,000 florins monthly, and the prince assumed the government, thus remodeled.
During the autumn and early winter of the year 1574, the Emperor Maximilian had been actively exerting himself to bring about a pacification of the Netherlands. He was certainly sincere, for an excellent reason. “The Emperor maintains,” said Saint Goard, French ambassador at Madrid, “that if peace is not made with the Beggars, the Empire will depart from the house of Austria, and that such is the determination of the electors.” On the other hand, if Philip were not weary of the war, at any rate his means for carrying it on were diminishing daily. Requesens could raise no money in the Netherlands; his secretary wrote to Spain, that the exchequer was at its last gasp, and the cabinet of Madrid was at its wits’ end, and almost incapable of raising ways and means. The peace party was obtaining the upper hand; the fierce policy of Alva regarded with increasing disfavor. “The people here,” wrote Saint Goard from Madrid, “are completely desperate, whatever pains they take to put a good face on the matter. They desire most earnestly to treat, without losing their character.” It seemed, nevertheless, impossible for Philip to bend his neck. The hope of wearing the Imperial crown had alone made his bigotry feasible. To less potent influences it was adamant; and even now, with an impoverished exchequer, and, after seven years of unsuccessful warfare, his purpose was not less rigid than at first. “The Hollanders demand liberty of conscience,” said Saint Goard, “to which the king will never consent, or I am much mistaken.”
As for Orange, he was sincerely in favor of peace—but not a dishonorable peace, in which should be renounced all the objects of the war. He was far from sanguine on the subject, for he read the signs of the times and the character of Philip too accurately to believe much more in the success of the present than in that of the past efforts of Maximilian. He was pleased that his brother-in-law, Count Schwartzburg, had been selected as the Emperor’s agent in the affair, but expressed his doubts whether much good would come of the proposed negotiations. Remembering the many traps which in times past had been set by Philip and his father, he feared that the present transaction might likewise prove a snare. “We have not forgotten the words ‘ewig’ and ‘einig’ in the treaty with Landgrave Philip,” he wrote, “at the same time we beg to assure his Imperial Majesty that we desire nothing more than a good peace, tending to the glory of God, the service of the King of Spain, and the prosperity of his subjects.”
This was his language to his brother, in a letter which was meant to be shown to the Emperor. In another, written on the same day, he explained himself with more clearness, and stated his distrust with more energy. There were no papists left, except a few ecclesiastics, he said, so much had the number of the Reformers been augmented, through the singular grace of God. It was out of the question to suppose, therefore, that a measure, dooming all who were not Catholics to exile, could be entertained. None would change their religion, and none would consent, voluntarily, to abandon forever their homes, friends, and property. “Such a peace,” he said, “would be poor and pitiable indeed.”
These, then, were the sentiments of the party now about to negotiate. The mediator was anxious for a settlement, because the interests of the Imperial house required it. The King of Spain was desirous of peace, but was unwilling to concede a hair. The Prince of Orange was equally anxious to terminate the war, but was determined not to abandon the objects for which it had been undertaken. A favorable result, therefore, seemed hardly possible. A whole people claimed the liberty to stay at home and practice the Protestant religion, while their king asserted the right to banish them forever, or to burn them if they remained. The parties seemed too far apart to be brought together by the most elastic compromise. The prince addressed an earnest appeal to the assembly of Holland, then in session at Dort, reminding them that, although peace was desirable, it might be more dangerous than war, and entreating them, therefore, to conclude no treaty which should be inconsistent with the privileges of the country and their duty to God.
It was now resolved that all the votes of the assembly should consist of five—one for the nobles and large cities of Holland, one for the estates of Zealand, one for the small cities of Holland, one for the cities Bommel and Buren, and the fifth for William of Orange. The Prince thus effectually held in his hands three votes—his own, that of the small cities, which through his means only had been admitted to the assembly, and thirdly, that of Buren, the capital of his son’s earldom. He thus exercised a controlling influence over the coming deliberations. The ten commissioners, who were appointed by the estates for the peace negotiations, were all his friends. Among them were Saint Aldegonde, Paul Buys, Charles Boisot, and Doctor Junius. The plenipotentiaries of the Spanish government were Leoninus, the Seigneur de Rassinghem, Cornelius Suis, and Arnold Sasbout.
The proceedings were opened at Breda upon the third of March, 1575. The royal commissioners took the initiative, requesting to be informed what complaints the estates had to make, and offering to remove, if possible, all grievances which they might be suffering. The states’ commissioners replied that they desired nothing, in the first place, but an answer to the petition which they had already presented to the king. This was the paper placed in the hands of Saint Aldegonde during the informal negotiations of the preceding year. An answer was accordingly given, but couched in such vague and general language as to be quite without meaning. The estates then demanded a categorical reply to the two principal demands in the petition, namely, the departure of the foreign troops and the assembling of the states-general. They were asked what they understood by foreigners and by the assembly of states-general. They replied that by foreigners they meant those who were not natives, and particularly the Spaniards. By the states-general they meant the same body before which, in 1555, Charles had resigned his sovereignty to Philip. The royal commissioners made an extremely unsatisfactory answer, concluding with a request that all cities, fortresses, and castles, then in the power of the estates, together with all their artillery and vessels of war, should be delivered to the king. The Roman Catholic worship, it was also distinctly stated, was to be re-established at once exclusively throughout the Netherlands, those of the Reformed religion receiving permission, for that time only, to convert their property into cash within a certain time, and to depart the country.
Orange and the estates made answer on the 21st of March. It could not be called hard, they said, to require the withdrawal of the Spanish troops, for this had been granted in 1559, for less imperious reasons. The estates had, indeed, themselves made use of foreigners, but those foreigners had never been allowed to participate in the government. With regard to the assembly of the states-general, that body had always enjoyed the right of advising with the sovereign on the condition of the country, and on general measures of government. Now it was only thought necessary to summon them, in order that they might give their consent to the king’s “requests.” Touching the delivery of cities and citadels, artillery and ships, the proposition was pronounced to resemble that made by the wolves to the sheep, in the fable—that the dogs should be delivered up, as a preliminary to a lasting peace. It was unreasonable to request the Hollanders to abandon their religion or their country. The reproach of heresy was unjust, for they still held to the Catholic Apostolic Church, wishing only to purify it of its abuses. Moreover, it was certainly more cruel to expel a whole population than to dismiss three or four thousand Spaniards who for seven long years had been eating their fill at the expense of the provinces. It would be impossible for the exiles to dispose of their property, for all would, by the proposed measure, be sellers, while there would be no purchasers.
The royal plenipotentiaries, making answer to this communication upon the first of April, signified a willingness that the Spanish soldiers should depart, if the states would consent to disband their own foreign troops. They were likewise in favor of assembling the states-general, but could not permit any change in the religion of the country. His Majesty had sworn to maintain the true worship at the moment of assuming the sovereignty. The dissenters might, however, be allowed a period of six months in which to leave the land, and eight or ten years for the sale of their property. After the heretics had all departed, his Majesty did not doubt that trade and manufactures would flourish again, along with the old religion. As for the Spanish inquisition, there was not, and there never had been, any intention of establishing it in the Netherlands.
No doubt there was something specious in this paper. It appeared to contain considerable concessions. The prince and estates had claimed the departure of the Spaniards. It was now promised that they should depart. They had demanded the assembling of the states-general. It was now promised that they should assemble. They had denounced the inquisition. It was now averred that the Spanish inquisition was not to be established.
Nevertheless, the commissioners of the prince were not deceived by such artifices. There was no parity between the cases of the Spanish soldiery and of the troops in service of the estates. To assemble the estates-general was idle, if they were to be forbidden the settlement of the great question at issue. With regard to the Spanish inquisition, it mattered little whether the slaughter-house were called Spanish or Flemish, or simply the Blood-Council. It was, however, necessary for the states’ commissioners to consider their reply very carefully, for the royal plenipotentiaries had placed themselves upon specious grounds. It was not enough to feel that the king’s government was paltering with them; it was likewise necessary for the states’ agents to impress this fact upon the people.
There was a pause in the deliberations. Meantime, Count Schwartzburg, reluctantly accepting the conviction that the religious question was an insurmountable obstacle to a peace, left the provinces for Germany. The last propositions of the government plenipotentiaries had been discussed in the councils of the various cities, so that the reply of the prince and estates was delayed until the first of June. They admitted, in this communication, that the offer to restore ancient privileges had an agreeable sound, but regretted that if the whole population were to be banished, there would be but few to derive advantage from the restoration. If the king would put an end to religious persecution, he would find as much loyalty in the provinces as his forefathers had found. It was out of the question, they said, for the states to disarm and to deliver up their strong places, before the Spanish soldiery had retired, and before peace had been established. It was their wish to leave the question of religion, together with all other disputed matters, to the decision of the assembly. Were it possible, in the meantime, to devise any effectual method for restraining hostilities, it would gladly be embraced.
On the eighth of July, the royal commissioners inquired what guarantee the states would be willing to give, that the decision of the general assembly, whatever it might be, should be obeyed. The demand was answered by another, in which the king’s agents were questioned as to their own guarantees. Hereupon it was stated that his Majesty would give his word and sign manual, together with the word and signature of the Emperor into the bargain. In exchange for these promises, the prince and estates were expected to give their own oaths and seals, together with a number of hostages. Over and above this, they were requested to deliver up the cities of Brill and Enkhuizen, Flushing and Arnemuyde. The disparity of such guarantees was ridiculous. The royal word, even when strengthened by the imperial promise, and confirmed by the autographs of Philip and Maximilian, was not so solid a security, in the opinion of Netherlanders, as to outweigh four cities in Holland and Zealand, with all their population and wealth. To give collateral pledges and hostages upon one side, while the king offered none, was to assign a superiority to the royal word, over that of the prince and the estates which there was no disposition to recognize. Moreover, it was very cogently urged that to give up the cities was to give as security for the contract, some of the principal contracting parties.
This closed the negotiations. The provincial plenipotentiaries took their leave by a paper dated July 13, 1575, which recapitulated the main incidents of the conference. They expressed their deep regret that his Majesty should insist so firmly on the banishment of the Reformers, for it was unjust to reserve the provinces to the sole use of a small number of Catholics. They lamented that the proposition which had been made, to refer the religious question to the estates, had neither been loyally accepted, nor candidly refused. They inferred, therefore, that the object of the royal government had been to amuse the states, while time was thus gained for reducing the country into a slavery more abject than any which had yet existed. On the other hand, the royal commissioners as solemnly averred that the whole responsibility for the failure of the negotiations belonged to the estates.
It was the general opinion in the insurgent provinces that the government had been insincere from the beginning, and had neither expected nor desired to conclude a peace. It is probable, however, that Philip was sincere, so far as it could be called sincerity to be willing to conclude a peace, if the provinces would abandon the main objects of the war. With his impoverished exchequer, and ruin threatening his whole empire, if this mortal combat should be continued many years longer, he could have no motive for further bloodshed, provided all heretics should consent to abandon the country. As usual, however, he left his agents in the dark as to his real intentions. Even Requesens was as much in doubt as to the king’s secret purposes as Margaret of Parma had ever been in former times. Moreover, the Grand Commander and the government had, after all, made a great mistake in their diplomacy. The estates of Brabant, although strongly desirous that the Spanish troops should be withdrawn, were equally stanch for the maintenance of the Catholic religion, and many of the southern provinces entertained the same sentiments. Had the governor, therefore, taken the states’ commissioners at their word, and left the decision of the religious question to the general assembly, he might perhaps have found the vote in his favor. In this case, it is certain that the Prince of Orange and his party would have been placed in a very awkward position.
The internal government of the insurgent provinces had remained upon the footing which we have seen established in the autumn of 1574, but in the course of this summer (1575), however, the foundation was laid for the union of Holland and Zealand, under the authority of Orange. The selfish principle of municipal aristocracy, which had tended to keep asunder these various groups of cities, was now repressed by the energy of the Prince and the strong determination of the people.
In April 1575, certain articles of union between Holland and Zealand were proposed, and six commissioners appointed to draw up an ordinance for the government of the two provinces. This ordinance was accepted in general assembly of both. It was in twenty articles. It declared that, during the war, the prince, as sovereign, should have absolute power in all matters concerning the defense of the country. He was to appoint military officers, high and low, establish and remove garrisons, punish offenders against the laws of war. He was to regulate the expenditure of all money voted by the estates. He was to maintain the law, in the king’s name, as Count of Holland, and to appoint all judicial officers upon nominations by the estates. He was, at the usual times, to appoint and renew the magistracies of the cities, according to their constitutions. He was to protect the exercise of the Evangelical Reformed religion, and to suppress the exercise of the Roman religion, without permitting, however, that search should be made into the creed of any person. A deliberative and executive council, by which the jealousy of the corporations had intended to hamper his government, did not come into more than nominal existence.
The articles of union having been agreed upon, the prince, desiring an unfettered expression of the national will, wished the ordinance to be laid before the people in their primary assemblies. The estates, however, were opposed to this democratic proceeding. They represented that it had been customary to consult, after the city magistracies, only the captains of companies and the deans of guilds on matters of government. The prince, yielding the point, the captains of companies and deans of guilds accordingly alone united with the aristocratic boards in ratifying the instrument by which his authority over the two united provinces was established. On the fourth of June this first union was solemnized.
Upon the 11th of July, the prince formally accepted the government. He, however, made an essential change in a very important clause of the ordinance. In place of the words, the “Roman religion,” he insisted that the words, “religion at variance with the Gospel,” should be substituted in the article by which he was enjoined to prohibit the exercise of such religion. This alteration rebuked the bigotry which had already grown out of the successful resistance to bigotry, and left the door open for a general religious toleration.
Early in this year the prince had dispatched Saint Aldegonde on a private mission to the Elector Palatine. During some of his visits to that potentate he had seen at Heidelberg, the Princess Charlotte of Bourbon. That lady was daughter of the Duc de Montpensier, the most ardent of the Catholic Princes of France, and the one who at the conferences of Bayonne had been most indignant at the Queen Dowager’s hesitation to unite heartily with the schemes of Alva and Philip for the extermination of the Huguenots. His daughter, a woman of beauty, intelligence, and virtue, forced before the canonical age to take the religious vows, had been placed in the convent of Joüarrs, of which she had become abbess. Always secretly inclined to the Reformed religion, she had fled secretly from her cloister, in the year of horrors, 1572, and had found refuge at the court of the Elector Palatine, after which step her father refused to receive her letters, to contribute a farthing to her support, or even to acknowledge her claims upon him by a single line or message of affection.
Under these circumstances the outcast princess, who had arrived at years of maturity, might be considered her own mistress, and she was neither morally nor legally bound, when her hand was sought in marriage by the great champion of the Reformation, to ask the consent of a parent who loathed her religion and denied her existence. The legality of the divorce from Anne of Saxony had been settled by a full expression of the ecclesiastical authority which she most respected; the facts upon which the divorce had been founded having been proved beyond peradventure.
Nothing, in truth, could well be more unfortunate in its results than the famous Saxon marriage, the arrangements for which had occasioned so much pondering to Philip, and so much diplomatic correspondence on the part of high personages in Germany, the Netherlands, and Spain. Certainly, it was of but little consequence to what church the unhappy princess belonged, and they must be slightly versed in history or in human nature who can imagine these nuptials to have exercised any effect upon the religious or political sentiments of Orange. The princess was of a stormy, ill-regulated nature, almost a lunatic from the beginning. The dislike which succeeded to her fantastic fondness for the prince, as well as her general eccentricity, had soon become the talk of all the court at Brussels. She would pass week after week without emerging from her chamber, keeping the shutters closed and candles burning, day and night. She quarreled violently with Countess Egmont for precedence, so that the ludicrous contentions of the two ladies in antechambers and doorways were the theme and the amusement of society. Her insolence, not only in private but in public, towards her husband became intolerable. “I could not do otherwise than bear it with sadness and patience,” said the prince, with great magnanimity, “hoping that with age would come improvement.” Nevertheless, upon one occasion, at a supper party, she had used such language in the presence of Count Horn and many other nobles, “that all wondered that he could endure the abusive terms which she applied to him.”
When the clouds gathered about him, when he had become an exile and a wanderer, her reproaches and her violence increased. The sacrifice of their wealth, the mortgages and sales which he effected of his estates, plate, jewels, and furniture, to raise money for the struggling country, excited her bitter resentment. She separated herself from him by degrees, and at last abandoned him altogether. Her temper became violent to ferocity. She beat her servants with her hands and with clubs; she threatened the lives of herself, of her attendants, of Count John of Nassau, with knives and daggers, and indulged in habitual profanity and blasphemy, uttering frightful curses upon all around. Her original tendency to intemperance had so much increased, that she was often unable to stand on her feet. A bottle of wine, holding more than a quart, in the morning, and another in the evening, together with a pound of sugar, was her usual allowance. She addressed letters to Alva, complaining that her husband had impoverished himself “in his good-for-nothing Beggar war,” and begging the duke to furnish her with a little ready money and with the means of arriving at the possession of her dower. An illicit connection with a certain John Rubens, an exiled magistrate of Antwerp, and father of the celebrated painter, completed the list of her delinquencies, and justified the marriage of the prince with Charlotte de Bourbon. It was therefore determined by the Elector of Saxony and the Landgrave William to remove her from the custody of the Nassau’s. This took place with infinite difficulty, at the close of the year 1575. Already, in 1572, Augustus had proposed to the landgrave that she should be kept in solitary confinement, and that a minister should preach to her daily through the grated aperture by which her food was to be admitted. The landgrave remonstrated at so inhuman a proposition, which was, however, carried into effect. The wretched princess, now completely a lunatic, was imprisoned in the electoral palace, in a chamber where the windows were walled up and a small grating let into the upper part of the door. Through this wicket came her food, as well as the words of the holy man appointed to preach daily for her edification.
Two years long, she endured this terrible punishment, and died mad, on the 18th of December, 1577. On the following day, she was buried in the electoral tomb at Meissen, a pompous procession of “school children, clergy, magistrates, nobility, and citizens” conducting her to that rest of which she could no longer be deprived by the cruelty of man nor her own violent temperament.
So far, therefore, as the character of Mademoiselle de Bourbon and the legitimacy of her future offspring were concerned, she received ample guarantees. For the rest, the prince, in a simple letter, informed her that he was already past his prime, having reached his forty-second year, and that his fortune was encumbered not only with settlements for his children by previous marriages, but by debts contracted in the cause of his oppressed country. A convention of doctors and bishops of France, summoned by the Duc de Montpensier, afterwards confirmed the opinion that the conventual vows of the Princess Charlotte had been conformable neither to the laws of France nor to the canons of the Trent Council. She was conducted to Brill by Saint Aldegonde, where she was received by her bridegroom, to whom she was united on the 12th of June. The wedding festival was held at Dort with much revelry and holiday making, “but without dancing.”
In this connection, no doubt, the prince consulted his inclination only. Eminently domestic in his habits, he required the relief of companionship at home to the exhausting affairs which made up his life abroad. For years he had never enjoyed social converse, except at long intervals, with man or woman; it was natural, therefore, that he should contract this marriage. It was equally natural that he should make many enemies by so impolitic a match. The Elector Palatine, who was in place of guardian to the bride, decidedly disapproved, although he was suspected of favoring the alliance. The Landgrave of Hesse for a time was furious, the Elector of Saxony absolutely delirious with rage. The Diet of the Empire was to be held within a few weeks at Frankfort, where it was very certain that the outraged and influential elector would make his appearance, overflowing with anger, and determined to revenge upon the cause of the Netherland Reformation the injury which he had personally received. Even the wise, considerate, affectionate brother, John of Nassau, considered the marriage an act of madness. He did what he could, by argument and entreaty, to dissuade the prince from its completion, although he afterwards voluntarily confessed that the Princess Charlotte had been deeply calumniated and was an inestimable treasure to his brother. The French government made use of the circumstance to justify itself in a still further alienation from the cause of the prince than it had hitherto manifested, but this was rather pretense than reality.
It was not in the nature of things, however, that the Saxon and Hessian indignation could be easily allayed. The landgrave was extremely violent. “Truly, I cannot imagine,” he wrote to the Elector of Saxony, “quo consilio that wiseacre of an Aldegonde, and whosoever else has been aiding and abetting, have undertaken this affair. Nam si pietatem respicias, it is to be feared that, considering she is a Frenchwoman, a nun, and moreover a fugitive nun, about whose chastity there has been considerable question, the Prince has got out of the frying-pan into the fire. Si formam it is not to be supposed that it was her beauty which charmed him, since, without doubt, he must be rather frightened than delighted, when he looks upon her. Si spem prolis, the Prince has certainly only too many heirs already, and ought to wish that he had neither wife nor children. Si amicitiam, it is not to be supposed, while her father expresses himself in such threatening language with regard to her, that there will be much cordiality of friendship on his part. Let them look to it, then, lest it fare with them no better than with the Admiral, at his Paris wedding; for those gentlemen can hardly forgive such injuries, sine mercurio et arsenico sublimato.”
The Elector of Saxony was frantic with choler, and almost ludicrous in the vehemence of its expression. Count John was unceasing in his exhortations to his brother to respect the sensitiveness of these important personages, and to remember how much good and how much evil it was in their power to compass, with regard to himself and to the great cause of the Protestant religion. He reminded him, too, that the divorce had not been, and would not be considered impregnable as to form, and that much discomfort and detriment was likely to grow out of the whole proceeding, for himself and his family. The prince, however, was immovable in his resolution, and from the whole tone of his correspondence and deportment it was obvious that his marriage was one rather of inclination than of policy. “I can assure you, my brother,” he wrote to Count John, “that my character has always tended to this—to care neither for words nor menaces in any matter where I can act with a clear conscience, and without doing injury to my neighbour. Truly, if I had paid regard to the threats of princes, I should never have embarked in so many dangerous affairs, contrary to the will of the King, my master, in times past, and even to the advice of many of my relatives and friends.”
The evil consequences which had been foreseen were not slow to manifest themselves. There was much discussion of the prince’s marriage at the Diet of Frankfort, and there was even a proposition, formally to declare the Calvinists excluded in Germany from the benefits of the Peace of Passau. The Archduke Rudolph was soon afterwards elected King of the Romans and of Bohemia, although hitherto, according to the policy of the Prince of Orange, and in the expectation of benefit to the cause of the Reformation in Germany and the Netherlands, there has been a strong disposition to hold out hopes to Henry III, and to excite the fears of Maximilian.
While these important affairs, public and private, had been occurring in the South of Holland and in Germany, a very nefarious transaction had disgraced the cause of the patriot party in the northern quarter. Diedrich Sonoy, governor of that portion of Holland, a man of great bravery but of extreme ferocity of character, had discovered an extensive conspiracy among certain of the inhabitants, in aid of an approaching Spanish invasion. Bands of land-loupers had been employed, according to the intimation which he had received or affected to have received, to set fire to villages and towns in every direction, to set up beacons, and to conduct a series of signals by which the expeditions about to be organized were to be furthered in their objects. The governor, determined to show that the Duke of Alva could not be more prompt nor more terrible than himself, improvised, of his own authority, a tribunal in imitation of the infamous Blood-Council. Fortunately for the character of the country, Sonoy was not a Hollander, nor was the jurisdiction of this newly established court allowed to extend beyond very narrow limits. Eight vagabonds were, however, arrested and doomed to tortures the most horrible, in order to extort from them confessions implicating persons of higher position in the land than themselves. Seven, after a few turns of the pulley and the screw, confessed all which they were expected to confess, and accused all whom they were requested to accuse. The eighth was firmer, and refused to testify to the guilt of certain respectable householders, whose names he had, perhaps, never heard, and against whom there was no shadow of evidence. He was, however, reduced by three hours and a half of sharp torture to confess, entirely according to their orders, so that accusations and evidence were thus obtained against certain influential gentlemen of the province, whose only crime was a secret adherence to the Catholic Faith.
The eight wretches who had been induced by promises of unconditional pardon upon one hand, and by savage torture on the other, to bear this false witness, were condemned to be burned alive, and on their way to the stake, they all retracted the statements which had only been extorted from them by the rack. Nevertheless, the individuals who had been thus designated, were arrested. Charged with plotting a general conflagration of the villages and farmhouses, in conjunction with an invasion by Hierges and other papist generals, they indignantly protested their innocence, but two of them, a certain Kopp Corneliszoon, and his son, Nanning Koppezoon, were selected to undergo the most cruel torture which had yet been practiced in the Netherlands. Sonoy, to his eternal shame, was disposed to prove that human ingenuity to inflict human misery had not been exhausted in the chambers of the Blood-Council, for it was to be shown that Reformers were capable of giving a lesson even to inquisitors in this diabolical science. Kopp, a man advanced in years, was tortured during a whole day. On the following morning he was again brought to the rack, but the old man was too weak to endure all the agony which his tormentors had provided for him. Hardly had he been placed upon the bed of torture than he calmly expired, to the great indignation of the tribunal. “The Devil has broken his neck and carried him off to hell,” cried they ferociously. “Nevertheless, that shall not prevent him from being hung and quartered.” This decree of impotent vengeance was accordingly executed. The son of Kopp, however, Nanning Koppezoon, was a man in the full vigor of his years. He bore with perfect fortitude a series of incredible tortures, after which, with his body singed from head to heel, and his feet almost entirely flayed, he was left for six weeks to crawl about his dungeon on his knees. He was then brought back to the torture room, and again stretched upon the rack, while a large earthen vessel, made for the purpose, was placed, inverted, upon his naked body. A number of rats were introduced under this cover, and hot coals were heaped upon the vessel, till the rats, rendered furious by the heat, gnawed into the very bowels of the victim, in their agony to escape. The holes thus torn in his bleeding flesh were filled with red-hot coals. He was afterwards subjected to other tortures too foul to relate; nor was it till he had endured all this agony, with a fortitude which seemed supernatural, that he was at last discovered to be human. Scorched, bitten, dislocated in every joint, sleepless, starving, perishing with thirst, he was at last crushed into a false confession, by a promise of absolute forgiveness. He admitted everything which was brought to his charge, confessing a catalogue of contemplated burnings and beacon firings of which he had never dreamed, and avowing himself in league with other desperate papists, still more dangerous than himself.
Notwithstanding the promises of pardon, Nanning was then condemned to death. The sentence ordained that his heart should be torn from his living bosom, and thrown in his face, after which his head was to be taken off and exposed on the church steeple of his native village. His body was then to be cut in four, and a quarter fastened upon different towers of the city of Alkmaar, for it was that city, recently so famous for its heroic resistance to the Spanish army, which was now sullied by all this cold-blooded atrocity. When led to execution, the victim recanted indignantly the confessions forced from him by weakness of body, and exonerated the persons whom he had falsely accused. A certain clergyman, named Jurian Epeszoon, endeavored by loud praying to drown his voice, that the people might not rise with indignation, and the dying prisoner with his last breath solemnly summoned this unworthy pastor of Christ to meet him within three days before the judgment-seat of God. It is a remarkable and authentic fact, that the clergyman thus summoned, went home pensively from the place of execution, sickened immediately and died upon the appointed day.
Notwithstanding this solemn recantation, the persons accused were arrested, and in their turn subjected to torture, but the affair now reached the ears of Orange. His peremptory orders, with the universal excitement produced in the neighborhood, at last checked the course of the outrage, and the accused persons were remanded to prison, where they remained till liberated by the Pacification of Ghent. After their release they commenced legal proceedings against Sonoy, with a view of establishing their own innocence, and of bringing the inhuman functionary to justice. The process languished, however, and was finally abandoned, for the powerful governor had rendered such eminent service in the cause of liberty, that it was thought unwise to push him to extremity. It is no impeachment upon the character of the prince that these horrible crimes were not prevented. It was impossible for him to be omnipresent. Neither is it just to consider the tortures and death thus inflicted upon innocent men an indelible stain upon the cause of liberty. They were the crimes of an individual who had been useful, but who, like the Count De la Marck, had now contaminated his hand with the blood of the guiltless. The new tribunal never took root, and was abolished as soon as its initiatory horrors were known.
On the 19th of July, Oudewater, entirely unprepared for such an event, was besieged by Hierges, but the garrison and the population, although weak, were brave. The town resisted eighteen days, and on the seventh of August was carried by assault, after which the usual horrors were fully practiced, after which the garrison was put to the sword, and the townspeople fared little better. Men, women, and children were murdered in cold blood, or obliged to purchase their lives by heavy ransoms, while matrons and maids were sold by auction to the soldiers at two or three dollars each. Almost every house in the city was burned to the ground, and these horrible but very customary scenes having been enacted, the army of Hierges took its way to Schoonhoven. That city, not defending itself, secured tolerable terms of capitulation, and surrendered on the 24th of August.
The Grand Commander had not yet given up the hope of naval assistance from Spain, notwithstanding the abrupt termination to the last expedition which had been organized. It was, however, necessary that a foothold should be recovered upon the seaboard, before a descent from without could be met with proper cooperation from the land forces within, and he was most anxious, therefore, to effect the re-conquest of some portion of Zealand. The island of Tholen was still Spanish, and had been so since the memorable expedition of Mondragon to South Beveland. From this interior portion of the archipelago the governor now determined to attempt an expedition against the outer and more important territory. The three principal islands were Tholen, Duiveland, and Schouwen. Tholen was the first which detached itself from the continent. Next, and separated from it by a bay two leagues in width, was Duiveland, or the Isle of Doves. Beyond, and parted by a narrower frith, was Schouwen, fronting directly upon the ocean, fortified by its strong capital city, Zierickzee, and containing other villages of inferior consequence.
Requesens had been long revolving in his mind the means of possessing himself of this important island. He had caused to be constructed a numerous armada of boats and light vessels of various dimensions, and he now came to Tholen to organize the expedition. His prospects were at first not flattering, for the gulfs and estuaries swarmed with Zealand vessels, manned by crews celebrated for their skill and audacity. Traitors, however, from Zealand itself now came forward to teach the Spanish commander how to strike at the heart of their own country. These refugees explained to Requesens that a narrow flat extended under the sea from Philipsland, a small and uninhabited islet situate close to Tholen, as far as the shore of Duiveland. Upon this submerged tongue of land the water, during ebb-tide, was sufficiently shallow to be waded, and it would therefore be possible for a determined band, under cover of the night, to make the perilous passage. Once arrived at Duiveland, they could more easily cross the intervening creek to Schouwen, which was not so deep and only half as wide, so that a force thus sent through these dangerous shallows, might take possession of Duiveland and lay siege to Zierickzee, in the very teeth of the Zealand fleet, which would be unable to sail near enough to intercept their passage.
The commander determined that the enterprise should be attempted. It was not a novelty, because Mondragon, as we have seen, had already most brilliantly conducted a very similar expedition. The present was, however, a much more daring scheme. The other exploit, although sufficiently hazardous, and entirely successful, had been a victory gained over the sea alone. It had been a surprise, and had been effected without any opposition from human enemies. Here, however, they were to deal, not only with the ocean and darkness, but with a watchful and determined foe. The Zealanders were aware that the enterprise was in contemplation, and their vessels lay about the contiguous waters in considerable force. Nevertheless, the determination of the Grand Commander was hailed with enthusiasm by his troops. Having satisfied himself by personal experiment that the enterprise was possible, and that therefore his brave soldiers could accomplish it, he decided that the glory of the achievement should be fairly shared, as before, among the different nations which served the king.
After completing his preparations, Requesens came to Tholen, at which rendezvous were assembled 3,000 infantry, partly Spaniards, partly Germans, partly Walloons. Besides these, a picked corps of two hundred sappers and miners was to accompany the expedition, in order that no time might be lost in fortifying themselves as soon as they had seized possession of Schouwen. Four hundred mounted troopers were, moreover, stationed in the town of Tholen, while the little fleet, which had been prepared at Antwerp, lay near that city ready to cooperate with the land force as soon as they should complete their enterprise. The Grand Commander now divided the whole force into two parts. One half was to remain in the boats, under the command of Mondragon; the other half, accompanied by the two hundred pioneers, were to wade through the sea from Philipsland to Duiveland and Schouwen. Each soldier of this detachment was provided with a pair of shoes, two pounds of powder, and rations for three days in a canvas bag suspended at his neck. The leader of this expedition was Don Osorio d’Ulloa, an officer distinguished for his experience and bravery.
On the night selected for the enterprise, that of the 27th September, the moon was a day old in its fourth quarter, and rose a little before twelve. It was low water at between four and five in the morning. The Grand Commander, at the appointed hour of midnight, crossed to Philipsland, and stood on the shore to watch the setting forth of the little army. He addressed a short harangue to them, in which he skillfully struck the chords of Spanish chivalry and the national love of glory, and was answered with loud and enthusiastic cheers. Don Osorio d’Ulloa then stripped and plunged into the sea immediately after the guides. He was followed by the Spaniards, after whom came the Germans and then the Walloons. The two hundred sappers and miners came next, and Don Gabriel Peralta, with his Spanish company, brought up the rear. It was a wild night. Incessant lightning alternately revealed and obscured the progress of the midnight march through the black waters, as the anxious commander watched the expedition from the shore, but the soldiers were quickly swallowed up in the gloom. As they advanced cautiously, two by two, the daring adventurers found themselves soon nearly up to their necks in the waves, while so narrow was the submerged bank along which they were marching, that a misstep to the right or left was fatal. Luckless individuals repeatedly sank to rise no more. Meantime, as the sickly light of the waning moon came forth at intervals through the stormy clouds, the soldiers could plainly perceive the files of Zealand vessels through which they were to march, and which were anchored as close to the flat as the water would allow. Some had recklessly stranded themselves, in their eagerness to interrupt the passage of the troops, and the artillery played unceasingly from the larger vessels. Discharges of musketry came continually from all, but the fitful lightning rendered the aim difficult and the fire comparatively harmless, while the Spaniards were, moreover, protected, as to a large part of their bodies, by the water in which they were immersed.
At times, they halted for breath, or to engage in fierce skirmishes with their nearest assailants. Standing breast-high in the waves, and surrounded at intervals by total darkness, they were yet able to pour an occasional well-directed volley into the hostile ranks. The Zealanders, however, did not assail them with firearms alone. They transfixed some with their fatal harpoons; they dragged others from the path with boathooks; they beat out the brains of others with heavy flails. Many were the mortal duels thus fought in the darkness, and, as it were, in the bottom of the sea; many were the deeds of audacity which no eye was to mark save those by whom they were achieved. Still, in spite of all impediments and losses, the Spaniards steadily advanced. If other arms proved less available, they were attacked by the fierce taunts and invectives of their often invisible foes, who reviled them as water-dogs, fetching and carrying for a master who despised them; as mercenaries who coined their blood for gold, and were employed by tyrants for the basest uses. If stung by these mocking voices, they turned in the darkness to chastise their unseen tormentors, they were certain to he trampled upon by their comrades, and to be pushed from their narrow pathway into the depths of the sea. Thus many perished.
The night wore on, and the adventurers still fought it out manfully, but very slowly, the main body of Spaniards, Germans, and Walloons, soon after daylight, reached the opposite shore, having sustained considerable losses, but in perfect order. The pioneers were not so fortunate. The tide rose over them before they could effect their passage, and swept nearly every one away. The rear-guard, under Peralta, not surprised, like the pioneers, in the middle of their passage, by the rising tide, but prevented, before it was too late, from advancing far beyond the shore from which they had departed, were fortunately enabled to retrace their steps.
Don Osorio, at the head of the successful adventurers, now effected his landing upon Duiveland. Reposing themselves but for an instant after this unparalleled march through the water of more than six hours, they took a slight refreshment, prayed to the Virgin Mary and to Saint James, and then prepared to meet their new enemies on land. Ten companies of French, Scotch, and English auxiliaries lay in Duiveland, under the command of Charles Van Boisot. Strange to relate, by an inexplicable accident, or by treason, that general was slain by his own soldiers, at the moment when the royal troops landed. The panic created by this event became intense, as the enemy rose suddenly, as it were, out of the depths of the ocean to attack them. They magnified the numbers of their assailants, and fled terror-stricken in every direction. Some swam to the Zealand vessels which lay in the neighborhood; others took refuge in the forts which had been constructed on the island, but these were soon carried by the Spaniards, and the conquest of Duiveland was effected.
The enterprise was not yet completed, but the remainder was less difficult and not nearly so hazardous, for the creek which separated Duiveland from Schouwen was much narrower than the estuary which they had just traversed. It was less than a league in width, but so encumbered by rushes and briers that, although difficult to wade, it was not navigable for vessels of any kind. This part of the expedition was accomplished with equal resolution, so that, after a few hours’ delay, the soldiers stood upon the much-coveted island of Schouwen. Five companies of states’ troops, placed to oppose their landing, fled in the most cowardly manner at the first discharge of the Spanish muskets, and took refuge in the city of Zierickzee, which was soon afterwards beleaguered.
The troops had been disembarked upon Duiveland from the armada, which had made its way to the scene of action, after having received, by signal, information that the expedition through the water had been successful. Brouwershaven, on the northern side of Schouwen, was immediately reduced, but Bommenede resisted till the 25th of October, when it was at last carried by assault, and delivered over to fire and sword. Of the whole population and garrison not twenty were left alive. Siege was then laid to Zierickzee, and Colonel Mondragon was left in charge of the operations. Requesens himself came to Schouwen to give directions concerning this important enterprise.
Chiapin Vitelli also came thither in the middle of the winter, and was so much injured by a fall from his litter, while making the tour of the island, that he died on shipboard during his return to Antwerp. This officer had gained his laurels upon more than one occasion, his conduct in the important action near Mons, in which the Huguenot force under Genlis was defeated, having been particularly creditable. He was of a distinguished Umbrian family, and had passed his life in camps, few of the generals who had accompanied Alva to the Netherlands being better known or more odious to the inhabitants. He was equally distinguished for his courage, his cruelty, and his corpulence. The last characteristic was so remarkable that be was almost monstrous in his personal appearance. His protuberant stomach was always supported in a bandage suspended from his neck, yet in spite of this enormous impediment, he was personally active on the battlefield, and performed more service, not only as a commander but as a subaltern, than many a younger and lighter man.
The siege of Zierickzee was protracted till the following June, the city holding out with firmness. Want of funds caused the operations to be conducted with languor, but the same cause prevented the prince from accomplishing its relief. Thus the expedition from Philipsland, the most brilliant military exploit of the whole war, was attended with important results. The communication between Walcheren and the rest of Zealand was interrupted, the province cut in two, a foothold on the ocean, for a brief interval at least, acquired by Spain. The prince was inexpressibly chagrined by these circumstances, and felt that the moment had arrived when all honorable means were to be employed to obtain foreign assistance. The Hollanders and Zealanders had fought the battles of freedom alone hitherto, and had fought them well, but poverty was fast rendering them incapable of sustaining much longer the unequal conflict. Offers of men, whose wages the states were to furnish, were refused, as worse than fruitless. Henry of Navarre, who perhaps deemed it possible to acquire the sovereignty of the provinces by so barren a benefit, was willing to send two or three thousand men, but not at his own expense. The proposition was respectfully declined. The prince and his little country were all alone. “Even if we should not only see ourselves deserted by all the world, but also all the world against us,” he said, “we should not cease to defend ourselves even to the last man. Knowing the justice of our cause, we repose entirely in the mercy of God.” He determined, however, once more to have recourse to the powerful of the earth, being disposed to test the truth of his celebrated observation, that “there would be no lack of suitors for the bride that he had to bestow.” It was necessary, in short, to look to the great question of formally renouncing Philip directly in the face.
Hitherto the fiction of allegiance had been preserved, and even by the enemies of the prince it was admitted that it had been retained with no disloyal intent. The time, however, had come when it was necessary to throw off allegiance, provided another could be found strong enough and frank enough to accept the authority which Philip had forfeited. The question was, naturally, between France and England, unless the provinces could effect their re-admission into the body of the Germanic Empire. Already in June the prince had laid the proposition formally before the states, “whether they should not negotiate with the Empire on the subject of their admission, with maintenance of their own constitutions,” but it was understood that this plan was not to be carried out, if the protection of the Empire could be obtained under easier conditions.
Nothing came of the proposition at that time. The nobles and the deputies of South Holland now voted, in the beginning of the ensuing month, “that it was their duty to abandon the King, as a tyrant who sought to oppress and destroy his subjects; and that it behooved them to seek another protector.” This was while the Breda negotiations were still pending, but when their inevitable result was very visible. There was still a reluctance at taking the last and decisive step in the rebellion, so that the semblance of loyalty was still retained, that ancient scabbard in which the sword might yet one day be sheathed. The proposition was not adopted at the diet. A committee of nine was merely appointed to deliberate with the prince upon the “means of obtaining foreign assistance, without accepting foreign authority, or severing their connection with his Majesty.” The estates were, however, summoned a few months later, by the prince, to deliberate on this important matter at Rotterdam. On the first of October, he then formally proposed either to make terms with their enemy, and that the sooner the better, or else, once for all, to separate entirely from the King of Spain, and to change their sovereign, in order, with the assistance and under protection of another Christian potentate, to maintain the provinces against their enemies. Orange, moreover, expressed the opinion that upon so important a subject it was decidedly incumbent upon them all to take the sense of the city governments. The members for the various municipalities acquiesced in the propriety of this suggestion, and resolved to consult their constituents, while the deputies of the nobility also desired to consult with their whole body. After an adjournment of a few days, the diet again assembled at Delft, and it was then unanimously resolved by the nobles and the cities, “that they would forsake the King and seek foreign assistance; referring the choice to the Prince, who, in regard to the government, was to take the opinion of the estates.”
Thus, the great step was taken, by which two little provinces declared themselves independent of their ancient master. That declaration, although taken in the midst of doubt and darkness, was not destined to be canceled, and the germ of a new and powerful commonwealth was planted. So little, however, did these republican fathers foresee their coming republic, that the resolution to renounce one king was combined with a proposition to ask for the authority of another. It was not imagined that those two slender columns, which were all that had yet been raised of the future stately peristyle, would be strong enough to stand alone. The question now arose, to what foreign power application should be made. But little hope was to be entertained from Germany, a state which existed only in name, and France was still in a condition of religious and intestine discord. The attitude of revolt maintained by the Duc d’Alençon seemed to make it difficult and dangerous to enter into negotiations with a country where the civil wars had assumed so complicated a character, that a loyal and useful alliance could hardly be made with any party. The Queen of England, on the other hand, dreaded the wrath of Philip, by which her perpetual dangers from the side of Scotland would be aggravated, while she feared equally the extension of French authority in the Netherlands, by which increase her neighbor would acquire an overshadowing power. She was also ashamed openly to abandon the provinces to their fate, for her realm was supposed to be a bulwark of the Protestant religion. Afraid to affront Philip, afraid to refuse the suit of the Netherlands, afraid to concede an aggrandizement to France, what course was open to the English queen? That which, politically and personally, she loved the best—a course of barren coquetry. This the Prince of Orange foresaw, and although not disposed to leave a stone unturned in his efforts to find assistance for his country, he on the whole rather inclined for France. He, however, better than any man, knew how little cause there was for sanguine expectation from either source.
It was determined, in the name of his Highness and the estates, first to send a mission to England, but there had already been negotiations this year of an unpleasant character with that power. At the request of the Spanish envoy, the foremost Netherland rebels, in number about fifty, including by name the Prince of Orange, the Counts of Berg and Culemburg, with Saint Aldegonde, Boisot, Junius, and others, had been formally forbidden by Queen Elizabeth to enter her realm. The prince had, in consequence, sent Aldegonde and Junius on a secret mission to France, and the queen, jealous and anxious, had thereupon sent Daniel Rogers secretly to the prince. At the same time she had sent an envoy to the Grand Commander, counseling conciliatory measures, and promising to send a special mission to Spain with the offer of her mediation, but it was suspected by those most in the confidence of the Spanish government at Brussels, that there was a great deal of deception in these proceedings. A truce for six months having now been established between the Duc d’Alençon and his brother, it was supposed that an alliance between France and England, and perhaps between Alençon and Elizabeth, was on the carpet, and that a kingdom of the Netherlands was to be the wedding present of the bride to her husband. These fantasies derived additional color from the fact that, while the queen was expressing the most amicable intentions towards Spain, and the greatest jealousy of France, the English residents at Antwerp and other cities of the Netherlands had received private instructions to sell out their property as fast as possible, and to retire from the country. On the whole, there was little prospect either of a final answer, or of substantial assistance from the queen.
The envoys to England were Advocate Buis and Doctor Francis Maalzon, nominated by the estates, and Saint Aldegonde, chief of the mission, appointed by the prince. They arrived in England at Christmas-tide. Having represented to the queen the result of the Breda negotiations, they stated that the prince and the estates, in despair of a secure peace, had addressed themselves to her as an upright protector of the Faith, and as a princess descended from the blood of Holland. This allusion to the intermarriage of Edward III of England with Philippa, daughter of Count William III, of Hainault and Holland, would not, it was hoped, be in vain. They furthermore offered to her Majesty, in case she were willing powerfully to assist the states, the sovereignty over Holland and Zealand, under certain conditions.
The queen listened graciously to the envoys, and appointed commissioners to treat with them on the subject. Meantime, Requesens sent Champagny to England, to counteract the effect of this embassy of the estates, and to beg the queen to give no heed to the prayers of the rebels, to enter into no negotiations with them, and to expel them at once from her kingdom.
The queen gravely assured Champagny “that the envoys were no rebels, but faithful subjects of his Majesty.” There was certainly some effrontery in such a statement, considering the solemn offer which had just been made by the envoys. If to renounce allegiance to Philip and to propose the sovereignty to Elizabeth did not constitute rebellion, it would be difficult to define or to discover rebellion anywhere. The statement was as honest, however, as the diplomatic grimace with which Champagny had reminded Elizabeth of the ancient and unbroken friendship which had always existed between herself and his Catholic Majesty. The attempt of Philip to procure her dethronement and assassination but a few years before was, no doubt, thought too trifling a circumstance to have for a moment interrupted those harmonious relations. Nothing came of the negotiations on either side. The queen coquetted, as was her custom. She could not accept the offer of the estates; she could not say them nay. She would not offend Philip; she would not abandon the provinces; she would therefore negotiate—thus there was an infinite deal of diplomatic nothing spun and unraveled, but the result was both to abandon the provinces and to offend Philip.
In the first answer given by her commissioners to the states’ envoys, it was declared, “that her Majesty considered it too expensive to assume the protection of both provinces.” She was willing to protect them in name, but she should confer the advantage exclusively on Walcheren in reality. The defense of Holland must be maintained at the expense of the Prince and the estates.
This was certainly not munificent, and the envoys insisted upon more ample and liberal terms. The queen declined, however, committing herself beyond this niggardly and inadmissible offer. The states were not willing to exchange the sovereignty over their country for so paltry a concession. The queen declared herself indisposed to go further, at least before consulting parliament. The commissioners waited for the assembling of parliament. She then refused to lay the matter before that body, and forbade the Hollanders taking any steps for that purpose. It was evident that she was disposed to trifle with the provinces, and had no idea of encountering the open hostility of Philip. The envoys accordingly begged for their passports. These were granted in April 1576, with the assurance on the part of her Majesty that “she would think more of the offer made to her after she had done all in her power to bring about an arrangement between the provinces and Philip.”
After the result of the negotiations of Breda, it is difficult to imagine what method she was likely to devise for accomplishing such a purpose. The king was not more disposed than during the preceding summer to grant liberty of religion, nor were the Hollanders more ready than they had been before to renounce either their faith or their fatherland. The envoys, on parting, made a strenuous effort to negotiate a loan, but the frugal queen considered the proposition quite inadmissible. She granted them liberty to purchase arms and ammunition, and to levy a few soldiers with their own money, and this was accordingly done to a limited extent. As it was not difficult to hire soldiers or to buy gunpowder anywhere, in that warlike age, provided the money were ready, the states had hardly reason to consider themselves under deep obligation for this concession. Yet this was the whole result of the embassy. Plenty of fine words had been bestowed, which might or might not have meaning, according to the turns taken by coming events. Besides these cheap and empty civilities, they received permission to defend Holland at their own expense, with the privilege of surrendering its sovereignty, if they liked, to Queen Elizabeth—and this was all.
On the 19th of April, the envoys returned to their country, and laid before the estates the meager result of their negotiations. Very soon afterwards, upon an informal suggestion from Henry III and the Queen Mother, that a more favorable result might be expected, if the same applications were made to the Duc d’Alençon which had been received in so unsatisfactory a manner by Elizabeth, commissioners were appointed to France. It proved impossible, however, at that juncture, to proceed with the negotiations, in consequence of the troubles occasioned by the attitude of the duke. The provinces were still, even as they had been from the beginning, entirely alone.
Requesens was more than ever straitened for funds, wringing, with increasing difficulty, a slender subsidy, from time to time, out of the reluctant estates of Brabant, Flanders, and the other obedient provinces. While he was still at Duiveland, the estates-general sent him a long remonstrance against the misconduct of the soldiery, in answer to his demand for supplies. “Oh, these estates! these estates!” cried the Grand Commander, on receiving such vehement reproaches instead of his money, “may the Lord deliver me from these estates!” Meantime, the important siege of Zierickzee continued, and it was evident that the city must fall. There was no money at the disposal of the prince. Count John, who was seriously embarrassed by reason of the great obligations in money which he, with the rest of his family, had incurred on behalf of the estates, had recently made application to the prince for his influence towards procuring him relief. He had forwarded an account of the great advances made by himself and his brethren in money, plate, furniture, and endorsements of various kinds, for which a partial reimbursement was almost indispensable to save him from serious difficulties. The prince, however, unable to procure him any assistance, had been obliged once more to entreat him to display the generosity and the self-denial which the country had never found wanting at his hands or at those of his kindred. The appeal had not been in vain, but the count was obviously not in a condition to effect anything more at that moment to relieve the financial distress of the states. The exchequer was crippled. Holland and Zealand were cut in twain by the occupation of Schouwen and the approaching fall of its capital. Germany, England, France, all refused to stretch out their hands to save the heroic but exhaustless little provinces. It was at this moment that a desperate but sublime resolution took possession of the prince’s mind. There seemed but one way left to exclude the Spaniards forever from Holland and Zealand, and to rescue the inhabitants from impending ruin. The prince had long brooded over the scheme, and the hour seemed to have struck for its fulfillment. His project was to collect all the vessels, of every description, which could be obtained throughout the Netherlands. The whole population of the two provinces, men, women, and children, together with all the moveable property of the country, were then to be embarked on board this numerous fleet, and to seek a new home beyond the seas. The windmills were then to be burned, the dykes pierced, the sluices opened in every direction, and the country restored forever to the ocean, from which it had sprung.
It is difficult to say whether the resolution, if Providence had permitted its fulfillment, would have been, on the whole, better or worse for humanity and civilization. The ships which would have borne the heroic prince and his fortunes might have taken the direction of the newly-discovered western hemisphere. A religious colony, planted by a commercial and liberty-loving race, in a virgin soil, and directed by patrician but self-denying hands, might have preceded, by half a century, the colony which a kindred race, impelled by similar motives, and under somewhat similar circumstances and conditions, was destined to plant upon the stern shores of New England. Had they directed their course to the warm and fragrant islands of the East, an independent Christian commonwealth might have arisen among those prolific regions, superior in importance to any subsequent colony of Holland, cramped from its birth by absolute subjection to a far distant metropolis.
The unexpected death of Requesens suddenly dispelled these schemes. The siege of Zierickzee had occupied much of the governor’s attention, but he had recently written to his sovereign that its reduction was now certain. He had added an urgent request for money, with a sufficient supply of which he assured Philip that he should be able to bring the war to an immediate conclusion. While waiting for these supplies, he had, contrary to all law or reason, made an unsuccessful attempt to conquer the post of Embden, in Germany. A mutiny had, at about the same time, broken out among his troops in Harlem, and he had furnished the citizens with arms to defend themselves, giving free permission to use them against the insurgent troops. By this means the mutiny had been quelled, but a dangerous precedent established. Anxiety concerning this rebellion is supposed to have hastened the Grand Commander’s death. A violent fever seized him on the first, and terminated his existence on the fifth of March, in the fifty-first year of his life.
It is not necessary to review elaborately his career, the chief incidents of which have been sufficiently described. Requesens was a man of high position by birth and office, but a thoroughly commonplace personage. His talents either for war or for civil employments were not above mediocrity. His friends disputed whether he were greater in the field or in the council, but it is certain that he was great in neither. His bigotry was equal to that of Alva, but it was impossible to rival the duke in cruelty. Moreover, the condition of the country, after seven wars of torture under his predecessor, made it difficult for him, at the time of his arrival to imitate the severity which had made the name of Alva infamous. The Blood-Council had been retained throughout his administration, but its occupation was gone, for want of food for its ferocity. The obedient provinces had been purged of Protestants, while crippled, too, by confiscation, they offered no field for further extortion. From Holland and Zealand, whence Catholicism had been nearly excluded, the King of Spain was nearly excluded also. The Blood-Council, which, if set up in that country, would have executed every living creature of its population, could only gaze from a distance at those who would have been its victims. Requesens had been previously distinguished in two fields of action—the Granada massacres and the carnage of Lepanto. Upon both occasions he had been the military tutor of Don John of Austria, by whom he was soon to be succeeded in the government of the Netherlands. To the imperial bastard had been assigned the preeminence, but it was thought that the Grand Commander had been entitled to a more than equal share of the glory. We have seen how much additional reputation was acquired by Requesens in the provinces. The expedition against Duiveland and Schouwen, was, on the whole, the most brilliant feat of arms during the war, and its success reflects an undying luster on the hardihood and discipline of the Spanish, German, and Walloon soldiery. As an act of individual audacity in a bad cause, it has rarely been equaled. It can hardly be said, however, that the Grand Commander was entitled to any large measure of praise for the success of the expedition. The plan was laid by Zealand traitors. It was carried into execution by the devotion of the Spanish, Walloon, and German troops, while Requesens was only a spectator of the transaction. His sudden death arrested, for a moment, the ebb-tide in the affairs of the Netherlands, which was fast leaving the country bare and desolate, and was followed by a train of unforeseen transactions, which it is now our duty to describe.