Administration of the Grand Commander
The Continued Vigilance of Orange and the Outbreak of Mutiny in the Spanish Troops
The death of Requesens, notwithstanding his four days’ illness, occurred so suddenly that he had not had time to appoint his successor. Had he exercised this privilege, which his patent conferred upon him, it was supposed that he would have nominated Count Mansfeld to exercise the functions of governor-general, until the king should otherwise ordain.
In the absence of any definite arrangement, the Council of State, according to a right which that body claimed from custom, assumed the reins of government. Of the old board, there were none left but the Duke of Aerschot, Count Berlaymont, and Viglius. To these were soon added, however, by royal diploma, the Spaniard, Jerome de Roda, and the Netherlanders, Assonleville, Baron Rassenghiem and Arnold Sasbout. Thus, all the members, save one, of what had now become the executive body, were natives of the country. Roda was accordingly looked askance upon by his colleagues. He was regarded by Viglius as a man who desired to repeat the part which had been played by Juan Vargas in the Blood Council, while the other members, although stanch Catholics, were all of them well-disposed to vindicate the claim of Netherland nobles to a share in the government of the Netherlands.
For a time, therefore, the transfer of authority seemed to have been smoothly accomplished. The Council of State conducted the administration of the country. Peter Ernest Mansfeld was entrusted with the supreme military command, including the government of Brussels, and the Spanish commanders, although dissatisfied that any but a Spaniard should be thus honored, were for a time quiescent. When the news reached Madrid, Philip was extremely disconcerted. The death of Requesens excited his indignation. He was angry with him, not for dying, but for dying at so very inconvenient a moment. He had not yet fully decided either upon his successor, or upon the policy to be enforced by his successor. There were several candidates for the vacant post; there was a variety of opinions in the cabinet as to the course of conduct to be adopted. In the impossibility of instantly making up his mind upon this unexpected emergency, Philip fell, as it were, into a long reverie, than which nothing could be more inopportune. With a country in a state of revolution and exasperation, the trance, which now seemed to come over the government, was like to be followed by deadly effects. The stationary policy, which the death of Requesens had occasioned, was allowed to prolong itself indefinitely, and almost for the first time in his life, Joachim Hopper was really consulted about the affairs of that department over which he imagined himself, and was generally supposed by others, to preside at Madrid. The creature of Viglius, having all the subserviency, with none of the acuteness of his patron, he had been long employed as chief of the Netherland bureau, while kept in profound ignorance of the affairs which were transacted in his office. He was a privy councillor, whose counsels were never heeded, a confidential servant in whom the king reposed confidence, only on the ground that no man could reveal secrets which he did not know. This deportment of the king’s showed that he had accurately measured the man, for Hopper was hardly competent for the place of a chief clerk. He was unable to write clearly in any language, because incapable of a fully developed thought upon any subject. It may be supposed that nothing but an abortive policy, therefore, would be produced upon the occasion thus suddenly offered. “’Tis a devout man, that poor Master Hopper,” said Granvelle, “but rather fitted for platonic researches than for affairs of state.”
It was a proof of this incompetence, that now, when really called upon for advice in an emergency, he should recommend a continuance of the interim. Certainly nothing worse could be devised. Granvelle recommended a reappointment of the Duchess Margaret. Others suggested Duke Eric of Brunswick, or an archduke of the Austrian house, although the opinion held by most of the influential councillors was in favor of Don John of Austria. In the interests of Philip and his despotism, nothing, at any rate, could be more fatal than delay.
In the condition of affairs which then existed, the worst or feeblest governor would have been better than none at all. To leave a vacancy was to play directly into the hands of Orange, for it was impossible that so skilful an adversary should not at once perceive the fault, and profit by it to the utmost. It was strange that Philip did not see the danger of inactivity at such a crisis. Assuredly, indolence was never his vice, but on this occasion indecision did the work of indolence.
Unwittingly, the despot was assisting the efforts of the liberator. Viglius saw the position of matters with his customary keenness, and wondered at the blindness of Hopper and Philip. At the last gasp of a life, which neither learning nor the accumulation of worldly prizes and worldly pelf could redeem from intrinsic baseness, the sagacious but not venerable old man saw that a chasm was daily widening, in which the religion and the despotism which he loved might soon be hopelessly swallowed. “The Prince of Orange and his Beggars do not sleep,” he cried, almost in anguish, “nor will they be quiet till they have made use of this interregnum to do us some immense grievance.”
Certainly the Prince of Orange did not sleep upon this nor any other great occasion of his life. In his own vigorous language, used to stimulate his friends in various parts of the country, he seized the swift occasion by the forelock. He opened a fresh correspondence with many leading gentlemen in Brussels and other places in the Netherlands—persons of influence, who now, for the first time, showed a disposition to side with their country against its tyrants. Hitherto the land had been divided into two very unequal portions. Holland and Zealand were devoted to the prince; their whole population, with hardly an individual exception, converted to the Reformed religion. The other fifteen provinces were, on the whole, loyal to the king, while the old religion had, of late years, taken root so rapidly again, that perhaps a moiety of their population might be considered as Catholic. At the same time, the reign of terror under Alva, the paler, but not less distinct tyranny of Requesens, and the intolerable excesses of the foreign soldiery, by which the government of foreigners was supported, had at last maddened all the inhabitants of the seventeen provinces. Notwithstanding, therefore, the fatal difference of religious opinion, they were all drawn into closer relations with each other, to regain their ancient privileges, and to expel the detested foreigners from the soil, being objects common to all. The provinces were united in one great hatred and one great hope.
The Hollanders and Zealanders, under their heroic leader, had well-nigh accomplished both tasks, so far as those little provinces were concerned. Never had a contest, however, seemed more hopeless at its commencement. Cast a glance at the map. Look at Holland, not the Republic, with its sister provinces beyond the Zuyder Zee, but Holland only, with the Zealand archipelago. Look at that narrow tongue of half-submerged earth. Who could suppose that upon that slender sand-bank, one hundred and twenty miles in length, and varying in breadth from four miles to forty, one man, backed by the population of a handful of cities, could do battle nine years long with the master of two worlds, the “Dominator of Asia, Africa, and America”—the despot of the fairest realms of Europe—and conquer him at last. Nor was William even entirely master of that narrow shoal where clung the survivors of a great national shipwreck. North and South Holland were cut in two by the loss of Harlem, while the enemy was in possession of the natural capital of the little country, Amsterdam. The Prince affirmed that the cause had suffered more from the disloyalty of Amsterdam than from all the efforts of the enemy.
Moreover, the country was in a most desolate condition. It was almost literally a sinking ship. The destruction of the bulwarks against the ocean had been so extensive, in consequence of the voluntary inundations which have been described in previous pages and by reason of the general neglect which more vital occupations had necessitated, that an enormous outlay, both of labor and money, was now indispensable to save the physical existence of the country. The labor and the money, notwithstanding the crippled and impoverished condition of the nation, were, however, freely contributed; a wonderful example of energy and patient heroism was again exhibited. The dykes which had been swept away in every direction were renewed at a vast expense. Moreover, the country, in the course of recent events, had become almost swept bare of its cattle, and it was necessary to pass a law forbidding, for a considerable period, the slaughter of any animals, “oxen, cows, calves, sheep, or poultry.” It was, unfortunately, not possible to provide by law against that extermination of the human population which had been decreed by Philip and the pope.
Such was the physical and moral condition of the provinces of Holland and Zealand. The political constitution of both assumed, at this epoch, a somewhat altered aspect. The union between the two states, effected in June 1575, required improvement. The administration of justice, the conflicts of laws, and more particularly the levying of monies and troops in equitable proportions, had not been adjusted with perfect smoothness. The estates of the two provinces, assembled in congress at Delft, concluded, therefore, a new act of union, which was duly signed upon April 25, 1576. Those estates, consisting of the knights and nobles of Holland, with the deputies from the cities and countships of Holland and Zealand, had been duly summoned by the Prince of Orange. They as fairly included all the political capacities, and furnished as copious a representation of the national will, as could be expected, for it is apparent upon every page of his history, that the Prince, upon all occasions, chose to refer his policy to the approval and confirmation of as large a portion of the people as any man in those days considered capable or desirous of exercising political functions.
The new union consisted of eighteen articles. It was established that deputies from all the estates should meet, when summoned by the Prince of Orange or otherwise, on penalty of fine, and at the risk of measures binding upon them being passed by the rest of the Congress. Freshly arising causes of litigation were to be referred to the Prince. Free intercourse and traffic through the united provinces was guaranteed. The confederates were mutually to assist each other in preventing all injustice, wrong, or violence, even towards an enemy. The authority of law and the pure administration of justice were mutually promised by the contracting states. The common expenses were to be apportioned among the different provinces, “as if they were all included in the republic of a single city.” Nine commissioners, appointed by the Prince on nomination by the estates, were to sit permanently, as his advisers, and as assessors and collectors of the taxes. The tenure of the union was from six months to six months, with six weeks’ notice.
The framers of this compact having thus defined the general outlines of the confederacy, declared that the government thus constituted, should be placed under a single head. They accordingly conferred supreme authority on the Prince, refining his powers in eighteen articles. He was declared chief commander by land and sea. He was to appoint all officers, from generals to subalterns, and to pay them at his discretion. The whole protection of the land was devolved upon him. He was to send garrisons or troops into every city and village at his pleasure, without advice or consent of the estates, magistrates of the cities, or any other persons whatsoever. He was, in behalf of the king as Count of Holland and Zealand, to cause justice to be administered by the supreme court. In the same capacity he was to provide for vacancies in all political and judicial offices of importance, choosing, with the advice of the estates, one officer for each vacant post out of three candidates nominated to him by that body. He was to appoint and renew, at the usual times, the magistracies in the cities, according to the ancient constitutions. He was to make changes in those boards, if necessary, at unusual times, with consent of the majority of those representing the great council and corpus of the said cities.” He was to uphold the authority and preeminence of all civil functionaries, and to prevent governors and military officers from taking any cognizance of political or judicial affairs. With regard to religion, he was to maintain the practice of the Reformed Evangelical religion, and to cause to surcease the exercise of all other religions contrary to the Gospel. He was, however, not to permit that inquisition should be made into any man’s belief or conscience, or that any man by cause thereof should suffer trouble, injury, or hindrance.
The league thus concluded was a confederation between a group of virtually independent little republics. Each municipality, was, as it were, a little sovereign, sending envoys to a congress to vote and to sign as plenipotentiaries. The vote of each city was, therefore, indivisible, and it mattered little, practically, whether there were one deputy or several. The nobles represented not only their own order, but were supposed to act also in behalf of the rural population. On the whole, there was a tolerably fair representation of the whole ration. The people were well and worthily represented in the government of each city, and therefore equally so in the assembly of the estates. It was not till later that the corporations, by the extinction of the popular element, and by the usurpation of the right of self-election, were thoroughly stiffened into fictitious personages which never died, and which were never thoroughly alive.
At this epoch the provincial liberties, so far as they could maintain themselves against Spanish despotism, were practical and substantial. The government was a representative one, in which all those who had the inclination possessed, in one mode or another, a voice. Although the various members of the confederacy were locally and practically republics or self-governed little commonwealths, the general government which they established was, in form, monarchical. The powers conferred upon Orange constituted him a sovereign ad interim, for while the authority of the Spanish monarch remained suspended, the Prince was invested, not only with the whole executive and appointing power, but even with a very large share in the legislative functions of the state.
The whole system was rather practical than theoretical, without any accurate distribution of political powers. In living, energetic communities, where the blood of the body politic circulates swiftly, there is an inevitable tendency of the different organs to sympathize and commingle more closely than à priori philosophy would allow. It is usually more desirable than practicable to keep the executive, legislative, and judicial departments entirely independent of each other.
Certainly, the Prince of Orange did not at that moment indulge in speculations concerning the nature and origin of government. The Congress of Delft had just clothed him with almost regal authority. In his hands were the powers of war and peace, joint control of the magistracies and courts of justice, absolute supremacy over the army and the fleet. It is true that these attributes had been conferred upon him ad interim, but it depended only upon himself to make the sovereignty personal and permanent. He was so thoroughly absorbed in his work, however, that he did not even see the diadem which he put aside. It was small matter to him whether they called him stadholder or guardian, prince or king. He was the father of his country and its defender. The people, from highest to lowest, called him “Father William,” and the title was enough for him. The question with him was, not what men should call him, but how he should best accomplish his task.
So little was he inspired by the sentiment of self-elevation, that he was anxiously seeking for a fitting person—strong, wise, and willing enough—to exercise the sovereignty which was thrust upon himself, but which he desired to exchange against an increased power to be actively useful to his country. To expel the foreign oppressor, to strangle the Inquisition, to maintain the ancient liberties of the nation—here was labor enough for his own hands. The vulgar thought of carving a throne out of the misfortunes of his country seems not to have entered his mind. Upon one point, however, the prince had been peremptory. He would have no persecution of the opposite creed. He was requested to suppress the Catholic religion, in terms. As we have seen, he caused the expression to be exchanged for the words, “religion at variance with the Gospel.” He resolutely stood out against all meddling with men’s consciences, or inquiring into their thoughts. While smiting the Spanish Inquisition into the dust, he would have no Calvinist inquisition set up in its place. Earnestly a convert to the Reformed religion, but hating and denouncing only what was corrupt in the ancient Church, he would not force men, with fire and sword, to travel to heaven upon his own road. Thought should be toll free. Neither monk nor minister should burn, drown, or hang his fellow creatures, when argument or expostulation failed to redeem them from error. It was no small virtue, in that age, to rise to such a height. We know what Calvinists, Zwinglians, Lutherans, have done in the Netherlands, in Germany, in Switzerland, and almost a century later in New England. It is, therefore, with increased veneration that we regard this large and truly catholic mind. His tolerance proceeded from no indifference. No man can read his private writings, or form a thorough acquaintance with his interior life, without recognizing him as a deeply religious man. He had faith unfaltering in God. He had also faith in man and love for his brethren. It was no wonder that in that age of religious bigotry he should have been assaulted on both sides. While the pope excommunicated him as a heretic, and the king set a price upon his head as a rebel, the fanatics of the new religion denounced him as a godless man. Peter Dathenus, the unfrocked monk of Poperingen, shrieked out in his pulpit that the “Prince of Orange cared nothing either for God or for religion.”
The death of Requesens had offered the first opening through which the watchful prince could hope to inflict a wound in the vital part of Spanish authority in the Netherlands. The languor of Philip and the procrastinating counsel of the dull Hopper unexpectedly widened the opening. On the 24th of March, letters were written by his Majesty to the states-general, to the provincial estates, and to the courts of justice, instructing them that, until further orders, they were all to obey the Council of State. The king was confident that all would do their utmost to assist that body in securing the holy Catholic Faith and the implicit obedience of the country to its sovereign. He would, in the meantime, occupy himself with the selection of a new governor-general, who should be of his family and blood. This uncertain and perilous condition of things was watched with painful interest in neighboring countries.
The fate of all nations was more or less involved in the development of the great religious contest now waging in the Netherlands. England and France watched each other’s movements in the direction of the provinces with intense jealousy. The Protestant queen was the natural ally of the struggling Reformers, but her despotic sentiments were averse to the fostering of rebellion against the Lord’s anointed. The thrifty queen looked with alarm at the prospect of large subsidies which would undoubtedly be demanded of her. The jealous queen could as ill brook the presence of the French in the Netherlands as that of the Spaniards whom they were to expel. She therefore embarrassed, as usual, the operations of the prince by a course of stale political coquetry. She wrote to him, on the 18th of March, soon after the news of the Grand Commander’s death, saying that she could not yet accept the offer which had been made to her, to take the provinces of Holland and Zealand under her safe keeping, to assume, as countess, the sovereignty over them, and to protect the inhabitants against the alleged tyranny of the King of Spain. She was unwilling to do so until she had made every effort to reconcile them with that sovereign. Before the death of Requesens she had been intending to send him an envoy, proposing a truce, for the purpose of negotiation. This purpose she still retained. She should send commissioners to the Council of State and to the new governor, when he should arrive. She should also send a special envoy to the King of Spain. She doubted not that the king would take her advice, when he heard her speak in such straightforward language. In the meantime, she hoped that they would negotiate with no other powers.
This was not very satisfactory. The queen rejected the offers to herself, but begged that they might, by no means, be made to her rivals. The expressed intention of softening the heart of Philip by the use of straightforward language seemed but a sorry sarcasm. It was hardly worth while to wait long for so improbable a result. Thus much for England at that juncture. Not inimical, certainly; but over-cautious, ungenerous, teasing, and perplexing, was the policy of the Maiden Queen. With regard to France, events there seemed to favor the hopes of Orange. On the 14th of May, the “Peace of Monsieur,” the treaty by which so ample but so short-lived a triumph was achieved by the Huguenots, was signed at Paris. Everything was conceded, but nothing was secured. Rights of worship, rights of office, political and civil, religious enfranchisement, were recovered, but not guaranteed. It seemed scarcely possible that the king could be in earnest then, even if a Medicean Valois could ever be otherwise than treacherous. It was almost, certain, therefore, that a reaction would take place; but it is easier for us, three centuries after the event, to mark the precise moment of reaction, than it was for the most far-seeing contemporary to foretell how soon it would occur. In the meantime, it was the prince’s cue to make use of this sunshine while it lasted. Already, so soon as the union of the 25th of April had been concluded between Holland and Zealand, he had forced the estates to open negotiations with France. The provinces, although desirous to confer sovereignty upon him, were indisposed to renounce their old allegiance to their king in order to place it at the disposal of a foreigner. Nevertheless, a resolution, at the reiterated demands of Orange, was passed by the estates, to proceed to the change of master, and, for that purpose, to treat with the King of France, his brother, or any other foreign potentate, who would receive these provinces of Holland and Zealand under his government and protection. Negotiations were accordingly opened with the Duke of Anjou, the dilettante leader of the Huguenots at that remarkable juncture. It was a pity that no better champion could be looked for among the anointed of the earth than the false, fickle, foolish Alençon, whose career, everywhere contemptible, was nowhere so flagitious as in the Netherlands. By the fourteenth article of the Peace of Paris, the prince was reinstated and secured in his principality of Orange, and his other possessions in France. The best feeling, for the time being, was manifested between the French court and the Reformation.
Thus much for England and France. As for Germany, the prospects of the Netherlands were not flattering. The Reforming spirit had grown languid, from various causes. The self-seeking motives of many Protestant princes had disgusted the nobles. Was that the object of the bloody wars of religion, that a few potentates should be enabled to enrich themselves by confiscating the broad lands and accumulated treasures of the Church? Had the creed of Luther been embraced only for such unworthy ends? These suspicions chilled the ardor of thousands, particularly among the greater ones of the land. Moreover, the discord among the Reformers themselves waxed daily, and became more and more mischievous. Neither the people nor their leaders could learn that, not a new doctrine, but a wise toleration for all Christian doctrines was wanted. Of new doctrines there was no lack. Lutherans, Calvinists, Flaccianists, Majorists, Adiaphorists, Brantianists, Ubiquitists, swarmed and contended pell-mell. In this there would have been small harm, if the Reformers had known what reformation meant. But they could not invent or imagine toleration. All claimed the privilege of persecuting. There were sagacious and honest men among the great ones of the country, but they were but few. Wise William of Hesse strove hard to effect a concordia among the jarring sects; Count John of Nassau, though a passionate Calvinist, did no less; while the Elector of Saxony, on the other hand, raging and roaring like a bull of Bashan, was for sacrificing the interest of millions on the altar of his personal spite. Cursed was his tribe if he forgave the prince. He had done what he could at the Diet of Ratisbon to exclude all Calvinists from a participation in the religious peace of Germany, and he redoubled his efforts to prevent the extension of any benefits to the Calvinists of the Netherlands. These determinations had remained constant and intense.
On the whole, the political appearance of Germany was as menacing as that of France seemed for a time favorable to the schemes of Orange. The quarrels of the princes, and the daily widening schism between Lutherans and Calvinists, seemed to bode little good to the cause of religious freedom. The potentates were perplexed and at variance, the nobles lukewarm and discontented. Among the people, although subdivided into hostile factions, there was more life. Here, at least, were heartiness of love and hate, enthusiastic conviction, earnestness and agitation. “The true religion,” wrote Count John, “is spreading daily among the common men. Among the powerful, who think themselves highly learned, and who sit in roses, it grows, alas, little. Here and there a Nicodemus or two may be found, but things will hardly go better here than in France or the Netherlands.”
Thus, then, stood affairs in the neighboring countries. The prospect was black in Germany, more encouraging in France, dubious, or worse, in England. More work, more anxiety, more desperate struggles than ever, devolved upon the prince. Secretary Brunynck wrote that his illustrious chief was tolerably well in health, but so loaded with affairs, sorrows, and travails, that, from morning till night, he had scarcely leisure to breathe. Besides his multitudinous correspondence with the public bodies, whose labors he habitually directed; with the various estates of the provinces, which he was gradually molding into an organized and general resistance to the Spanish power; with public envoys and with secret agents to foreign cabinets, all of whom received their instructions from him alone; with individuals of eminence and influence, whom he was eloquently urging to abandon their hostile position to their fatherland, and to assist him in the great work which he was doing; besides these numerous avocations, he was actively and anxiously engaged during the spring of 1576, with the attempt to relieve the city of Zierickzee.
That important place, the capital of Schouwen, and the key to half Zealand, had remained closely invested since the memorable expedition to Duiveland. The prince had passed much of his time in the neighborhood, during the month of May, in order to attend personally to the contemplated relief, and to correspond daily with the beleaguered garrison. At last, on the 25th of May, a vigorous effort was made to throw in succor by sea. The brave Admiral Boisot, hero of the memorable relief of Leyden, had charge of the expedition. Mondragon had surrounded the shallow harbor with hulks and chains, and with a loose submerged dyke of piles and rubbish. Against this obstacle Boisot drove his ship, the “Red Lion,” with his customary audacity, but did not succeed in cutting it through. His vessel, the largest of the fleet, became entangled; he was, at the same time, attacked from a distance by the besiegers. The tide ebbed and left his ship aground, while the other vessels had been beaten back by the enemy. Night approached, and there was no possibility of accomplishing the enterprise. His ship was hopelessly stranded. With the morning’s sun his captivity was certain. Rather than fall into the hands of his enemy, he sprang into the sea, followed by three hundred of his companions, some of whom were fortunate enough to effect their escape. The gallant admiral swam a long time, sustained by a broken spar. Night and darkness came on before assistance could be rendered, and he perished. Thus died Louis Boisot, one of the most enterprising of the early champions of Netherland freedom—one of the bravest precursors of that race of heroes, the commanders of the Holland navy. The prince deplored his loss deeply as that of a “valiant gentleman, and one well affectioned to the common cause.” His brother, Charles Boisot, as will be remembered, had perished by treachery at the first landing of the Spanish troops, after their perilous passage from Duiveland. Thus both the brethren had laid down their lives for their country, on this its outer barrier, and in the hour of its utmost need. The fall of the beleaguered town could no longer be deferred. The Spaniards were, at last, to receive the prize of that romantic valor which had led them across the bottom of the sea to attack the city. Nearly nine months had, however, elapsed since that achievement; and the Grand Commander, by whose orders it had been undertaken, had been four months in his grave. He was permitted to see neither the long-delayed success which crowned the enterprise, nor the procession of disasters and crimes which were to mark it as a most fatal success.
On June 21, 1576, Zierickzee, instructed by the Prince of Orange to accept honorable terms, if offered, agreed to surrender. Mondragon, whose soldiers were in a state of suffering, and ready to break out in mutiny, was but too happy to grant an honorable capitulation. The garrison were allowed to go out with their arms and personal baggage. The citizens were permitted to retain or resume their privileges and charters, on payment of 200,000 guldens. Of sacking and burning there was, on this occasion, fortunately, no question; but the first half of the commutation money was to be paid in cash. There was but little money in the impoverished little town, but mint-masters were appointed by the magistrates to take their seats at once in the Hôtel de Ville. The citizens brought their spoons and silver dishes, one after another, which were melted and coined into dollars and half-dollars, until the payment was satisfactorily adjusted. Thus fell Zierickzee, to the deep regret of the Prince. “Had we received the least succor in the world from any side,” he wrote, “the poor city should never have fallen. I could get nothing from France or England, with all my efforts. Nevertheless, we do not lose courage, but hope that, although abandoned by all the world, the Lord God will extend His right hand over us.”
The enemies were not destined to go farther. From their own hand now came the blow which was to expel them from the soil which they had so long polluted. No sooner was Zierickzee captured, than a mutiny broke forth among several companies of Spaniards and Walloons, belonging to the army in Schouwen. A large number of the most influential officers had gone to Brussels, to make arrangements, if possible, for the payment of the troops. In their absence there was more scope for the arguments of the leading mutineers—arguments assuredly, not entirely destitute of justice or logical precision. If ever laborers were worthy of their hire, certainly it was the Spanish soldiery. Had they not done the work of demons for nine years long? Could Philip or Alva have found in the wide world men to execute their decrees with more unhesitating docility, with more sympathizing eagerness? What obstacle had ever given them pause in their career of duty? What element had they not braved? Had not they fought within the bowels of the earth, beneath the depths of the sea, within blazing cities, and upon fields of ice? Where was the work which had been too dark and bloody for their performance? Had they not slaughtered unarmed human beings by townfulls, at the word of command? Had they not eaten the flesh, and drank the hearts’ blood of their enemies? Had they not stained the house of God with wholesale massacre? What altar and what hearthstone had they not profaned? What fatigue, what danger, what crime, had ever checked them for a moment? And for all this obedience, labor, and bloodshed, were they not even to be paid such wages as the commonest clown, who only tore the earth at home, received? Did Philip believe that a few thousand Spaniards were to execute his sentence of death against three millions of Netherlanders, and be cheated of their pay at last?
It was in vain that arguments and expostulations were addressed to soldiers who were suffering from want, and maddened by injustice. They determined to take their cause into their own hand, as they had often done before. By the 15th of July, the mutiny was general on the isle of Schouwen. Promises were freely offered, both of pay and pardon; appeals were made to their old sense of honor and loyalty; but they had had enough of promises, of honor, and of work. What they wanted now were shoes and jerkins, bread and meat, and money. Money they would have, and that at once. The King of Spain was their debtor. The Netherlands belonged to the King of Spain. They would therefore levy on the Netherlands for payment of their debt. Certainly this was a logical deduction. They knew by experience that this process had heretofore excited more indignation in the minds of the Netherland people than in that of their master. Moreover, at this juncture, they cared little for their sovereign’s displeasure, and not at all for that of the Netherlanders. By the middle of July, then, the mutineers, now entirely beyond control, held their officers imprisoned within their quarters at Zierickzee. They even surrounded the house of Mondragon, who had so often led them to victory, calling upon him with threats and taunts to furnish them with money. The veteran, roused to fury by their insubordination and their taunts, sprang from his house into the midst of the throng. Baring his breast before them, he fiercely invited and dared their utmost violence. Of his life-blood, he told them bitterly, he was no niggard, and it was at their disposal. His wealth, had he possessed any, would have been equally theirs. Shamed into temporary respect, but not turned from their purpose by the choler of their chief, they left him to himself. Soon afterwards, having swept Schouwen island bare of everything which could be consumed, the mutineers swarmed out of Zealand into Brabant, devouring as they went.
It was their purpose to hover for a time in the neighborhood of the capital, and either to force the Council of State to pay them their long arrears, or else to seize and sack the richest city upon which they could lay their hands. The compact, disciplined mass, rolled hither and thither, with uncertainty of purpose, but with the same military precision of movement which had always characterized these remarkable mutinies. It gathered strength daily. The citizens of Brussels contemplated with dismay the eccentric and threatening apparition. They knew that rapine, murder, and all the worst evils which man can inflict on his brethren were pent within it, and would soon descend. Yet, even with all their past experience, did they not foresee the depth of woe which was really impending. The mutineers had discarded such of their officers as they could not compel to obedience, and had, as usual, chosen their Eletto. Many straggling companies joined them as they swept to and fro. They came to Herenthals, where they were met by Count Mansfeld, who was deputed by the Council of State to treat with them, to appeal to them, to pardon them, to offer them everything but money. It may be supposed that the success of the commander-in-chief was no better than that of Mondragon and his subalterns. They laughed him to scorn when he reminded them how their conduct was tarnishing the glory which they had acquired by nine years of heroism. They answered with their former cynicism, that glory could be put neither into pocket nor stomach. They had no use for it; they had more than enough of it. “Give them money, or give them a city”—these were their last terms.
Sorrowfully and bodingly Mansfeld withdrew to consult again with the State Council. The mutineers then made a demonstration upon Mechlin, but that city having fortunately strengthened its garrison, was allowed to escape. They then hovered for a time outside the walls of Brussels. At Grimsberg, where they paused for a short period, they held a parley with Captain Montesdocca, whom they received with fair words and specious pretences. He returned to Brussels with the favorable tidings, and the mutineers swarmed off to Assche. Thither Montesdocca was again dispatched, with the expectation that he would be able to bring them to terms, but they drove him off with ,jeers and threats, finding that he brought neither money nor the mortgage of a populous city. The next day, after a feint or two in a different direction, they made a sudden swoop upon Alost, in Flanders. Here they had at last made their choice, and the town was carried by storm. All the inhabitants who opposed them were butchered, and the mutiny, at last established in a capital, was able to treat with the State Council upon equal terms. They were now between two and three thousand strong, disciplined, veteran troops, posted in a strong and wealthy city. One hundred parishes belonged to the jurisdiction of Alost, all of which were immediately laid under contribution.
The excitement was now intense in Brussels. Anxiety and alarm had given place to rage, and the whole population rose in arms to defend the capital, which was felt to be in imminent danger. This spontaneous courage of the burghers prevented the catastrophe, which was reserved for a sister city. Meantime, the indignation and horror excited by the mutiny were so universal that the Council of State could not withstand the pressure. Even the women and children demanded daily in the streets that the rebel soldiers should be declared outlaws. On the 26th of July, accordingly, the King of Spain was made to pronounce his Spaniards traitors and murderers. All men were enjoined to slay one or all of them, wherever they should be found; to refuse them bread, water, and fire, and to assemble at sound of bell, in every city, whenever the magistrates should order an assault upon them. A still more stringent edict was issued on the second of August, and so eagerly had these degrees been expected, that they were published throughout Flanders and Brabant almost as soon as issued. Hitherto the leading officers of the Spanish army had kept aloof from the insurgents, and frowned upon their proceedings. The Spanish member of the State Council, Jerome de Roda, had joined without opposition in the edict. As, however, the mutiny gathered strength on the outside, the indignation waxed daily within the capital. The citizens of Brussels, one and all, stood to their arms. Not a man could enter or leave without their permission. The Spaniards who were in the town, whether soldiers or merchants, were regarded with suspicion and abhorrence. The leading Spanish officers, Romero, Montesdocca, Verdugo, and others, who had attempted to quell the mutiny, had been driven off with threats and curses, their soldiers defying them and brandishing their swords in their very faces. On the other hand, they were looked upon with ill-will by the Netherlanders.
The most prominent Spanish personages in Brussels were kept in a state of half-imprisonment. Romero, Roda, Verdugo, were believed to favor at heart the cause of their rebellious troops, and the burghers of Brabant had come to consider all the king’s army in a state of rebellion. Believing the State Council powerless to protect them from the impending storm, they regarded that body with little respect, keeping it, as it were, in durance, while the Spaniards were afraid to walk the streets of Brussels for fear of being murdered. A retainer of Roda, who had ventured to defend the character and conduct of his master before a number of excited citizens, was slain on the spot.
In Antwerp, Champagny, brother of Granvelle, and governor of the city, was disposed to cultivate friendly relations with the Prince of Orange. Champagny hated the Spaniards, and the hatred seemed to establish enough of sympathy between himself and the liberal party to authorize confidence in him. The Prince dealt with him, but regarded him warily. Fifteen companies of German troops, under Colonel Altaemst, were suspected of a strong inclination to join the mutiny. They were withdrawn from Antwerp, and in their room came Count Oberstein, with his regiment, who swore to admit no suspicious person inside the gates, and in all things to obey the orders of Champagny. In the citadel, however, matters were very threatening. Sancho d’Avila, the governor, although he had not openly joined the revolt, treated the edict of outlawry against the rebellious soldiery with derision. He refused to publish a decree which he proclaimed infamous, and which had been extorted, in his opinion, from an impotent and trembling council. Even Champagny had not desired or dared to publish the edict within the city. The reasons alleged were his fears of irritating and alarming the foreign merchants, whose position was so critical and friendship so important at that moment. On the other hand, it was loudly and joyfully published in most other towns of Flanders and Brabant. In Brussels there were two parties, one holding the decree too audacious for his Majesty to pardon, the other clamoring for its instantaneous fulfillment. By far the larger and more influential portion of the population favored the measure, and wished the sentence of outlawry and extermination to be extended at once against all Spaniards and other foreigners in the service of the king. It seemed imprudent to wait until all the regiments had formally accepted the mutiny, and concentrated themselves into a single body.
At this juncture, on the last day of July, the Marquis of Havré, brother to the Duke of Aerschot, arrived out of Spain. He was charged by the king with conciliatory but unmeaning phrases to the estates. The occasion was not a happy one. There never was a time when direct and vigorous action had been more necessary. It was probably the king’s desire then, as much as it ever had been his desire at all, to make up the quarrel with his provinces. He had been wearied with the policy which Alva had enforced, and for which he endeavored at that period to make the duke appear responsible. The barren clemency which the Grand Commander had been instructed to affect, had deceived but few persons, and had produced but small results. The king was, perhaps, really inclined at this juncture to exercise clemency—that is to say, he was willing to pardon his people for having contended for their rights, provided they were now willing to resign them forever. So long as the Catholic religion and his own authority were exclusively and inviolably secured, he was willing to receive his disobedient provinces into favor. To accomplish this end, however, he had still no more fortunate conception than to take the advice of Hopper. A soothing procrastination was the anodyne selected for the bitter pangs of the body politic—a vague expression of royal benignity the styptic to be applied to its mortal wounds. An interval of hesitation was to bridge over the chasm between the provinces and their distant metropolis. “The Marquis of Havré has been sent,” said the king, “that he may expressly witness to you of our good intentions, and of our desire, with the grace of God, to bring about a pacification.” Alas, it was well known whence those pavements of good intentions had been taken, and whither they would lead. They were not the material for a substantial road to reconciliation. “His Majesty,” said the marquis, on delivering his report to the State Council, “has long been pondering over all things necessary to the peace of the land. His Majesty, like a very gracious and bountiful Prince, has ever been disposed, in times past, to treat these, his subjects, by the best and sweetest means.” There being, however, room for an opinion that so bountiful a prince might have discovered sweeter means, by all this pondering, than to burn and gibbet his subjects by thousands, it was thought proper to insinuate that his orders had been hitherto misunderstood. Alva and Requesens had been unfaithful agents, who did not know their business, but it was to be set right in future. “As the good-will and meaning of his Majesty has by no means been followed,” continued the envoy, “his Majesty has determined to send Councillor Hopper, keeper of the privy seal, and myself, hitherwards, to execute the resolutions of his Majesty.” Two such personages as poor, plodding, confused, time-serving Hopper, and flighty, talkative Havré, whom even Requesens despised, and whom Don John, while shortly afterwards recommending him for a state councillor, characterized to Philip as “a very great scoundrel,” would hardly be able, even if royally empowered, to undo the work of two preceding administrations. Moreover, Councillor Hopper, on further thoughts, was not dispatched at all to the Netherlands.
The provinces were, however, assured by the king’s letters to the Brabant estates, to the State Council, and other public bodies, as well as by the report of the Marquis, that efficacious remedies were preparing in Madrid. The people were only to wait patiently till they should arrive. The public had heard before of these nostrums, made up by the royal prescriptions in Spain; and were not likely to accept them as a panacea for their present complicated disorders. Never, in truth, had conventional commonplace been applied more unseasonably. Here was a general military mutiny flaming in the very center of the land. Here had the intense hatred of race, which for years had been gnawing at the heart of the country, at last broken out into most malignant manifestation. Here was nearly the whole native population of every province, from grand seigneur to plebeian, from Catholic prelate to Anabaptist artisan; exasperated alike by the excesses of 6,000 foreign brigands, and united by a common hatred, into a band of brethren. Here was a State Council too feeble to exercise the authority which it had arrogated, trembling between the wrath of its sovereign, the menacing cries of the Brussels burghers, and the wild threats of the rebellious army; and held virtually captive in the capital which it was supposed to govern.
Certainly, the confirmation of the Council in its authority, for an indefinite, even if for a brief period, was a most unlucky step at this juncture. There were two parties in the provinces, but one was far the most powerful upon the great point of the Spanish soldiery. A vast majority were in favor of a declaration of outlawry against the whole army, and it was thought desirable to improve the opportunity by getting rid of them altogether. If the people could rise en masse, now that the royal government was in abeyance, and, as it were, in the nation’s hands, the incubus might be cast off for ever. If any of the Spanish officers had been sincere in their efforts to arrest the mutiny, the sincerity was not believed. If any of the foreign regiments of the king appeared to hesitate at joining the Alost crew, the hesitation was felt to be temporary. Meantime, the important German regiments of Fugger, Fronsberger, and Polwiller, with their colonels and other officers, had openly joined the rebellion, while there was no doubt of the sentiments of Sancho d’Avila and the troops under his command. Thus there were two great rallying-places for the sedition, and the most important fortress of the country, the key which unlocked the richest city in the world, was in the hands of the mutineers. The commercial capital of Europe, filled to the brim with accumulated treasures, and with the merchandice of every clime, lay at the feet of this desperate band of brigands. The horrible result was but too soon to be made manifest.
Meantime, in Brussels, the few Spaniards trembled for their lives. The few officers shut up there were in imminent danger. “As the Devil does not cease to do his work,” wrote Colonel Verdugo, “he has put it into the heads of the Brabanters to rebel, taking for a pretext the mutiny of the Spaniards. The Brussels men have handled their weapons so well against those who were placed there to protect them, that they have begun to kill the Spaniards, threatening likewise the Council of State. Such is their insolence, that they care no more for these great lords than for so many varlets.” The writer, who had taken refuge, together with Jerome de Roda and other Spaniards, or “Hispaniolized” persons, in Antwerp citadel, proceeded to sketch the preparations which were going on in Brussels, and the counter-measures which were making progress in Antwerp. “The states,” he wrote, “are enrolling troops, saying ’tis to put down the mutiny; but I assure you ’tis to attack the army indiscriminately. To prevent such a villanous undertaking, troops of all nations are assembling here, in order to march straight upon Brussels, there to enforce everything which my lords of the State Council shall ordain.” Events were obviously hastening to a crisis-an explosion, before long, was inevitable. “I wish I had my horses here,” continued the colonel, “and must beg you to send them. I see a black cloud hanging over our heads. I fear that the Brabantines will play the beasts so much, that they will have all the soldiery at their throats.”
Jerome de Roda had been fortunate enough to make his escape out of Brussels, and now claimed to be sole governor of the Netherlands, as the only remaining representative of the State Council. His colleagues were in durance at the capital. Their authority was derided. Although not yet actually imprisoned, they were in reality bound hand and foot, and compelled to take their orders either from the Brabant estates or from the burghers of Brussels. It was not an illogical proceeding, therefore, that Roda, under the shadow of the Antwerp citadel, should set up his own person as all that remained of the outraged majesty of Spain. Till the new governor, Don Juan, should arrive, whose appointment the king had already communicated to the government, and who might be expected in the Netherlands before the close of the autumn, the solitary councillor claimed to embody the whole Council. He caused a new seal to be struck—a proceeding very unreasonably charged as forgery by the provincials—and forthwith began to thunder forth proclamations and counter-proclamations in the king’s name and under the royal seal. It is difficult to see any technical crime or mistake in such a course. As a Spaniard, and a representative of his Majesty, he could hardly be expected to take any other view of his duty. At any rate, being called upon to choose between rebellious Netherlanders and mutinous Spaniards, he was not long in making up his mind.
By the beginning of September the mutiny was general. All the Spanish army, from general to pioneer, were united. The most important German troops had taken side with them. Sancho d’Avila held the citadel of Antwerp, vowing vengeance, and holding open communication with the soldiers at Alost. The Council of State remonstrated with him for his disloyalty. He replied by referring to his long years of service, and by reproving them for affecting an authority which their imprisonment rendered ridiculous. The Spaniards were securely established. The various citadels which had been built by Charles and Philip to curb the country now effectually did their work. With the castles of Antwerp, Valenciennes, Ghent, Utrecht, Culemburg, Viane, Alost, in the hands of 6,000 veteran Spaniards, the country seemed chained in every limb. The foreigner’s foot was on its neck. Brussels was almost the only considerable town out of Holland and Zealand which was even temporarily safe. The important city of Maestricht was held by a Spanish garrison while other capital towns and stations were in the power of the Walloon and German mutineers. The depredations committed in the villages, the open country, and the cities were incessant, the Spaniards treating every Netherlander as their foe. Gentleman and peasant, Protestant and Catholic, priest and layman, all were plundered, maltreated, outraged. The indignation became daily more general and more intense. There were frequent skirmishes between the soldiery and promiscuous bands of peasants, citizens, and students, conflicts in which the Spaniards were invariably victorious. What could such half-armed and wholly untrained partisans effect against the bravest and most experienced troops in the whole world? Such results only increased the general exasperation, while they impressed upon the whole people the necessity of some great and general effort to throw off the incubus.
The Congress of Ghent and the “Spanish Fury”
Meantime, the Prince of Orange sat at Middelburg, watching the storm. The position of Holland and Zealand with regard to the other fifteen provinces was distinctly characterized. Upon certain points there was an absolute sympathy, while upon others there was a grave and almost fatal difference. It was the task of the prince to deepen the sympathy, to extinguish the difference.
In Holland and Zealand, there was a warm and nearly universal adhesion to the Reformed religion, a passionate attachment to the ancient political liberties. The prince, although an earnest Calvinist himself, did all in his power to check the growing spirit of intolerance toward the old religion, omitted no opportunity of strengthening the attachment which the people justly felt for their liberal institutions.
On the other hand, in most of the other provinces, the Catholic religion had been regaining its ascendency. Even in 1574, the estates assembled at Brussels declared to Requesens that they would rather die the death than see any change in their religion. That feeling had rather increased than diminished. Although there was a strong party attached to the new faith, there was perhaps a larger, certainly a more influential body, which regarded the ancient Church with absolute fidelity. Owing partly to the persecution which had, in the course of years, banished so many thousands of families from the soil, partly to the coercion, which was more stringent in the immediate presence of the Crown’s representative, partly to the stronger infusion of the Celtic element, which from the earliest ages had always been so keenly alive to the more sensuous and splendid manifestations of the devotional principle—owing to these and many other causes, the old religion, despite of all the outrages which had been committed in its name, still numbered a host of zealous adherents in the fifteen provinces. Attempts against its sanctity were regarded with jealous eyes. It was believed, and with reason, that there was a disposition on the part of the Reformers to destroy it root and branch. It was suspected that the same enginery of persecution would be employed in its extirpation, should the opposite party gain the supremacy, which the papists had so long employed against the converts to the new religion.
As to political convictions, the fifteen provinces differed much less from their two sisters. There was a strong attachment to their old constitutions, a general inclination to make use of the present crisis to effect their restoration. At the same time, it had not come to be the general conviction, as in Holland and Zealand, that the maintenance of those liberties was incompatible with the continuance of Philip’s authority. There was, moreover, a strong aristocratic faction which was by no means disposed to take a liberal view of government in general, and regarded with apprehension the simultaneous advance of heretical notions both in church and state. Still there were, on the whole, the elements of a controlling constitutional party throughout the fifteen provinces. The great bond of sympathy, however, between all the seventeen was their common hatred to the foreign soldiery. Upon this deeply imbedded, immovable fulcrum of an ancient national hatred, the sudden mutiny of the whole Spanish army served as a lever of incalculable power. The prince seized it as from the hand of God. Thus armed, he proposed to himself the task of upturning the mass of oppression under which the old liberties of the country had so long been crushed. To effect this object, adroitness was as requisite as courage. Expulsion of the foreign soldiery, union of the seventeen provinces, a representative constitution, according to the old charters, by the states-general, under a hereditary chief, a large religious toleration, suppression of all inquisition into men’s consciences—these were the great objects to which the prince now devoted himself with renewed energy.
To bring about a general organization and a general union, much delicacy of handling was necessary. The sentiment of extreme Catholicism and Monarchism was not to be suddenly scared into opposition. The prince, therefore, in all his addresses and documents was careful to disclaim any intention of disturbing the established religion, or of making any rash political changes. “Let no man think,” said he, to the authorities of Brabant, “that, against the will of the estates, we desire to bring about any change in religion. Let no one suspect us capable of prejudicing the rights of any man. We have long since taken up arms to maintain a legal and constitutional freedom, founded upon law. God forbid that we should now attempt to introduce novelties, by which the face of liberty should be defiled.”
In a brief and very spirited letter to Count Lalain, a Catholic and a loyalist, but a friend of his country and fervent hater of foreign oppression, he thus appealed to his sense of chivalry and justice: “Although the honorable house from which you spring,” he said, “and the virtue and courage of your ancestors have always impressed me with the conviction that you would follow in their footsteps, yet am I glad to have received proofs that my anticipations were correct. I cannot help, therefore, entreating you to maintain the same high heart, and to accomplish that which you have so worthily begun. Be not deluded by false masks, mumming faces, and borrowed titles, which people assume for their own profit, persuading others that the King’s service consists in the destruction of his subjects.”
While thus careful to offend no man’s religious convictions, to startle no man’s loyalty, he made skillful use of the general indignation felt at the atrocities of the mutinous army. This chord he struck boldly, powerfully, passionately, for he felt sure of the depth and strength of its vibrations. In his address to the estates of Gelderland, he used vigorous language, inflaming and directing to a practical purpose the just wrath which was felt in that, as in every other province. “I write to warn you,” he said, “to seize this present opportunity. Shake from your necks the yoke of the godless Spanish tyranny, join yourselves at once to the lovers of the fatherland, to the defenders of freedom. According to the example of your own ancestors and ours, redeem for the country its ancient laws, traditions, and privileges. Permit no longer, to your shame and ours, a band of Spanish landloupers and other foreigners, together with three or four self-seeking enemies of their own land, to keep their feet upon our necks. Let them no longer, in the very wantonness of tyranny, drive us about like a herd of cattle—like a gang of well-tamed slaves.”
Thus, day after day, in almost countless addresses to public bodies and private individuals, he made use of the crisis to pile fresh fuel upon the flames. At the same time, while thus fanning the general indignation, he had the adroitness to point out that the people had already committed themselves. He represented to them that the edict, by which they had denounced his Majesty’s veterans as outlaws, and had devoted them to the indiscriminate destruction which such brigands deserved, was likely to prove an unpardonable crime in the eyes of majesty. In short, they had entered the torrent. If they would avoid being dashed over the precipice, they must struggle manfully with the mad waves of civil war into which they had plunged. “I beg you, with all affection,” he said to the states of Brabant, “to consider the danger in which you have placed yourselves. You have to deal with the proudest and most overbearing race in the world. For these qualities they are hated by all other nations. They are even hateful to themselves. ’Tis a race which seeks to domineer wheresoever it comes. It particularly declares its intention to crush and to tyrannize you, my masters, and all the land. They have conquered you already, as they boast, for the crime of lese-majesty has placed you at their mercy. I tell you that your last act, by which you have declared this army to be rebels, is decisive. You have armed and excited the whole people against them, even to the peasants and the peasants’ children, and the insults and injuries thus received, however richly deserved and dearly avenged, are all set down to your account. Therefore, ’tis necessary for you to decide now, whether to be utterly ruined, yourselves and your children, or to continue firmly the work which you have begun boldly, and rather to die a hundred thousand deaths than to make a treaty with them, which can only end in your ruin. Be assured that the measure dealt to you will be ignominy as well as destruction. Let not your leaders expect the honorable scaffolds of Counts Egmont and Horn. The whipping post and then the gibbet will be their certain fate.”
Having by this and similar language, upon various occasions, sought to impress upon his countrymen the gravity of the position, he led them to seek the remedy in audacity and in union. He familiarized them with his theory, that the legal, historical government of the provinces belonged to the states-general, to a congress of nobles, clergy, and commons, appointed from each of the seventeen provinces. He maintained, with reason, that the government of the Netherlands was a representative constitutional government, under the hereditary authority of the king. To recover this constitution, to lift up these down-trodden rights, he set before them most vividly the necessity of union. “’Tis impossible,” he said, “that a chariot should move evenly having its wheels unequally proportioned; and so must a confederation be broken to pieces, if there be not an equal obligation on all to tend to a common purpose.” Union, close, fraternal, such as became provinces of a common origin and with similar laws, could alone save them from their fate. Union against a common tyrant to save a common fatherland. Union, by which differences of opinion should be tolerated, in order that a million of hearts should beat for a common purpose, a million hands work out, invincibly, a common salvation. “’Tis hardly necessary,” he said, “to use many words in recommendation of union. Disunion has been the cause of all our woes. There is no remedy, no hope, save in the bonds of friendship. Let all particular disagreements be left to the decision of the states-general, in order that with one heart and one will we may seek the disenthrallment of the fatherland from the tyranny of strangers.”
The first step to a thorough union among all the provinces was the arrangement of a closer connection between the now isolated states of Holland and Zealand on the one side, and their fifteen sisters on the other. The prince professed the readiness of those states which he might be said to represent in his single person, to draw as closely as possible the bonds of fellowship. It was almost superfluous for him to promise his own ready cooperation. “Nothing remains to us,” said he, “but to discard all jealousy and distrust. Let us, with a firm resolution and a common accord, liberate these lands from the stranger. Hand to hand let us accomplish a just and general peace. As for myself, I present to you, with very good affection, my person and all which I possess, assuring you that I shall regard all my labors and pains in times which are past, well bestowed, if God now grant me grace to see the desired end. That this end will be reached, if you hold fast your resolution and take to heart the means which God presents to you, I feel to be absolutely certain.”
Such were the tenor and the motives of the documents which he scattered broadcast at this crisis. They were addressed to the estates of nearly every province. Those bodies were urgently implored to appoint deputies to a general congress, at which a close and formal union between Holland and Zealand with the other provinces might be effected. That important measure secured, a general effort might, at the same time, be made to expel the Spaniard from the soil. This done, the remaining matters could be disposed of by the assembly of the estates-general. His eloquence and energy were not without effect. In the course of the autumn, deputies were appointed from the greater number of the provinces, to confer with the representatives of Holland and Zealand, in a general congress. The place appointed for the deliberations was the city of Ghent. Here, by the middle of October, a large number of delegates were already assembled.
Events were rapidly rolling together from every quarter, and accumulating to a crisis. A congress—a rebellious congress, as the king might deem it—was assembling at Ghent; the Spanish army, proscribed, lawless, and terrible, was strengthening itself daily for some dark and mysterious achievement; Don John of Austria, the king’s natural brother, was expected from Spain to assume the government, which the State Council was too timid to wield and too loyal to resign, while, meantime, the whole population of the Netherlands, with hardly an exception, was disposed to see the great question of the foreign soldiery settled, before the chaos then existing should be superseded by a more definite authority. Everywhere, men of all ranks and occupations—the artisan in the city, the peasant in the fields—were deserting their daily occupations to furbish helmets, handle muskets, and learn the trade of war. Skirmishes, sometimes severe and bloody, were of almost daily occurrence. In these the Spaniards were invariably successful, for whatever may be said of their cruelty and licentiousness, it cannot be disputed that their prowess was worthy of their renown. Romantic valor, unflinching fortitude, consummate skill, characterized them always. What could half-armed artisans achieve in the open plain against such accomplished foes? At Tisnacq, between Louvain and Tirlemont, a battle was attempted by a large miscellaneous mass of students, peasantry, and burghers, led by country squires. It soon changed to a carnage, in which the victims were all on one side. A small number of veterans headed by Vargas, Mendoza, Tassis, and other chivalrous commanders, routed the undisciplined thousands at a single charge. The rude militia threw away their arms, and fled panic-struck in all directions, at the first sight of their terrible foe. Two Spaniards lost their lives and two thousand Netherlanders. It was natural that these consummate warriors should despise such easily slaughtered victims. A single stroke of the iron flail, and the chaff was scattered to the four winds; a single sweep of the disciplined scythe, and countless acres were in an instant mown. Nevertheless, although beaten constantly, the Netherlanders were not conquered. Holland and Zealand had read the foe a lesson which he had not forgotten, and although on the open fields, and against the less vigorous population of the more central provinces, his triumphs had been easier, yet it was obvious that the spirit of resistance to foreign oppression was growing daily stronger, notwithstanding daily defeats.
Meantime, while these desultory but deadly combats were in daily progress, the Council of State was looked upon with suspicion by the mass of the population. That body, in which resided provisionally the powers of government, was believed to be desirous of establishing relations with the mutinous army. It was suspected of insidiously provoking the excesses which it seemed to denounce. It was supposed to be secretly intriguing with those whom its own edicts had outlawed. Its sympathies were considered Spanish. It was openly boasted by the Spanish army that, before long, they would descend from their fastnesses upon Brussels, and give the city to the sword. A shuddering sense of coming evil pervaded the population, but no man could say where the blow would first be struck. It was natural that the capital should be thought exposed to imminent danger. At the same time, while every man who had hands was disposed to bear arms to defend the city, the Council seemed paralyzed. The capital was insufficiently garrisoned, yet troops were not enrolling for its protection. The state councillors obviously omitted to provide for defense, and it was supposed that they were secretly assisting the attack. It was thought important, therefore, to disarm, or, at least, to control thin body which was impotent for protection, and seemed powerful only for mischief. It was possible to make it as contemptible as it was believed to be malicious.
An unexpected stroke was therefore suddenly leveled against the Council in full session. On the fifth of September, the Seigneur de Héze, a young gentleman of a bold, but unstable character, then entertaining close but secret relations with the Prince of Orange, appeared before the doors of the palace. He was attended by about five hundred troops, under the immediate command of the Seigneur de Glimes, bailiff of Walloon Brabant. He demanded admittance, in the name of the Brabant estates, to the presence of the State Council, and was refused. The doors were closed and bolted. Without further ceremony the soldiers produced iron bars brought with them for the purpose, forced all the gates from the hinges, entered the hall of session, and at a word from their commander, laid hands upon the councillors, and made every one prisoner. The Duke of Aerschot, President of the Council, who was then in close alliance with the prince, was not present at the meeting, but lay, forewarned, at home, confined to his couch by a sickness assumed for the occasion. Viglius, who rarely participated in the deliberations of the board, being already afflicted with the chronic malady under which he was ere long to succumb, also escaped the fate of his fellow senators. The others were carried into confinement. Berlaymont and Mansfeld were imprisoned in the Brood-Huyse where the last mortal hours of Egmont and Horn had been passed. Others were kept strictly guarded in their own houses. After a few weeks, most of them were liberated. Councillor Del Rio was, however, retained in confinement, and sent to Holland, where he was subjected to a severe examination by the Prince of Orange, touching his past career, particularly concerning the doings of the famous Blood-Council. The others were set free, and even permitted to resume their functions, but their dignity was gone, their authority annihilated. Thenceforth the states of Brabant and the community of Brussels were to govern for an interval, for it was in their name that the daring blow against the Council had been struck. All individuals and bodies, however, although not displeased with the result, clamorously disclaimed responsibility for the deed. Men were appalled at the audacity of the transaction, and dreaded the vengeance of the king. The Abbot Van Perch, one of the secret instigators of the act, actually died of anxiety for its possible consequences. There was a mystery concerning the affair. They in whose name it had been accomplished, denied having given any authority to the perpetrators. Men asked each other what unseen agency had been at work, what secret spring had been adroitly touched. There is but little doubt, however, that the veiled but skillful hand which directed the blow, was the same which had so long been guiding the destiny of the Netherlands.
It had been settled that the congress was to hold its sessions in Ghent, although the citadel commanding that city was held by the Spaniards. The garrison was not very strong, and Mondragon, its commander, was absent in Zealand, but the wife of the veteran ably supplied his place, and stimulated the slender body of troops to hold out with heroism, under the orders of his lieutenant, Avilos Maldonado. The mutineers, after having accomplished their victory at Tisnacq, had been earnestly solicited to come to the relief of this citadel. They had refused and returned to Alost. Meantime, the siege was warmly pressed by the states. There being, however, a deficiency of troops, application for assistance was formally made to the Prince of Orange. Count Reulx, governor of Flanders, commissioned the Seigneur d’Haussy, brother of Count Bossu, who, to obtain the liberation of that long-imprisoned and distinguished nobleman, was about visiting the prince in Zealand, to make a request for an auxiliary force. It was, however, stipulated that care should be taken lest any prejudice should be done to the Roman Catholic religion or the authority of the king. The prince readily acceded to the request, and agreed to comply with the conditions under which only it could be accepted. He promised to send twenty-eight companies. In his letter announcing this arrangement, he gave notice that his troops would receive strict orders to do no injury to person or property, Catholic or Protestant, ecclesiastic or lay, and to offer no obstruction to the Roman religion or the royal dignity. He added, however, that it was not to be taken amiss, if his soldiers were permitted to exercise their own religious rites, and to sing their Protestant hymns within their own quarters. He moreover, as security for the expense and trouble, demanded the city of Sluys. The first detachment of troops, under command of Colonel Vander Tympel, was, however, hardly on its way, before an alarm was felt among the Catholic party at this practical alliance with the rebel prince. An envoy, named Ottingen, was dispatched to Zealand, bearing a letter from the estates of Hainault, Brabant, and Flanders, countermanding the request for troops, and remonstrating categorically upon the subject of religion and loyalty. Orange deemed such tergiversation paltry, but controlled his anger. He answered the letter in liberal terms, for he was determined that by no fault of his should the great cause be endangered. He reassured the estates as to the probable behavior of his troops. Moreover, they had been already admitted into the city, while the correspondence was proceeding. The matter of the psalm singing was finally arranged to the satisfaction of both parties, and it was agreed that Niewport, instead of Sluys, should be given to the prince as security.
The siege of the citadel was now pressed vigorously, and the deliberations of the congress were opened under the incessant roar of cannon. While the attack was thus earnestly maintained upon the important castle of Ghent, a courageous effort was made by the citizens of Maestricht to wrest their city from the hands of the Spaniards. The German garrison having been gained by the burghers, the combined force rose upon the Spanish troops, and drove them from the city. Montesdocca, the commander, was arrested and imprisoned, but the triumph was only temporary. Don Francis d’Ayala, Montesdocca’s lieutenant, made a stand, with a few companies, in Wieck, a village on the opposite side of the Meuse, and connected with the city by a massive bridge of stone. From this point he sent information to other commanders in the neighborhood. Don Ferdinand de Toledo soon arrived with several hundred troops from Dalem. The Spaniards, eager to wipe out the disgrace to their arms, loudly demanded to be led back to the city. The head of the bridge, however, over which they must pass, was defended by a strong battery, and the citizens were seen clustering in great numbers to defend their firesides against a foe whom they had once expelled. To advance across the bridge seemed certain destruction to the little force. Even Spanish bravery recoiled at so desperate an undertaking, but unscrupulous ferocity supplied an expedient where courage was at fault. There were few fighting men present among the population of Wieck, but there were many females. Each soldier was commanded to seize a woman, and, placing her before his own body, to advance across the bridge. The column, thus bucklered, to the shame of Spanish chivalry, by female bosoms, moved in good order toward the battery. The soldiers leveled their muskets with steady aim over the shoulders or under the arms of the women whom they thus held before them. On the other hand, the citizens dared not discharge their cannon at their own townswomen, among whose numbers many recognized mothers, sisters, or wives. The battery was soon taken, while at the same time Alonzo Vargas, who had effected his entrance from the land side by burning down the Brussels gate, now entered tire city at the head of a band of cavalry. Maestricht was recovered, and an indiscriminate slaughter instantly avenged its temporary loss. The plundering, stabbing, drowning, burning, ravishing, were so dreadful that, in the words of a cotemporary historian, “the burghers who had escaped the fight had reason to think themselves less fortunate than those who had died with arms in their hands.”
This was the lot of Maestricht on the 20th of October. It was instinctively felt to be the precursor of fresh disasters. Vague, incoherent, but widely disseminated rumors had long pointed to Antwerp and its dangerous situation. The Spaniards, foiled in their views upon Brussels, had recently avowed an intention of avenging themselves in the commercial capital. They had waited long enough, and accumulated strength enough. Such a trifling city as Alost could no longer content their cupidity, but in Antwerp there was gold enough for the gathering. There was reason for the fears of the inhabitants, for the greedy longing of their enemy. Probably no city in Christendom could at that day vie with Antwerp in wealth and splendor. Its merchants lived in regal pomp and luxury. In its numerous, massive warehouses were the treasures of every clime. Still serving as the main entrepot of the world’s traffic, the Brabantine capital was the center of that commercial system which was soon to be superseded by a larger international life. In the midst of the miseries which had so long been raining upon the Netherlands, the stately and egotistical city seemed to have taken stronger root and to flourish more freshly than ever. It was not wonderful that its palaces and its magazines glittering with splendor and bursting with treasure, should arouse the avidity of a reckless and famishing soldiery. Had not a handful of warriors of their own race rifled the golden Indies? Had not their fathers, few in number, strong in courage and discipline, reveled in the plunder of a new world? Here were the Indies in a single city. Here were gold and silver, pearls and diamonds, ready and portable; the precious fruit dropping, ripened, from the bough. Was it to be tolerated that base, pacific burghers should monopolize the treasure by which a band of heroes might be enriched?
A sense of coming evil diffused itself through the atmosphere. The air seemed lurid with the impending storm, for the situation was one of peculiar horror. The wealthiest city in Christendom lay at the mercy of the strongest fastness in the world; a castle which had been built to curb, not to protect, the town. It was now inhabited by a band of brigands, outlawed by government, strong in discipline, furious from penury, reckless by habit, desperate in circumstance—a crew which feared not God, nor man, nor Devil. The palpitating quarry lay expecting hourly the swoop of its trained and pitiless enemy, for the rebellious soldiers were now in a thorough state of discipline. Sancho d’Avila, castellan of the citadel, was recognized as the chief of the whole mutiny, the army and the mutiny being now one. The band, entrenched at Alost, were upon the best possible understanding with their brethren in the citadel, and accepted without hesitation the arrangements of their superior. On the side of the Scheld, opposite Antwerp, a fortification had been thrown up by Don Sancho’s orders, and held by Julian Romero. Lier, Breda, as well as Alost, were likewise ready to throw their reinforcements into the citadel at a moment’s warning. At the signal of their chief, the united bands might sweep from their impregnable castle with a single impulse.
The city cried aloud for help, for it had become obvious that an attack might be hourly expected. Meantime an attempt, made by Don Sancho d’Avila to tamper with the German troops stationed within the walls, was more than partially successful. The forces were commanded by Colonel Van Ende and Count Oberstein. Van Ende, a crafty traitor to his country, desired no better than to join the mutiny on so promising an occasion, and his soldiers shared his sentiments. Oberstein, a brave but blundering German, was drawn into the net of treachery by the adroitness of the Spaniard and the effrontery of his comrade. On the night of the 29th of October, half-bewildered and half-drunk, he signed a treaty with Sancho d’Avila and the three colonels—Fugger, Frondsberger, and Polwiller. By this unlucky document, which was of course subscribed also by Van Ende, it was agreed that the Antwerp burghers should be forthwith disarmed, that their weapons should be sent into the citadel, that Oberstein should hold the city at the disposition of Sancho d’Avila, that he should refuse admittance to all troops which might be sent into the city, excepting by command of Don Sancho, and that he should decline compliance with any orders which he might receive from individuals calling themselves the council of state, the states-general, or the estates of Brabant. This treaty was signed, moreover, by Don Jeronimo de Roda, then established in the citadel, and claiming to represent exclusively his Majesty’s government.
Hardly had this arrangement been concluded than the count saw the trap into which he had fallen. Without intending to do so, he had laid the city at the mercy of its foe, but the only remedy which suggested itself to his mind was an internal resolution not to keep his promises. The burghers were suffered to retain their arms, while, on the other hand, Don Sancho lost no time in dispatching messages to Alost, to Lier, to Breda, and even to Maestricht, that as large a force as possible might be assembled for the purpose of breaking immediately the treaty of peace which he had just concluded. Never was a solemn document regarded with such perfectly bad faith by all its signers as the accord of the 29th of October.
Three days afterwards, a large force of Walloons and Germans was dispatched from Brussels to the assistance of Antwerp. The command of these troops was entrusted to the Marquis of Havré, whose brother, the Duke of Aerschot, had been recently appointed chief superintendent of military affairs by the deputies assembled at Ghent. The miscellaneous duties comprehended under this rather vague denomination did not permit the duke to take charge of the expedition in person, and his younger brother, a still more incompetent and unsubstantial character, was accordingly appointed to the post. A number of young men, of high rank but of lamentably low capacity, were associated with him. Foremost among them was Philip, Count of Egmont, a youth who had inherited few of his celebrated father’s qualities, save personal courage and a love of personal display. In character and general talents he was beneath mediocrity. Beside these were the reckless but unstable De Heze, who had executed the coup d’etat against the State Council, De Berselen, De Capres, D’Oyngies, and others, all vaguely desirous of achieving distinction in those turbulent times, but few of them having any political or religious convictions, and none of them possessing experience or influence enough to render them useful at the impending crisis.
On Friday morning, the second of November, the troops appeared under the walls of Antwerp. They consisted of twenty-three companies of infantry and fourteen of cavalry, amounting to 5,000 foot and 1,200 horse. They were nearly all Walloons, soldiers who had already seen much active service, but unfortunately of a race warlike and fiery indeed, but upon whose steadiness not much more dependence could be placed at that day than in the age of Civilis. Champagny, brother of Granvelle, was governor of the city. He was a sincere Catholic, but a still more sincere hater of the Spaniards. He saw in the mutiny a means of accomplishing their expulsion, and had already offered to the Prince of Orange his eager cooperation towards this result. In other matters there could be but small sympathy between William the Silent and the cardinal’s brother, but a common hatred united them, for a time at least, in a common purpose.
When the troops first made their appearance before the walls, Champagny was unwilling to grant them admittance. The addle-brained Oberstein had confessed to him the enormous blunder which he had committed in his midnight treaty, and at the same time ingenuously confessed his intention of sending it to the winds. The enemy had extorted from his dullness or his drunkenness a promise, which his mature and sober reason could not consider binding. It is needless to say that Champagny rebuked him for signing, and applauded him for breaking the treaty. At the same time its ill effects were already seen in the dissensions which existed among the German troops. Where all had been tampered with, and where the commanders had set the example of infidelity, it would have been strange if all had held firm. On the whole, however, Oberstein thought he could answer for his own troops. Upon Van Ende’s division, although the crafty colonel dissembled his real intentions, very little reliance was placed. Thus there was distraction within the walls. Among those whom the burghers had been told to consider their defenders, there were probably many who were ready to join with their mortal foes at a moment’s warning. Under these circumstances, Champagny hesitated about admitting these fresh troops from Brussels. He feared lest the Germans, who knew themselves doubted, might consider themselves doomed. He trembled, lest an irrepressible outbreak should occur within the walls, rendering the immediate destruction of the city by the Spaniards from without inevitable. Moreover, he thought it more desirable that this auxiliary force should be disposed at different points outside, in order to intercept the passage of the numerous bodies of Spaniards and other mutineers, who from various quarters would soon be on their way to the citadel. Havré, however, was so peremptory, and the burghers were so importunate, that Champagny was obliged to recede from his opposition before twenty-four hours had elapsed. Unwilling to take the responsibility of a farther refusal, he admitted the troops through the Burgherhout gate, on Saturday, the third of November, at ten o’clock in the morning.
The Marquis of Havré, as commander-in-chief, called a council of war. It assembled at Count Oberstein’s quarters, and consulted at first concerning a bundle of intercepted letters which Havré had brought with him. These constituted a correspondence between Sancho d’Avila with the heads of the mutiny at Alost, and many other places. The letters were all dated subsequently to Don Sancho’s treaty with Oberstein, and contained arrangements for an immediate concentration of the whole available Spanish force at the citadel.
The treachery was so manifest, that Oberstein felt all self-reproach for his own breach of faith to be superfluous. It was, however, evident that the attack was to be immediately expected. What was to be done? All the officers counseled the immediate erection of a bulwark on the side of the city exposed to the castle, but there were no miners nor engineers. Champagny, however, recommended a skillful and experienced engineer to superintend the work in the city, and pledged himself that burghers enough would volunteer as miners. In less than an hour, ten or twelve thousand persons, including multitudes of women of all ranks, were at work upon the lines marked out by the engineer. A ditch and breastwork extending from the gate of the Beguins to the street of the Abbey Saint Michael, were soon in rapid progress. Meantime, the newly arrived troops, with military insolence, claimed the privilege of quartering themselves in the best houses which they could find. They already began to insult and annoy the citizens whom they had been sent to defend, nor were they destined to atone, by their subsequent conduct in the face of the enemy, for the brutality with which they treated their friends. Champagny, however, was ill-disposed to brook their licentiousness. They had been sent to protect the city and the homes of Antwerp from invasion. They were not to establish themselves at every fireside on their first arrival. There was work enough for them out of doors, and they were to do that work at once. He ordered them to prepare for a bivouac in the streets, and flew from house to house, sword in hand, driving forth the intruders at imminent peril of his life. Meantime, a number of Italian and Spanish merchants fled from the city, and took refuge in the castle. The Walloon soldiers were for immediately plundering their houses, as if plunder had been the object for which they had been sent to Antwerp. It was several hours before Champagny, with all his energy, was able to quell these disturbances.
In the course of the day, Oberstein received a letter from Don Sancho d’Avila, calling solemnly upon him to fulfil his treaty of the 29th of October. The German colonels from the citadel, had, on the previous afternoon, held a personal interview with Oberstein beneath the walls, which had nearly ended in blows, and they had been obliged to save themselves by flight from the anger of the Count’s soldiers, enraged at the deceit by which their leader had been so nearly entrapped. This summons of ridiculous solemnity to keep a treaty which had already been torn to shreds by both parties, Oberstein answered with defiance and contempt. The reply was an immediate cannonade from the batteries of the citadel, which made the position of those erecting the ramparts excessively dangerous. The wall was strengthened with bales of merchandise, casks of earth, upturned wagons, and similar bulky objects, hastily piled together. In some places it was sixteen feet high; in others less than six. Night fell before the fortification was nearly completed. Unfortunately it was bright moonlight. The cannon from the fortress continued to play upon the half-finished works. The Walloons, and at last the citizens, feared to lift their heads above their frail rampart. The senators, whom Champagny had deputed to superintend the progress of the enterprise, finding the men so ill disposed, deserted their posts. They promised themselves that, in the darkest hour of the following night, the work should be thoroughly completed. Alas! all hours of the coming night were destined to be dark enough, but in them was to be done no manner of work for defense. On Champagny alone seemed devolved all the labor and all the responsibility. He did his duty well, but he was but one man. Alone, with a heart full of anxiety, he wandered up and down all the night. With his own hands, assisted only by a few citizens and his own servants, he planted all the cannon with which they were provided, in the “Fencing Court,” at a point where the battery might tell upon the castle. Unfortunately, the troops from Brussels had brought no artillery with them, and the means of defense against the strongest fortress in Europe were meager indeed. The rampart had been left very weak at many vital points. A single upturned wagon was placed across the entrance to the important street of the Beguins. This negligence was to cost the city dear. At daybreak, there was a council held in Oberstein’s quarters. Nearly all Champagny’s directions had been neglected. He had desired that strong detachments should be posted during the night at various places of security on the outskirts of the town, for the troops which were expected to arrive in small bodies at the citadel from various parts, might have thus been cut off before reaching their destination. Not even scouts had been stationed in sufficient numbers to obtain information of what was occurring outside. A thick mist hung over the city that eventful morning. Through its almost impenetrable veil, bodies of men had been seen moving into the castle, and the tramp of cavalry had been distinctly heard, and the troops of Romero, Vargas, Oliveira, and Valdez had already arrived from Lier, Breda, Maestricht, and from the forts on the Scheld.
The whole available force in the city was mustered without delay. Havré had claimed for his post the defense of the lines opposite the citadel, the place of responsibility and honor. Here the whole body of Walloons were stationed, together with a few companies of Germans. The ramparts, as stated, were far from impregnable, but it was hoped that this living rampart of 6,000 men, standing on their own soil, and in front of the firesides and altars of their own countrymen; would prove a sufficient bulwark even against Spanish fury. Unhappily, the living barrier proved more frail than the feeble breastwork which the hands of burghers and women had constructed. Six thousand men were disposed along the side of the city opposite the fortress. The bulk of the German troops was stationed at different points on the more central streets and squares. The cavalry was posted on the opposite side of the city, along the Horse-market, and fronting the “New-town.” The stars were still in the sky when Champagny got on horseback and rode through the streets, calling on the burghers to arm and assemble at different points. The principal places of rendezvous were the Cattle-market and the Exchange. He rode along the lines of the Walloon regiments, conversing with the officers, Egmont, De Héze, and others, and encouraging the men, and went again to the Fencing Court, where he pointed the cannon with his own hand, and ordered their first discharge at the fortress. Thence he rode to the end of the Beguin street, where he dismounted and walked out upon the edge of the esplanade which stretched between the city and the castle. On this battleground a combat was even then occurring between a band of burghers and a reconnoitering party from the citadel. Champagny saw with satisfaction that the Antwerpers were victorious. They were skirmishing well with their disciplined foe, whom they at last beat back to the citadel. His experienced eye saw, however, that the retreat was only the signal for a general onslaught, which was soon to follow; and he returned into the city to give the last directions.
At ten o’clock, a moving wood was descried, approaching the citadel from the Southwest. The whole body of the mutineers from Alost, wearing green branches in their helmets, had arrived under command of their Eletto, Navarrete. Nearly 3,000 in number, they rushed into the castle, having accomplished their march of twenty-four miles since three o’clock in the morning. They were received with open arms. Sancho d’Avila ordered food and refreshments to be laid before them, but they refused everything but a draught of wine. They would dine in Paradise, they said, or sup in Antwerp. Finding his allies in such spirit, Don Sancho would not balk their humor. Since early morning, his own veterans had been eagerly awaiting his signal, “straining upon the start.” The troops of Romero, Vargas, Valdez, were no less impatient. At about an hour before noon, nearly every living man in the citadel was mustered for the attack, hardly men enough being left behind to guard the gates. Five thousand veteran foot soldiers, besides six hundred cavalry, armed to the teeth, sallied from the portals of Alva’s citadel. In the counterscarp they fell upon their knees, to invoke, according to custom, the blessing of God upon the Devil’s work, which they were about to commit. The Eletto bore a standard, one side of which was emblazoned with the crucified Saviour, and the other with the Virgin Mary. The image of Him who said, “Love your enemies,” and the gentle face of the Madonna, were to smile from heaven upon deeds which might cause a shudder in the depths of hell. Their brief orisons concluded, they swept forward to the city. Three thousand Spaniards, under their Eletto, were to enter by the street of Saint Michael; the Germans, and the remainder of the Spanish foot, commanded by Romero, through that of Saint George. Champagny saw them coming, and spoke a last word of encouragement to the Walloons. The next moment the compact mass struck the barrier, as the thunderbolt descends from the cloud. There was scarcely a struggle. The Walloons, not waiting to look their enemy in the face, abandoned the posts which they had themselves claimed. The Spaniards crashed through the bulwark, as though it had been a wall of glass. The Eletto was first to mount the rampart; the next instant he was shot dead, while his followers, undismayed, sprang over his body, and poured into the streets. The fatal gaps, due to timidity and carelessness, let in the destructive tide. Champagny, seeing that the enemies had all crossed the barrier, leaped over a garden wall, passed through a house into a narrow lane, and thence to the nearest station of the German troops. Hastily collecting a small force, he led them in person to the rescue. The Germans fought well, died well, but they could not re-animate the courage of the Walloons, and all were now in full retreat, pursued by the ferocious Spaniards. In vain Champagny stormed among them; in vain he strove to rally their broken ranks. With his own hand he seized a banner from a retreating ensign, and called upon the nearest soldiers to make a stand against the foe. It was to bid the flying clouds pause before the tempest. Torn, broken, aimless, the scattered troops whirled through the streets before the pursuing wrath. Champagny, not yet despairing, galloped hither and thither, calling upon the burghers everywhere to rise in defence of their homes, nor did he call in vain. They came forth from every place of rendezvous, from every alley, from every house. They fought as men fight to defend their hearths and altars, but what could individual devotion avail, against the compact, disciplined, resistless mass of their foes? The order of defense was broken, there was no system, no concert, no rallying point, no authority. So soon as it was known that the Spaniards had crossed the rampart, that its six thousand defenders were in full retreat, it was inevitable that a panic should seize the city.
Their entrance once effected, the Spanish force had separated, according to previous arrangement, into two divisions, one half charging up the long street of Saint Michael, the other forcing its way through the street of Saint Joris. “Santiago, Santiago! España, España! à sangre, à carne, à fuego, à sacco!“—Saint James, Spain, blood, flesh, fire, sack!—such were the hideous cries which rang through every quarter of the city, as the savage horde advanced. Van Ende, with his German troops, had been stationed by the Marquis of Havré to defend the Saint Joris gate, but no sooner did the Spaniards under Vargas present themselves, than he deserted to them instantly with his whole force. United with the Spanish cavalry, these traitorous defenders of Antwerp dashed in pursuit of those who had only been fainthearted. Thus the burghers saw themselves attacked by many of their friends, deserted by more. Whom were they to trust? Nevertheless, Oberstein’s Germans were brave and faithful, resisting to the last, and dying every man in his harness. The tide of battle flowed hither and thither, through every street and narrow lane. It poured along the magnificent Place de Meer, where there was an obstinate contest. In front of the famous Exchange, where in peaceful hours, 5,000 merchants met daily, to arrange the commercial affairs of Christendom, there was a determined rally, a savage slaughter. The citizens and faithful Germans, in this broader space, made a stand against their pursuers. The tesselated marble pavement, the graceful, cloister-like arcades ran red with blood. The ill-armed burghers faced their enemies clad in complete panoply, but they could only die for their homes. The massacre at this point was enormous, the resistance at last overcome.
Meantime, the Spanish cavalry had cleft its way through the city. On the side farthest removed from the castle; along the Horse-market, opposite the New-town, the states dragoons and the light horse of Beveren had been posted, and the flying masses of pursuers and pursued swept at last through this outer circle. Champagny was already there, He essayed, as his last hope, to rally the cavalry for a final stand, but the effort was fruitless. Already seized by the panic, they had attempted to rush from the city through the gate of Eeker. It was locked; they then turned and fled towards the Red-gate, where they were met face to face by Don Pedro Tassis, who charged upon them with his dragoons. Retreat seemed hopeless. A horseman in complete armor, with lance in rest, was seen to leap from the parapet of the outer wall into the moat below, whence, still on horseback, he escaped with life. Few were so fortunate. The confused mob of fugitives and conquerors, Spaniards, Walloons, Germans, burghers, struggling, shouting, striking, cursing, dying, swayed hither and thither like a stormy sea. Along the spacious Horse-market, the fugitives fled onward towards the quays. Many fell beneath the swords of the Spaniards, numbers were trodden to death by the hoofs of horses, still greater multitudes were hunted into the Scheld. Champagny, who had thought it possible, even at the last moment, to make a stand in the New-town, and to fortify the Palace of the Hanna, saw himself deserted. With great daring and presence of mind, he effected his escape to the fleet of the Prince of Orange in the river. The Marquis of Havré, of whom no deeds of valor on that eventful day have been recorded, was equally successful. The unlucky Oberstein, attempting to leap into a boat, missed his footing, and oppressed by the weight of his armor, was drowned.
Meantime, while the short November day was fast declining, the combat still raged in the interior of the city. Various currents of conflict, forcing their separate way through many streets, had at last mingled in the Grande Place. Around this irregular, not very spacious square, stood the gorgeous Hôtel le Ville, and the tall, many-storied, fantastically gabled, richly decorated palaces of the guilds. Here a long struggle took place. It was terminated for a time by the cavalry of Vargas, who, arriving through the streets of Saint Joris, accompanied by the traitor Van Ende, charged decisively into the mêlée. The masses were broken, but multitudes of armed men found refuge in the buildings, and every house became a fortress. From every window and balcony a hot fire was poured into the square, as, pent in a corner, the burghers stood at last at bay. It was difficult to carry the houses by storm, but they were soon set on fire. A large number of sutlers and other varlets had accompanied the Spaniards from the citadel, bringing torches and kindling materials for the express purpose of firing the town. With great dexterity, these means were now applied, and in a brief interval, the City-hall, and other edifices on the square were in flames. The conflagration spread with rapidity, house after house, street after street, taking fire. Nearly a thousand buildings, in the most splendid and wealthy quarter of the pity, were soon in a blaze, and multitudes of human beings were burned with them. In the City-hall many were consumed, while others leaped from the windows to renew the combat below. The many tortuous streets which led down a slight descent from the rear of the Town-house to the quays were all one vast conflagration. On the other side, the magnificent cathedral, separated from the Grande Place by a single row of buildings, was lighted up, but not attacked by the flames. The tall spire cast its gigantic shadow across the last desperate conflict. In the street called the Canal au Sucre, immediately behind the Town-house, there was a fierce struggle, a horrible massacre. A crowd of burghers, grave magistrates, and such of the German soldiers as remained alive, still confronted the ferocious Spaniards. There, amid the flaming desolation, Goswyn Verreyck, the heroic margrave of the city, fought with the energy of hatred and despair. The burgomaster, Van der Meere, lay dead at his feet; senators, soldiers, citizens, fell fast around him, and he sank at last upon a heap of slain. With him effectual resistance ended. The remaining combatants were butchered, or were slowly forced downward to perish in the Scheld. Women, children, old men, were killed; countless numbers, and still, through all this havoc, directly over the heads of the struggling throng, suspended in mid-air above the din and smoke of the conflict, there sounded, every half-quarter of every hour, as if in gentle mockery, from the belfry of the cathedral, the tender and melodious chimes.
Never was there a more monstrous massacre, even in the blood-stained history of the Netherlands. It was estimated that, in the course of this and the two following days, not less than 8,000 human beings were murdered. The Spaniards seemed to cast off even the vizard of humanity. Hell seemed emptied of its fiends. Night fell upon the scene before the soldiers were masters of the city, but worse horrors began after the contest was ended. This army of brigands had come thither with a definite, practical purpose, for it was not blood-thirst, nor lust, nor revenge, which had impelled them, but it was avarice, greediness for gold. For gold they had waded through all this blood and fire. Never had men bore simplicity of purpose, more directness in its execution. They had conquered their India at last; its golden mines lay all before them, and every sword should open a shaft. Riot and rape might be deferred; even murder, though congenial to their taste, was only subsidiary to their business. They had come to take possession of the city’s wealth, and they set themselves faithfully to accomplish their task. For gold, infants were dashed out of existence in their mothers’ arms; for gold, parents were tortured in their children’s presence; for gold, brides were scourged to death before their husbands’ eyes. Wherever treasure was suspected, every expedient which ingenuity, sharpened by greediness, could suggest, was employed to extort it from its possessors. The fire, spreading more extensively and more rapidly than had been desired through the wealthiest quarter of the city, had unfortunately devoured a vast amount of property. Six millions, at least, had thus been swallowed, a destruction by which no one had profited. There was, however, much left. The strong-boxes of the merchants, the gold, silver, and precious jewelry, the velvets, satins, brocades, laces, and similar well concentrated and portable plunder, were rapidly appropriated. So far the course was plain and easy, but in private houses it was more difficult. The cash, plate, and other valuables of individuals were not so easily discovered. Torture was, therefore, at once employed to discover the hidden treasures. After all had been given, if the sum seemed too little, the proprietors were brutally punished for their poverty or their supposed dissimulation. A gentlewoman, named Fabry, with her aged mother and other females of the family, had taken refuge in the cellar of her mansion. As the day was drawing to a close, a band of plunderers entered, who, after ransacking the house, descended to the cellarage. Finding the door barred, they forced it open with gunpowder. The mother, who was nearest the entrance, fell dead on the threshold. Stepping across her mangled body, the brigands sprang upon her daughter, loudly demanding the property which they believed to be concealed. They likewise insisted on being informed where the master of the house had taken refuge. Protestations of ignorance as to hidden treasure, or the whereabouts of her husband, who, for aught she knew, was lying dead in the streets, were of no avail. To make her more communicative, they hanged her on a beam in the cellar, and after a few moments cut her down before life was extinct. Still receiving no satisfactory reply, where a satisfactory reply was impossible, they hanged her again. Again, after another brief interval, they gave her a second release, and a fresh interrogatory. This barbarity they repeated several times, till they were satisfied that there was nothing to be gained by it, while, on the other hand, they were losing much valuable time. Hoping to be more successful elsewhere, they left her hanging for the last time, and trooped off to fresher fields. Strange to relate, the person thus horribly tortured, survived. A servant in her family, married to a Spanish soldier, providentially entered the house in time to rescue her perishing mistress. She was restored to existence, but never to reason. Her brain was hopelessly crazed, and she passed the remainder of her life wandering about her house, or feebly digging in her garden for the buried treasure which she had been thus fiercely solicited to reveal.
A wedding feast was rudely interrupted. Two young persons, neighbors of opulent families, had been long betrothed, and the marriage day had been fixed for Sunday, the fatal fourth of November. The guests were assembled, the ceremony concluded, the nuptial banquet in progress, when the horrible outcries in the streets proclaimed that the Spaniards had broken loose. Hour after hour of trembling expectation succeeded. At last, a thundering at the gate proclaimed the arrival of a band of brigands. Preceded by their captain, a large number of soldiers forced their way into the house, ransacking every chamber, no opposition being offered by the family and friends, too few and powerless to cope with this band of well-armed ruffians. Plate chests, wardrobes, desks, caskets of jewelry, were freely offered, eagerly accepted, but not found sufficient, and to make the luckless wretches furnish more than they possessed, the usual brutalities were employed. The soldiers began by striking the bridegroom dead. The bride fell shrieking into her mother’s arms, whence she was torn by the murderers, who immediately put the mother to death, and an indiscriminate massacre then followed the fruitless attempts to obtain by threats and torture treasure which did not exist. The bride, who was of remarkable beauty, was carried off to the citadel. Maddened by this last outrage, the father, who was the only man of the party left alive, rushed upon the Spaniards. Wresting a sword from one of the crew, the old man dealt with it so fiercely, that he stretched more than one enemy dead at his feet, but it is needless to add that he was soon dispatched. Meantime, while the party were concluding the plunder of the mansion, the bride was left in a lonely apartment of the fortress. Without wasting time in fruitless lamentation, she resolved to quit the life which a few hours had made so desolate. She had almost succeeded in hanging herself with a massive gold chain which she wore, when her captor entered the apartment. Inflamed, not with lust, but with avarice, excited not by her charms, but by her jewelry, he rescued her from her perilous position. He then took possession of her chain and the other trinkets with which her wedding dress was adorned, and caused her to be entirely stripped of her clothing. She was then scourged with rods till her beautiful body was bathed in blood, and at last alone, naked, nearly mad, was sent back into the city. Here the forlorn creature wandered up and down through the blazing streets, among the heaps of dead and dying, till she was at last put out of her misery by a gang of soldiers.
Such are a few isolated instances, accidentally preserved in their details, of the general horrors inflicted on this occasion. Others innumerable have sunk into oblivion. On the morning of the fifth of November, Antwerp presented a ghastly sight. The magnificent marble Town-house, celebrated as a “world’s wonder,” even in that age and country, in which so much splendor was lavished on municipal palaces, stood a blackened ruin—all but the walls destroyed, while its archives, accounts, and other valuable contents, had perished. The more splendid portion of the city had been consumed; at least five hundred palaces, mostly of marble or hammered stone, being a smoldering mass of destruction. The dead bodies of those fallen in the massacre were on every side, in greatest profusion around the Place de Meer, among the Gothic pillars of the Exchange, and in the streets near the Town-house. The German soldiers lay in their armor, some with their heads burned from their bodies, some with legs and arms consumed by the flames through which they had fought. The Margrave Goswyn Verreyck, the burgomaster Van der Meere, the magistrates Lancelot van Urselen, Nicholas van Boekholt, and other leading citizens, lay among piles of less distinguished. Slain. They remained unburied until the overseers of the poor, on whom the living had then more importunate claims than the dead, were compelled by Roda to bury them out of the pauper fund. The murderers were too thrifty to be at funeral charges for their victims. The ceremony was not hastily performed, for the number of corpses had not been completed. Two days longer the havoc lasted in the city. Of all the crimes which men can commit, whether from deliberate calculation or in the frenzy of passion, hardly one was omitted, for riot, gaming, rape, which had been postponed to the more stringent claims of robbery and murder, were now rapidly added to the sum of atrocities. History has recorded the account indelibly on her brazen tablets; it can be adjusted only at the judgment-seat above.
Of all the deeds of darkness yet compassed in the Netherlands, this was the worst. It was called The Spanish Fury, by which dread name it has been known for ages. The city, which had been a world of wealth and splendor, was changed to a charnel-house, and from that hour its commercial prosperity was blasted. Other causes had silently girdled the yet green and flourishing tree, but the Spanish Fury was the fire which consumed it to ashes. Three thousand dead bodies were discovered in the streets, as many more were estimated to have perished in the Scheld, and nearly an equal number were burned or destroyed in other ways. Eight thousand persons undoubtedly were put to death. Six millions of property were destroyed by the fire, and at least as much more was obtained by the Spaniards. In this enormous robbery no class of people was respected. Foreign merchants, living under the express sanction and protection of the Spanish monarch, were plundered with as little reserve as Flemings. Ecclesiastics of the Roman Church were compelled to disgorge their wealth as freely as Calvinists. The rich were made to contribute all their abundance, and the poor what could be wrung from their poverty. Neither paupers nor criminals were safe. Captain Caspar Ortis made a brilliant speculation by taking possession of the Stein, or city prison, whence he ransomed all the inmates who could find means to pay for their liberty. Robbers, murderers, even Anabaptists, were thus again let loose. Rarely has so small a band obtained in three days’ robbery so large an amount of wealth. Four or five millions divided among 5,000 soldiers made up for long arrearages, and the Spaniards had reason to congratulate themselves upon having thus taken the duty of payment into their own hands. It is true that the wages of iniquity were somewhat unequally distributed, somewhat foolishly squandered. A private trooper was known to lose 10,000 crowns in one day in a gambling transaction at the Bourse, for the soldiers, being thus handsomely in funds, became desirous of aping the despised and plundered merchants, and resorted daily to the Exchange, like men accustomed to affairs. The dearly purchased gold was thus lightly squandered by many, while others, more prudent, melted their portion into sword-hilts, into scabbards, even into whole suits of armor, darkened, by precaution, to appear made entirely of iron. The brocades, laces, and jewelry of Antwerp merchants were converted into coats of mail for their destroyers. The goldsmiths, however, thus obtained an opportunity to outwit their plunderers, and mingled in the golden armor which they were forced to furnish much more alloy than their employers knew. A portion of the captured booty was thus surreptitiously redeemed.
In this Spanish Fury many more were massacred in Antwerp than in the Saint Bartholomew at Paris. Almost as many living human beings were dashed out of existence now as there had been statues destroyed in the memorable image-breaking of Antwerp, ten years before, an event which had sent such a thrill of horror through the heart of Catholic Christendom. Yet the Netherlanders and the Protestants of Europe may be forgiven, if they regarded this massacre of their brethren with as much execration as had been bestowed upon that fury against stocks and stones. At least, the image-breakers had been actuated by an idea, and their hands were polluted neither with blood nor rapine. Perhaps the Spaniards had been governed equally by religious fanaticism. Might not they believe they were meriting well of their Mother Church while they were thus disencumbering infidels of their wealth and earth of its infidels? Had not the pope and his cardinals gone to church in solemn procession, to render thanks unto God for the massacre of Paris? Had not cannon thundered and beacons blazed to commemorate that auspicious event? Why should not the Antwerp executioners claim equal commendation? Even if in their delirium they had confounded friend with foe, Catholic with Calvinist, and church property with lay, could they not point to an equal number of dead bodies, and to an incredibly superior amount of plunder?
Marvelously few Spaniards were slain in these eventful days. Two hundred killed is the largest number stated. The discrepancy seems monstrous, but it is hardly more than often existed between the losses inflicted and sustained by the Spaniards in such combats. Their prowess was equal to their ferocity, and this was enough to make them seem endowed with preterhuman powers. When it is remembered, also, that the burghers were insufficiently armed, that many of their defenders turned against them, that many thousands fled in the first moments of the encounter, and when the effect of a sudden and awful panic is duly considered, the discrepancy between the number of killed on the two sides will not seem so astonishing.
A few officers of distinction were taken alive and carried to the castle. Among these were the Seigneur de Capres and young Count Egmont. The councillor Jerome de Roda was lounging on a chair in an open gallery when these two gentlemen were brought before him, and Capres was base enough to make a low obeisance to the man who claimed to represent the whole government of his Majesty. The worthy successor of Vargas replied to his captive’s greeting by a “kick in his stomach,” adding, with a brutality which his prototype might have envied, “Ah puto tradidor,”—whoreson traitor—”let me have no salutations from such as you.” Young Egmont, who had been captured, fighting bravely at the head of coward troops, by Julian Romero, who nine years before had stood on his father’s scaffold, regarded this brutal scene with haughty indignation. This behavior had more effect upon Roda than the suppleness of Capres. “I am sorry for your misfortune, count,” said the councillor, without however rising from his chair, “such is the lot of those who take arms against their king.” This was the unfortunate commencement of Philip Egmont’s career, which was destined to be inglorious, vacillating, base, and on more than one occasion unlucky.
A shiver ran through the country as the news of the horrible crime was spread, but it was a shiver of indignation, not of fear. Already the negotiations at Ghent between the representatives of the prince and of Holland and Zealand with the deputies of the other provinces were in a favorable train, and the effect of this event upon their counsels was rather quickening than appalling. A letter from Jerome de Roda to the king was intercepted, giving an account of the transaction. In that document the senator gave the warmest praise to Sancho d’Avila, Julian Romero, Alonzo de Vargas, Francis Verdugo, as well as to the German colonels Fugger, Frondsberger, Polwiller, and others who had most exerted themselves in the massacre. “I wish your Majesty much good of this victory,” concluded the councillor, “’tis a very great one, and the damage to the city is enormous.” This cynical view was not calculated to produce a soothing effect on the exasperated minds of the people. On the other hand, the estates of Brabant addressed an eloquent appeal to the states-general, reciting their wrongs, and urging immediate action. “’Tis notorious,” said the remonstrants, “that Antwerp was but yesterday the first and principal ornament of all Europe, the refuge of all the nations of the world, the source and supply of countless treasure, the nurse of all arts and industry, the protectress pf the Roman Catholic religion, the guardian of science and virtue, and, above all these preeminences, more than faithful and obedient to her sovereign prince and lord. The city is now changed to a gloomy cavern, filled with robbers and murderers, enemies of God, the king, and all good subjects.” They then proceeded to recite the story of the massacre, “whereof the memory shall be abominable so long as the world stands,” and concluded with an urgent appeal for redress. They particularly suggested that an edict should forthwith be passed, forbidding the alienation of property and the exportation of goods in any form from Antwerp, together with concession of the right to the proprietors of reclaiming their stolen property summarily, whenever and wheresoever it might be found. In accordance with these instructions, an edict was passed, but somewhat tardily, in the hope of relieving some few of the evil consequences by which the Antwerp Fury had been attended.
At about the same time the Prince of Orange addressed a remarkable letter to the states-general then assembled at Ghent, urging them to hasten the conclusion of the treaty. The news of the massacre, which furnished an additional and most vivid illustration of the truth of his letter, had not then reached him at Middelburg, but the earnestness of his views, taken in connection with this last dark deed, exerted a powerful and indelible effect. The letter was a masterpiece, because it was necessary, in his position, to inflame without alarming; to stimulate the feelings which were in unison, without shocking those which, if aroused, might prove discordant. Without, therefore, alluding in terms to the religious question, he dwelt upon the necessity of union, firmness, and wariness. If so much had been done by Holland and Zealand, how much more might be hoped when all the provinces were united? “The principal flower of the Spanish army has fallen,” he said, “without having been able to conquer one of those provinces from those whom they call, in mockery, poor beggars; yet what is that handful of cities compared to all the provinces which might join us in the quarrel?” He warned the states of the necessity of showing a strong and united front, the king having been ever led to consider the movement in the Netherlands a mere conspiracy of individuals.
“The king told me himself, in 1559,” said Orange, “that if the estates had no pillars to lean upon, they would not talk so loud.” It was, therefore, necessary to show that prelates, abbots, monks, seigniors, gentlemen, burghers, and peasants, the whole people in short, now cried with one voice, and desired with one will. To such a demonstration the king would not dare oppose himself. By thus preserving a firm and united front, sinking all minor differences, they would, moreover, inspire their friends and foreign princes with confidence. The princes of Germany, the lords and gentlemen of France, the Queen of England, although sympathizing with the misfortunes of the Netherlanders, had been unable effectually to help them, so long as their disunion prevented them from helping themselves, so long as even their appeal to arms seemed merely “a levy of bucklers, an emotion of the populace, which, like a wave of the sea, rises and sinks again as soon as risen.”
While thus exciting to union and firmness, he also took great pains to instill the necessity of wariness. They were dealing with an artful foe. Intercepted letters had already proved that the old dissimulation was still to be employed, that while Don John of Austria was on his way, the Netherlanders were to be lulled into confidence by glozing speeches. Roda was provided by the king with a secret program of instructions for the new governor’s guidance, and Don Sancho d’Avila, for his countenance to the mutineers of Alost, had been applauded to the echo in Spain. Was not this applause a frequent indication of the policy to be adopted by Don John, and a thousand times more significative one than the unmeaning phrases of barren benignity with which public documents might be crammed? “The old tricks are again brought into service,” said the prince, “therefore ’tis necessary to ascertain your veritable friends, to tear off the painted masks from those who, under pretence of not daring to displease the King, are seeking to swim between two waters. ’Tis necessary to have a touchstone; to sign a declaration in such wise that you may know whom to trust, and whom to suspect.”
The massacre at Antwerp and the eloquence of the Prince produced a most quickening effect upon the Congress at Ghent. Their deliberations had proceeded with decorum and earnestness, in the midst of the cannonading against the citadel, and the fortress fell on the same day which saw the conclusion of the treaty.
This important instrument, by which the sacrifices and exertions of the prince were, for a brief season, at least, rewarded, contained twenty-five articles. The Prince of Orange, with the estates of Holland and Zealand, on the one side, and the provinces signing, or thereafter to sign the treaty, on the other, agreed that there should be a mutual forgiving and forgetting, as regarded the past. They vowed a close and faithful friendship for the future. They plighted a mutual promise to expel the Spaniards from the Netherlands without delay. As soon as this great deed should be done, there was to be a convocation of the states-general, on the basis of that assembly before which the abdication of the Emperor had taken place. By this congress, the affairs of religion in Holland and Zealand should be regulated, as well as the surrender of fortresses and other places belonging to his Majesty. There was to be full liberty of communication and traffic between the citizens of the one side and the other. It should not be legal, however, for those of Holland and Zealand to attempt anything outside their own territory against the Roman Catholic religion, nor for cause thereof to injure or irritate anyone, by deed or word. All the placards and edicts on the subject of heresy, together with the criminal ordinances made by the Duke of Alva, were suspended, until the states-general should otherwise ordain. The prince was to remain lieutenant, admiral, and general for his Majesty in Holland, Zealand, and the associated places, till otherwise provided by the states-general, after the departure of the Spaniards. The cities and places included in the prince’s commission, but not yet acknowledging his authority, should receive satisfaction from him, as to the point of religion and other matters, before subscribing to the union. All prisoners, and particularly the Comte de Bossu, should be released without ransom. All estates and other property not already alienated should be restored, all confiscations since 1566 being declared null and void. The Countess Palatine, widow of Brederode, and Count de Buren, son of the Prince of Orange, were expressly named in this provision. Prelates and ecclesiastical persons, having property in Holland and Zealand, should be reinstated, if possible; but in case of alienation, which was likely to be generally the case, there should be reasonable compensation. It was to be decided by the states-general whether the provinces should discharge the debts incurred by the Prince of Orange in his two campaigns. Provinces and cities should not have the benefit of this union until they had signed the treaty, but they should be permitted to sign it when they chose.
This memorable document was subscribed at Ghent, on the eighth of November, by Saint Aldegonde, with eight other commissioners appointed by the Prince of Orange and the estates of Holland on the one side, and by Elbertus Leoninus and other deputies appointed by Brabant, Flanders, Artois, Hainault, Valenciennes, Lille, Douay, Orchies, Namur, Tournay, Utrecht, and Mechlin on the other side.
The arrangement was a masterpiece of diplomacy on the part of the prince, for it was as effectual a provision for the safety of the Reformed religion as could be expected under the circumstances. It was much, considering the change which had been wrought of late years in the fifteen provinces, that they should consent to any treaty with their two heretic sisters. It was much more that the Pacification should recognize the new religion as the established creed of Holland and Zealand, while at the same time the infamous edicts of Charles were formally abolished. In the fifteen Catholic provinces, there was to be no prohibition of private Reformed worship, and it might be naturally expected that with time and the arrival of the banished religionists, a firmer stand would be taken in favor of the Reformation. Meantime, the new religion was formally established in two provinces, and tolerated, in secret, in the other fifteen; the Inquisition was forever abolished, and the whole strength of the nation enlisted to expel the foreign soldiery from the soil. This was the work of William the Silent, and the great prince thus saw the labor of years crowned with at least a momentary success. His satisfaction was very great when it was announced to him, many days before the exchange of the signatures, that the treaty had been concluded. He was desirous that the Pacification should be referred for approval, not to the municipal magistrates only, but to the people itself. In all great emergencies, the man who, in his whole character, least resembled a demagogue, either of antiquity or of modern times, was eager for a fresh expression of the popular will. On this occasion, however, the demand for approbation was superfluous. The whole country thought with his thoughts, and spoke with his words, and the Pacification, as soon as published, was received with a shout of joy. Proclaimed in the market-place of every city and village, it was ratified, not by votes, but by hymns of thanksgiving, by triumphal music, by thundering of cannon, and by the blaze of beacons, throughout the Netherlands. Another event added to the satisfaction of the hour. The country so recently, and by deeds of such remarkable audacity, conquered by the Spaniards in the North, was recovered almost simultaneously with the conclusion of the Ghent treaty. It was a natural consequence of the great mutiny. The troops having entirely deserted Mondragon, it became necessary for that officer to abandon Zierickzee, the city which had been won with so much valor. In the beginning of November, the capital, and with it the whole island of Schouwen, together with the rest of Zealand, excepting Tholen, was recovered by Count Hohenlo, lieutenant-general of the Prince of Orange, and acting according to his instructions.
Thus, on this particular point of time, many great events had been crowded. At the very same moment Zealand had been redeemed, Antwerp ruined, and the league of all the Netherlands against the Spaniards concluded. It now became known that another and most important event had occurred at the same instant. On the day before the Antwerp massacre, four days before the publication of the Ghent treaty, a foreign cavalier, attended by a Moorish slave and by six men-at-arms, rode into the streets of Luxemburg. The cavalier was Don Ottavio Gonzaga, brother of the Prince of Melfi. The Moorish slave was Don John of Austria, the son of the Emperor, the conqueror of Granada, the hero of Lepanto. The new governor-general had traversed Spain and France in disguise with great celerity, and in the romantic manner which belonged to his character. He stood at last on the threshold of the Netherlands, but with all his speed he had moved a few days too late.
End of Part Four