Don John of Austria
Chapter 1 The Beginning of Don John’s Administration and the Perpetual Edict Chapter 2 The Convictions of the Prince of Orange and his Negotiations with Don John Chapter 3 Further Activities and Correspondence of the Prince of Orange and Don John
The Beginning of Don John’s Administration and the Perpetual Edict
Don John of Austria was now in his thirty-second year, having been born in Ratisbon on February 24, 1545. His father was Charles V, Emperor of Germany, King of Spain, Dominator of Asia, Africa, and America; his mother Barbara Blomberg, washerwoman of Ratisbon. Introduced to the Emperor, originally, that she might alleviate his melancholy by her singing, she soon exhausted all that was harmonious in her nature, for never was a more uncomfortable, unmanageable personage than Barbara in her after life. Married to one Pyramus Kegell, who was made a military commissary in the Netherlands, she was left a widow in the beginning of Alva’s administration. Placed under the especial superintendence of the duke, she became the torment of that warrior’s life. The terrible governor, who could almost crush the heart out of a nation of three millions, was unable to curb this single termagant. Philip had expressly forbidden her to marry again, but Alva informed him that she was surrounded by suitors. Philip had insisted that she should go into a convent, but Alva, who, with great difficulty, had established her quietly in Ghent, assured his master that she would break loose again at the bare suggestion of a convent. Philip wished her to go to Spain, sending her word that Don John was mortified by the life his mother was leading, but she informed the governor that she would be cut to pieces before she would go to Spain. She had no objection to see her son, but she knew too well how women were treated in that country. The duke complained most pathetically to his Majesty of the life they all led with the ex-mistress of the Emperor. Never, he frequently observed, had woman so terrible a head. She was obstinate, reckless, abominably extravagant. She had been provided in Ghent with a handsome establishment, “with a duenna, six other women, a major domo, two pages, one chaplain, an almoner, and four men-servants,” and this seemed a sufficiently liberal scheme of life for the widow of a commissary. Moreover, a very ample allowance had been made for the education of her only legitimate son, Conrad, the other having perished by an accident on the day of his father’s death. While Don John of Austria was gathering laurels in Granada, his half-brother, Pyramus junior, had been ingloriously drowned in a cistern at Ghent.
Barbara’s expenses were exorbitant, her way of life scandalous. To send her money, said Alva, was to throw it into the sea. In two days she would have spent in dissipation and feasting any sums which the king might choose to supply. The duke, who feared nothing else in the world, stood in mortal awe of the widow Kegell. “A terrible animal, indeed, is an unbridled woman,” wrote secretary Cayas, from Madrid, at the close of Alva’s administration, for, notwithstanding, every effort to entice, to intimidate, and to kidnap her from the Netherlands, there she remained, through all vicissitudes, even till the arrival of Don John. By his persuasions or commands she was, at last, induced to accept an exile for the remainder of her days, in Spain, but revenged herself by asserting that he was quite mistaken in supposing himself the Emperor’s child, a point, certainly, upon which her authority might be thought conclusive. Thus there was a double mystery about Don John. He might be the issue of august parentage on one side; he was, possibly, sprung of most ignoble blood. Base-born at best, he was not sure whether to look for the author of his being in the halls of the Caesar’s or the booths of Ratisbon mechanics.
Whatever might be the heart of the mystery, it is certain that it was allowed to enwrap all the early life of Don John. The Emperor, who certainly never doubted his responsibility for the infant’s existence, had him conveyed instantly to Spain, where he was delivered to Louis Quixada, of the Imperial household, by whom he was brought up in great retirement at Villa-Garcia. Magdalen Ulloa, wife of Quixada, watched over his infancy with maternal and magnanimous care, for her husband’s extreme solicitude for the infant’s welfare had convinced her that he was its father. On one occasion, when their house was in flames, Quixada rescued the infant before he saved his wife, “although Magdalen knew herself to be dearer to him than the apple of his eye.” From that time forth she altered her opinion, and believed the mysterious child to be of lofty origin. The boy grew up full of beauty, grace, and agility, the leader of all his companions in every hardy sport. Through the country round there were none who could throw the javelin, break a lance, or ride at the ring like little Juan Quixada. In taming unmanageable horses he was celebrated for his audacity and skill. These accomplishments, however, were likely to prove of but slender advantage in the ecclesiastical profession, to which he had been destined by his Imperial father. The death of Charles occurred before clerical studies had been commenced, and Philip, to whom the secret had been confided at the close of the Emperor’s life, prolonged the delay thus interposed.
Juan had already reached his fourteenth year, when one day his supposed father Quixada invited him to ride towards Valladolid to see the royal hunt. Two horses stood at the door—a splendidly caparisoned charger and a common hackney. The boy naturally mounted the humbler steed, and they set forth for the mountains of Toro, but on hearing the bugles of the approaching huntsmen, Quixada suddenly halted, and bade his youthful companion exchange horses with himself. When this had been done, he seized the hand of the wondering boy and kissing it respectfully, exclaimed, “Your Highness will be informed as to the meaning of my conduct by his Majesty, who is even now approaching.” They had proceeded but a short distance before they encountered the royal hunting party, when both Quixada and young Juan dismounted, and bent the knee to their monarch. Philip, commanding the boy to rise, asked him if he knew his father’s name. Juan replied, with a sigh, that he had at that moment lost the only father whom he had known, for Quixada had just disowned him. “You have the same father as myself,” cried the king, “the Emperor Charles was the august parent of us both.” Then tenderly embracing him, he commanded him to remount his horse, and all returned together to Valladolid, Philip observing with a sentimentality that seems highly apocryphal, that he had never brought home such precious game from any hunt before.
This theatrical recognition of imperial descent was one among the many romantic incidents of Don John’s picturesque career, for his life was never destined to know the commonplace. He now commenced his education, in company with his two nephews, the Duchess Margaret’s son, and Don Carlos, Prince-Royal of Spain. They were all of the same age, but the superiority of Don John was soon recognized. It was not difficult to surpass the limping, malicious, Carlos, either in physical graces or intellectual accomplishments, but the graceful, urbane, and chivalrous Alexander, destined afterwards to such wide celebrity, was a more formidable rival, yet even the professed panegyrist of the Farnese family, exalts the son of Barbara Blomberg over the grandson of Margaret van Geest.
Still destined for the clerical profession, Don John, at the age of eighteen, to avoid compliance with Philip’s commands, made his escape to Barcelona. It was his intention to join the Maltese expedition. Recalled peremptorily by Philip, he was for a short time in disgrace, but afterwards made his peace with the monarch by denouncing some of the mischievous schemes of Don Carlos. Between the Prince-Royal and the imperial bastard, there had always been a deep animosity, the Infante having on one occasion saluted him with the most vigorous and offensive appellation which his illegitimate birth could suggest. “Base-born or not,” returned Don John, “at any rate I had a better father than yours.” The words were probably reported to Philip and doubtless rankled in his breast, but nothing appeared on the surface, and the youth rose rapidly in favor. In his twenty-third year, he was appointed to the command of the famous campaign against the insurgent Moors of Granada. Here he reaped his first laurels, and acquired great military celebrity. It is difficult to be dazzled by such glory. He commenced his operations by the expulsion of nearly all the Moorish inhabitants of Granada, bedridden men, women, and children, together, and the cruelty inflicted, the sufferings patiently endured in that memorable deportation, were enormous.
But few of the many thousand exiles survived the horrid march, those who were so unfortunate as to do so being sold into slavery by their captors. Still a few Moors held out in their mountain fastnesses, and two years long the rebellion of this handful made head against the power of Spain. Had their envoys to the Ports succeeded in their negotiation, the throne of Philip might have trembled, but Selim hated the Republic of Venice as much as he loved the wine of Cyprus. While the Moors were gasping out their last breath in Granada and Ronda, the Turks had wrested the island of Venus from the grasp of the haughty Republic. Famagosta had fallen; thousands of Venetians had been butchered with a ferocity which even Christians could not have surpassed; the famous General Bragadino had been flayed, stuffed, and sent hanging on the yardarm of a frigate, to Constantinople, as a present to the Commander of the Faithful; and the mortgage of Catherine Cornaro, to the exclusion of her husband’s bastards, had been thus definitely cancelled. With such practical enjoyments, Selim was indifferent to the splendid but shadowy vision of the Occidental caliphate—yet the revolt of the Moors was only terminated, after the departure of Don John, by the Duke of Arcos.
The war which the Sultan had avoided in the West, came to seek him in the East. To lift the Crucifix against the Crescent, at the head of the powerful but quarrelsome alliance between Venice, Spain, and Rome, Don John arrived at Naples. He brought with him more than a hundred ships and 23,000 men, as the Spanish contingent. Three months long the hostile fleets had been cruising in the same waters without an encounter; three more were wasted in barren maneuvers. Neither Mussulman nor Christian had much inclination for the conflict, the Turk fearing the consequences of a defeat, by which gains already secured might be forfeited; the allies being appalled at the possibility of their own triumph. Nevertheless, the Ottomans maneuvered themselves at last into the Gulf of Lepanto; the Christians maneuvered themselves towards its mouth as the foe was coming forth again. The conflict thus rendered inevitable, both Turk and Christian became equally eager for the fray, equally confident of victory. Six hundred vessels of war met face to face. Rarely in history had so gorgeous a scene of martial array been witnessed. An October sun gilded the thousand beauties of an Ionian landscape. Athens and Corinth were behind the combatants, the mountains of Alexander’s Macedon rose in the distance; the rock of Sappho and the heights of Actium were before their eyes. Since the day when the world had been lost and won beneath that famous promontory, no such combat as the one now approaching had been fought upon the waves. The chivalrous young commander dispatched energetic messages to his fellow chieftains, and now that it was no longer possible to elude the encounter, the martial ardor of the allies was kindled. The Venetian High-Admiral replied with words of enthusiasm. Colonna, lieutenant of the league, answered his chief in the language of St. Peter, “Though I die, yet will I not deny thee.”
The fleet was arranged in three divisions. The Ottomans, not drawn up in crescent form, as usual, had the same triple disposition. Barbarigo and the other Venetians commanded on the left, John Andrew Doria on the right, while Don John himself and Colonna were in the center. Crucifix in hand, the High-Admiral rowed from ship to ship exhorting generals and soldiers to show themselves worthy of the cause which he had persuaded himself was holy. Fired by his eloquence and by the sight of the enemy, his hearers answered with eager shouts, while Don John returned to his ship, knelt upon the quarter-deck, and offered a prayer. He then ordered the trumpets to sound the assault, commanded his sailing-master to lay him alongside the Turkish Admiral, and the battle began. The Venetians, who were first attacked, destroyed ship after ship of their assailants after a close and obstinate contest, but Barbarigo fell dead ere the sunset, with an arrow through his brain. Meantime the action, immediately after the first onset, had become general. From noon till evening the battle raged, with a carnage rarely recorded in history. Don John’s own ship lay yardarm and yardarm with the Turkish Admiral, and exposed to the fire of seven large vessels besides. It was a day when personal audacity, not skillful tactics, was demanded, and the imperial bastard showed the metal he was made of. The Turkish Admiral’s ship was destroyed, his head exposed from Don John’s deck upon a pike, and the trophy became the signal for a general panic and a complete victory. By sunset the battle had been won.
Of nearly three hundred Turkish galleys, but fifty made their escape. From twenty-five to thirty thousand Turks were slain, and perhaps ten thousand Christians. The galley slaves on both sides fought well, and the only beneficial result of the victory was the liberation of several thousand Christian captives. It is true that their liberty was purchased with the lives of a nearly equal number of Christian soldiers, and by the reduction to slavery of almost as many thousand Mussulmen, duly distributed among the Christian victors. Many causes contributed to this splendid triumph. The Turkish ships, inferior in number, were also worse manned than those of their adversaries, and their men were worse armed. Every bullet of the Christians told on muslin turban and embroidered tunics, while the arrows of the Moslems fell harmless on the casques and corslets of their foes. The Turks, too, had committed the fatal error of fighting upon a lee shore. Having no sea room, and being repelled in their first onset, many galleys were driven upon the rocks, to be destroyed with all their crews.
But whatever the cause of the victory, its consequence was to spread the name and fame of Don John of Austria throughout the world. Alva wrote, with enthusiasm, to congratulate him, pronouncing the victory the most brilliant one ever achieved by Christians, and Don John the greatest general since the death of Julius Caesar. At the same time, with a sarcastic fling at the erection of the Escorial, he advised Philip to improve this new success in some more practical way than by building a house for the Lord and a sepulchre for the dead. “If,” said the duke, “the conquests of Spain be extended in consequence of this triumph, then, indeed, will the Cherubim and Seraphim sing glory to God.” A courier, dispatched post haste to Spain, bore the glorious news, together with the sacred standard of the Prophet, the holy of holies, inscribed with the name of Allah 28,900 times, always kept in Mecca during peace, and never since the conquest of Constantinople lost in battle before. The king was at vespers in the Escorial. Entering the sacred precincts, breathless, travel-stained, excited, the messenger found Philip impassible as marble to the wondrous news. Not a muscle of the royal visage was moved, not a syllable escaped the royal lips, save a brief order to the clergy to continue the interrupted vespers. When the service had been methodically concluded, the king made known the intelligence and requested a Te Deum.
The youthful commander-in-chief obtained more than his full meed of glory. No doubt he had fought with brilliant valor of Courage, yet in so close and murderous a conflict, the no single individual could decide the day, and the result was due to the combined determination of all. Had Don John remained at Naples, the issue might have easily been the same. Barbarigo, who sealed the victory with his blood, Colonna, who celebrated a solemn triumph on his return to Philip’s entreaty, conferred the baton of command upon Don John. The meager result of the contest is as notorious as the victory. While Constantinople was quivering with apprehension, the rival generals were already wrangling with animosity. Had the Christian fleet advanced, every soul would have fled from the capital, but Providence had ordained otherwise, and Don John sailed westwardly with his ships. He made a descent on the Barbary coast, captured Tunis, destroyed Biserta, and brought King Amidas and his two sons prisoners to Italy. Ordered by Philip to dismantle the fortifications of Tunis, he replied by repairing them thoroughly, and by placing a strong garrison within the citadel. Intoxicated with his glory, the young adventurer already demanded a crown, and the pope was disposed to proclaim him King of Tunis, for the Queen of the Lybian seas was to be the capital of his Empire, the new Carthage which he already dreamed.
Philip thought it time to interfere, for he felt that his own crown might be insecure, with such a restless and ambitious spirit indulging in possible and impossible chimeras. He removed John de Soto, who had been Don John’s chief councillor and emissary to the pope, and substituted in his place the celebrated and ill-starred Escovedo. The new secretary, however, entered as heartily but secretly into all these romantic schemes. Disappointed of the Empire which he had contemplated on the edge of the African desert, the champion of the Cross turned to the cold islands of the northern seas. There sighed, in captivity, the beauteous Mary of Scotland, victim of the heretic Elizabeth. His susceptibility to the charms of beauty—a characteristic as celebrated as his courage—was excited, his chivalry aroused. What holier triumph for the conqueror of the Saracens than the subjugation of these northern infidels? He would dethrone the proud Elizabeth; he would liberate and espouse the Queen of Scots, and together they would reign over the two united realms. All that the pope could do with bulls and blessings, letters of excommunication, and patents of investiture, he did with his whole heart. Don John was at liberty, to be King of England and Scotland as soon as he liked; all that was left to do was to conquer the kingdoms.
Meantime, while these schemes were flitting through his brain, and were yet kept comparatively secret by the pope, Escovedo, and himself, the news reached him in Italy that he had been appointed governor-general of the Netherlands. Nothing could be more opportune. In the provinces were ten thousand veteran Spaniards, ripe for adventure, hardened by years of warfare, greedy for gold, audacious almost beyond humanity, the very instruments for his scheme. The times were critical in the Netherlands, it was true; yet he would soon pacify those paltry troubles, and then sweep forward to his prize. Yet events were rushing forward with such feverish rapidity, that he might be too late for his adventure. Many days were lost in the necessary journey from Italy into Spain to receive the final instructions of the king. The news from the provinces grew more and more threatening. With the impetuosity and romance of his temperament, he selected his confidential friend Ottavio Gonzaga, six men-at-arms, and an adroit and well-experienced Swiss courier, who knew every road of France. It was no light adventure for the Catholic Governor-General of the Netherlands to traverse the kingdom at that particular juncture. Staining his bright locks and fair face to the complexion of a Moor, he started on his journey, attired as the servant of Gonzaga. Arriving at Paris, after a rapid journey, he descended at a hostelry opposite the residence of the Spanish ambassador, Don Diego de Cuñiga. After nightfall he had a secret interview with that functionary, and learning, among other matters, that there was to be a great ball that night at the Louvre, he determined to go thither in disguise. There, notwithstanding his hurry, he had time to see and to become desperately enamored of “that wonder of beauty,” the fair and frail Margaret of Valois, Queen of Navarre. Her subsequent visit to her young adorer at Namur, to be recorded in a future page of this history, was destined to mark the last turning point in his picturesque career. On his way to the Netherlands he held a rapid interview with the Duke of Guise, to arrange his schemes for the liberation and espousal of that noble’s kinswoman, the Scottish queen, and on the third of November arrived at Luxemburg.
There stood the young conqueror of Lepanto, his brain full of schemes, his heart full of hopes, on the threshold of the Netherlands, at the entrance to what he believed the most brilliant chapter of his life-schemes, hopes, and visions, loomed speedily to fade before the cold reality with which he was to be confronted. Throwing off his disguise after reaching Luxemburg, the youthful paladin stood confessed. His appearance was as romantic as his origin and his exploits. Every contemporary chronicler, French, Spanish, Italian, Flemish, Roman, have dwelt upon his personal beauty and the singular fascination of his manner. Symmetrical features, blue eyes of great vivacity, and a profusion of bright curling hair, were combined with a person not much above middle height, but perfectly well proportioned. Owing to a natural peculiarity of his head, the hair fell backward from the temples, and he had acquired the habit of pushing it from his brows. The custom became a fashion among the host of courtiers, who were but too happy to glass themselves in so brilliant a mirror. As Charles V, on his journey to Italy to assume the iron crown, had caused his hair to be clipped close, as a remedy for the headaches with which, at that momentous epoch, he was tormented, bringing thereby close shaven polls into extreme fashion; so a mass of hair pushed backward from the temples, in the style to which the name of John of Austria was appropriated, became the prevailing mode wherever the favorite son of the Emperor appeared.
Such was the last crusader whom the annals of chivalry were to know, the man who had humbled the crescent as it had not been humbled since the days of the Tancreds, the Baldwins, the Plantagenets—yet, after all, what was this brilliant adventurer when weighed against the tranquil Christian champion whom he was to meet face to face? The contrast was striking between the real and the romantic hero. Don John had pursued and achieved glory through victories with which the world was ringing; William was slowly compassing a country’s emancipation through a series of defeats. He molded a commonwealth and united hearts with as much contempt for danger as Don John had exhibited in scenes of slave driving and carnage. Amid fields of blood, and through webs of tortuous intrigue, the brave and subtle son of the Emperor pursued only his own objects. Tawdry schemes of personal ambition, conquests for his own benefit, impossible crowns for his own wearing, were the motives which impelled him, and the prizes which he sought. His existence was feverish, fitful, and passionate. “Tranquil amid the raging billows,” according to his favorite device, the father of his country waved aside the diadem which for him had neither charms nor meaning. Their characters were as contrasted as their persons. The curled darling of chivalry seemed a youth at thirty-one. Spare of figure, plain in apparel, benignant, but haggard of countenance, with temples bared by anxiety as much as by his helmet, earnest, almost devout in manner, in his own words, “Calvus et Calvinista,” William of Orange was an old man at forty-three.
Perhaps there was as much good faith on the part of Don John, when he arrived in Luxemburg, as could be expected of a man coming directly from the cabinet of Philip. The king had secretly instructed him to conciliate the provinces, but to concede nothing, for the governor was only a new incarnation of the insane paradox that benignity and the system of Charles V were one. He was directed to restore the government to its state during the imperial epoch. Seventeen provinces, in two of which the population were all dissenters, in all of which the principle of mutual toleration had just been accepted by Catholics and Protestants, were now to be brought back to the condition according to which all Protestants were beheaded, burned, or buried alive. So that the Inquisition, the absolute authority of the monarch, and the exclusive worship of the Roman Church were preserved intact, the king professed himself desirous of “extinguishing the fires of rebellion, and of saving the people from the last desperation.” With these slight exceptions, Philip was willing to be very benignant. “More than this,” said he “cannot and ought not be conceded.” To these brief but pregnant instructions was added a morsel of advice, personal in its nature, but very characteristic of the writer. Don John was recommended to take great care of his soul, and also to be very cautious in the management of his amours.
Thus counseled and secretly directed, the new captain-general had been dismissed to the unhappy Netherlands. The position, however, was necessarily false. The man who was renowned for martial exploits, and notoriously devoured by ambition, could hardly inspire deep confidence in the pacific dispositions of the government. The crusader of Granada and Lepanto, the champion of the ancient Church, was not likely to please the rugged Zealanders who had let themselves be hacked to pieces rather than say one Paternoster, and who had worn crescents in their caps at Leyden, to prove their deeper hostility to the pope than to the Turk. The imperial bastard would derive but slight consideration from his paternal blood, in a country where illegitimate birth was more unfavorably regarded than in most other countries, and where a Brabantine edict, recently issued in name of the king, deprived all political or civil functionaries not born in wedlock, of their offices. Yet he had received instructions, at his departure, to bring about a pacification, if possible, always maintaining, however, the absolute authority of the crown and the exclusive exercise of the Catholic religion. How the two great points of his instructions were to be made entirely palatable, was left to time and chance. There was a vague notion that with the new governor’s fame, fascinating manners, and imperial parentage, he might accomplish a result which neither fraud nor force, not the arts of Granvelle, nor the atrocity of Alva, nor the licentiousness of a buccaneering soldiery, had been able to effect. As for Don John himself, he came with no definite plans for the Netherlanders, but with very daring projects of his own, and to pursue these misty visions was his main business on arriving in the provinces. In the meantime he was disposed to settle the Netherland difficulty in some showy, off-hand fashion, which should cost him but little trouble, and occasion no detriment to the cause of papacy or absolutism. Unfortunately for these rapid arrangements, William of Orange was in Zealand, and the Pacification had just been signed at Ghent.
It was, naturally, with very little satisfaction that the prince beheld the arrival of Don John. His sagacious combinations would henceforth be impeded, if not wholly frustrated. This he foresaw. He knew that there could be no intention of making any arrangement in which Holland and Zealand could be included. He was confident that any recognition of the Reformed religion was as much out of the question now as ever. He doubted not that there were many Catholic magnates, wavering politicians, aspirants for royal favor, who would soon be ready to desert the cause which had so recently been made a general cause, and who would soon be undermining the work of their own hands. The Pacification of Ghent would never be maintained in letter and spirit by the vicegerent of Philip; for however its sense might be commented upon or perverted, the treaty, while it recognized Catholicism as the state religion, conceded, to a certain extent, liberty of conscience. An immense stride had been taken, by abolishing the edicts, and prohibiting persecution. If that step were now retraced, the new religion was doomed, and the liberties of Holland and Zealand destroyed. “If they make an arrangement with Don John, it will be for us of the religion to run,” wrote the prince to his brother, “for their intention is to suffer no person of that faith to have a fixed domicile in the Netherlands.” It was, therefore, with a calm determination to counteract and crush the policy of the youthful governor that William the Silent awaited his antagonist. Were Don John admitted to confidence, the peace of Holland and Zealand was gone. Therefore it was necessary to combat him both openly and secretly—by loud remonstrance and by invisible stratagem. What chance had the impetuous and impatient young hero in such an encounter with the foremost statesman of the age? He had arrived, with all the self-confidence of a conqueror; he did not know that he was to be played upon like a pipe, to be caught in meshes spread by his own hands, to struggle blindly, to rage impotently, to die ingloriously.
The prince had lost no time in admonishing the states-general as to the course which should now be pursued. He was of opinion that, upon their conduct at this crisis depended the future destinies of the Netherlands. “If we understand how to make proper use of the new governor’s arrival,” said he, “it may prove very advantageous to us; if not, it will be the commencement of our total ruin.” The spirit of all his communications was to infuse the distrust which he honestly felt, and which he certainly took no pains to disguise; to impress upon his countrymen the importance of improving the present emergency by the enlargement, instead of the threatened contraction of their liberties, and to enforce with all his energy the necessity of a firm union. He assured the estates that Don John had been sent, in this simple manner, to the country, because the king and cabinet had begun to despair of carrying their point by force. At the same time he warned them that force would doubtless be replaced by fraud. He expressed his conviction that so soon as Don John should attain the ascendency which he had been sent to secure, the gentleness which now smiled upon the surface would give place to the deadlier purposes which lurked below. He went so far as distinctly to recommend the seizure of Don John’s person. By so doing, much bloodshed might be saved, for such was the king’s respect for the Emperor’s son that their demands would be granted rather than that his liberty should be permanently endangered. In a very striking and elaborate letter which he addressed from Middelburg to the estates-general, he insisted on the expediency of seizing the present opportunity in order to secure and to expand their liberties, and urged them to assert broadly the principle that the true historical polity of the Netherlands was a representative, constitutional government. Don John, on arriving at Luxemburg, had demanded hostages for his own security, a measure which could not but strike the calmest spectator as an infraction of all provincial rights. “He asks you to disarm,” continued William of Orange, “he invites you to furnish hostages, but the time has been when the lord of the land came unarmed and uncovered, before the estates-general, and swore to support the constitutions before his own sovereignty could be recognized.”
He reiterated his suspicions as to the honest intentions of the government, and sought, as forcibly as possible, to infuse an equal distrust into the minds of those he addressed. “Antwerp,” said he, “once the powerful and blooming, now the most forlorn and desolate city of Christendom, suffered because she dared to exclude the king’s troops. You may be sure that you are all to have a place at the same banquet. We may forget the past, but princes never forget, when the means of vengeance are placed within their hands. Nature teaches them to arrive at their end by fraud, when violence will not avail them. Like little children, they whistle to the birds they would catch. Promises and pretences they will furnish in plenty.”
He urged them on no account to begin any negotiation with the governor, except on the basis of the immediate departure of the soldiery. “Make no agreement with him, unless the Spanish and other foreign troops have been sent away beforehand; beware, meantime, of disbanding your own; for that were to put the knife into his hands to cut your own throats withal.” He then proceeded to sketch the outlines of a negotiation, such as he could recommend. The plan was certainly sufficiently bold, and it could hardly cause astonishment, if it were not immediately accepted by Don John, as the basis of an arrangement. “Remember this is not play,” said the prince, “and that you have to choose between the two, either total ruin or manly self-defense. Don John must command the immediate departure of the Spaniards. All our privileges must be revised, and an oath to maintain them required. New councils of state and finance must be appointed by the estates. The general assembly ought to have power to come together twice or thrice yearly, and, indeed, as often as they choose. The states-general must administer and regulate all affairs. The citadels must be demolished everywhere. No troops ought to be enlisted, nor garrisons established, without the consent of the estates.”
In all the documents, whether public memorials or private letters, which came at this period from the hand of the prince, he assumed, as a matter of course, that in any arrangement with the new governor the Pacification of Ghent was to be maintained. This, too, was the determination of almost every man in the country. Don John, soon after his arrival at Luxemburg, had dispatched messengers to the states-general, informing them of his arrival. It was not before the close of the month of November that the negotiations seriously began. Provost Fonck, on the part of the governor, then informed them of Don John’s intention to enter Namur, attended by fifty mounted troopers. Permission, however, was resolutely refused, and the burghers of Namur were forbidden to render oaths of fidelity until the governor should have complied with the preliminary demands of the estates. To enunciate these demands categorically, a deputation of the estates-general Came to Luxemburg. These gentlemen were received with courtesy by Don John, but their own demeanor was not conciliatory. A dislike to the Spanish government, a disloyalty to the monarch with whose brother and representative they were dealing, pierced through all their language. On the other hand, the ardent temper of Don John was never slow to take offense. One of the deputies proposed to the governor, with great coolness, that he should assume the government in his own name, and renounce the authority of Philip. Were he willing to do so, the patriotic gentleman pledged himself that the provinces would at once acknowledge him as sovereign and sustain his government. Don John, enraged at the insult to his own loyalty which the proposition implied, drew his dagger and rushed towards the offender. The deputy would, probably, have paid for his audacity with his life had there not been bystanders enough to prevent the catastrophe. This scene was an unsatisfactory prelude to the opening negotiations.
On the sixth of December the deputies presented to the governor at Luxemburg a paper, containing their demands, drawn up in eight articles, and their concessions in ten. The states insisted on the immediate removal of the troops, with the understanding that they were never to return, but without prohibition of their departure by sea; they demanded the immediate release of all prisoners; they insisted on the maintenance of the Ghent treaty, there being nothing therein which did not tend to the furtherance of the Catholic religion; they claimed an act of amnesty; they required the convocation of the states-general, on the basis of that assembly before which took place the abdication of Charles V; they demanded an oath, on the part of Don John, to maintain all the charters and customs of the country. Should these conditions be complied with, the deputies consented on the part of the estates, that he should be acknowledged as governor, and that the Catholic religion and the authority of his Majesty should be maintained. They agreed that all foreign leagues should be renounced, their own foreign soldiery disbanded, and a guard of honor, native Netherlanders, such as his Majesty was contented with at his “Blythe Entrance,” provided. A truce of fifteen days, for negotiations, was furthermore proposed.
Don John made answers to these propositions by adding a brief comment, as apostille, upon each of the eighteen articles, in succession. He would send away the troops, but, at the same time, the states must disband their own. He declined engaging himself not to recall his foreign soldiery, should necessity require their service. With regard to the Ghent Pacification, he professed himself ready for a general peace negotiation, on condition that the supremacy of the Catholic Church and the authority of his Majesty were properly secured. He would settle upon some act of amnesty after due consultation with the State Council. He was willing that the states should be convoked in general assembly, provided sufficient security were given him that nothing should be there transacted prejudicial to the Catholic religion and the king’s sovereignty. As for their privileges, he would govern as had been done in the time of his imperial father. He expressed his satisfaction with most of the promises offered by the estates, particularly with their expression in favor of the Church and of his Majesty’s authority, the two all-important points to secure which he had come thither unattended, at the peril of his life, but he received their offer of a bodyguard, by which his hirelings were to be superseded, with very little gratitude. He was on the point, he said, of advancing as far as Marche en Famine, and should take with him as strong a guard as he considered necessary, and composed of such troops as he had at hand. Nothing decisive came of this first interview. The parties had taken the measures of their mutual claims, and after a few days, fencing with apostilles, replies, and rejoinders, they separated, their acrimony rather inflamed than appeased.
The departure of the troops and the Ghent treaty were the vital points in the negotiation. The estates had originally been content that the troops should go by sea. Their suspicions were, however, excited by the pertinacity with which Don John held to this mode of removal. Although they did not suspect the mysterious invasion of England, a project which was the real reason why the governor objected to their departure by land, yet they soon became aware that he had been secretly tampering with the troops at every point. The effect of these secret negotiations with the leading officers of the army was a general expression of their unwillingness, on account of the lateness of the season, the difficult and dangerous condition of the roads and mountain-passes, the plague in Italy, and other pretexts, to undertake so long a journey by land. On the other hand, the states, seeing the anxiety and the duplicity of Don John upon this particular point, came to the resolution to thwart him at all hazards, and insisted on the land journey. Too long a time, too much money, too many ships would be necessary, they said, to forward so large a force by sea, and in the meantime it would be necessary to permit them to live for another indefinite period at the charge of the estates.
With regard to the Ghent Pacification, the estates, in the course of December, procured an express opinion from the eleven professors of theology, and doctors utriusque juris of Louvain, that the treaty contained nothing which conflicted with the supremacy of the Catholic religion. The various bishops, deacons, abbots, and pastors of the Netherlands made a similar decision. An elaborate paper, drawn up by the State-Council, at the request of the states-general, declared that there was nothing in the Pacification derogatory to the supreme authority of his Majesty. Thus fortified with opinions which, it must be confessed, were rather dogmatically than argumentatively drawn up, and which it would have been difficult very logically to defend, the states looked forward confidently to the eventual acceptance by Don John of the terms proposed. In the meantime, while there was still an indefinite pause in the negotiations, a remarkable measure came to aid the efficacy of the Ghent Pacification.
Early in January, 1577, the celebrated “Union of Brussels” was formed. This important agreement was originally signed by eight leading personages, the Abbot of Saint Gertrude, the Counts Lalain and Bossu, and the Seigneur de Champagny being among the number. Its tenor was to engage its signers to compass the immediate expulsion of the Spaniards and the execution of the Ghent Pacification, to maintain the Catholic religion and the king’s authority, and to defend the fatherland and all its constitutions. Its motive was to generalize the position assumed by the Ghent treaty. The new act was to be signed, not by a few special deputies alone, like a diplomatic convention, but by all the leading individuals of all the provinces, in order to exhibit to Don John such an array of united strength that he would find himself forced to submit to the demands of the estates. The tenor, motive, and effect were all as had been proposed and foreseen. The agreement to expel the Spaniards, under the Catholic and loyal manifestations indicated, passed from hand to hand through all the provinces. It soon received the signature and support of all the respectability, wealth, and intelligence of the whole country. Nobles, ecclesiastics, citizens, hastened to give to it their adhesion. The states-general had sent it, by solemn resolution, to every province, in order that every man might be forced to range himself either upon the side of the fatherland or of despotism. Two copies of the signatures procured in each province were ordered, of which one was to be deposited in its archives, and the other forwarded to Brussels. In a short time, every province, with the single exception of Luxemburg, had loaded the document with signatures. This was a great step in advance. The Ghent Pacification, which was in the nature of a treaty between the prince and the estates of Holland and Zealand on the one side, and a certain number of provinces on the other, had only been signed by the envoys of the contracting parties. Though received with deserved and universal acclamation, it had not the authority of a popular document. This, however, was the character studiously impressed upon the “Brussels Union.” The people, subdivided according to the various grades of their social hierarchy, had been solemnly summoned to council, and had deliberately recorded their conviction. No restraint had been put upon their freedom of action, and there was hardly a difference of opinion as to the necessity of the measure.
A rapid revolution in Friesland, Groningen, and the dependencies, had recently restored that important country to the national party. The Portuguese De Billy had been deprived of his authority as king’s stadholder, and Count Hoogstraaten’s brother, Baron de Ville, afterwards as Count Renneberg, infamous for his treason to the cause of liberty, had been appointed by the estates in his room. In all this district the “Union of Brussels” was eagerly signed by men of every degree. Holland and Zealand, no less than the Catholic provinces of the South, willingly accepted the compromise which was thus laid down, and which was thought to be not only an additional security for the past, not only a pillar more for the maintenance of the Ghent Pacification, but also a sure precursor of a closer union in the future. The Union of Brussels became, in fact, the stepping stone to the “Union of Utrecht,” itself the foundation stone of a republic destined to endure more than two centuries. On the other hand, this early union held the seed of its own destruction within itself. It was not surprising, however, that a strong declaration in favor of the Catholic religion should be contained in a document intended for circulation through all the provinces. The object was to unite as large a force, and to make as striking a demonstration before the eyes of the governor-general as was practicable under the circumstances. The immediate purpose was answered, temporary union was formed, but it was impossible that a permanent crystallization should take place where so strong a dissolvent as the Catholic clause had been admitted. In the sequel, therefore, the union fell asunder precisely at this fatal flaw. The next union was that which definitely separated the provinces into Protestant and Catholic, into self-governing republics, and the dependencies of a distant despotism. The immediate effect, however, of the “Brussels Union” was to rally all lovers of the fatherland and haters of a foreign tyranny upon one vital point—the expulsion of the stranger from the land. The foot of the Spanish soldier should no longer profane their soil. All men were forced to pronounce themselves boldly and unequivocally, in order that the patriots might stand shoulder to shoulder, and the traitors be held up to infamy. This measure was in strict accordance with the advice given more than once by the Prince of Orange, and was almost in literal fulfillment of the Compromise, which he had sketched before the arrival of Don John.
The deliberations were soon resumed with the new governor, the scene being shifted from Luxemburg to Huy. Hither came a fresh deputation from the states-general—many signers of the Brussels Union among them—and were received by Don John with stately courtesy. They had, however, come, determined to carry matters with a high and firm hand, being no longer disposed to brook his imperious demeanor, nor to tolerate his dilatory policy. It is not surprising, therefore, that the courtesy soon changed to bitterness, and that attack and recrimination usurped the place of the dignified but empty formalities which had characterized the interviews at Luxemburg.
The envoys, particularly Sweveghem and Champagny, made no concealment of their sentiments towards the Spanish soldiery and the Spanish nation, and used a freedom of tone and language which the petulant soldier had not been accustomed to hear. He complained, at the outset, that the Netherlanders seemed new-born—that instead of bending the knee, they seemed disposed to grasp the scepter. Insolence had taken the place of pliancy, and the former slave now applied the chain and whip to his master. With such exacerbation of temper at the commencement of negotiations, their progress was of necessity stormy and slow.
The envoys now addressed three concise questions to the governor. Was he satisfied that the Ghent Pacification contained nothing conflicting with the Roman religion and the king’s authority? If so, was he willing to approve that treaty in all its articles? Was he ready to dismiss his troops at once, and by land, the sea voyage being liable to too many objections?
Don John answered these three questions—which, in reality, were but three forms of a single question—upon the same day, the 24th of January. His reply was as complex as the demand had been simple. It consisted of a proposal in six articles, and a requisition in twenty-one, making in all twenty-seven articles. Substantially he proposed to dismiss the foreign troops, to effect a general pacification of the Netherlands, to govern on the basin of the administration in his imperial father’s reign, to arrange affairs in and with regard to the assembly-general as the king should judge to be fitting, to forgive and forget past offenses, and to release all prisoners. On the other hand he required the estates to pay the troops before their departure, and to provide ships enough to transport them, as the Spaniards did not choose to go by land, and as the deputies at Luxemburg had consented to their removal by sea. Furthermore, he demanded that the states should dismiss their own troops. He required ecclesiastical authority to prove the Ghent Pacification not prejudicial to the Catholic religion; legal authority that it was not detrimental to his Majesty’s supremacy, and an oath from the states-general to uphold both points inviolably, and to provide for their maintenance in Holland and Zealand. He claimed the right to employ about his person soldiers and civil functionaries of any nation he might choose, and he exacted from the states a promise to prevent the Prince of Orange from removing his son, Count van Buren, forcibly or fraudulently, from his domicile in Spain.
The deputies were naturally indignant at this elaborate trifling. They had, in reality, asked him but one question, and that a simple one—would he maintain the treaty of Ghent? Here were twenty-seven articles in reply, and yet no answer to that question. They sat up all night, preparing a violent protocol, by which the governor’s claims were to be utterly demolished. Early in the morning, they waited upon his Highness, presented the document, and at the same time asked him plainly, by word of mouth, did he or did he not intend to uphold the treaty. Thus pressed into a corner in presence of the deputies, the members of the State Council who were in attendance from Brussels, and the envoys whom the Emperor had recently sent to assist at these deliberations, the governor answered, No. He would not and could not maintain the treaty, because the Spanish troops were in that instrument denounced as rebels, because he would not consent to the release of Count Van Buren—and on account of various other reasons not then specified. Hereupon ensued a fierce debate, and all day long the altercation lasted, without a result being reached. At ten o’clock in the evening, the deputies having previously retired for a brief interval, returned with a protest that they were not to be held responsible for the termination of the proceedings, and that they washed their hands of the bloodshed which might follow the rupture. Upon reading this document, Don John fell into a blazing passion. He vehemently denounced the deputies as traitors. He swore that men who came to him thus prepared with ready-made protests in their pockets, were rebels from the commencement, and had never intended any agreement with him. His language and gestures expressed unbounded fury. He was weary of their ways, he said. They had better look to themselves, for the king would never leave their rebellion unpunished. He was ready to draw the sword at once—not his own, but his Majesty’s—and they might be sure that the war which they were thus provoking, should be the fiercest ever waged.
More abusive language in this strain was uttered, but it was not heard with lamb-like submission. The day had gone by when the deputies of the states-general were wont to quail before the wrath of vicarious royalty. The fiery words of Don John were not oil to troubled water, but a match to a mine. The passions of the deputies exploded in their turn, and from hot words they had nearly come to hard blows. One of the deputies replied with so much boldness and vehemence that the governor, seizing a heavy silver bell which stood on the table, was about to hurl it at the offender’s head, when an energetic and providential interference on the part of the imperial envoys, prevented the unseemly catastrophe.
The day thus unprofitably spent had now come to its close, and the deputies left the presence of Don John with tempers as inflamed as his own. They were, therefore, somewhat surprised at being awakened in their beds, after midnight, by a certain Father Trigoso, who came to them with a conciliatory message from the governor. While they were still rubbing their eyes with sleep and astonishment, the Duke of Aerschot, the Bishop of Liege, and several councillors of state, entered the room. These personages brought the news that Don John had at last consented to maintain the Pacification of Ghent, as would appear by a note written in his own hand, which was then delivered. The billet was eagerly read, but unfortunately did not fulfill the anticipations which had been excited. “I agree,” said Don John, “to approve the peace made between the states and the Prince of Orange, on condition that nothing therein may seem detrimental to the authority of his Majesty and the supremacy of the Catholic religion, and also with reservation of the points mentioned in my last communication.”
Men who had gone to bed in a high state of indignation were not likely to wake in much better humor, when suddenly aroused in their first nap, to listen to such a message as this. It seemed only one piece of trifling the more. The deputies had offered satisfactory opinions of divines and juris-consults, as to the two points specified which concerned the Ghent treaty. It was natural, therefore, that this vague condition concerning them, the determination of which was for the governor’s breast alone, should be instantly rejected, and that the envoys should return to their disturbed slumbers with an increase of ill humor.
On the morrow, as the envoys, booted and spurred, were upon the point of departure for Brussels, another communication was brought to them from Don John. This time, the language of the governor seemed more to the purpose. “I agree,” said he, “to maintain the peace concluded between the states and the Prince of Orange, on condition of receiving from the ecclesiastical authorities, and from the University of Louvain, satisfactory assurance that the said treaty contains nothing derogatory to the Catholic religion—and similar assurance from the State Council, the Bishop of Liege, and the imperial envoys, that the treaty is in no wise prejudicial to the authority of his Majesty.” Here seemed, at last, something definite. These conditions could be complied with. They had, in fact, been already complied with. The assurances required as to the two points had already been procured, as the deputies and as Don John well knew. The Pacification of Ghent was, therefore, virtually admitted. The deputies waited upon the governor accordingly, and the conversation was amicable. They vainly endeavored, however, to obtain his consent to the departure of the troops by land—the only point then left in dispute. Don John, still clinging to his secret scheme, with which the sea voyage of the troops was so closely connected, refused to concede. He reproached the envoys, on the contrary, with their importunity in making a fresh demand, just as he had conceded the Ghent treaty, upon his entire responsibility and without instructions. Mentally resolving that this point should still be wrung from the governor, but not suspecting his secret motives for resisting it so strenuously, the deputies took an amicable farewell of the Governor, promising a favorable report upon the proceedings, so soon as they should arrive in Brussels.
Don John, having conceded so much, was soon obliged to concede the whole. The Emperor Rudolph had lately succeeded his father, Maximilian. The deceased potentate, whose sentiments on the great subject of religious toleration were so much in harmony with those entertained by the Prince of Orange, had, on the whole, notwithstanding the ties of relationship and considerations of policy, uniformly befriended the Netherlands, so far as words and protestations could go, at the court of Philip. Active cooperation, practical assistance, he had certainly not rendered. He had unquestionably been too much inclined to accomplish the impossibility of assisting the states without offending the king—an effort which, in the homely language of Hans Jenitz, was “like wishing his skin washed without being wet.” He had even interposed many obstacles to the free action of the prince, as has been seen in the course of this history, but nevertheless, the cause of the Netherlands, of religion, and of humanity had much to lose by his death. His eldest son and successor, Rudolph II, was an ardent Catholic, whose relations with a proscribed prince and a reformed population could hardly remain long in a satisfactory state. The new Emperor had, however, received the secret envoys of Orange with bounty, and was really desirous of accomplishing the pacification of the provinces. His envoys had assisted at all the recent deliberations between the estates and Don John, and their vivid remonstrances removed, at this juncture, the last objection on the part of the governor-general. With a secret sigh, he deferred the darling and mysterious hope which had lighted him to the Netherlands, and consented to the departure of the troops by land.
All obstacles having been thus removed, the memorable treaty called the Perpetual Edict was signed at Marche en Famine on the 12th, and at Brussels on February 17, 1577. This document, issued in the name of the king, contained nineteen articles. It approved and ratified the Peace of Ghent, in consideration that the prelates and clergy, with the doctors utriusque juris of Louvain, had decided that nothing in that treaty conflicted either with the supremacy of the Catholic Church or the authority of the king, but, on the contrary, that it advanced the interests of both. It promised that the soldiery should depart “freely, frankly, and without delay, by land, never to return except in case of foreign war”—the Spaniards to set forth within forty days, the Germans and others so soon as arrangements had been made by the states-general for their payment. It settled that all prisoners, on both sides, should be released, excepting the Count Van Buren, who was to be set free so soon as, the states-general having been convoked, the Prince of Orange should have fulfilled the resolutions to be passed by that assembly. It promised the maintenance of all the privileges, charters, and constitutions of the Netherlands. It required of the states an oath to maintain the Catholic religion. It recorded their agreement to disband their troops. It settled that Don John should be received as governor-general, immediately upon the departure of the Spaniards, Italians, and Burgundians from the provinces.
These were the main provisions of this famous treaty, which was confirmed a few weeks afterwards by Philip, in a letter addressed to the states of Brabant, and by an edict issued at Madrid. It will be seen that everything required by the envoys of the states, at the commencement of their negotiations, had been conceded by Don John. They had claimed the departure of the troops, either by land or sea. He had resisted the demand a long time, but had at last consented to dispatch them by sea. Their departure by land had then been insisted upon. This again he had most reluctantly conceded. The ratification of the Ghent Treaty he had peremptorily refused. He had come to the provinces, at the instant of its conclusion, and had, of course, no instructions on the subject. Nevertheless, slowly receding, he had agreed, under certain reservations, to accept the treaty. Those reservations relating to the great points of Catholic and royal supremacy, he insisted upon subjecting to his own judgment alone. Again he was overruled. Most unwillingly he agreed to accept, instead of his own conscientious conviction, the dogmas of the State Council and of the Louvain doctors. Not seeing very clearly how a treaty which abolished the edicts of Charles V and the ordinances of Alva—which removed the religious question in Holland and Zealand from the king’s jurisdiction to that of the states-general, which had caused persecution to surcease, had established toleration, and which moreover, had confirmed the arch rebel and heretic of all the Netherlands in the government of the two rebellious and heretic provinces, as stadholder for the king—not seeing very clearly how such a treaty was “advantageous rather than prejudicial to royal absolutism and an exclusive Catholicism,” he naturally hesitated at first.
The governor had thus disconcerted the Prince of Orange, not by the firmness of his resistance, but by the amplitude of his concessions. The combinations of William the Silent were, for an instant, deranged. Had the prince expected such liberality, he would have placed his demands upon a higher basis, for it is not probable that he contemplated or desired a pacification. The Duke of Aerschot and the Bishop of Liege in vain essayed to prevail upon his deputies at Marche en Famine, to sign the agreement of the 27th of January, upon which was founded the Perpetual Edict. They refused to do so without consulting the prince and the estates. Meantime, the other commissioners forced the affair rapidly forward. The states sent a deputation to the prince to ask his opinion, and signed the agreement before it was possible to receive his reply. This was to treat him with little courtesy, if not absolutely with bad faith. The prince was disappointed and indignant. In truth, as appeared from all his language and letters, he had no confidence in Don John. He believed him a consummate hypocrite, and as deadly a foe to the Netherlands as the Duke of Alva or Philip himself. He had carefully studied twenty-five intercepted letters from the king, the governor, Jerome de Roda, and others, placed recently in his hands by the Duke of Aerschot, and had found much to confirm previous and induce fresh suspicion. Only a few days previously to the signature of the treaty, he had also intercepted other letters from influential personages, Alonzo de Vargas and others, disclosing extensive designs to obtain possession of the strong places in the country, and then to reduce the land to absolute subjection. He had assured the estates, therefore, that the deliberate intention of the government, throughout the whole negotiation, was to deceive, whatever might be the public language of Don John and his agents. He implored them, therefore, to have “pity upon the poor country,” and to save the people from falling into the trap which was laid for them. From first to last, he had expressed a deep and wise distrust, and justified it by ample proofs. He was, with reason, irritated, therefore, at the haste with which the states had concluded the agreement with Don John—at the celerity with which, as he afterwards expressed it, “they had rushed upon the boar-spear of that sanguinary heart.” He believed that everything had been signed and sworn by the governor, with the mental reservation that such agreements were valid only until he should repent having made them. He doubted the good faith and the stability of the grand seigniors. He had never felt confidence in the professions of the time-serving Aerschot, nor did he trust even the brave Champagny, notwithstanding his services at the sack of Antwerp. He was especially indignant that provision had been made, not for demolishing but for restoring to his Majesty those hateful citadels, nests of tyranny, by which the flourishing cities of the land were kept in perpetual anxiety. Whether in the hands of king, nobles, or magistrates, they were equally odious to him, and he had long since determined that they should be razed to the ground. In short, he believed that the estates had thrust their heads into the lion’s mouth, and he foresaw the most gloomy consequences from the treaty which had just been concluded. He believed, to use his own language, “that the only difference between Don John and Alva or Requesens was, that he was younger and more foolish than his predecessors, less capable of concealing his venom, more impatient to dip his hands in blood.”
In the Pacification of Ghent, the prince had achieved the prize of his life-long labors. He had banded a mass of provinces by the ties of a common history, language, and customs, into a league against a foreign tyranny. He had grappled Holland and Zealand to their sister provinces by a common love for their ancient liberties, by a common hatred to a Spanish soldiery. He had exorcised the evil demon of religious bigotry by which the body politic had been possessed so many years; for the Ghent treaty, largely interpreted, opened the door to universal toleration. In the Perpetual Edict the prince saw his work undone. Holland and Zealand were again cut adrift from the other fifteen provinces, and war would soon be let loose upon that devoted little territory. The article stipulating the maintenance of the Ghent treaty he regarded as idle wind, the solemn saws of the State Council and the quiddities from Louvain being likely to prove but slender bulwarks against the returning tide of tyranny. Either it was tacitly intended to tolerate the Reformed religion, or to hunt it down. To argue that the Ghent treaty, loyally interpreted, strengthened ecclesiastical or royal despotism, was to contend that a maniac was more dangerous in fetters than when armed with a sword; it was to be blind to the difference between a private conventicle and a public scaffold. The Perpetual Edict, while affecting to sustain the treaty, would necessarily destroy it at a blow, while during the brief interval of repose, tyranny would have renewed its youth like the eagles. Was it possible, then, for William of Orange to sustain the Perpetual Edict, the compromise with Don John? Ten thousand ghosts from the Lake of Harlem, from the famine and plague-stricken streets of Leyden, from the smoking ruins of Antwerp, rose to warn him against such a composition with a despotism as subtle as it was remorseless.
It was, therefore, not the policy of William of Orange, suspecting, as he did, Don John, abhorring Philip, doubting the Netherland nobles, confiding only in the mass of the citizens, to give his support to the Perpetual Edict. He was not the more satisfied because the states had concluded the arrangement without his sanction, and against his express advice. He refused to publish or recognize the treaty in Holland and Zealand. A few weeks before, he had privately laid before the states of Holland and Zealand a series of questions, in order to test their temper, asking them, in particular, whether they were prepared to undertake a new and sanguinary war for the sake of their religion, even although their other privileges should be recognized by the new government, and a long and earnest debate had ensued, of a satisfactory nature, although no positive resolution was passed upon the subject. As soon as the Perpetual Edict had been signed, the states-general had sent to the prince, requesting his opinion and demanding his sanction. Orange, in the name of Holland and Zealand, instantly returned an elaborate answer, taking grave exceptions to the whole tenor of the Edict. He complained that the constitution of the land was violated, because the ancient privilege of the states-general to assemble at their pleasure, had been invaded, and because the laws of every province were set at nought by the continued imprisonment of Count Van Buren, who had committed no crime, and whose detention proved that no man, whatever might be promised, could expect security for life or liberty. The ratification of the Ghent treaty, it was insisted, was in no wise distinct and categorical, but was made dependent on a crowd of deceitful subterfuges. He inveighed bitterly against the stipulation in the Edict that the states should pay the wages of the soldiers, whom they had just proclaimed to be knaves and rebels, and at whose hands they had suffered such monstrous injuries. He denounced the cowardice which could permit this band of hirelings to retire with so much jewelry, merchandise, and plate, the result of their robberies. He expressed, however, in the name of the two provinces, a willingness to sign the Edict, provided the states-general would agree solemnly beforehand, in case the departure of the Spaniards did not take place within the stipulated time, to abstain from all recognition of, or communication with, Don John, and themselves to accomplish the removal of the troops by force of arms.
Such was the first and solemn manifesto made by the prince in reply to the Perpetual Edict, the states of Holland and Zealand uniting heart and hand in all that he thought, wrote and said. His private sentiments were in strict accordance with the opinions thus publicly recorded. “Whatever appearance Don John may assume to the contrary,” wrote the prince to his brother, “’tis by no means his intention to maintain the Pacification, and less still to cause the Spaniards to depart, with whom he keeps up the most strict correspondence possible.”
On the other hand, the governor was most anxious to conciliate the prince. He was most earnest to win the friendship of the man without whom every attempt to recover Holland and Zealand, and to re-establish royal and ecclesiastical tyranny, he knew to be hopeless. “This is the pilot,” wrote Don John to Philip, “who guides the bark. He alone can destroy or save it. The greatest obstacles would be removed if he could be gained.” He had proposed, and Philip had approved the proposition, that the Count Van Buren should be clothed with his father’s dignities, on condition that the prince should himself retire into Germany. It was soon evident, however, that such a proposition would meet with little favor, the office of father of his country and protector of her liberties not being transferable.
While at Louvain, whither he had gone after the publication of the Perpetual Edict, Don John had conferred with the Duke of Aerschot, and they had decided that it would be well to send Doctor Leoninus on a private mission to the prince. Previously to his departure on this errand, the learned envoy had therefore a full conversation with the governor. He was charged to represent to the prince the dangers to which Don John had exposed himself in coming from Spain to effect the pacification of the Netherlands. Leoninus was instructed to give assurance that the treaty just concluded should be maintained, that the Spaniards should depart, that all other promises should be inviolably kept, and that the governor would take up arms against all who should oppose the fulfillment of his engagements. He was to represent that Don John, in proof of his own fidelity, had placed himself in the power of the states. He was to intimate to the prince that an opportunity was now offered him to do the crown a service, in recompense for which he would obtain, not only pardon for his faults, but the favor of the monarch, and all the honors which could be desired; that by so doing he would assure the future prosperity of his family; that Don John would be his good friend, and, as such, would do more for him than he could imagine. The envoy was also to impress upon the prince, that if he persisted in his opposition, every man’s hand would be against him, and the ruin of his house inevitable. He was to protest that Don John came but to forgive and to forget, to restore the ancient government and the ancient prosperity, so that, if it was for those objects the prince had taken up arms, it was now his duty to lay them down, and to do his utmost to maintain peace and the Catholic religion. Finally, the envoy was to intimate that if he chose to write to Don John, he might be sure to receive a satisfactory answer. In these pacific instructions and friendly expressions, Don John was sincere. “The name of your majesty,” said he, plainly, in giving an account of this mission to the king, “is as much abhorred and despised in the Netherlands as that of the Prince of Orange is loved and feared. I am negotiating with him, and giving him every security, for I see that the establishment of peace, as well as the maintenance of the Catholic religion, and the obedience to your Majesty, depend now upon him. Things have reached that pass that ’tis necessary to make a virtue of necessity. If he lend an ear to my proposals, it will be only upon very advantageous conditions, but to these it will be necessary to submit, rather than to lose everything.”
Don John was in earnest; unfortunately he was not aware that the prince was in earnest also. The crusader, who had sunk 30,000 paynims at a blow, and who was dreaming of the Queen of Scotland and the throne of England, had not room in his mind to entertain the image of a patriot. Royal favors, family prosperity, dignities, offices, orders, advantageous conditions, these were the baits with which the governor angled for William of Orange. He did not comprehend that attachment to a half-drowned land and to a despised religion, could possibly stand in the way of those advantageous conditions and that brilliant future. He did not imagine that the rebel, once assured not only of pardon but of advancement, could hesitate to refuse the royal hand thus amicably offered. Don John had not accurately measured his great antagonist.
The results of the successive missions which he dispatched to the prince were destined to enlighten him. In the course of the first conversation between Leoninus and the prince at Middelburg, the envoy urged that Don John had entered the Netherlands without troops, that he had placed himself in the power of the Duke of Aerschot, that he had since come to Louvain without any security but the promise of the citizens and of the students, and that all these things proved the sincerity of his intentions. He entreated the prince not to let slip so favorable an opportunity for placing his house above the reach of every unfavorable chance, spoke to him of Marius, Sylla, Julius Caesar, and other promoters of civil wars, and on retiring for the day, begged him to think gravely on what he had thus suggested, and to pray that God might inspire him with good resolutions.
Next day, William informed the envoy that, having prayed to God for assistance, he was more than ever convinced of his obligation to lay the whole matter before the states, whose servant he was. He added, that he could not forget the deaths of Egmont and Horn, nor the manner in which the promise made to the confederate nobles by the Duchess of Parma had been visited, nor the conduct of the French monarch towards Admiral Coligny. He spoke of information which he had received from all quarters, from Spain, France, and Italy, that there was a determination to make war upon him and upon the states of Holland and Zealand. He added that they were taking their measures in consequence, and that they were well aware that a papal nuncio had arrived in the Netherlands, to intrigue against them. In the evening, the prince complained that the estates had been so precipitate in concluding their arrangement with Don John. He mentioned several articles in the treaty which were calculated to excite distrust, dwelling particularly on the engagement entered into by the estates to maintain the Catholic religion. This article he declared to be in direct contravention to the Ghent treaty, by which this point was left to the decision of a future assembly of the estates-general. Leoninus essayed, as well as he could, to dispute these positions. In their last interview, the prince persisted in his intention of laying the whole matter before the states of Holland and Zealand. Not to do so, he said, would be to expose himself to ruin on one side, and on the other, to the indignation of those who might suspect him of betraying them. The envoy begged to be informed if any hope could be entertained of a future arrangement. Orange replied that he had no expectation of any, but advised Doctor Leoninus to be present at Dort when the estates should assemble.
Notwithstanding the unfavorable result of this mission Don John did not even yet despair of bending the stubborn character of the prince. He hoped that, if a personal interview between them could be arranged, he should be able to remove many causes of suspicion from the mind of has adversary. “In such times as these,” wrote the governor to Philip, “we can make no election, nor do I see any remedy to preserve the state from destruction, save to gain over this man, who has so much influence with the nation.” The prince had, in truth, the whole game in his hands. There was scarcely a living creature in Holland and Zealand who was not willing to be bound by his decision in every emergency. Throughout the rest of the provinces, the mass of the people looked up to him with absolute confidence, the clergy and the prominent nobles respecting and fearing him, even while they secretly attempted to thwart his designs. Possessing dictatorial power in two provinces, vast influences in the other fifteen, nothing could be easier for him than to betray his country. The time was singularly propitious. The revengeful king was almost on his knees to the denounced rebel. Everything was proffered: pardon, advancement, power. An indefinite vista was opened. “You cannot imagine,” said Don John, “how much it will be within my ability to do for you.” The governor was extremely anxious to purchase the only enemy whom Philip feared. The prince had nothing personally to gain by a continuance of the contest. The ban, outlawry, degradation, pecuniary ruin, assassination, martyrdom—these were the only guerdons he could anticipate. He had much to lose, but yesterday loaded with dignities, surrounded by pomp and luxury, with many children to inherit his worldly gear, could he not recover all, and more than all, today? What service had he to render in exchange? A mere nothing. He had but to abandon the convictions of a lifetime, and to betray a million or two of hearts which trusted him.
As to the promises made by the governor to rule the country with gentleness, the prince could not do otherwise than commend the intention, even while distrusting the fulfillment. In his reply to the two letters of Don John, he thanked his Highness, with what seemed a grave irony, for the benign courtesy and signal honor which he had manifested to him, by inviting him so humanely and so carefully to a tranquil life, wherein, according to his Highness, consisted the perfection of felicity in this mortal existence, and by promising him so liberally favor and grace. He stated, however, with earnestness, that the promises in regard to the pacification of the poor Netherland people were much more important. He had ever expected, he said, beyond all comparison, the welfare and security of the public before his own, “having always placed his particular interests under his foot, even as he was still resolved to do, as long as life should endure.”
Thus did William of Orange receive the private advances made by the government towards himself. Meantime, Don John of Austria came to Louvain. Until the preliminary conditions of the Perpetual Edict had been fulfilled, and the Spanish troops sent out of the country, he was not to be received as governor-general, but it seemed unbecoming for him to remain longer upon the threshold of the provinces. He therefore advanced into the heart of the country, trusting himself without troops to the loyalty of the people, and manifesting a show of chivalrous confidence which he was far from feeling. He was soon surrounded by courtiers, time-servers, noble office-seekers. They who had kept themselves invisible, so long as the issue of a perplexed negotiation seemed doubtful, now became obsequious and inevitable as his shadow. One grand seignior wanted a regiment, another a government, a third a chamberlain’s key; all wanted titles, ribbons, offices, livery, wages. Don John distributed favors and promises with vast liberality. The object with which Philip had sent him to the Netherlands, that he might conciliate the hearts of its inhabitants by the personal graces which he had inherited from his imperial father, seemed in a fair way of accomplishment, for it was not only the venal applause of titled sycophants that he strove to merit, but he mingled gaily and familiarly with all classes of citizens. Everywhere his handsome face and charming manner produced their natural effect. He dined and supped with the magistrates in the Town-house, honored general banquets of the burghers with his presence, and was affable and dignified, witty, fascinating, and commanding, by turns.
At Louvain the five military guilds held a solemn festival. The usual invitations were sent to the other societies, and to all the martial brotherhoods, the country round. Gay and gaudy processions, sumptuous banquets, military sports, rapidly succeeded each other. Upon the day of the great trial of skill, all the high functionaries of the land were, according to custom, invited, and the governor was graciously pleased to honor the solemnity with his presence. Great was the joy of the multitude when Don John, complying with the habit of imperial and princely personages in former days, enrolled himself, crossbow in hand, among the competitors. Greater still was the enthusiasm, when the conqueror of Lepanto brought down the bird, and was proclaimed king of the year, amid the tumultuous hilarity of the crowd. According to custom, the captains of the guild suspended a golden popinjay around the neck of his Highness, and placing themselves in procession, followed him to the great church. Thence, after the customary religious exercises, the multitude proceeded to the banquet, where the health of the new king of the crossbowmen was pledged in deep potations. Long and loud was the merriment of this initiatory festival, to which many feasts succeeded during those brief but halcyon days, for the good-natured Netherlanders already believed in the blessed advent of peace. They did not dream that the war, which had been consuming the marrow of their commonwealth for ten flaming years, was but in its infancy, and that neither they nor their children were destined to see its close.
For the moment, however, all was hilarity at Louvain. The governor, by his engaging deportment, awoke many reminiscences of the once popular Emperor. He expressed unbounded affection for the commonwealth, and perfect confidence in the loyalty of the inhabitants. He promised to maintain their liberties, and to restore their prosperity. Moreover, he had just hit the popinjay with a skill which his imperial father might have envied, and presided at burgher banquets with a grace which Charles could have hardly matched. His personal graces, for the moment, took the rank of virtues. “Such were the beauty and vivacity of his eyes,” says his privy councillor, Tassis, “that with a single glance he made all hearts his own”; yet, nevertheless, the predestined victim secretly felt himself the object of a marksman who had no time for painted popinjays, but who rarely missed his aim. “The whole country is at the devotion of the prince, and nearly every one of its inhabitants”—such was his secret language to his royal brother, at the very moment of the exuberant manifestations which preceded his own entrance to Brussels.
While the governor still tarried at Louvain, his secretary, Escovedo, was busily engaged in arranging the departure of the Spaniards, for, notwithstanding his original reluctance and the suspicions of Orange, Don John loyally intended to keep his promise. He even advanced 27,000 florins towards the expense of their removal, but to raise the whole amount required for transportation and arrears, was a difficult matter. The estates were slow in providing the 150,000 florins which they had stipulated to furnish. The king’s credit, moreover, was at a very low ebb. His previous bonds had not been duly honored, and there had even been instances of royal repudiation, which by no means lightened the task of the financier, in effecting the new loans required. Escovedo was very blunt in his language upon this topic, and both Don John and himself urged punctuality in all future payments. They entreated that the bills drawn in Philip’s name upon Lombardy bankers, and discounted at a heavy rate of interest, by the Fuggers of Antwerp, might be duly provided for at maturity. “I earnestly beg,” said Escovedo, “that your Majesty will see to the payment of these bills, at all events,” adding, with amusing simplicity, “this will be a means of recovering your Majesty’s credit, and as for my own, I don’t care to lose it, small though it be.” Don John was even more solicitous. “For the love of God, Sire,” he wrote, “do not be delinquent now. You must reflect upon the necessity of recovering your credit. If this receives now the final blow, all will desert your Majesty, and the soldiers too will be driven to desperation.”
By dint of great diligence on the part of Escovedo, and through the confidence reposed in his character, the necessary funds were raised in the course of a few weeks. There was, however, a difficulty among the officers, as to the right of commanding the army on the homeward march. Don Alonzo de Vargas, as chief of the cavalry, was appointed to the post by the governor, but Valdez, Romero, and other veterans, indignantly refused to serve under one whom they declared their inferior officer. There was much altercation and heartburning, and an attempt was made to compromise the matter by the appointment of Count Mansfeld to the chief command. This was, however, only adding fuel to the flames. All were dissatisfied with the superiority accorded to a foreigner, and Alonzo de Vargas, especially offended, addressed most insolent language to the governor. Nevertheless, the arrangement was maintained, and the troops finally took their departure from the country, in the latter days of April. A vast concourse of citizens witnessed their departure, and could hardly believe their eyes, as they saw this incubus at last rolling off, by which the land had so many years been crushed. Their joy, although extravagant, was, however, limited by the reflection that 10,000 Germans still remained in the provinces, attached to the royal service, and that there was even yet a possibility that the departure of the Spaniards was a feint. In truth, Escovedo, although seconding the orders of Don John, to procure the removal of these troops, did not scruple to express his regret to the king, and his doubts as to the result. He had been ever in hopes that an excuse might be found in the condition of affairs in France, to justify the retention of the forces near that frontier. He assured the king that he felt very doubtful as to what turn matters might take, after the soldiers were gone, seeing the great unruliness which even their presence had been insufficient completely to check. He had hoped that they might be retained in the neighborhood, ready to seize the islands at the first opportunity. “For my part,” he wrote, “I care nothing for the occupation of places within the interior, but the islands must be secured.” “To do this,” he continued, with a deceitful allusion to the secret projects of Don John, “is, in my opinion, more difficult than to effect the scheme upon England. If the one were accomplished, the other would be easily enough managed, and would require but moderate means. Let not your Majesty suppose that I say this as favoring the plan of Don John, for this I put entirely behind me.”
Notwithstanding these suspicions on the part of the people, this reluctance on the part of the government, the troops readily took up their line of march, and never paused till they reached Lombardy. Don John wrote repeatedly to the king, warmly urging the claims of these veterans, and of their distinguished officers, Romero, Avila, Valdez, Montesdocca, Verdugo, Mondragon, and others, to his bountiful consideration. They had departed in very ill humor, not having received any recompense for their long and arduous services. Certainly, if unflinching endurance, desperate valor, and congenial cruelty, could atone in the monarch’s eyes for the mutiny, which had at last compelled their withdrawal, then were these laborers worthy of their hire. Don John had pacified them by assurances that they should receive adequate rewards on their arrival in Lombardy, and had urged the full satisfaction of their claims and his promises in the strongest language. Although Don Alonzo de Vargas had abused him “with flying colors,” as he expressed himself, yet he hastened to intercede for him with the king in the most affectionate terms. “His impatience has not surprised me,” said the governor, “although I regret that he has been offended, for I love and esteem him much. He has served many years with great distinction, and I can certify that his character for purity and religion is something extraordinary.”
The first scene in the withdrawal of the troops had been the evacuation of the citadel of Antwerp, and it had been decided that the command of this most important fortress should be conferred upon the Duke of Aerschot. His claims as commander-in-chief, under the authority of the State Council, and as chief of the Catholic nobility, could hardly be passed over, yet he was a man whom neither party trusted. He was too visibly governed by interested motives. Arrogant where he felt secure of his own, or doubtful as to another’s position, he could be supple and cringing when the relations changed. He refused an interview with William of Orange before consulting with Don John, and solicited one afterwards when he found that every effort was to be made to conciliate the prince. He was insolent to the governor-general himself in February, and respectful in March. He usurped the first place in the church, before Don John had been acknowledged governor, and was the first to go forth to welcome him after the matter had been arranged. He made a scene of virtuous indignation in the State Council, because he was accused of place-hunting, but was diligent to secure an office of the highest dignity which the governor could bestow. Whatever may have been his merits, it is certain that he inspired confidence neither in the adherents of the king nor of the prince, while he by turns professed the warmest regard both to the one party and the other. Spaniards and patriots, Protestants and Catholics, suspected the man at the same moment, and ever attributed to his conduct a meaning which was the reverse of the apparent. Such is often the judgment passed upon those who fish in troubled waters only to fill their own nets.
The duke, however, was appointed governor of the citadel. Sancho d’Avila, the former constable, refused, with Castillian haughtiness, to surrender the place to his successor, but appointed his lieutenant, Martin d’Oyo, to perform that ceremony. Escovedo, standing upon the drawbridge with Aerschot, administered the oath. “I, Philip, Duke of Aerschot,” said the new constable, “solemnly swear to hold this castle for the king, and for no others.” To which Escovedo added, “God help you, with all his angels, if you keep your oath; if not, may the Devil carry you away, body and soul.” The few bystanders cried Amen, and with this hasty ceremony, the keys were delivered, the prisoners, Egmont, Capres, Goignies, and others, liberated, and the Spaniards ordered to march forth.
The Convictions of the Prince of Orange and his Negotiations with Don John
As already narrated, the soldiery had retired definitely from the country at the end of April, after which Don John made his triumphal entrance into Brussels on the first of May. It was long since so festive a May-day had gladdened the hearts of Brabant. So much holiday magnificence had not been seen in the Netherlands for years. A solemn procession of burghers, preceded by 6,000 troops, and garnished by the free companies of archers and musketeers, in their picturesque costumes, escorted the young prince along the streets of the capital. Don John was on horseback, wrapped in a long green cloak, riding between the Bishop of Liege and the papal nuncio. He passed beneath countless triumphal arches. Banners waved before him, on which the battle of Lepanto, and other striking scenes in his life, were emblazoned. Minstrels sang verses, poets recited odes, rhetoric clubs enacted fantastic dramas in his honor, as he rode along. Young virgins crowned him with laurels. Fair women innumerable were clustered at every window, roof, and balcony, their bright robes floating like summer clouds above him. “Softly from those lovely clouds,” says a gallant chronicler, “descended the gentle rain of flowers.” Garlands were strewed before his feet, laurelled victory sat upon his brow. The same conventional enthusiasm and decoration which had characterized the holiday marches of a thousand conventional heroes were successfully produced. The proceedings began with the church, and ended with the banquet; the day was propitious, the populace pleased, and after a brilliant festival, Don John of Austria saw himself governor-general of the provinces.
Three days afterwards, the customary oaths, to be kept with the customary conscientiousness, were rendered at the Town-house, and for a brief moment all seemed smiling and serene.
There was a reverse to the picture. In truth, no language can describe the hatred which Don John entertained for the Netherlands and all the inhabitants. He had come to the country only as a stepping-stone to the English throne, and he never spoke, in his private letters, of the provinces or the people but in terms of abhorrence. He was in a “Babylon of disgust,” in a “Hell,” surrounded by “drunkards,” “wineskins,” “scoundrels,” and the like. From the moment of his arrival he had strained every nerve to retain the Spanish troops, and to send them away by sea when it should be no longer feasible to keep them. Escovedo shared in the sentiments and entered fully into the schemes of his chief. The plot, the secret enterprise, was the great cause of the advent of Don John in the uncongenial clime of Flanders. It had been, therefore, highly important, in his estimation, to set, as soon as possible, about the accomplishment of this important business. He accordingly entered into correspondence with Antonio Perez, the king’s most confidential Secretary of State at that period. That the governor was plotting no treason is sufficiently obvious from the context of his letters. At the same time, with the expansiveness of his character, when he was dealing with one whom he deemed his close and trusty friend, he occasionally made use of expressions which might be made to seem equivocal. This was still more the case with poor Escovedo. Devoted to his master, and depending most implicitly upon the honor of Perez, he indulged in language which might be tortured into a still more suspicious shape, when the devilish arts of Perez and the universal distrust of Philip were tending steadily to that end. For Perez—on the whole, the boldest, deepest, and most unscrupulous villain in that pit of duplicity, the Spanish court—was engaged at that moment with Philip, in a plot to draw from Don John and Escovedo, by means of this correspondence, the proofs of a treason which the king and minister both desired to find. The letters from Spain were written with this view—those from Flanders were interpreted to that end. Every confidential letter received by Perez was immediately laid by him before the king, every letter which the artful demon wrote was filled with hints as to the danger of the king’s learning the existence of the correspondence, and with promises of profound secrecy upon his own part, and was then immediately placed in Philip’s hands, to receive his comments and criticisms, before being copied and dispatched to the Netherlands. The minister was playing a bold, murderous, and treacherous game, and played it in a masterly manner. Escovedo was lured to his destruction, Don John was made to fret his heart away, and Philip—more deceived than all—was betrayed in what he considered his affections, and made the mere tool of a loan as false as himself and infinitely more accomplished.
Almost immediately after the arrival of Don John in the Netherlands, he had begun to express the greatest impatience for Escovedo, who had not been able to accompany his master upon his journey, but without whose assistance the governor could accomplish none of his undertakings. “Being a man, not an angel, I cannot do all which I have to do,” said he to Perez, “without a single person in whom I can confide.” He protested that he could do no more than he was then doing. He went to bed at twelve and rose at seven, without having an hour in the day in which to take his food regularly, in consequence of all which he had already had three fevers. He was plunged into a world of distrust. Every man suspected him, and he had himself no confidence in a single individual throughout that whole Babylon of disgust. He observed to Perez that he was at liberty to show his letters to the king, or to read them in the Council, as he meant always to speak the truth in whatever he should write. He was sure that Perez would do all for the best; and there is something touching in these expressions of an honest purpose towards Philip, and of generous confidence in Perez, while the two were thus artfully attempting to inveigle him into damaging revelations. The Netherlanders certainly had small cause to love or trust their new governor, who very sincerely detested and suspected them, but Philip had little reason to complain of his brother. “Tell me if my letters are read in Council, and what his Majesty says about them,” he wrote, “and, above all, send money. I am driven to desperation at finding myself sold to this people, utterly unprovided as I am, and knowing the slow manner in which all affairs are conducted in Spain.”
He informed the king that there was but one man in the Netherlands, and that he was called the Prince of Orange. To him everything was communicated, with him everything was negotiated, opinions expressed by him were implicitly followed. The governor vividly described the misgivings with which he had placed himself in the power of the states by going to Louvain and the reluctance with which he had consented to send away the troops. After this concession, he complained that the insolence of the states had increased. “They think that they can do and undo what they like, now that I am at their mercy,” he wrote to Philip. “Nevertheless, I do what you command without regarding that I am sold, and that I am in great danger of losing my liberty, a loss which I dread more than anything in the world, for I wish to remain justified before God and men.” He expressed, however, no hopes as to the result. Disrespect and rudeness could be pushed no further than it had already gone, while the Prince of Orange, the actual governor of the country, considered his own preservation dependent upon maintaining things as they then were. Don John, therefore, advised the king steadily to make preparations for “a rude and terrible war,” which was not to be avoided, save by a miracle, and which ought not to find him in this unprepared state. He protested that it was impossible to exaggerate the boldness which the people felt at seeing him thus defenseless. “They say publicly,” he continued, “that your Majesty is not to be feared, not being capable of carrying on a war, and having consumed and exhausted every resource. One of the greatest injuries ever inflicted upon us was by Marquis Havré, who, after his return from Spain, went about publishing everywhere the poverty of the royal exchequer. This has emboldened them to rise, for they believe that, whatever the disposition, there is no strength to chastise them. They see a proof of the correctness of their reasoning in the absence of new levies, and in the heavy arrearages due to the old troops.”
He protested that he desired, at least, to be equal to the enemy, without asking, as others had usually done, for double the amount of the hostile force. He gave a glance at the foreign complications of the Netherlands, telling Philip that the estates were intriguing both with France and England. The English envoy had expressed much uneasiness at the possible departure of the Spanish troops from the Netherlands by sea, coupling it with a probable attempt to liberate the Queen of Scots. Don John, who had come to the provinces for no other purpose, and whose soul had been full of that romantic scheme, of course stoutly denied and ridiculed the idea. “Such notions,” he had said to the envoy, “were subjects for laughter. If the troops were removed from the country, it was to strengthen his Majesty’s force in the Levant.” Mr. Rogers, much comforted, had expressed the warm friendship which Elizabeth entertained both for his Majesty and his Majesty’s representative; protestations which could hardly seem very sincere, after the series of attempts at the Queen’s life, undertaken so recently by his Majesty and his Majesty’s former representative. Nevertheless, Don John had responded with great cordiality, had begged for Elizabeth’s portrait, and had expressed the intention, if affairs went as he hoped, to go privately to England for the purpose of kissing her royal hand. Don John further informed the king, upon the envoy’s authority, that Elizabeth had refused assistance to the estates, saying, if she stirred it would be to render aid to Philip, especially if France should meddle in the matter. As to France, the governor advised Philip to hold out hopes to Alençon of espousing the Infanta, but by no means ever to fulfill such a promise, as the duke, “besides being the shield of heretics, was unscrupulously addicted to infamous vices.”
A month later, Escovedo described the downfall of Don John’s hopes and his own in dismal language. “You are aware,” he wrote to Perez, “that a throne—a chair with a canopy—is our intention and our appetite, and all the rest is good for nothing. Having failed in our scheme, we are desperate and like madmen. All is now weariness and death.” Having expressed himself in such desponding accents, he continued, a few days afterwards, in the same lugubrious vein, “I am ready to hang myself,” said he, “and I would have done it already, if it were not for keeping myself as executioner for those who have done us so much harm. Ah, Senor Antonio Perez!” he added, “what terrible pertinacity have those devils shown in making us give up our plot. It seems as though Hell were opened and had sent forth heaps of demons to oppose our schemes.” After these vigorous ejaculations he proceeded to inform his friend that the English envoy and the estates, governed by the Prince of Orange, in whose power were the much-coveted ships, had prevented the departure of the troops by sea. “These devils complain of the expense,” said he, “but we would willingly swallow the cost if we could only get the ships.” He then described Don John as so cast down by his disappointment as to be fit for nothing, and most desirous of quitting the Netherlands as soon as possible. He had no disposition to govern these wineskins. Anyone who ruled in the provinces was obliged to do exactly what they ordered him to do. Such rule was not to the taste of Don John. Without any comparison, a woman would answer the purpose better than any man, and Escovedo accordingly suggested the Empress Dowager, or Madame de Parma, or even Madame de Lorraine. He further recommended that the Spanish troops, thus forced to leave the Netherlands by land, should be employed against the heretics in France. This would be a salvo for the disgrace of removing them. “It would be read in history,” continued the secretary, “that the troops went to France in order to render assistance in a great religious necessity; while, at the same time, they will be on hand to chastise these drunkards, if necessary to have the troops in France is almost as well as to keep them here.” He begged to be forgiven if he spoke incoherently. ’Twas no wonder that he should do so, for his reason had been disordered by the blow which had been received. As for Don John, he was dying to leave the country, and although the force was small for so great a general, yet it would be well for him to lead these troops to France in person, “It would sound well in history,” said poor Escovedo, who always thought of posterity, without ever dreaming that his own private letters would be destined, after three centuries, to comment and earnest investigation, “it would sound well in history, that Don John went to restore the French kingdom and to extirpate heretics, with six thousand foot and two thousand horse. ’Tis a better employment, too, than to govern such vile creatures as these.”
If, however, all their plans should fail, the secretary suggested to his friend Antonio that he must see and make courtiers of them. He suggested that a strong administration might be formed in Spain, with Don John, the Marquis de Los Velez, and the Duke of Sesa. “With such chiefs, and with Anthony and John for acolytes,” he was of opinion that much good work might be done, and that Don John might become “the staff for his Majesty’s old age.” He implored Perez, in the most urgent language, to procure Philip’s consent that his brother should leave the provinces. “Otherwise,” said he, “we shall see the destruction of the friend whom we so much love! He will become seriously ill, and if so, good night to him! His body is too delicate.” Escovedo protested that he would rather die himself. “In the catastrophe of Don John’s death,” he continued, “adieu the court, adieu the world!” He would incontinently bury himself among the mountains of San Sebastian, “preferring to dwell among wild animals than among courtiers.” Escovedo, accordingly, not urged by the most disinterested motives certainly, but with as warm a friendship for his master as princes usually inspire, proceeded to urge upon Perez the necessity of aiding the man who was able to help them. The first step was to get him out of the Netherlands. That was his constant thought, by day and night. As it would hardly be desirable for him to go alone, it seemed proper that Escovedo should, upon some pretext, be first sent to Spain. Such a pretext would be easily found, because, as Don John had accepted the government, “it would be necessary for him to do all which the rascals bade him.” After these minute statements, the secretary warned his correspondent of the necessity of secrecy, adding that he especially feared “all the court ladies, great and small, but that he in everything confided entirely in Perez.”
Nearly at the same time, Don John wrote to Perez in a similar tone. “Ah, Señor Antonio,” he exclaimed, “how certain is my disgrace and my misfortune. Ruined is our enterprise, after so much labor and such skillful management.” He was to have commenced the work with the very Spanish soldiers who were now to be sent off by land, and he had nothing for it but to let them go, or to come to an open rupture with the states. “The last, his conscience, his duty, and the time, alike forbade.” He was therefore obliged to submit to the ruin of his plans, and “could think of nothing save to turn hermit, a condition in which a man’s labors, being spiritual, might not be entirely in vain.” He was so overwhelmed by the blow, he said, that he was constantly thinking of an anchorite’s life. That which he had been leading had become intolerable. He was not fitted for the people of the Netherlands, nor they for him. Rather than stay longer than was necessary in order to appoint his successor, there was no resolution he might not take, even to leaving everything and coming upon them when they least expected him, although he were to receive a bloody punishment in consequence. He, too, suggested the Empress, who had all the qualities which he lacked himself, or Madame de Parma, or Madame de Lorraine, as each of them was more fit to govern the provinces than he pretended to be. “The people,” said he, plainly, “are beginning to abhor me, and I abhor them already.” He entreated Perez to get him out of the country by fair means or foul, “per fas aut per nefas.” His friends ought to procure his liberation, if they wished to save him from the sin of disobedience, and even of infamy. He expressed the most unbounded confidence in the honor of his correspondent, adding that if nothing else could procure his release, the letter might be shown to the king. In general, the governor was always willing that Perez should make what changes he thought advisable in the letters for his Majesty, altering or softening whatever seemed crude or harsh, provided always the main point—that of procuring his recall—were steadily kept in view. “In this,” said the governor, vehemently, “my life, my honor; and my soul are all at stake; for as to the two first, I shall forfeit them both certainly, and, in my desperate condition, I shall run great risk of losing the last.”
On the other hand, Perez was profuse in his professions of friendship both to Don John and to Escovedo, dilating in all his letters upon the difficulty of approaching the king upon the subject of his brother’s recall, but giving occasional information that an incidental hint had been ventured which might not remain without effect. All these letters were, however, laid before Philip, for his approval, before being dispatched, and the whole subject thoroughly and perpetually discussed between them, about which Perez pretended that he hardly dared breathe a syllable to his Majesty. He had done what he could, he said, while reading, piece by piece to the king, during a fit of the gout, the official dispatches from the Netherlands, to insinuate such of the arguments used by the governor and Escovedo as might seem admissible, but it was soon obvious that no impression could be made upon the royal mind. Perez did not urge the matter, therefore, “because,” said he, “if the king should suspect that we had any other object than his interests, “we should all be lost.” Every effort should be made by Don John and all his friends to secure his majesty’s entire confidence, since by that course more progress would be made in their secret plans, than by proceedings concerning which the governor wrote “with such fury and piety of heart.” Perez warned his correspondent, therefore, most solemnly, against the danger of “striking the blow without hitting the mark,” and tried to persuade him that his best interests required him to protract his residence in the provinces for a longer period. He informed Don John that his disappointment as to the English scheme had met with the warmest sympathy of the king, who had wished his brother success. “I have sold to him, at as high a price as I could,” said Perez, “the magnanimity with which your Highness had sacrificed, on that occasion, a private object to his service.”
The minister held the same language, when writing, in a still more intimate and expansive style, to Escovedo. “We must avoid, by a thousand leagues, the possibility of the king’s thinking us influenced by private motives,” he observed, “for we know the king and the delicacy of these matters. The only way to gain the good-will of the man is carefully to accommodate ourselves to his tastes, and to have the appearance of being occupied solely with his interests.” The letter, like all the rest, being submitted to “the man” in question before being sent, was underlined by him at this paragraph and furnished with the following annotation: “But you must enlarge upon the passage which I have marked—say more, even if you are obliged to copy the letter, in order that we may see the nature of the reply.”
In another letter to Escovedo, Perez enlarged upon the impropriety, the impossibility of Don John’s leaving the Netherlands at that time. The king was so resolute upon that point, he said, that ’twas out of the question to suggest the matter. “We should, by so doing, only lose all credit with him in other things. You know what a terrible man he is; if he should once suspect us of having a private end in view, we should entirely miss our mark.” Especially the secretary was made acquainted with the enormous error which would be committed by Don John in leaving his post. Perez “had ventured into the water” upon the subject, he said, by praising the governor warmly to his Majesty. The king had responded by a hearty eulogium, adding that the greatest comfort in having such a brother was, that he might be where his Majesty could not be. Therefore, it was out of the question for Don John to leave the provinces. The greatest tact was necessary, urged Perez, in dealing with the king. If he should once “suspect that we have a private purpose, we are lost, and no Demosthenes or Cicero would be able to influence him afterwards.” Perez begged that his ardent attachment to Don John might be represented in the strongest colors to that high personage, who was to be assured that every effort would be made to place him at the head of affairs in Spain, according to the suggestion of Escovedo. “It would never do, however,” he continued, “to let our man see that we desire it, for then we should never succeed. The only way to conquer him is to make him believe that things are going on as he wishes, not as his Highness may desire, and that we have none of us any will but the king’s.” Upon this passage the “terrible man” made a brief annotation: “This paragraph does admirably,” he said, adding, with characteristic Tautology, “and what you say in it is also excellent.”
“Therefore,” continued the minister, “God forbid, Master Escovedo, that you should come hither now; for we should all be lost. In the English matter, I assure you that his Majesty was extremely anxious that the plan should succeed, wither through the Pope, or otherwise. That puts me in mind,” added Perez, “to say, body of God! Señor Escovedo! how the devil came you to send that courier to Rome about the English plot without giving me warning?” He then proceeded to state that the papal nuncio in Spain had been much troubled in mind upon the subject, and had sent for him. “I went,” said Perez, “and after he had closed the door, and looked through the keyhole to see that there were no listeners, he informed me that he had received intelligence from the Pope as to the demands made by Don John upon his Holiness for bulls, briefs, and money to assist him in his English scheme, and that eighty thousand ducats had already been sent to him in consequence.” Perez added that the nuncio was very anxious to know how the affair should best be communicated to the king, without prejudice to his Highness. He had given him the requisite advice, he continued, and had himself subsequently told the king that, no doubt, letters had been written by Don John to his Majesty, communicating these negotiations at Rome, but that probably the dispatches had been forgotten. Thus, giving himself the appearance of having smoothed the matter with the king, Perez concluded with a practical suggestion of much importance—the necessity, namely, of procuring the assassination of the Prince of Orange as soon as possible. “Let it never be absent from your mind,” said he, “that a good occasion must be found for finishing Orange, since, besides the service which will thus be rendered to our master, and to the states, it will be worth something to ourselves.”
No apology is necessary for laying a somewhat extensive analysis of this secret correspondence before the reader. If there be any value in the examples of history, certainly few chronicles can furnish a more instructive moral. Here are a despotic king and his confidential minister laying their heads together in one cabinet; the viceroy of the most important provinces of the realm, with his secretary, deeply conferring in another, not as to the manner of advancing the great interests, moral or material, of the people over whom God has permitted them to rule, but as to the best means of arranging conspiracies against the throne and life of a neighboring sovereign, with the connivance and subsidies of the Pope. In this scheme, and in this only, the high conspirators are agreed. In every other respect, mutual suspicion and profound deceit characterize the scene. The governor is filled with inexpressible loathing for the whole nation of “drunkards and wineskins” who are at the very moment strewing flowers in his path, and deafening his ears with shouts of welcome; the king, while expressing unbounded confidence in the viceroy, is doing his utmost, through the agency of the subtlest intriguer in the world, to inveigle him into confessions of treasonable schemes, and the minister is filling reams of paper with protestations of affection for the governor and secretary, with sneers at the character of the king, and with instructions as to the best method of deceiving him, and then laying the dispatches before his Majesty for correction and enlargement. To complete the picture, the monarch and his minister are seen urging the necessity of murdering the foremost man of the age upon the very dupe who, within a twelvemonth, was himself to be assassinated by the self-same pair; while the arch-plotter who controls the strings of all these complicated projects is equally false to king, governor, and secretary, and engaging all the others in these blind and tortuous paths, for the accomplishment of his own secret and most ignoble aims.
In reply to the letters of Perez, Don John constantly expressed the satisfaction and comfort which he derived from them in the midst of his annoyances. “He was very disconsolate,” he said, “to be in that hell, and to be obliged to remain in it,” now that the English plot had fallen to the ground, but he would nevertheless take patience, and wait for more favorable conjuncture.
Escovedo expressed the opinion, however, notwithstanding all the suggestions of Perez, that the presence of Don John in the provinces had become entirely superfluous. “An old woman with her distaff,” suggested the secretary, “would be more appropriate; for there would be nothing to do, if the states had their way, save to sign everything which they should command.” If there should be war, his Highness would, of course, not abandon his post, even if permitted to do so; but otherwise, nothing could be gained by a prolonged residence. As to the scheme of assassinating the Prince of Orange, Escovedo prayed Perez to believe him incapable of negligence on the subject. “You know that the finishing of Orange is very near my heart,” wrote the poor dupe to the man by whom he was himself so soon to be finished. “You may believe that I have never forgotten it, and never will forget it, until it be done. Much, and very much artifice is, however, necessary to accomplish this object. A proper person to undertake a task fraught with such well-known danger, is hard to find. Nevertheless, I will not withdraw my attention from the subject till such a person be procured, and the deed be done.”
A month later, Escovedo wrote that he was about to visit Spain. He complained that he required rest in his old age, but that Perez could judge how much rest he could get in such a condition of affairs. He was, unfortunately, not aware, when he wrote, how soon his correspondent was to give him a long repose. He said, too, that the pleasure of visiting his home was counterbalanced by the necessity of traveling back to the Netherlands, but he did not know that Perez was to spare him that trouble, and to send him forth upon a much longer journey.
The governor-general, had, in truth, not inspired the popular party or its leader with confidence, nor did he place the least reliance upon them. While at Louvain, he had complained that a conspiracy had been formed against his life and liberty. Two French gentlemen, Bonnivet and Bellangreville, had been arrested on suspicion of a conspiracy to secure his person, and to carry him off a prisoner to Rochelle. Nothing came of the examination which followed; the prisoners were released, and an apology was sent by the states-general to the Duke of Alençon, as well for the indignity which had been offered to two of his servants, as for the suspicion which had been cast upon himself. Don John, however, was not satisfied. He persisted in asserting the existence of the conspiracy, and made no secret of his belief that the Prince of Orange was acquainted with the arrangement. As may be supposed, nothing was discovered in the course of the investigation to implicate that astute politician. The prince had indeed secretly recommended that the governor should be taken into custody on his first arrival, not for the purpose of assassination or personal injury, but in order to extort better terms from Philip, through the affection or respect which he might be supposed to entertain for his brother. It will be remembered that unsuccessful attempts had also been made to capture the Duke of Alva and the Commander Requesens. Such achievements comported with the spirit of the age, and although it is doubtful whether any well-concerted plot existed against the liberty of the governor, it is certain that he entertained no doubt on the subject himself. In addition to these real or suspected designs, there was an ever-present consciousness in the mind of Don John that the enthusiasm which greeted his presence was hollow, that no real attachment was felt for his person, that his fate was leading him into a false position, that the hearts of the people were fixed upon another, and that they were never to be won by himself. Instinctively he seemed to feel a multitude of invisible threads twining into a snare around him, and the courageous heart and the bounding strength became uneasily conscious of the act in which they were to be held captive till life should be wasted quite away.
The universal affection for the rebel prince, and the hopeless abandonment of the people to that deadliest of sins, the liberty of conscience, were alike unquestionable. “They mean to remain free, sire,” wrote Escovedo to Philip, “and to live as they please. To that end they would be willing that the Turk should come to be master of the country. By the road which they are traveling, however, it will be the Prince of Orange—which comes to quite the same thing.” At the same time, however, it was hoped that something might be made of this liberty of conscience. All were not equally sunk in the horrible superstition, and those who were yet faithful to Church and King might be set against their besotted brethren. Liberty of conscience might thus be turned to account. While two great parties were “by the ears, and pulling out each other’s hair, all might perhaps be reduced together.” His Majesty was warned, nevertheless, to expect the worst, and to believe that the country could only be cured with fire and blood. The position of the governor was painful and perplexing. “Don John,” said Escovedo, “is thirty years old. I promise your Majesty nothing, save that if he finds himself without requisite assistance, he will take himself off when your Majesty is least thinking of such a thing.”
Nothing could be more melancholy than the tone of the governor’s letters. He believed himself disliked, even in the midst of affectionate demonstrations. He felt compelled to use moderate counsels, although he considered moderation of no avail. He was chained to his post, even though the post could, in his opinion, be more advantageously filled by another. He would still endeavor to gain the affections of the people, although he believed them hopelessly alienated. If patience would cure the malady of the country, he professed himself capable of applying the remedy, although the medicine had so far done but little good, and although he had no very strong hopes as to its future effects “Thus far, however,” said he, “I am but as one crying in the wilderness.” He took occasion to impress upon his Majesty, in very strong language, the necessity of money. Secret agents, spies, and spies upon spies, were more necessary than ever, and were very expensive portions of government machinery. Never was money more wanted. Nothing could be more important than to attend faithfully to the financial suggestions of Escovedo, and Don John, therefore, urged his Majesty, again and again, not to dishonor their drafts. “Money is the gruel,” said he, “with which we must cure this sick man,” and he therefore prayed all those who wished well to his efforts, to see that his Majesty did not fail him in this important matter. Notwithstanding, however, the vigor of his efforts, and the earnestness of his intentions, he gave but little hope to his Majesty of any valuable fruit from the pacification just concluded. He saw the Prince of Orange strengthening himself, “with great fury,” in Holland and Zealand; he knew that the prince was backed by the Queen of England, who, notwithstanding her promises to Philip and himself, had offered her support to the rebels in case the proposed terms of peace were rejected in Holland, and he felt that “nearly the whole people was at the devotion of the prince.”
Don John felt more and more convinced, too, that a conspiracy was on foot against his liberty. There were so many of the one party, and so few of the other, that if he were once fairly “trussed,” he affirmed that not a man among the faithful would dare to budge an inch. He therefore informed his Majesty that he was secretly meditating a retreat to some place of security, judging very properly that, if he were still his own master, he should be able to exert more influence over those who were still well disposed, than if he should suffer himself to be taken captive. A suppressed conviction that he could effect nothing, except with his sword, pierced through all his more prudent reflections. He maintained that, after all, there was no remedy for the body but to cut off the diseased parts at once, and he therefore begged his Majesty for the means of performing the operation handsomely. The general expressions which he had previously used in favor of broths and mild treatment hardly tallied with the severe amputation thus recommended. There was, in truth, a constant struggle going on between the fierceness of his inclinations and the shackles which had been imposed upon him. He already felt entirely out of place, and although he scorned to fly from his post so long as it seemed the post of danger, he was most anxious that the king should grant him his dismissal, so soon as his presence should no longer be imperiously required. He was sure that the people would never believe in his Majesty’s forgiveness until the man concerning whom they entertained so much suspicion should be removed, for they saw in him only the “thunderbolt of his Majesty’s wrath.” Orange and England confirmed their suspicions, and sustained their malice. Should he be compelled, against his will, to remain, he gave warning that he might do something which would be matter of astonishment to everybody.
Meantime, the man in whose hands really lay the question of war and peace, sat at Middelburg, watching the deep current of events as it slowly flowed towards the precipice. The whole population of Holland and Zealand hung on his words. In approaching the realms of William the Silent, Don John felt that he had entered a charmed circle, where the talisman of his own illustrious name lost its power, where his valor was paralyzed, and his sword rusted irrevocably in its sheath. “The people here,” he wrote, “are bewitched by the Prince of Orange. They love him, they fear him, and wish to have him for their master. They inform him of everything, and take no resolution without consulting him.”
While William was thus directing and animating the whole nation with his spirit, his immediate friends became more and more anxious concerning the perils to which he was exposed. His mother, who had already seen her youngest-born, Henry, her Adolphus, her chivalrous Louis, laid in their bloody graves for the cause of conscience, was most solicitous for the welfare of her “heart’s-beloved lord and son,” the Prince of Orange. Nevertheless, the high-spirited old dame was even more alarmed at the possibility of a peace in which that religious liberty for which so much dear blood had been poured forth should be inadequately secured. “My heart longs for certain tidings from my lord,” she wrote to William, “for methinks the peace now in prospect will prove but an oppression for soul and conscience. I trust my heart’s dearly-beloved lord and son will be supported by Divine grace to do nothing against God and his own soul’s salvation. ’Tis better to lose the temporal than the eternal.” Thus wrote the mother of William, and w e can feel the sympathetic thrill which such tender and lofty words awoke in his breast. His son, the ill-starred Philip, now for ten years long a compulsory sojourner in Spain, was not yet weaned from his affection for his noble parent, but sent messages of affection to him whenever occasion offered, while a less commendable proof of his filial affection he had lately afforded, at the expense of the luckless captain of his Spanish guard. That officer having dared in his presence to speak disrespectfully of his father, was suddenly seized about the waist by the enraged young count, hurled out of the window, and killed stone-dead upon the spot. After this exhibition of his natural feelings, the Spanish government thought it necessary to take more subtle means to tame so turbulent a spirit. Unfortunately they proved successful.
Count John of Nassau, too, was sorely pressed for money. Six hundred thousand florins, at least, had been advanced by himself and brothers to aid the cause of Netherland freedom. Louis and himself had, unhesitatingly and immediately, turned into that sacred fund the hundred thousand crowns which the King of France had presented them for their personal use, for it was not the Prince of Orange alone who had consecrated his wealth and his life to the cause, but the members of his family, less immediately interested in the country, had thus furnished what may well be called an enormous subsidy, and one most disproportioned to their means. Not only had they given all the cash which they could command by mortgaging their lands and rents, their plate and furniture, but, in the words of Count John himself, “they had taken the chains and jewels from the necks of their wives, their children, and their mother, and had hawked them about, as if they had themselves been traders and hucksters.” And yet, even now, while stooping under this prodigious debt, Count John asked not for present repayment. He only wrote to the prince to signify his extreme embarrassment, and to request some obligation or recognition from the cities of Holland and Zealand, whence hitherto no expression of gratitude or acknowledgment had proceeded.
The prince consoled and assured, as best he could, his mother, son, wife, and brother, even at the same moment that he comforted his people. He also received at this time a second and more solemn embassy from Don John. No sooner had the governor exchanged oaths at Brussels, and been acknowledged as the representative of his Majesty, than he hastened to make another effort to conciliate the prince. Don John saw before him only a grand seignior of lofty birth and boundless influence, who had placed himself towards the Crown in a false position, from which he might even yet be rescued; for to sacrifice the whims of a reforming and transitory religious fanaticism, which had spun itself for a moment about so clear a brain, would, he thought, prove but a trifling task for so experienced a politician as the prince. William of Orange, on the other hand, looked upon his young antagonist as the most brilliant impersonation which had yet been seen of the foul spirit of persecution.
It will be necessary to follow, somewhat more in detail than is usually desirable, the interchange of conversations, letters, and protocols, out of which the brief but important administration of Don John was composed, for it was exactly in such manifestations that the great fight was really proceeding.
Don John meant peace, wise William meant war, for he knew that no other issue was possible. Peace, in reality, was war in its worst shape. Peace would unchain every priestly tongue, and unsheath every knightly sword in the fifteen provinces against little Holland and Zealand. He had been able to bind all the provinces together by the hastily forged chain of the Ghent treaty, and had done what he could to strengthen that union by the principle of mutual religious respect. By the arrival of Don John that work had been deranged. It had, however, been impossible for the prince thoroughly to infuse his own ideas on the subject of toleration into the hearts of his nearest associates. He could not hope to inspire his deadly enemies with a deeper sympathy. Was he not himself the mark of obloquy among the Reformers, because of his leniency to Catholics? Nay more, was not his intimate councillor, the accomplished Saint Aldegonde, in despair because the prince refused to exclude the Anabaptists of Holland from the rights of citizenship? At the very moment when William was straining every nerve to unite warring sects, and to persuade men’s hearts into a system by which their consciences were to be laid open to God alone—at the moment when it was most necessary for the very existence of the fatherland that Catholic and Protestant should mingle their social and political relations—it was indeed a bitter disappointment for him to see wise statesmen of his own creed unable to rise to the idea of toleration. “The affair of the Anabaptists,” wrote Saint Aldegonde, “has been renewed. The Prince objects to exclude them from citizenship. He answered me sharply, that their yea was equal to our oath, and that we should not press this matter, unless we were willing to confess that it was just for the Papists to compel us to a divine service which was against our conscience.” It seems hardly credible that this sentence, containing so sublime a tribute to the character of the prince, should have been indited as a bitter censure, and that, too, by an enlightened and accomplished Protestant. “In short,” continued Saint Aldegonde, with increasing vexation, “I don’t see how we can accomplish our wish in this matter. The Prince has uttered reproaches to me that our clergy are striving to obtain a mastery over consciences. He praised lately the saying of a monk who was not long ago here, that our pot had not gone to the fire as often as that of our antagonists, but that when the time came it would be black enough. In short, the prince fears that after a few centuries the clerical tyranny on both sides will stand in this respect on the same footing.”
Early in the month of May, Doctor Leoninus and Caspar Schetz, Seigneur de Grobbendonck, had been sent on a mission from the states-general to the Prince of Orange. While their negotiations were still pending, four special envoys from Don John arrived at Middelburg. To this commission was informally adjoined Leoninus, who had succeeded to the general position of Viglius. Viglius was dead. Since the memorable arrest of the State Council, he had not appeared on the scene of public affairs. The house-arrest, to which he had been compelled by a revolutionary committee, had been indefinitely prolonged by a higher power, and after a protracted illness he had noiselessly disappeared from the stage of life. There had been few more learned doctors of both laws than he. There had been few more adroit politicians, considered from his point of view. His punning device was “Vita mortalium vigilia,” and he acted accordingly, but with a narrow interpretation. His life had indeed been a vigil, but it must be confessed that the vigils had been for Viglius. The weather-beaten Palinurus, as he loved to call himself, had conducted his own argosy so warily that he had saved his whole cargo, and perished in port at last, while others, not sailing by his compass, were still tossed by the tempest.
The agents of Don John were the Duke of Aerschot, the Seigneur de Hierges, Seigneur de Willerval, and Doctor Meetkercke, accompanied by Doctor Andrew Gaill, one of the imperial commissioners. The two envoys from the states-general, Leoninus and Schetz, being present at Gertruydenberg were added to the deputation. An important conference took place, the details of which have been somewhat minutely reserved. The Prince of Orange, accompanied by Saint Aldegonde and four other councillors, encountered the seven champions from Brussels in a long debate, which was more like a passage of arms or a trial of skill than a friendly colloquy with a pacific result in prospect, for it must be remembered that the Prince of Orange did not mean peace. He had devised the Pacification of Ghent as a union of the other provinces with Holland and Zealand, against Philip. He did not intend that it should be converted into a union of the other provinces with Philip, against Holland and Zealand.
Meetkercke was the first to speak. He said that the governor had dispatched them to the prince, to express his good intentions, to represent the fidelity with which his promises had thus far been executed, and to entreat the prince, together with the provinces of Holland and Zealand, to unite with their sister provinces in common allegiance to his Majesty. His Highness also proposed to advise with them concerning the proper method of convoking the states-general.
As soon as Meetkercke had finished his observations, the prince demanded that the points and articles should be communicated to him in writing. Now this was precisely what the envoys preferred to omit. It was easier, and far more agreeable to expatiate in a general field of controversy, than to remain tethered to distinct points. It was particularly in these confused conferences, where neither party was entirely sincere, that the volatile word was thought preferable to the permanent letter. Already so many watery lines had been traced, in the course of these fluctuating negotiations, that a few additional records would be, if necessary, as rapidly effaced as the rest.
The commissioners, after whispering in each other’s ears for a few minutes, refused to put down anything in writing. Protocols, they said, only engendered confusion.
“No, no,” said the prince, in reply, “we will have nothing except in black and white. Otherwise things will be said on both sides, which will afterwards be interpreted in different ways. Nay, it will be denied that some important points have been discussed at all. We know that by experience. Witness the solemn treaty of Ghent, which ye have tried to make fruitless, under pretence that some points, arranged by word of mouth, and not stated particularly in writing, had been intended in a different sense from the obvious one. Governments given by royal commission, for example; what point could be clearer? Nevertheless, ye have hunted up glosses and cavils to obscure the intention of the contracting parties. Ye have denied my authority over Utrecht, because not mentioned expressly in the treaty of Ghent.”
“But,” said one of the envoys, interrupting at this point, “neither the Council of State nor the Court of Mechlin consider Utrecht as belonging to your Excellency’s government.” “Neither the Council of State,” replied the prince, “nor the Court of Mechlin have anything to do with the matter. It is in my commission, and all the world knows it.” He added that instead of affairs being thrown into confusion by being reduced to writing, he was of opinion, on the contrary, that it was by that means alone they could be made perfectly clear.
Leoninus replied, good naturedly, that there should be no difficulty upon that score, and that writings should be exchanged. In the meantime, however, he expressed the hope that the prince would honor them with some preliminary information as to the points in which he felt aggrieved, as well as to the pledges which he and the states were inclined to demand.
“And what reason have we to hope,” cried the prince, “that your pledges, if made, will be redeemed? That which was promised so solemnly at Ghent, and ratified by Don John and his Majesty, has not been fulfilled.”
“Of what particular point do you complain?” asked Schetz. “Wherein has the Pacification been violated?”
Hereupon the prince launched forth upon a flowing stream of invective. He spoke to them of his son detained in distant captivity, of his own property at Breda withheld, of a thousand confiscated estates, of garrisons of German mercenaries, of ancient constitutions annihilated, of the infamous edicts nominally suspended, but actually in full vigor. He complained bitterly that the citadels, those nests and dens of tyranny, were not yet demolished. “Ye accuse me of distrust,” he cried, “but while the castles of Antwerp, Ghent, Namur, and so many more are standing, ’tis yourselves who show how utterly you are without confidence in any permanent and peaceful arrangement.”
“And what,” asked a deputy, smoothly, “is the point which touches you most nearly? What is it that your Excellency most desires? By what means will it be possible for the government fully to give you contentment?”
“I wish,” he answered, simply, “the full execution of the Ghent Pacification. If you regard the general welfare of the land, it is well, and I thank you. If not, ’tis idle to make propositions, for I regard my country’s profit, not my own.” Afterwards, the prince simply repeated his demand that the Ghent treaty should be executed, adding that, after the states-general should have been assembled, it would be time to propose the necessary articles for mutual security.
Hereupon Doctor Leoninus observed that the assembly of the states-general could hardly be without danger. He alluded to the vast number of persons who would thus be convoked, to the great discrepancy of humors which would thus be manifested. Many men would be present neither discreet nor experienced. He therefore somewhat coolly suggested that it might be better to obviate the necessity of holding any general assembly at all. An amicable conference, for the sake of settling doubtful questions, would render the convocation superfluous, and save the country from the dangers by which the step would be attended. The doctor concluded by referring to the recent assemblies of France, the only result of which had been fresh dissensions. It thus appeared that the proposition on the part of Don John meant something very different from its apparent signification. To advise with the prince as to the proper method of assembling the estates, really meant to advise with him as to the best means of preventing any such assembly. Here, certainly, was a good reason for the preference expressed by the deputies, in favor of amicable discussions over formal protocols. It might not be so easy in a written document to make the assembly, and the prevention of the assembly, appear exactly the same thing.
The prince replied that there was a wide difference between the condition of France and of the Netherlands. Here, was one will and one intention. There, were many factions, many partialities, many family intrigues. Since it had been agreed by the Ghent treaty that certain points should be provisionally maintained and others settled by a speedy convocation of the states-general, the plainest course was to maintain the provisional points, and to summon the states-general at once. This certainly was concise and logical. It is doubtful, however, whether he were really as anxious for the assembly-general as he appeared to be. Both parties were fencing at each other, without any real intention of carrying their points, for neither wished the convocation, while both affected an eagerness for that event. The conversation proceeded.
“At least,” said an envoy, “you can tell beforehand in what you are aggrieved, and what you have to propose.”
“We are aggrieved in nothing, and we have nothing to propose,” answered the prince, “so long as you maintain the Pacification. We demand no other pledge, and are willing to refer everything afterwards to the assembly.”
“But,” asked Schetz, “what security do you offer us that you will yourselves maintain the Pacification?”
“We are not bound to give assurances,” answered the prince. “The Pacification is itself an assurance. ’Tis a provisional arrangement, to be maintained by both parties, until after the decision of the assembly. The Pacification must therefore be maintained or disavowed. Choose between the two. Only, if you mean still to acknowledge it, you must keep its articles. This we mean to do, and if up to the present time you have any complaint to make of our conduct, as we trust you have not, we are ready to give you satisfaction.”
“In short,” said an envoy, “you mean, after we shall have placed in your hands the government of Utrecht, Amsterdam, and other places, to deny us any pledges on your part to maintain the Pacification.”
“But,” replied the prince, “if we are already accomplishing the Pacification, what more do you wish?”
“In this fashion,” cried the others, “after having got all that you ask, and having thus fortified yourselves more than you were ever fortified before, you will make war upon us.”
“War?” cried the prince, “what are you afraid of? We are but a handful of people; a worm compared to the King of Spain. Moreover, ye are fifteen provinces to two. What have you to fear?”
“Ah,” said Meetkercke, “we have seen what you could do, when you were masters of the sea. Don’t make yourselves out quite so little.”
“But,” said the prince, “the Pacification of Ghent provides for all this. Your deputies were perfectly satisfied with the guarantees it furnished. As to making war upon you, ’tis a thing without foundation or appearance of probability. Had you believed then that you had anything to fear, you would not have forgotten to demand pledges enough. On the contrary, you saw how roundly we were dealing with you then, honestly disgarnishing the country, even before the peace had been concluded. For ourselves, although we felt the right to demand guarantees, we would not do it, for we were treating with you on terms of confidence. We declared expressly that had we been dealing with the king, we should have exacted stricter pledges. As to demanding them of us at the moment, ’tis nonsense. We have neither the means of assailing you, nor do we deem it expedient to do so.”
“To say the truth,” replied Schetz, “we are really confident that you will not make war upon us. On the other hand, however, we see you spreading your religion daily, instead of keeping it confined within your provinces. What assurance do you give us that, after all your demand shall have been accorded, you will make no innovation in religion?”
“The assurance which we give you,” answered the prince, “is that we will really accomplish the Pacification.”
“But,” persisted Schetz, “do you fairly promise to submit to all which the states-general shall ordain, as well on this point of religious exercise in Holland and Zealand, as on all the others?”
This was a home-thrust. The prince parried it for a while. In his secret thoughts he had no expectation or desire that the states-general, summoned in a solemn manner by the governor-general, on the basis of the memorable assembly before which was enacted the grand ceremony of the imperial abdication, would ever hold their session, and although he did not anticipate the prohibition by such assembly, should it take place, of the Reformed worship in Holland and Zealand, he did not intend to submit to it, even should it be made.
“I cannot tell,” said he, accordingly, in reply to the last question, “for ye have yourselves already broken and violated the Pacification, having made an accord with Don John without our consent, and having already received him as governor.”
“So that you don’t mean,” replied Schetz, “to accept the decision of the states?”
“I don’t say that,” returned the prince, continuing to parry, “it is possible that we might accept it; it is possible that we might not. We are no longer in our entire rights, as we were at the time of our first submission at Ghent.”
“But we will make you whole,” said Schetz.
“That you cannot do,” replied the prince, “for you have broken the Pacification all to pieces. We have nothing, therefore, to expect from the states, but to be condemned off-hand.
“You don’t mean, then,” repeated Schetz, “to submit to the estates touching the exercise of religion?”
“No, we do not!” replied the prince, driven into a corner at last, and striking out in his turn. “We certainly do not. To tell you the truth, we see that you intend our extirpation, and we don’t mean to be extirpated.”
“Ho!” said the Duke of Aerschot, “there is nobody who wishes that.”
“Indeed, but you do,” said the prince. “We have submitted ourselves to you in good faith, and you now would compel us and all the world to maintain exclusively the Catholic religion. This cannot be done except by extirpating us.”
A long, learned, vehement discussion upon abstract points, between Saint Aldegonde, Leoninus, and Doctor Gaill, then ensued, during which the prince, who had satisfied himself as to the result of the conference, retired from the apartment. He afterwards had a private convention with Schetz and Leoninus, in which he reproached them with their inclination to reduce their fatherland to slavery. He also took occasion to remark to Hierges, that it was a duty to content the people, that whatever might be accomplished for them was durable, whereas the will of kings was perishing. He told the Duke of Aerschot that if Utrecht were not restored, he would take it by force. He warned the duke that to trust the king was to risk his head. He, at least, would never repose confidence in him, having been deceived too often. The king cherished the maxim, hæreticis non est servanda fides; as for himself he was calbo y calbanista, and meant to die so.
The formal interchange of documents soon afterwards took place. The conversation thus held between the different parties shows, however, the exact position of affairs. There was no change in the intentions of either Reformers or Royalists. Philip and his representatives still contended for two points, and claimed the praise of moderation that their demands were so few in number. They were willing to concede everything, save the unlimited authority of the king and the exclusive maintenance of the Catholic religion. The Prince of Orange, on his side, claimed two points also—the ancient constitutions of the country and religious freedom. It was obvious enough that the contest was the same, in reality, as it had ever been. No approximation had been made towards reconciling absolutism with national liberty, persecution with toleration. The Pacification of Ghent had been a step in advance. That Treaty opened the door to civil and religious liberty, but it was an agreement among the provinces, not a compact between the people and the monarch. By the casuists of Brussels and the licentiates of Louvain, it had, to be sure, been dogmatically pronounced orthodox, and had been confirmed by royal edict. To believe, however, that his Catholic Majesty had faith in the dogmas propounded, was as absurd as to believe in the dogmas themselves. If the Ghent Pacification really had made no breach in royal and Roman infallibility, then the efforts of Orange and the exultation of the Reformers had indeed been idle.
The envoys accordingly, in obedience to their instructions, made a formal statement to the Prince of Orange and the states of Holland and Zealand, on the part of Don John. They alluded to the departure of the Spaniards, as if that alone had fulfilled every duty and authorized every claim. They therefore demanded the immediate publication in Holland and Zealand of the Perpetual Edict. They insisted on the immediate discontinuance of all hostile attempts to reduce Amsterdam to the jurisdiction of Orange, required the prince to abandon his pretensions to Utrecht, and denounced the efforts making by him and his partisans to diffuse their heretical doctrines through the other provinces. They observed, in conclusion, that the general question of religion was not to be handled, because reserved for the consideration of the states-general, according to the treaty of Ghent.
The reply, delivered on the following day by the Prince of Orange and the deputies, maintained that the Perpetual Edict was widely different from the Pacification of Ghent which it affected to uphold, that the promises to abstain from all violation of the ancient constitutions had not been kept, that the German troops had not been dismissed, that the property of the prince in the Netherlands and Burgundy had not been restored, that his son was detained in captivity, that the government of Utrecht was withheld from him, that the charters and constitution of the country, instead of being extended, had been contracted, and that the governor had claimed the right to convoke the states-general at his pleasure, in violation of the ancient right to assemble at their own. The document further complained that the adherents of the Reformed religion were not allowed to frequent the different provinces in freedom, according to the stipulations of Ghent; that Don John, notwithstanding all these short-comings, had been acknowledged as governor-general, without the consent of the prince; that he was surrounded with a train of Spaniards, Italians, and other foreigners—Gonzaga, Escovedo, and the like—as well as by renegade Netherlanders like Tassis, by whom he was unduly influenced against the country and the people, and by whom a “back door was held constantly open” to the admission of evils innumerable. Finally, it was asserted that, by means of this last act of union, a new form of inquisition had been introduced, and one which was much more cruel than the old system, inasmuch as the Spanish Inquisition did not take information against men except upon suspicion, whereas, by the new process, all the world would be examined as to their conscience and religion, under pretence of maintaining the union.
Such was the result of this second mission to the Prince of Orange on the part of the governor-general. Don John never sent another. The swords were now fairly measured between the antagonists, and the scabbard was soon to be thrown away. A few weeks afterwards, the governor wrote to Philip that there was nothing in the world which William of Orange so much abhorred as his Majesty, adding, with Castillian exaggeration, that if the prince could drink the king’s blood he would do so with great pleasure.
Don John, being thus seated in the saddle, had a moment’s leisure to look around him. It was but a moment, for he had small confidence in the aspect of affairs, but one of his first acts after assuming the government afforded a proof of the interpretation which he had adopted of the Ghent Pacification. An edict was issued, addressed to all bishops, “heretic-masters,” and provincial councils, commanding the strict enforcement of the Canons of Trent, and other ecclesiastical decrees. These authorities were summoned instantly to take increased heed of the flocks under their charge, “and to protect them from the ravening wolves which were seeking to devour them.”
The measure bore instant fruit. A wretched tailor of Mechlin, Peter Panis by name, an honest man, but a heretic, was arrested upon the charge of having preached or exhorted at a meeting in that city. He confessed that he had been present at the meeting, but denied that he had preached. He was then required to denounce the others who had been present, and the men who had actually officiated. He refused, and was condemned to death. The Prince of Orange, while the process was pending, wrote an earnest letter to the Council of Mechlin, imploring them not now to rekindle the fires of religious persecution. His appeal was in vain. The poor tailor was beheaded at Mechlin on the 15th of June, the Conqueror of Lepanto being present at the execution, and adding dignity to the scene. Thus, at the moment when William of Orange was protecting the Anabaptists of Middelburg in their rights of citizenship, even while they refused its obligations, the son of the Emperor was dipping his hands in the blood of a poor wretch who had done no harm but to listen to a prayer without denouncing the preacher. The most intimate friends of the prince were offended with his liberality. The imperial shade of Don John’s father might have risen to approve the son who had so dutifully revived his bloody edicts and his ruthless policy.
Three parties were now fairly in existence—the nobles, who hated the Spaniards, but who were disposed to hold themselves aloof from the people; the adherents of Don John, commonly called “Johanists”; and the partisans of the Prince of Orange—for William the Silent had always felt the necessity of leaning for support on something more substantial than the court party, a reed shaken by the wind, and failing always when most relied upon. His efforts were constant to elevate the middle class, to build up a strong third party which should unite much of the substantial wealth and intelligence of the land, drawing constantly from the people, and deriving strength from national enthusiasm—a party which should include nearly all the political capacity of the country; and his efforts were successful. No doubt the governor and his secretary were right when they said the people of the Netherlands were inclined to brook the Turk as easily as the Spaniard for their master, and that their hearts were in reality devoted to the Prince of Orange.
As to the grandees, they were mostly of those who “sought to swim between two waters,” according to the prince’s expression. There were but few unswerving supporters of the Spanish rule, like the Berlaymont and the Tassis families. The rest veered daily with the veering wind. Aerschot, the great chief of the Catholic party, was but a cringing courtier, false and fawning both to Don John and the prince. He sought to play a leading part in a great epoch; he only distinguished himself by courting and betraying all parties, and being thrown away by all. His son and brother were hardly more respectable. The prince knew how little dependence could be placed on such allies, even although they had signed and sworn the Ghent Pacification. He was also aware how little it was the intention of the governor to be bound by that famous Treaty. The Spanish troops had been, indeed, disbanded, but there were still between ten and fifteen thousand German mercenaries in the service of the king; these were stationed in different important places, and held firm possession of the citadels. The great keys of the country were still in the hands of the Spaniards. Aerschot, indeed, governed the castle of Antwerp, in room of Sancho d’Avila, but how much more friendly would Aerschot be than Avila, when interest prompted him to sustain Don John against the prince?
Meanwhile, the estates, according to their contract, were straining every nerve to raise the requisite sum for the payment of the German troops. Equitable offers were made, by which the soldiers were to receive a certain proportion of the arrears due to them in merchandise, and the remainder in cash. The arrangement was rejected, at the secret instance of Don John. While the governor affected an ingenuous desire to aid the estates in their efforts to free themselves from the remaining portion of this encumbrance, he was secretly tampering with the leading German officers, in order to prevent their acceptance of any offered terms. He persuaded these military chiefs that a conspiracy existed, by which they were not only to be deprived of their wages but of their lives. He warned them to heed no promises, to accept no terms. Convincing them that he, and he only, was their friend, he arranged secret plans by which they should assist him in taking the fortresses of the country into still more secure possession, for he was not more inclined to trust to the Aerschot’s and the Havré’s than was the prince himself.
The governor lived in considerable danger, and in still greater dread of capture, if not of assassination. His imagination, excited by endless tales of ambush and half-discovered conspiracies, saw armed soldiers behind every bush, a pitfall in every street. Had not the redoubtable Alva been nearly made a captive? Did not Louis of Nassau nearly entrap the Grand Commander? No doubt the Prince of Orange was desirous of accomplishing a feat by which he would be placed in regard to Philip on the vantage ground which the king had obtained by his seizure of Count Van Buren, nor did Don John need for warnings coming from sources far from obscure. In May, the Viscount De Gand had forced his way to his bedside in the dead of night, and wakening him from his sleep, had assured him, with great solemnity, that his life was not worth a pin’s purchase if he remained in Brussels. He was aware, he said, of a conspiracy by which both his liberty and his life were endangered, and assured him that in immediate flight lay his only safety.
The governor fled to Mechlin, where the same warnings were soon afterwards renewed, for the solemn sacrifice of Peter Panis, the poor preaching tailor of that city, had not been enough to strike terror to the hearts of all the Netherlanders. One day, toward the end of June, the Duke of Aerschot, riding out with Don John, gave him a circumstantial account of plots, old and new, whose existence he had discovered or invented, and he showed a copy of a secret letter, written by the Prince of Orange to the estates, recommending the forcible seizure of his Highness. It is true that the duke was, at that period and for long after, upon terms of the most “fraternal friendship” with the prince, and was in the habit of signing himself “his very affectionate brother and cordial friend to serve him,” yet this did not prevent him from accomplishing what he deemed his duty, in secretly denouncing his plans. It is also true that he, at the same time, gave the prince private information concerning the government, and sent him intercepted letters from his enemies, thus easing his conscience on both sides, and trimming his sails to every wind which might blow. The duke now, however, reminded his Highness of the contumely with which he had been treated at Brussels, of the insolent threats with which the citizens had pursued his servants and secretaries even to the very door of his palace. He assured him that the same feeling existed at Mechlin, and that neither himself nor family were much safer there than in the capital, a plot being fully organized for securing his person. The conspirators, he said, were openly supported by a large political party. who called themselves anti-Johanists, and who clothed themselves in symbolic costume, as had been done by the disaffected in the days of Cardinal Granvelle. He assured the governor that nearly all the members of the states-general were implicated in these schemes. “And what becomes, then, of their promises?” asked Don John. “That for their promises!” cried the duke, snapping his fingers, “no man in the land feels bound by engagements now.” The governor demanded the object of the states in thus seeking to deprive him of his liberty. The duke informed him that it was to hold him in captivity until they had compelled him to sign every paper which they chose to lay before him. Such things had been done in the Netherlands in former days, the duke observed, as he proceeded to narrate how a predecessor of his Highness and a prince of the land, after having been compelled to sign innumerable documents, had been, in conclusion, tossed out of the windows of his own palace, with all his retinue, to perish upon the pikes of an insurgent mob below. The governor protested that it did not become the son of Charles V and the representative of his Catholic Majesty to hear such intimations a second time. After his return, he brooded over what had been said to him for a few days, and he then broke up his establishment at Mechlin, selling off his superfluous furniture and even the wine in his cellars. Thus showing that his absence, both from Brussels and Mechlin, was to be a prolonged one, he took advantage of an unforeseen occurrence again to remove his residence.
Further Activities and Correspondence of the Prince of Orange and Don John
There were few cities of the Netherlands more picturesque in situation, more trimly built, and more opulent of aspect than the little city of Namur. Seated at the confluence of the Sombre with the Meuse, and throwing over each river a bridge of solid but graceful structure, it lay in the lap of a most fruitful valley. A broad crescent-shaped plain, fringed by the rapid Meuse, and enclosed by gently rolling hills cultivated to their crests, or by abrupt precipices of limestone crowned with verdure, was divided by numerous hedgerows, and dotted all over with cornfields, vineyards, and flower gardens. Many eyes have gazed with delight upon that well-known and most lovely valley, and many torrents of blood have mingled with those glancing waters since that long-buried and most sanguinary age which forms our theme; and still placid as ever is the valley, brightly as ever flows the stream. Even now, as in that vanished, but never-forgotten time, nestles the little city in the angle of the two rivers; still directly over its head seems to hang in mid-air the massive and frowning fortress, like the gigantic helmet in the fiction, as if ready to crush the pigmy town below.
It was this famous citadel, crowning an abrupt precipice five hundred feet above the river’s bed, and placed near the frontier of France, which made the city so important, and which had now attracted Don John’s attention in this hour of his perplexity. The unexpected visit of a celebrated personage furnished him with the pretext which he desired. The beautiful Margaret of Valois, Queen of Navarre, was proceeding to the baths of Spa, to drink the waters. Her health was as perfect as her beauty, but she was flying from a husband whom she hated, to advance the interest of a brother whom she loved with a more than sisterly fondness—for the worthless Duke of Alençon was one of the many competitors for the Netherland government, the correspondence between himself and his brother with Orange and his agents being still continued. The hollow truce with the Huguenots in France had, however, been again succeeded by war. Henry of Valois had already commenced operations in Gascony against Henry of Navarre, whom he hated almost as cordially as Margaret herself could do, and the Duke of Alençon was besieging Issoire. Meantime, the beautiful queen came to mingle the golden thread of her feminine intrigues with the dark woof of the Netherland destinies.
Few spirits have been more subtle, few faces so fatal as hers. True child of the Medicean mother, worthy sister of Charles, Henry, and Francis—princes for ever infamous in the annals of France—she possessed more beauty and wit than Mary of Scotland, more learning and accomplishments than Elizabeth of England. In the blaze of her beauty, according to the inflated language of her most determined worshiper, the wings of all rivals were melted. Heaven required to be raised higher and earth made wider, before a full sweep could be given to her own majestic flight. We are further informed that she was a Minerva for eloquence, that she composed matchless poems which she sang most exquisitely to the sound of her lute, and that her familiar letters were so full of genius, that “poor Cicero” was but a fool to her in the same branch of composition. The world has shuddered for ages at the dark tragedy of her nuptials. Was it strange that hatred, incest, murder, should follow in the train of a wedding thus hideously solemnized?
Don John, as in his Moorish disguise he had looked upon her perfections, had felt in danger of becoming really the slave he personated—”her beauty is more divine than human,” he had cried, “but fitter to destroy men’s souls than to bless them”; and now the enchantress was on her way to his dominions. Her road led through Namur to Liege, and gallantry required that he should meet her as she passed. Attended by a select band of gentlemen and a few horsemen of his bodyguard, the governor came to Namur.
Meantime the queen crossed the frontier, and was courteously received at Cambray. The bishop—of the loyal house of Berlaymont—was a stanch supporter of the king, and although a Fleming, was Spanish to the core. On him the cajolery of the beautiful queen was first essayed, but was found powerless. The prelate gave her a magnificent ball, but resisted her blandishments. He retired with the appearance of the confections, but the governor of the citadel, the Seigneur d’Inchy remained, with whom Margaret was more successful. She found him a cordial hater of Spain, a favorer of France, and very impatient under the authority of the bishop. He obtained permission to accompany the royal visitor a few stages of her journey, and returned to Cambray, her willing slave, holding the castle in future, neither for king nor bishop, but for Margaret’s brother, Alençon, alone. At Mons she was received with great state by the Count Lalain, who was governor of Hainault, while his countess governed him. A week of festivities graced the advent of the Queen, during which period the hearts of both Lalain and his wife were completely subjugated. They agreed that Flanders had been too long separated from the parental France to which it of right belonged. The count was a stanch Catholic, but he hated Spain. He was a relative of Egmont, and anxious to avenge his death, but he was no lover of the people, and was jealous of Orange. Moreover, his wife had become entirely fascinated by the designing queen. So warm a friendship had sprung up between the two fair ladies as to make it indispensable that Flanders and Hainault should be annexed to France. The count promised to hold his whole government at the service of Alençon, and recommended that an attempt should be made to gain over the incorruptible Governor of Cambray. Margaret did not inform him that she had already turned that functionary round her finger, but she urged Lalain and his wife to seduce him from his allegiance, if possible.
The count, with a retinue of mounted men, then accompanied her on her way towards Namur, but turned as the distant tramp of Don John’s cavalcade was heard approaching, for it was not desirable for Lalain, that moment, to find himself face to face with the governor. Don John stood a moment awaiting the arrival of the Queen. He did not dream of her political intrigues, nor see in the fair form approaching him one mortal enemy the more. Margaret traveled in a splendid litter with gilt pillars, lined with scarlet velvet, and entirely enclosed in glass, which was followed by those of the Princess de la Roche sur Yon, and of Madame de Tournon. After these came ten ladies of honor on horseback, and six chariots filled with female domestics. These, with the guards and other attendants, made up the retinue. On meeting the queen’s litter, Don John sprang from his horse and presented his greetings. The queen returned his salutation, in the French fashion, by offering her cheek to his embrace, extending the same favor to the Duke of Aerschot and the Marquis of Havré. The cavaliers then remounted and escorted the queen to Namur, Don John riding by the side of the litter, and conversing with her all the way.
It was late in the evening when the procession arrived in the city. The streets had, however, been brilliantly illuminated; houses and shops, although it was near midnight, being in a blaze of light. Don John believing that no attentions could be so acceptable at that hour as to provide for the repose of his guest, conducted the queen at once to the lodgings prepared for her. Margaret was astonished at the magnificence of the apartments into which she was ushered. A spacious and stately hall, most gorgeously furnished, opened into a series of chambers and cabinets, worthy, in their appointments, of a royal palace. The tent and bed coverings prepared for the queen were exquisitely embroidered in needlework with scenes representing the battle of Lepanto. The great hall was hung with gorgeous tapestry of satin and velvet, ornamented with columns of raised silver work, and with many figures in antique costume, of the same massive embroidery. The rest of the furniture was also of satin, velvet, cloth of gold, and brocade. The Queen was dazzled with so much magnificence, and one of the courtiers could not help expressing astonishment at the splendor of the apartments and decorations, which, as he observed to the Duke of Aerschot, seemed more appropriate to the palace of a powerful monarch than to the apartments of a young bachelor prince. The duke replied by explaining that the expensive embroidery which they saw was the result, not of extravagance, but of valor and generosity. After the battle of Lepanto, Don John had restored, without ransom, the two sons, who had been taken prisoners, of a powerful Turkish bashaw. The father, in gratitude, had sent this magnificent tapestry as a present to the conqueror, and Don John had received it at Milan, in which city, celebrated for the taste of its upholsterers, it had been arranged for furniture.
The next morning a grand mass with military music was performed, followed by a sumptuous banquet in the grand hall. Don John and the queen sat at a table three feet apart from the rest, and Ottavio Gonzaga served them wine upon his knees. After the banquet came, as usual, the ball, the festivities continuing till late in the night, and Don John scarcely quitting his fair guest for a moment. The next afternoon, a festival had been arranged upon an island in the river. The company embarked upon the Meuse, in a fleet of gaily scarfed and painted vessels, many of which were filled with musicians.
Margaret reclined in her gilded barge, under a richly embroidered canopy. A fairer and falser queen than “Egypt” had bewitched the famous youth who had triumphed, not lost the world, beneath the heights of Actium. The revelers landed on the island, where the banquet was already spread within a spacious bower of ivy, and beneath umbrageous elms. The dance upon the sward was protracted to a late hour, and the summer stars had been long in the sky when the company returned to their barges.
Don John, more than ever enthralled by the bride of St. Bartholomew, knew not that her sole purpose in visiting his dominion had been to corrupt his servants and to undermine his authority. His own purpose, however, had been less to pay court to the queen than to make use of her presence to cover his own designs. That purpose he proceeded instantly to execute. The queen next morning pursued her voyage by the river to Liege, and scarcely had she floated out of his sight than he sprang upon his horse and, accompanied by a few trusty attendants, galloped out of the gate and across the bridge which led to the citadel. He had already dispatched the loyal Berlaymont, with his four equally loyal sons, the Seigneurs de Meghen, Floyon, Hierges, and Haultepenne to that fortress. These gentlemen had informed the castellan that the governor was about to ride forth hunting, and that it would be proper to offer him the hospitalities of the castle as he passed on his way. A considerable number of armed men had been concealed in the woods and thickets of the neighborhood. The Seigneur de Froymont, suspecting nothing, acceded to the propriety of the suggestion made by the Berlaymont’s. Meantime, with a blast of his horn, Don John appeared at the castle gate. He entered the fortress with the castellan, while one of the gentlemen watched outside, as the ambushed soldiers came toiling up the precipice. When all was ready the gentleman returned to the hall, and made a signal to Don John, as he sat at breakfast with the constable. The governor sprang from the table and drew his sword; Berlaymont and his four sons drew their pistols, while at the same instant, the soldiers entered. Don John, exclaiming that this was the first day of his government, commanded the castellan to surrender. De Froymont, taken by surprise, and hardly understanding this very melodramatic attack upon a citadel by its own lawful governor, made not much difficulty in complying. He was then turned out of doors, along with his garrison, mostly feeble old men and invalids. The newly arrived soldiers took their places, at command of the Governor, and the stronghold of Namur was his own.
There was little doubt that the representative of Philip had a perfect right to possess himself of any fortress within his government; there could be as little that the sudden stratagem by which he had thus made himself master of this citadel would prove offensive to the estates, while it could hardly be agreeable to the king; and yet it is not certain that he could have accomplished his purpose in any other way. Moreover, the achievement was one of a projected series by which he meant to re-vindicate his dwindling authority. He was weary of playing the hypocrite, and convinced that he and his monarch were both abhorred by the Netherlanders. Peace was impossible—war was forbidden him. Reduced almost to a nullity by the Prince of Orange, it was time for him to make a stand, and in this impregnable fastness his position at least was a good one. Many months before, the Prince of Orange had expressed his anxious desire that this most important town and citadel should be secured for the estates.
“You know,” he had written to Bossu in December, “the evil and the dismay which the loss of the city and fortress of Namur would occasion to us. Let me beseech you that all possible cares be taken to preserve them.” Nevertheless, their preservation had been entrusted to a feeble-minded old constable, at the head of a handful of cripples.
We know how intense had been the solicitude of the prince, not only to secure but to destroy these citadels, “nests of tyranny,” which had been built by despots to crush, not protect, the towns at their feet. These precautions had been neglected, and the consequences were displaying themselves, for the castle of Namur was not the only one of which Don John felt himself secure. Although the Duke of Aerschot seemed so very much his humble servant, the Governor did not trust him, and wished to see the citadel of Antwerp in more unquestionable keeping. He had therefore withdrawn, not only the duke, but his son, the Prince of Chimay, commander of the castle in his father’s absence, from that important post, and insisted upon their accompanying him to Namur. So gallant a courtier as Aerschot could hardly refuse to pay his homage to so illustrious a princess as Margaret of Valois, while during the absence of the duke and Prince the keys of Antwerp citadel had been, at the command of Don John, placed in the keeping of the Seigneur de Treslong, an unscrupulous and devoted royalist. The celebrated Colonel Van Ende, whose participation, at the head of his German cavalry, in the terrible sack of that city, which he had been ordered to defend, has been narrated, was commanded to return to Antwerp. He was to present himself openly to the city authorities, but he was secretly directed by the governor-general to act in cooperation with the Colonels Fugger, Frondsberger, and Polwiller, who commanded the forces already stationed in the city. These distinguished officers had been all summer in secret correspondence with Don John, for they were the instruments with which he meant by a bold stroke to recover his almost lost authority. While he had seemed to be seconding the efforts of the states-general to pay off and disband these mercenaries, nothing had in reality been farther from his thoughts, and the time had now come when his secret plans were to be executed, according to the agreement between himself and the German colonels. He wrote to them, accordingly, to delay no longer the accomplishment of the deed—that deed being the seizure of Antwerp citadel, as he had already successfully mastered that of Namur. The Duke of Aerschot, his brother, and son, were in his power, and could do nothing to prevent the cooperation of the colonels in the city with Treslong in the castle, so that the governor would thus be enabled, laying his head tranquilly upon “the pillow of the Antwerp citadel,” according to the reproachful expression subsequently used by the estates, to await the progress of events.
The current of his adventurous career was not, however, destined to run thus smoothly. It is true that the estates had not yet entirely lost their confidence in his character, but the seizure of Namur, and the attempt upon Antwerp, together with the contents of the intercepted letters written by himself and Escovedo to Philip, to Perez, to the Empress, to the Colonels Frondsberger and Fugger, were soon destined to open their eyes. In the meantime, almost exactly at the moment when Don John was executing his enterprise against Namur, Escovedo had taken an affectionate farewell of the estates at Brussels, for it had been thought necessary, as already intimated, both for the apparent interests and the secret projects of Don John, that the secretary should make a visit to Spain. At the command of the governor-general he had offered to take charge of any communication for his Majesty which the estates might be disposed to entrust to him, and they had accordingly addressed a long epistle to the king, in which they gave ample expression to their indignation and their woe. They remonstrated with the king concerning the continued presence of the German mercenaries, whose knives were ever at their throats, whose plunder and insolence impoverished and tortured the people. They reminded him of the vast sums which the provinces had contributed in times past to the support of government, and they begged assistance from his bounty now. They recalled to his vision the melancholy spectacle of Antwerp, but lately the “nurse of Europe, the fairest flower in his royal garland, the foremost and noblest city of the earth, now quite desolate and forlorn,” and with additional instructions to Escovedo, that he should not fail, in his verbal communications, to represent the evil consequences of the course hitherto pursued by his Majesty’s governors in the Netherlands, they dismissed him with good wishes, and with “crowns for convoy” in his purse to the amount of a revenue of 2,000 yearly. His secret correspondence was intercepted and made known a few weeks after his departure for that terrible Spain whence so few travelers returned.
For a moment we follow him thither. With a single word in anticipation, concerning the causes and the consummation of this celebrated murder, which was delayed till the following year, the unfortunate Escovedo may be dismissed from these pages. It has been seen how artfully Antonio Perez, Secretary of State, paramour of Princess Eboli, and ruling councillor at that day of Philip, had fostered in the king’s mind the most extravagant suspicions as to the schemes of Don John, and of his confidential secretary. He had represented it as their fixed and secret intention, after Don John should be finally established on the throne of England, to attack Philip himself in Spain, and to deprive him of his crown, Escovedo being represented as the prime instigator and controller of this astounding plot, which lunatics only could have engendered, and which probably never had existence.
No proof of the wild design was offered. The language which Escovedo was accused by Perez of having held previously to his departure for Flanders—that it was the intention of Don John and himself to fortify the rock of Mogro, with which, and with the command of the city of Santander, they could make themselves masters of Spain after having obtained possession of England—is too absurd to have been uttered by a man of Escovedo’s capacity. Certainly, had Perez been provided with the least scrap of writing from the hands of Don John or Escovedo which could be tortured into evidence upon this point, it would have been forthcoming, and would have rendered such fictitious hearsay superfluous. Perez, in connivance with Philip, had been systematically conducting his correspondence with Don John and Escovedo, in order to elicit some evidence of the imputed scheme. “’T was the only way,” said Perez to Philip, “to make them unbare their bosoms to the sword.” “I am quite of the same opinion,” replied Philip to Perez, “for, according to my theology, you would do your duty neither to God nor the world, unless you did as you are doing.” Yet the excellent pair of conspirators at Madrid could wring no damning proofs from the lips of the supposititious conspirators in Flanders, save that Don John, after Escovedo’s arrival in Madrid, wrote, impatiently and frequently, to demand that he should be sent back, together with the money which he had gone to Spain to procure. “Money, more money, and Escovedo,” wrote the governor, and Philip was quite willing to accept this most natural exclamation as evidence of his brother’s designs against his crown. Out of these shreds and patches—the plot against England, the pope’s bull, the desire expressed by Don John to march into France as a simple adventurer, with a few thousand men at his back—Perez, according to his own statement, drew up a protocol, afterwards formally approved by Philip, which concluded with the necessity of taking Escovedo’s life, instantly but privately, and by poison. The Marquis de Los Velos, to whom the memorial was submitted for his advice, averred that if the deathbed wafer were in his own lips, he should vote for the death of the culprit; Philip had already jumped to the same conclusion; Perez joyfully undertook the business, having received carte blanche from the king, and thus the unfortunate secretary was doomed. Immediately after the arrival of Escovedo in Madrid, he addressed a letter to the king. Philip filed it away among other dispatches, with this annotation: “the avant courier has arrived—it is necessary to make great haste, and to dispatch him before he murders us.”
The king, having been thus artfully inflamed against his brother and his unfortunate secretary, became clamorous for the blood of Escovedo. At the same time, that personage, soon after his return to Spain, was shocked by the discovery of the amour of Perez with the princess Eboli. He considered it his duty, both towards the deceased prince and the living king, to protest against this perfidy. He threatened to denounce to the king, who seemed the only person about the court ignorant of the affair, this double treason of his mistress and his minister. Perez and Anna of Eboli, furious at Escovedo’s insolence, and anxious lest he should execute his menace determined to disembarrass themselves of so meddlesome a person. Philip’s rage against Don John was accordingly turned to account, and Perez received the king’s secret orders to procure Escovedo’s assassination. Thus an imaginary conspiracy of Don John against the crown of Philip was the pretext, the fears and rage of Eboli and her paramour were the substantial reason, for the crime now projected.
The details of the murder were arranged and executed by Perez, but it must be confessed in justice to Philip, with much inferior nicety to that of his own performances in the same field. Many persons were privy to the plot. There was much blundering, there was great public scandal in Madrid, and no one ever had a reasonable doubt as to the instigators and the actual perpetrators of the crime. Two attempts to poison Escovedo were made by Perez, at his own table, through the agency of Antonio Enriquez, a confidential servant or page. Both were unsuccessful. A third was equally so, but suspicions were aroused. A female slave in the household of Escovedo, was in consequence arrested, and immediately hanged in the public square, “for a pretended attempt to murder her master. A few days afterwards (on March 31, 1578) the deed was accomplished at nightfall in the streets of Madrid, by six conspirators. They consisted of the majordomo of Perez, a page in his household, the page’s brother from the country, an ex-scullion from the royal kitchens, Juan Rubio by name, who had been the unsuccessful agent in the poisoning scheme, together with two professional bravos, hired for the occasion. It was Insausti, one of this last-mentioned couple, who dispatched Escovedo with a single stab, the others aiding and abetting, or keeping watch in the neighborhood.
The murderers effected their escape, and made their report to Perez, who for the sake of appearances, was upon a visit in the country. Suspicion soon tracked the real culprits, who were above the reach of justice; nor, as to the motives which had prompted the murders, were many ignorant, save only the murderer himself. Philip had ordered the assassination, but he was profoundly deceived as to the causes of its accomplishment. He was the dupe of a subtler villain than himself, and thought himself sacrificing a conspirator against his crown, while he had really only crushed a poor creature who had been but too solicitous for what he thought his master’s honor.
The assassins were, of course, protected from prosecution, and duly recompensed. Miguel Bosque, the country boy, received one hundred crowns in gold, paid by a clerk of Perez. Mesa, one of the bravos, was rewarded with a gold chain, fifty doubloons of eight, and a silver cup, besides receiving from the fair hand of Princess Eboli herself a certificate as under-steward upon her estates. The second bravo, Insausti, who had done the deed, the page Enriquez, and the scullion, were all appointed ensigns in his Majesty’s army, with twenty gold crowns of annual pension besides. Their commissions were signed by Philip on April 19, 1578. Such were the wages of murder at that day in Spain—gold chains, silver cups, doubloons, annuities, and commissions in the army! The reward of fidelity, as in poor Escovedo’s case, was oftener the stiletto. Was it astonishing that murder was more common than fidelity?
With the subsequent career of Antonio Perez—his famous process, his banishment, his intrigues, his innuendos, his long exile, and his miserable death—this history has no concern. We return from our brief digression.
Before narrating the issue of the plot against Antwerp citadel, it is necessary to recur for a moment to the Prince of Orange. In the deeds and the written words of that one man is comprised nearly all the history of the Reformation in the Netherlands—nearly the whole progress of the infant Republic. The rest, during this period, is made up of the plottings and counter-plottings, the mutual wranglings and recriminations of Don John and the estates.
In the brief breathing-space now afforded them, the inhabitants of Holland and Zealand had been employing themselves in the extensive repairs of their vast system of dykes. These barriers, which protected their country against the ocean, but which their own hands had destroyed to preserve themselves against tyranny, were now thoroughly reconstructed, at a great expense, the prince everywhere encouraging the people with his presence, directing them by his experience, inspiring them with his energy. The task accomplished was stupendous and worthy, says a contemporary, of eternal memory.
At the popular request, the prince afterwards made a tour through the little provinces, honoring every city with a brief visit. The spontaneous homage which went up to him from every heart was pathetic and simple. There were no triumphal arches, no martial music, no banners, no theatrical pageantry—nothing but the choral anthem from thousands of grateful hearts. “Father William has come! Father William has come!” cried men, women, and children to each other, when the news of his arrival in town or village was announced. He was a patriarch visiting his children, not a conqueror, nor a vulgar potentate displaying himself to his admirers. Happy were they who heard his voice, happier they who touched his hands, for his words were full of tenderness, his hand was offered to all. There were none so humble as to be forbidden to approach him, none so ignorant as not to know his deeds. All knew that to combat in their cause he had descended from princely station, from luxurious ease, to the position of a proscribed and almost beggared outlaw. For them he had impoverished himself and his family, mortgaged his estates, stripped himself of jewels, furniture, almost of food and raiment. Through his exertions the Spaniards had been banished from their little territory, the Inquisition crushed within their borders, nearly all the sister provinces but yesterday banded into a common cause.
He found time, notwithstanding congratulating crowds who thronged his footsteps, to direct the labors of the states-general, who still looked more than ever to his guidance, as their relations with Don John became more complicated and unsatisfactory. In a letter addressed to them, on the 20th of June, from Harlem, he warned them most eloquently to hold to the Ghent Pacification as to their anchor in the storm. He assured them, if it was torn from them, that their destruction was inevitable. He reminded them that hitherto they had got but the shadow, not the substance of the Treaty; that they had been robbed of that which was to have been its chief fruit—union among themselves. He and his brothers, with their labor, their wealth, and their blood, had laid down the bridge over which the country had stepped to the Pacification of Ghent. It was for the nation to maintain what had been so painfully won; yet he proclaimed to them that the government were not acting in good faith, that secret preparations were making to annihilate the authority of the states, to restore the edicts, to put strangers into high places, and to set up again the scaffold and the whole machinery of persecution.
In consequence of the seizure of Namur Castle, and the accusations made by Don John against Orange, in order to justify that act, the prince had already dispatched Taflin and Saint Aldegonde to the states-general with a commission to declare his sentiments upon the subject. He addressed, more. over, to the same body a letter full of sincere and simple eloquence. “The Seigneur Don John,” said he, “has accused me of violating the peace, and of countenancing attempts against his life, and in endeavoring to persuade you into joining him in a declaration of war against me and against Holland and Zealand; but I pray you, most affectionately, to remember our mutual and solemn obligations to maintain the treaty of Ghent.” He entreated the states, therefore, to beware of the artifices employed to seduce them from the only path which led to the tranquility of their common country, and her true splendor and prosperity. “I believe there is not one of you,” he continued, “who can doubt me, if he will weigh carefully all my actions, and consider closely the course which I am pursuing and have always pursued. Let all these be confronted with the conduct of Don John, and any man will perceive that all my views of happiness, both for my country and myself, imply a peaceable enjoyment of the union, joined with the legitimate restoration of our liberties, to which all good patriots aspire, and towards which all my designs have ever tended. As all the grandeur of Don John, on the contrary, consists in war, as there is nothing which he so much abhors as repose, as he has given ample proof of these inclinations in all his designs and enterprises, both before and after the Treaty of Marche en Famine, both within the country and beyond its borders, as it is most manifest that his purpose is, and ever has been, to embroil us with our neighbors of England and Scotland in new dissensions, as it must be evident to every one of you that his pretended accusations against me are but colors and shadows to embellish and to shroud his own desire for war, his appetite for vengeance, and his hatred not only to me but to yourselves, and as his determination is, in the words of Escovedo, to chastise some of us by means of the rest, and to excite the jealousy of one portion of the country against the other—therefore, gentlemen, do I most affectionately exhort you to found your decision, as to these matters, not upon words but upon actions. Examine carefully my conduct in the points concerning which the charges are made; listen attentively to what my envoys will communicate to you in my behalf; and then, having compared it with all the proceedings of Seigneur Don John, you will be able to form a resolution worthy the rank which you occupy, and befitting your obligations to the whole people, of whom you have been chosen chiefs and protectors by God and by men. Put away all considerations which might obscure your clear eye-sight; maintain with magnanimity, and like men, the safety of yourselves, your wives, your children, your estates, your liberties; see that this poor people, whose eyes are fixed upon you, does not perish; preserve them from the greediness of those who would grow great at your expense; guard them from the yoke of miserable servitude; let not all our posterity lament that, by our pusillanimity, they have lost the liberties which our ancestors had conquered for them, and bequeathed to them as well as to us, and that they have been subjugated by the proud tyranny of strangers.”
“Trusting,” said the prince, in conclusion, “that you will accord faith and attention to my envoys, I will only add an expression of my sincere determination to employ myself incessantly in your service, and for the welfare of the whole people, without sparing any means in my power, nor my life itself.”
The vigilant prince was indeed not slow to take advantage of the governor’s false move. While in reality intending peace, if it were possible, Don John had thrown down the gauntlet; while affecting to deal openly and manfully, like a warrior and an emperor’s son, he had involved himself in petty stratagems and transparent intrigues, by all which he had gained nothing but the character of a plotter, whose word could not be trusted. Saint Aldegonde expressed the hope that the seizure of Namur Castle would open the eyes of the people, and certainly the prince did his best to sharpen their vision.
While in North Holland, William of Orange received an urgent invitation from the magistracy and community of Utrecht to visit that city. His authority, belonging to him under his ancient commission, had not yet been recognized over that province, but there was no doubt that the contemplated convention of “satisfaction” was soon to be arranged, for his friends there were numerous and influential. His princess, Charlotte de Bourbon, who accompanied him on his tour, trembled at the danger to which her husband would expose himself by venturing thus boldly into a territory which might be full of his enemies, but the prince determined to trust the loyalty of a province which he hoped would be soon his own. With anxious forebodings, the princess followed her husband to the ancient episcopal city. As they entered its gates, where an immense concourse was waiting to receive him, a shot passed through the carriage window, and struck the prince upon the breast. The affrighted lady threw her arms about his neck, shrieking that they were betrayed, but the prince, perceiving that the supposed shot was but a wad from one of the cannon, which, were still roaring their welcome to him, soon succeeded calming her fears. The carriage passed slowly through the streets, attended by the vociferous greetings of the multitude, for the whole population had come forth to do him honor. Women and children clustered upon every roof and balcony, but a painful incident again marred the tranquility of the occasion. An apothecary’s child, a little girl of ten years, leaning eagerly from a lofty balcony, lost her balance and fell to the ground, directly before the horses of the prince’s carriage. She was killed stone dead by the fall. The procession stopped; the prince alighted, lifted the little corpse in his arms, and delivered it, with gentle words and looks of consolation, to the unhappy parents. The day seemed marked with evil omens, which were fortunately destined to prove fallacious. The citizens of Utrecht became more than ever inclined to accept the dominion of the prince, whom they honored and whom they already regarded as their natural chief. They entertained him with banquets and festivities during his brief visit, and it was certain before he took his departure that the treaty of “Satisfaction” would not be long delayed. It was drawn up, accordingly, in the autumn of the same year, upon the basis of that accepted by Harlem and Amsterdam—a basis wide enough to support both religions, with a nominal supremacy to the ancient Church.
Meantime, much fruitless correspondence had taken place between Don John and the states. Envoys, dispatched by the two parties to each other, had indulged in bitterness and recrimination. As soon as the governor had taken possession of Namur Castle, he had sent the Seigneur de Rassinghem to the states-general. That gentleman carried with him copies of two anonymous letters, received by Don John upon the 19th and 21st of July, 1577, in which a conspiracy against his life and liberty was revealed. It was believed by the governor that Count Lalain, who had secretly invited him to a conference, had laid an ambush for him. It was known that the country was full of disbanded soldiers, and the governor asserted confidently that numbers of desperadoes were lying in wait for him in every village alehouse of Hainault and Flanders. He called on the states to ferret out these conspirators, and to inflict condign punishment upon their more guilty chiefs; he required that the soldiers, as well as the citizens, should be disarmed at Brussels and throughout Brabant, and he justified his seizure of Namur, upon the general ground that his life was no longer safe, except in a fortress.
In reply to the letter of the governor, which was dated the 24th of July, the states dispatched Marolles, Archdeacon of Ypres, and the Seigneur de Bresse, to Namur, with a special mission to enter into the whole subject of these grievances. These gentlemen, professing the utmost devotion to the cause of his Majesty’s authority and the Catholic religion, expressed doubts as to the existence of the supposed conspiracy. They demanded that Don John should denounce the culprits, if any such were known, in order that proper chastisement might be instantly inflicted. The conversation which ensued was certainly unsatisfactory. The governor used lofty and somewhat threatening language, assuring Marolles that he was at that moment in possession, not only of Namur but of Antwerp citadel; and the deputies accordingly departed, having accomplished very little by their journey. Their backs were scarcely turned, when Don John, on his part, immediately appointed another commission, consisting of Rassinghem and Grobbendonck, to travel from Namur to Brussels. These envoys carried a long letter of grievances, enclosing a short list of demands. The letter reiterated his complaints about conspiracies, and his protestations of sincerity. It was full of censure upon the Prince of Orange, stigmatized his intrigues to obtain possession of Amsterdam, without a proper “Satisfaction,” and of Utrecht, to which he had no claim at all. It maintained that the Hollanders and Zealanders were bent upon utterly exterminating the Catholic religion, and that they avowed publicly their intention to refuse obedience to the assembly-general, should it decree the maintenance of the ancient worship only. His chief demands were that the states should send him a list of persons qualified to be members of the general assembly, that he might see whether there were not individuals among them whom he might choose to reject. He further required that, if the Prince of Orange did not instantly fulfil the treaty of Ghent, the states should cease to hold any communication with him. He also summoned the states to provide him forthwith with a suitable bodyguard.
To these demands and complaints, the estates replied by a string of resolutions. They made their usual protestations of attachment to his Majesty and the Catholic faith, and they granted willingly a foot-guard of three hundred archers. They, however, stoutly denied the governor’s right to make eliminations in their lists of deputies, because, from time immemorial, these representatives had been chosen by the clergy, nobles, cities, and boroughs. The names might change daily, nor were there any suspicious ones among them, but it was a matter with which the governor had no concern. They promised that every effort should be made to bring about the execution of the treaty by the Prince of Orange. They begged Don John, however, to abandon the citadel of Namur, and gave him to understand that his secret practices had been discovered, a large packet of letters having recently been intercepted in the neighborhood of Bourdeaux, and sent to the Prince of Orange. Among them were some of the dispatches of Don John and Escovedo, to his Majesty and to Antonio Perez, to which allusion has already been made.
Count Bossu, De Bresse, and Meetkercke were the envoys deputed to convey these resolutions to Namur. They had a long and bitter conversation with Don John, who complained more furiously than ever of the conspiracies against his person, and of the intrigues of Orange. He insisted that this arch-traitor had been sowing the seed of his damnable doctrines broadcast through the Netherlands, that the earth was groaning with a daily ripening harvest of rebellion and heresy. It was time, he cried, for the states to abandon the prince, and rally round their king. Patience had been exhausted. He had himself done all, and more than could have been demanded. He had faithfully executed the Ghent Pacification, but his conduct had neither elicited gratitude nor inspired confidence.
The deputies replied, that to the due execution of the Ghent treaty it was necessary that he should disband the German troops, assemble the states-general, and carry out their resolutions. Until these things, now undone, had been accomplished, he had no right to plead his faithful fulfillment of the Pacification. After much conversation—in which the same grievances were repeated, the same statements produced and contradicted, the same demands urged and evaded, and the same menaces exchanged as upon former occasions—the deputies returned to Brussels.
Immediately after their departure, Don John learned the result of his project upon Antwerp Castle. It will be remembered that he had withdrawn Aerschot, under pretext of requiring his company on the visit to Queen Margaret, and that he had substituted Treslong, an unscrupulous partisan of his own, in the government of the citadel. The temporary commander soon found, however, that he had undertaken more than he could perform. The troops under Van Ende were refused admittance into the town, although permission to quarter them there had been requested by the governor-general. The authorities had been assured that the troops were necessary for the protection of their city, but the magistrates had learned, but too recently, the nature of the protection which Van Ende, with his mercenaries, would afford. A detachment of states troops under De Vers, Champagny’s nephew, encountered the regiment of Van Ende, and put it to flight with considerable loss. At the same time, an officer in the garrison of the citadel itself, Captain De Bours, undertook secretly to carry the fortress for the estates. His operations were secret and rapid. The Seigneur de Liedekerke had succeeded Champagny in the government of the city. This appointment had been brought about by the agency of the Greffier Martini, a warm partisan of Orange. The new governor was known to be very much the prince’s friend, and believed to be at heart a convert to the Reformed religion. With Martini and Liedekerke, De Bours arranged his plot. He was supplied with a large sum of money, readily furnished in secret by the leading mercantile houses of the city. These funds were successfully invested in gaining over the garrison, only one company holding firm for Treslong. The rest, as that officer himself informed Don John, were ready at any moment “to take him by the throat.”
On the first of August, the day fixed upon in concert with the governor and Greffier, he was, in fact, taken by the throat. There was but a brief combat, the issue of which became accidentally doubtful in the city. The white-plumed hat of De Bours had been struck from his head in the struggle, and had fallen into the foes. Floating out into the river, it had been recognized by the scouts sent out by the personages most interested, and the information was quickly brought to Liedekerke, who was lying concealed in the house of Martini, awaiting the result. Their dismay was great, but Martini, having more confidence than the governor, sallies forth to learn the whole truth. Scarcely had he got into the streets than he heard a welcome cry. “The Beggars have the castle! the Beggars have the castle!” shouted a hundred voices. He soon met a lieutenant coming straight from the fortress, who related to him the whole affair. Learning that De Bours was completely victorious, and that Treslong was prisoner, Martini hastened with the important intelligence to his own home, where Liedekerke lay concealed. That functionary now repaired to the citadel, whither the magistrates, the leading citizens, and the chief merchants were instantly summoned. The castle was carried, but the city was already trembling with apprehension lest the German mercenaries quartered within its walls, should rise with indignation or panic, and repeat the horrid tragedy of The Antwerp Fury.
In truth, there seemed danger of such a catastrophe. The secret correspondence of Don John with the colonels was already discovered, and it was seen how warmly he had impressed upon the men with whom he had been tampering, “that the die was cast, and that all their art was necessary to make it turn up successfully. The castle was carried, but what would become of the city? A brief and eager consultation terminated in an immediate offer of 300,000 crowns by the leading merchants. This money was to be employed in amicably satisfying, if possible, the German soldiers, who had meanwhile actually come to arms, and were assembled in the Place de Meer. Feeling unsafe, however, in this locality, their colonels had led them into the new town. Here, having barricaded themselves with gun-carriages, bales, and boxes, they awaited, instead of initiating, the events which the day might bring forth. A deputation soon arrived with a white flag from the castle, and commissioners were appointed by the commanding officers of the soldiery. The offer was made to pay over the arrears of their wages, at least to a very large amount, on condition that the troops should forthwith and forever evacuate the city. One hundred and fifty thousand crowns were offered on the nail. The merchants stood on the bridge leading from the old town to the new, in full sight of the soldiers. They held in their bands their purses, filled with the glittering gold. The soldiers were frantic with the opportunity, and swore that they would have their officers’ lives, if the tempting and unexpected offer should be declined. Nevertheless, the commissioners went to and fro, ever finding something to alter or arrange. In truth, the merchants had agreed to furnish, if necessary, 300,000 crowns, but the thrifty negotiators were disposed, if diplomacy could do it, to save the moiety of that sum. Day began to sink, ere the bargain was completed, when suddenly sails were descried in the distance, and presently a large fleet of war vessels, with banner and pennon flying before a favoring breeze, came sailing up the Scheld. It was a squadron of the prince’s ships, under command of Admiral Haultain. He had been sent against Tholen, but, having received secret intelligence, had, with happy audacity, seized the opportunity of striking a blow in the cause which he had served so faithfully. A shot or two fired from the vessels among the barricades had a quickening effect. A sudden and astounding panic seized the soldiers. “The Beggars are coming! the Beggars are coming!” they yelled in dismay, for the deeds of the ocean-beggars had not become less appalling since the memorable siege of Leyden. The merchants still stood on the bridge with their purses in their hand. The envoys from the castle still waved their white flags. It was too late. The horror inspired by the wild Zealanders overpowered the hope of wages, extinguished all confidence in the friendship of the citizens. The mercenaries, yielding to a violent paroxysm of fear, fled hither and thither, panting, doubling, skulking, like wolves before the hounds. Their flight was ludicrous. Without staying to accept the money which the merchants were actually offering, without packing up their own property, in many cases even throwing away their arms, they fled, helter-skelter, some plunging into the Scheld, some skimming along the dykes, some rushing across the open fields.
A portion of them under Colonel Fugger, afterwards shut themselves up in Bergen op Zoom, where they were at once besieged by Champagny, and were soon glad to compromise the matter by surrendering their colonel and laying down their arms. The remainder retreated to Breda, where they held out for two months, and were at length overcome by a neat stratagem of Orange. A captain, being known to be in the employment of Don John, was arrested on his way to Breda. Carefully sewed up in his waistband was found a letter, of a finger’s breadth, written in cipher, and sealed with the governor-general’s seal. Colonel Frondsberger, commanding in Breda, was in this missive earnestly solicited to hold out two months longer, within which time a certain relief was promised. In place of this letter, deciphered with much difficulty, a new one was substituted, which the celebrated printer, William Sylvius, of Antwerp, prepared wall great adroitness, adding the sin-nature and seal of Don John. In this counterfeit epistle, the colonel was directed to do the best he could for himself, by reason that Don John was himself besieged, and unable to render him assistance. The same captain who had brought the real letter was bribed to deliver the counterfeit. This task he faithfully performed, spreading the fictitious intelligence besides, with such ardor through the town, that the troops rose, upon their leader, and surrendered him with the city and their own arms, into the custody of the estates. Such was the result of the attempt by Don John to secure the citadel of Antwerp. Not only was the fortress carried for the estates, but the city itself, for the first time in twelve years, was relieved from a foreign soldiery.
The rage and disappointment of the governor-general were excessive. He had boasted to Marolles a day too soon. The prize which he thought already in his grasp had slipped through his fingers, while an interminable list of demands which he dreamed not of, and which were likely to make him bankrupt, were brought to his door. To the states, not himself, the triumph seemed for the moment decreed. The “dice” had taken a run against him, notwithstanding his pains in loading and throwing. Nevertheless, he did not yet despair of revenge. “These rebels,” he wrote to the Empress-Dowager, his sister, “think that fortune is all smiles for them now, and that all is ruin for me. The wretches are growing proud enough, and forget that their chastisement, some fine morning, will yet arrive.”
On the seventh of August he addressed another long letter to the estates. This document was accompanied, as usual, by certain demands, drawn up categorically in twenty-three articles. The estates considered his terms hard and strange, for in their opinion it was themselves, not the governor, who were masters of the situation. Nevertheless, he seemed inclined to treat as if he had gained, not missed, the citadel of Antwerp; as if the troops with whom he had tampered were mustered in the field, not shut up in distant towns, and already at the mercy of the states party. The governor demanded that all the forces of the country should be placed under his own immediate control; that Count Bossu, or some other person nominated by himself, should be appointed to the government of Friesland; that the people of Brabant and Flanders should set themselves instantly to hunting, catching, and chastising all vagrant heretics and preachers. He required, in particular, that Saint Aldegonde and Theron, those most mischievous rebels, should be prohibited from setting their foot in any city of the Netherlands. He insisted that the community of Brussels should lay down their arms, and resume their ordinary handicrafts. He demanded that the Prince of Orange should be made to execute the Ghent treaty; to suppress the exercise of the Reformed religion in Harlem, Schoonhoven, and other places; to withdraw his armed vessels from their threatening stations, and to restore Nieuport, unjustly detained by him. Should the prince persist in his obstinacy, Don John summoned them to take arms against him, and to support their lawful governor. He, moreover, required the immediate restitution of Antwerp citadel, and the release of Treslong from prison.
Although, regarded from the Spanish point of view, such demands might seem reasonable, it was also natural that their audacity should astonish the estates. That the man who had violated so openly the Ghent treaty should rebuke the prince for his default, that the man who had tampered with the German mercenaries until they were on the point of making another Antwerp Fury should now claim the command over them and all other troops, that the man who had attempted to gain Antwerp citadel by a base stratagem, should now coolly demand its restoration, seemed to them the perfection of insolence. The baffled conspirator boldly claimed the prize which was to have rewarded a successful perfidy. At the very moment when the Escovedo letters and the correspondence with the German colonels had been laid before their eyes, it was a little too much that the double-dealing bastard of the double-dealing Emperor should read them a lecture upon sincerity. It was certain that the perplexed and outwitted warrior had placed himself at last in a very false position. The Prince of Orange, with his usual adroitness, made the most of his adversary’s false moves. Don John had only succeeded in digging a pitfall for himself. His stratagems against Namur and Antwerp had produced him no fruit, saving the character, which his antagonist now fully succeeded in establishing for him, of an unscrupulous and artful schemer. This reputation was enhanced by the discovery of the intercepted letters, and by the ingenuity and eagerness with which they were turned to account against him by the prince, by Saint Aldegonde, and all the anti-Catholic party. The true key to his reluctance against dispatching the troops by land, the states had not obtained. They did not dream of his romantic designs upon England, and were therefore excusable in attributing a still deeper perfidy to his arrangements.
Even had he been sent to the Netherlands in the full possession of his faculties, he would have been no match in political combinations for his powerful antagonists. Hoodwinked and fettered, suspected by his master, baffled, bewildered, irritated by his adversary, what could he do but plunge from one difficulty to another and oscillate between extravagant menace and desponding concession, until his hopes and life were wasted quite away. His instructions came from Philip through Perez, and that most profound dissembler, as we have seen, systematically deceived the governor, with the view of eliciting treasonable matters, Philip wishing, if possible, to obtain proofs of Don John’s secret designs against his own crown. Thus every letter from Spain was filled with false information and with lying persuasions. No doubt the governor considered himself entitled to wear a crown, and meant to win it, if not in Africa, then in England, or wherever fate might look propitiously upon him. He was of the stuff of which crusaders and dynasty founders had been made, at a somewhat earlier epoch. Who could have conquered the holy sepulchre, or wrested a crown from its lawful wearer, whether in Italy, Muscovy, the Orient, or in the British Ultima Thule, more bravely than this imperial bastard, this valiant and romantic adventurer? Unfortunately, he came a few centuries too late. The days when dynasties were founded, and European thrones appropriated by a few foreign freebooters, had passed, and had not yet returned. He had come to the Netherlands desirous of smoothing over difficulties and of making a peaceful termination to that rebellion a stepping-stone to his English throne. He was doomed to a profound disappointment, a broken heart, and a premature grave, instead of the glittering baubles which he pursued. Already he found himself bitterly deceived in his hopes. The obstinate Netherlanders would not love him, notwithstanding the good wishes he had manifested. They would not even love the King of Spain, notwithstanding the blessings which his Majesty was declared to have heaped upon them. On the contrary, they persisted in wasting their perverse affections upon the pestilent Prince of Orange. That heretic was leading them to destruction, for he was showing them the road to liberty, and nothing, in the eyes of the governor, could be more pitiable than to behold an innocent people setting forth upon such a journey. “In truth,” said he, bitterly, in his memorable letter to his sister the Empress, “they are willing to recognize neither God nor king. They pretend to liberty in all things: so that ’tis a great pity to see how they are going on; to see the impudence and disrespect with which they repay his Majesty for the favors which he has shown them, and me for the labors, indignities, and dangers which I have undergone for their sakes.”
Nothing, indeed, in the governor’s opinion, could surpass the insolence of the Netherlanders save their ingratitude. That was the serpent’s tooth which was ever wounding the clement king and his indignant brother. It seemed so bitter to meet with thanklessness, after seven years of Alva and three of Requesens, after the labors of the Blood Council, the massacres of Naarden, Zutphen, and Harlem, the siege of Leyden, and the Fury of Antwerp. “Little profit there has been,” said the Governor to his sister, “or is like to be from all the good which we have done to these bad people. In short, they love and obey in all things the most perverse and heretic tyrant and rebel in the whole world, which is this damned Prince of Orange, while, on the contrary, without fear of God or shame before men, they abhor and dishonor the name and commandments of their natural sovereign.” Therefore, with a doubting spirit, and almost with a broken heart, had the warrior shut himself up in Namur Castle, to await the progress of events, and to escape from the snares of his enemies. “God knows how much I desire to avoid extremities,” said he, “but I know not what to do with men who show themselves so obstinately rebellious.”
Thus pathetically Don John bewailed his fate. The nation had turned from God, from Philip, from himself; yet he still sat in his castle, determined to save them from destruction and his own hands from bloodshed, if such an issue were yet possible. Nor was he entirely deserted, for among the faithless a few were faithful still. Although the people were in open revolt, there was still a handful of nobles resolved to do their duty towards their God and king. “This little band,” said the governor, “has accompanied me hither, like gentlemen and chevaliers of honor.” Brave Berlaymont and his four sons were loyal to the last, but others of this limited number of gentlemen and chevaliers of honor were already deserting him. As soon as the result of the enterprise against Antwerp citadel was known, and the storm was gathering most darkly over the royal cause, Aerschot and Havré were first to spread their wings and flutter away in search of a more congenial atmosphere. In September, the duke was again as he had always professed himself to be, with some important intervals of exception—”the affectionate brother and cordial friend of the Prince of Orange.”
The letter addressed by Don John to the states upon the seventh of August, had not yet been answered. Feeling, soon afterwards, more sensible of his position, and perhaps less inflamed with indignation, he addressed another communication to them, upon the 13th of the same month. In this epistle he expressed an extreme desire for peace, and a hearty desire to be relieved, if possible, from his most painful situation. He protested, before God and man, that his intentions were most honest, and that he abhorred war more than anything else in the world. He averred that, if his person was as odious to them as it seemed, he was only too ready to leave the land, as soon as the king should appoint his successor. He reminded them that the question of peace or war lay not with himself, but with them, and that the world would denounce as guilty those with whom rested the responsibility. He concluded with an observation which, in its humility, seemed sufficiently ironical, that if they had quite finished the perusal of the dispatches from Madrid to his address, which they had intercepted, he should be thankful for an opportunity of reading them himself. He expressed a hope, therefore, that they would be forwarded to Namur.
This letter was answered at considerable length, upon the second day. The states made their customary protestations of attachment to his Majesty, their fidelity to the Catholic church, their determination to maintain both the Ghent treaty and the Perpetual Edict. They denied all responsibility for the present disastrous condition of the relations between themselves and government, having disbanded nearly all their own troops, while the governor had been strengthening his forces up to the period of his retreat into Namur. He protested, indeed, friendship and a sincere desire for peace, but the intercepted letters of Escovedo and his own had revealed to them the evil counsels to which he had been listening, and the intrigues which he had been conducting. They left to his conscience whether they could reasonably believe, after the perusal of these documents, that it was his intention to maintain the Ghent treaty, or any treaty; and whether they were not justified in their resort to the natural right of self-defense.
Don John was already fully aware of the desperate error which he had committed. In seizing Namur and attempting Antwerp, he had thrown down the gauntlet. Wishing peace, he had, in a panic of rage and anxiety, declared and enacted war. The bridge was broken behind him, the ships burned, a gulf opened, a return to peace rendered almost impossible. Let it is painful to observe the almost passionate longings which at times seemed to possess him for accommodating the quarrel, together with his absolute incapacity to appreciate his position. The prince was triumphant, the governor in a trap. Moreover, it was a trap which he had not only entered voluntarily, but which he had set himself; he had played into the prince’s hands, and was frantic to see his adversary tranquilly winning the game. It was almost melancholy to observe the gradation of his tone from haughty indignation to dismal concession. In an elaborate letter which he addressed “to the particular states, bishops, councillors, and cities of the Netherlands,” he protested as to the innocence of his intentions, and complained bitterly of the calumnies circulated to his discredit by the Prince of Orange. He denied any intention of recalling the troops which he had dismissed, except in case of absolute necessity. He affirmed that his Majesty sincerely desired peace. He averred that the country was either against the king, against the Catholic religion, against himself, or against all three together. He bitterly asked what further concessions were required. Had he not done all he had ever promised? Had he not discharged the Spaniards, placed the castles in the hands of natives, restored the privileges, submitted to insults and indecencies? Yet, in spite of all which had passed, he declared his readiness to resign, if another prince or princess of the blood more acceptable to them could be appointed. The letter to the states was followed by a proposition for a cessation of hostilities, and for the appointment of a commission to devise means for faithfully executing the Ghent treaty. This proposition was renewed, a few days later, together with an offer for an exchange of hostages.
It was not difficult for the estates to answer the letters of the Governor. Indeed, there was but little lack of argument on either side throughout this unhappy controversy. It is dismal to contemplate the interminable exchange of protocols, declarations, demands, apostilles, replications and rejoinders, which made up the substance of Don John’s administration. Never was chivalrous crusader so out of place. It was not a soldier that was then required for Philip’s exigency, but a scribe. Instead of the famous sword of Lepanto, the “barbarous pen” of Hopperus had been much more suitable for the work required. Scribbling Joachim in a war galley, yardarm and yardarm with the Turkish capitan pacha, could have hardly felt less at ease than did the brilliant warrior thus condemned to scrawl and dissemble. While marching from concession to concession, he found the states conceiving daily more distrust, and making daily deeper encroachments. Moreover, his deeds up to the time when he seemed desirous to retrace his steps had certainly been, at the least, equivocal. Therefore, it was natural for the estates, in reply to the questions in his letter, to observe that he had indeed dismissed the Spaniards, but that he had tampered with and retained the Germans; that he had indeed placed the citadels in the hands of natives, but that he had tried his best to wrest them away again; that he had indeed professed anxiety for peace, but that his intercepted letters proved his preparations for war. Already there were rumors of Spanish troops returning in small detachments out of France. Already the governor was known to be enrolling fresh mercenaries to supply the place of those whom he had unsuccessfully endeavored to gain to his standard. As early as the 26th of July, in fact, the Marquis d’Ayamonte in Milan, and Don Juan de Idiaquez in Genoa, had received letters from Don John of Austria, stating that, as the provinces had proved false to their engagements, he would no longer be held by his own, and intimating his desire that the veteran troops which had but so recently been dismissed from Flanders, should forthwith return. Soon afterwards, Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma, received instructions from the king to superintend these movements, and to carry the aid of his own already distinguished military genius to his uncle in the Netherlands.
On the other hand, the states felt their strength daily more sensibly. Guided, as usual, by Orange, they had already assumed a tone in their correspondence which must have seemed often disloyal, and sometimes positively insulting, to the governor. They even answered his hints of resignation in favor of some other prince of the blood, by expressing their hopes that his successor, if a member of the royal house at all, would at least be a legitimate one. This was a severe thrust at the haughty chieftain, whose imperial airs rarely betrayed any consciousness of Barbara Blomberg and the bend sinister on his shield. He was made to understand, through the medium of Brabantine bluntness, that more importance was attached to the marriage ceremony in the Netherlands than he seemed to imagine. The categorical demands made by the estates seemed even more indigestible than such collateral affronts, for they had now formally affirmed the views of Orange as to the constitutional government of the provinces. In their letter of 26th August, they expressed their willingness, notwithstanding the past delinquencies of the governor, to yield him their confidence again; but, at the same time, they enumerated conditions which, with his education and views, could hardly seem to him admissible. They required him to disband all the soldiers in his service, to send the Germans instantly out of the country, to dismiss every foreigner from office, whether civil or military, and to renounce his secret league with the Duke of Guise. They insisted that he should thenceforth govern only with the advice and consent of the State Council, that he should execute that which should by a majority of votes be ordained there, that neither measures nor dispatches should be binding or authentic unless drawn up at that board. These certainly were views of administration which, even if consonant with a sound historical view of the Netherland constitutions, hardly tallied with his monarch’s instructions, his own opinions, or the practice under Alva and Requesens, but the country was still in a state of revolution, and the party of the prince was gaining the upper hand.
It was the determination of that great statesman, according to that which he considered the legitimate practice of the government, to restore the administration to the State Council, which executive body ought of right to be appointed by the states-general. In the states-general, as in the states-particular, a constant care was to be taken towards strengthening the most popular element, the “community” of each city, the aggregate, that is to say, of its guild representatives and its admitted burghers. This was, in the opinion of the prince, the true theory of the government—republican in all but form—under the hereditary protection, not the despotic authority, of a family, whose rights were now nearly forfeited. It was a great step in advance that these views should come to be thus formally announced, not in Holland and Zealand only, but by the deputies of the states-general, although such a doctrine, to the proud stomach of Don John, seemed sufficiently repulsive. Not less so was the cool intimation with which the paper concluded, that if he should execute his threat of resigning, the country would bear his loss with fortitude, coupled as was that statement with a declaration that, until his successor should be appointed, the State Council would consider itself charged ad interim with the government. In the meantime, the governor was requested not to calumniate the estates to foreign governments, as he had so recently done in his intercepted letter to the empress-dowager.
Upon receiving this letter, “Don John,” says a faithful old chronicler, “found that the cranes had invited the fox to dinner.” In truth, the illustrious soldier was never very successful in his efforts, for which his enemies gave him credit, to piece out the skin of the lion with that of the fox. He now felt himself exposed and outwitted, while he did not feel conscious of any very dark design. He answered the letter of the states by a long communication, dated from Namur Castle, 28th of August. In style, he was comparatively temperate, but the justification which he attempted of his past conduct was not very happy. He noticed the three different points which formed the leading articles of the accusation brought against him, the matter, namely, of the intercepted letters, of the intrigues with the German colonels, and the seizure of Namur, He did not deny the authorship of the letters, but contented himself with a reference to their date, as if its priority to his installation as governor furnished a sufficient palliation of the bad faith which the letters revealed. As to the dispatches of Escovedo, he denied responsibility for any statements or opinions which they might contain. As the Secretary, however, was known to be his most confidential friend, this attempt to shuffle off his own complicity was held to be both lame and unhandsome. As for the correspondence with the colonels, his defense was hardly more successful, and rested upon a general recrimination upon the Prince of Orange. As that personage was agitating and turbulent, it was not possible, the governor urged, that he should himself remain quiet. It was out of his power to execute the treaty and the edict, in the face of a notorious omission on the part of his adversary to enforce the one or to publish the other. It comported neither with his dignity nor his safety to lay down his weapons while the prince and his adherents were arming. He should have placed himself “in a very foolish position,” had he allowed himself unarmed to be dictated to by the armed. In defense of himself on the third point, the seizure of Namur Castle, he recounted the various circumstances with which the reader is already acquainted. He laid particular stress upon the dramatic manner in which the Vicomte De Gand had drawn his curtains at the dead of night; he narrated at great length the ominous warning which he had likewise received from the Duke of Aerschot in Brussels, and concluded with a circumstantial account of the ambush which he believed to have been laid for him by Count De Lalain. The letter concluded with a hope for an arrangement of difficulties, not yet admitted by the governor to be insurmountable, and with a request for a formal conference, accompanied by an exchange of hostages.
While this correspondence was proceeding between Namur and Brussels, an event was occurring in Antwerp which gave much satisfaction to Orange. The Spanish Fury, and the recent unsuccessful attempt of Don John to master the famous citadel, had determined the authorities to take the counsel which the prince had so often given in vain, and the fortress of Antwerp was at length razed to the ground, on the side towards the city. It would be more correct to say that it was not the authorities, but the city itself which rose at last and threw off the saddle by which it had so long been galled. More than 10,000 persons were constantly at work, morning, noon, and night, until the demolition was accomplished. Grave magistrates, great nobles, fair ladies, citizens and their wives, beggars and their children, all wrought together pell-mell. All were anxious to have a hand in destroying the nest where so many murders had been hatched, whence so much desolation had flown. The task was not a long one for workmen so much in earnest, and the fortress was soon laid low in the quarter where it could be injurious to the inhabitants. As the work proceeded, the old statue of Alva was discovered in a forgotten crypt, where it had lain since it had been thrown down by the order of Requesens. Amid the destruction of the fortress, the gigantic phantom of its founder seemed to start suddenly from the gloom, but the apparition added fresh fuel to the rage of the people. The image of the execrated governor was fastened upon with as much fierceness as if the bronze effigy could feel their blows, or comprehend their wrath. It was brought forth from its dark hiding place into the daylight. Thousands of hands were ready to drag it through the streets for universal inspection and outrage. A thousand sledgehammers were ready to dash it to pieces, with a slight portion, at least, of the satisfaction with which those who wielded them would have dealt the same blows upon the head of the tyrant himself. It was soon reduced to a shapeless mass. Small portions were carried away and preserved for generations in families as heirlooms of hatred. The bulk was melted again and reconverted, by a most natural metamorphosis, into the cannon from which it had originally sprung.
The razing of the Antwerp citadel set an example which was followed in other places; the castle of Ghent, in particular, being immediately leveled, amid demonstrations of universal enthusiasm. Meantime, the correspondence between Don John and the estates at Brussels dragged its slow length along, while at the same time, two elaborate letters were addressed to the king, on the 24th of August and the eighth of September, by the estates-general of the Netherlands. These documents, which were long and able, gave a vigorous representation of past evils and of the present complication of disorders under which the commonwealth was laboring. They asked, as usual, for a royal remedy, and expressed their doubts whether there could be any sincere reconciliation so long as the present governor, whose duplicity and insolence they represented in a very strong light, should remain in office. Should his Majesty, however, prefer to continue Don John in the government, they signified their willingness, in consideration of his natural good qualities, to make the best of the matter. Should, however, the estrangement between themselves and the governor seem irremediable, they begged that another and a legitimate prince of the blood might be appointed in his place.