Alexander of Parma 1
Alexander Farnese of Parma, Treason among the Nobles, and the Union of Utrecht
A fifth governor now stood in the place which had been successively vacated by Margaret of Parma, by Alva, by the Grand Commander, and by Don John of Austria. Of all the eminent personages to whom Philip had confided the reins of that most difficult and dangerous administration, the man who was now to rule was by far the ablest and the best fitted for his post. If there were living charioteer skillful enough to guide the wheels of state, whirling now more dizzily than ever through “confusum chaos,” Alexander Farnese was the charioteer to guide, his hand the only one which could control.
He was now in his thirty-third year, his uncle Don John, his cousin Don Carlos, and himself having all been born within a few months of each other. His father was Ottavio Farnese, the faithful lieutenant of Charles V, and grandson of Pope Paul III; his mother was Margaret of Parma, first Regent of the Netherlands after the departure of Philip from the provinces. He was one of the twins by which the reunion of Margaret and her youthful husband had been blessed, and the only one that survived. His great-grandfather, Paul, whose secular name of Alexander he had received, had placed his hand upon the newborn infant’s head, and prophesied that he would grow up to become a mighty warrior. The boy, from his earliest years, seemed destined to verify the prediction. Though apt enough at his studies, he turned with impatience from his literary tutors to military exercises and the hardiest sports. The din of arms surrounded his cradle. The trophies of Ottavio, returning victorious from beyond the Alps, had dazzled the eyes of his infancy, and when but six years of age he had witnessed the siege of his native Parma, and its vigorous defense by his martial father. When Philip was in the Netherlands—in the years immediately succeeding the abdication of the Emperor—he had received the boy from his parents as a hostage for their friendship. Although but eleven years of age, Alexander had begged earnestly to be allowed to serve as a volunteer on the memorable day of Saint Quentin, and had wept bitterly when the amazed monarch refused his request.
His education had been completed at Alcalá, and at Madrid, under the immediate supervision of his royal uncle, and in the companionship of the Infante Carlos and the brilliant Don John. The imperial bastard was alone able to surpass, or even to equal the Italian prince in all martial and manly pursuits. Both were equally devoted to the chase and to the tournay; both longed impatiently for the period when the irksome routine of monkish pedantry, and the fictitious combats which formed their main recreation, should be exchanged for the substantial delights of war. At the age of twenty he had been affianced to Maria of Portugal, daughter of Prince Edward, granddaughter of King Emanuel, and his nuptials with that peerless princess were, as we have seen, celebrated soon afterwards with much pomp in Brussels. Sons and daughters were born to him in due time, during his subsequent residence in Parma. Here, however, the fiery and impatient spirit of the future illustrious commander was doomed for a time to fret under restraint, and to corrode in distasteful repose. His father, still in the vigor of his years, governing the family duchies of Parma and Piacenza, Alexander had no occupation in the brief period of peace which then existed. The martial spirit, pining for a wide and lofty sphere of action, in which alone its energies could be fitly exercised, now sought delight in the pursuits of the duelist and gladiator. Nightly did the hereditary prince of the land perambulate the streets of his capital, disguised, well-armed, alone, or with a single confidential attendant. Every chance passenger of martial aspect whom he encountered in the midnight streets was forced to stand and measure swords with an unknown, almost unseen, but most redoubtable foe, and many were the single combats which he thus enjoyed, so long as his incognito was preserved. Especially, it was his wont to seek and defy every gentleman whose skill or bravery had ever been commended in his hearing. At last, upon one occasion it was his fortune to encounter a certain Count Torelli, whose reputation as a swordsman and duelist was well established in Parma. The blades were joined, and the fierce combat had already been engaged in the darkness, when the torch of an accidental passenger flashed full in the face of Alexander. Torelli, recognizing thus suddenly his antagonist, dropped his sword and implored forgiveness, for the wily Italian was too keen not to perceive that even if the death of neither combatant should be the result of the fray, his own position was, in every event, a false one. Victory would ensure him the hatred, defeat the contempt of his future sovereign. The unsatisfactory issue and subsequent notoriety of this encounter put a termination to these midnight joys of Alexander, and for a season he felt obliged to assume more pacific habits, and to solace himself with the society of that “phoenix of Portugal,” who had so long sat brooding on his domestic hearth.
At last the holy league was formed, the new and last crusade proclaimed, his uncle and bosom friend appointed to the command of the united troops of Rome, Spain, and Venice. He could no longer be restrained. Disdaining the pleadings of his mother and of his spouse, he extorted permission from Philip, and flew to the seat of war in the Levant. Don John received him with open arms, just before the famous action of Lepanto, and gave him an excellent position in the very front of the battle, with the command of several Genoese galleys. Alexander’s exploits on that eventful day seemed those of a fabulous hero of romance. He laid his galley alongside of the treasure-ship of the Turkish fleet, a vessel, on account of its importance, doubly manned and armed. Impatient that the Crescent was not lowered, after a few broadsides, he sprang on board the enemy alone, waving an immense two-handed sword—his usual weapon—and mowing a passage right and left through the hostile ranks for the warriors who tardily followed the footsteps of their vehement chief. Mustapha Bey, the treasurer and commander of the ship, fell before his sword, besides many others, whom he hardly saw or counted. The galley was soon his own, as well as another, which came to the rescue of the treasure-ship only to share its defeat. The booty which Alexander’s crew secured was prodigious, individual soldiers obtaining two and three thousand ducats each. Don John received his nephew after the battle with commendations, not, however, unmingled with censure. The successful result alone had justified such insane and desperate conduct, for had he been slain or overcome, said the commander-in-chief, there would have been few to applaud his temerity. Alexander gaily replied by assuring his uncle that he had felt sustained by a more than mortal confidence, the prayers which his saintly wife was incessantly offering in his behalf since he went to the wars being a sufficient support and shield in even greater danger than he had yet confronted.
This was Alexander’s first campaign, nor was he permitted to reap any more glory for a few succeeding years. At last, Philip was disposed to send both his mother and himself to the Netherlands, removing Don John from the rack where he had been enduring such slow torture. Granvelle’s intercession proved fruitless with the duchess, but Alexander was all eagerness to go where blows were passing current, and he gladly led the reinforcements which were sent to Don John at the close of the year 1577. He had reached Luxemburg on the 18th of December of that year, in time, as we have seen, to participate, and, in fact, to take the lead in the signal victory of Gemblours. He had been struck with the fatal change which disappointment and anxiety had wrought upon the beautiful and haughty features of his illustrious kinsman. He had since closed his eyes in the camp, and erected a marble tablet over his heart in the little church. He now governed in his stead.
His personal appearance corresponded with his character. He had the head of a gladiator—round, compact, combative, with something alert and snake-like in its movements. The black, closely-shorn hair was erect and bristling. The forehead was lofty and narrow. The features were handsome, the nose regularly aquiline, the eyes well opened, dark, piercing, but with something dangerous and sinister in their expression. There was a habitual look askance, as of a man seeking to parry or inflict a mortal blow—the look of a swordsman and professional fighter. The lower part of the face was swallowed in a bushy beard, the mouth and chin being quite invisible. He was of middle stature, well formed, and graceful in person, princely in demeanor, sumptuous and stately in apparel. His high ruff of point lace, his badge of the Golden Fleece, his gold-inlaid Milan armor, marked him at once as one of high degree. On the field of battle he possessed the rare gift of inspiring his soldiers with his own impetuous and chivalrous courage. He ever led the way upon the host dangerous and desperate ventures, and, like his uncle and his imperial grandfather, well knew how to reward the devotion of his readiest followers with a poniard, a feather, a riband, a jewel, taken with his own hands from his own attire.
His military abilities—now for the first time to be largely called into employment—were unquestionably superior to those of Don John, whose name had been surrounded with such splendor by the world-renowned battle of Lepanto. Moreover, he possessed far greater power for governing men, whether in camp or cabinet. Less attractive and fascinating, he was more commanding than his kinsman. Decorous and self-poised, he was only passionate before the enemy, but he rarely permitted a disrespectful look or word to escape condign and deliberate chastisement. He was no schemer or dreamer. He was no knight-errant. He would not have crossed seas and mountains to rescue a captive queen, nor have sought to place her crown on his own head as a reward for his heroism. He had a single and concentrated kind of character. He knew precisely the work which Philip required, and felt himself to be precisely the workman that had so long been wanted. Cool, incisive, fearless, artful, he united the unscrupulous audacity of a condottiere with the wily patience of a Jesuit. He could coil unperceived through unsuspected paths, could strike suddenly, sting mortally. He came prepared, not only to smite the Netherlanders in the open field, but to cope with them in tortuous policy, to outwatch and outweary them in the game to which his impatient predecessor had fallen a baffled victim. He possessed the art and the patience as time was to prove, not only to undermine their most impregnable cities, but to delve below the intrigues of their most accomplished politicians. To circumvent at once both their negotiators and their men-at-arms was his appointed task. Had it not been for the courage, the vigilance, and the superior intellect of a single antagonist, the whole of the Netherlands would have shared the fate which was reserved for the more southern portion. Had the life of William of Orange been prolonged, perhaps the evil genius of the Netherlands might have still been exorcised throughout the whole extent of the country.
As for religion, Alexander Farnese was, of course, strictly Catholic, regarding all seceders from Romanism as mere heathen dogs. Not that he practically troubled himself much with sacred matters—for, during the lifetime of his wife, he had cavalierly thrown the whole burden of his personal salvation upon her saintly shoulders. She had now flown to higher spheres, but Alexander was, perhaps, willing to rely upon her continued intercessions in his behalf. The life of a bravo in time of peace; the deliberate project in war to exterminate whole cities full of innocent people, who had different notions on the subject of image-worship and ecclesiastical ceremonies from those entertained at Rome, did not seem to him at all incompatible with the precepts of Jesus. Hanging, drowning, burning, and butchering heretics were the legitimate deductions of his theology. He was no casuist nor pretender to holiness; but in those days every man was devout, and Alexander looked with honest horror upon the impiety of the heretics, whom he persecuted and massacred. He attended mass regularly—in the winter mornings by torch-light—and would as soon have foregone his daily tennis as his religious exercises. Romanism was the creed of his caste. It was the religion of princes and gentlemen of high degree. As for Lutheranism, Zwinglianism, Calvinism, and similar systems, they were but the fantastic rites of weavers, brewers, and the like—an ignoble herd whose presumption in entitling themselves Christian, while rejecting the pope, called for their instant extermination. His personal habits were extremely temperate. He was accustomed to say that he ate only to support life, and he rarely finished a dinner without having risen three or four times from table to attend to some public business which, in his opinion, ought not to be deferred.
His previous connections in the Netherlands were of use to him, and he knew how to turn them to immediate account. The great nobles, who had been uniformly actuated by jealousy of the Prince of Orange, who had been baffled in their intrigue with Matthias, whose half-blown designs upon Anjou had already been nipped in the bud, were now peculiarly in a position to listen to the wily tongue of Alexander Farnese. The Montigny’s, the La Motte’s, the Melun’s, the Egmont’s, the Aerschot’s, the Havré’s, foiled and doubly foiled in all their small intrigues and their base ambition, were ready to sacrifice their country to the man they hated, and to the ancient religion which they thought that they loved. The Malcontents ravaging the land of Hainault and threatening Ghent, the “Paternoster Jacks” who were only waiting for a favorable opportunity and a good bargain to make their peace with Spain, were the very instruments which Parma most desired to use at this opening stage of his career. The position of affairs was far more favorable for him than it had been for Don John when he first succeeded to power. On the whole, there seemed a bright prospect of success. It seemed quite possible that it would be in Parma’s power to reduce, at last, this chronic rebellion, and to re-establish the absolute supremacy of Church and King. The pledges of the Ghent treaty had been broken, while in the unions of Brussels which had succeeded, the fatal religious cause had turned the instrument of peace into a sword. The “religion-peace” which had been proclaimed at Antwerp had hardly found favor anywhere. As the provinces, for an instant, had seemingly got the better of their foe, they turned madly upon each other, and the fires of religious discord, which had been extinguished by the common exertions of a whole race trembling for the destruction of their fatherland, were now re-lighted with a thousand brands plucked from the sacred domestic hearth. Fathers and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, were beginning to wrangle, and were prepared to persecute. Catholic and Protestant, during the momentary relief from pressure, forgot their voluntary and most blessed Pacification, to renew their internecine feuds. The banished Reformers, who had swarmed back in droves at the tidings of peace and good will to all men, found themselves bitterly disappointed. They were exposed in the Walloon provinces to the persecutions of the Malcontents, in the Frisian regions to the still powerful coercion of the royal stadholders.
Persecution begat counter-persecution. The city of Ghent became the center of a system of insurrection, by which all the laws of God and man were outraged under the pretence of establishing a larger liberty in civil and religious matters. It was at Ghent that the opening scenes in Parma’s administration took place. Of the high-born suitors for the Netherland bride, two were still watching each other with jealous eyes. Anjou was at Mons, which city he had secretly but unsuccessfully attempted to master for his own purposes. John Casimir was at Ghent, fomenting an insurrection which he had neither skill to guide nor intelligence to comprehend. There was a talk of making him Count of Flanders, and his paltry ambition was dazzled by the glittering prize. Anjou, who meant to be Count of Flanders himself, as well as Duke or Count of all the other Netherlands, was highly indignant at this report, which he chose to consider true. He wrote to the estates to express his indignation. He wrote to Ghent to offer his mediation between the burghers and the Malcontents. Casimir wanted money for his troops. He obtained a liberal supply, but he wanted more. Meantime, the mercenaries were expatiating on their own account throughout the southern provinces, eating up every green leaf, robbing and pillaging, where robbery and pillage had gone so often that hardly anything was left for rapine. Thus dealt the soldiers in the open country, while their master at Ghent was plunging into the complicated intrigues spread over that unfortunate city by the most mischievous demagogues that ever polluted a sacred cause. Well had Cardinal Granvelle, his enemy, William of Hesse, his friend and kinsman, understood the character of John Casimir. Robbery and pillage were his achievements, to make chaos more confounded was his destiny.
Anjou, disgusted with the temporary favor accorded to a rival whom he affected to despise, disbanded his troops in dudgeon, and prepared to retire to France. Several thousand of these mercenaries took service immediately with the Malcontents under Montigny, thus swelling the ranks of the deadliest foes to that land over which Anjou had assumed the title of protector. The states’ army, meanwhile, had been rapidly dissolving. There were hardly men enough left to make a demonstration in the field, or properly to garrison the more important towns. The unhappy provinces, torn by civil and religious dissensions, were overrun by hordes of unpaid soldiers of all nations, creeds, and tongues—Spaniards, Italians, Burgundians, Walloons, Germans, Scotch and English—some who came to attack and others to protect, but who all achieved nothing and agreed in nothing save to maltreat and to outrage the defenseless peasantry and denizens of the smaller towns. The contemporary chronicles are full of harrowing domestic tragedies, in which the actors are always the insolent foreign soldiery and their desperate victims.
Ghent—energetic, opulent, powerful, passionate, unruly Ghent—was now the focus of discord, the center from whence radiated not the light and warmth of reasonable and intelligent liberty, but the bale-fires of murderous license and savage anarchy. The second city of the Netherlands, one of the wealthiest and most powerful cities of Christendom, it had been its fate so often to overstep the bounds of reason and moderation in its devotion to freedom, so often to incur ignominious chastisement from power which its own excesses had made more powerful, that its name was already becoming a byword. It now, most fatally and forever, was to misunderstand its true position. The Prince of Orange, the great architect of his country’s fortunes, would have made it the keystone of the arch which he was laboring to construct. Had he been allowed to perfect his plan, the structure might have endured for ages, a perpetual bulwark against tyranny and wrong. The temporary and slender frame by which the great artist had supported his arch while still unfinished, was plucked away by rude and ribald hands, the keystone plunged into the abyss to be lost forever, and the great work of Orange remained a fragment from its commencement. The acts of demagogues, the conservative disgust at license, the jealousy of rival nobles, the venality of military leaders, threw daily flesh stumbling blocks in his heroic path. It was not six months after the advent of Farnese to power, before that bold and subtle chieftain had seized the double-edged sword of religious dissension as firmly as he had grasped his celebrated brand when he boarded the galley of Mustapha Bey, and the Netherlands were cut in twain, to be re-united nevermore. The separate treaty of the Walloon provinces was soon destined to separate the Celtic and Romanesque elements from the Batavian and Frisian portion of a nationality, which, thoroughly fused in all its parts, would have firmed as admirable a compound of fire and endurance as history has ever seen.
Meantime, the grass was growing and the cattle were grazing in the streets of Ghent, where once the tramp of workmen going to and from their labor was like the movement of a mighty army. The great majority of the burghers were of the Reformed religion, and disposed to make effectual resistance to the Malcontents, led by the disaffected nobles. The city, considering itself the natural head of all the southern country, was indignant that the Walloon provinces should dare to reassert that supremacy of Romanism which had been so effectually suppressed, and to admit the possibility of friendly relations with a sovereign who had been virtually disowned. There were two parties, however, in Ghent. Both were led by men of abandoned and dangerous character. Imbize, the worse of the two demagogues, was inconstant, cruel, cowardly, and treacherous, but possessed of eloquence and a talent for intrigue. Ryhove was a bolder ruffian—wrathful, bitter, and unscrupulous. Imbize was at the time opposed to Orange, disliking his moderation, and trembling at his firmness. Ryhove considered himself the friend of the prince. We have seen that he had consulted him previously to his memorable attack upon Aerschot, in the autumn of the preceding year, and we know the result of that conference.
The prince, with the slight dissimulation which belonged less to his character than to his theory of politics, and which was perhaps not to be avoided, in that age of intrigue, by any man who would govern his fellow men, whether for good or evil, had winked at a project which he would not openly approve. He was not thoroughly acquainted, however, with the desperate character of the man, for he would have scorned an instrument so thoroughly base as Ryhove subsequently proved. The violence of that personage on the occasion of the arrest of Aerschot and his colleagues was mildness compared with the deed with which he now disgraced the cause of freedom. He had been ordered out from Ghent to oppose a force of Malcontents which was gathering in the neighborhood of Courtray, but he swore that he would not leave the gates so long as two of the gentlemen whom he had arrested on the twenty-eighth of the previous October, and who yet remained in captivity, were still alive. These two prisoners were ex-procurator Visch and Blood-Councillor Hessels. Hessels, it seemed, had avowed undying hostility to Ryhove for the injury sustained at his hands, and he had sworn, “by his grey beard,” that the ruffian should yet hang for the outrage. Ryhove, not feeling very safe in the position of affairs which then existed, and knowing that he could neither trust Imbize, who had formerly been his friend, nor the imprisoned nobles, who had ever been his implacable enemies, was resolved to make himself safe in one quarter at least, before he set forth against the Malcontents. Accordingly, Hessels and Visch, as they sat together in their prison, at chess, upon the fourth of October, 1578, were suddenly summoned to leave the house, and to enter a carriage which stood at the door. A force of armed men brought the order, and were sufficiently strong to enforce it. The prisoners obeyed, and the coach soon rolled slowly through the streets, left the Courtray gate, and proceeded a short distance along the road towards that city.
After a few minutes a halt was made. Ryhove then made his appearance at the carriage window, and announced to the astonished prisoners that they were forthwith to be hanged upon a tree which stood by the roadside. He proceeded to taunt the aged Hessels with his threat against himself, and with his vow “by his grey beard.” “Such grey beard shalt thou never live thyself to wear, ruffian,” cried Hessels, stoutly, furious rather than terrified at the suddenness of his doom. “There thou liest, false traitor!” roared Ryhove in reply, and to prove the falsehood, he straightway tore out a handful of the old man’s beard, and fastened it upon his own cap like a plume. His action was imitated by several of his companions, who cut for themselves locks from the same gray beard, and decorated themselves as their leader had done. This preliminary ceremony having been concluded, the two aged prisoners were forthwith hanged on a tree, without the least pretense of trial or even sentence.
Such was the end of the famous councillor who had been wont to shout “ad patibulum” in his sleep. It was cruel that the fair face of civil liberty showing itself after years of total eclipse, should be insulted by such bloody deeds on the part of her votaries. It was sad that the crimes of men like Imbize and Ryhove should have cost more to the cause of religious and political freedom than the lives of twenty thousand such ruffians were worth. But for the influence of demagogues like these, counteracting the lofty efforts and pure life of Orange, the separation might never have occurred between the two portions of the Netherlands. The prince had not power enough, however, nor the nascent commonwealth sufficient consistency, to repress the disorganizing tendency of a fanatical Romanism on the one side, and a retaliatory and cruel ochlocracy on the other.
Such events, with the hatred growing daily more intense between the Walloons and the Ghenters, made it highly important that some kind of an accord should be concluded, if possible. In the country, the Malcontents, under pretense of protecting the Catholic clergy, were daily abusing and plundering the people, while in Ghent the clergy were maltreated, the cloisters pillaged, under the pretense of maintaining liberty. In this emergency the eyes of all honest men turned naturally to Orange.
Deputies went to and fro between Antwerp and Ghent. Three points were laid down by the prince as indispensable to any arrangement—firstly, that the Catholic clergy should be allowed the free use of their property; secondly, that they should not be disturbed in the exercise of their religion; thirdly, that the gentlemen kept in prison since the memorable twenty-eighth of October should be released. If these points should be granted, the Archduke Matthias, the states-general, and the Prince of Orange would agree to drive off the Walloon soldiery, and to defend Ghent against all injury. The two first points were granted, upon condition that sufficient guarantees should be established for the safety of the Reformed religion. The third was rejected, but it was agreed that the prisoners, Champagny, Sweveghem, and the rest—who, after the horrid fate of Hessels and Vinch, might be supposed to be sufficiently anxious as to their own doom—should have legal trial and be defended in the meantime from outrage.
On November 3, 1578, a formal act of acceptance of these terms was signed at Antwerp. At the same time, there was murmuring at Ghent, the extravagant portion of the liberal party averring that they had no intention of establishing the “religious peace” when they agreed not to molest the Catholics. On the 11th of November, the Prince of Orange sent messengers to Ghent in the name of the archduke and the states-general, summoning the authorities to a faithful execution of the act of acceptance. Upon the same day, the English envoy, Davidson, made an energetic representation to the same magistrates, declaring that the conduct of the Ghenters was exciting regret throughout the world, and affording a proof that it was their object to protract, not suppress, the civil war which had so long been raging. Such proceedings, he observed, created doubts whether they were willing to obey any law or any magistracy. As, however, it might be supposed that the presence of John Casimir in Ghent at that juncture was authorized by Queen Elizabeth—inasmuch as it was known that he had received a subsidy from her—the envoy took occasion to declare that her Majesty entirely disavowed his proceedings. He observed further that, in the opinion of her Majesty, it was still possible to maintain peace by conforming to the counsels of the Prince of Orange and of the states-general. This, however, could be done only by establishing the three points which he had laid down. Her Majesty likewise warned the Ghenters that their conduct would soon compel her to abandon the country’s cause altogether, and, in conclusion, she requested, with characteristic thriftiness, to be immediately furnished with a city bond for 45,000 pounds sterling.
Two days afterwards, envoys arrived from Brussels to remonstrate, in their turn, with the sister city, and to save her, if possible, from the madness which had seized upon her. They recalled to the memory of the magistrates the frequent and wise counsels of the Prince of Orange. He had declared that he knew of no means to avert the impending desolation of the fatherland save union of all the provinces and obedience to the general government. His own reputation, and the honor of his house, he felt now to be at stake, for, by reason of the offices which he now held, he had been ceaselessly calumniated as the author of all the crimes which had been committed at Ghent. Against these calumnies he had avowed his intention of publishing his defense. After thus citing the opinion of the prince, the envoys implored the magistrates to accept the religious peace which he had proposed, and to liberate the prisoners as he had demanded. For their own part, they declared that the inhabitants of Brussels would never desert him, for, next to God, there was no one who understood their cause so entirely, or who could point out the remedy so intelligently.
Thus reasoned the envoys from the states-general and from Brussels, but even while they were reasoning, a fresh tumult occurred at Ghent. The people had been inflamed by demagogues, and by the insane howlings of Peter Dathenus, the unfrocked monk of Poperingen, who had been the servant and minister both of the pope and of Orange, and who now hated each with equal fervor. The populace, under these influences, rose in its wrath upon the Catholics, smote all their images into fragments, destroyed all their altar pictures, robbed them of much valuable property, and turned all the papists themselves out of the city. The riot was so furious that it seemed, says a chronicler, as if all the inhabitants had gone raving mad. The drums beat the alarm, the magistrates went forth to expostulate, but no commands were heeded till the work of destruction had been accomplished, when the tumult expired at last by its own limitation.
Affairs seemed more threatening than ever. Nothing more excited the indignation of the Prince of Orange than such senseless iconomachy. In fact, he had at one time procured an enactment by the Ghent authorities, making it a crime punishable with death. He was of Luther’s opinion, that idol worship was to be eradicated from the heart, and that then the idols in the churches would fall of themselves. He felt too with Landgrave William, that “the destruction of such worthless idols was ever avenged by torrents of good human blood.” Therefore it may be well supposed that this fresh act of senseless violence, in the very teeth of his remonstrances, in the very presence of his envoys, met with his stern disapprobation. He was on the point of publishing his defense against the calumnies which his toleration had drawn upon him from both Catholic and Calvinist. He was deeply revolving the question, whether it were not better to turn his back at once upon a country which seemed so incapable of comprehending his high purposes, or seconding his virtuous efforts. From both projects he was dissuaded, and although bitterly wronged by both friend and foe, although feeling that even in his own Holland, there were whispers against his purity, since his favorable inclinations towards Anjou had become the general topic, yet he still preserved his majestic tranquility, and smiled at the arrows which fell harmless at his feet. “I admire his wisdom, daily more and more,” cried Hubert Languet, “I see those who profess themselves his friends causing him more annoyance than his foes; while, nevertheless, he ever remains true to himself, is driven by no tempests from his equanimity, nor provoked by repeated injuries to immoderate action.”
The prince had that year been chosen unanimously by the four “members” of Flanders to be governor of that province, but had again declined the office. The inhabitants, notwithstanding the furious transactions at Ghent, professed attachment to his person, and respect for his authority. He was implored to go to the city. His presence, and that alone, would restore the burghers to their reason, but the task was not a grateful one. It was also not unattended with danger; although this was a consideration which never influenced him, from the commencement of his career to its close. Imbize and his crew were capable of resorting to any extremity or any ambush, to destroy the man whom they feared and hated. The presence of John Casimir was an additional complication, for Orange, while he despised the man, was unwilling to offend his friends. Moreover, Casimir had professed a willingness to assist the cause, and to defer to the better judgment of the prince. He had brought an army into the field, with which, however, he had accomplished nothing except a thorough pillaging of the peasantry, while, at the same time, he was loud in his demands upon the states to pay his soldiers’ wages. The soldiers of the different armies who now overran the country, indeed, vied with each other in extravagant insolence. “Their outrages are most execrable,” wrote Marquis Havré, “they demand the most exquisite food, and drink Champagne and Burgundy by the bucketful.” Nevertheless, on the fourth of December, the prince came to Ghent. He held constant and anxious conferences with the magistrates. He was closeted daily with John Casimir, whose vanity and extravagance of temper he managed with his usual skill. He even dined with Imbize, and thus, by smoothing difficulties and reconciling angry passions, he succeeded at last in obtaining the consent of all to a religious peace, which was published on December 27, 1578. It contained the same provisions as those of the project prepared and proposed during the previous summer throughout the Netherlands. Exercise of both religions was established; mutual insults and irritations—whether by word, book, picture, song, or gesture—were prohibited, under severe penalties, while all persons were sworn to protect the common tranquility by blood, purse, and life. The Catholics, by virtue of this accord, re-entered into possession of their churches and cloisters, but nothing could be obtained in favor of the imprisoned gentlemen.
The Walloons and Malcontents were now summoned to lay down their arms, but, as might be supposed, they expressed dissatisfaction with the religious peace, proclaiming it hostile to the Ghent treaty and the Brussels union. In short, nothing would satisfy them but total suppression of the Reformed religion, as nothing would content Imbize and his faction but the absolute extermination of Romanism. A strong man might well seem powerless in the midst of such obstinate and worthless fanatics.
The arrival of the prince in Ghent was, on the whole, a relief to John Casimir. As usual, this addle-brained individual had plunged headlong into difficulties, out of which he was unable to extricate himself. He knew not what to do, or which way to turn. He had tampered with Imbize and his crew, but he had found that they were not the men for a person of his quality to deal with. He had brought a large army into the field, and had not a stiver in his coffers. He felt bitterly the truth of the landgrave’s warning “that ’twas better to have thirty thousand devils at one’s back than thirty thousand German troopers, with no money to give them; it being possible to pay the devils with the sign of the cross, while the soldiers could be discharged only with money or hard knocks.” Queen Elizabeth, too, under whose patronage he had made this most inglorious campaign, was incessant in her reproofs, and importunate in her demands for reimbursement. She wrote to him personally, upbraiding him with his high pretensions and his shortcomings. His visit to Ghent, so entirely unjustified and mischievous; his failure to effect that junction of his army with the states’ force under Bossu, by which the royal army was to have been surprised and annihilated; his having given reason to the common people to suspect her Majesty and the Prince of Orange of collusion with his designs, and of a disposition to seek their private advantage and not the general good of the whole Netherlands; the imminent danger, which he had aggravated, that the Walloon provinces, actuated by such suspicions, would fall away from the “generality” and seek a private accord with Parma—these and similar sins of omission and commission were sharply and shrewishly set forth in the queen’s epistle. ’Twas not for such marauding and intriguing work that she had appointed him her lieutenant, and furnished him with troops and subsidies. She begged him forthwith to amend his ways, for the sake of his name and fame, which were sufficiently soiled in the places where his soldiers had been plundering the country which they came to protect.
The queen sent Daniel Rogers with instructions of similar import to the states-general, repeatedly and expressly disavowing Casimir’s proceedings and censuring his character. She also warmly insisted on her bonds. In short, never was unlucky prince more soundly berated by his superiors, more thoroughly disgraced by his followers. In this contemptible situation had Casimir placed himself by his rash ambition to prove before the world that German princes could bite and scratch like griffins and tigers as well as carry them in their shields. From this position Orange partly rescued him. He made his peace with the states-general. He smoothed matters with the extravagant Reformers, and he even extorted from the authorities of Ghent the 45,000 pounds bond, on which Elizabeth had insisted with such obduracy. Casimir repaid these favors of the prince in the coin with which narrow minds and jealous tempers are apt to discharge such obligations—ingratitude. The friendship which he openly manifested at first grew almost immediately cool. Soon afterwards he left Ghent and departed for Germany, leaving behind him a long and tedious remonstrance, addressed to the states-general, in which document he narrated the history of his exploits, and endeavored to vindicate the purity of his character. He concluded this very tedious and superfluous manifesto by observing that—for reasons which he thought proper to give at considerable length—he felt himself “neither too useful nor too agreeable to the provinces.” As he had been informed, he said, that the states-general had requested the Queen of England to procure his departure, he had resolved, in order to spare her and them inconvenience, to return of his own accord, “leaving the issue of the war in the high and mighty hand of God.”
The estates answered this remonstrance with words of unlimited courtesy, expressing themselves “obliged to all eternity” for his services, and holding out vague hopes that the monies which he demanded on behalf of his troops should ere long be forthcoming.
Casimir having already answered Queen Elizabeth’s reproachful letter by throwing the blame of his apparent misconduct upon the states-general, and having promised soon to appear before her Majesty in person, tarried accordingly but a brief season in Germany, and then repaired to England. Here he was feasted, flattered, caressed, and invested with the order of the Garter. Pleased with royal blandishments, and highly enjoying the splendid hospitalities of England, he quite forgot the “thirty thousand devils” whom he had left running loose in the Netherlands, while these wild soldiers, on their part, being absolutely in a starving condition—for there was little left for booty in a land which had been so often plundered—now had the effrontery to apply to the Prince of Parma for payment of their wages. Alexander Farnese laughed heartily at the proposition, which he considered an excellent jest. It seemed in truth, a jest, although but a sorry one. Parma replied to the messenger of Maurice of Saxony who had made the proposition, that the Germans must be mad to ask him for money, instead of offering to pay him a heavy sum for permission to leave the country. Nevertheless, he was willing to be so far indulgent as to furnish them with passports, provided they departed from the Netherlands instantly. Should they interpose the least delay, he would set upon them without further preface, and he gave them notice, with the arrogance becoming a Spanish general, that the courier was already waiting to report to Spain the number of them left alive after the encounter. Thus deserted by their chief and hectored by the enemy, the mercenaries, who had little stomach for fight without wages, accepted the passports proffered by Parma. They revenged themselves for the harsh treatment which they had received from Casimir and from the states-general, by singing, everywhere as they retreated, a doggerel ballad—half Flemish, half German—in which their wrongs were expressed with uncouth vigor.
Casimir received the news of the departure of his ragged soldiery on the very day which witnessed his investment with the Garter by the fair hands of Elizabeth herself. A few days afterwards he left England, accompanied by an escort of lords and gentlemen, especially appointed for that purpose by the queen. He landed in Flushing, where he was received with distinguished hospitality, by order of the Prince of Orange, and on February 14, 1579, he passed through Utrecht. Here he conversed freely at his lodgings in the “German House” on the subject of his vagabond troops, whose final adventures and departure seemed to afford him considerable amusement, and he, moreover, diverted his company by singing, after supper, a few verses of the ballad already mentioned.
The Duke of Anjou, meantime, after disbanding his troops, had lingered for a while near the frontier. Upon taking his final departure, he sent his resident minister, Des Pruneaux, with a long communication to the states-general, complaining that they had not published their contract with himself, nor fulfilled its conditions. He excused, as well as he could, the awkward fact that his disbanded troops had taken refuge with the Walloons, and he affected to place his own departure upon the ground of urgent political business in France, to arrange which his royal brother had required his immediate attendance. He furthermore most hypocritically expressed a desire for a speedy reconciliation of the provinces with their sovereign, and a resolution that—although for their sake he had made himself a foe to his Catholic Majesty—he would still interpose no obstacle to so desirable a result.
To such shallow discourse the states answered with infinite urbanity, for it was the determination of Orange not to make enemies, at that juncture, of France and England in the same breath. They had foes enough already, and it seemed obvious at that moment, to all persons most observant of the course of affairs, that a matrimonial alliance was soon to unite the two crowns. The probability of Anjou’s marriage with Elizabeth was, in truth, a leading motive with Orange for his close alliance with the duke. The political structure, according to which he had selected the French prince as protector of the Netherlands, was sagaciously planned; but unfortunately its foundation was the shifting sandbank of female and royal coquetry. Those who judge only by the result, will be quick to censure a policy which might have had very different issue. They who place themselves in the period anterior to Anjou’s visit to England, will admit that it was hardly human not to be deceived by the political aspects of that moment. The queen, moreover, took pains to upbraid the states-general, by letter, with their disrespect and ingratitude towards the Duke of Anjou—behavior with which he had been “justly scandalized.” For her own part, she assured them of her extreme displeasure at learning that such a course of conduct had been held with a view to her especial contentment—”as if the person of Monsieur, son of France, brother of the king, were disagreeable to her, or as if she wished him ill,” whereas, on the contrary, they would best satisfy her wishes by showing him all the courtesy to which his high degree and his eminent services entitled him.
The estates, even before receiving this letter, had, however, acted in its spirit. They had addressed elaborate apologies and unlimited professions to the duke. They thanked him heartily for his achievements, expressed unbounded regret at his departure, with sincere hopes for his speedy return, and promised “eternal remembrance of his heroic virtues.” They assured him, moreover, that should the first of the following March arrive without bringing with it an honorable peace with his Catholic Majesty, they should then feel themselves compelled to declare that the king had forfeited his right to the sovereignty of these provinces. In this case they concluded that, as the inhabitants would be then absolved from their allegiance to the Spanish monarch, it would then be in their power to treat with his Highness of Anjou concerning the sovereignty, according to the contract already existing.
These assurances were ample, but the states, knowing the vanity of the man, offered other inducements, some of which seemed sufficiently puerile. They promised that “his statue, in copper, should be placed in the public squares of Antwerp and Brussels, for the eternal admiration of posterity,” and that a “crown of olive leaves should be presented to him every year.” The duke, not inexorable to such courteous solicitations, was willing to achieve both immortality and power by continuing his friendly relations with the states, and he answered accordingly in the most courteous terms. The result of this interchange of civilities it will be soon our duty to narrate.
At the close of the year, the Count of Bossu died, much to the regret of the Prince of Orange, whose party—since his release from prison by virtue of the Ghent treaty—he had warmly espoused. “We are in the deepest distress in the world,” wrote the prince to his brother, three days before the count’s death, “for the dangerous malady of Count de Bossu. Certainly, the country has much to lose in his death, but I hope that God will not so much afflict us.” Yet the calumniators of the day did not scruple to circulate, nor the royalist chroniclers to perpetuate, the most senseless and infamous fables on the subject of this nobleman’s death. He died of poison, they said, administered to him “in oysters,” by command of the Prince of Orange, who had likewise made a point of standing over him on his deathbed, for the express purpose of sneering at the Catholic ceremonies by which his dying agonies were solaced. Such were the tales which grave historians have recorded concerning the death of Maximilian of Bossu, who owed so much to the prince. The command of the states’ army, a yearly pension of 5,000 florins, granted at the especial request of Orange but a few months before, and the profound words of regret in the private letter just cited, are a sufficient answer to such slanders.
The personal courage and profound military science of Parma were invaluable to the royal cause, but his subtle, unscrupulous, and subterranean combinations of policy were even more fruitful at this period. No man ever understood the art of bribery more thoroughly or practiced it more skillfully. He bought a politician, or a general, or a grandee, or a regiment of infantry, usually at the cheapest price at which those articles could be purchased, and always with the utmost delicacy with which such traffic could be conducted. Men conveyed themselves to government for a definite price—fixed accurately in florins and groats, in places and pensions—while a decent gossamer of conventional phraseology was ever allowed to float over the nakedness of unblushing treason. Men high in station, illustrious by ancestry, brilliant in valor, huckstered themselves, and swindled a confiding country for as ignoble motives as ever led counterfeiters or bravoes to the gallows, but they were dealt with in public as if actuated only by the loftiest principles. Behind their ancient shields, ostentatiously emblazoned with fidelity to church and king, they thrust forth their itching palms with the mendicity which would be hardly credible, were it not attested by the monuments more perennial than brass, of their own letters and recorded conversations.
Already, before the accession of Parma to power, the true way to dissever the provinces had been indicated by the famous treason of the Seigneur de la Motte. This nobleman commanded a regiment in the service of the states-general, and was Governor of Gravelines. On promise of forgiveness for all past disloyalty, of being continued in the same military posts under Philip which he then held for the patriots, and of a “merced” large enough to satisfy his most avaricious dreams, he went over to the royal government. The negotiation was conducted by Alonzo Curiel, financial agent of the king, and was not very nicely handled. The paymaster, looking at the affair purely as a money transaction—which in truth it was—had been disposed to drive rather too hard a bargain. He offered only 50,000 crowns for La Motte and his friend Baron Montigny, and assured his government that those gentlemen, with the soldiers under their command, were very dear at the price. La Motte higgled very hard for more, and talked pathetically of his services and his wounds—for he had been a most distinguished and courageous campaigner—but Alonzo was implacable. Moreover, one Robert Bien-Aimé, Prior of Renty, was present at all the conferences. This ecclesiastic was a busy intriguer, but not very adroit. He was disposed to make himself useful to government, for he had set his heart upon putting the miter of Saint Omer upon his head, and he had accordingly composed a very ingenious libel upon the Prince of Orange, in which production, “although the Prior did not pretend to be Apelles or Lysippus,” he hoped that the governor-general would recognize a portrait colored to the life. This accomplished artist was, however, not so successful as he was picturesque and industrious. He was inordinately vain of his services, thinking himself, said Alonzo, splenetically, worthy to be carried in a procession like a little saint, and as he had a busy brain but an unruly tongue, it will be seen that he possessed a remarkable faculty of making himself unpleasant. This was not the way to earn his bishopric.
La Motte, through the candid communications of the prior, found himself the subject of mockery in Parma’s camp and cabinet, where treachery to one’s country and party was not, it seemed, regarded as one of the loftier virtues, however convenient it might be at the moment to the royal cause. The prior intimated especially that Ottavio Gonzaga had indulged in many sarcastic remarks at La Motte’s expense. The brave but venal warrior, highly incensed at thus learning the manner in which his conduct was estimated by men of such high rank in the royal service, was near breaking off the bargain. He was eventually secured, however, by still larger offers, Don John allowing him three hundred florins a month, presenting him with the two best horses in his stable, and sending him an open form, which he was to fill out in the most stringent language which he could devise, binding the government to the payment of an ample and entirely satisfactory “merced.” Thus La Motte’s bargain was completed—a crime which, if it had only entailed the loss of the troops under his command, and the possession of Gravelines, would have been of no great historic importance. It was, however, the first blow of a vast and carefully sharpened treason, by which the country was soon to be cut in twain forever—the first in a series of bargains by which the noblest names of the Netherlands were to be contaminated with bribery and fraud.
While the negotiations with La Motte were in progress, the government of the states-general at Brussels had sent Saint Aldegonde to Arras. The states of Artois, then assembled in that city, had made much difficulty in acceding to an assessment of 7,000 florins laid upon them by the central authority. The occasion was skillfully made use of by the agents of the royal party to weaken the allegiance of the province, and of its sister Walloon provinces, to the patriot cause. Saint Aldegonde made his speech before the assembly, taking the ground boldly, that the war was made for liberty of conscience and of fatherland, and that all were bound, whether Catholic or Protestant, to contribute to the sacred fund. The vote passed, but it was provided that a moiety of the assessment should be paid by the ecclesiastical branch, and the stipulation excited a tremendous uproar. The clerical bench regarded the tax as both a robbery and an affront. “We came nearly to knife-playing,” said the most distinguished priest in the assembly, “and if we had done so, the ecclesiastics would not have been the first to cry Enough.” They all withdrew in a rage, and held a private consultation upon “these exorbitant and more than Turkish demands.”
John Sarrasin, Prior of Saint Vaast, the keenest, boldest, and most indefatigable of the royal partisans of that epoch, made them an artful harangue. This man—a better politician than the other prior—was playing for a miter too, and could use his cards better. He was soon to become the most invaluable agent in the great treason preparing. No one could be more delicate, noiseless, or unscrupulous, and he was soon recognized both by governor-general and king as the individual above all others to whom the re-establishment of the royal authority over the Walloon provinces was owing. With the shoes of swiftness on his feet, the coat of darkness on his back, and the wishing purse in his hand, he sped silently and invisibly from one great Malcontent chieftain to another, buying up centurions, and captains, and common soldiers; circumventing Orangists, Ghent democrats, Anjou partisans; weaving a thousand intrigues, ventilating a hundred hostile mines, and passing unharmed through the most serious dangers and the most formidable obstacles. Eloquent, too, at a pinch, he always understood his audience, and upon this occasion unsheathed the most incisive, if not the most brilliant weapon which could be used in the debate. It was most expensive to be patriotic, he said, while silver was to be saved, and gold to be earned by being loyal. They ought to keep their money to defend themselves, not give it to the Prince of Orange, who would only put it into his private pocket on pretense of public necessities. The ruward would soon be slinking back to his lair, he observed, and leave them all in the fangs of their enemies. Meantime, it was better to rush into the embrace of a bountiful king, who was still holding forth his arms to them. They were approaching a precipice, said the prior; they were entering a labyrinth, and not only was the “sempiternal loss of body and soul impending over them, but their property was to be taken also, and the cat to be thrown against their legs.” By this sudden descent into a very common proverbial expression, Sarrasin meant to intimate that they were getting themselves into a difficult position, in which they were sure to reap both danger and responsibility.
The harangue had much effect upon his hearers, who were now more than ever determined to rebel against the government which they had so recently accepted, preferring, in the words of the prior, “to be maltreated by their prince, rather than to be barbarously tyrannized over by a heretic.” So much anger had been excited in celestial minds by a demand of 3,500 florins.
Saint Aldegonde was entertained in the evening at a great banquet, followed by a theological controversy, in which John Sarrasin complained that “he had been attacked upon his own dunghill.” Next day the distinguished patriot departed on a canvassing tour among the principal cities, the indefatigable monk employing the interval of his absence in aggravating the hostility of the Artesian orders to the pecuniary demands of the general government. He was assisted in his task by a peremptory order which came down from Brussels, ordering, in the name of Matthias, a levy upon the ecclesiastical property, “rings, jewels, and reliquaries,” unless the clerical contribution should be forthcoming. The rage of the bench was now intense, and by the time of Saint Aldegonde’s return a general opposition had been organized. The envoy met with a chilling reception; there were no banquets anymore, no discussions of any kind. To his demands for money, “he got a fine nihil,” said Saint Vaast; and as for polemics, the only conclusive argument for the country would be, as he was informed on the same authority, the “finishing of Orange and of his minister along with him.” More than once had the prior intimated to government—as so many had done before him—that to “dispatch Orange, author of all the troubles,” was the best preliminary to any political arrangement. From Philip and his governor-general, down to the humblest partisan, this conviction had been daily strengthening. The knife or bullet of an assassin was the one thing needful to put an end to this incarnated rebellion.
Thus matters grew worse and worse in Artois. The prior, busier than ever in his schemes, was one day arrested along with other royal emissaries, kept fifteen days “in a stinking cellar, where the scullion washed the dishes,” and then sent to Antwerp to be examined by the states-general. He behaved with great firmness, although he had good reason to tremble for his neck. Interrogated by Leoninus on the part of the central government, he boldly avowed that these pecuniary demands upon the Walloon estates, and particularly upon their ecclesiastical branches, would never be tolerated. “In Alva’s time,” said Sarrasin, “men were flayed, but not shorn.” Those who were more attached to their skin than their fleece might have thought the practice in the good old times of the duke still more objectionable. Such was not the opinion of the prior and the rest of his order. After an unsatisfactory examination and a brief duresse, the busy ecclesiastic was released; and as his secret labors had not been detected, he resumed them after his return more ardently than ever.
A triangular intrigue was now fairly established in the Walloon country. The Duke of Alençon’s headquarters were at Mons; the rallying-point of the royalist faction was with La Motte at Gravelines; while the ostensible leader of the states’ party, Viscount Ghent, was governor of Artois, and supposed to be supreme in Arras. La Motte was provided by government with a large fund of secret-service money, and was instructed to be very liberal in his bribes to men of distinction, having a tender regard, however, to the excessive demands of this nature now daily made upon the royal purse. The “little Count,” as the prior called Lalain, together with his brother, Baron Montigny, were considered highly desirable acquisitions for government, if they could be gained. It was thought, however, that they had the “fleur-de-lys imprinted too deeply upon their hearts,” for the effect produced upon Lalain, governor of Hainault, by Margaret of Valois, had not yet been effaced. His brother also had been disposed to favor the French prince, but his mind was more open to conviction. A few private conferences with La Motte, and a course of ecclesiastical tuition from the Prior, whose golden opinions had irresistible resonance, soon wrought a change in the Malcontent chieftain’s mind. Other leading seigniors were secretly dealt with in the same manner. Lalain, Héze, Havré, Capres, Egmont, and even the Viscount of Ghent, all seriously inclined their ears to the charmer, and looked longingly and lovingly as the wily prior rolled in his tangles before them—”to mischief swift.” Few had yet declared themselves, but of the grandees who commanded large bodies of troops, and whose influence with their order was paramount, none were safe for the patriot cause throughout the Walloon country.
The nobles and ecclesiastics were ready to join hands in support of church and king, but in the city of Arras, the capital of the whole country, there was a strong Orange and liberal party. Gosson, a man of great wealth, one of the most distinguished advocates in the Netherlands, and possessing the gift of popular eloquence to a remarkable degree, was the leader of this burgess faction. In the earlier days of Parma’s administration, just as a thorough union of the Walloon provinces in favor of the royal government had nearly been formed, these Orangists of Arras risked a daring stroke. Inflamed by the harangues of Gosson, and supported by five hundred foot soldiers and fifty troopers under one Captain Ambrose, they rose against the city magistracy, whose sentiments were unequivocally for Parma, and thrust them all into prison. They then constituted a new board of fifteen, some Catholics and some Protestants, but all patriots, of whom Gosson was chief. The stroke took the town by surprise, and was for a moment successful. Meantime, they depended upon assistance from Brussels. The royal and ecclesiastical party was, however, not so easily defeated, and an old soldier, named Bourgeois, loudly denounced Captain Ambrose, the general of the revolutionary movement, as a vile coward, and affirmed that with thirty good men-at-arms he would undertake to pound the whole rebel army to powder—”a pack of scarecrows,” he said, “who were not worth as many owls for military purposes.”
Three days after the imprisonment of the magistracy, a strong Catholic rally was made in their behalf in the Fish-market, the ubiquitous Prior of Saint Vaast flitting about among the Malcontents, blithe and busy as usual when storms were brewing. Matthew Doucet, of the revolutionary faction—a man both martial and pacific in his pursuits, being eminent both as a gingerbread baker and a sword-player—swore he would have the little monk’s life if he had to take him from the very horns of the altar; but the prior had braved sharper threats than these. Moreover, the grand altar would have been the last place to look for him on that occasion. While Gosson was making a tremendous speech in favor of conscience and fatherland at the Hôtel de Ville, practical John Sarrasin, purse in hand, had challenged the rebel general, Ambrose to private combat. In half an hour, that warrior was routed, and fled from the field at the head of his scarecrows, for there was no resisting the power before which the Montigny’s and the La Motte’s had succumbed. Eloquent Gosson was left to his fate. Having the Catholic magistracy in durance, and with nobody to guard them, he felt, as was well observed by an ill-natured contemporary, like a man holding a wolf by the ears, equally afraid to let go or to retain his grasp.
His dilemma was soon terminated. While he was deliberating with his colleagues—Mordacq, an old campaigner, Crugeot, Bertoul, and others—whether to stand or fly, the drums and trumpets of the advancing royalists were heard. In another instant the Hôtel de Ville was swarming with men-at-arms, headed by Bourgeois, the veteran who had expressed so slighting an opinion as to the prowess of Captain Ambrose. The tables were turned, the miniature revolution was at an end, the counter-revolution effected. Gosson and his confederates escaped out of a back door, but were soon afterwards arrested. Next morning, Baron Capres, the great Malcontent seignior, who was stationed with his regiment in the neighborhood, and who had long been secretly coquetting with the prior and Parma, marched into the city at the head of a strong detachment, and straightway proceeded to erect a very tall gibbet in front of the Hôtel de Ville. This looked practical in the eyes of the liberated and reinstated magistrates, and Gosson, Crugeot, and the rest were summoned at once before them. The advocate thought, perhaps, with a sigh, that his judges, so recently his prisoners, might have been the fruit for another gallows-tree, had he planted it when the ground was his own, but taking heart of grace, he encouraged his colleagues—now his fellow-culprits. Crugeot, undismayed, made his appearance before the tribunal, arrayed in a corselet of proof, with a golden hilted sword, a scarf embroidered with pearls and gold, and a hat bravely plumaged with white, blue, and orange feathers—the colors of William the Silent—of all which finery he was stripped, however, as soon as he entered the court.
The process was rapid. A summons from Brussels was expected every hour from the general government, ordering the cases to be brought before the federal tribunal, and as the Walloon provinces were not yet ready for open revolt, the order would be an inconvenient one. Hence the necessity for haste. The superior court of Artois, to which an appeal from the magistrates lay, immediately held a session in another chamber of the Hôtel de Ville while the lower court was trying the prisoners, and Bertoul, Crugeot, Mordacq, with several others, were condemned in a few hours to the gibbet. They were invited to appeal, if they chose, to the council of Artois, but hearing that the court was sitting next door, so that there was no chance of a rescue in the streets, they declared themselves satisfied with the sentence. Gosson had not been tried, his case being reserved for the morrow.
Meantime, the short autumnal day had drawn to a close. A wild, stormy, rainy night then set in, but still the royalist party—citizens and soldiers intermingled—all armed to the teeth, and uttering fierce cries, while the whole scene was fitfully illuminated with the glare of flambeaux and blazing tar-barrels, kept watch in the open square around the city hall. A series of terrible Rembrandt-like night-pieces succeeded—grim, fantastic, and gory. Bertoul, an old man, who for years had so surely felt himself predestined to his present doom that he had kept a gibbet in his own house to accustom himself to the sight of the machine, was led forth the first, and hanged at ten in the evening. He was a good man, of perfectly blameless life, a sincere Catholic, but a warm partisan of Orange.
Valentine de Mordacq, an old soldier, came from the Hôtel de Ville to the gallows at midnight. As he stood on the ladder, amid the flaming torches, he broke forth into furious execrations, wagging his long white heard to and fro, making hideous grimaces, and cursing the hard fate which, after many dangers on the battlefield and in beleaguered cities, had left him to such a death. The cord strangled his curses. Crugeot was executed at three in the morning, having obtained a few hours’ respite in order to make his preparations, which he accordingly occupied himself in doing as tranquilly as if he had been setting forth upon an agreeable journey. He looked like a phantom, according to eyewitnesses, as he stood under the gibbet, making a most pious and Catholic address to the crowd.
The whole of the following day was devoted to the trial of Gosson. He was condemned at nightfall, and heard by appeal before the superior court directly afterwards. At midnight of October 25, 1578, he was condemned to lose his head, the execution to take place without delay. The city guards and the infantry under Capres still bivouacked upon the square; the howling storm still continued, but the glare of fagots and torches made the place as light as day. The ancient advocate, with haggard eyes and features distorted by wrath, walking between the sheriff and a Franciscan monk, advanced through the long lane of halberdiers, in the grand hall of the Town-house, and thence emerged upon the scaffold erected before the door. He shook his fists with rage at the released magistrates, so lately his prisoners, exclaiming that to his misplaced mercy it was owing that his head, instead of their own, was to be placed upon the block. He bitterly reproached the citizens for their cowardice in shrinking from dealing a blow for their fatherland, and in behalf of one who had so faithfully served them. The clerk of the court then read the sentence amid a silence so profound that every syllable he uttered, and every sigh and ejaculation of the victim, were distinctly heard in the most remote corner of the square. Gosson then, exclaiming that he was murdered without cause, knelt upon the scaffold. His head fell while an angry imprecation was still upon his lips.
Several other persons of lesser note were hanged during the week—among others, Matthew Doucet, the truculent man of gingerbread, whose rage had been so judiciously but so unsuccessfully directed against the Prior of Saint Vaast. Captain Ambrose, too, did not live long to enjoy the price of his treachery. He was arrested very soon afterwards by the states’ government in Antwerp, put to the torture, hanged, and quartered. In troublous times like those, when honest men found it difficult to keep their heads upon their shoulders, rogues were apt to meet their deserts, unless they had the advantage of lofty lineage and elevated position.
“Ille crucem sceleris pretium tulit, hic diadema.”
This municipal revolution and counter-revolution, obscure though they seem, were in reality of very grave importance. This was the last blow struck for freedom in the Walloon country. The failure of the movement made that scission of the Netherlands certain, which has endured till our days, for the influence of the ecclesiastics in the states of Artois and Hainault, together with the military power of the Malcontent grandees, whom Parma and John Sarrasin had purchased, could no longer be resisted. The liberty of the Celtic provinces was sold, and a few high-born traitors received the price. Before the end of the year (1578) Montigny had signified to the Duke of Alençon that a prince who avowed himself too poor to pay for soldiers was no master for him. The baron, therefore, came to an understanding with La Motte and Sarrasin, acting for Alexander Farnese, and received the command of the infantry in the Walloon provinces, a merced of 4,000 crowns a year, together with as large a slice of La Motte’s 100,000 florins for himself and soldiers, as that officer could be induced to part with.
Baron Capres, whom Sarrasin—being especially enjoined to purchase him—had, in his own language, “sweated blood and water” to secure, at last agreed to reconcile himself with the king’s party upon condition of receiving the government-general of Artois, together with the particular government of Hesdin—very lucrative offices, which the Viscount of Ghent then held by commission of the states-general. That politic personage, however, whose disinclination to desert the liberty party which had clothed him with such high functions, was apparently so marked that the prior had caused an ambush to be laid both for him and the Marquis Havré, in order to obtain bodily possession of two such powerful enemies, now, at the last moment, displayed his true colors. He consented to reconcile himself also, on condition of receiving the royal appointment to the same government which he then held from the patriot authorities, together with the title of Marquis de Richebourg, the command of all the cavalry in the royalist provinces, and certain rewards in money besides. By holding himself at a high mark, and keeping at a distance, he had obtained his price. Capres, for whom Philip, at Parma’s suggestion, had sent the commission as governor of Artois and of Hesdin, was obliged to renounce those offices, notwithstanding his earlier “reconciliation,” and the “blood and water” of John Sarrasin. Ghent was not even contented with these guerdons, but insisted upon the command of all the cavalry, including the band of ordnance which, with handsome salary, had been assigned to Lalain as a part of the wages for his treason, while the “little Count”—fiery as his small and belligerent cousin whose exploits have been recorded in the earlier pages of this history—boldly taxed Parma and the king with cheating him out of his promised reward, in order to please a noble whose services had been less valuable than those of the Lalain family. Having thus obtained the lion’s share, due, as he thought, to his well-known courage and military talents, as well as to the powerful family influence which he wielded—his brother, the Prince of Espinoy, hereditary seneschal of Hainault, having likewise rallied to the king’s party—Ghent jocosely intimated to Parma his intention of helping himself to the two best horses in the prince’s stables in exchange for those lost at Gemblours, in which disastrous action he had commanded the cavalry for the states. He also sent two terriers to Farnese, hoping that they would “prove more useful than beautiful.” The prince might have thought, perhaps, as much of the viscount’s treason.
John Sarrasin, the all-accomplished prior, as the reward of his exertions, received from Philip the abbey of Saint Vaast, the richest and most powerful ecclesiastical establishment in the Netherlands. At a subsequent period his grateful sovereign created him Archbishop of Cambray.
Thus the “troubles of Arras,” as they were called, terminated. Gosson, the respected, wealthy, eloquent, and virtuous advocate, together with his colleagues—all Catholics, but at the same time patriots and liberals—died the death of felons for their unfortunate attempt to save their fatherland from an ecclesiastical and venal conspiracy; while the actors in the plot, having all performed well their parts, received their full meed of prizes and applause.
The private treaty by which the Walloon provinces of Artois, Hainault, Lille, Douay, and Orchies, united themselves in a separate league was signed upon the sixth of January, 1579, but the final arrangements for the reconciliation of the Malcontent nobles and their soldiers were not completed until April sixth, upon which day a secret paper was signed at Mount Saint Eloi.
The secret current of the intrigue had not, however, flowed on with perfect smoothness until this placid termination. On the contrary, there had been much bickering, heart-burning, and mutual suspicions and recriminations. There had been violent wranglings among the claimants of the royal rewards. Lalain and Capres were not the only Malcontents who had cause to complain of being cheated of the promised largess. Montigny, in whose favor Parma had distinctly commanded La Motte to be liberal of the king’s secret-service money, furiously charged the Governor of Gravelines with having received a large supply of gold from Spain, and of “locking the rascal counters from his friends,” so that Parma was obliged to quiet the baron, and many other barons in the same predicament, out of his own purse. All complained bitterly, too, that the king, whose promises had been so profuse to the nobles while the reconciliation was pending, turned a deaf ear to their petitions and left their letters unanswered, after the deed was accomplished.
The unlucky Prior of Renty, whose disclosures to La Motte concerning the Spanish sarcasms upon his venality, had so nearly caused the preliminary negotiation with that seignior to fail, was the cause of still further mischief through the interception of Alonzo Curiel’s private letters. Such revelations of corruption, and of contempt on the part of the corrupters, were eagerly turned to account by the states’ government. A special messenger was dispatched to Montigny with the intercepted correspondence, accompanied by an earnest prayer that he would not contaminate his sword and his noble name by subserviency to men who despised even while they purchased traitors. That noble, both confounded and exasperated, was for a moment inclined to listen to the voice of honor and patriotism, but reflection and solitude induced him to pocket up his wrongs and his “merced” together. The states-general also sent the correspondence to the Walloon provincial authorities, with an eloquent address, begging them to study well the pitiful part which La Motte had enacted in the private comedy then performing, and to behold as in a mirror their own position, if they did not recede ere it was too late.
The only important effect produced by the discovery was upon the Prior of Renty himself. Ottavio Gonzaga, the intimate friend of Don John, and now high in the confidence of Parma, wrote to La Motte, indignantly denying the truth of Bien Aimé’s tattle, and affirming that not a word had ever been uttered by himself or by any gentleman in his presence to the disparagement of the Governor of Gravelines. He added that if the prior had worn another coat, and were of quality equal to his own, he would have made him eat his words or a few inches of steel. In the same vehement terms he addressed a letter to Bien Aimé himself. Very soon afterwards, notwithstanding his coat and his quality, that unfortunate ecclesiastic found himself beset one dark night by two soldiers, who left him severely wounded and bleeding nearly to death upon the high road, but escaping with life, he wrote to Parma, recounting his wrongs and the “sword-thrust in his left thigh,” and made a demand for a merced.
The prior recovered from this difficulty only to fall into another, by publishing what he called an apologue, in which he charged that the reconciled nobles were equally false to the royal and to the rebel government, and that, although “the fatted calf had been killed for them, after they had so long been feeding with perverse heretical pigs,” they were, in truth, as mutinous as ever, being bent upon establishing an oligarchy in the Netherlands, and dividing the territory among themselves, to the exclusion of the sovereign. This naturally excited the wrath of the viscount and others. The Seigneur d’Auberlieu, in a letter written in what the writer himself called the “gross style of a gendarme,” charged the prior with maligning honorable lords and—in the favorite colloquial phrase of the day—with attempting “to throw the cat against their legs.” The real crime of the meddling priest, however, was to have let that troublesome animal out of the bag. He was accordingly waylaid again, and thrown into prison by Count Lalain. While in durance he published an abject apology for his apologue, explaining that his allusions to “returned prodigals,” “heretic swine,” and to “Sodom and Gomorrah,” had been entirely misconstrued. He was, however, retained in custody until Parma ordered his release on the ground that the punishment had been already sufficient for the offense. He then requested to be appointed Bishop of Saint Omer, that see being vacant. Parma advised the king by no means to grant the request, the prior being neither endowed with the proper age nor discretion for such a dignity, but to bestow some lesser reward, in money or otherwise, upon the discomfited ecclesiastic, who had rendered so many services and incurred so many dangers.
The states-general and the whole national party regarded, with prophetic dismay, the approaching dismemberment of their common country. They sent deputation on deputation to the Walloon states, to warn them of their danger, and to avert, if possible, the fatal measure. Meantime, as by the already accomplished movement, the “generality” was fast disappearing, and was indeed but the shadow of its former self, it seemed necessary to make a vigorous effort to restore something like unity to the struggling country. The Ghent Pacification had been their outer wall, ample enough and strong enough to enclose and to protect all the provinces. Treachery and religious fanaticism had undermined the bulwark almost as soon as reared. The whole beleaguered country was in danger of becoming utterly exposed to a foe who grew daily more threatening. As in besieged cities, a sudden breastwork is thrown up internally, when the outward defenses are crumbling, so the energy of Orange had been silently preparing the Union of Utrecht, as a temporary defense until the foe should be beaten back, and there should be time to decide on their future course of action.
During the whole month of December, an active correspondence had been carried on by the prince and his brother John with various agents in Gelderland, Friesland, and Groningen, as well as with influential personages in the more central provinces and cities. Gelderland, the natural bulwark to Holland and Zealand, commanding the four great rivers of the country, had been fortunately placed under the government of the trusty John of Nassau, that province being warmly in favor of a closer union with its sister provinces, and particularly with those more nearly allied to itself in religion and in language.
Already, in December (1578), Count John, in behalf of his brother, had laid before the states of Holland and Zealand, assembled at Gorcum, the project of a new union with “Gelderland, Ghent, Friesland, Utrecht, Overyssel, and Groningen.” The proposition had been favorably entertained, and commissioners had been appointed to confer with other commissioners at Utrecht, whenever they should be summoned by Count John. The prince, with the silence and caution which belonged to his whole policy, chose not to be the ostensible mover in the plan himself. He did not choose to startle unnecessarily the Archduke Matthias—the cipher who had been placed by his side, whose sudden subtraction would occasion more loss than his presence had conferred benefit. He did not choose to be cried out upon as infringing the Ghent Pacification, although the whole world knew that treaty to be hopelessly annulled. For these and many other weighty motives, he proposed that the new Union should be the apparent work of other hands, and only offered to him and to the country, when nearly completed.
After various preliminary meetings in December and January, the deputies of Gelderland and Zutphen, with Count John, stadholder of these provinces, at their head, met with the deputies of Holland, Zealand, and the provinces between the Ems and the Lauwers, early in January 1579, and on the 23rd of that month, without waiting longer for the deputies of the other provinces, they agreed provisionally upon a treaty of union which was published afterwards on the 29th, from the Town-house of Utrecht.
This memorable document—which is ever regarded as the foundation of the Netherland Republic—contained twenty-six articles. The preamble stated the object of the union. It was to strengthen, not to forsake the Ghent Pacification, already nearly annihilated by the force of foreign soldiery. For this purpose, and in order more conveniently to defend themselves against their foes, the deputies of Gelderland, Zutphen, Holland, Zealand, Utrecht, and the Frisian provinces thought it desirable to form a still closer union. The contracting provinces agreed to remain eternally united, as if they were but one province. At the same time, it was understood that each was to retain its particular privileges, liberties, laudable and traditionary customs, and other laws. The cities, corporations, and inhabitants of every province were to be guaranteed as to their ancient constitutions. Disputes concerning these various statutes and customs were to be decided by the usual tribunals, by “good men,” or by amicable compromise. The provinces, by virtue of the Union, were to defend each other “with life, goods, and blood,” against all force brought against them in the king’s name or behalf. They were also to defend each other against all foreign or domestic potentates, provinces, or cities, provided such defense were controlled by the “generality” of the union.
For the expense occasioned by the protection of the provinces, certain imposts and excises were to be equally assessed and collected. No truce or peace was to be concluded, no war commenced, no impost established affecting the “generality,” but by unanimous advice and consent of the provinces. Upon other matters the majority was to decide, the votes being taken in the manner then customary in the assembly of states-general. In case of difficulty in coming to a unanimous vote when required, the matter was to be referred to the stadholders then in office. In case of their inability to agree, they were to appoint arbitrators, by whose decision the parties were to be governed. None of the united provinces, or of their cities or corporations, were to make treaties with other potentates or states, without consent of their confederates. If neighboring princes, provinces, or cities, wished to enter into this confederacy, they were to be received by the unanimous consent of the united provinces. A common currency was to be established for the confederacy.
In the matter of divine worship, Holland and Zealand were to conduct themselves as they should think proper. The other provinces of the union, however, were either to conform to the religious peace already laid down by Archduke Matthias and his council, or to make such other arrangements as each province should for itself consider appropriate for the maintenance of its internal tranquility—provided always that every individual should remain free in his religion, and that no man should be molested or questioned on the subject of divine worship, as had been already established by the Ghent Pacification. As a certain dispute arose concerning the meaning of this important clause, an additional paragraph was inserted a few days afterwards. In this it was stated that there was no intention of excluding from the confederacy any province or city which was wholly Catholic, or in which the number of the Reformed was not sufficiently large to entitle them, by the religious peace, to public worship. On the contrary, the intention was to admit them, provided they obeyed the articles of union, and conducted themselves as good patriots, it being intended that no province or city should interfere with another in the matter of divine service. Disputes between two provinces were to be decided by the others, or—in case the generality were concerned—by the provisions of the ninth article.
The confederates were to assemble at Utrecht whenever summoned by those commissioned for that purpose. A majority of votes was to decide on matters then brought before them, even in case of the absence of some members of the confederacy, who might, however, send written proxies. Additions or amendments to these articles could only be made by unanimous consent. The articles were to be signed by the stadholders, magistrates, and principal officers of each province and city, and by all the train-bands, fraternities, and sodalities which might exist in the cities or villages of the union.
Such were the simple provisions of that instrument which became the foundation of the powerful Commonwealth of the United Netherlands. On the day when it was concluded, there were present deputies from five provinces only. Count John of Nassau signed first, as stadholder of Gelderland and Zutphen. His signature was followed by those of four deputies from that double province; and the envoys of Holland, Zealand, Utrecht, and the Frisian provinces then signed the document.
The prince himself, although in reality the principal director of the movement, delayed appending his signature until May 3, 1579. Herein he was actuated by the reasons already stated, and by the hope which he still entertained that a wider union might be established, with Matthias for its nominal chief. His enemies, as usual, attributed this patriotic delay to baser motives. They accused him of a desire to assume the governor-generalship himself, to the exclusion of the archduke—an insinuation which the states of Holland took occasion formally to denounce as a calumny. For those who have studied the character and history of the man, a defense against such slander is superfluous. Matthias was but the shadow, Orange the substance. The archduke had been accepted only to obviate the evil effects of a political intrigue, and with the express condition that the prince should be his lieutenant-general in name, his master in fact. Directly after his departure in the following year, the prince’s authority, which nominally departed also, was re-established in his own person, and by express act of the states-general.
The Union of Utrecht was the foundation stone of the Netherland Republic, but the framers of the confederacy did not intend the establishment of a republic, or of an independent commonwealth of any kind. They had not forsworn the Spanish monarch. It was not yet their intention to forswear him. Certainly the act of union contained no allusion to such an important step. On the contrary, in the brief preamble they expressly stated their intention to strengthen the Ghent Pacification, and the Ghent Pacification acknowledged obedience to the king. They intended no political innovation of any kind. They expressly accepted matters as they were. All statutes, charters, and privileges of provinces, cities, or corporations were to remain untouched. They intended to form neither an independent state nor an independent federal system. No doubt the formal renunciation of allegiance, which was to follow within two years, was contemplated by many as a future probability, but it could not be foreseen with certainty.
The simple act of union was not regarded as the constitution of a commonwealth. Its object was a single one—defense against a foreign oppressor. The contracting parties bound themselves together to spend all their treasure and all their blood in expelling the foreign soldiery from their soil. To accomplish this purpose, they carefully abstained from intermeddling with internal politics and with religion. Every man was to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. Every combination of citizens, from the provincial states down to the humblest rhetoric club, was to retain its ancient constitution. The establishment of a republic, which lasted two centuries, which threw a girdle of rich dependencies entirely round the globe, and which attained so remarkable a height of commercial prosperity and political influence, was the result of the Utrecht Union; but it was not a premeditated result. A state, single towards the rest of the world, a unit in its external relations, while permitting internally a variety of sovereignties and institutions—in many respects the prototype of our own much more extensive and powerful union—was destined to spring from the act thus signed by the envoys of five provinces. Those envoys were acting, however, under the pressure of extreme necessity, and for what was believed an evanescent purpose. The future confederacy was not to resemble the system of the German empire, for it was to acknowledge no single head. It was to differ from the Achaian league, in the far inferior amount of power which it permitted to its general assembly, and in the consequently greater proportion of sovereign attributes which were retained by the individual states. It was, on the other hand, to furnish a closer and more intimate bond than that of the Swiss confederacy, which was only a union for defense and external purposes, of cantons otherwise independent. It was, finally, to differ from the American federal commonwealth in the great feature that it was to be merely a confederacy of sovereignties, not a representative republic. Its foundation was a compact, not a constitution. The contracting parties were states and corporations, who considered themselves as representing small nationalities de jure et de facto, and as succeeding to the supreme power at the very instant in which allegiance to the Spanish monarch was renounced. The general assembly was a collection of diplomatic envoys, bound by instructions from independent states. The voting was not by heads, but by states. The deputies were not representatives of the people, but of the states; for the people of the United States of the Netherlands never assembled—as did the people of the United States of America two centuries later—to lay down a constitution, by which they granted a generous amount of power to the union, while they reserved enough of sovereign attributes to secure that local self-government which is the life-blood of liberty.
The Union of Utrecht, narrowed as it was to the nether portion of that country which, as a whole, might have formed a commonwealth so much more powerful, was in origin a proof of this lamentable want of patriotism. Could the jealousy of great nobles, the rancor of religious differences, the Catholic bigotry of the Walloon population on the one side, contending with the democratic insanity of the Ghent populace on the other, have been restrained within bounds by the moderate counsels of William of Orange, it would have been possible to unite seventeen provinces instead of seven, and to save many long and blighting years of civil war.
The Utrecht Union was, however, of inestimable value. It was time for some step to be taken, if anarchy were not to reign until the inquisition and absolutism were restored. Already, out of Chaos and Night, the coming Republic was assuming substance and form. The union, if it created nothing else, at least constructed a league against a foreign foe whose armed masses were pouring faster and faster into the territory of the provinces. Farther than this it did not propose to go. It maintained what it found. It guaranteed religious liberty, and accepted the civil and political constitutions already in existence. Meantime, the defects of those constitutions, although visible and sensible, had not grown to the large proportions which they were destined to attain.
Thus by the Union of Utrecht on the one hand, and the fast approaching reconciliation of the Walloon provinces on the other, the work of decomposition and of construction went hand in hand.
Religious Tumults in the Cities and the Siege of Maestricht
The political movements in both directions were to be hastened by the military operations of the opening season. On the night of March 2, 1579, the Prince of Parma made a demonstration against Antwerp. A body of 3,000 Scotch and English, lying at Borgerhout, was rapidly driven in, and a warm skirmish ensued, directly under the walls of the city. The Prince of Orange, with the Archduke Matthias, being in Antwerp at the time, remained on the fortifications, superintending the action, and Parma was obliged to retire after an hour or two of sharp fighting, with a loss of four hundred men. This demonstration was, however, only a feint. His real design was upon Maestricht, before which important city he appeared in great force, ten days afterwards, when he was least expected.
Well fortified, surrounded by a broad and deep moat, built upon both sides of the Meuse, upon the right bank of which river, however, the portion of the town was so inconsiderable that it was merely, called the village of Wyk, this key to the German gate of the Netherlands was, unfortunately, in brave but feeble hands. The garrison was hardly 1,000 strong; the trained bands of burghers amounted to 1,200 more; while between three and four thousand peasants, who had taken refuge within the city walls, did excellent service as sappers and miners. Parma, on the other hand, had appeared before the walls with 20,000 men, to which number he received constant reinforcements. The Bishop of Liege, too, had sent him 4,000 pioneers, a most important service, for mining and countermining was to decide the fate of Maestricht.
Early in January the royalists had surprised the strong chateau of Carpen, in the neighborhood of the city, upon which occasion the garrison were all hanged by moonlight on the trees in the orchard. The commandant shared their fate; and it is a curious fact that he had, precisely a year previously, hanged the royalist captain, Blomaert, on the same spot, who, with the rope around his neck, had foretold a like doom to his destroyer.
The Prince of Orange, feeling the danger of Maestricht, lost no time in warning the states to the necessary measures, imploring them “not to fall asleep in the shade of a peace negotiation,” while meantime Parma threw two bridges over the Meuse, above and below the city, and then invested the place so closely that all communication was absolutely suspended. Letters could pass to and fro only at extreme peril to the messengers, and all possibility of reinforcing the city at the moment was cut off.
While this eventful siege was proceeding, the negotiations with the Walloons were ripening. The siege and the conferences went hand in hand. Besides the secret arrangements already described for the separation of the Walloon provinces, there had been much earnest and eloquent remonstrance on the part of the states-general and of Orange—many solemn embassies and public appeals. As usual, the Pacification of Ghent was the two-sided shield which hung between the parties to cover or to justify the blows which each dealt at the other. There is no doubt as to the real opinion entertained concerning that famous treaty by the royal party. “Through the peace of Ghent,” said Saint Vaast, “all our woes have been brought upon us.” La Motte informed Parma that it was necessary to pretend a respect for the Pacification, however, on account of its popularity, but that it was well understood by the leaders of the Walloon movement, that the intention was to restore the system of Charles V. Parma signified his consent to make use of that treaty as a basis, “provided always it were interpreted healthily, and not dislocated by cavillations and sinister interpolations, as had been done by the Prince of Orange.” The Malcontent generals of the Walloon troops were inexpressibly anxious lest the cause of religion should be endangered, but the arguments by which Parma convinced those military casuists as to the compatibility of the Ghent peace with sound doctrine have already been exhibited. The influence of the reconciled nobles was brought to bear with fatal effect upon the states of Artois, Hainault, and of a portion of French Flanders. The Gallic element in their blood, and an intense attachment to the Roman ceremonial, which distinguished the Walloon population from their Batavian brethren, were used successfully by the wily Parma to destroy the unity of the revolted Netherlands. Moreover, the king offered good terms. The monarch, feeling safe on the religious point, was willing to make liberal promises upon the political questions. In truth, the great grievance of which the Walloons complained was the insolence and intolerable outrages of the foreign soldiers. This, they said, had alone made them malcontent. It was, therefore, obviously the cue of Parma to promise the immediate departure of the troops. This could be done the more easily, as he had no intention of keeping the promise.
Meantime, the efforts of Orange, and of the states-general, where his influence was still paramount, were unceasing to counteract the policy of Parma. A deputation was appointed by the generality to visit the estates of the Walloon provinces. Another was sent by the authorities of Brussels. The Marquis of Havré, with several colleagues on behalf of the states-general, waited upon the Viscount of Ghent, by whom they were received with extreme insolence. He glared upon them, without moving, as they were admitted to his presence, “looking like a dead man, from whom the soul had entirely departed.” Recovering afterwards from this stony trance of indignation, he demanded a sight of their instructions. This they courteously refused, as they were accredited not to him, but to the states of Artois. At this he fell into a violent passion, and threatened them with signal chastisement for daring to come thither with so treasonable a purpose. In short, according to their own expression, he treated them “as if they had been rogues and vagabonds.” The Marquis of Havré, high-born though he was, had been sufficiently used to such conduct. The man who had successively served and betrayed every party, who had been the obsequious friend and the avowed enemy of Don John within the same fortnight, and who had been able to swallow and inwardly digest many an insult from that fiery warrior, was even fain to brook the insolence of Robert Melun.
The papers which the deputation had brought were finally laid before the states of Artois, and received replies as prompt and bitter as the addresses were earnest and eloquent. The Walloons, when summoned to hold to that ægis of national unity, the Ghent peace, replied that it was not they, but the heretic portion of the states-general, who were for dashing it to the ground. The Ghent treaty was never intended to impair the supremacy of the Catholic religion, said those provinces, which were already on the point of separating forever from the rest. The Ghent treaty was intended expressly to destroy the inquisition and the placards, answered the national party. Moreover, the “very marrow of that treaty” was the departure of the foreign soldiers, who were even then overrunning the land. The Walloons answered that Alexander had expressly conceded the withdrawal of the troops. “Believe not the fluting and the piping of the crafty foe,” urged the patriots. “Promises are made profusely enough—but only to lure you to perdition. Your enemies allow you to slake your hunger and thirst with this idle hope of the troops’ departure, but you are still in fetters, although the chain be of Spanish pinchbeck, which you mistake for gold.” “’Tis not we,” cried the Walloons, “who wish to separate from the generality; ’tis the generality which separates from us. We had rather die the death than not maintain the union.” In the very same breath, however, they boasted of the excellent terms which the monarch was offering, and of their strong inclination to accept them. “Kings, struggling to recover a lost authority, always promise golden mountains and every sort of miracles,” replied the patriots; but the warning was uttered in vain.
Meantime the deputation from the city of Brussels arrived on the 28th of March at Mons, in Hainault, where they were received with great courtesy by Count de Lalain, governor of the province. The enthusiasm with which he had espoused the cause of Queen Margaret and her brother Anjou had cooled, but the count received the Brussels envoys with a kindness in marked contrast with the brutality of Melun. He made many fine speeches—protesting his attachment to the union, for which he was ready to shed the last drop of his blood—entertained the deputies at dinner, proposed toasts to the prosperity of the united provinces, and dismissed his guests at last with many flowery professions. After dancing attendance for a few days, however, upon the estates of the Walloon provinces, both sets of deputies were warned to take their instant departure as mischief-makers and rebels. They returned, accordingly, to Brussels, bringing the written answers which the estates had vouchsafed to send.
The states-general, too, inspired by William of Orange, addressed a solemn appeal to their sister provinces, thus about to abjure the bonds of relationship forever. It seemed right, once for all, to grapple with the Ghent Pacification for the last time, and to strike a final blow in defense of that large, statesmanlike interpretation, which alone could make the treaty live. This was done eloquently and logically. The Walloons were reminded that at the epoch of the Ghent peace the number of Reformers outside of Holland and Zealand was supposed small. Now the new religion had spread its roots through the whole land, and innumerable multitudes desired its exercise. If Holland and Zealand chose to re-establish the Catholic worship within their borders, they could manifestly do so without violating the treaty of Ghent. Why then was it not competent to other provinces, with equal allegiance to the treaty, to sanction the Reformed religion within their limits?
Parma, on his part, publicly invited the states-general, by letter, to sustain the Ghent treaty by accepting the terms offered to the Walloons, and by restoring the system of the Emperor Charles, of very lofty memory. To this superfluous invitation the states-general replied, on the 19th of March, that it had been the system of the Emperor Charles, of lofty memory, to maintain the supremacy of Catholicism and of Majesty in the Netherlands by burning Netherlanders—a custom which the states, with common accord, had thought it desirable to do away with.
In various fervently-written appeals by Orange, by the states-general, and by other bodies, the wavering provinces were warned against seduction. They were reminded that the Prince of Parma was using this minor negotiation “as a second string to his bow,” that nothing could be more puerile than to suppose the Spaniards capable, after securing Maestricht, of sending away their troops, thus “deserting the bride in the midst of the honeymoon.” They expressed astonishment at being invited to abandon the great and general treaty which had been made upon the theatre of the whole world by the intervention of the principal princes of Christendom, in order to partake in underhand negotiation with the commissioners of Parma—men “who, it would not be denied, were felons and traitors.” They warned their brethren not to embark on the enemy’s ships in the dark, for that, while chaffering as to the price of the voyage, they would find that the false pilots had hoisted sail and borne them away in the night. In vain would they then seek to reach the shore again. The example of La Motte and others, “birdlimed with Spanish gold,” should be salutary for all—men who were now driven forward with a whip, laughed to scorn by their new masters, and forced to drink the bitter draught of humiliation along with the sweet poison of bribery. They were warned to study well the intercepted letters of Curiel, in order fully to fathom the deep designs and secret contempt of the enemy.
Such having been the result of the negotiations between the states-general and the Walloon provinces, a strong deputation now went forth from those provinces, towards the end of April, to hold a final colloquy with Parma, then already busied with the investment of Maestricht. They were met upon the road with great ceremony, and escorted into the presence of Farnese with drum, trumpet, and flaunting banners. He received them with stately affability, in a magnificently decorated pavilion, carelessly inviting them to a repast, which he called an afternoon’s lunch, but which proved a most sumptuous and splendidly appointed entertainment. This “trifling foolish banquet” finished, the deputies were escorted, with great military parade, to the lodgings which had been provided for them in a neighboring village. During the period of their visit, all the chief officers of the army and the household were directed to entertain the Walloons with showy festivals, dinners, suppers, dances, and carousals of all kinds. At one of the most brilliant of these revels—a magnificent ball, to which all the matrons and maids of the whole country round had been bidden—the Prince of Parma himself unexpectedly made his appearance. He gently rebuked the entertainers for indulging in such splendid hospitality without, at least, permitting him to partake of it. Charmingly affable to the ladies assembled in the ballroom, courteous, but slightly reserved, towards the Walloon envoys, he excited the admiration of all by the splendid decorum of his manners. As he moved through the halls, modulating his steps in grave cadence to the music, the dignity and grace of his deportment seemed truly majestic; but when he actually danced a measure himself the enthusiasm was at its height. They should, indeed, be rustics, cried the Walloon envoys in a breath, not to give the hand of fellowship at once to a prince so condescending and amiable. The exclamation seemed to embody the general wish, and to foreshadow a speedy conclusion.
Very soon afterwards a preliminary accord was signed between the king’s government and the Walloon provinces. The provisions on his Majesty’s part were sufficiently liberal. The religious question furnishing no obstacle, it was comparatively easy for Philip to appear benignant. It was stipulated that the provincial privileges should be respected; that a member of the king’s own family, legitimately born, should always be governor-general; and that the foreign troops should be immediately withdrawn. The official exchange and ratification of this treaty were delayed till the fourth of the following September, but the news that the reconciliation had been definitely settled soon spread through the country. The Catholics were elated, the patriots dismayed. Orange—the “Prince of Darkness,” as the Walloons of the day were fond of calling him—still unwilling to despair, reluctant to accept this dismemberment, which he foresaw was to be a perpetual one, of his beloved country, addressed the most passionate and solemn adjurations to the Walloon provinces, and to their military chieftains. He offered all his children as hostages fur his good faith in keeping sacredly any covenant which his Catholic countrymen might be willing to close with him. It was in vain. The step was irretrievably taken; religious bigotry, patrician jealousy, and wholesale bribery had severed the Netherlands in twain forever. The friends of Romanism, the enemies of civil and religious liberty, exulted from one end of Christendom to the other, and it was recognized that Parma had, indeed, achieved a victory which although bloodless, was as important to the cause of absolutism as any which even his sword was likely to achieve.
The joy of the Catholic party in Paris manifested itself in a variety of ways. At the principal theatre an uncouth pantomime was exhibited, in which his Catholic Majesty was introduced upon the stage, leading by a halter a sleek cow, typifying the Netherlands. The animal by a sudden effort, broke the cord, and capered wildly about. Alexander of Parma hastened to fasten the fragments together while sundry personages, representing the states-general, seized her by the horns, some leaping upon her back, others calling upon the bystanders to assist in holding the restive beast. The Emperor, the King of France, and the Queen of England—which last personage was observed now to smile upon one party, now to affect deep sympathy with the other—remained stationary; but the Duke of Alençon rushed upon the stage, and caught the cow by the tail. The Prince of Orange and Hans Casimir then appeared with a bucket, and set themselves busily to milk her, when Alexander again seized the halter. The cow gave a plunge, upset the pail, prostrated Casimir with one kick and Orange with another, and then followed Parma with docility as he led her back to Philip. This seems not very “admirable fooling,” but it was highly relished by the polite Parisians of the 16th century, and has been thought worthy of record by classical historians.
The Walloon accord was an auspicious prelude, in the eyes of the friends of absolutism, to the negotiations which were opened in the month of May, at Cologne. Before sketching, as rapidly as possible, those celebrated but barren conferences, it is necessary, for the sake of unity in the narrative, to cast a glance at certain synchronical events in different parts of the Netherlands.
The success attained by the Catholic party in the Walloon negotiations had caused a corresponding bitterness in the hearts of the Reformers throughout the country. As usual, bitterness had begot bitterness; intolerance engendered intolerance. On May 28, 1579, as the Catholics of Antwerp were celebrating the Ommegang—the same festival which had been the exciting cause of the memorable tumults of the year sixty-five—the irritation of the populace could not be repressed. The mob rose in its wrath to put down these demonstrations—which, taken in connection with recent events, seemed ill-timed and insolent—of a religion whose votaries then formed but a small minority of the Antwerp citizens. There was a great tumult. Two persons were killed. The Archduke Matthias, who was himself in the Cathedral of Nôtre Dame assisting at the ceremony, was in danger of his life. The well-known cry of “paapen uit” (out with the papists) resounded through the streets, and the priests and monks were all hustled out of town amid a tempest of execrations. Orange did his utmost to quell the mutiny, nor were his efforts fruitless—for the uproar, although seditious and disgraceful, was hardly sanguinary. Next day the prince summoned the magistracy, the Monday council, the guild officers, with all the chief municipal functionaries, and expressed his indignation in decided terms. He protested that if such tumults, originating in that very spirit of intolerance which he most deplored, could not be repressed for the future, he was determined to resign his offices, and no longer to affect authority in a city where his counsels were derided. The magistrates, alarmed at his threats, and sympathizing with his anger, implored him not to desert them, protesting that if he should resign his offices, they would instantly lay down their own. An ordinance was then drawn up and immediately proclaimed at the Town-house, permitting the Catholics to re-enter the city, and to enjoy the privileges of religious worship. At the same time, it was announced that a new draft of a religious peace would be forthwith issued for the adoption of every city.
A similar tumult, arising from the same cause, at Utrecht, was attended with the like result. On the other hand, the city of Brussels was astonished by a feeble and unsuccessful attempt at treason, made by a youth who bore an illustrious name. Philip, Count of Egmont, eldest son of the unfortunate Lamoral, had command of a regiment in the service of the states. He had, besides, a small body of cavalry in immediate attendance upon his person. He had for some time felt inclined—like the Lalain’s, Melun’s, La Motte’s, and others—to reconcile himself with the Crown, and he wisely thought that the terms accorded to him would be more liberal if he could bring the capital of Brabant with him as a peace-offering to his Majesty. His residence was in Brussels. His regiment was stationed outside the gates, but in the immediate neighborhood of the city. On the morning of the fourth of June he dispatched his troopers—as had been frequently his custom—on various errands into the country. On their return, after having summoned the regiment, they easily mastered and butchered the guard at the gate through which they had reentered, supplying their place with men from their own ranks. The Egmont regiment then came marching through the gate in good order—Count Philip at their head—and proceeded to station themselves upon the Grande Place in the center of the city. All this was at dawn of day. The burghers, who looked forth from their houses, were astounded and perplexed by this movement at so unwonted an hour, and hastened to seize their weapons.
Egmont sent a detachment to take possession of the palace. He was too late. Colonel Van der Tympel, commandant of the city, had been beforehand with him, had got his troops under arms, and now secured the rebellious detachment. Meantime, the alarm had spread. Armed burghers came from every house, and barricades were hastily thrown up across every one of the narrow streets leading to the square. Every issue was closed. Not a man of Egmont’s adherents—if he indeed had adherents among the townsmen—dared to show his face. The young traitor and his whole regiment, drawn up on the Grande Place, were completely entrapped. He had not taken Brussels, but assuredly Brussels had taken him. All day long he was kept in his self-elected prison and pillory, bursting with rage and shame. His soldiers, who were without meat or drink, became insolent and uproarious, and he was doomed also to hear the bitter and well-merited taunts of the townspeople. A thousand stinging gibes, suggested by his name and the locality, were mercilessly launched upon him. He was asked if he came thither to seek his father’s head. He was reminded that the morrow was the anniversary of that father’s murder—upon that very spot—by those with whom the son would now make his treasonable peace. He was bidden to tear up but a few stones from the pavement beneath his feet, that the hero’s blood might cry out against him from the very ground. Tears of shame and fury sprang from the young man’s eyes as he listened to these biting sarcasms, but the night closed upon that memorable square, and still the count was a prisoner. Eleven years before, the summer stars had looked down upon a more dense array of armed men within that place. The preparations for the pompous and dramatic execution, which on the morrow was to startle all Europe, had been carried out in the midst of a hushed and overawed population; and now, on the very anniversary of the midnight in which that scaffold had risen, should not the grand specter of the victim have started from the grave to chide his traitorous son?
Thus for a whole day and night was the baffled conspirator compelled to remain in the ignominious position which he had selected for himself. On the morning of the fifth of June, he was permitted to depart, by a somewhat inexplicable indulgence, together with all his followers. He rode out of the gate at early dawn, contemptible and crest-fallen, at the head of his regiment of traitors, and shortly afterwards—pillaging and levying blackmail as he went—made his way to Montigny’s quarters.
It might have seemed natural, after such an exhibition, that Philip Egmont should accept his character of renegade, and confess his intention of reconciling himself with the murderers of his father. On the contrary, he addressed a letter to the magistracy of Brussels, denying with vehemence “any intention of joining the party of the pernicious Spaniards” warmly protesting his zeal and affection for the states, and denouncing the “perverse inventors of these calumnies against him as the worst enemies of the poor afflicted country.” The magistrates replied by expressing their inability to comprehend how the count, who had suffered villainous wrongs from the Spaniards, such as he could never sufficiently deplore or avenge, should ever be willing to enslave himself to those tyrants. Nevertheless, exactly at the moment of this correspondence, Egmont was in close negotiation with Spain, having fifteen days before the date of his letter to the Brussels senate, conveyed to Parma his resolution to “embrace the cause of his Majesty and the ancient religion”—an intention which he vaunted himself to have proved “by cutting the throats of three companies of states’ soldiers at Nivelle, Grandmont, and Ninove.” Parma had already written to communicate the intelligence to the king, and to beg encouragement for the count. In September, the monarch wrote a letter to Egmont, full of gratitude and promises, to which the count replied by expressing lively gratification that his Majesty was pleased with his little services, by avowing profound attachment to Church and King, and by asking eagerly for money, together with the government of Alost. He soon became singularly importunate for rewards and promotion, demanding, among other posts, the command of the “band of ordnance,” which had been his father’s. Parma, in reply, was prodigal of promises, reminding the young noble “that he was serving a sovereign who well knew how to reward the distinguished exploits of his subjects.” Such was the language of Philip II and his governor to the son of the headless hero of Saint Quentin; such was the fawning obsequiousness with which Egmont could kiss that royal hand reeking with his father’s blood.
Meanwhile, the siege of Maestricht had been advancing with steady precision. To military minds of that epoch—perhaps of later ages—this achievement of Parma seemed a masterpiece of art. The city commanded the Upper Meuse, and was the gate into Germany. It contained 34,000 inhabitants. An army, numbering almost as many souls, was brought against it, and the number of deaths by which its capture was at last effected, was probably equal to that of a moiety of the population. To the technical mind, the siege no doubt seemed a beautiful creation of human intelligence. To the honest student of history, to the lover of human progress, such a manifestation of intellect seems a sufficiently sad exhibition. Given, a city with strong walls and towers, a slender garrison and a devoted population on one side; a consummate chieftain on the other, with an army of veterans at his back, no interruption to fear, and a long season to work in; it would not seem to an unsophisticated mind a very lofty exploit for the soldier to carry the city at the end of four months’ hard labor.
The investment of Maestricht was commenced upon the 12th of March, 1579. In the city, besides the population, there were 2,000 peasants, both men and women, a garrison of 1,000 soldiers, and a trained burgher guard, numbering about 1,200. The name of the military commandant was Melchior. Sebastian Tappin, a Lorraine officer of much experience and bravery, was next in command, and was, in truth, the principal director of the operations. He had been dispatched thither by the Prince of Orange, to serve under La Noue, who was to have commanded in Maestricht, but had been unable to enter the city. Feeling that the siege was to be a close one, and knowing how much depended upon the issue, Sebastian lost no time in making every needful preparation for coming events. The walls were strengthened everywhere; shafts were sunk, preparatory to the countermining operations which were soon to become necessary; the moat was deepened and cleared, and the forts near the gates were put in thorough repair. On the other hand, Alexander had encircled the city, and had thrown two bridges, well fortified, across the river. There were six gates to the town, each provided with ravelins, and there was a doubt in what direction the first attack should be made. Opinions wavered between the gate of Bois-le-Duc, next the river, and that of Tongres on the southwestern side, but it was finally decided to attempt the gate of Tongres.
Over against that point the platforms were accordingly constructed, and after a heavy cannonade from forty-six great guns continued for several days, it was thought, by the 25th of March, that an impression had been made upon the city. A portion of the brick curtain had crumbled, but through the breach was seen a massive terreplein, well moated, which, after 6,000 shots already delivered on the outer wall, still remained uninjured. It was recognized that the gate of Tongres was not the most assailable, but rather the strongest portion of the defenses, and Alexander therefore determined to shift his batteries to the gate of Bois-le-Duc. At the same time, the attempt upon that of Tongres was to be varied, but not abandoned. Four thousand miners, who had passed half their lives in burrowing for coal in that anthracite region, had been furnished by the Bishop of Liege, and this force was now set to their subterranean work. A mine having been opened at a distance, the besiegers slowly worked their way towards the Tongres gate, while at the same time the more ostensible operations were in the opposite direction.
The besieged had their miners also, for the peasants in the city had been used to work with mattock and pickaxe. The women, too, enrolled themselves into companies, chose their officers—or “mine-mistresses,” as they were called—and did good service daily in the caverns of the earth. Thus a whole army of gnomes were noiselessly at work to destroy and defend the beleaguered city. The mine advanced towards the gate; the besieged delved deeper, and intersected it with a transverse excavation, and the contending forces met daily, in deadly encounter, within these sepulchral gangways. Many stratagems were mutually employed. The citizens secretly constructed a dam across the Spanish mine, and then deluged their foe with hogsheads of boiling water. Hundreds were thus scalded to death. They heaped branches and light fagots in the hostile mine, set fire to the pile, and blew thick volumes of smoke along the passage with organ-bellows brought from the churches for the purpose. Many were thus suffocated.
The discomfited besiegers abandoned the mine where they had met with such able countermining, and sunk another shaft, at midnight, in secret, at a long distance from the Tongres gate. Still towards that point, however, they burrowed in the darkness, guiding themselves to their destination with magnet, plumbline and level, as the mariner crosses the trackless ocean with compass and chart. They worked their way, unobstructed, till they arrived at their subterranean port, directly beneath the doomed ravelin. Here they constructed a spacious chamber, supporting it with columns, and making all their architectural arrangements with as much precision and elegance as if their object had been purely aesthetic. Coffers full of powder, to an enormous amount, were then placed in every direction across the floor, the train was laid, and Parma informed that all was ready. Alexander, having already arrayed the troops destined for the assault, then proceeded in person to the mouth of the shaft, and gave orders to spring the mine. The explosion was prodigious; a part of the tower fell with the concussion, and the moat was choked with heaps of rubbish. The assailants sprang across the passage thus afforded, and mastered the ruined portion of the fort. They were met in the breach, however, by the unflinching defenders of the city, and, after a fierce combat of some hours, were obliged to retire, remaining masters, however, of the moat, and of the ruined portion of the ravelin. This was upon the third of April.
Five days afterwards, a general assault was ordered. A new mine having been already constructed towards the Tongres ravelin, and a faithful cannonade having been kept up for a fortnight against the Bois-le-Duc gate, it was thought advisable to attack at both points at once. On the eighth of April, accordingly, after uniting in prayer, and listening to a speech from Alexander Farnese, the great mass of the Spanish army advanced to the breach. The moat had been rendered practicable in many places by the heaps of rubbish with which it had been encumbered, and by the fagots and earth with which it had been filled by the besiegers. The action at the Bois-le-Duc gate was exceedingly warm. The tried veterans of Spain, Italy, and Burgundy, were met face to face by the burghers of Maestricht, together with their wives and children. All were armed to the teeth, and fought with what seemed superhuman valor. The women, fierce as tigresses defending their young, swarmed to the walls, and fought in the foremost rank. They threw pails of boiling water on the besiegers, they hurled firebrands in their faces, they quoited blazing pitch-hoops with unerring dexterity about their necks. The rustics too, armed with their ponderous flails, worked as cheerfully at this bloody harvesting as if thrashing their corn at home. Heartily did they winnow the ranks of the royalists who came to butcher them, and thick and fast fell the invaders, fighting bravely, but baffled by these novel weapons used by peasant and woman, coming to the aid of the sword, spear, and musket of trained soldiery. More than a thousand had fallen at the Bois-le-Duc gate, and still fresh besiegers mounted the breach, only to be beaten back, or to add to the mangled heap of the slain.
At the Tongres gate, meanwhile, the assault had fared no better. A herald had been dispatched thither in hot haste, to shout at the top of his lungs, “Santiago! Santiago! the Lombards have the gate of Bois-le-Duc!” while the same stratagem was employed to persuade the invaders on the other side of the town that their comrades had forced the gate of Tongres. The soldiers, animated by this fiction, and advancing with fury against the famous ravelin, which had been but partly destroyed, were received with a broadside from the great guns of the unshattered portion, and by a rattling discharge of musketry from the walls. They wavered a little. At the same instant the new mine—which was to have been sprung between the ravelin and the gate, but which had been secretly countermined by the townspeople—exploded with a horrible concussion, at a moment least expected by the besiegers. Five hundred royalists were blown into the air. Ortiz, a Spanish captain of engineers, who had been inspecting the excavations, was thrown up bodily from the subterranean depth. He fell back again instantly into the same cavern, and was buried by the returning shower of earth which had spouted from the mine. Forty-five years afterwards, in digging for the foundations of a new wall, his skeleton was found. Clad in complete armor, the helmet and cuirass still sound, with his gold chain around his neck, and his mattock and pickaxe at his feet, the soldier lay unmutilated, seeming almost capable of resuming his part in the same war which—even after his half century’s sleep—was still ravaging the land.
Five hundred of the Spaniards perished by the explosion, but none of the defenders were injured, for they had been prepared. Recovering from the momentary panic, the besiegers again rushed to the attack. The battle raged. Six hundred and seventy officers, commissioned or non-commissioned, had already fallen, more than half mortally wounded. Four thousand royalists, horribly mutilated, lay on the ground. It was time that the day’s work should be finished, for Maestricht was not to be carried upon that occasion. The best and bravest of the surviving officers besought Parma to put an end to the carnage by recalling the troops; but the gladiator-heart of the commander was heated, not softened, by the savage spectacle. “Go back to the breach,” he cried, “and tell the soldiers that Alexander is coming to lead them into the city in triumph, or to perish with his comrades.” He rushed forward with the fury which had marked him when he boarded Mustapha’s galley at Lepanto, but all the generals who were near him threw themselves upon his path, and implored him to desist from such insensate rashness. Their expostulations would have probably been in vain, had not his confidential friend, Serbelloni, interposed with something like paternal authority, reminding him of the strict commands contained in his Majesty’s recent letters, that the governor-general, to whom so much was entrusted, should refrain, on pain of the royal displeasure, from exposing his life like a common fighter.
Alexander reluctantly gave the signal of recall at last, and accepted the defeat. For the future he determined to rely more upon the sapper and miner, and less upon the superiority of veterans to townsmen and rustics in open fight. Sure to carry the city at last, according to line and rule, determined to pass the whole summer beneath the wall, rather than abandon his purpose, he calmly proceeded to complete his circumvallations. A chain of eleven forts upon the left, and five upon the right side of the Meuse, the whole connected by a continuous wall, afforded him perfect security against interruptions, and allowed him to continue the siege at leisure. His numerous army was well housed and amply supplied, and he had built a strong and populous city in order to destroy another. Relief was impossible. But a few thousand men were now required to defend Farnese’s improvised town, while the bulk of his army could be marched at any moment against an advancing foe. A force of seven thousand, painfully collected by the Prince of Orange, moved towards the place, under command of Hohenlo and John of Nassau; but struck with wonder at what they saw, the leaders recognized the hopelessness of attempting relief. Maestricht was surrounded by a second Maestricht.
The efforts of Orange were now necessarily directed towards obtaining, if possible, a truce of a few weeks from the negotiators at Cologne. Parma was too crafty, however, to allow Terranova to consent, and as the duke disclaimed any power over the direct question of peace and war, the siege proceeded. The gates of Bois-le-Duc and Tongres having thus far resisted the force brought against them, the scene was changed to the gate of Brussels. This adjoined that of Tongres, was farthest from the river, and faced westwardly towards the open country. Here the besieged had constructed an additional ravelin, which they had christened, in derision, “Parma,” and against which the batteries of Parma were now brought to bear. Alexander erected a platform of great extent and strength directly opposite the new work, and after a severe and constant cannonade from this elevation, followed by a bloody action, the “Parma” fort was carried. One thousand, at least, of the defenders fell, as, forced gradually from one defense to another, they saw the triple walls of their ravelin crumble successively before their eyes. The tower was absolutely annihilated before they abandoned its ruins, and retired within their last defenses. Alexander being now master of the foss and the defenses of the Brussels gate, drew up a large force on both sides of that portal, along the margin of the moat, and began mining beneath the inner wall of the city.
Meantime, the garrison had been reduced to four hundred soldiers, nearly all of whom were wounded. Wearied and driven to despair, these soldiers were willing to treat. The townspeople, however, answered the proposition with a shout of fury, and protested that they would destroy the garrison with their own hands if such an insinuation were repeated. Sebastian Tappin, too, encouraged them with the hope of speedy relief, and held out to them the wretched consequences of trusting to the mercy of their foes. The garrison took heart again, while that of the burghers and their wives had never faltered. Their main hope now was in a fortification which they had been constructing inside the Brussels gate—a demilune of considerable strength. Behind it was a breastwork of turf and masonry, to serve as a last bulwark when every other defense should be forced. The whole had been surrounded by a foss thirty feet in depth, and the besiegers, as they mounted upon the breaches which they had at last effected in the outer curtain, near the Brussels gate, saw for the first time this new fortification.
The general condition of the defenses, and the disposition of the inhabitants, had been revealed to Alexander by a deserter from the town. Against this last fortress the last efforts of the foe were now directed. Alexander ordered a bridge to be thrown across the city moat. As it was sixty feet wide and as many deep, and lay directly beneath the guns of the new demilune, the enterprise was sufficiently hazardous. Alexander led the way in person, with a mallet in one hand and a mattock in the other. Two men fell dead instantly, one on his right hand and his left, while he calmly commenced, in his own person, the driving of the first piles for the bridge. His soldiers fell fast around him. Count Berlaymont was shot dead, many officers of distinction were killed or wounded, but no soldier dared recoil while their chieftain wrought amid the bullets like a common pioneer. Alexander, unharmed, as by a miracle, never left the spot till the bridge had been constructed, and till ten great guns had been carried across it, and pointed against the demilune. The battery was opened, the mines previously excavated were sprung, a part of the demilune was blown into the air, and the assailants sprang into the breach. Again a furious hand-to-hand conflict succeeded; again, after an obstinate resistance, the townspeople were forced to yield. Slowly abandoning the shattered fort, they retired behind the breastwork in its rear—their innermost and last defense. To this barrier they clung as to a spar in shipwreck, and here at last they stood at bay, prepared dearly to sell their lives.
The breastwork, being still strong, was not attempted upon that day. The assailants were recalled, and in the meantime a herald was sent by Parma, highly applauding the courage of the defenders, and begging them to surrender at discretion. They answered the messenger with words of haughty defiance, and, rushing in a mass to the breastwork, began with spade, pickax, and trowel, to add to its strength. Here all the able-bodied men of the town took up their permanent position, and here they ate, drank, and slept upon their posts, while their food was brought to them by the women and children.
A little letter, “written in a fine neat handwriting,” now mysteriously arrived in the city, encouraging them in the name of the archduke and the Prince of Orange, and assuring them of relief within fourteen days. A brief animation was thus produced, attended by a corresponding languor upon the part of the besiegers, for Alexander had been lying ill with a fever since the day when the demilune had been carried. From his sickbed he rebuked his officers severely that a temporary breastwork, huddled together by boors and burghers in the midst of a siege, should prove an insurmountable obstacle to men who had carried everything before them. The morrow was the festival of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, and it was meet that so sacred a day should be hallowed by a Christian and Apostolic victory. Saint Peter would be there with his keys to open the gate; Saint Paul would lead them to battle with his invincible sword. Orders were given accordingly, and the assault was assigned for the following morning.
Meantime, the guards were strengthened and commanded to be more than usually watchful. The injunction had a remarkable effect. At the dead of night, a soldier of the watch was going his rounds on the outside of the breastwork, listening, if perchance he might catch, as was not unusual, a portion of the conversation among the beleaguered burghers within. Prying about on every side, he at last discovered a chink in the wall, the result, doubtless, of the last cannonade, and hitherto overlooked. He enlarged the gap with his fingers, and finally made an opening wide enough to admit his person. He crept boldly through, and looked around in the clear starlight. The sentinels were all slumbering at their posts. He advanced stealthily in the dusky streets. Not a watchman was going his rounds. Soldiers, burghers, children, women, exhausted by incessant fatigue, were all asleep. Not a footfall was heard; not a whisper broke the silence; it seemed a city of the dead. The soldier crept back through the crevice, and hastened to apprise his superiors of his adventure.
Alexander, forthwith instructed as to the condition of the city, at once ordered the assault, and the last wall was suddenly stormed before the morning broke. The soldiers forced their way through the breach or sprang over the breastwork, and surprised at last—in its sleep—the city which had so long and vigorously defended itself. The burghers, startled from their slumber, bewildered, unprepared, found themselves engaged in unequal conflict with alert and savage foes. The battle, as usual when Netherland towns were surprised by Philip’s soldiers, soon changed to a massacre. The townspeople rushed hither and thither, but there was neither escape, nor means of resisting an enemy who now poured into the town by thousands upon thousands.
An indiscriminate slaughter succeeded. Women, old men, and children, had all been combatants; and all, therefore, had incurred the vengeance of the conquerors. A cry of agony arose which was distinctly heard at the distance of a league. Mothers took their infants in their arms, and threw themselves by hundreds into the Meuse—and against women the blood-thirst of the assailants was especially directed. Females who had fought daily in the trenches, who had delved in mines and mustered on the battlements, had unsexed themselves in the opinion of those whose comrades they had helped to destroy. It was nothing that they had laid aside the weakness of women in order to defend all that was holy and dear to them on earth. It was sufficient that many a Spanish, Burgundian, or Italian mercenary had died by their hands. Women were pursued from house to house, and hurled from roof and window. They were hunted into the river; they were torn limb from limb in the streets. Men and children fared no better; but the heart sickens at the oft-repeated tale. Horrors, alas, were commonplaces in the Netherlands. Cruelty too monstrous for description, too vast to be believed by a mind not familiar with the outrages practiced by the soldiers of Spain and Italy upon their heretic fellow creatures, were now committed afresh in the streets of Maestricht. On the first day four thousand men and women were slaughtered. The massacre lasted two days longer, nor would it be an exaggerated estimate, if we assume that the amount of victims upon the two last days was equal to half the number sacrificed on the first. It was said that not four hundred citizens were left alive after the termination of the siege. These soon wandered away, their places being supplied by a rabble rout of Walloon sutlers and vagabonds. Maestricht was depopulated as well as captured. The booty obtained after the massacre was very large, for the city had been very thriving, its cloth manufacture extensive and important. Sebastian Tappin, the heroic defender of the place, had been shot through the shoulder at the taking of the Parma ravelin, and had been afterwards severely injured at the capture of the demilune. At the fall of the city he was mortally wounded, and carried a prisoner to the hostile camp, only to expire. The governor, Swartsenberg, also lost his life.
Alexander, on the contrary, was raised from his sickbed with the joyful tidings of victory, and as soon as he could be moved, made his appearance in the city. Seated in a splendid chair of state, borne aloft on the shoulders of his veterans, with a golden canopy above his head to protect him from the summer’s sun, attended by the officers of his staff, who were decked by his special command in their gayest trappings, escorted by his bodyguard, followed by his “plumed troops,” to the number of 20,000, surrounded by all the vanities of war, the hero made his stately entrance into the town. His way led through deserted streets of shattered houses. The pavement ran red with blood. Headless corpses, mangled limbs—an obscene mass of wretchedness and corruption—were spread on every side, and tainted the summer air. Through the thriving city which, in the course of four months Alexander had converted into a slaughter-house and a solitude, the pompous procession took its course to the church of Saint Servais. Here humble thanks were offered to the God of Love, and to Jesus of Nazareth, for this new victory. Especially was gratitude expressed to the Apostles Paul and Peter, upon whose festival, and by whose sword and key the crowning mercy had been accomplished, and by whose special agency 8,000 heretics now lay unburied in the streets. These acts of piety performed, the triumphal procession returned to the camp, where, soon afterwards, the joyful news of Alexander Farnese’s entire convalescence was proclaimed.
The Prince of Orange, as usual, was blamed for the tragical termination to this long drama. All that one man could do, he had done to awaken his countrymen to the importance of the siege. He had repeatedly brought the subject solemnly before the assembly, and implored for Maestricht, almost upon his knees. Lukewarm and parsimonious, the states had responded to his eloquent appeals with wrangling addresses and insufficient votes. With a special subsidy obtained in April and May, he had organized the slight attempt at relief, which was all which he had been empowered to make, but which proved entirely unsuccessful. Now that the massacre to be averted was accomplished, men were loud in reproof, who had been silent and passive while there was yet time to speak and to work. It was the prince, they said, who had delivered so many thousands of his fellow countrymen to butchery. To save himself, they insinuated he was now plotting to deliver the land into the power of the treacherous Frenchman, and he alone, they asserted, was the insuperable obstacle to an honorable peace with Spain.
A letter, brought by an unknown messenger, was laid before the states’ assembly, in full session, and sent to the clerk’s table, to be read aloud. After the first few sentences, that functionary faltered in his recital. Several members also peremptorily ordered him to stop, for the letter proved to be a violent and calumnious libel upon Orange, together with a strong appeal in favor of the peace propositions then under debate at Cologne. The prince alone, of all the assembly, preserving his tranquility, ordered the document to be brought to him, and forthwith read it aloud himself, from beginning to end. Afterwards, he took occasion to express his mind concerning the ceaseless calumnies of which he was the mark. He especially alluded to the oft-repeated accusation that he was the only obstacle to peace, and repeated that he was ready at that moment to leave the land, and to close his lips for ever, if by so doing he could benefit his country, and restore her to honorable repose. The outcry, with the protestations of attachment and confidence which at once broke from the assembly, convinced him, however, that he was deeply rooted in the hearts of all patriotic Netherlanders, and that it was beyond the power of slanderers to loosen his hold upon their affection.
Meantime, his efforts had again and again been demanded to restore order in that abode of anarchy, the city of Ghent. After his visit during the previous winter, and the consequent departure of John Casimir to the palatinate, the pacific arrangements made by the prince had for a short time held good. Early in March, however, that master of misrule, John van Imbize, had once more excited the populace to sedition. Again the property of Catholics, clerical and lay, was plundered; again the persons of Catholics, of every degree, were maltreated. The magistrates, with first senator Imbize at their head, rather encouraged than rebuked the disorder; but Orange, as soon as he received official intelligence of the event, hastened to address them in the words of earnest warning and wisdom. He allowed that the inhabitants of the province had reason to be discontented with the presence and the misconduct of the Walloon soldiery. He granted that violence and the menaces of a foreign tyranny made it difficult for honest burghers to gain a livelihood. At the same time he expressed astonishment that reasonable men should seek a remedy for such evils in tumults which would necessarily bring utter destruction upon the land. “It was,” he observed, “as if a patient should from impatience, tear the bandages from his wounds, and, like a maniac, instead of allowing himself to be cured, plunge a dagger into his own heart.”
These exhortations exerted a wholesome effect for a moment, but matters soon went from bad to worse. Imbize, fearing the influence of the prince, indulged in open-mouthed abuse of a man whose character he was unable even to comprehend. He accused him of intriguing with France for his own benefit, of being a papist in disguise, of desiring to establish what he called a “religious peace,” merely to restore Roman idolatry. In all these insane ravings, the demagogue was most ably seconded by the ex-monk. Incessant and unlicensed were the invectives hurled by Peter Dathenus from his pulpit upon William the Silent’s head. He denounced him, as he had often done before, as an atheist in heart, as a man who changed his religion as easily as his garments, as a man who knew no God but state expediency, which was the idol of his worship, a mere politician who would tear his shirt from his back and throw it in the fire, if he thought it were tainted with religion.
Such witless but vehement denunciation from a preacher who was both popular and comparatively sincere, could not but affect the imagination of the weaker portion of his hearers. The faction of Imbize became triumphant. Ryhove—the ruffian whose hands were stained with the recent blood of Visch and Hessels—rather did damage than service to the cause of order. He opposed himself to the demagogue who was prating daily of Greece, Rome, and Geneva, while his clerical associate was denouncing William of Orange, but he opposed himself in vain. An attempt to secure the person of Imbize failed, but by the influence of Ryhove, however, a messenger was dispatched to Antwerp in the name of a considerable portion of the community of Ghent. The counsel and the presence of the man to whom all hearts in every part of the Netherlands instinctively turned in the hour of need, were once more invoked.
The prince again addressed them in language which none but he could employ with such effect. He told them that his life, passed in service and sacrifice, ought to witness sufficiently for his fidelity. Nevertheless, he thought it necessary—in view of the calumnies which were circulated—to repeat once more his sentiment that no treaty of peace, war, or alliance, ought to be negotiated, save with the consent of the people. His course in Holland and Zealand had proved, he said, his willingness always to consult the wishes of his countrymen. As for the matter of religion, it was almost incredible that there should be any who doubted the zeal which he bore the religion for which he had suffered so much. “I desire,” he continued, fervently, “that men should compare that which has been done by my accusers during ten years past with that which I have done. In that which touches the true advancement of religion, I will yield to no man. They who so boldly accuse me have no liberty of speech, save that which has been acquired for them by the blood of my kindred, by my labors, and my excessive expenditures. To me they owe it that they dare speak at all.” This letter (which was dated on July 24, 1579) contained an assurance that the writer was about to visit Ghent.
On the following day, Imbize executed a coup d’état. Having a body of near 2,000 soldiers at his disposal, he suddenly secured the persons of all the magistrates and other notable individuals not friendly to his policy, and then, in violation of all law, set up a new board of eighteen irresponsible functionaries, according to a list prepared by himself alone. This was his way of enforcing the democratic liberty of Greece, Rome, and Geneva, which was so near to his heart. A proclamation, in fourteen articles, was forthwith issued, justifying this arbitrary proceeding. It was declared that the object of the somewhat irregular measure “was to prevent the establishment of the religious peace, which was merely a method of replanting uprooted papistry and the extirpated tyranny of Spain.” Although the arrangements had not been made in strict accordance with formal usage and ceremony, yet they were defended upon the ground that it had been impossible, by other means, to maintain their ancient liberties and their religious freedom. At the same time a pamphlet, already prepared for the occasion by Dathenus, was extensively circulated. In this production the arbitrary revolution effected by a demagogue was defended with effrontery, while the character of Orange, was loaded with customary abuse. To prevent the traitor from coming to Ghent, and establishing what he called his religious peace, these irregular measures, it was urged, had been wisely taken.
Such were the efforts of John Imbize, such the calumnies of Peter Dathenus, in order to counteract the patriotic endeavors of the prince; but neither the ruffianism of John nor the libels of Peter were destined upon this occasion to be successful. William the Silent treated the slanders of the scolding monk with dignified contempt. “Having been informed,” said he to the magistrates of Ghent, “that Master Peter Dathenus has been denouncing me as a man without religion or fidelity, and full of ambition, with other propositions hardly becoming his cloth, I do not think it worthwhile to answer more at this time than that I willingly refer myself to the judgment of all who know me.”
The prince came to Ghent, great as had been the efforts of Imbize and his partisans to prevent his coming. His presence was like magic. The demagogue and his whole flock vanished like unclean birds at the first rays of the sun. Imbize dared not look the Father of his country in the face. Orange rebuked the populace in the strong and indignant language that public and private virtue, energy, and a high purpose enabled such a leader of the people to use. He at once set aside the board of eighteen—the Grecian-Roman-Genevese establishment of Imbize—and remained in the city until the regular election, in conformity with the privileges, had taken place. Imbize, who had shrunk at his approach, was meantime discovered by his own companions. He had stolen forth secretly on the night before the prince’s arrival, and was found cowering in the cabin of a vessel, half dead with fear, by an ale-house keeper who had been his warm partisan. “No skulking,” cried the honest friend, seizing the tribune of the people by the shoulder, “no sailing away in the night-time. You have got us all into this bog, and must come back, and abide the issue with your supporters.”
In this collapsed state was the windy demagogue, who had filled half Flanders with his sound and fury, conveyed before the patriot prince. He met with grave and bitter rebukes, but felt sufficiently relieved when allowed to depart unharmed. Judging of his probable doom by the usual practice of himself and his fellows in similar cases, he had anticipated nothing short of the gibbet. That punishment, however, was to be inflicted at a later period, by other hands, and not until he had added treason to his country and a shameless recantation of all his violent professions in favor of civil and religious liberty to the list of his crimes. On the present occasion he was permitted to go free. In company with his clerical companion, Peter Dathenus, he fled to the abode of his excellent friend, John Casimir, who received both with open arms and allowed them each a pension.
Order being thus again restored in Ghent by the exertions of the prince, when no other human hand could have dispelled the anarchy which seemed to reign supreme, William the Silent, having accepted the government of Flanders, which had again and again been urged upon him, now returned to Antwerp.