Alexander of Parma
Negotiations, Dissensions, and Treason
Since the beginning of May, the Cologne negotiations had been dragging their slow length along. Few persons believed that any good was likely to result from these stately and ponderous conferences; yet men were so weary of war, so desirous that a termination might be put to the atrophy under which the country was languishing, that many an eager glance was turned towards the place where the august assembly was holding its protracted session. Certainly, if wisdom were to be found in mitered heads—if the power to heal angry passions and to settle the conflicting claims of prerogative and conscience were to be looked for among men of lofty station—then the Cologne conferences ought to have made the rough places smooth and the crooked paths straight throughout all Christendom. There was the Archbishop of Rossano, afterwards Pope Urban VII, as plenipotentiary from Rome; there was Charles of Aragon, Duke of Terranova, supported by five councillors, as ambassador from his Catholic Majesty; there were the Duke of Aerschot, the Abbot of Saint Gertrude, the Abbot of Marolles, Doctor Bucho Aytta, Caspar Schetz, Lord of Grobbendonck, that learned Frisian, Aggeus van Albada, with seven other wise men, as envoys from the states-general. There were their Serene Highnesses the Elector and Archbishops of Cologne and Treves, with the Bishop of Wurtzburg. There was also a numerous embassy from his Imperial Majesty, with Count Otto de Schwartzenburg at its head.
Here then were holiness, serenity, dignity, law, and learning in abundance. Here was a pope in posse, with archbishops, princes, dukes, jurisconsults, and doctors of divinity in esse, sufficient to remodel a world, if worlds were to be remodeled by such instruments. If protocols, replications, annotations, apostilles, could heal a bleeding country, here were the physicians to furnish those drugs in unlimited profusion. If reams of paper, scrawled over with barbarous technicalities, could smother and bury a quarrel which had its origin in the mutual antagonism of human elements, here were the men to scribble unflinchingly, till the reams were piled to a pyramid. If the same idea presented in many aspects could acquire additional life, here were the word-mongers who could clothe one shivering thought in a hundred thousand garments, till it attained all the majesty which decoration could impart. In truth, the envoys came from Spain, Rome, and Vienna, provided with but two ideas. Was it not a diplomatic masterpiece, that from this frugal store they could contrive to eke out seven mortal months of negotiation? Two ideas—the supremacy of his Majesty’s prerogative, the exclusive exercise of the Roman Catholic religion—these were the be-all and the end-all of their commission. Upon these two strings they were to harp, at least till the walls of Maestricht had fallen. The envoys did their duty well; they were sent to enact a solemn comedy, and in the most stately manner did they walk through their several parts. Not that the king was belligerent—on the contrary, he was heartily weary of the war. Prerogative was weary, Romanism was weary, Conscience was weary, the Spirit of Freedom was weary, but the Prince of Orange was not weary. Blood and treasure had been pouring forth so profusely during twelve flaming years, that all but that one tranquil spirit were beginning to flag.
At the same time, neither party had more disposition to concede than stomach to fight. Certainly the royal party had no inclination to yield. The king had granted easy terms to the Walloons, because upon the one great point of religion there was no dispute, and upon the others there was no intention of keeping faith. With regard to the present negotiation, it was desirable to gain a little time. It was thought probable that the religious difference, judiciously managed at this juncture, might be used to effect a permanent severance of the provinces so lately banded together in a common union. “To divide them,” wrote Tassis, in a very confidential letter, “no better method can be found than to amuse them with this peace negotiation. Some are ready for a pacification from their desire of repose, some from their fear of war, some from the differences which exist among themselves, and which it is especially important to keep alive.” Above all things, it was desirable to maintain the religious distraction till Maestricht had been taken. That siege was the key to the whole situation. If the separate Walloon accord could be quietly made in a corner, while Parma was battering that stronghold on the Meuse, and while decorous negotiation was smoothly holding its course on the Rhine, much disorganization, it was hoped, would be handsomely accomplished before the end of the year.
“As for a suspension of arms,” wrote Alexander to Terranova, on the 21st of May, “the longer ’tis deferred the better. With regard to Maestricht, everything depends upon it that we possess, or desire to possess. Truly, if the Prince of Orange can relieve the city he will do it. If he does so, neither will this expedition of ours, nor any other expedition, be brought to a good end. As soon as men are aware that our affairs are looking badly, they will come again to a true union, and all will join together, in hope to accomplish their boasts.” Therefore, it was natural that the peace-wrights of Cologne should industriously ply their task.
It is not desirable to disturb much of that learned dust, after its three centuries’ repose. A rapid sketch of the course of the proceedings, with an indication of the spirit which animated the contending parties, will be all that is necessary. They came and they separated with precisely opposite views. “The desires of Terranova and of the estates,” says the royalist, Tassis, “were diametrically contrary to each other. The king wished that the exercise of the Roman Catholic religion should be exclusively established, and the absolute prerogative preserved in its integrity.” On the other hand, the provinces desired their charters and a religious peace. In these perpetual lines and curves ran the asymptotical negotiation from beginning to end—and so it might have run for two centuries, without hope of coincidence. Neither party was yet vanquished. The freshly united provinces were no readier now than before to admit that the Holy Office formed part of their national institutions. The despotic faction was not prepared to renounce that establishment. Foiled, but not disheartened, sat the Inquisition, like a beldame, upon the border, impotently threatening the land whence she had been forever excluded; while industrious as the Parcæ, distaff in hand, sat, in Cologne, the inexorable three—Spain, the Empire, and Rome—grimly spinning and severing the web of mortal destinies.
The first step in the proceedings had been a secret one. If by any means the Prince of Orange could be detached from his party—if by bribery, however enormous, he could be induced to abandon a tottering cause, and depart for the land of his birth—he was distinctly but indirectly given to understand that he had but to name his terms. We have seen the issue of similar propositions made by Don John of Austria. Probably there was no man living who would care to make distinct application of this dishonorable nature to the Father of his country. The Aerschot’s, the Melun’s, the Lalain’s, and a swarm of other nobles, had their price, and were easily transferable from one to another, but it was not easy to make a direct offer to William of Orange. They knew—as he said shortly afterwards in his famous Apology—that “neither for property nor for life, neither for wife nor for children, would he mix in his cup a single drop of treason.” Nevertheless, he was distinctly given to understand that “there was nothing he could demand for himself personally that would not be granted.” All his confiscated property, restoration of his imprisoned son, liberty of worship for himself, payment of all his debts, reimbursement of all his past expenses, and anything else which he could desire, were all placed within his reach. If he chose to retire into another land, his son might be placed in possession of all his cities, estates, and dignities, and himself indemnified in Germany, with a million of money over and above as a gratuity. The imperial envoy, Count Schwartzenburg, pledged his personal honor and reputation that every promise which might be made to the prince should be most sacredly fulfilled. It was all in vain.
The indirect applications of the imperial commissioners made to his servants and his nearest relations were entirely unsuccessful. The prince was not to be drawn into a negotiation in his own name or for his own benefit. If the estates were satisfied, he was satisfied. He wanted no conditions but theirs, “nor would he directly, or indirectly,” he said, “separate himself from the cause on which hung all his evil or felicity.” He knew that it was the object of the enemy to deprive the country of its head, and no inducements were sufficient to make him a party to the plot. At the same time, he was unwilling to be an obstacle, in his own person, to the conclusion of an honorable peace. He would resign his offices which he held at the solicitation of the whole country, if thus a negotiation were likely to be more successful. “The Prince of Parma and the disunited provinces,” said he to the states general, “affect to consider this war as one waged against me and in my name—as if the question alone concerned the name and person of the general. If it be so, I beg you to consider whether it is not because I have been ever faithful to the land. Nevertheless, if I am an obstacle, I am ready to remove it. If you, therefore, in order to deprive the enemy of every right to inculpate us, think proper to choose another head and conductor of your affairs, I promise you to serve and to be obedient to him with all my heart. Thus shall we leave the enemy no standing-place to work dissensions among us.” Such was his language to friend and foe, and here, at least, was one man in history whom kings were not rich enough to purchase.
On the 18th of May, the states’ envoys at Cologne presented fourteen articles, demanding freedom of religion and the ancient political charters. Religion, they said, was to be referred, not to man, but to God. To him the king was subject as well as the people. Both king and people—”and by people was meant every individual in the land”—were bound to serve God according to their conscience.”
The imperial envoys found such language extremely reprehensible, and promptly refused, as umpires, to entertain the fourteen articles. Others drawn up by Terranova and colleagues, embodying the claims of the royal and Roman party, were then solemnly presented, and as promptly rejected. Then the imperial umpires came forward with two bundles of propositions, approved beforehand by the Spanish plenipotentiaries. In the political bundle, obedience due to the king was insisted upon, “as in the time of the Emperor Charles.” The religious category declared that “the Roman religion—all others excluded—should thenceforth be exercised in all the provinces.” Both these categories were considered more objectionable by the states’ envoys than the terms of Terranova, and astonishment was expressed that mention should again be made of the edicts, as if blood enough had not been shed already in the cause of religion.
The Netherland envoys likewise gave the imperial commissioners distinctly to understand that, in case peace were not soon made, “the states would forthwith declare the king fallen from his sovereignty,” would forever dispense the people from their oaths of allegiance to him, and would probably accept the Duke of Anjou in his place. The states-general, to which body the imperial propositions had been sent, also rejected the articles in a logical and historical argument of unmerciful length.
An appeal secretly made by the imperial and Spanish commissioners, from the states’ envoys to the states themselves, and even to the people of the various provinces, had excited the anger of the plenipotentiaries. They complained loudly of this violation of all diplomatic etiquette, and the answer of the states-general, fully confirming the views of their ambassadors, did not diminish their wrath.
On November 13, 1573, the states’ envoys were invited into the council-chamber of the imperial commissioners, to hear the last solemn commonplaces of those departing functionaries. Seven months long they had been waiting in vain, they said, for the states’ envoys to accede to moderate demands. Patience was now exhausted. Moreover, their mediatory views had been the subject of bitter lampooning throughout the country, while the authorities of many cities had publicly declared that all the inhabitants would rather die the death than accept such terms. The peace-makers, accordingly, with endless protestations as to their own purity, wisdom, and benevolence, left the whole “in the hands of God and the parties concerned.”
The reply to this elaborate farewell was curt and somewhat crusty. “Had they known,” said the states’ envoys, “that their transparencies and worthinesses had no better intention, and the Duke of Terranova no ampler commission, the whole matter might have been dispatched, not in six months, but in six days.”
Thus ended the conferences, and the imperial commissioners departed. Nevertheless, Schwartzenburg remained yet a little time at Cologne, while five of the states’ envoys also protracted their stay, in order to make their private peace with the king. It is hardly necessary to observe that the chief of these penitents was the Duke of Aerschot. The ultimatum of the states was deposited by the departing envoys with Schwartzenburg, and a comparison of its terms with those offered by the imperial mediators, as the best which could be obtained from Spain, shows the hopelessness of the pretended negotiation. Departure of the foreign troops, restitution of all confiscated property, unequivocal recognition of the Ghent treaty and the perpetual edict, appointment to office of none but natives, oaths of allegiance to the king and the states-general, exercise of the Reformed religion and of the Confession of Augsburg in all places where it was then publicly practiced—such were the main demands of the patriot party.
In the secret instructions furnished by the states to their envoys, they were told to urge upon his Majesty the absolute necessity, if he wished to retain the provinces, of winking at the exercise of the Reformed and the Augsburg creeds. “The new religion had taken too deep root,” it was urged, “ever to be torn forth, save with the destruction of the whole country.”
Thus, after seven dreary months of negotiation, after protocols and memoranda in ten thousand folia, the august diplomatists had traveled round to the points from which they had severally started. On the one side, unlimited prerogative and exclusive Catholicism; on the other, constitutional liberty, with freedom of conscience for Catholic and Protestant alike—these were the claims which each party announced at the commencement, and to which they held with equal firmness at the close of the conferences.
The congress had been expensive. Though not much had been accomplished for the political or religious advancement of mankind, there had been much excellent eating and drinking at Cologne during the seven months. Those drouthy deliberations had needed moistening. The Bishop of Wurtzburg had consumed “eighty hogsheads of Rhenish wine and twenty great casks of beer.” The expense of the states’ envoys were 24,000 guldens. The Archbishop of Cologne had expended 40,000 thalers. The deliberations were, on the whole, excessively detrimental to the cause of the provinces, “and a great personage” wrote to the states-general that the king had been influenced by no motive save to cause dissension. This was an exaggeration, for his Majesty would have been well pleased to receive the whole of the country on the same terms which had been accepted by the Walloons. Meantime, those southern provinces had made their separate treaty, and the Netherlands were permanently dissevered. Maestricht had fallen. Disunion and dismay had taken possession of the country.
During the course of the year, other severe misfortunes had happened to the states. Treachery, even among the men who had done good service to the cause of freedom, was daily showing her hateful visage. Not only the great chieftains who had led the Malcontent Walloon party, with the fickle Aerschot and the wavering Havré besides, had made their separate reconciliation with Parma, but the epidemic treason had mastered such bold partisans as the Seigneur de Bours, the man whose services in rescuing the citadel of Antwerp had been so courageous and valuable. He was governor of Mechlin; Count Renneberg was governor of Friesland. Both were trusted implicitly by Orange and by the estates; both were on the eve of repaying the confidence reposed in them by the most venal treason.
It was already known that Parma had tampered with De Bours, but Renneberg was still unsuspected. “The Prince,” wrote Count John, “is deserted by all the noblemen, save the stadholder of Friesland and myself, and has no man else in whom he can repose confidence.” The brothers were doomed to be rudely awakened from the repose with regard to Renneberg, but previously the treason of a less important functionary was to cause a considerable but less lasting injury to the national party.
In Mechlin was a Carmelite friar, of audacious character and great eloquence, a man who, “with his sweet, poisonous tongue, could ever persuade the people to do his bidding.” This dangerous monk, Peter Lupus, or Peter Wolf, by name, had formed the design of restoring Mechlin to the Prince of Parma, and of obtaining the bishopric of Namur as the reward of his services. To this end he had obtained a complete mastery over the intellect of the bold but unprincipled De Bours. A correspondence was immediately opened between Parma and the governor, and troops were secretly admitted into the city. The Prince of Orange, in the name of the archduke and the estates, in vain endeavored to recall the infatuated governor to his duty. In vain he conjured him, by letter after letter, to be true to his own bright fame so nobly earned. An old friend of De Bours, and like himself a Catholic, was also employed to remonstrate with him. This gentleman, De Fromont by name, wrote him many letters, but De Bours expressed his surprise that Fromont, whom he had always considered a good Catholic and a virtuous gentleman, should wish to force him into a connection with the Prince of Orange and his heretic supporters. He protested that his mind was quite made up, and that he had been guaranteed by Parma not only the post which he now held, but even still farther advancement.
De Fromont reminded him, in reply, of the frequent revolutions of fortune’s wheel, and warned him that the advancement of which he boasted would probably be an entire degradation. He bitterly recalled to the remembrance of the new zealot for Romanism his former earnest efforts to establish Calvinism. He reproached him, too, with having melted up the silver images of the Mechlin churches, including even the renowned shrine of Saint Rombout, which the Prince of Orange had always respected. “I don’t say how much you took of that plunder for your own share,” continued the indignant De Fromont, “for the very children cry it in your ears as you walk the streets. ’Tis known that if God himself had been changed into gold you would have put him in your pocket.”
This was plain language, but as just as it was plain. The famous shrine of Saint Rombout—valued at 70,000 guldens, of silver gilt, and enriched with precious stones—had been held sacred alike by the fanatical iconoclasts and the greedy Spaniards who had successively held the city. It had now been melted up, and appropriated by Peter Lupus, the Carmelite, and De Bours, the Catholic convert, whose mouths were full of devotion to the ancient Church and of horror for heresy.
The efforts of Orange and of the states were unavailing. De Bours surrendered the city and fled to Parma, who received him with cordiality, gave him 5,000 florins—the price promised for his treason, besides a regiment of infantry—but expressed surprise that he should have reached the camp alive. His subsequent career was short, and he met his death two years afterwards, in the trenches before Tournay. The archiepiscopal city was thus transferred to the royal party, but the gallant Van der Tympel, governor of Brussels, retook it by surprise within six months of its acquisition by Parma, and once more restored it to the jurisdiction of the states. Peter Lupus, the Carmelite, armed to the teeth, and fighting fiercely at the head of the royalists, was slain in the street, and thus forfeited his chance for the miter of Namur.
During the weary progress of the Cologne negotiations, the prince had not been idle, and should this august and slow-moving congress be unsuccessful in restoring peace, the provinces were pledged to an act of abjuration. They would then be entirely without a head. The idea of a nominal republic was broached by none. The contest had not been one of theory, but of facts, for the war had not been for revolution, but for conservation, so far as political rights were concerned. In religion, the provinces had advanced from one step to another, till they now claimed the largest liberty—freedom of conscience—for all. Religion, they held, was God’s affair, not man’s, in which neither people nor king had power over each other, but in which both were subject to God alone. In politics it was different. Hereditary sovereignty was acknowledged as a fact, but at the same time, the spirit of freedom was already learning its appropriate language. It already claimed boldly the natural right of mankind to be governed according to the laws of reason and of divine justice. If a prince were a shepherd, it was at least lawful to deprive him of his crook when he butchered the flock which he had been appointed to protect.
“What reason is there,” said the states-general, “why the provinces should suffer themselves to be continually oppressed by their sovereign, with robbings, burnings, stranglings, and murderings? Why, being thus oppressed, should they still give their sovereign—exactly as if he were well conducting himself—the honor and title of lord of the land?” On the other hand, if hereditary rule were an established fact, so also were ancient charters. To maintain, not to overthrow, the political compact, was the purpose of the states. “Je maintiendrai” was the motto of Orange’s escutcheon. That compact existed between prince and people, and that the sovereign held office only on condition of doing his duty, were startling truths which men were beginning, not to whisper to each other in secret, but to proclaim in the market-place. “’Tis well known to all,” said the famous Declaration of Independence, two years afterwards, “that if a prince is appointed by God over the land, ’tis to protect them from harm, even as a shepherd to the guardianship of his flock. The subjects are not appointed by God for the behoof of the prince, but the prince for his subjects, without whom he is no prince. Should he violate the laws, he is to be forsaken by his meanest subject, and to be recognized no longer as prince.”
William of Orange always recognized these truths, but his scheme of government contemplated a permanent chief, and as it was becoming obvious that the Spanish sovereign would soon be abjured, it was necessary to fix upon a substitute. “As to governing these provinces in the form of a republic,” said he, speaking for the states-general, “those who know the condition, privileges, and ordinances of the country, can easily understand that ’tis hardly possible to dispense with a head or superintendent.” At the same time, he plainly intimated that this “head or superintendent” was to be, not a monarch—a one-ruler—but merely the hereditary chief magistrate of a free commonwealth.
Where was this hereditary chief magistrate to be found? His own claims he absolutely withdrew. The office was within his grasp, and he might easily have constituted himself sovereign of all the Netherlands. Perhaps it would have been better at that time had he advanced his claims and accepted the sovereignty which Philip had forfeited. As he did not believe in the possibility of a republic, he might honestly have taken into his own hands the scepter which he considered indispensable. His self-abnegation was, however, absolute. Not only did he decline sovereignty, but he repeatedly avowed his readiness to lay down all the offices which he held, if a more useful substitute could be found. “Let no man think,” said he, in a remarkable speech to the states-general, “that my good will is in any degree changed or diminished. I agree to obey—as the least of the lords or gentlemen of the land could do—whatever person it may please you to select. You have but to command my services wheresoever they are most wanted, to guard a province or a single city, or in any capacity in which I may be found most useful. I promise to do my duty, with all my strength and skill, as God and my conscience are witnesses that I have done it hitherto.”
The negotiations pointed to a speedy abjuration of Philip; the republic was contemplated by none; the Prince of Orange absolutely refused to stretch forth his own hand—who then was to receive the scepter which was so soon to be bestowed? A German prince had been tried—in a somewhat abnormal position—but had certainly manifested small capacity for aiding the provinces. Nothing could well be more insignificant than the figure of Matthias, and, moreover, his imperial brother was anything but favorably disposed. It was necessary to manage Rudolph. To treat the archduke with indignity, now that he had been partly established in the Netherlands, would be to incur the Emperor’s enmity. His friendship, however, could hardly be secured by any advancement bestowed upon his brother, for Rudolph’s services against prerogative and the pope were in no case to be expected. Nor was there much hope from the Protestant princes of Germany. The day had passed for generous sympathy with those engaged in the great struggle which Martin Luther had commenced. The present generation of German Protestants were more inclined to put down the Calvinistic schism at home than to save it from oppression abroad. Men were more disposed to wrangle over the thrice-gnawed bones of ecclesiastical casuistry, than to assist their brethren in the field. “I know not,” said Gaultherus, “whether the calamity of the Netherlands, or the more than bestial stupidity of the Germans, be most deplorable. To the insane contests on theological abstractions we owe it that many are ready to breathe blood and slaughter against their own brethren. The hatred of the Lutherans has reached that point that they can rather tolerate Papists than ourselves.”
In England, there was much sympathy for the provinces, and there—although the form of government was still arbitrary—the instincts for civil and religious freedom, which have ever characterized the Anglo-Saxon race, were not to be repressed. Upon many a battlefield for liberty in the Netherlands, “men whose limbs were made in England” were found contending for the right. The blood and treasure of Englishmen flowed freely in the cause of their relatives by religion and race, but these were the efforts of individuals. Hitherto but little assistance had been rendered by the English Queen, who had, on the contrary, almost distracted the provinces by her fast-and-loose policy, both towards them and towards Anjou. The political rivalry between that prince and herself in the Netherlands had, however, now given place to the memorable love-passage from which important results were expected, and it was thought certain that Elizabeth would view with satisfaction any dignity conferred upon her lover.
Orange had a right to form this opinion. At the same time, it is well known that the chief councillors of Elizabeth—while they were all in favor of assisting the provinces—looked with anything but satisfaction upon the Anjou marriage. “The Duke,” wrote Davidson to Walsingham (in July 1579), “seeks, forsooth, under a pretext of marriage with her Highness, the rather to espouse the Low Countries—the chief ground and object of his pretended love, howsoever it be disguised.” The envoy believed both Elizabeth and the provinces in danger of taking unto themselves a very bad master. “Is there any means,” he added, “so apt to sound the very bottom of our estate, and to hinder and breake the neck of all such good purpose as the necessity of the tyme shall set abroch?”
The provinces of Holland and Zealand, notwithstanding the love they bore to William of Orange, could never be persuaded by his arguments into favoring Anjou. Indeed, it was rather on account of the love they bore the prince—whom they were determined to have for their sovereign—that they refused to listen to any persuasion in favor of his rival, although coming from his own lips. The states-general, in a report to the states of Holland, drawn up under the superintendence of the prince, brought forward all the usual arguments for accepting the French duke, in case the abjuration should take place. They urged the contract with Anjou (of August 13, 1578), the great expenses he had already incurred in their behalf; the danger of offending him; the possibility that in such case he would ally himself with Spain; the prospect that, in consequence of such a result, there would be three enemies in the field against them—the Walloons, the Spaniards, and the French, all whose forces would eventually be turned upon Holland and Zealand alone. It was represented that the selection of Anjou would, on the other hand, secure the friendship of France—an alliance which would inspire both the Emperor and the Spanish monarch with fear, for they could not contemplate without jealousy a possible incorporation of the provinces with that kingdom. Moreover, the geographical situation of France made its friendship inexpressibly desirable. The states of Holland and Zealand were, therefore, earnestly invited to send deputies to an assembly of the states-general, in order to conclude measures touching the declaration of independence to be made against the king, and concerning the election of the Duke of Anjou.
The official communications by speech or writing of Orange to the different corporations and assemblies were at this period of enormous extent. He was moved to frequent anger by the parsimony, the interprovincial jealousy, the dull perception of the different estates, and he often expressed his wrath in unequivocal language. He dealt roundly with all public bodies. His eloquence was distinguished by a bold, uncompromising, truth-telling spirit, whether the words might prove palatable or bitter to his audience. His language rebuked his hearers more frequently than it caressed them, for he felt it impossible, at all times, to consult both the humors and the high interests of the people, and he had no hesitation, as guardian of popular liberty, in denouncing the popular vices by which it was endangered.
By both great parties, he complained, his shortcomings were all noted, the good which he had accomplished passed over in silence. He solemnly protested that he desired, out of his whole heart, the advancement of that religion which he publicly professed, and with God’s blessing, hoped to profess to the end of his life, but nevertheless, he reminded the states that he had sworn, upon taking office as lieutenant-general, to keep “all the subjects of the land equally under his protection,” and that he had kept his oath. He rebuked the parsimony which placed the accepted chief of the provinces in a sordid and contemptible position. “The Archduke has been compelled,” said he, in August, to the states-general, “to break up housekeeping, for want of means. How shameful and disreputable for the country, if he should be compelled, for very poverty, to leave the land!” He offered to lay down all the power with which he had himself been clothed, but insisted, if he were to continue in office, upon being provided with larger means of being useful. “’Twas impossible,” he said, for him “to serve longer on the same footing as heretofore,” finding himself “without power or authority, without means, without troops, without money, without obedience.” He reminded the states-general that the enemy, under pretext of peace negotiations, were ever circulating calumnious statements to the effect that he was personally the only obstacle to peace. The real object of these hopeless conferences was to sow dissension through the land, to set burgher against burgher, house against house. As in Italy, Guelphs and Ghibellines; as in Florence, the Neri, and Bianchi; as in Holland, the Hooks and Cabbeljaws had, by their unfortunate quarrels, armed fellow countrymen and families against each other—so also, nothing was so powerful as religious difference to set friend against friend, father against son, husband against wife.
He warned the states against the peace propositions of the enemy. Spain had no intention to concede, but was resolved to extirpate. For himself, he had certainly everything to lose by continued war. His magnificent estates were withheld, and, added he with simplicity, there is no man who does not desire to enjoy his own. The liberation of his son, too, from his foreign captivity, was, after the glory of God and the welfare of the fatherland, the dearest object of his heart. Moreover, he was himself approaching the decline of life. Twelve years he had spent in perpetual anxiety and labor for the cause. As he approached old age, he had sufficient reason to desire repose. Nevertheless, considering the great multitude of people who were leaning upon him, he should account himself disgraced if, for the sake of his own private advantage, he were to recommend a peace which was not perfectly secure. As regarded his own personal interests, he could easily place himself beyond danger—yet it would be otherwise with the people. The existence of the religion which, through the mercy of God he professed, would be sacrificed, and countless multitudes of innocent men would, by his act, be thrown bodily into the hands of the bloodthirsty inquisitors who, in times past, had murdered so many persons, and so utterly desolated the land. In regard to the ceaseless insinuations against his character which men uttered “over their tables and in the streets,” he observed philosophically, that “mankind were naturally inclined to calumny, particularly against those who exercised government over them.” His life was the best answer to those slanders. Being overwhelmed with debt, he should doubtless “do better in a personal point of view to accept the excellent and profitable offers which were daily made to him by the enemy.” He might be justified in such a course, when it was remembered how many had deserted him and forsworn their religion. Nevertheless, he had ever refused, and should ever refuse to listen to offers by which only his own personal interests were secured. As to the defense of the country, he had thus far done all in his power, with the small resources placed at his command. He was urged by the “nearer-united states” to retain the post of lieutenant-general. He was ready to consent. He was, however, not willing to hold office a moment, unless he had power to compel cities to accept garrisons, to enforce the collection of needful supplies throughout the provinces, and in general to do everything which he judged necessary for the best interests of the country.
Three councils were now established—one to be in attendance upon the archduke and the Prince of Orange, the two others to reside respectively in Flanders and in Utrecht. They were to be appointed by Matthias and the prince, upon a double nomination from the estates of the united provinces. Their decisions were to be made according to a majority of votes, and there was to be no secret cabinet behind and above their deliberations. It was long, however, before these councils were put into working order. The fatal jealousy of the provincial authorities, the small ambition of local magistrates, interposed daily obstacles to the vigorous march of the generality. Never was jealousy more mischievous, never circumspection more misapplied. It was not a land nor a crisis in which there was peril of centralization. Local municipal government was in truth the only force left. There was no possibility of its being merged in a central authority which did not exist. The country was without a center. There was small chance of apoplexy where there was no head. The danger lay in the mutual repulsiveness of these atoms of sovereignty—in the centrifugal tendencies which were fast resolving a nebulous commonwealth into chaos. Disunion and dissension would soon bring about a more fatal centralization—that of absorption in a distant despotism.
At the end of November, 1579, Orange made another remarkable speech in the states-general at Antwerp. He handled the usual topics with his customary vigor, and with that grace and warmth of delivery which always made his eloquence so persuasive and impressive. He spoke of the countless calumnies against himself, the chaffering niggardliness of the provinces, the slender result produced by his repeated warnings. He told them bluntly the great cause of all their troubles. It was the absence of a broad patriotism; it was the narrow power grudged rather than given to the deputies who sat in the general assembly. They were mere envoys, tied by instructions. They were powerless to act, except after tedious reference to the will of their masters, the provincial boards. The deputies of the Union came thither, he said, as advocates of their provinces or their cities, not as councillors of a commonwealth, and sought to further those narrow interests, even at the risk of destruction to their sister states. The contributions, he complained, were assessed unequally, and expended selfishly. Upon this occasion, as upon all occasions, he again challenged inquiry into the purity of his government, demanded chastisement, if any act of mal-administration on his part could be found, and repeated his anxious desire either to be relieved from his functions, or to be furnished with the means of discharging them with efficiency.
On December 12, 1579, he again made a powerful speech in the states-general. Upon the ninth of January, 1580, following, he made an elaborate address upon the state of the country, urging the necessity of raising instantly a considerable army of good and experienced soldiers. He firmed the indispensable number of such a force at 12,000 foot, 4,000 horse, and at least 1,200 pioneers. “Weigh well the matters,” said he, in conclusion, “which I have thus urged, and which are of the most extreme necessity. Men in their utmost need are daily coming to me for refuge, as if I held power over all things in my hand.” At the same time he complained that by reason of the dilatoriness of the states, he was prevented from alleviating misery when he knew the remedy to be within reach. “I beg you, however, my masters,” he continued, “to believe that this address of mine is no simple discourse. ’Tis a faithful presentment of matters which, if not reformed, will cause the speedy and absolute ruin of the land. Whatever betide, however, I pray you to hold yourselves assured, that with God’s help, I am determined to live with you or to die with you.”
Early in the year 1580, the prince was doomed to a bitter disappointment, and the provinces to a severe loss, in the treason of Count Renneberg, Governor of Friesland. This young noble was of the great Lalain family. He was a younger brother of Anthony, Count of Hoogstraaten, the unwavering friend of Orange. He had been brought up in the family of his cousin, the Count de Lalain, Governor of Hainault, and had inherited the title of Renneberg from an uncle, who was a dignitary of the church. For more than a year there had been suspicions of his fidelity. He was supposed to have been tampered with by the Duke of Terranova, on the first arrival of that functionary in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the Prince of Orange was unwilling to listen to the whispers against him. Being himself the mark of calumny, and having a tender remembrance of the elder brother, he persisted in reposing confidence in a man who was in reality unworthy of his friendship. George Lalain, therefore, remained stadholder of Friesland and Drenthe, and in possession of the capital city, Groningen.
The rumors concerning him proved correct. In November 1579, he entered into a formal treaty with Terranova, by which he was to receive, as the price of “the virtuous resolution which he contemplated,” the sum of 10,000 crowns in hand, a further sum of 10,000 crowns within three months, and a yearly pension of 10,000 florins. Moreover, his barony of Ville was to be erected into a marquisate, and he was to receive the order of the Golden Fleece at the first vacancy. He was likewise to be continued in the same offices under the king which he now held from the estates. The bill of sale, by which he agreed with a certain Quislain le Bailly to transfer himself to Spain, fixed these terms with the technical scrupulousness of any other mercantile transaction. Renneberg sold himself as one would sell a yoke of oxen, and his motives were no whit nobler than the cynical contract would indicate. “See you not,” said he in a private letter to a friend, “that this whole work is brewed by the Nassau’s for the sake of their own greatness, and that they are everywhere provided with the very best crumbs? They are to be stadholders of the principal provinces; we are to content ourselves with Overyssel and Drenthe. Therefore I have thought it best to make my peace with the king, from whom more benefits are to be got.”
Jealousy and selfishness, then, were the motives of his virtuous resolution. He had another, perhaps a nobler incentive. He was in love with the Countess Meghen, widow of Lancelot Berlaymont, and it was privately stipulated that the influence of his Majesty’s government should be employed to bring about his marriage with the lady. The treaty, however, which Renneberg had made with Quislain le Bailly was not immediately carried out. Early in February, 1580, his sister and evil genius, Cornelia Lalain, wife of Baron Monceau, made him a visit at Groningen. She implored him not to give over his soul to perdition by oppressing the Holy Church. She also appealed to his family pride, which should keep him, she said, from the contamination of companionship with “base-born weavers and furriers.” She was of opinion that to contaminate his high-born fingers with base bribes were a lower degradation. The pension, the crowns in hand, the marquisate, the collar of the Golden Fleece, were all held before his eyes again. He was persuaded, moreover, that the fair hand of the wealthy widow would be the crowning prize of his treason, but in this he was destined to disappointment. The countess was reserved for a more brilliant and a more bitter fate. She was to espouse a man of higher rank, but more worthless character, also a traitor to the cause of freedom, to which she was herself devoted, and who was even accused of attempting her life in her old age, in order to supply her place with a younger rival.
The artful eloquence of Cornelia de Lalain did its work, and Renneberg entered into correspondence with Parma. It is singular with how much indulgence his conduct and character were regarded both before and subsequently to his treason. There was something attractive about the man. In an age when many German and Netherland nobles were given to drunkenness and debauchery, and were distinguished rather for coarseness of manner and brutality of intellect than for refinement or learning, Count Renneberg, on the contrary, was an elegant and accomplished gentleman—the Sydney of his country in all but loyalty of character. He was a classical scholar, a votary of music and poetry, a graceful troubadour, and a valiant knight. He was “sweet and lovely of conversation,” generous and bountiful by nature. With so many good gifts, it was a thousand pities that the gift of truth had been denied him. Never did treason look more amiable, but it was treason of the blackest die. He was treacherous, in the hour of her utmost need, to the country which had trusted him. He was treacherous to the great man who had leaned upon his truth, when all others had abandoned him. He was treacherous from the most sordid of motives—jealousy of his friend and love of place and pelf—but his subsequent remorse and his early death have cast a veil over the blackness of his crime.
While Cornelia de Lalain was in Groningen, Orange was in Holland. Intercepted letters left no doubt of the plot, and it was agreed that the prince, then on his way to Amsterdam, should summon the count to an interview. Renneberg’s trouble at the proximity of Orange could not be suppressed. He felt that he could never look his friend in the face again. His plans were not ripe; it was desirable to dissemble for a season longer; but how could he meet that tranquil eye which “looked quite through the deeds of men?” It was obvious to Renneberg that his deed was to be done forthwith, if he would escape discomfiture. The prince would soon be in Groningen, and his presence would dispel the plots which had been secretly constructed.
On the evening of March 3, 1580, the count entertained a large number of the most distinguished families of the place at a ball and banquet. At the supper-table, Hildebrand, chief burgomaster of the city, bluntly interrogated his host concerning the calumnious reports which were in circulation, expressing the hope that there was no truth in these inventions of his enemies. Thus summoned, Renneberg, seizing the hands of Hildebrand in both his own, exclaimed, “Oh, my father! you whom I esteem as my father, can you suspect me of such guilt? I pray you, trust me, and fear me not!”
With this he restored the burgomaster and all the other guests to confidence. The feast and dance proceeded, while Renneberg was quietly arranging his plot. During the night all the leading patriots were taken out of their beds, and carried to prison, notice being at the same time given to the secret adherents of Renneberg. Before dawn, a numerous mob of boatmen and vagrants, well armed, appeared upon the public square. They bore torches and standards, and amazed the quiet little city with their shouts. The place was formally taken into possession, cannon were planted in front of the Town-house to command the principal streets, and barricades erected at various important points. Just at daylight, Renneberg himself, in complete armor, rode into the square, and it was observed that he looked ghastly as a corpse. He was followed by thirty troopers, armed like himself, from head to foot. “Stand by me now,” he cried to the assembled throng, “fail me not at this moment, for now I am for the first time your stadholder.”
While he was speaking, a few citizens of the highest class forced their way through the throng and addressed the mob in tones of authority. They were evidently magisterial persons endeavoring to quell the riot. As they advanced, one of Renneberg’s men-at-arms discharged his carabine at the foremost gentleman, who was no other than burgomaster Hildebrand. He fell dead at the feet of the stadholder—of the man who had clasped his hands a few hours before, called him father, and implored him to entertain no suspicions of his honor. The death of this distinguished gentleman created a panic, during which Renneberg addressed his adherents, and stimulated them to atone by their future zeal in the king’s service for their former delinquency. A few days afterwards the city was formally reunited to the royal government, but the count’s measures had been precipitated to such an extent, that he was unable to carry the province with him, as he had hoped. On the contrary, although he had secured the city, he had secured nothing else. He was immediately beleaguered by the states’ force in the province under the command of Barthold Entes, Hohenlo, and Philip Louis Nassau, and it was necessary to send for immediate assistance from Parma.
The Prince of Orange, being thus bitterly disappointed by the treachery of his friend, and foiled in his attempt to avert the immediate consequences, continued his interrupted journey to Amsterdam. Here he was received with unbounded enthusiasm.
The Declaration of Independence of the United Provinces
The war continued in a languid and desultory manner in different parts of the country. At an action near Ingelmunster, the brave and accomplished De la Noue was made prisoner. This was a severe loss to the states, a cruel blow to Orange, for he was not only one of the most experienced soldiers, but one of the most accomplished writers of his age. His pen was as celebrated as his sword. In exchange for the illustrious Frenchman, the states in vain offered Count Egmont, who had been made prisoner a few weeks before, and De Selles, who was captured shortly afterwards. Parma answered, contemptuously, that he would not give a lion for two sheep. Even Champagny was offered in addition, but without success.
Parma had written to Philip, immediately upon the capture, that, were it not for Egmont, Selles, and others, then in the power of Orange, he should order the execution of La Noue. Under the circumstances, however, he had begged to be informed as to his Majesty’s pleasure, and in the meantime had placed the prisoner in the castle of Limburg, under charge of De Billy. His Majesty, of course, never signified his pleasure, and the illustrious soldier remained for five years in a loathsome dungeon more befitting a condemned malefactor than a prisoner of war. It was in the donjon keep of the castle, lighted only by an aperture in the roof, and was therefore exposed to the rain and all inclemencies of the sky, while rats, toads, and other vermin housed in the miry floor. Here this distinguished personage, Francis with the Iron Arm, whom all Frenchmen, Catholic or Huguenot, admired for his genius, bravery, and purity of character, passed five years of close confinement. The government was most anxious to take his life, but the captivity of Egmont and others prevented the accomplishment of their wishes.
During this long period, the wife and numerous friends of La Noue were unwearied in their efforts to effect his ransom or exchange, but none of the prisoners in the hands of the patriots were considered a fair equivalent. The hideous proposition was even made by Philip II to La Noue, that he should receive his liberty if he would permit his eyes to be put out, as a preliminary condition. The fact is attested by several letters written by La Noue to his wife. The prisoner, wearied, shattered in health, and sighing for air and liberty, was disposed and even anxious to accept the infamous offer, and discussed the matter philosophically in his letters. That lady, however, horror-struck at the suggestion, implored him to reject the condition, which he accordingly consented to do. At last, in June 1585, he was exchanged, on extremely rigorous terms, for Egmont. During his captivity in this vile dungeon, he composed not only his famous political and military discourses, but several other works, among the rest, Annotations upon Plutarch and upon the Histories of Guicciardini.
The siege of Groningen proceeded, and Parma ordered some forces under Martin Schenck to advance to its relief. On the other hand, the meager states’ forces under Sonoy, Hohenlo, Entes, and Count John of Nassau’s young son, William Louis, had not yet made much impression upon the city. There was little military skill to atone for the feebleness of the assailing army, although there was plenty of rude valor. Barthold Entes, a man of desperate character, was impatient at the dilatoriness of the proceedings. After having been in disgrace with the states, since the downfall of his friend and patron, the Count De la Marck, he had recently succeeded to a regiment in place of Colonel Ysselstein, “dismissed for a homicide or two.” On the 17th of May, he had been dining at Rolda, in company with Hohenlo and the young Count of Nassau. Returning to the trenches in a state of wild intoxication, he accosted a knot of superior officers, informing them that they were but boys, and that he would show them how to carry the faubourg of Groningen on the instant. He was answered that the faubourg, being walled and moated, could be taken only by escalade or battery. Laughing loudly, he rushed forward toward the counterscarp, waving his sword, and brandishing on his left arm the cover of a butter firkin, which he had taken instead of his buckler. He had advanced, however, but a step, when a bullet from the faubourg pierced his brain, and he fell dead without a word.
So perished one of the wild founders of the Netherland commonwealth—one of the little band of reckless adventurers who had captured the town of Brill in 1572, and thus laid the foundation stone of a great republic, which was to dictate its laws to the empire of Charles V. He was in some sort a type. His character was emblematical of the worst side of the liberating movement. Desperate, lawless, ferocious—a robber on land, a pirate by sea—he had rendered great service in the cause of his fatherland, and had done it much disgrace. By the evil deeds of men like himself, the fair face of liberty had been profaned at its first appearance. Born of a respectable family, he had been noted, when a student in this very Groningen where he had now found his grave, for the youthful profligacy of his character. After dissipating his partrimony, he had taken to the sea, the legalized piracy of the mortal struggle with Spain offering a welcome refuge to spendthrifts like himself. In common with many a banished noble of ancient birth and broken fortunes, the riotous student became a successful corsair, and it is probable that his prizes were made as well among the friends as the enemies of his country. He amassed in a short time 100,000 crowns—no contemptible fortune in those days. He assisted La Marck in the memorable attack upon Brill, but behaved badly and took to flight when Mondragon made his memorable expedition to relieve Tergoes. He had subsequently been imprisoned with La Marck for insubordination, and during his confinement had dissipated a large part of his fortune. In 1576, after the violation of the Ghent treaty, he had returned to his piratical pursuits, and having prospered again as rapidly as he had done during his former cruises, had been glad to exchange the ocean for more honorable service on shore. The result was the tragic yet almost ludicrous termination which we have narrated. He left a handsome property, the result of his various piracies, or, according to the usual euphemism, prizes. He often expressed regret at the number of traders whom he had cast into the sea, complaining, in particular, of one victim whom he had thrown overboard, who would never sink, but who for years long ever floated in his wake, and stared him in the face whenever he looked over his vessel’s side. A gambler, a profligate, a pirate, he had yet rendered service to the cause of freedom, and his name, sullying the purer and nobler ones of other founders of the commonwealth, “is enrolled in the capitol.”
Count Philip Hohenlo, upon whom now devolved the entire responsibility of the Groningen siege and of the Friesland operations, was only a few degrees superior to this northern corsair. A noble of high degree, nearly connected with the Nassau family, sprung of the best blood in Germany, handsome and dignified in appearance, he was, in reality only a debauchee and a drunkard. Personal bravery was his main qualification for a general, a virtue which he shared with many of his meanest soldiers. He had never learned the art of war, nor had he the least ambition to acquire it. Devoted to his pleasures, he depraved those under his command, and injured the cause for which he was contending. Nothing but defeat and disgrace were expected by the purer patriots from such guidance. “The benediction of God,” wrote Albada, “cannot be hoped for under this chieftain, who by life and manners is fitter to drive swine than to govern pious and honorable men.”
The event justified the prophecy. After a few trifling operations before Groningen, Hohenlo was summoned to the neighborhood of Coewerden, by the reported arrival of Martin Schenck, at the head of a considerable force. On the 15th of June, the count marched all night and a part of the following morning, in search of the enemy. He came up with them upon Hardenberg Heath, in a broiling summer forenoon. His men were jaded by the forced march, overcome with the heat, tormented with thirst, and unable to procure even a drop of water. The royalists were fresh, so that the result of the contest was easily to be foreseen. Hohenlo’s army was annihilated in an hour’s time, the whole population fled out of Coewerden, the siege of Groningen was raised, Renneberg was set free to resume his operations on a larger scale, and the fate of all the northeastern provinces was once more swinging in the wind. The boors of Drenthe and Friesland rose again. They had already mustered in the field at an earlier season of the year, in considerable force. Calling themselves “the desperates,” and bearing on their standard an eggshell with the yolk running out—to indicate that, having lost the meat they were yet ready to fight for the shell—they had swept through the open country, pillaging and burning. Hohenlo had defeated them in two encounters, slain a large number of their forces, and reduced them for a time to tranquility. His late overthrow once more set them loose. Renneberg, always apt to be over-elated in prosperity, as he was unduly dejected in adversity, now assumed all the airs of a conqueror. He had hardly 8,000 men under his orders, but his strength lay in the weakness of his adversaries. A small war now succeeded, with small generals, small armies, small campaigns, small sieges. For the time, the Prince of Orange was even obliged to content himself with such a general as Hohenlo. As usual, he was almost alone. “Donec eris felis,” said he, emphatically,
“multos numerabis amicos, Tempora cum erunt nubila, nullus erit,”
and he was this summer doomed to a still harder deprivation by the final departure of his brother John from the Netherlands.
The count had been wearied out by petty miseries. His stadholderate of Gelderland had overwhelmed him with annoyance, for throughout the northeastern provinces there was neither system nor subordination. The magistrates could exercise no authority over an army which they did not pay, or a people whom they did not protect. There were endless quarrels between the various boards of municipal and provincial government, particularly concerning contributions and expenditures. During this wrangling, the country was exposed to the forces of Parma, to the private efforts of the Malcontents, to the unpaid soldiery of the states, to the armed and rebellious peasantry. Little heed was paid to the admonitions of Count John, who was of a hotter temper than was the Tranquil Prince. The stadholder gave way to fits of passion at the meanness and the insolence to which he was constantly exposed. He readily recognized his infirmity, and confessed himself unable to accommodate his irascibility to the “humores” of the inhabitants. There was often sufficient cause for his petulance. Never had praetor of a province a more penurious civil list. “The baker has given notice,” wrote Count John, in November, “that he will supply no more bread after tomorrow, unless he is paid.” The states would furnish no money to pay the bill. It was no better with the butcher. “The cook has often no meat to roast,” said the count, in the same letter, “so that we are often obliged to go supperless to bed.” His lodgings were a half-roofed, half-finished, unfurnished barrack, where the stadholder passed his winter days and evenings in a small, dark, freezing cold chamber, often without firewood. Such circumstances were certainly not calculated to excite envy.
When in addition to such wretched parsimony, it is remembered that the count was perpetually worried by the quarrels of the provincial authorities with each other and with himself, he may be forgiven for becoming thoroughly exhausted at last. He was growing “grey and grizzled” with perpetual perplexity. He had been fed with annoyance, as if—to use his own homely expression—”he had eaten it with a spoon.” Having already loaded himself with a debt of 600,000 florins, which he had spent in the states’ service, and having struggled manfully against the petty tortures of his situation, he cannot be severely censured for relinquishing his post. The affairs of his own countship were in great confusion. His children—boys and girls—were many, and needed their fathers’ guidance, while the eldest, William Louis, was already in arms for the Netherlands, following the instincts of his race. Distinguished for a rash valor, which had already gained the rebuke of his father and the applause of his comrades, he had commenced his long and glorious career by receiving a severe wound at Coewerden, which caused him to halt for life. Leaving so worthy a representative, the count was more justified in his departure.
His wife, too, had died in his absence, and household affairs required his attention. It must be confessed, however, that if the memory of his deceased spouse had its claims, the selection of her successor was still more prominent among his anxieties. The worthy gentleman had been supernaturally directed as to his second choice, ere that choice seemed necessary, for before the news of his wife’s death had reached him, the count dreamed that he was already united in second nuptials to the fair Cunigunda, daughter of the deceased Elector Palatine—a vision which was repeated many times. On the morrow he learned, to his amazement, that he was a widower, and entertained no doubt that he had been specially directed towards the princess seen in his slumbers, whom he had never seen in life. His friends were in favor of his marrying the Electress Dowager, rather than her daughter, whose years numbered less than half his own. The honest count, however, “after ripe consideration,” decidedly preferred the maid to the widow. “I confess,” he said, with much gravity, “that the marriage with the old Electress, in respect of her God-fearing disposition, her piety, her virtue, and the like, would be much more advisable. Moreover, as she hath borne her cross, and knows how to deal with gentlemen, so much the better would it be for me. Nevertheless, inasmuch as she has already had two husbands, is of a tolerable age, and is taller of stature than myself, my inclination is less towards her than towards her daughter.”
For these various considerations, Count John, notwithstanding the remonstrances of his brother, definitely laid down his government of Gelderland, and quitted the Netherlands about midsummer. Enough had not been done, in the opinion of the prince, so long as aught remained to do, and he could not bear that his brother should desert the country in the hour of its darkness, or doubt the Almighty when his hand was veiled in clouds. “One must do one’s best,” said he, “and believe that when such misfortunes happen, God desires to prove us. If He sees that we do not lose our courage, He will assuredly help us. Had we thought otherwise, we should never have pierced the dykes on a memorable occasion, for it was an uncertain thing and a great sorrow for the poor people; yet did God bless the undertaking. He will bless us still, for his arm hath not been shortened.”
On July 22, 1580, the Archduke Matthias, being fully aware of the general tendency of affairs, summoned a meeting of the generality in Antwerp. He did not make his appearance before the assembly, but requested that a deputation might wait upon him at his lodgings, and to this committee he unfolded his griefs. He expressed his hope that the states were not—in violation of the laws of God and man—about to throw themselves into the arms of a foreign prince. He reminded them of their duty to the holy Catholic religion, and to the illustrious house of Austria, while he also pathetically called their attention to the necessities of his own household, and hoped that they would, at least, provide for the arrears due to his domestics.
The states-general replied with courtesy as to the personal claims of the archduke. For the rest, they took higher grounds, and the coming Declaration of Independence already pierced through the studied decorum of their language. They defended their negotiation with Anjou on the ground of necessity, averring that the King of Spain had proved inexorable to all intercession, while, through the intrigues of their bitterest enemies, they had been entirely forsaken by the Empire.
Soon afterwards, a special legation, with Saint Aldegonde at its head, was dispatched to France to consult with the Duke of Anjou, and settled terms of agreement with him by the treaty of Plessis les Tours (on September 29, 1580), afterwards definitely ratified by the convention of Bordeaux, signed on the 23rd of the following January.
The states of Holland and Zealand, however, kept entirely aloof from this transaction, being from the beginning opposed to the choice of Anjou. From the first to the last, they would have no master but Orange, and to him, therefore, this year they formally offered the sovereignty of their provinces, but they offered it in vain.
The conquest of Portugal had effected a diversion in the affairs of the Netherlands. It was but a transitory one. The provinces found the hopes which they had built upon the necessity of Spain for large supplies in the peninsula—to their own consequent relief—soon changed into fears, for the rapid success of Alva in Portugal gave his master additional power to oppress the heretics of the North. Henry, the Cardinal King, had died in 1580, after succeeding to the youthful adventurer, Don Sebastian, slain during his chivalrous African campaign (August 4, 1578). The contest for the succession which opened upon the death of the aged monarch was brief, and in fifty-eight days, the bastard Antonio, Philip’s only formidable competitor, had been utterly defeated and driven forth to lurk, like a hunted wild beast, among rugged mountain caverns, with a price of 100,000 crowns upon his head. In the course of the succeeding year, Philip received homage at Lisbon as King of Portugal. From the moment of this conquest, he was more disposed, and more at leisure than ever, to vent his wrath against the Netherlands, and against the man whom he considered the incarnation of their revolt.
Cardinal Granvelle had ever whispered in the king’s ear the expediency of taking off the prince by assassination. It has been seen how subtly distilled, and how patiently hoarded, was this priest’s venom against individuals, until the time arrived when he could administer the poison with effect. His hatred of Orange was intense and of ancient date. He was of opinion, too, that the prince might be scared from the post of duty, even if the assassin’s hand were not able to reach his heart. He was in favor of publicly setting a price upon his head—thinking that if the attention of all the murderers in the world were thus directed towards the illustrious victim, the prince would tremble at the dangers which surrounded him. “A sum of money would be well employed in this way,” said the cardinal, “and, as the Prince of Orange is a vile coward, fear alone will throw him into confusion.” Again, a few months later, renewing the subject, he observed, “’twould be well to offer a reward of thirty or forty thousand crowns to any one who will deliver the prince, dead or alive; since from very fear of it—as he is pusillanimous—it would not be unlikely that he should die of his own accord.”
It was insulting even to Philip’s intelligence to insinuate that the prince would shrink before danger, or die of fear. Had Orange ever been inclined to bombast, he might have answered the churchman’s calumny, as Caesar the soothsayer’s warning:
“…Danger knows full well That Caesar is more dangerous than he…”
and in truth, Philip had long trembled on his throne before the genius of the man who had foiled Spain’s boldest generals and wiliest statesmen. The king, accepting the priest’s advice, resolved to fulminate a ban against the prince, and to set a price upon his head. “It will be well,” wrote Philip to Parma, “to offer thirty thousand crowns or so to any one who will deliver him dead or alive. Thus the country may be rid of a man so pernicious; or at any rate he will be held in perpetual fear, and therefore prevented from executing leisurely his designs.”
In accordance with these suggestions and these hopes, the famous ban was accordingly drawn up, and dated on March 15, 1580. It was, however, not formally published in the Netherlands until the month of June of the same year.
This edict will remain the most lasting monument to the memory of Cardinal Granvelle. It will be read when all his other state-papers and epistles, able as they incontestably are, shall have passed into oblivion. No panegyric of friend, no palliating magnanimity of foe, can roll away this rock of infamy from his tomb. It was by Cardinal Granvelle and by Philip that a price was set upon the head of the foremost man of his age, as if he had been a savage beast, and that admission into the ranks of Spain’s haughty nobility was made the additional bribe to tempt the assassin.
The ban consisted of a preliminary narrative to justify the penalty with which it was concluded. It referred to the favors conferred by Philip and his father upon the prince, to his signal ingratitude and dissimulation. It accused him of originating the Request, the image-breaking, and the public preaching. It censured his marriage with an abbess, even during the lifetime of his wife; alluded to his campaigns against Alva, to his rebellion in Holland, and to the horrible massacres committed by Spaniards in that province, as the necessary consequences of his treason. It accused him of introducing liberty of conscience, of procuring his own appointment as Ruward, of violating the Ghent treaty, of foiling the efforts of Don John, and of frustrating the counsels of the Cologne commissioners by his perpetual distrust. It charged him with a newly-organized conspiracy, in the erection of the Utrecht Union; and for these and similar crimes—set forth with involutions, slow, spiral, and cautious as the head and front of the indictment was direct and deadly—it denounced the chastisement due to the “wretched hypocrite” who had committed such offenses.
“For these causes,” concluded the ban, “we declare him traitor and miscreant, enemy of ourselves and of the country. As such we banish him perpetually from all our realms, forbidding all our subjects, of whatever quality, to communicate with him openly or privately, to administer to him victuals, drink, fire, or other necessaries. We allow all to injure him in property or life. We expose the said William Nassau as an enemy of the human race, giving his property to all who may seize it. And if any one of our subjects or any stranger should be found sufficiently generous of heart to rid us of this pest, delivering him to us, alive or dead, or taking his life, we will cause to be furnished to him immediately after the deed shall have been done, the sum of twenty-five thousand crowns in gold. If he have committed any crime, however heinous, we promise to pardon him; and if he be not already noble, we wild ennoble him for his valor.”
Such was the celebrated ban against the Prince of Orange. It was answered before the end of the year by the memorable “Apology of the Prince of Orange,” one of the most startling documents in history. No defiance was ever thundered forth in the face of a despot in more terrible tones. It had become sufficiently manifest to the royal party that the prince was not to be purchased by “millions of money,” or by unlimited family advancement, not to be cajoled by flattery or offers of illustrious friendship. It had been decided, therefore, to terrify him into retreat, or to remove him by murder. The government had been thoroughly convinced that the only way to finish the revolt, was to “finish Orange,” according to the ancient advice of Antonio Perez. The mask was thrown off. It had been decided to forbid the prince bread, water, fire, and shelter; to give his wealth to the fisc, his heart to the assassin, his soul, as it was hoped, to the Father of Evil. The rupture being thus complete, it was right that the “wretched hypocrite” should answer ban with ban, royal denunciation with sublime scorn. He had ill deserved, however, the title of hypocrite, he said. When the friend of government, he had warned them that by their complicated and perpetual persecutions they were twisting the rope of their own ruin. Was that hypocrisy? Since becoming their enemy, there had likewise been little hypocrisy found in him—unless it were hypocrisy to make open war upon government, to take their cities, to expel their armies from the country.
The proscribed rebel, towering to a moral and even social superiority over the man who affected to be his master by right divine, swept down upon his antagonist with crushing effect. He repudiated the idea of a king in the Netherlands. The word might be legitimate in Castille, or Naples, or the Indies, but the provinces knew no such title. Philip had inherited in those countries only the power of Duke or Count—a power closely limited by constitutions more ancient than his birthright. Orange was no rebel then, Philip no legitimate monarch. Even were the prince rebellious, it was no more than Philip’s ancestor, Albert of Austria, had been towards his anointed sovereign, Emperor Adolphus of Nassau, ancestor of William. The ties of allegiance and conventional authority being severed, it had become idle for the king to affect superiority of lineage to the man whose family had occupied illustrious stations when the Habsburg’s were obscure squires in Switzerland, and had ruled as sovereign in the Netherlands before that overshadowing house had ever been named.
But whatever the hereditary claims of Philip in the country, he had forfeited them by the violation of his oaths, by his tyrannical suppression of the charters of the land; while by his personal crimes he had lost all pretension to sit in judgment upon his fellow man. Was a people not justified in rising against authority when all their laws had been trodden under foot, “not once only, but a million of times”?—and was William of Orange, lawful husband of the virtuous Charlotte de Bourbon, to be denounced for moral delinquency by a lascivious, incestuous, adulterous, and murderous king? With horrible distinctness he laid before the monarch all the crimes of which he believed him guilty, and having thus told Philip to his beard, “thus diddest thou,” he had a withering word for the priest who stood at his back. “Tell me,” he cried, “by whose command Cardinal Granvelle administered poison to the Emperor Maximilian? I know what the Emperor told me, and how much fear he felt afterwards for the king and for all Spaniards.”
He ridiculed the effrontery of men like Philip and Granvelle, in charging “distrust” upon others, when it was the very atmosphere of their own existence. He proclaimed that sentiment to be the only salvation for the country. He reminded Philip of the words which his namesake of Macedon—a schoolboy in tyranny, compared to himself—had heard from the lips of Demosthenes—that the strongest fortress of a free people against a tyrant was distrust. That sentiment, worthy of eternal memory, the prince declared that he had taken from the “divine philippic,” to engrave upon the heart of the nation, and he prayed God that he might be more readily believed than the great orator had been by his people.
He treated with scorn the price set upon his head, ridiculing this project to terrify him, for its want of novelty, and asking the monarch if he supposed the rebel ignorant of the various bargains which had frequently been made before with cutthroats and poisoners to take away his life. “I am in the hand of God,” said William of Orange, “my worldly goods and my life have been long since dedicated to His service. He will dispose of them as seems best for His glory and my salvation.”
On the contrary, however, if it could be demonstrated, or even hoped, that his absence would benefit the cause of the country, he proclaimed himself ready to go into exile. “Would to God,” said he, in conclusion, “that my perpetual banishment, or even my death, could bring you a true deliverance from so many calamities. Oh, how consoling would be such banishment, how sweet such a death! For why have I exposed my property? Was it that I might enrich myself? Why have I lost my brothers? Was it that I might find new ones? Why have I left my son so long a prisoner? Can you give me another? Why have I put my life so often in danger? What reward can I hope after my long services, and the almost total wreck of my earthly fortunes, if not the prize of having acquired, perhaps at the expense of my life, your liberty? If then, my masters, you judge that my absence or my death can serve you, behold me ready to obey. Command me—send me to the ends of the earth—I will obey. Here is my head, over which no prince, no monarch, has power but yourselves. Dispose of it for your good, for the preservation of your Republic, but if you judge that the moderate amount of experience and industry which is in me, if you judge that the remainder of my property and of my life can yet be of service to you, I dedicate them afresh to you and to the country.”
His motto—most appropriate to his life and character—”Je maintiendrai,” was the concluding phrase of the document. His arms and signature were also formally appended, and the Apology, translated into most modern languages, was sent to nearly every potentate in Christendom. It had been previously, on December 13, 1580, read before the assembly of the united states at Delft, and approved as cordially as the ban was indignantly denounced.
During the remainder of the year 1580, and the half of the following year, the seat of hostilities was mainly in the Northeast—Parma, while waiting the arrival of fresh troops, being inactive. The operations, like the armies and the generals, were petty. Hohenlo was opposed to Renneberg. After a few insignificant victories, the latter laid siege to Steenwyk, a city in itself of no great importance, but the key to the province of Drenthe. The garrison consisted of six hundred soldiers, and half as many trained burghers. Renneberg, having 6,000 foot and 1,200 horse, summoned the place to surrender, but was answered with defiance. Captain Cornput, who had escaped from Groningen, after unsuccessfully warning the citizens of Renneberg’s meditated treason, commanded in Steenwyk, and his courage and cheerfulness sustained the population of the city during a close winter siege. Tumultuous mobs in the streets demanding that the place should be given over ere it was too late, he denounced to their faces as “flocks of gabbling geese,” unworthy the attention of brave men. To a butcher who, with the instinct of his craft, begged to be informed what the population were to eat when the meat was all gone, he coolly observed, “We will eat you, villain, first of all, when the time comes; so go home and rest assured that you, at least, are not to die of starvation.”
With such rough but cheerful admonitions did the honest soldier, at the head of his little handful, sustain the courage of the beleaguered city. Meantime Renneberg pressed it hard. He bombarded it with red-hot balls, a new invention introduced five years before by Stephen Bathor, King of Poland, at the siege of Dantzig. Many houses were consumed, but still Cornput and the citizens held firm. As the winter advanced, and the succor which had been promised still remained in the distance, Renneberg began to pelt the city with sarcasms, which, it was hoped, might prove more effective than the red-hot balls. He sent a herald to know if the citizens had eaten all their horses yet, a question which was answered by an ostentatious display of sixty starving hacks—all that could be mustered—upon the heights. He sent them on another occasion, a short letter, which ran as follows:
Most Honorable, Most Steadfast: As, during the present frost, you have but little exercise in the trenches—as you cannot pass your time in twirling your finger-rings, seeing that they have all been sold to pay your soldiers’ wages—as you have nothing to rub your teeth upon, nor to scour your stomachs withal, and as, nevertheless, you require something if only to occupy your minds, I send you the enclosed letter, in hope it may yield amusement. —January 15, 1581.”
The enclosure was a letter from the Prince of Orange to the Duke of Anjou, which, as it was pretended, had been intercepted. It was a clumsy forgery, but it answered the purpose of more skillful counterfeiting, at a period when political and religious enmity obscured men’s judgment. “As to the point of religion,” the prince was made to observe, for example, to his illustrious correspondent, “that is all plain and clear. No sovereign who hopes to come to any great advancement ought to consider religion, or hold it in regard. Your Highness, by means of the garrisons, and fortresses, will be easily master of the principal cities in Flanders and Brabant, even if the citizens were opposed to you. Afterwards you will compel them without difficulty to any religion which may seem most conducive to the interests of your Highness.”
Odious and cynical as was the whole tone of the letter, it was extensively circulated. There were always natures base and brutal enough to accept the calumny and to make it current among kindred souls. It may be doubted whether Renneberg attached faith to the document, but it was natural that he should take a malicious satisfaction in spreading this libel against the man whose perpetual scorn he had so recently earned. Nothing was more common than such forgeries, and at that very moment a letter, executed with equal grossness, was passing from hand to hand, which purported to be from the count himself to Parma. History has less interest in contradicting the calumnies against a man like Renneberg. The fictitious epistle of Orange, however, was so often republished, and the copies so carefully distributed, that the prince had thought it important to add an express repudiation of its authorship, by way of appendix to his famous Apology. He took the occasion to say that, if a particle of proof could be brought that he had written the letter, or any letter resembling it, he would forthwith leave the Netherlands, never to show his face there again.
Notwithstanding this well known denial, however, Renneberg thought it facetious to send the letter into Steenwyk, where it produced but small effect upon the minds of the burghers. Meantime, they had received intimation that succor was on its way. Hollow balls containing letters were shot into the town, bringing the welcome intelligence that the English colonel, John Norris, with 6,000 states’ troops, would soon make his appearance for their relief, and the brave Cornput added his cheerful exhortations to heighten the satisfaction thus produced. A day or two afterwards, three quails were caught in the public square, and the commandant improved the circumstance by many quaint homilies. The number three, he observed, was typical of the Holy Trinity, which had thus come symbolically to their relief. The Lord had sustained the fainting Israelites with quails. The number three indicated three weeks, within which time the promised succor was sure to arrive. Accordingly, upon the 22nd of February, 1581, at the expiration of the third week, Norris succeeded in victualling the town, the merry and steadfast Cornput was established as a true prophet, and Count Renneberg abandoned the siege in despair.
The subsequent career of that unhappy nobleman was brief. On the 19th of July, his troops were signally defeated by Sonoy and Norris, the fugitive royalists retreating into Groningen at the very moment when their general, who had been prevented by illness from commanding them, was receiving the last sacraments. Remorse, shame, and disappointment had literally brought Renneberg to his grave. “His treason,” says a contemporary, “was a nail in his coffin,” and on his deathbed he bitterly bemoaned his crime. “Groningen! Groningen! would that I had never seen thy walls!” he cried repeatedly in his last hours. He refused to see his sister, whose insidious counsels had combined with his own evil passions to make him a traitor, and he died on July 23, 1581, repentant and submissive. His heart, after his decease, was found “shriveled to the dimensions of a walnut,” a circumstance attributed to poison by some, to remorse by others. His regrets, his early death, and his many attractive qualities, combined to save his character from universal denunciation, and his name, although indelibly stained by treason, was ever mentioned with pity rather than with rancor.
Great changes, destined to be perpetual, were steadily preparing in the internal condition of the provinces. A preliminary measure of an important character had been taken early this year by the assembly of the united provinces held in the month of January at Delft. This was the establishment of a general executive council. The constitution of the board was arranged on the 13th of the month, and was embraced in eighteen articles. The number of councillors was fixed at thirty, all to be native Netherlanders, a certain proportion to be appointed from each province by its estates. The advice and consent of this body as to treaties with foreign powers were to be indispensable, but they were not to interfere with the rights and duties of the states-general, nor to interpose any obstacle to the arrangements with the Duke of Anjou.
While this additional machine for the self-government of the provinces was in the course of creation, the Spanish monarch, on the other hand, had made another effort to recover the authority which he felt slipping from his grasp. Philip was in Portugal, preparing for his coronation in that new kingdom—an event to be nearly contemporaneous with his deposition from the Netherland sovereignty, so solemnly conferred upon him a quarter of a century before in Brussels; but although thus distant, he was confident that he could more wisely govern the Netherlands than the inhabitants could do, and unwilling as ever to confide in the abilities of those to whom he had delegated his authority. Provided, as he unquestionably was at that moment, with a more energetic representative than any who had before exercised the functions of royal governor in the provinces, he was still disposed to harass, to doubt, and to interfere. With the additional cares of the Portuguese conquest upon his hands, he felt as irresistibly impelled as ever to superintend the minute details of provincial administration. To do this was impossible. It was, however, not impossible, by attempting to do it, to produce much mischief. “It gives me pain,” wrote Granvelle, “to see his Majesty working as before—choosing to understand everything and to do everything. By this course, as I have often said before, he really accomplishes much less.” The king had, moreover, recently committed the profound error of sending the Duchess Margaret of Parma to the Netherlands again. He had the fatuity to believe her memory so tenderly cherished in the provinces as to ensure a burst of loyalty at her reappearance, while the irritation which he thus created in the breast of her son he affected to disregard. The event was what might have been foreseen.
The Netherlanders were very moderately excited by the arrival of their former regent, but the Prince of Parma was furious. His mother actually arrived at Namur in the month of August, 1580, to assume the civil administration of the provinces, and he was himself, according to the king’s request, to continue in the command of the army. Anyone who had known human nature at all, would have recognized that Alexander Farnese was not the man to be put into leading strings. A sovereign who was possessed of any administrative sagacity, would have seen the absurdity of taking the reins of government at that crisis from the hands of a most determined and energetic man, to confide them to the keeping of a woman. A king who was willing to reflect upon the consequences of his own acts, must have foreseen the scandal likely to result from an open quarrel for precedence between such a mother and son. Margaret of Parma was instantly informed, however, by Alexander, that a divided authority like that proposed was entirely out of the question. Both offered to resign, but Alexander was unflinching in his determination to retain all the power or none. The duchess, as docile to her son after her arrival as she had been to the king on undertaking the journey, and feeling herself unequal to the task imposed upon her, implored Philip’s permission to withdraw, almost as soon as she had reached her destination. Granvelle’s opinion was likewise opposed to this interference with the administration of Alexander, and the king at last suffered himself to be overruled. By the end of the year 1581, letters arrived confirming the Prince of Parma in his government, but requesting the Duchess of Parma to remain privately in the Netherlands. She accordingly continued to reside there under an assumed name until the autumn of 1583, when she was at last permitted to return to Italy.
During the summer of 1581, the same spirit of persecution which had inspired the Catholics to inflict such infinite misery upon those of the Reformed faith in the Netherlands, began to manifest itself in overt acts against the papists by those who had at last obtained political ascendency over them. Edicts were published in Antwerp, in Utrecht, and in different cities of Holland, suspending the exercise of the Roman worship. These statutes were certainly a long way removed in horror from those memorable placards which sentenced the Reformers by thousands to the axe, the cord, and the stake, but it was still melancholy to see the persecuted becoming persecutors in their turn. They were excited to these stringent measures by the noisy zeal of certain Dominican monks in Brussels, whose extravagant discourses were daily inflaming the passions of the Catholics to a dangerous degree. The authorities of the city accordingly thought it necessary to suspend, by proclamation, the public exercise of the ancient religion, assigning, as their principal reason for this prohibition, the shocking jugglery by which simple-minded persons were constantly deceived. They alluded particularly to the practice of working miracles by means of relics, pieces of the holy cross, bones of saints, and the perspiration of statues. They charged that bits of lath were daily exhibited as fragments of the cross; that the bones of dogs and monkeys were held up for adoration as those of saints; and that oil was poured habitually into holes drilled in the heads of statues, that the populace might believe in their miraculous sweating. For these reasons, and to avoid the tumult and possible bloodshed to which the disgust excited by such charlatanry might give rise, the Roman Catholic worship was suspended until the country should be restored to greater tranquility. Similar causes led to similar proclamations in other cities. The Prince of Orange lamented the intolerant spirit thus showing itself among those who had been its martyrs, but it was not possible at that moment to keep it absolutely under control.
A most important change was now to take place in his condition, a most vital measure was to be consummated by the provinces. The step, which could never be retraced, was, after long hesitation, finally taken upon the 26th of July, 1581, upon which day the united provinces, assembled at the Hague, solemnly declared their independence of Philip, and renounced their allegiance forever.
This act was accomplished with the deliberation due to its gravity. At the same time it left the country in a very divided condition. This was inevitable. The prince had done all that one man could do to hold the Netherlands together and unite them perpetually into one body politic, and perhaps, if he had been inspired by a keener personal ambition, this task might have been accomplished. The seventeen provinces might have accepted his dominion, but they would agree to that of no other sovereign. Providence had not decreed that the country, after its long agony, should give birth to a single and perfect commonwealth. The Walloon provinces had already fallen off from the cause, notwithstanding the entreaties of the prince. The other Netherlands, after long and tedious negotiation with Anjou, had at last consented to his supremacy, but from this arrangement Holland and Zealand held themselves aloof. By a somewhat anomalous proceeding, they sent deputies along with those of the other provinces, to the conferences with the duke, but it was expressly understood that they would never accept him as sovereign. They were willing to contract with him and with their sister provinces—over which he was soon to exercise authority—a firm and perpetual league, but as to their own chief, their hearts were fixed. The Prince of Orange should be their lord and master, and none other. It lay only in his self-denying character that he had not been clothed with this dignity long before. He had, however, persisted in the hope that all the provinces might be brought to acknowledge the Duke of Anjou as their sovereign, under conditions which constituted a free commonwealth with a hereditary chief, and in this hope he had constantly refused concession to the wishes of the northern provinces. He in reality exercised sovereign power over nearly the whole population of the Netherlands. Already in 1580, at the assembly held in April, the states of Holland had formally requested him to assume the full sovereignty over them, with the title of Count of Holland and Zealand forfeited by Philip. He had not consented, and the proceedings had been kept comparatively secret. As the negotiations with Anjou advanced, and as the corresponding abjuration of Philip was more decisively indicated, the consent of the prince to this request was more warmly urged. As it was evident that the provinces, thus bent upon placing him at their head, could by no possibility be induced to accept the sovereignty of Anjou; as, moreover, the act of renunciation of Philip could no longer be deferred; the Prince of Orange reluctantly and provisionally accepted the supreme power over Holland and Zealand. This arrangement was finally accomplished upon the 24th of July, 1581, and the act of abjuration took place two days afterwards. The offer of the sovereignty over the other united provinces had been accepted by Anjou six months before.
Thus, the Netherlands were divided into three portions, the reconciled provinces, the united provinces under Anjou, and the northern provinces under Orange, the last division forming the germ, already nearly developed, of the coming republic. The constitution, or catalogue of conditions, by which the sovereignty accorded to Anjou was reduced to such narrow limits as to be little more than a nominal authority, while the power remained in the hands of the representative body of the provinces, will be described, somewhat later, together with the inauguration of the duke. For the present it is necessary that the reader should fully understand the relative position of the prince and of the northern provinces. The memorable act of renunciation—the Netherland declaration of independence—will then be briefly explained.
On March 29, 1580, a resolution passed the assembly of Holland and Zealand never to make peace or enter into any negotiations with the King of Spain on the basis of his sovereignty. The same resolution provided that his name—hitherto used in all public acts—should be forever discarded, that his seal should be broken, and that the name and seal of the Prince of Orange should be substituted in all commissions and public documents. At almost the same time, the states of Utrecht passed a similar resolution. These offers were, however, not accepted, and the affair was preserved profoundly secret. On July 5, 1581, “the knights, nobles, and cities of Holland and Zealand,” again, in an urgent and solemn manner, requested the prince to accept the “entire authority as sovereign and chief of the land, as long as the war should continue.” This limitation as to time was inserted most reluctantly by the states, and because it was perfectly well understood that without it the prince would not accept the sovereignty at all. The act by which this dignity was offered, conferred full power to command all forces by land and sea, to appoint all military officers, and to conduct all warlike operations, without the control or advice of any person whatsoever. It authorized him, with consent of the states, to appoint all financial and judicial officers, created him the supreme executive chief, and fountain of justice and pardon, and directed him “to maintain the exercise only of the Reformed evangelical religion, without, however, permitting that inquiries should be made into any man’s belief or conscience, or that any injury or hindrance should be offered to any man on account of his religion.”
The sovereignty thus pressingly offered, and thus limited as to time, was finally accepted by William of Orange, according to a formal act dated at the Hague, July 5, 1581, but it will be perceived that no powers were conferred by this new instrument beyond those already exercised by the prince. It was, as it were, a formal continuance of the functions which he had exercised since 1576 as the king’s stadholder, according to his old commission of 1555, although a vast difference existed in reality. The king’s name was now discarded and his sovereignty disowned, while the proscribed rebel stood in his place, exercising supreme functions, not vicariously, but in his own name. The limitation as to time was, moreover, soon afterwards secretly, and without the knowledge of Orange, cancelled by the states. They were determined that the prince should be their sovereign, if they could make him so, for the term of his life.
The offer having thus been made and accepted upon the fifth of July, oaths of allegiance and fidelity were exchanged between the prince and the estates upon the 24th of the same month. In these solemnities, the states, as representing the provinces, declared that because the King of Spain, contrary to his oath as Count of Holland and Zealand, had not only not protected these provinces, but had sought with all his might to reduce them to eternal slavery, it had been found necessary to forsake him. They therefore proclaimed every inhabitant absolved from allegiance, while at the same time, in the name of the population, they swore fidelity to the Prince of Orange, as representing the supreme authority.
Two days afterwards, upon the 26th of July, 1581, the memorable Declaration of Independence was issued by the deputies of the united provinces, then solemnly assembled at the Hague. It was called the Act of Abjuration. It deposed Philip from his sovereignty, but was not the proclamation of a new form of government, for the united provinces were not ready to dispense with a hereditary chief. Unluckily, they had already provided themselves with a very bad one to succeed Philip in the dominion over most of their territory, while the northern provinces were fortunate enough and wise enough to take the Father of the country for their supreme magistrate.
The document by which the provinces renounced their allegiance was not the most felicitous of their state papers. It was too prolix and technical. Its style had more of the formal phraseology of legal documents than befitted this great appeal to the whole world and to all time. Nevertheless, this is but matter of taste. The Netherlanders were so eminently a law-abiding people, that, like the American patriots of the eighteenth century, they on most occasions preferred punctilious precision to florid declamation. They chose to conduct their revolt according to law. At the same time, while thus decently wrapping herself in conventional garments, the spirit of Liberty revealed nonetheless her majestic proportions.
At the very outset of the Abjuration, these fathers of the Republic laid down wholesome truths, which at that time seemed startling blasphemies in the ears of Christendom. “All mankind know,” said the preamble, “that a prince is appointed by God to cherish his subjects, even as a shepherd to guard his sheep. When, therefore, the prince does not fulfil his duty as protector; when he oppresses his subjects, destroys their ancient liberties, and treats them as slaves, he is to be considered, not a prince, but a tyrant. As such, the estates of the land may lawfully and reasonably depose him, and elect another in his room.”
Having enunciated these maxims, the estates proceeded to apply them to their own case, and certainly never was an ampler justification for renouncing a prince since princes were first instituted. The states ran through the history of the past quarter of a century, patiently accumulating a load of charges against the monarch, a tithe of which would have furnished cause for his dethronement. Without passion or exaggeration, they told the world their wrongs. The picture was not highly colored. On the contrary, it was rather a feeble than a striking portrait of the monstrous iniquity which had so long been established over them. Nevertheless, they went through the narrative conscientiously and earnestly. They spoke of the king’s early determination to govern the Netherlands, not by natives but by Spaniards; to treat them not as constitutional countries, but as conquered provinces; to regard the inhabitants not as liege subjects, but as enemies; above all, to supersede their ancient liberty by the Spanish Inquisition, and they alluded to the first great step in this scheme—the creation of the new bishoprics, each with its staff of inquisitors.
They noticed the memorable Petition, the mission of Berghen and Montigny, their imprisonment and taking off, in violation of all national law, even that which had ever been held sacred by the most cruel and tyrannical princes. They sketched the history of Alva’s administration; his entrapping the most eminent nobles by false promises, and delivering them to the executioner; his countless sentences of death, outlawry, and confiscation; his erection of citadels to curb; his imposition of the tenth and twentieth penny to exhaust the land; his Blood-Council and its achievements; and the immeasurable woe produced by hanging, burning, banishing, and plundering, during his seven years of residence. They adverted to the Grand Commander, as having been sent, not to improve the condition of the country, but to pursue the same course of tyranny by more concealed ways. They spoke of the horrible mutiny which broke forth at his death; of the Antwerp Fury; of the express approbation rendered to that great outrage by the king, who had not only praised the crime, but promised to recompense the criminals. They alluded to Don John of Austria and his duplicity, to his pretended confirmation of the Ghent treaty, to his attempts to divide the country against itself, to the Escovedo policy, to the intrigues with the German regiments. They touched upon the Cologne negotiations, and the fruitless attempt of the patriots upon that occasion to procure freedom of religion, while the object of the royalists was only to distract and divide the nation. Finally, they commented with sorrow and despair upon that last and crowning measure of tyranny—the ban against the Prince of Orange.
They calmly observed, after this recital, that they were sufficiently justified in forsaking a sovereign who for more than twenty years had forsaken them. Obeying the law of nature; desirous of maintaining the rights, charters, and liberties of their fatherland; determined to escape from slavery to Spaniards; and making known their decision to the world, they declared the King of Spain deposed from his sovereignty, and proclaimed that they should recognize thenceforth neither his title nor jurisdiction. Three days afterwards, on the 29th of July, the assembly adopted a formula by which all persons were to be required to signify their abjuration.
Such were the forms by which the united provinces threw off their allegiance to Spain, and ipso facto established a republic, which was to flourish for two centuries. This result, however, was not exactly foreseen by the congress which deposed Philip. The fathers of the commonwealth did not baptize it by the name of Republic. They did not contemplate a change in their form of government. They had neither an aristocracy nor a democracy in their thoughts. Like the actors in our own great national drama, these Netherland patriots were struggling to sustain, not to overthrow; unlike them, they claimed no theoretical freedom for humanity, promulgated no doctrine of popular sovereignty; they insisted merely on the fulfillment of actual contracts, signed, sealed, and sworn to by many successive sovereigns. Acting upon the principle that government should be for the benefit of the governed, and in conformity to the dictates of reason and justice, they examined the facts by those divine lights, and discovered cause to discard their ruler. They did not object to being ruled. They were satisfied with their historical institutions, and preferred the mixture of hereditary sovereignty with popular representation, to which they were accustomed. They did not devise an à priori constitution. Philip, having violated the law of reason and the statutes of the land, was deposed, and a new chief magistrate was to be elected in his stead. This was popular sovereignty in fact, but not in words. The deposition and election could be legally justified only by the inherent right of the people to depose and to elect; yet the provinces, in their Declaration of Independence, spoke of the divine right of kings, even while dethroning, by popular right, their own king!
So also, in the instructions given by the states to their envoys charged to justify the abjuration before the Imperial diet held at Augsburg, twelve months later, the highest ground was claimed for the popular right to elect or depose the sovereign, while at the same time, kings were spoken of as “appointed by God.” It is true that they were described, in the same clause, as “chosen by the people”—which was, perhaps, as exact a concurrence in the maxim of Vox populi, vox Dei, as the boldest democrat of the day could demand. In truth, a more democratic course would have defeated its own ends. The murderous and mischievous pranks of Imbize, Ryhove, and such demagogues, at Ghent and elsewhere, with their wild theories of what they called Grecian, Roman, and Helvetian republicanism, had inflicted damage enough on the cause of freedom, and had paved the road for the return of royal despotism. The senators assembled at the Hague gave more moderate instructions to their delegates at Augsburg. They were to place the king’s tenure upon contract—not an implied one, but a contract as literal as the lease of a farm. The house of Austria, they were to maintain, had come into the possession of the seventeen Netherlands upon certain express conditions, and with the understanding that its possession was to cease with the first condition broken. It was a question of law and fact, not of royal or popular right. They were to take the ground, not only that the contract had been violated, but that the foundation of perpetual justice upon which it rested, had likewise been undermined. It was time to vindicate both written charters and general principles. “God has given absolute power to no mortal man,” said Saint Aldegonde, “to do his own will against all laws and all reason.” “The contracts which the king has broken are no pedantic fantasies,” said the estates, “but laws planted by nature in the universal heart of mankind, and expressly acquiesced in by prince and people.”
All men, at least, who speak the English tongue, will accept the conclusion of the provinces, that when laws which protected the citizen against arbitrary imprisonment and guaranteed him a trial in his own province, which forbade the appointment of foreigners to high office, which secured the property of the citizen from taxation except by the representative body, which forbade intermeddling on the part of the sovereign with the conscience of the subject in religious matters—when such laws had been subverted by blood tribunals, where drowsy judges sentenced thousands to stake and scaffold without a hearing; by excommunication, confiscation, banishment; by hanging, beheading, burning, to such enormous extent and with such terrible monotony that the executioner’s sword came to be looked upon as the only symbol of justice; then surely it might be said, without exaggeration, that the complaints of the Netherlanders were “no pedantic fantasies,” and that the king had ceased to perform his functions as dispenser of God’s justice.
The Netherlanders dealt with facts. They possessed a body of laws, monuments of their national progress, by which as good a share of individual liberty was secured to the citizen as was then enjoyed in any country of the world. Their institutions admitted of great improvement, no doubt; but it was natural that a people so circumstanced should be unwilling to exchange their condition for the vassalage of “Moors or Indians.”
At the same time it may be doubted whether the instinct for political freedom only would have sustained them in the long contest, and whether the bonds which united them to the Spanish Crown would have been broken, had it not been for the stronger passion for religious liberty, by which so large a portion of the people was animated. Boldly as the united states of the Netherlands laid down their political maxims, the quarrel might perhaps have been healed if the religious question had admitted of a peaceable solution. Philip’s bigotry amounting to frenzy, and the Netherlanders of “the religion” being willing, in their own words, “to die the death” rather than abandon the Reformed faith, there was upon this point no longer room for hope. In the act of abjuration, however, it was thought necessary to give offense to no class of the inhabitants, but to lay down such principles only as enlightened Catholics would not oppose. All parties abhorred the Inquisition, and hatred to that institution is ever prominent among the causes assigned for the deposition of the monarch. “Under pretence of maintaining the Roman religion,” said the estates, “the king has sought by evil means to bring into operation the whole strength of the placards and of the Inquisition—the first and true cause of all our miseries.”
Without making any assault upon the Roman Catholic faith, the authors of the great act by which Philip was forever expelled from the Netherlands showed plainly enough that religious persecution had driven them at last to extremity. At the same time, they were willing, for the sake of conciliating all classes of their countrymen, to bring the political causes of discontent into the foreground, and to use discreet language upon the religious question.
Such, then, being the spirit which prompted the provinces upon this great occasion, it may be asked, who were the men who signed a document of such importance? In whose name and by what authority did they act against the sovereign? The signers of the Declaration of Independence acted in the name and by the authority of the Netherland people. The estates were the constitutional representatives of that people. The statesmen of that day discovering, upon cold analysis of facts, that Philip’s sovereignty was legally forfeited, formally proclaimed that forfeiture. Then inquiring what had become of the sovereignty, they found it not in the mass of the people, but in the representative body, which actually personated the people. The estates of the different provinces—consisting of the knights, nobles, and burgesses of each—sent, accordingly, their deputies to the general assembly at the Hague, and by this congress the decree of abjuration was issued. It did not occur to anyone to summon the people in their primary assemblies, nor would the people of that day have comprehended the objects of such a summons. They were accustomed to the action of the estates, and those bodies represented as large a number of political capacities as could be expected of assemblies chosen then upon general principles. The hour had not arrived for more profound analysis of the social compact. Philip was accordingly deposed justly, legally, formally—justly, because it had become necessary to abjure a monarch who was determined not only to oppress but to exterminate his people; legally, because he had habitually violated the constitutions which he had sworn to support; formally, because the act was done in the name of the people, by the body historically representing the people.
What, then, was the condition of the nation, after this great step had been taken? It stood, as it were, with its sovereignty in its hand, dividing it into two portions, and offering it, thus separated, to two distinct individuals. The sovereignty of Holland and Zealand had been reluctantly accepted by Orange. The sovereignty of the united provinces had been offered to Anjou, but the terms of agreement with that duke had not yet been ratified. The movement was therefore triple, consisting of an abjuration and of two separate elections of hereditary chiefs, these two elections being accomplished in the same manner, by the representative bodies respectively of the united provinces, and of Holland and Zealand. Neither the abjuration nor the elections were acted upon beforehand by the communities, the train-bands, or the guilds of the cities—all represented, in fact, by the magistrates and councils of each; nor by the peasantry of the open country—all supposed to be represented by the knights and nobles. All classes of individuals, however, arranged in various political or military combinations, gave their acquiescence afterwards, together with their oaths of allegiance. The people approved the important steps taken by their representatives.
Without a direct intention on the part of the people or its leaders to establish a republic, the Republic established itself. Providence did not permit the whole country, so full of wealth, intelligence, healthy political action, so stocked with powerful cities and an energetic population, to be combined into one free and prosperous commonwealth. The factious ambition of a few grandees, the cynical venality of many nobles, the frenzy of the Ghent democracy, the spirit of religious intolerance, the consummate military and political genius of Alexander Farnese, the exaggerated self-abnegation and the tragic fate of Orange, all united to dissever this group of flourishing and kindred provinces.
The want of personal ambition on the part of William the Silent inflicted perhaps a serious damage upon his country. He believed a single chief requisite for the united states; he might have been, but always refused to become that chief; and yet he has been held up for centuries by many writers as a conspirator and a self-seeking intriguer. “It seems to me,” said he, with equal pathos and truth, upon one occasion, “that I was born in this bad planet that all which I do might be misinterpreted.” The people worshipped him, and there was many an occasion when his election would have been carried with enthusiasm. “These provinces,” said John of Nassau, “are coming very unwillingly into the arrangement with the Duke of Alençon. The majority feel much more inclined to elect the prince, who is daily, and without intermission, implored to give his consent. His Grace, however, will in no wise agree to this; not because he fears the consequences, such as loss of property or increased danger, for therein he is plunged as deeply as he ever could be; on the contrary, if he considered only the interests of his race and the grandeur of his house, he could expect nothing but increase of honor, gold, and gear, with all other prosperity. He refuses only on this account—that it may not be thought that, instead of religious freedom for the country, he has been seeking a kingdom for himself and his own private advancement. Moreover, he believes that the connection with France will be of more benefit to the country and to Christianity than if a peace should be made with Spain, or than if he should himself accept the sovereignty, as he is desired to do.”
The unfortunate negotiations with Anjou, to which no man was more opposed than Count John, proceeded therefore. In the meantime, the sovereignty over the united provinces was provisionally held by the national council, and, at the urgent solicitation of the states-general, by the prince. The Archduke Matthias, whose functions were most unceremoniously brought to an end by the transactions which we have been recording, took his leave of the states, and departed in the month of October. Brought to the country a beardless boy, by the intrigues of a faction who wished to use him as a tool against William of Orange, he had quietly submitted, on the contrary, to serve as the instrument of that great statesman. His personality during his residence was null, and he had to expiate, by many a petty mortification, by many a bitter tear, the boyish ambition which brought him to the Netherlands. He had certainly had ample leisure to repent the haste with which he had got out of his warm bed in Vienna to take his bootless journey to Brussels. Nevertheless, in a country where so much baseness, cruelty, and treachery was habitually practiced by men of high position, as was the case in the Netherlands, it is something in favor of Matthias that he had not been base, or cruel, or treacherous. The states voted him, on his departure, a pension of 50,000 guldens annually, which was probably not paid with exemplary regularity.