While these matters were in progress, an important movement was made by the estates-general. The Prince of Orange was formally and urgently invited to come to Brussels to aid them with his counsel and presence. The condemned traitor had not set foot in the capital for eleven years. We have narrated the circumstance of his departure, while the advancing trumpets of Alva’s army were almost heard in the distance. His memorable and warning interview with Egmont has been described. Since that period, although his spirit had always been manifesting itself in the capital like an actual presence, although he had been the magnet towards which the states throughout all their oscillations had involuntarily vibrated, yet he had been ever invisible. He had been summoned by the Blood-Council to stand his trial, and had been condemned to death by default. He answered the summons by a defiance, and the condemnation by two campaigns, unsuccessful in appearance, but which had in reality prostrated the authority of the sovereign.
Since that period, the representative of royalty had sued the condemned traitor for forgiveness. The haughty brother of Philip had almost gone upon his knees, that the prince might name his terms, and accept the proffered hand of majesty. The prince had refused, not from contumely, but from distrust. He had spurned the supplications, as he had defied the proscription of the king. There could be no friendship between the destroyer and the protector of a people. Had the prince desired only the reversal of his death sentence, and the infinite aggrandizement of his family, we have seen how completely he had held these issues in his power. Never had it been more easy, plausible, tempting, for a proscribed patriot to turn his back upon an almost sinking cause. We have seen how his brave and subtle Batavian prototype, Civilis, dealt with the representative of Roman despotism. The possible or impossible Netherland Republic of the first century of our era had been reluctantly abandoned, but the modern Civilis had justly more confidence in his people.
And now again the scene was changed. The son of the Emperor, the king’s brother, was virtually beleaguered; the proscribed rebel had arrived at victory through a long series of defeats. The nation everywhere acknowledged him master, and was in undisguised revolt against the anointed sovereign. The great nobles, who hated Philip on the one hand, and the Reformed religion on the other, were obliged, in obedience to the dictates of a people with whom they had little sympathy, to accept the ascendency of the Calvinist prince, of whom they were profoundly jealous. Even the fleeting and incapable Aerschot was obliged to simulate adhesion; even the brave Champagny, cordial hater of Spaniards, but most devotedly Catholic, “the chiefest man of wysedome and stomach at that tyme in Brussels,” so envoy Wilson wrote to Burghley, had become “Brabantized,” as his brother Granvelle expressed himself, and was one of the commissioners to invite the great rebel to Brussels. The other envoys were the Abbot of Saint Gertrude, Dr. Leoninus, and the Seigneur de Liesvelt. These gentlemen, on arriving at Gertruydenberg, presented a brief but very important memorial to the prince. In that document they informed him that the states-general, knowing how efficacious would be his presence, by reason of his singular prudence, experience, and love for the welfare and repose of the country, had unanimously united in a supplication that he would incontinently transport himself to the city of Brussels, there to advise with them concerning the necessities of the land; but, as the principal calumny employed by their adversaries was that all the provinces and leading personages intended to change both sovereign and religion, at the instigation of his Excellency, it was desirable to disprove such fictions. They therefore very earnestly requested the prince to make some contrary demonstration, by which it might be manifest to all that his Excellency, together with the estates of Holland and Zealand, intended faithfully to keep what they had promised. They prayed, therefore, that the prince, permitting the exercise of the Roman Catholic religion in the places which had recently accepted his authority, would also allow its exercise in Holland and Zealand. They begged, further, that he would promise by a new and authentic act, that the provinces of Holland and Zealand would not suffer the said exercise to be impugned, or any new worship to be introduced, in the other provinces of the Netherlands.
This letter might almost be regarded as a trap, set by the Catholic nobles. Certainly the Ghent Pacification forbade the Reformed religion in form, and as certainly winked at its exercise in fact. The proof was, that the new worship was spreading everywhere, that the exiles for conscience’ sake were returning in swarms, and that the synod of the Reformed churches, lately held at Dort, had been publicly attended by the ministers and deacons of numerous dissenting churches established in many different places throughout all the provinces. The pressure of the edicts, the horror of the inquisition being removed, the down-trodden religion had sprung from the earth more freshly than ever.
The prince was not likely to fall into the trap, if a trap had really been intended. He answered the envoys loyally, but with distinct reservations. He did not even accept the invitation, save on condition that his visit to Brussels should be expressly authorized by Holland and Zealand. Notwithstanding his desire once more to behold his dear country, and to enjoy the good company of his best friends and brothers, he felt it his duty to communicate beforehand with the states of those two provinces, between which and himself there had been such close and reciprocal obligations, such long-tried and faithful affection. He therefore begged to refer the question to the assembly of the said provinces about to be held at Gouda, where, in point of fact, the permission for his journey was, not without considerable difficulty, a few days afterwards obtained.
With regard to the more difficult requests addressed to him in the memorial, he professed generally his intention to execute the treaty of Ghent. He observed, however, that the point of permitting the exercise of the Roman Catholic religion in Holland and Zealand regarded principally the estates of these provinces, which had contracted for no innovation in this matter, at least till the assembling of the states-general. He therefore suggested that he neither could, nor ought to, permit any innovation, without the knowledge and consent of those estates. As to promising by authentic act, that neither he nor the two provinces would suffer the exercise of the Catholic religion to be in any wise impugned in the rest of the Netherlands, the prince expressed himself content to promise that, according to the said Ghent Pacification, they would suffer no attempt to be made against the public repose or against the Catholic worship. He added that, as he had no intention of usurping any superiority over the states-general assembled at Brussels, he was content to leave the settlement of this point to their free will and wisdom, engaging himself neither to offer nor permit any hindrance to their operations.
With this answer the deputies are said to have been well pleased. If they were so, it must be confessed that they were thankful for small favors. They had asked to have the Catholic religion introduced into Holland and Zealand. The prince had simply referred them to the estates of these provinces. They had asked him to guarantee that the exercise of the Reformed religion should not be “procured” in the rest of the country. He had merely promised that the Catholic worship would not be prevented. The difference between the terms of the request and the reply was sufficiently wide.
The consent to his journey was with difficulty accorded by the estates of Holland and Zealand, and his wife, with many tears and anxious forebodings, beheld him depart for a capital where the heads of his brave and powerful friends had fallen, and where still lurked so many of his deadly foes. During his absence, prayers were offered daily for his safety in all the churches of Holland and Zealand, by command of the estates.
He arrived at Antwerp on the 17th of September, and was received with extraordinary enthusiasm. The prince, who had gone forth alone, without even a bodyguard, had the whole population of the great city for his buckler. Here he spent five days, observing, with many a sigh, the melancholy changes which had taken place in the long interval of his absence. The recent traces of the horrible “Fury,” the blackened walls of the Hôtel de Ville, the prostrate ruins of the marble streets, which he had known as the most imposing in Europe, could be hardly atoned for in his eyes even by the more grateful spectacle of the dismantled fortress.
On the 23rd of September he was attended by a vast concourse of citizens to the new canal which led to Brussels, where three barges were in waiting for himself and suite. In one a banquet was spread; in the second, adorned with emblematic devices and draped with the banners of the seventeen provinces, he was to perform the brief journey; while the third had been filled by the inevitable rhetoric societies, with all the wonders of their dramatic and plastic ingenuity. Rarely had such a complication of vices and virtues, of crushed dragons, victorious archangels, broken fetters, and resurgent nationalities, been seen before, within the limits of a single canal boat. The affection was, however, sincere, and the spirit noble, even though the taste which presided at these demonstrations may have been somewhat pedantic.
The prince was met several miles before the gates of Brussels by a procession of nearly half the inhabitants of the city, and thus escorted, he entered the capital in the afternoon of the 23rd of September. It was the proudest day of his life. The representatives of all the provinces, supported by the most undeniable fervor of the united Netherland people, greeted “Father William.” Perplexed, discordant, hating, fearing, doubting, they could believe nothing, respect nothing, love nothing, save the “Tranquil” Prince. His presence at that moment in Brussels was the triumph of the people and of religious toleration. He meant to make use of the crisis to extend and to secure popular rights, and to establish the supremacy of the states-general under the nominal sovereignty of some prince, who was yet to be selected, while the executive body was to be a state-council, appointed by the states-general. So far as appears, he had not decided as to the future protector, but he had resolved that it should be neither himself nor Philip of Spain. The outlaw came to Brussels prepared at last to trample out a sovereignty which had worked its own forfeiture. So far as he had made any election within his breast, his choice inclined to the miserable Duke of Anjou, a prince whom he never came to know as posterity has known him, but whom he at least learned to despise. Thus far the worthless and paltry intriguer still wore the heroic mask, deceiving even such farseeing politicians as Saint Aldegonde and the prince.
William’s first act was to put a stop to the negotiations already on foot with Don John. He intended that they should lead to war, because peace was impossible, except a peace for which civil and religious liberty would be bartered, for it was idle, in his opinion, to expect the maintenance by the Spanish governor of the Ghent Pacification, whatever promises might be extorted from his fears. A deputation, in the name of the states, had already been sent with fresh propositions to Don John, at Namur. The envoys were Caspar Schetz and the Bishop of Bruges. They had nearly come to an amicable convention with the governor, the terms of which had been sent to the states-general for approval, at the very moment of the prince’s arrival in Brussels. Orange, with great promptness, prevented the ratification of these terms, which the estates had in reality already voted to accept. New articles were added to those which had originally been laid before Don John. It was now stipulated that the Ghent treaty and the Perpetual Edict should be maintained. The governor was required forthwith to abandon Namur Castle, and to dismiss the German troops. He was to give up the other citadels and strong places, and to disband all the soldiers in his service. He was to command the governors of every province to prohibit the entrance of all foreign levies. He was forthwith to release captives, restore confiscated property, and reinstate officers who had been removed; leaving the details of such restorations to the council of Mechlin and the other provincial tribunals. He was to engage that the Count Van Buren should be set free within two months. He was himself, while waiting, for the appointment of his successor, to take up his residence in Luxemburg, and while there, he was to be governed entirely by the decision of the State Council, expressed by a majority of its members. Furthermore, and as not the least stinging of these sharp requisitions, the Queen of England—she who had been the secret ally of Orange, and whose crown the governor had secretly meant to appropriate—was to be included in the treaty.
It could hardly excite surprise that Don John, receiving these insolent propositions at the very moment in which he heard of the triumphant entrance into Brussels of the prince, should be filled with rage and mortification. Never was champion of the Cross thus braved by infidels before. The Ghent treaty, according to the Orange interpretation—that is to say, heresy made legitimate—was to be the law of the land. His Majesty was to surrender—colors and cannon—to his revolted subjects. The royal authority was to be superseded by that of a State Council, appointed by the states-general, at the dictation of the prince. The governor-general himself, brother of his Catholic Majesty, was to sit quietly with folded arms in Luxemburg, while the arch heretic and rebel reigned supreme in Brussels. It was too much to expect that the choleric soldier would be content with what he could not help regarding as a dishonorable capitulation. The arrangement seemed to him about as reasonable as it would have been to invite Sultan Selim to the Escorial, and to send Philip to reside at Bayonne. He could not but regard the whole proposition as an insolent declaration of war. He was right. It was a declaration of war, as much so as if proclaimed by trump of herald. How could Don John refuse the wager of battle thus haughtily proffered? Smooth Schetz, Lord of Grobbendonck, and his episcopal colleague, in vain attempted to calm the governor’s wrath, which now flamed forth, in defiance of all considerations.
They endeavored, without success, to palliate the presence of Orange, and the circumstances of his reception, for it was not probable that their eloquence would bring the governor to look at the subject with their eyes. Three days were agreed upon for the suspension of hostilities, and Don John was highly indignant that the estates would grant no longer a truce. The refusal was, however, reasonable enough on their part, for they were aware that veteran Spaniards and Italians were constantly returning to him, and that he was daily strengthening his position. The envoys returned to Brussels, to give an account of the governor’s rage, which they could not declare to be unnatural, and to assist in preparations for the war, which was now deemed inevitable. Don John, leaving a strong garrison in the citadel of Namur, from which place he dispatched a final communication to the estates-general, dated the second of October, retired to Luxemburg. In this letter, without exactly uttering defiance, he unequivocally accepted the hostilities which had been pressed upon him, and answered their hollow professions of attachment to the Catholic religion and his Majesty’s authority by denouncing their obvious intentions to trample upon both. He gave them, in short, to understand that he perceived their intentions, and meant them to comprehend his own.
Thus the quarrel was brought to an issue, and Don John saw with grim complacency, that the pen was at last to be superseded by the sword. A remarkable pamphlet was now published, in seven different languages, Latin, French, Flemish, German, Italian, Spanish, and English, containing a succinct account of the proceedings between the governor and the estates, together with copies of the intercepted letters of Don John and Escovedo to the king, to Perez, to the German colonels, and to the Empress. This work, composed and published by order of the estates-general, was transmitted with an accompanying address to every potentate in Christendom. It was soon afterwards followed by a counter-statement, prepared by order of Don John, and containing his account of the same matters, with his recriminations against the conduct of the estates.
Another important movement had, meanwhile, been made by the third party in this complicated game. The Catholic nobles, jealous of the growing influence of Orange, and indignant at the expanding power of the people, had opened secret negotiations with the Archduke Matthias, then a mild, easy-tempered youth of twenty, brother of the reigning emperor, Rudolph. After the matter had been discussed some time in secret, it was resolved, towards the end of September, to send a messenger to Vienna, privately inviting the young prince to Brussels, but much to the surprise of these nobles, it was discovered that some fifteen or sixteen of the grandees of the land, among them Aerschot, Havré, Champagny, De Ville, Lalain, De Héze, and others, had already taken the initiative in the matter. On the 26th of August, the Seigneurde Maalsteede had set forth, by their appointment, for Vienna. There is no doubt that this step originated in jealousy felt towards Orange, but at the same time it is certain that several of the leaders in the enterprise were still his friends. Some, like Champagny, and De Héze, were honestly so; others, like Aerschot, Havré, and De Ville, always traitors in heart to the national cause, loyal to nothing but their own advancement, were still apparently upon the best terms with him. Moreover, it is certain that he had been made aware of the scheme, at least, before the arrival of the Archduke in the Netherlands, for the Marquis Havré, on his way to England, as special envoy from the estates, had a conference with him at Gertruydenberg. This was in the middle of September, and before his departure for Brussels. Naturally, the proposition seemed, at first, anything but agreeable, but the marquis represented himself afterwards as having at last induced the prince to look upon it with more favorable eyes. Nevertheless, the step had been taken before the consultation was held, nor was it the first time that the advice of Orange had been asked concerning the adoption of a measure after the measure had been adopted.
Whatever may have been his original sentiments upon the subject, however, he was always less apt to complain of irrevocable events than quick to reconcile them with his own combinations, and it was soon to be discovered that the new stumbling-block which his opponents had placed in his path, could be converted into an additional stepping-stone towards his goal. Meanwhile, the secret invitation to the archduke was regarded by the people and by foreign spectators as a plot devised by his enemies. Davison, envoy from Queen Elizabeth, was then in Brussels, and informed his royal mistress, whose sentiments and sympathies were unequivocally in favor of Orange, of the intrigues against the princes. The efforts of England were naturally to counteract the schemes of all who interfered with his policy, the queen especially, with her customary sagacity, foreseeing the probable inclination of the Catholic nobles towards the protectorate of Alençon. She did not feel certain as to the precise plans of Orange, and there was no course better adapted to draw her from barren coquetry into positive engagements, than to arouse her jealousy of the French influence in the provinces. At this moment, she manifested the warmest friendship for the prince. Costly presents were transmitted by her to his wife, among others, an ornament, of which a sculptured lizard formed a part. The princess, in a graceful letter to her husband, desiring that her acknowledgments should be presented to her English Majesty, accepted the present as significative. “’Tis the fabled virtue of the lizard (she said) to awaken sleepers whom a serpent is about to sting. You are the lizard, and the Netherlands the sleepers—pray Heaven they may escape the serpent’s bite!” The prince was well aware, therefore, of the plots which were weaving against him. He had small faith in the great nobles, whom he trusted “as he would adders fanged,” and relied only upon the communities, upon the mass of burghers. They deserved his confidence, and watched over his safety with jealous care. On one occasion, when he was engaged at the State Council till a late hour, the citizens conceived so much alarm, that a large number of them spontaneously armed themselves, and repaired to the palace. The prince, informed of the circumstance, threw open a window and addressed them, thanking them for their friendship and assuring them of his safety. They were not satisfied, however, to leave him alone, but remained under arms below till the session was terminated, when they escorted him with affectionate respect to his own hotel.
The secret envoy arrived in Vienna, and excited the ambition of the youthful Matthias. It must be confessed that the offer could hardly be a very tempting one, and it excites our surprise that the archduke should have thought the adventure worth the seeking. A most anomalous position in the Netherlands was offered to him by a slender and irresponsible faction of Netherlanders. There was a triple prospect before him—that of a hopeless intrigue against the first politician in Europe, a mortal combat with the most renowned conqueror of the age, a deadly feud with the most powerful and revengeful monarch in the world. Into this threefold enterprise he was about to plunge without any adequate resources, for the archduke possessed no experience, power, or wealth. He brought, therefore, no strength to a cause which was itself feeble. He could hope for no protection, nor inspire any confidence. Nevertheless, he had courage, pliability, and a turn for political adventure. Visions of the discomfited Philip conferring the hand of his daughter, with the Netherlands as her dowry, upon the enterprising youth who, at this juncture, should succeed in overturning the Spanish authority in that country, were conjured up by those who originated the plot, and he was weak enough to consider such absurdities plausible, and to set forth at once to take possession of this castle in the air.
On the evening of October 3, 1577, he retired to rest at eight o’clock, feigning extreme drowsiness. After waiting till his brother Maximilian, who slept in another bed in the same chamber, was asleep, he slipped from his couch and from the room in his night apparel, without even putting on his slippers. He was soon after provided by the companions of his flight with the disguise of a servant, arrayed in which, with his face blackened, he made his escape by midnight from Vienna, but it is doubtful whether Rudolph were as ignorant as he affected to be of the scheme. The archduke arrived at Cologne, attended only by two gentlemen and a few servants. The governor was beside himself with fury; the Queen of England was indignant; the prince only, against whom the measure was mainly directed, preserved his usual tranquility.
Secretary Walsingham, as soon as the news reached England, sent for Meetkercke, colleague of Marquis Havré in the mission from the estates. He informed that functionary of the great perplexity and excitement which, according to information received from the English resident, Davison, were then prevailing in Brussels, on account of the approach of the archduke. Some, he said, were for receiving him at one place, some at another; others were in favor of forbidding his entrance altogether. Things had been sufficiently complicated before, without this additional cause of confusion. Don John was strengthening himself daily, through the secret agency of the Duke of Guise and his party. His warlike genius was well known, as well as the experience of the soldiers who were fast rallying under his banner. On the other hand, the Duke of Alençon had come to La Fére, and was also raising troops, while to oppose this crowd of rival enemies, to deal with this host of impending disasters, there was but one man in the Netherlands. On the Prince of Orange alone could the distracted states rely. To his prudence and valor only could the queen look with hopeful eyes. The secretary proceeded to inform the envoy, therefore, that her Majesty would feel herself compelled to withdraw all succor from the states if the Prince of Orange were deprived of his leadership, for it was upon that leadership only that she had relied for obtaining a successful result. She was quite indisposed to encounter indefinite risk with an impossibility of profit.
Meetkercke replied to the secretary by observing that the great nobles of the land had been unanimous in desiring a new governor-general at this juncture. They had thought Matthias, with a strong Council of State, composed of native Netherlanders, to control him, likely to prove a serviceable candidate for the post. They had reason to believe that, after he should be received, the Emperor would be reconciled to the measure, and that by his intercession the King of Spain would be likewise induced to acquiesce. He alluded, moreover, to the conference between the Marquis of Havré and Orange at Gertruydenberg, and quoted the opinion of the prince that it would be unwise, after the invitation had been given, to insult the archduke and his whole imperial house, by treating him with indignity upon his arrival. It was inevitable, said the envoy, that differences of opinion should exist in large assemblies, but according to information which he had recently received from Marquis Havré, then in Brussels, affairs had already become smooth again. At the conclusion of the conference, Walsingham repeated emphatically that the only condition upon which the queen would continue her succor to the Netherlands was that the prince should be forthwith appointed lieutenant-general for the archduke.
The immediate result of this movement was that Matthias was received at Antwerp by Orange at the head of 2,000 cavalry, and attended by a vast concourse of inhabitants. Had the prince chosen a contrary course, the Archduke might have been compelled to return, somewhat ridiculously, to Vienna; but, at the same time, the anger of the Emperor and of all Germany would have been aroused against Orange and the cause he served. Had the prince, on the contrary, abandoned the field himself, and returned to Holland, he would have left the game in the hands of his adversaries. Ever since he had made what his brother John called that “dangerous gallows journey” to Brussels, his influence had been culminating daily, and the jealousy of the great nobles rising as rapidly. Had he now allowed himself to be driven from his post, he would have exactly fulfilled their object. By remaining, he counteracted their schemes. By taking Matthias wholly into his own possession, he obtained one piece the more in the great game which he was playing against his antagonist in the Escorial. By making adroit use of events as they arose, he made the very waves which were to sink him, carry his great cause triumphantly onward.
The first result of the invitation to Matthias was the election of Orange as Ruward of Brabant. This office was one of great historical dignity, but somewhat anomalous in its functions. The province of Brabant, having no special governor, was usually considered under the immediate superintendence of the governor-general. As the capital of Brabant was the residence of that functionary, no inconvenience from this course had been felt since the accession of the house of Burgundy. At present, however, the condition of affairs was so peculiar—the seat of government being empty without having been permanently vacated—that a special opportunity was offered for conferring both honor and power on the prince. A ruward was not exactly dictator, although his authority was universal. He was not exactly protector, nor governor, nor stadholder. His functions were unlimited as to time—therefore superior to those of an ancient dictator; they were commonly conferred on the natural heir to the sovereignty—therefore more lofty than those of ordinary stadholders. The individuals who had previously held the office in the Netherlands had usually reigned afterwards in their own right. Duke Albert, of the Bavarian line, for example, had been Ruward of Hainault and Holland, for thirty years, during the insanity of his brother, and on the death of Duke William had succeeded to his title. Philip of Burgundy had declared himself Ruward of Brabant in 1427, and had shortly afterwards deprived Jacqueline of all her titles and appropriated them to himself. In the one case the regent, in the second case the usurper, had become reigning prince. Thus the movement of the jealous nobles against the prince had for its first effect his immediate appointment to an office whose chief characteristic was that it conducted to sovereignty.
The election was accomplished thus. The “members,” or estates of Brussels, together with the deans, guilds, and other of the principal citizens of Antwerp, addressed a request to the states of Brabant, that William of Orange should be appointed Ruward, and after long deliberation the measure was carried. The unsolicited honor was then solemnly offered to him. He refused, and was only, after repeated and urgent entreaties, induced to accept the office. The matter was then referred to the states-general, who confirmed the dignity, after some demur, and with the condition that it might be superseded by the appointment of a governor-general. He was finally confirmed as Ruward on the 22nd of October, to the boundless satisfaction of the people, who celebrated the event by a solemn holiday in Antwerp, Brussels, and other cities. His friends, inspired by the intrigues of his enemies, had thus elevated the prince to almost unlimited power, while a strong expression in favor of his government had been elicited from the most important ally of the Netherlands—England. It soon rested with himself only to assume the government of Flanders, having been elected stadholder, not once only, but many times, by the four estates of that important province, and having as constantly refused the dignity. With Holland and Zealand devoted to him, Brabant and Flanders formally under his government, the Netherland capital lavishing testimonials of affection upon him, and the mass of the people almost worshipping him, it would not have been difficult for the prince to play a game as selfish as it had hitherto been close and skillful. He might have proved to the grand seigniors that their suspicions were just, by assuming a crown which they had been intriguing to push from his brows. Certainly the nobles deserved their defeat. They had done their best to circumvent Orange, in all ways and at all times. They had paid their court to power when it was most powerful, and had sought to swim on the popular tide when it was rising. He avenged himself upon their perfidy only by serving his country more faithfully thin ever, but it was natural that he should be indignant at the conduct of these gentlemen, “children of good houses” (in his own words), “issue of worthy sires,” whose fathers, at least, he had ever loved and honored.
“They serve the Duke of Alva and the Grand Commander like varlets,” he cried, “they make war upon me to the knife. Afterwards they treat with me, they reconcile themselves with me, they are sworn foes of the Spaniard. Don John arrives, and they follow him; they intrigue for my ruin. Don John fails in his enterprise upon Antwerp citadel; they quit him incontinently and call upon me. No sooner do I come than, against their oath and without previous communication with the states or myself, they call upon the Archduke Matthias. Are the waves of the sea more inconstant—is Euripus more uncertain than the counsels of such men?”
While these events were occurring at Brussels and Antwerp, a scene of a different nature was enacting at Ghent. The Duke of Aerschot had recently been appointed to the government of Flanders by the State Council, but the choice was exceedingly distasteful to a large number of the inhabitants. Although, since the defeat of Don John’s party in Antwerp, Aerschot had again become “the affectionate brother” of Orange, yet he was known to be the head of the cabal which had brought Matthias from Vienna. Flanders, moreover, swarmed with converts to the Reformed religion, and the duke’s strict Romanism was well known. The people, therefore, who hated the pope and adored the prince, were furious at the appointment of the new governor, but by dint of profuse promises regarding the instant restoration of privileges and charters which had long lain dormant, the friends of Aerschot succeeded in preparing the way for his installation. On the 20th of October, attended by twenty-three companies of infantry and three hundred horse, he came to Ghent. That famous place was still one of the most powerful and turbulent towns in Europe. Although diminished in importance since the commercial decline which had been the inevitable result of Philip’s bloody government, it was still swarming with a vigorous and dangerous population, and it had not forgotten the days when the iron tongue of Roland could call 80,000 fighting men to the city banner. Even now, 20,000 were secretly pledged to rise at the bidding of certain chieftains resident among them, noble by birth, warmly attached to the Reformed religion, and devoted to Orange. These gentlemen were perfectly conscious that a reaction was to be attempted in favor of Don John and of Catholicism, through the agency of the newly appointed governor of Flanders. Aerschot was trusted or respected by neither party. The only difference in the estimates formed of him was that some considered him a deep and dangerous traitor, others that he was rather foolish than malicious, and more likely to ruin a good cause than to advance the interests of a bad one. The leaders of the popular party at Ghent believed him dangerous. They felt certain that it was the deeply laid design of the Catholic nobles—foiled as they had been in the objects with which they had brought Matthias from Vienna, and enraged as they were that the only result of that movement had been to establish the power of Orange upon a firmer basis—to set up an opposing influence in Ghent. Flanders, in the possession of the Catholics, was to weigh up Brabant, with its recent tendencies to toleration. Aerschot was to counteract the schemes of Orange. Matthias was to be withdrawn from the influence of the great heretic, and be yet compelled to play the part set down for him by those who had placed him upon the stage. A large portion, no doubt, of the schemes here suggested, was in agitation, but the actors were hardly equal to the drama which they were attempting. The intrigue was, however, to be frustrated at once by the hand of Orange, acting as it often did from beneath a cloud.
Of all the chieftains possessing influence with the inhabitants of Ghent, two young nobles, named Ryhove and Imbize, were the most conspicuous. Both were of ancient descent and broken fortunes, both were passionately attached to the prince, both were inspired with an intense hatred for all that was Catholic or Spanish. They had traveled further on the reforming path than many had done in that day, and might even be called democratic in their notions. Their heads were filled with visions of Greece and Rome; the praise of republics was ever on their lips, and they avowed to their intimate associates that it was already feasible to compose a commonwealth like that of the Swiss Cantons out of the seventeen Netherlands. They were regarded as dreamers by some, as desperadoes by others. Few had confidence in their capacity or their purity, but Orange, who knew mankind, recognized in them useful instruments for any hazardous enterprise. They delighted in stratagems and sudden feats of arms. Audacious and cruel by temperament, they were ever most happy in becoming a portion of the desolation which popular tumults engender.
There were several excited meetings of the four estates of Flanders immediately after the arrival of the Duke of Aerschot in Ghent. His coming had been preceded by extensive promises, but it soon became obvious that their fulfillment was to be indefinitely deferred. There was a stormy session on the 27th of October, many of the clergy and nobility being present, and comparatively few members of the third estate. Very violent speeches were made, and threats openly uttered, that the privileges, about which so much noise had been heard, would be rather curtailed than enlarged under the new administration. At the same session, the commission of Aerschot was formally presented by Champagny and Sweveghem, deputed by the State Council for that purpose. Champagny was in a somewhat anomalous position. There was much doubt in men’s minds concerning him. He had seemed lately the friend of Orange, but he was certainly the brother of Granvelle. His splendid but fruitless services during the Antwerp Fury had not been forgotten, but he was known to be a determined Catholic. He was a hater of Spaniards, but no lover of popular liberty. The nature of his sentiments towards Orange was perhaps unjustly suspected. At any rate, two or three days after the events which now occupy our attention, he wrote him a private letter, in which he assured him of his attachment. In reference to the complaints of the prince, that he had not been seconded as he ought to have been, he said, moreover, that he could solemnly swear never to have seen a single individual who did not hold the prince in admiration, and who was not affectionately devoted to him, not only by public profession, but by private sentiment. There was little doubt entertained as to the opinions held by the rest of the aristocratic party, then commencing their maneuvers in Ghent. Their sentiments were uttered with sufficient distinctness in this remarkable session.
Hessels, the old Blood-Councillor, was then resident in Ghent, where he discharged high governmental functions. It was he, as it will be remembered, who habitually fell asleep at that horrible council board, and could only start from his naps to shout “ad patibulum,” while the other murderers had found their work less narcotic. A letter from Hessels to Count de Reux, late royal governor of Flanders, was at the present juncture intercepted. Perhaps it was invented, but genuine or fictitious, it was circulated extensively among the popular leaders, and had the effect of proving Madame de Hessels a true prophet. It precipitated the revolution in Flanders, and soon afterwards cost the Councillor his life. “We have already brought many notable magistrates of Flanders over to the side of his Highness Don John,” wrote Hessels. “We hope, after the Duke of Aerschot is governor, that we shall fully carry out the intentions of his Majesty and the plans of his Highness. We shall also know how to circumvent the scandalous heretic with all his adherents and followers.”
Certainly, if this letter were true, it was high time for the friends of the “scandalous heretic” to look about them. If it were a forgery, which is highly probable, it was ingeniously imagined, and did the work of truth. The revolutionary party, being in a small minority in the assembly, were advised by their leaders to bow before the storm. They did so, and the bluster of the reactionary party grew louder as they marked the apparent discomfiture of their foes. They openly asserted that the men who were clamoring for privileges should obtain nothing but halters. The buried charters should never be resuscitated, but the spirit of the dead Emperor, who had once put a rope around the necks of the insolent Ghenters, still lived in that of his son. There was no lack of denunciation. Don John and the Duke of Aerschot would soon bring the turbulent burghers to their senses, and there would then be an end to this renewed clamor about musty parchments. Much indignation was secretly excited in the assembly by such menaces. Without doors the subterranean flames spread rapidly, but no tumult occurred that night. Before the session was over, Ryhove left the city, pretending a visit to Tournay. No sooner had he left the gates, however, than he turned his horse’s head in the opposite direction, and rode off post haste to Antwerp. There he had a conference with William of Orange, and painted in lively colors the alarming position of affairs. “And what do you mean to do in the matter?” asked the prince, rather dryly. Ryhove was somewhat disconcerted. He had expected a violent explosion, well as he knew the tranquil personage whom he was addressing. “I know no better counsel,” he replied, at length, “than to take the duke, with his bishops, councillors, lords, and the whole nest of them, by the throat, and thrust them all out together.”
“I know no other remedy,” answered Ryhove, “I would rather make the attempt, relying upon God alone, and die like a man, if needful, than live in eternal slavery.” “Like an ancient Roman,” continued the young republican noble, in somewhat bombastic vein, “I am ready to wager my life, where the Netherlands’ welfare is at stake.”
“If I can obtain no assistance from your Excellency,” was the reply, “I shall throw myself on the mass of the citizens. I can arouse them in the name of their ancient liberties, which must be redeemed now or never.”
The prince, believing probably that the scheme, if scheme there were, was but a wild one, felt little inclination to compromise himself with the young conspirator. He told him he could do nothing at present, and saying that he must at least sleep upon the matter, dismissed him for the night. Next morning, at daybreak, Ryhove was again closeted with him. The prince asked his sanguine partisan if he were still determined to carry out his project, with no more definite support than he had indicated. Ryhove assured him, in reply, that he meant to do so, or to die in the attempt. The prince shrugged his shoulders, and soon afterwards seemed to fall into a reverie. Ryhove continued talking, but it was soon obvious that his Highness was not listening, and he therefore took his leave somewhat abruptly. Hardly had he left the house, however, when the prince dispatched Saint Aldegonde in search of him. That gentleman, proceeding to his hotel, walked straight into the apartment of Ryhove, and commenced a conversation with a person whom he found there, but to his surprise lie soon discovered, experienced politician though he was, that he had made an egregious blunder. He had opened a dangerous secret to an entire stranger, and Ryhove coming into the apartment a few minutes afterwards, was naturally surprised to find the prince’s chief councillor in close conversation about the plot with Van Rooyen, the burgomaster of Denremonde. The Flemish noble, however, always prompt in emergencies, drew his rapier, and assured the astonished burgomaster that he would either leave his life on the instant, or his oath never to reveal a syllable of what he had heard. That functionary, who had neither desired the young noble’s confidence, nor contemplated the honor of being run through the body as a consequence of receiving it, was somewhat aghast at the rapid manner in which these gentlemen transacted business. He willingly gave the required pledge, and was permitted to depart.
The effect of the conference between Saint Aldegonde and Ryhove was to convince the young partisan that the prince would neither openly countenance his project, nor be extremely vexed should it prove successful. In short, while, as in the case of the arrest of the State Council, the subordinates were left to appear the principals in the transaction, the persons most intimate with William of Orange were allowed to form satisfactory opinions as to his wishes, and to serve as instruments to his ends. “Vive qui vince!” cried Saint Aldegonde, encouragingly, to Ryhove, shaking hands with him at parting. The conspirator immediately mounted, and rode off towards Ghent. During his absence there had been much turbulence, but no decided outbreak, in that city. Imbue had accosted the Duke of Aerschot in the street, and demanded when and how he intended to proclaim the restoration of the ancient charters. The haughty duke had endeavored to shake off his importunate questioner, while Imbize persisted, with increasing audacity, till Aerschot lost his temper at last. “Charters, charters!” he cried in a rage, “you shall learn soon, ye that are thus howling for charters, that we have still the old means of making you dumb, with a rope on your throats. I tell you this—were you ever so much hounded on by the Prince of Orange.”
The violence of the new governor excited the wrath of Imbize. He broke from him abruptly, and rushed to a rendezvous of his confederates, every man of whom was ready for a desperate venture. Groups of excited people were seen vociferating in different places. A drum was heard to rattle from time to time. Nevertheless, the rising tumult seemed to subside again after a season, owing partly to the exertions of the magistrates, partly to the absence of Ryhove. At four in the afternoon that gentleman entered the town, and riding directly to the head-quarters of the conspiracy, was incensed to hear that the work, which had begun so bravely, had been allowed to cool. “’Tis a time,” he cried, “for vigilance. If we sleep now, we shall be dead in our beds before morning. Better to fan the fire which has begun to blaze in the people’s heart. Better to gather the fruit while it is ripe. Let us go forward, each with his followers, and I pledge myself to lead the way. Let us scuttle the old ship of slavery; let us hunt the Spanish Inquisition, once for all, to the hell from whence it came!”
“There spoke the voice of a man!” cried the Flemish captain, Meghem, one of the chief conspirators, “lead on, Ryhove, I swear to follow you as far as our legs will carry us.” Thus encouraged, Ryhove, rushed about the city, calling upon the people everywhere to rise. They rose almost to a man. Arming and mustering at different points, according to previous arrangements, a vast number assembled by toll of bell, after nightfall, on the public square, whence, under command of Ryhove, they swept to the residence of Aerschot at Saint Bavon. The guards, seeing the fierce mob approaching, brandishing spears and waving torches, had scarce time to close the gates, as the people loudly demanded entrance and the delivery to them of the governor. Both claims were refused. “Let us burn the birds in their nests,” cried Ryhove, without hesitation. Pitch, light wood, and other combustibles, were brought at his command, and in a few moments the palace would have been in flames, had not Aerschot, seeing that the insurgents were in earnest, capitulated. As soon as the gates were open, the foremost of the mob rushed upon him, and would have torn him limb from limb, had not Ryhove resolutely interfered, and twice protected the life of the governor, at the peril of his own. The duke was then made a prisoner, and, under a strong guard, was conveyed, still in his nightgown, and bare-footed, to the mansion of Ryhove. All the other leading members of the Catholic party were captured, the arrests proceeding till a late hour in the night. Rassinghem, Sweveghem, Fisch, De la Porta, and other prominent members of the Flemish estates or council, were secured, but Champagny was allowed to make his escape. The Bishops of Bruges and Ypres were less fortunate. Blood-councillor Hessels, whose letter—genuine or counterfeited—had been so instrumental in hastening this outbreak, was most carefully guarded, and to him and to Senator Fisch the personal consequences of that night’s work were to be very tragic.
Thus audaciously, successfully, and hitherto without bloodshed, was the anti-Catholic revolution commenced in Flanders. The event was the first of a long and most signal series. The deed was done. The provisional government was established, at the head of which was placed Ryhove, to whom oaths of allegiance were rendered, subject to the future arrangements of the states-general and Orange. On the ninth of November, the nobles, notables, and community of Ghent published an address, in which they elaborately defended the revolution which had been effected and the arrests which had taken place, while the Catholic party, with Aerschot at its head, was declared to be secretly in league with Don John to bring back the Spanish troops, to overthrow the Prince of Orange, to deprive him of the protectorate of Brabant, to set at nought the Ghent treaty, and to suppress the Reformed religion.
The effect of this sudden rising of the popular party was prodigious throughout the Netherlands. At the same time, the audacity of such extreme proceedings could hardly be countenanced by any considerable party in the states-general. Champagny wrote to the Prince of Orange that, even if the letter of Hessels were genuine, it proved nothing against Aerschot, and he urged the necessity of suppressing such scene of license immediately, through the influence of those who could command the passions of the mob. Otherwise, he affirmed that all legitimate forms of justice would disappear, and that it would be easy to set the bloodhounds upon any game whatever. Saint Aldegonde wrote to the prince that it would be a great point, but a very difficult one, to justify the Ghent transaction, for there was little doubt that the Hessels letter was a forgery. It was therefore as well, no doubt, that the prince had not decidedly committed himself to Ryhove’s plot, and thus deprived himself of the right to interfere afterwards, according to what seemed the claims of justice and sound policy.
He now sent Arend van Dorp to Ghent, to remonstrate with the leaders of the insurrection upon the violence of their measures, and to demand the liberation of the prisoners—a request which was only complied with in the case of Aerschot. That nobleman was liberated on the 14th of November, under the condition that he would solemnly pledge himself to forget and forgive the treatment which he had received, but the other prisoners were retained in custody for a much longer period. A few weeks afterwards, the Prince of Orange visited Ghent, at the earnest request of the four estates of Flanders, and it was hoped that his presence would contribute to the restoration of tranquility.
This visit was naturally honored by a brilliant display of “rhetorical” spectacles and tableaux vivants; for nothing could exceed the passion of the Netherlanders of that century for apologues and charades. In allegory they found an ever-present comforter in their deepest afflictions. The prince was escorted from the Town-gate to the Jacob’s church amid a blaze of tar-barrels and torches, although it was mid-day, where a splendid exhibition had been arranged by that sovereign guild of rhetoric, “Jesus with the Balsam Flower.” The drama was called Judas Maccabæus, in compliment to the prince. In the center of the stage stood the Hebrew patriot, in full armor, symbolizing the illustrious guest doing battle for his country. He was attended by the three estates of the country, ingeniously personified by a single individual, who wore the velvet bonnet of a noble, the cassock of a priest, and the breeches of a burgher. Groups of allegorical personages were drawn up on the right and left—Courage, Patriotism, Freedom, Mercy, Diligence, and other estimable qualities upon one side, were balanced by Murder, Rapine, Treason, and the rest of the sisterhood of Crime on the other. The Inquisition was represented as a lean and hungry hag. The “Ghent Pacification” was dressed in cramoisy satin, and wore a city on her head for a turban, while, tied to her apron-strings were Catholicism and Protestantism, bound in a loving embrace by a chain of seventeen links, which she was forging upon an anvil. Under the anvil was an individual in complete harness, engaged in eating his heart; this was Discord. In front of the scene stood History and Rhetoric, attired as “triumphant maidens, in white garments,” each with a laurel crown and a burning torch. These personages, after holding a rhymed dialogue between themselves, filled with wonderful conceits and quibbles, addressed the Prince of Orange and Maccabæus, one after the other, in a great quantity of very detestable verses.
After much changing of scenes and groups, and an enormous quantity of Flemish-woven poetry, the “Ghent Peace” came forward, leading a lion in one hand, and holding a heart of pure gold in the other. The heart, upon which was inscribed Sinceritas, was then presented to the real Prince, as he sat “reposing after the spectacle,” and perhaps slightly yawning, the gift being accompanied by another tremendous discharge of complimentary verses. After this, William of Orange was permitted to proceed towards the lodgings provided for him, but the magistrates and notables met him upon the threshold, and the pensionary made him a long oration. Even after the prince was fairly housed, he had not escaped the fangs of allegory; for, while he sat at supper refreshing his exhausted frame after so much personification and metaphor, a symbolical personage, attired to represent the town corporation, made his appearance, and poured upon him a long and particularly dull heroic poem. Fortunately, this episode closed the labors of the day.
On December 7, 1577, the states-general formally declared that Don John was no longer stadholder, governor, nor captain-general, but an infractor of the peace which he had sworn to maintain, and an enemy of the fatherland. All natives of the country who should show him favor or assistance were declared rebels and traitors; and by a separate edict, issued the same day, it was ordained that an inventory of the estates of such persons should forthwith be taken.
Thus the war, which had for a brief period been suspended during the angry, tortuous, and hopeless negotiations which succeeded the arrival of Don John, was once more to be let loose. To this point had tended all the policy of Orange—faithful as ever to the proverb with which he had broken off the Breda conferences, “that war was preferable to a doubtful peace.” Even, however, as his policy had pointed to a war as the necessary forerunner of a solid peace with Spain, so had his efforts already advanced the cause of internal religious concord within the provinces themselves. On the 10th of December, a new act of union was signed at Brussels, by which those of the Roman Church and those who had retired from that communion bound themselves to respect and to protect each other with mutual guarantees against all enemies whatsoever. Here was a step beyond the Ghent Pacification, and in the same direction. The first treaty tacitly introduced toleration by suppressing the right of persecution, but the new union placed the Reformed religion on a level with the old. This was the result of the prince’s efforts; and, in truth, there was no lack of eagerness among these professors of a faith which had been so long under ban, to take advantage of his presence. Out of dark alleys, remote thickets, subterranean conventicles, where the dissenters had so long been trembling for their lives, the oppressed now came forth into the light of day. They indulged openly in those forms of worship which persecution had affected to regard with as much holy horror as the Badahuennan or Hercynian mysteries of Celtic ages could inspire, and they worshipped boldly the common God of Catholic and Puritan, in the words most consonant to their tastes, without dreading the gibbet as an inevitable result of their audacity.
In truth, the time had arrived for bringing the northern and southern, the Celtic and German, the Protestant and Catholic, hearts together, or else for acquiescing in their perpetual divorce. If the sentiment of nationality, the cause of a common fatherland, could now overcome the attachment to a particular form of worship—if a common danger and a common destiny could now teach the great lesson of mutual toleration—it might yet be possible to create a united Netherland, and defy forever the power of Spain. Since the Union of Brussels, of January 1577, the internal cancer of religious discord had again begun to corrode the body politic. The Pacification of Ghent had found the door open to religious toleration. It had not opened, but had left it open. The union of Brussels had closed the door again. Contrary to the hopes of the Prince of Orange and of the patriots who followed in his track, the sanction given to the Roman religion had animated the Catholics to fresh arrogance and fresh persecution. In the course of a few months, the only fruits of the new union, from which so much had been hoped, were to be seen in imprisonments, confiscations, banishments, executions. The Perpetual Edict, by which the fifteen provinces had united in acknowledging Don John while the Protestant stronghold of Holland and Zealand had been placed in a state of isolation by the wise distrust of Orange, had widened the breach between Catholics and Protestants. The subsequent conduct of Don John had confirmed the suspicions and demonstrated the sagacity of the prince. The seizure of Namur and the open hostility avowed by the governor once more forced the provinces together. The suppressed flames of nationality burst forth again. Catholic and Protestant, Fleming and Hollander, instinctively approached each other, and felt the necessity of standing once more shoulder to shoulder in defense of their common rights. The Prince of Orange was called for by the unanimous cry of the whole country. He came to Brussels. His first step, as already narrated, was to break off negotiations which had been already ratified by the votes of the states-general. The measure was reconsidered, under pretense of adding certain amendments. Those amendments were the unconditional articles of surrender proposed for Don John’s signature on the 25th of September—articles which could only elicit words of defiance from his lips.
Thus far the prince’s object was accomplished. A treacherous peace, which would have ensured destruction, was averted, but a new obstacle to the development of his broad and energetic schemes arose in the intrigue which brought the archduke from Vienna. The cabals of Orange’s secret enemies were again thwarted with the same adroitness to which his avowed antagonists were forced to succumb. Matthias was made the exponent of the new policy, the standard-bearer of the new union which the prince now succeeded in establishing; for his next step was immediately to impress upon the provinces which had thus united in casting down the gauntlet to a common enemy, the necessity of uniting in a permanent league. One province was already lost by the fall of Namur. The bonds of a permanent union for the other sixteen could be constructed of but one material—religious toleration—and for a moment, the genius of Orange, always so far beyond his age, succeeded in raising the mass of his countrymen to the elevation upon which he had so long stood alone.
The “new or nearer Union of Brussels” was signed on the 10th of December, eleven months after the formation of the first union. This was the third and, unfortunately, the last confederation of all the Netherlands. The original records have been lost, but it is known that the measure was accepted unanimously in the estates-general as soon as presented. The leading Catholic nobles were with the army, but a deputation, sent to the camp, returned with their signatures and hearty approval—with the signatures and approval of such determined Catholics as the Lalains, Meluns, Egmont, and La Motte. If such men could unite for the sake of the fatherland in an act of religious toleration, what lofty hopes for the future was not the prince justified in forming, for it was the prince alone who accomplished this victory of reason over passion. As a monument, not only of his genius, but of the elevated aspirations of a whole people in an age of intolerance, the “closer Union of Brussels” deserves especial place in the history of human progress. Unfortunately, it was destined to a brief existence. The battle of Gemblours was its death-blow, and before the end of a month, the union thus hopefully constructed was shattered forever. The Netherland people was never united again. By the Union of Utrecht, seven states subsequently rescued their existence, and lived to construct a powerful republic. The rest were destined to remain for centuries in the condition of provinces to a distant metropolis, to be shifted about as make-weights in political balances, and only in our own age to come into the honorable rank of independent constitutional states.
The prince had, moreover, strengthened himself for the coming struggle by an alliance with England. The thrifty but politic queen, fearing the result of the secret practices of Alençon—whom Orange, as she suspected, still kept in reserve to be played off, in case of need, against Matthias and Don John—had at last consented to a treaty of alliance and subsidy. On January 7, 1578, the Marquis Havré, envoy from the estates, concluded an arrangement in London, by which the queen was to lend them her credit—in other words, to endorse their obligations, to the amount of 100,000 pounds sterling. The money was to be raised wherever the states might be able to negotiate the bills, and her liability was to cease within a year. She was likewise to be collaterally secured by pledges from certain cities in the Netherlands. This amount was certainly not colossal, while the conditions were sufficiently parsimonious. At the same time a beginning was made, and the principle of subsidy was established. The queen, furthermore, agreed to send 5,000 infantry and 1,000 cavalry to the provinces, under the command of an officer of high rank, who was to have a seat and vote in the Netherland Council of State. These troops were to be paid by the provinces, but furnished by the queen. The estates were to form no treaty without her knowledge, nor undertake any movement of importance without her consent. In case she should be herself attacked by any foreign power, the provinces were to assist her to the same extent as the amount of aid now afforded to themselves, and in case of a naval war, with a fleet of at least forty ships. It had already been arranged that the appointment of the Prince of Orange as lieutenant-general for Matthias was a sine qua non in any treaty of assistance with England. Soon after the conclusion of this convention, Sir Thomas Wilkes was dispatched on a special mission to Spain, and Mr. Leyton sent to confer privately with Don John. It was not probable, however, that the diplomatic skill of either would make this new arrangement palatable to Philip or his governor.
Within a few days after their signature of this important treaty, the prince had, at length, wholly succeeded in conquering the conflicting passions in the states-general, and in reconciling them, to a certain extent, with each other. The closer union had been accepted, and now thirty articles, which had been prepared under his superintendence, and had already on the 17th of December been accepted by Matthias, were established as the fundamental terms, according to which the archduke was to be received as governor-general. No power whatever was accorded to the young man, who had come so far with eager and ambitious views. As the prince had neither solicited nor desired a visit which had, on the contrary, been the result of hostile machinations, the archduke could hardly complain that the power accorded him was but shadowy, and that his presence was rendered superfluous. It was not surprising that the common people gave him the name of Greffier, or registering clerk to the prince; for his functions were almost limited to the signing of acts which were countersigned by Orange. According to the stipulations of the Queen of England, and the views of the whole popular party, the prince remained Ruward of Brabant, notwithstanding the appointment of a nominal governor-general, by whom his own duties were to be superseded.
The articles which were laid down as the basis upon which the archduke was to be accepted, composed an ample representative constitution, by which all the legislative and many of the executive powers of government were bestowed upon the states-general or upon the council by them to be elected. To avoid remaining in the condition of a people thus left without a head, the states declared themselves willing to accept Matthias as governor-general, on condition of the king’s subsequent approbation, and upon the general basis of the Ghent treaty. The archduke, moreover, was to take an oath of allegiance to the king and to the states-general at the same time. He was to govern the land by the advice of a state council, the members of which were to be appointed by the states-general, and were “to be native Netherlanders, true patriots, and neither ambitious nor greedy.” In all matters discussed before the state council, a majority of votes was to decide. The governor-general, with his Council of State, should conclude nothing concerning the common affairs of the nation—such as requests, loans, treaties of peace or declarations of war, alliances or confederacies with foreign nations—without the consent of the states-general. He was to issue no edict or ordinance, and introduce no law, without the consent of the same body duly assembled, and representing each individual province. A majority of the members was declared necessary to a quorum of the council. All acts and dispatches were to be drawn up by a member of the board. The states-general were to assemble when, where, and as often as, and remain in session as long as, they might think it expedient. At the request of any individual province, concerning matters about which a convention of the generality was customary, the other states should be bound to assemble without waiting for directions from the governor-general. The estates of each particular province were to assemble at their pleasure. The governor and council, with advice of the states-general, were to appoint all the principal military officers. Troops were to be enrolled and garrisons established by and with the consent of the states. Governors of provinces were to be appointed by the governor-general, with advice of his council, and with the consent of the estates of the province interested. All military affairs were to be conducted during war by the governor, with advice of his council, while the estates were to have absolute control over the levying and expenditure of the common funds of the country.
It is sufficiently plain from this brief summary, that the powers thus conferred upon Matthias alone, were absolutely null, while those which he might exercise in conjunction with the state council, were not much more extensive. The actual force of the government—legislative, executive, and administrative—was lodged in the general assembly, while no authority was left to the king, except the nominal right to approve these revolutionary proceedings, according to the statement in the preamble. Such a reservation in favor of his Majesty seemed a superfluous sarcasm. It was furthermore resolved that the Prince of Orange should be appointed lieutenant-general for Matthias, and be continued in his office of Ruward. This constitution, drawn up under the superintendence of the prince, had been already accepted by Matthias, while, still at Antwerp, and upon the 18th of January, 1578, the ceremony of his inauguration took place.
It was the third triumphal procession which Brussels had witnessed within nine months. It was also the most brilliant of all, for the burghers, as if to make amends to the archduke for the actual nullity to which he had been reduced, seemed resolved to raise him to the seventh heaven of allegory. By the rhetorical guilds he was regarded as the most brilliant constellation of virtues which had yet shone above the Flemish horizon. A brilliant cavalcade, headed by Orange, accompanied by Count John of Nassau, the Prince de Chimay, and other notables, met him at Vilvoorde, and escorted him to the city gate. On an open field, outside the town, Count Bossu had arranged a review of troops, concluding with a sham-fight, which, in the words of a classical contemporary, seemed as “bloody a rencontre as that between Duke Miltiades of Athens and King Darius upon the plains of Attica.” The procession entered the Louvain gate, through a splendid triumphal arch, filled with a band of invisible musicians. “I believe that Orpheus had never played so melodiously on his harp,” says the same authority, “nor Apollo on his lyre, nor Pan on his lute, as the city waits then performed.” On entering the gates, Matthias was at once delivered over to the hands of mythology, the burghers and rhetoricians taking possession of their illustrious captive, and being determined to outdo themselves in demonstrations of welcome. The representatives of the “nine nations” of Brussels met him in the Ritter-street, followed by a gorgeous retinue. Although it was mid-day, all bore flaming torches. Although it was January, the streets were strewed with flowers. The houses were festooned with garlands, and hung with brilliant silks and velvets. The streets were thronged with spectators, and encumbered with triumphal arches. On the Grande Place, always the central scene in Brussels, whether for comedies, or tournaments, or executions, the principal dramatic effects had been accumulated. The splendid front of the Hôtel de Ville was wreathed with scarves and banners; its windows and balconies, as well as those of the picturesque houses which formed the square, were crowded with gaily-dressed women. Upon the area of the place, twenty-four theatres had been erected, where a series of magnificent living pictures were represented by the most beautiful young females that could be found in the city. All were attired in brocades, embroideries, and cloth of gold. The subjects of the tableaux vivants were, of course, most classic, for the Netherlanders were nothing, if not allegorical; yet, as spectacles, provided by burghers and artisans for the amusement of their fellow-citizens, they certainly proved a considerable culture in the people who could thus be amused. All the groups were artistically arranged. Upon one theatre stood Juno with her peacock, presenting Matthias with the city of Brussels, which she held, beautifully modeled, in her hand. Upon another, Cybele gave him the keys, Reason handed him a bridle, Hebe a basket of flowers, Wisdom a looking glass and two law books, Diligence a pair of spurs; while Constancy, Magnanimity, Prudence, and other virtues furnished him with a helmet, corslet, spear, and shield. Upon other theatres, Bellona presented him with several men-at-arms, tied in a bundle; Fame gave him her trumpet, and Glory her crown. Upon one stage Quintus Curtius, on horseback, was seen plunging into the yawning abyss; upon six others Scipio Africanus was exhibited, as he appeared in the most picturesque moments of his career. The beardless archduke had never achieved anything, save his nocturnal escape from Vienna in his night-gown; but the honest Flemings chose to regard him as a reincarnation of those two eminent Romans. Carried away by their own learning, they already looked upon him as a myth; and such indeed he was destined to remain throughout his Netherland career. After surveying all these wonders, Matthias was led up the hill again to the ducal palace, where, after hearing speeches and odes till he was exhausted, he was at last allowed to eat his supper and go to bed.
Meantime the citizens feasted in the streets. Bonfires were blazing everywhere, at which the people roasted “geese, pigs, capons, partridges, and chickens,” while upon all sides were the merriest piping and dancing. Of a sudden, a fiery dragon was seen flying through the air. It poised for a while over the heads of the reveling crowd in the Grande Place, and then burst with a prodigious explosion, sending forth rockets and other fireworks in every direction. This exhibition, then a new one, so frightened the people, that they all took to their heels, “as if a thousand soldiers had assaulted them,” tumbling over each other in great confusion, and so dispersing to their homes.
The next day Matthias took the oaths as Governor-General, to support the new constitution, while the Prince of Orange was sworn in as Lieutenant-General and Governor of Brabant. Upon the next, a splendid banquet was given them in the grand hall of the Hôtel de Ville, by the states-general, and when the cloth was removed, Rhetoric made her last and most ingenious demonstration, through the famous guild of “Mary with the Flower Garland.”
Two individuals—the one attired as respectable burgher, the other as a clerical personage in gown and bands—made their appearance upon a stage, opposite the seats of their Highnesses, and pronounced a long dialogue in rhyme. One of the speakers rejoiced in the appellation of the “Desiring Heart,” the other was called “Common Comfort.” Common Sense might have been more to the purpose, but appeared to have no part in the play. Desiring Heart, being of an inquisitive disposition, propounded a series of puzzling questions, mythological in their nature, which seemed like classical conundrums, having reference, mainly, to the proceedings of Venus, Neptune, Juno, and other divinities. They appeared to have little to do with Matthias or the matter in hand, but Common Comfort knew better. That clerical personage, accordingly, in a handsome allowance of rhymes, informed his despairing colleague that everything would end well, that Jupiter, Diana, Venus, and the rest of them would all do their duty, and that Belgica would be relieved from all her woes, at the advent of a certain individual. Whereupon cried Desiring Heart:
To which Comfort responded by mentioning the archduke, in a poetical and highly-complimentary strain, with handsome allusions to the inevitable Quintus Curtius and Scipio Africanus. The concluding words of the speech were not spoken, but were taken as the cue for a splendid charade, the long-suffering Scipio again making his appearance in company with Alexander and Hannibal, the group typifying the future government of Matthias. After each of these heroic individuals had spouted a hundred lines or so, the play was terminated, and Rhetoric took her departure. The company had remained at table during this long representation, and now the dessert was served, consisting of a “richly triumphant banquet of confectionary, marmalade, and all kinds of genteelnesses in sugar.”
Meanwhile, Don John sat chafing and almost frenzied with rage at Namur. Certainly he had reasons enough for losing his temper. Never since the days of Maximilian had king’s brother been so bearded by rebels. The Cross was humbled in the dust, the royal authority openly derided, his Majesty’s representative locked up in a fortress, while “the accursed Prince of Orange” reigned supreme in Brussels, with an imperial archduke for his private secretary.
The governor addressed a long, private, and most bitter letter to the Emperor, for the purpose of setting himself right in the opinion of that potentate, and of giving him certain hints as to what was expected of the imperial court by Philip and himself. He expressed confidence that the imperial commissioners would have some effect in bringing about the pacification of the Netherlands, and protested his own strong desire for such a result, provided always that the two great points of the Catholic religion and his Majesty’s authority were preserved intact. “In the hope that those articles would be maintained,” said he, “I have emptied cities and important places of their garrisons, when I might easily have kept the soldiers, and with the soldiers the places, against all the world, instead of consigning them to the care of men who at this hour have arms in their hand against their natural prince.” He declared vehemently that in all his conduct, since his arrival in the provinces, he had been governed exclusively by the interests of Philip, an object which he should steadily pursue to the end. He urged, too, that the Emperor, being of the same house as Philip, and therefore more obliged than all others to sustain his quarrel, would do well to espouse his cause with all the warmth possible. “The forgetfulness by vassals,” said Don John, “of the obedience due to their sovereign is so dangerous, that all princes and potentates, even those at the moment exempt from trouble, should assist in preparing the remedy, in order that their subjects also may not take it into their heads to do the like, liberty being a contagious disease, which goes on infecting one neighbour after another, if the cure be not promptly applied.” It was, he averred, a desperate state of things for monarchs, when subjects having obtained such concessions as the Netherlanders had obtained, nevertheless loved him and obeyed him so little. They showed, but too clearly, that the causes alleged by them had been but pretexts, in order to effect designs, long ago conceived, to overthrow the ancient constitution of the country, and to live thenceforward in unbridled liberty. So many indecent acts had been committed prejudicial to religion and to his Majesty’s grandeur, that the governor avowed his determination to have no farther communication with the provinces without fresh commands to that effect. He begged the Emperor to pay no heed to what the states said, but to observe what they did. He assured him that nothing could be more senseless than the reports that Philip and his governor-general in the Netherlands were negotiating with France, for the purpose of alienating the provinces from the Austrian crown. Philip, being chief of the family, and sovereign of the Netherlands, could not commit the absurdity of giving away his own property to other people, nor would Don John choose to be an instrument in so foolish a transaction. The governor entreated the Emperor, therefore, to consider such fables as the invention of malcontents and traitors, of whom there were no lack at his court, and to remember that nothing was more necessary for the preservation of the greatness of his family than to cultivate the best relations with all its members. “Therefore,” said he, with an absurd affectation of candor, “although I make no doubt whatever that the expedition hitherwards of the Archduke Matthias has been made with the best intentions, nevertheless, many are of opinion that it would have been better altogether omitted.” “If the Archduke,” he continued, with hardly dissembled irony, “be desirous of taking charge of his Majesty’s affairs, it would be preferable to employ himself in the customary manner. Your Majesty would do a laudable action by recalling him from this place, according to your Majesty’s promise to me to that effect.” In conclusion, Don John complained that difficulties had been placed in his way for making levies of troops in the Empire, while every facility had been afforded to the rebels. He therefore urgently insisted that so unnatural and unjust a condition of affairs should be remedied.
Don John was not sorry in his heart that the crisis was at last come. His chain was broken. His wrath exploded in his first interview with Leyton, the English envoy, whom Queen Elizabeth had dispatched to calm, if possible, his inevitable anger at her recent treaty with the states. He knew nothing of England, he said, nor of France, nor of the Emperor. His Catholic Majesty had commissioned him now to make war upon these rebellious provinces. He would do it with all his heart. As for the Emperor, he would unchain the Turks upon him for his perfidy. As for the burghers of Brussels, they would soon feel his vengeance.
It was very obvious that these were not idle threats. War had again broken loose throughout these doomed provinces. A small but well-appointed army had been rapidly collecting under the banner of Don John at Luxemburg. Peter Ernest Mansfeld had brought many well-trained troops from France, and Prince Alexander of Parma had arrived with several choice and veteran regiments of Italy and Spain. The old schoolfellow, playmate, and comrade of Don John, was shocked on his arrival, to witness the attenuated frame and care-worn features of his uncle. The son of Charles V, the hero of Lepanto, seemed even to have lost the air of majesty which was so natural to him, for petty insults, perpetual crosses, seemed to have left their squalid traces upon his features. Nevertheless, the crusader was alive again, at the notes of warlike preparations which now resounded throughout the land.
On the 25th of January, he issued a proclamation, couched in three languages—French, German, and Flemish. He declared in this document that he had not come to enslave the provinces, but to protect them. At the same time he meant to re-establish his Majesty’s authority, and the down-trod religion of Rome. He summoned all citizens and all soldiers throughout the provinces to join his banners, offering them pardon for their past offences, and protection against heretics and rebels. This declaration was the natural consequence of the exchange of defiances which had already taken place, and it was evident also that the angry manifesto was soon to be followed up by vigorous blows. The army of Don John already numbered more than 20,000 well-seasoned and disciplined veterans. He was himself the most illustrious chieftain in Europe. He was surrounded by lieutenants of the most brilliant reputation. Alexander of Parma, who had fought with distinction at Lepanto, was already recognized as possessing that signal military genius which was soon to stamp him as the first soldier of his age, while Mansfeld, Mondragon, Mendoza, and other distinguished officers, who had already won so much fame in the Netherlands, had now returned to the scene of their former achievements.
On the other hand, the military affairs of the states were in confusion. Troops in nearly equal numbers to those of the royal army had been assembled, but the chief offices had been bestowed, by a mistaken policy, upon the great nobles. Already the jealousy of Orange, entertained by their whole order, was painfully apparent. Notwithstanding the signal popularity which had made his appointment as lieutenant-general inevitable, it was not easy for him always to vindicate his authority over captious and rival magnates. He had every wish to conciliate the affections of men whom he could not in his heart respect, and he went as far in gratifying their ambition as comported with his own dignity, perhaps farther than was consistent with the national interests. He was still willing to trust Lalain, of whose good affection to the country he felt sure. He had even been desirous of declining the office of lieutenant-general, in order to avoid giving that nobleman the least occasion to think “that he would do him, or any other gentleman of the army, prejudice in any single matter in the world.” This magnanimity had not been repaid with corresponding confidence. We have already seen that Lalain had been secretly in the interest of Anjou ever since his wife and himself had lost their hearts to Margaret of Navarre; yet the count was chief commander of the infantry in the states’ army then assembled. Robert Melun, Vicomte de Gand, was commander of the cavalry, but he had recently been private envoy from Don John to the English queen. Both these gentlemen, together with Pardieu De la Motte, general of the artillery, were voluntarily absent from the forces, under pretext of celebrating the wedding of the Seigneur De Bersel with the niece and heiress of the unfortunate Marquis of Berghen. The ghost of that ill-starred noble might almost have seemed to rise at the nuptial banquet of his heiress, to warn the traitors of the signal and bloody massacre which their treachery was soon to occasion. Philip Egmont, eldest son of the famous Lamoral, was with the army, as was the Seigneur de Héze, hero of the State Council’s arrest, and the unstable Havré. But little was to be hoped from such leaders. Indeed, the affairs of the states continued to be in as perplexed a condition as that which honest John of Nassau had described some weeks before. “There were very few patriots,” he had said, “but plenty of priests, with no lack of inexperienced lads—some looking for distinction, and others for pelf.”
The two armies had been mustered in the latter days of January. The pope had issued a bull for the benefit of Don John, precisely similar to those formerly employed in the crusades against the Saracens. Authority was given him to levy contributions upon ecclesiastical property, while full absolution, at the hour of death, for all crimes committed during a whole lifetime, was proclaimed to those who should now join the standard of the Cross. There was at least no concealment. The Crescent-wearing Zealanders had been taken at their word, and the whole nation of Netherlanders were formally banned as unbelievers. The forces of Don John were mustered at Marche in Luxemburg, those of the states in a plain within a few miles of Namur. Both armies were nearly equal in number, amounting to nearly 20,000 each, including a force of 2,000 cavalry on each side. It had been the original intention of the patriots to attack Don John in Namur. Having learned, however, that he purposed marching forth himself to offer battle, they decided to fall back upon Gemblours, which was nine miles distant from that city. On the last day of January, they accordingly broke up their camp at Saint Martius, before dawn, and marched towards Gemblours. The chief commander was De Goignies, an old soldier of Charles V, who had also fought at Saint Quintin. The states’ army was disposed in three divisions. The van consisted of the infantry regiments of De Héze and Montigny, flanked by a protective body of light horse. The center, composed of the Walloon and German regiments, with a few companies of French, and thirteen companies of Scotch and English under Colonel Balfour, was commanded by two most distinguished officers, Bossu and Champagny. The rear, which, of course, was the post of responsibility and honor, comprised all the heavy cavalry, and was commanded by Philip Egmont and Lumey de la Marck. The Marquis Havré and the General-in-Chief, Goignies, rode to and fro, as the army proceeded, each attended by his staff.
The troops of Don John broke up from before Namur with the earliest dawn, and marched in pursuit of the retiring foe. In front was nearly the whole of the cavalry—carabineers, lancers, and heavy dragoons. The center, arranged in two squares, consisted chiefly of Spanish infantry, with a lesser number of Germans. In the rear came the Walloons, marching also in a square, and protecting the baggage and ammunition. Charles Mansfeld had been left behind with a reserved force, stationed on the Meuse; Ottavio Gonzaga commanded in front; Ernest Mansfeld brought up the rear; while in the center rode Dan John himself, attended by the Prince of Parma. Over his head streamed the crucifix-emblazoned banner, with its memorable inscription—In hoc signo vici Turcos, in hoc Haereticos vincam.
Small detachments of cavalry had been sent forward, under Olivera and Acosta, to scour the roads and forests, and to disturb all ambuscades which might have been prepared. From some stragglers captured by these officers, the plans of the retreating generals were learned. The winter’s day was not far advanced, when the rearward columns of the states’ army were descried in the distance. Don John, making a selection of some six hundred cavalry, all picked men, with a thousand infantry, divided the whole into two bodies, which he placed under command of Gonzaga and the famous old Christopher Mondragon. These officers received orders to hang on the rear of the enemy, to harass him, and to do him all possible damage consistent with the possibility of avoiding a general engagement, until the main army under Parma and Don John should arrive. The orders were at first strictly obeyed. As the skirmishing grew hotter, however, Gonzaga observed that a spirited cavalry officer, named Perotti, had already advanced, with a handful of men, much further within the reach of the hostile forces than was deemed expedient. He sent hastily to recall the too eager chieftain. The order, delivered in a tone more peremptory than agreeable, was flatly disobeyed. “Tell Ottavio Gonzaga,” said Perotti, “that I never yet turned my back on the enemy, nor shall I now begin. Moreover, were I ever so much inclined to do so, retreat is impossible.” The retiring army was then proceeding along the borders of a deep ravine, filled with mire and water, and as broad and more dangerous than a river. In the midst of the skirmishing, Alexander of Parma rode up to reconnoiter. He saw at once that the columns of the enemy were marching unsteadily to avoid being precipitated into this creek. He observed the waving of their spears, the general confusion of their ranks, and was quick to take advantage of the fortunate moment. Pointing out to the officers about him the opportunity thus offered of attacking the retiring army unawares in flank, he assembled, with great rapidity, the foremost companies of cavalry already detached from the main body. Mounting a fresh and powerful horse, which Camillo Monte held in readiness for him, he signified his intention of dashing through the dangerous ravine, and dealing a stroke where it was least expected. “Tell Don John of Austria,” he cried to an officer whom he sent back to the Commander-in-chief, “that Alexander of Parma has plunged into the abyss, to perish there, or to come forth again victorious.”
The sudden thought was executed with lightning-like celerity. In an instant the bold rider was already struggling through the dangerous swamp; in another, his powerful charger had carried him across. Halting for a few minutes, lance in rest, till his troops had also forced their passage, gained the level ground unperceived, and sufficiently breathed their horses, he drew up his little force in a compact column. Then, with a few words of encouragement, he launched them at the foe. The violent and entirely unexpected shock was even more successful than the prince had anticipated. The hostile cavalry reeled and fell into hopeless confusion, Egmont in vain striving to rally them to resistance. That name had lost its magic. Goignies also attempted, without success, to restore order among the panic-struck ranks. The sudden conception of Parma, executed as suddenly and in so brilliant a manner, had been decisive. Assaulted in flank and rear at the same moment, and already in temporary confusion, the cavalry of the enemy turned their backs and fled. The center of the states’ army thus left exposed, was now warmly attacked by Parma. It had, moreover, been already thrown into disorder by the retreat of its own horse, as they charged through them in rapid and disgraceful panic. The whole army broke to pieces at once, and so great was the trepidation, that the conquered troops had hardly courage to run away. They were utterly incapable of combat. Not a blow was struck by the fugitives. Hardly a man in the Spanish ranks was wounded; while, in the course of an hour and a half, the whole force of the enemy was exterminated. It is impossible to state with accuracy the exact numbers slain. Some accounts spoke of 10,000 killed, or captive, with absolutely no loss on the royal side. Moreover, this slaughter was effected, not by the army under Don John, but by so small a fragment of it, that some historians have even set down the whole number of royalists engaged at the commencement of the action, at six hundred, increased afterwards to twelve hundred. By this calculation, each Spaniard engaged must have killed ten enemies with his own hand, and that within an hour and a half’s space! Other historians more wisely omit the exact statistics of the massacre, and allow that a very few—ten or eleven, at most—were slain within the Spanish ranks. This, however, is the utmost that is claimed by even the Netherland historians, and it is, at any rate, certain that the whole states’ army was annihilated. Rarely had a more brilliant exploit been performed by a handful of cavalry. To the distinguished Alexander of Parma, who improvised so striking and complete a victory out of a fortuitous circumstance, belonged the whole credit of the day, for his quick eye detected a passing weakness of the enemy, and turned it to terrible account with the promptness which comes from genius alone. A whole army was overthrown. Everything belonging to the enemy fell into the hands of the Spaniards. Thirty-four standards, many field-pieces, much camp equipage, and ammunition, besides some seven or eight thousand dead bodies, and six hundred living prisoners, were the spoils of that winter’s day. Of the captives, some were soon afterwards hurled off the bridge at Namur, and drowned like dogs in the Meuse, while the rest were all hanged, none escaping with life. Don John’s clemency was not superior to that of his sanguinary predecessors.
And so another proof was added—if proofs were still necessary—of Spanish prowess. The Netherlanders may be pardoned if their foes seemed to them supernatural, and almost invulnerable. How else could these enormous successes be accounted for? How else could thousands fall before the Spanish swords, while hardly a single Spanish corpse told of effectual resistance? At Jemmingen, Alva had lost seven soldiers, and slain seven thousand; in the Antwerp Fury, two hundred Spaniards, at most, had fallen, while eight thousand burghers and states’ troops had been butchered; and now at Gemblours, six, seven, eight, ten—Heaven knew how many—thousand had been exterminated, and hardly a single Spaniard had been slain! Undoubtedly, the first reason for this result was the superiority of the Spanish soldiers. They were the boldest, the best disciplined, the most experienced in the world. Their audacity, promptness, and ferocity made them almost invincible. In this particular action, at least half the army of Don John was composed of Spanish or Spanish-Italian veterans. Moreover, they were commanded by the most renowned captains of the age—by Don John himself, and Alexander of Parma, sustained by such veterans as Mondragon, the hero of the memorable submarine expeditions; Mendoza, the accomplished cavalry officer, diplomatist, and historian; and Mansfeld, of whom Don John had himself written to the king that his Majesty had not another officer of such account in all the Netherlands. Such officers as these, besides Gonzaga, Camillo Monte, Mucio Pagano, at the head of such troops as fought that day under the banner of the Cross, might go far in accounting for this last and most tremendous victory of the Inquisition. On the other hand, although Bossu and Champagny were with the states’ army, yet their hearts were hardly with the cause. Both had long been loyal, and had earned many laurels against the rebels, while Champagny was still devoutly a papist, and wavered painfully between his hatred to heresy and to Spain. Egmont and De Héze were raw, unpracticed lads, in whom genius did not come to supply the place of experience. The Commander, De Moignies, was a veteran, but a veteran who had never gained much glory, and the chiefs of the cavalry, infantry, and artillery, were absent at the Brussels wedding. The news of this additional massacre inflicted upon a nation, for which Berghen and Montigny had laid down their lives, was the nuptial benediction for Berghen’s heiress; for it was to the chief wedding guests upon that occasion that the disaster was justly attributed. The rank and file of the states’ army were mainly mercenaries, with whom the hope of plunder was the prevailing motive; the chief commanders were absent, while those officers who were with the troops were neither heartily friendly to their own flag, nor sufficiently experienced to make it respected.
Don John having thus vindicated his own military fame and the amazing superiority of the Spanish arms, followed up his victory by the rapid reduction of many towns of second-rate importance—Louvain, Judoigne, Tirlemont, Aerschot, Bouvignes, Sichem, Nivelle, Roeux, Soignies, Binch, Beaumont, Walcourt, Maubeuge, and Chimay, either submitted to their conqueror, or were taken after short sieges. The usual atrocities were inflicted upon the unfortunate inhabitants of towns where resistance was attempted. The commandant of Sichem was hanged out of his own window, along with several chief burghers and officers, while the garrison was put to the sword, and the bodies cast into the Demer. The only crime committed by these unfortunates was to have ventured a blow or two in behalf of the firesides which they were employed to protect.
In Brussels, on the other hand, there was less consternation excited by these events than boundless rage against the aristocratic party, for the defeat of Gemblours was attributed, with justice, to the intrigues and the incapacity of the Catholic magnates. It was with difficulty that Orange, going about by night from house to house, from street to street, succeeded in calming the indignation of the people, and in preventing them from sweeping in a mass to the residence of the leading nobles, in order to inflict summary vengeance on the traitors. All looked to the prince as their only savior, not a thought nor a word being wasted upon Matthias. Not a voice was raised in the assembly to vindicate the secret proceedings of the Catholic party, nor to oppose the measures which the prince might suggest. The terrible disaster had taught the necessity of union. All parties heartily joined in the necessary steps to place the capital in a state of complete defense, and to assemble forthwith new troops to take the place of the army just annihilated. The victor gained nothing by his victory, in comparison with the profit acquired by the states through their common misfortune. Nor were all the towns which had recently fallen into the hands of Don John at all comparable in importance to the city of Amsterdam, which now, by a most timely arrangement, furnished a rich compensation to the national party for the disaster of Gemblours.
Since the conclusion of the Ghent Pacification, it had been the most earnest wish of the prince, and of Holland and Zealand, to recover possession of this most important city. The wish was naturally shared by every true patriot in the states-general. It had, however, been extremely difficult to arrange the terms of the “Satisfaction.” Every fresh attempt at an amicable compromise was wrecked upon the obstinate bigotry of the leading civic authorities. They would make no agreement to accept the authority of Orange, except, as Saint Aldegonde expressed himself, upon terms which would enable them “to govern their governor.” The influence of the monks, who were resident in large numbers within the city, and of the magistrates, who were all stanch Catholics, had been hitherto sufficient to outweigh the efforts made by the large masses of the Reformed religionists composing the bulk of the population. It was, however, impossible to allow Amsterdam to remain in this isolated and hostile attitude to the rest of Holland. The prince, having promised to use no coercion, and loyally adhering to his pledge, had only with extreme difficulty restrained the violence of the Hollanders and Zealanders, who were determined, by fair means or foul, to restore the capital city to its natural place within his stadholderate. He had been obliged, on various occasions, particularly on the 21st of October of the preceding year, to address a most decided and peremptory letter to the estates of Holland and Zealand, forbidding the employment of hostile measures against Amsterdam. His commands had been reluctantly, partially, and only temporarily obeyed. The states desisted from their scheme of reducing the city by famine, but they did not the less encourage the secret and unofficial expeditions which were daily set on foot to accomplish the annexation by a sudden enterprise.
Late in November, a desperate attempt had been made by Colonel Helling, in conjunction with Governor Sonoy, to carry the city by surprise. The force which the adventurer collected for the purpose was inadequate, and his plans were unskillfully arranged. He was himself slain in the streets, at the very commencement of the action, whereupon, in the quaint language of the contemporary chronicler, “the hearts of his soldiers sank in their shoes,” and they evacuated the city with much greater rapidity than they had entered it. The prince was indignant at these violent measures, which retarded rather than advanced the desired consummation. At the same time it was an evil of immense magnitude—this anomalous condition of his capital. Ceaseless schemes were concerted by the municipal and clerical conspirators within its walls, and various attempts were known, at different times, to have been contemplated by Don John, to inflict a home-thrust upon the provinces of Holland and Zealand at the most vulnerable and vital point. The “Satisfaction” accepted by Utrecht, in the autumn of 1577, had, however, paved the way for the recovery of Amsterdam; so that upon the eighth of February, 1578, certain deputies from Utrecht succeeded at last in arranging terms, which were accepted by the sister city. The basis of the treaty was, as usual, the nominal supremacy of the Catholic religion, with toleration for the Reformed worship. The necessary effect would be, as in Harlem, Utrecht, and other places, to establish the new religion upon an entire equality with the old. It was arranged that no congregations were to be disturbed in their religious exercises in the places respectively assigned to them. Those of the Reformed faith were to celebrate their worship without the walls. They were, however, to enjoy the right of burying their dead within these precincts, and it is singular how much importance was attached at that day to a custom, at which the common sentiment and the common sense of modern times revolt. “To bury our dead within our own cities is a right hardly to be denied to a dog,” said the Prince of Orange, and accordingly this right was amply secured by the new Satisfaction of Amsterdam. It was, however, stipulated that the funerals should be modest, and attended by no more than twenty-four persons at once. The treaty was hailed with boundless joy in Holland and Zealand, while countless benedictions were invoked upon the “blessed peace-makers,” as the Utrecht deputies walked through the streets of Amsterdam. There is no doubt that the triumph thus achieved by the national party far counterbalanced the governor-general’s victory at Gemblours.
Meantime, the Seigneur de Selles, brother of the deceased Noircarmes, had arrived from Spain. He was the special bearer of a letter from the king to the states-general, written in reply to their communications of the 24th of August and eighth of September of the previous year. The tone of the royal dispatch was very affectionate, the substance such as entirely to justify the whole policy of Orange. It was obvious that the penetrating and steadfast statesman had been correct in refusing to be moved to the right or the left by the specious language of Philip’s former letters, or by the apparent frankness of Don John. No doubt the governor had been sincere in his desire for peace, but the prince knew very well his incapacity to confer that blessing. The prince knew—what no man else appeared fully to comprehend at that epoch—that the mortal combat between the Inquisition and the Reformation was already fully engaged. The great battle between divine reason and right divine, on which the interests of unborn generations were hanging, was to be fought out, before the eyes of all Christendom, on the plain of the Netherlands.
Orange was willing to lay down his arms if he could receive security for the Reformed worship. He had no desire to exterminate the ancient religion, but he meant also to protect the new against extermination. Such security, he felt, would never be granted, and he had therefore resolutely refused to hearken to Don John, for he was sure that peace with him was impossible. The letters now produced by De Selles confirmed his positions completely. The king said not a word concerning the appointment of a new governor-general, but boldly insisted upon the necessity of maintaining the two cardinal points—his royal supremacy, and the Catholic religion upon the basis adopted by his father, the Emperor Charles V.
This was the whole substance of his communication—the supremacy of royalty and of papacy as in the time of Charles V. These cabalistic words were repeated twice in the brief letter to the estates. They were repeated five times in the instructions furnished by his Majesty to De Selles. The letter and the instructions indeed contained nothing else. Two simples were offered for the cure of the body politic, racked by the fever and convulsion of ten horrible years—two simples which the patient could hardly be so unreasonable as to reject—unlimited despotism and religious persecution. The whole matter lay in a nutshell, but it was a nutshell which enclosed the flaming edicts of Charles V, with their scaffolds, gibbets, racks, and funeral piles. The prince and the states-general spurned such pacific overtures, and preferred rather to gird themselves for the combat.
That there might be no mistake about the matter, Don John, immediately after receiving the letter, issued a proclamation to enforce the king’s command. He mentioned it as an acknowledged fact that the states-general had long ago sworn the maintenance of the two points of royal and Catholic supremacy, according to the practice under the Emperor Charles. The states instantly published an indignant rejoinder, affirming the indisputable truth that they had sworn to the maintenance of the Ghent Pacification, and proclaiming the assertion of Don John an infamous falsehood. It was an outrage upon common sense, they said, that the Ghent treaty could be tortured into sanctioning the placards and the Inquisition, evils which that sacred instrument had been expressly intended to crush.
A letter was then formally addressed to his Majesty, in the name of the Archduke Matthias and of the estates, demanding the recall of Don John and the maintenance of the Ghent Pacification. De Selles, in reply, sent a brief, deprecatory paper, enclosing a note from Don John, which the envoy acknowledged might seem somewhat harsh in its expressions. The letter contained, indeed, a sufficiently fierce and peremptory summons to the states to obey the king’s commands with regard to the system of Charles V, according to their previous agreement, together with a violent declaration of the governor’s displeasure that they had dared to solicit the aid of foreign princes. On the 18th of February came a proposition from De Seller that the Prince of Orange should place himself in the hands of Don John, while the Prince of Parma, alone and without arms, would come before the assembly, to negotiate with them upon these matters. The reply returned by the states-general to this absurd suggestion expressed their regret that the son of the Duchess Margaret should have taken part with the enemy of the Netherlanders, complained of the bull by which the pope had invited war against them as if they had been Saracens, repeated their most unanswerable argument—that the Ghent Pacification had established a system directly the reverse of that which existed under Charles V—and affirmed their resolution never more to submit to Spanish armies, executioners, edicts, or inquisitions, and never more to return to the principles of the Emperor and of Alva. To this diplomatic correspondence succeeded a war of words and of pamphlets, some of them very inflammatory and very eloquent.
Meantime, the preparations for active hostilities were proceeding daily. The Prince of Orange, through his envoys in England, had arranged for subsidies in the coming campaign, and for troops which were to be led to the Netherlands, under Duke Casimir of the palatinate. He sent commissioners through the provinces to raise the respective contributions agreed upon, besides an extraordinary quota of 400,000 guilders monthly. He also negotiated a loan of 120,000 guilders from the citizens of Antwerp. Many new taxes were imposed by his direction, both upon income and upon consumption. By his advice, however, and with the consent of the states-general, the provinces of Holland and Zealand held no community of burthens with the other provinces, but of their own free will contributed more than the sums for which they would have been assessed. Mr. Leyton, who was about to return from his unsuccessful mission from Elizabeth to Don John, was requested by the states-general to convey to her Majesty a faithful report of the recent correspondence, and especially of the language held by the governor-general. He was also urged to use his influence with the queen, to the end that her promises of assistance might be speedily fulfilled.
Troops were rapidly enrolled, and again, by the same honest but mistaken policy, the chief offices were conferred upon the great nobles—Aerschot, Champagny, Bossu, Egmont, Lalain, the Viscount of Ghent, Baron de Ville, and many others, most of whom were to desert the cause in the hour of its need. On the other hand, Don John was proceeding with his military preparations upon an extensive scale. The king had recently furnished him with 1,900,000 dollars, and had promised to provide him with 200,000 more, monthly. With these funds his Majesty estimated that an army of 30,000 foot, 16,000 cavalry, and thirty pieces of artillery, could be levied and kept on foot. If more remittances should prove to be necessary, it was promised that they should be forthcoming.
This was the result of many earnest remonstrances made by the governor concerning the dilatory policy of the king. Wearied with being constantly ordered “to blow hot and cold with the same breath,” he had insisted that his Majesty should select the hot or the cold, and furnish him with the means of enforcing the choice. For himself, Don John assured his brother that the hottest measures were most to his taste, and most suitable to the occasion. Fire and sword could alone save the royal authority, for all the provinces had “abandoned themselves, body and soul, to the greatest heretic and tyrant that prince ever had for vassal.” Unceasing had been the complaints and entreaties of the captain-general, called forth by the apathy or irresolution of Philip. It was only by assuring him that the Netherlands actually belonged to Orange, that the monarch could be aroused. “His they are, and none other’s,” said the governor, dolefully. The king had accordingly sent back De Billy, Don John’s envoy, with decided injunctions to use force and energy to put down the revolt at once, and with an intimation that funds might be thenceforth more regularly depended upon, as the Indian fleets were expected in July. Philip also advised his brother to employ a portion of his money in purchasing the governors and principal persons who controlled the cities and other strong places belonging to the states.
Meantime, Don John thundered forth a manifesto which had been recently prepared in Madrid, by which the estates, both general and particular, were ordered forthwith to separate, and forbidden to assemble again, except by especial license. All commissions, civil or military, granted by states’ authority, were moreover annulled, together with a general prohibition of any act of obedience to such functionaries, and of contribution to any imposts which might be levied by their authority. Such thunders were now comparatively harmless, for the states had taken their course, and were busily engaged, both at home and abroad, in arming for the conflict. Saint Aldegonde was deputed to attend the Imperial diet, then in session at Worms, where he delivered an oration, which was very celebrated in its day as a composition, but which can hardly be said to have produced much practical effect. The current was setting hard in Germany against the Reformed religion and against the Netherland cause, the Augsburg Confessionists showing hardly more sympathy with Dutch Calvinists than with Spanish papists.
Envoys from Don John also attended the diet, and requested Saint Aldegonde to furnish them with a copy of his oration. This he declined to do. While in Germany, Saint Aldegonde was informed by John Casimir that Duke Charles of Sweden had been solicited to furnish certain ships of war for a contemplated operation against Amsterdam. The duke had himself given information of this plot to the Prince Palatine. It was therefore natural that Saint Aldegonde should forthwith dispatch the intelligence to his friends in the Netherlands, warning them of the dangers still to be apprehended from the machinations of the Catholic agents and functionaries in Amsterdam; for although the Reformation had made rapid progress in that important city since the conclusion of the Satisfaction, yet the magistracy remained Catholic.
William Bardez, son of a former high-sheriff, a warm partisan of Orange and of the “religion,” had already determined to overthrow that magistracy and to expel the friars who infested the city. The recent information dispatched by Saint Aldegonde confirmed him in his purpose. There had been much wrangling between the popish functionaries and those of the Reformed religion concerning the constitution of the burgher guard. The Calvinists could feel no security for their own lives, or the repose of the commonwealth of Holland, unless they were themselves allowed a full participation in the government of those important bands. They were, moreover, dissatisfied with the assignment which had been made of the churchyards to the members of their communion. These causes of discord had maintained a general irritation among the body of the inhabitants, and were now used as pretexts by Bardez for his design. He knew the city to be ripe for the overthrow of the magistracy, and he had arranged with Governor Sonoy to be furnished with a sufficient number of well-tried soldiers, who were to be concealed in the houses of the confederates. A large number of citizens were also ready to appear at his bidding with arms in their hands.
On the 24th of May, he wrote to Sonoy, begging him to hold himself in readiness, as all was prepared within the city. At the same time, he requested the governor to send him forthwith a “morion and a buckler of proof,” for he intended to see the matter fairly through. Sonoy answered encouragingly, and sent him the armor, as directed. On the 28th of May, Bardez, with four confederates, went to the council-room, to remonstrate with the senate concerning the grievances which had been so often discussed. At about mid-day, one of the confederates, upon leaving the council-room, stepped out for a moment upon the balcony, which looked towards the public square. Standing there for a moment, he gravely removed his hat, and then as gravely replaced it upon his head. This was a preconcerted signal. At the next instant a sailor was seen to rush across the square, waving a flag in both hands. “All ye who love the Prince of Orange, take heart and follow me!” he shouted. In a moment the square was alive. Soldiers and armed citizens suddenly sprang forth, as if from the bowels of the earth. Bardez led a strong force directly into the council-chamber, and arrested every one of the astonished magistrates. At the same time, his confederates had scoured the town and taken every friar in the city into custody. Monks and senators were then marched solemnly down towards the quay, where a vessel was in readiness to receive them. “To the gallows with them—to the gallows with them!” shouted the populace, as they passed along. “To the gibbet, whither they have brought many a good fellow before his time!” Such were the openly expressed desires of their fellow citizens, as these dignitaries and holy men proceeded to what they believed their doom. Although treated respectfully by those who guarded them, they were filled with trepidation, for they believed the execrations of the populace the harbingers of their fate. As they entered the vessel, they felt convinced that a watery death had been substituted for the gibbet. Poor old Heinrich Direkzoon, ex-burgomaster, pathetically rejected a couple of clean shirts which his careful wife had sent him by the hands of the housemaid. “Take them away; take them home again,” said the rueful burgomaster, “I shall never need clean shirts again in this world.” He entertained no doubt that it was the intention of his captors to scuttle the vessel as soon as they had put a little out to sea, and so to leave them to their fate. No such tragic end was contemplated, however, and, in fact, never was a complete municipal revolution accomplished in so good-natured and jocose a manner. The Catholic magistrates and friars escaped with their fright. They were simply turned out of town, and forbidden, for their lives, ever to come back again. After the vessel had proceeded a little distance from the city, they were all landed high and dry upon a dyke, and so left unharmed within the open country.
A new board of magistrates, of which stout William Bardez was one, was soon appointed; the train-bands were reorganized, and the churches thrown open to the Reformed worship, to the exclusion, at first, of the Catholics. This was certainly contrary to the Ghent treaty, and to the recent Satisfaction; it was also highly repugnant to the opinions of Orange. After a short time, accordingly, the Catholics were again allowed access to the churches, but the tables had now been turned forever in the capital of Holland, and the Reformation was an established fact throughout that little province.
Similar events occurring upon the following day at Harlem, accompanied with some bloodshed—for which, however, the perpetrator was punished with death—opened the great church of that city to the Reformed congregations, and closed them for a time to the Catholics.
Thus, the cause of the new religion was triumphant in Holland and Zealand, while it was advancing with rapid strides through the other provinces. Public preaching was of daily occurrence everywhere. On a single Sunday, fifteen different ministers of the Reformed religion preached in different places in Antwerp. “Do you think this can be put down?” said Orange to the remonstrating burgomaster of that city. “’Tis for you to repress it,” said the functionary, “I grant your Highness full power to do so.” “And do you think,” replied the prince, “that I can do at this late moment, what the Duke of Alva was unable to accomplish in the very plenitude of his power?” At the same time, the Prince of Orange was more than ever disposed to rebuke his own Church for practicing persecution in her turn. Again he lifted his commanding voice in behalf of the Anabaptists of Middelburg. He reminded the magistrates of that city that these peaceful burghers were always perfectly willing to bear their part in all the common burthens, that their word was as good as their oath, and that as to the matter of military service, although their principles forbade them to bear arms, they had ever been ready to provide and pay for substitutes. “We declare to you therefore,” said he, “that you have no right to trouble yourselves with any man’s conscience, so long as nothing is done to cause private harm or public scandal. We therefore expressly ordain that you desist from molesting these Baptists, from offering hindrance to their handicraft and daily trade, by which they can earn bread for their wives and children, and that you permit them henceforth to open their shops and to do their work, according to the custom of former days. Beware, therefore, of disobedience and of resistance to the ordinance which we now establish.”
Meantime, the armies on both sides had been assembled, and had been moving towards each other. Don John was at the head of nearly 30,000 troops, including a large proportion of Spanish and Italian veterans. The states’ army hardly numbered 18,000 foot and 2,000 cavalry, under the famous François de la Noue, surnamed Bras de Fer, who had been recently appointed Maréchal de Camp, and, under Count Bossu, commander-in-chief. The muster-place of the provincial forces was in the plains between Herenthals and Lier. At this point they expected to be reinforced by Duke Casimir, who had been, since the early part of the summer, in the country of Zutphen, but who was still remaining there inglorious and inactive, until he could be furnished with the requisite advance-money to his troops.
Don John was determined if possible, to defeat the states’ army, before Duke Casimir, with his 12,000 Germans, should effect his juncture with Bossu. The governor therefore crossed the Demer, near Aerschot, towards the end of July, and offered battle, day after day, to the enemy. A series of indecisive skirmishes was the result, in the last of which, near Rijnemants, on the first day of August, the royalists were worsted and obliged to retire, after a desultory action of nearly eight hours, leaving a thousand dead upon the field. Their offer of “double or quits,” the following morning was steadily refused by Bossu, who, secure within his entrenchments, was not to be induced at that moment to encounter the chances of a general engagement. For this he was severely blamed by the more violent of the national party.
His patriotism, which was of such recent origin, was vehemently suspected; and his death, which occurred not long afterwards, was supposed to have alone prevented his deserting the states to fight again under Spanish colors. These suspicions were probably unjust. Bossu’s truth of character had been as universally recognized as was his signal bravery. If he refused upon this occasion a general battle, those who reflected upon the usual results to the patriot banner of such engagements, might confess, perhaps, that one disaster the more had been avoided. Don John, finding it impossible to accomplish his purpose, and to achieve another Gemblours victory, fell back again to the neighborhood of Namur.
The states’ forces remained waiting for the long-promised succor of John Casimir. It was the 26th of August, however, before the duke led his 12,000 men to the neighborhood of Mechlin, where Bossu was encamped. This young prince possessed neither the ability nor the generosity which were requisite for the heroic part which he was ambitious to perform in the Netherland drama. He was inspired by a vague idea of personal aggrandizement, although he professed at the same time the utmost deference to William of Orange. He expressed the hope that he and the prince “should be but two heads under one hat,” but he would have done well to ask himself whether his own contribution to this partnership of brains would very much enrich the silent statesman. Orange himself regarded him with respectful contempt, and considered his interference with Netherland matters but as an additional element of mischief. The duke’s right-hand man, however, Peter Peutterich, the “equestrian doctor”—as Sir Philip Sydney called him—equally skillful with the sword as with the pen, had succeeded, while on a mission to England, in acquiring the queen’s favor for his master.
To Casimir, therefore, had been entrusted the command of the levies, and the principal expenditure of the subsidies which she had placed at the disposition of the states. Upon Casimir she relied, as a counterweight to the Duke of Alençon, who, as she knew, had already entered the provinces at the secret solicitation of a large faction among the nobles. She had as much confidence as ever in Orange, but she imagined herself to be strengthening his cause by providing him with such a lieutenant. Casimir’s immediate friends had but little respect for his abilities. His father-in-law, Augustus of Saxony, did not approve his expedition. The Landgrave William, to whom he wrote for counsel, answered, in his quaint manners, that it was always difficult for one friend to advise another in three matters—to wit, in taking a wife, going to sea, and going to war—but that, nevertheless, despite the ancient proverb, he would assume the responsibility of warning Casimir not to plunge into what he was pleased to call the “confusum chaos of Netherland politics.” The duke felt no inclination, however, to take the advice which he had solicited. He had been stung by the sarcasm which Alva had once uttered, that the German potentates carried plenty of lions, dragons, eagles, and griffins on their shields, but that these ferocious animals were not given to biting or scratching. He was therefore disposed, once for all, to show that the teeth and claws of German princes could still be dangerous. Unfortunately, he was destined to add a fresh element of confusion to the chaos, and to furnish rather a proof than a refutation of the correctness of Alva’s gibe.
This was the hero who was now thrust, head and shoulders as it were, into the entangled affairs of the Netherlanders, and it was Elizabeth of England, more than ever alarmed at the schemes of Alençon, who had pushed forward this Protestant champion, notwithstanding the disinclination of Orange.
The queen was right in her uneasiness respecting the French prince. The Catholic nobles, relying upon the strong feeling still rife throughout the Walloon country against the Reformed religion, and inflamed more than ever by their repugnance to Orange, whose genius threw them so completely into the shade, had already drawn closer to the duke. The same influences were at work to introduce Alençon, which had formerly been employed to bring Matthias from Vienna. Now that the archduke, who was to have been the rival, had become the dependent of William, they turned their attention to the son of Catherine de’ Medici, Orange himself having always kept the duke in reserve, as an instrument to overcome the political coquetry of Elizabeth. That great princess never manifested less greatness than in her earlier and most tormenting connection with the Netherlands. Having allured them for years with bright but changeful face, she still looked coldly down upon the desolate sea where they were drifting. She had promised much; her performance had been nothing. Her jealousy of French influence had at length been turned to account; a subsidy and a levy extorted from her fears. Her ministers and prominent advisers were one and all in favor of an open and generous support to the provinces. Walsingham, Burleigh, Knollys, Davidson, Sidney, Leicester, Fleetwood, Wilson, all desired that she should frankly espouse their cause. A bold policy they believed to be the only prudent one in this case; yet the queen considered it sagacious to dispatch envoys both to Philip and to Don John, as if, after what they knew of her secret practices, such missions could effect any useful purpose. Better, therefore, in the opinion of the honest and intrepid statesmen of England, to throw down the gauntlet at once in the cause of the oppressed than to shuffle and palter until the dreaded rival should cross the frontier. A French Netherlands they considered even more dangerous than a Spanish, and Elizabeth partook of their sentiments, although incapable of their promptness. With the perverseness which was the chief blot upon her character, she was pleased that the duke should be still a dangler for her hand, even while she was intriguing against his political hopes. She listened with undisguised rapture to his proposals of love, while she was secretly thwarting the plans of his ambition.
Meanwhile, Alençon had arrived at Mons, and we have seen already the feminine adroitness with which his sister of Navarre had prepared his entrance. Not in vain had she cajoled the commandant of Cambray citadel; not idly had she led captive the hearts of Lalain and his countess, thus securing the important province of Hainault for the duke. Don John might, indeed, gnash his teeth with rage, as he marked the result of all the feasting and flattery, the piping and dancing at Namur.
Francis, Duke of Alençon and—since the accession of his brother Henry to the French throne—Duke of Anjou, was, upon the whole, the most despicable personage who had ever entered the Netherlands. His previous career at home had been so flagrantly false that he had forfeited the esteem of every honest man in Europe, Catholic or Lutheran, Huguenot or Malcontent. The world has long known his character. History will always retain him as an example to show mankind the amount of mischief which may be perpetrated by a prince—ferocious without courage, ambitious without talent, and bigoted without opinions. Incapable of religious convictions himself, he had alternately aspired to be a commander of Catholic and of Huguenot zealots, and he had acquired nothing by his vacillating course, save the entire contempt of all parties and of both religions. Scared from the side of Navarre and Condé by the menacing attitude of the “league,” fearing to forfeit the succession to the throne, unless he made his peace with the court, he had recently resumed his place among the Catholic commanders. Nothing was easier for him than to return shamelessly to a party which he had shamelessly deserted, save perhaps to betray it again, should his interest prompt him to do so, on the morrow. Since the peace of 1576, it had been evident that the Protestants could not count upon his friendship, and he had soon afterwards been placed at the head of the army which was besieging the Huguenots of Issoire. He sought to atone for having commanded the troops of the new religion by the barbarity with which he now persecuted its votaries. When Issoire fell into his hands, the luckless city was spared none of the misery which can be inflicted by a brutal and frenzied soldiery. Its men were butchered, its females outraged, its property plundered with a thoroughness which rivaled the Netherland practice of Alva, or Frederic Toledo, or Julian Romero. The town was sacked and burned to ashes by furious Catholics, under the command of Francis Alençon, almost at the very moment when his fair sister, Margaret, was preparing the way in the Netherlands for the fresh treason which he already meditated to the Catholic cause. The Treaty of Bergerac, signed in the autumn of 1577, again restored a semblance of repose to France, and again afforded an opportunity for Alençon to change his politics, and what he called his religion. Reeking with the blood of the Protestants of Issoire, he was now at leisure to renew his dalliance with the Queen of Protestant England, and to resume his correspondence with the great chieftain of the Reformation in the Netherlands.
It is perhaps an impeachment upon the perspicacity of Orange, that he could tolerate this mischievous and worthless “son of France,” even for the grave reasons which influenced him. Nevertheless, it must be remembered that he only intended to keep him in reserve, for the purpose of irritating the jealousy and quickening the friendship of the English Queen. Those who see anything tortuous in such politics must beware of judging the intriguing age of Philip and Catherine de’ Medici by the higher standard of later, and possibly more candid times. It would have been puerile for a man of William the Silent’s resources, to allow himself to be outwitted by the intrigues of all the courts and cabinets in Europe. Moreover, it must be remembered that, if he alone could guide himself and his country through the perplexing labyrinth in which they were involved, it was because he held in his hand the clue of an honest purpose. His position in regard to the Duke of Alençon, had now become sufficiently complicated, for the tiger that he had led in a chain had been secretly unloosed by those who meant mischief. In the autumn of the previous year, the aristocratic and Catholic party in the states-general had opened their communications with a prince, by whom they hoped to be indemnified for their previous defeat.
The ill effects of Elizabeth’s coquetry too plainly manifested themselves at last, and Alençon had now a foothold in the Netherlands. Precipitated by the intrigues of the party which had always been either openly or secretly hostile to Orange, his advent could no longer be delayed. It only remained for the prince to make himself his master, as he had already subdued each previous rival. This he accomplished with his customary adroitness. It was soon obvious, even to so dull and so base a nature as that of the duke, that it was his best policy to continue to cultivate so powerful a friendship. It cost him little to crouch, but events were fatally to prove at a later day, that there are natures too malignant to be trusted or to be tamed. For the present, however, Alençon professed the most friendly sentiments towards the prince. Solicited by so ardent and considerable a faction, the duke was no longer to be withheld from trying the venture, and if he could not effect his entrance by fair means, was determines to do so by force. He would obtrude his assistance, if it were declined. He would do his best to dismember the provinces, if only a portion of them would accept his proffered friendship. Under these circumstances, as the prince could no longer exclude him from the country, it became necessary to accept his friendship, and to hold him in control. The duke had formally offered his assistance to the states-general, directly after the defeat of Gemblours, and early in July had made his appearance in Mons. Hence he dispatched his envoys, Des Pruneaux and Rochefort, to deal with the states-general and with Orange, while he treated Matthias with contempt, and declared that he had no intention to negotiate with him. The archduke burst into tears when informed of this slight, and feebly expressed a wish that succor might be found in Germany which would render this French alliance unnecessary. It was not the first nor the last mortification which the future Emperor was to undergo. The prince was addressed with distinguished consideration, Des Pruneaux protesting that he desired but three things—the glory of his master, the glory of God, and the glory of William of Orange.
The French king was naturally supposed to be privy to his brother’s schemes, for it was thought ridiculous to suggest that Henry’s own troops could be led by his own brother, on this foreign expedition, without his connivance. At the same time, private letters, written by him at this epoch, expressed disapprobation of the schemes of Alençon, and jealousy of his aggrandizement. It was, perhaps, difficult to decide as to the precise views of a monarch who was too weak to form opinions for himself, and too false to maintain those with which he had been furnished by others. With the Medicean mother it was different, and it was she who was believed to be at the bottom of the intrigue. There was even a vague idea that the Spanish sovereign himself might be privy to the plot, and that a possible marriage between Alençon and the Infanta might be on the cards. In truth, however, Philip felt himself outraged by the whole proceedings. He resolutely refused to accept the excuses proffered by the French court, or to doubt the complicity of the queen dowager, who, it was well known, governed all her sons. She had, to be sure, thought proper to read the envoys of the states-general a lecture upon the impropriety of subjects opposing the commands of their lawful prince, but such artifices were thought too transparent to deceive. Granvelle scouted the idea of her being ignorant of Anjou’s scheme, or opposed to its success. As for William of Hesse, while he bewailed more than ever the luckless plunge into “confusum chaos” which Casimir had taken, he unhesitatingly expressed his conviction that the invasion of Alençon was a masterpiece of Catherine. The whole responsibility of the transaction he divided, in truth, between the dowager and the comet, which just then hung over the world, filling the soul of the excellent Landgrave with dismal apprehension.
The Queen of England was highly incensed by the actual occurrence of the invasion which she had so long dreaded. She was loud in her denunciations of the danger and dishonor which would be the result to the provinces of this French alliance. She threatened not only to withdraw herself from their cause, but even to take arms against a commonwealth which had dared to accept Alençon for its master. She had originally agreed to furnish 100,000 pounds by way of loan. This assistance had been afterwards commuted into a levy of 3,000 foot and 2,000 horse, to be added to the forces of John Casimir, and to be placed under his command. It had been stipulated, also, that the Palatine should have the rank and pay of an English general-in-chief, and be considered as the queen’s lieutenant. The money had been furnished and the troops enrolled. So much had been already bestowed, and could not be recalled, but it was not probable that, in her present humor, the queen would be induced to add to her favors.
The prince, obliged by the necessity of the case, had prescribed the terms and the title under which Alençon should be accepted. Upon the 13th of August, the duke’s envoy concluded a convention in twenty-three articles, which were afterwards subscribed by the duke himself, at Mons, upon the twentieth of the same month. The substance of this arrangement was that Alençon should lend his assistance to the provinces against the intolerable tyranny of the Spaniards and the unjustifiable military invasion of Don John. He was, moreover, to bring into the field 10,000 foot and 2,000 horse for three months. After the expiration of this term, his forces might be reduced to 3,000 foot and 500 horse. The states were to confer upon him the title of “Defender of the Liberty of the Netherlands against the tyranny of the Spaniards and their adherents.” He was to undertake no hostilities against Queen Elizabeth. The states were to aid him, whenever it should become necessary, with the same amount of force with which he now assisted them. He was to submit himself contentedly to the civil government of the country, in everything regarding its internal polity. He was to make no special contracts or treaties with any cities or provinces of the Netherlands. Should the states-general accept another prince as sovereign, the duke was to be preferred to all others, upon conditions afterwards to be arranged. All cities which might be conquered within the territory of the united provinces were to belong to the states. Such places not in that territory, as should voluntarily surrender, were to be apportioned, by equal division, between the duke and the states. The duke was to bring no foreign troops but French into the provinces. The month of August was reserved, during which the states were, if possible, to make a composition with Don John.
These articles were certainly drawn up with skill. A high-sounding but barren title, which gratified the duke’s vanity and signified nothing, had been conferred upon him, while at the same time he was forbidden to make conquests or contracts, and was obliged to submit himself to the civil government of the country; in short, he was to obey the Prince of Orange in all things—and so here was another plot of the prince’s enemies neutralized. Thus, for the present at least, had the position of Anjou been defined.
As the month of August, during which it was agreed, that negotiations with the governor-general should remain open, had already half expired, certain articles, drawn up by the states-general, were at once laid before Don John. Lord Cobham and Sir Francis Walsingham were then in the Netherlands, having been sent by Elizabeth for the purpose of effecting a pacification of the estates with the governor, if possible. They had also explained-so far as an explanation was possible—the assistance which the English government had rendered to the rebels, upon the ground that the French invasion could be prevented in no other way. This somewhat lame apology had been passed over in silence rather than accepted by Don John. In the same interview, the envoys made an equally unsuccessful effort to induce the acceptance by the governor of the terms offered by the states. A further proposition, on their part, for an “Interim,” upon the plan attempted by Charles V in Germany, previously to the Peace of Passau, met with no more favor than it merited, for certainly that name—which became so odious in Germany that cats and dogs were called “Interim” by the common people, in derision—was hardly a potent word to conjure with, at that moment, in the Netherlands. They then expressed their intention of retiring to England, much grieved at the result of their mission. The governor replied that they might do as they liked, but that he, at least, had done all in his power to bring about a peace, and that the king had been equally pacific in his intentions. He then asked the envoys what they themselves thought of the terms proposed. “Indeed, they are too hard, your Highness,” answered Walsingham, “but ’tis only by pure menace that we have extorted them from the states, unfavorable though they seem.”
“We can only answer,” said Walsingham, at length, “by imitating the physician, who would prescribe no medicine until he was quite sure that the patient was ready to swallow it. ’Tis no use wasting counsel or drugs.”
The reply was not satisfactory, but the envoys had convinced themselves that the sword was the only surgical instrument likely to find favor at that juncture. Don John referred, in vague terms, to his peaceable inclinations, but protested that there was no treating with so unbridled a people as the Netherlanders. The ambassadors soon afterwards took their leave. After this conference, which was on August 24, 1578, Walsingham and Cobham addressed a letter to the states-general, deploring the disingenuous and procrastinating conduct of the governor, and begging that the failure to effect a pacification might not be imputed to them. They then returned to England.
The Imperial envoy, Count Schwartzburg, at whose urgent solicitation this renewed attempt at a composition had been made, was most desirous that the governor should accept the articles. They formed, indeed, the basis of a liberal, constitutional, representative government, in which the Spanish monarch was to retain only a strictly limited sovereignty. The proposed convention required Don John, with all his troops and adherents, forthwith to leave the land after giving up all strongholds and cities in his possession. It provided that the Archduke Matthias should remain as governor-general, under the conditions according to which he had been originally accepted. It left the question of religious worship to the decision of the states-general. It provided for the release of all prisoners, the return of all exiles, the restoration of all confiscated property. It stipulated that upon the death or departure of Matthias, his Majesty was not to appoint a governor-general without the consent of the states-general.
When Count Schwartzburg waited upon the governor with these astonishing propositions—which Walsingham might well call somewhat hard—he found him less disposed to explode with wrath than he had been in previous conferences. Already the spirit of the impetuous young soldier was broken, both by the ill health which was rapidly undermining his constitution and by the helpless condition in which he had been left while contending with the great rebellion. He had soldiers, but no money to pay them withal; he had no means of upholding that supremacy of crown and church which he was so vigorously instructed to maintain; and he was heartily wearied of fulminating edicts which he had no power to enforce. He had repeatedly solicited his recall, and was growing daily more impatient that his dismissal did not arrive. Moreover, the horrible news of Escovedo’s assassination had sickened him to the soul. The deed had flashed a sudden light into the abyss of dark duplicity in which his own fate was suspended. His most intimate and confidential friend had been murdered by royal command, while he was himself abandoned by Philip, exposed to insult, left destitute of defense. No money was forthcoming, in spite of constant importunities and perpetual promises. Plenty of words were sent him; he complained, as if he possessed the art of extracting gold from them, or as if war could be carried on with words alone.
Being in so desponding a mood, he declined entering into any controversy with regard to the new propositions, which, however, he characterized as most iniquitous. He stated merely that his Majesty had determined to refer the Netherland matters to the arbitration of the Emperor, that the Duke de Terra Nova would soon be empowered to treat upon the subject at the imperial court, and that, in the meantime, he was himself most anxiously awaiting his recall.
A synod of the Reformed churches had been held, during the month of June, at Dort. There they had laid down a platform of their principles of church government in one hundred and one articles. In the same month, the leading members of the Reformed Church had drawn up an ably reasoned address to Matthias and the Council of State on the subject of a general peace of religion for the provinces.
William of Orange did his utmost to improve the opportunity. He sketched a system of provisional toleration, which he caused to be signed by the Archduke Matthias, and which, at least for a season, was to establish religious freedom. The brave, tranquil, solitary man still held his track across the raging waves, shedding as much light as one clear human soul could dispense; yet the dim lantern, so far in advance, was swallowed in the mist, ere those who sailed in his wake could shape their course by his example. No man understood him. Not even his nearest friends comprehended his views, nor saw that he strove to establish not freedom for Calvinism, but freedom for conscience. Saint Aldegonde complained that the prince would not persecute the Anabaptists, Peter Dathenus denounced him as an atheist, while even Count John, the only one left of his valiant and generous brothers, opposed the religious peace—except where the advantage was on the side of the new religion. Where the Catholics had been effectually put down, as in Holland and Zealand, honest John saw no reason for allowing them to lift themselves up again. In the popish provinces, on the other hand, he was for a religious peace. In this bigoted spirit he was followed by too many of the Reforming mass, while, on their part, the Walloons were already banding themselves together in the more southern provinces, under the name of Malcontents. Stigmatized by the Calvinists as “Paternoster Jacks,” they were daily drawing closer their alliance with Alençon, and weakening the bonds which united them with their Protestant brethren. Count John had at length become a permanent functionary in the Netherlands. Urgently solicited by the leaders and the great multitude of the Reformers, he had long been unwilling to abandon his home, and to neglect the private affairs which his devotion to the Netherland cause had thrown into great confusion. The landgrave, too, whose advice he had asked, had strongly urged him not to “dip his fingers into the olla podrida.” The future of the provinces was, in his opinion, so big with disaster, that the past, with all its horrors, under Alva and Requesens, had only furnished the “preludiua” of that which was to ensue. For these desperate views his main reason, as usual, was the comet—that mischievous luminary still continuing to cast a lurid glare across the landgrave’s path. Notwithstanding these direful warnings from a prince of the Reformation, notwithstanding the “olla podrida” and the “comet,” Count John had nevertheless accepted the office of Governor of Gelderland, to which he had been elected by the estates of that province on the 11th of March. That important bulwark of Holland, Zealand, and Utrecht on the one side, and of Groningen and Friesland on the other—the main buttress, in short, of the nascent republic—was now in hands which would defend it to the last.
As soon as the discussion came up in the states-general on the subject of the Dort petitions, Orange requested that every member who had formed his opinions should express them fully and frankly. All wished, however, to be guided and governed by the sentiments of the prince. Not a man spoke, save to demand their leader’s views, and to express adhesion in advance to the course which his wisdom might suggest. The result was a projected convention, a draft for a religious peace, which, if definitely established, would have healed many wounds and averted much calamity. It was not, however, destined to be accepted at that time by the states of the different provinces where it was brought up for discussion; and several changes were made, both of form and substance, before the system was adopted at all. Meantime, for the important city of Antwerp, where religious broils were again on the point of breaking out, the prince preferred a provisional arrangement, which he forthwith carried into execution. A proclamation, in the name of the Archduke Matthias and of the State Council, assigned five special places in the city where the members of the “pretended Reformed religion” should have liberty to exercise their religious worship, with preaching, singing, and the sacraments. The churchyards of the parochial churches were to be opened for the burial of their dead, but the funerals were to be unaccompanied with exhortation, or any public demonstration which might excite disturbance. The adherents of one religion were forbidden to disturb, to insult, or in any way to interfere with the solemnities of the other. All were to abstain from mutual jeering—by pictures, ballads, books, or otherwise—and from all injuries to ecclesiastical property. Every man, of whatever religion, was to be permitted entrance to the churches of either religion, and when there, all were to conform to the regulations of the church with modesty and respect. Those of the new religion were to take oaths of obedience to the authorities, and to abstain from meddling with the secular administration of affairs. Preachers of both religions were forbidden to preach out of doors, or to make use of language tending to sedition. All were to bind themselves to assist the magistrates in quelling riots, and in sustaining the civil government.
This example of religious peace, together with the active correspondence thus occasioned with the different state assemblies, excited the jealousy of the Catholic leaders and of the Walloon population. Champagny, who, despite his admirable qualities and brilliant services, was still unable to place himself on the same platform of toleration with Orange, now undertook a decided movement against the policy of the prince. Catholic to the core, he drew up a petition, remonstrating most vigorously against the draft for a religious peace, then in circulation through the provinces. To this petition he procured many signatures among the more ardent Catholic nobles. De Héze, De Glimes, and others of the same stamp, were willing enough to follow the lead of so distinguished a chieftain. The remonstrance was addressed to the archduke, the Prince of Orange, the State Council, and the States-general, and called upon them all to abide by their solemn promises to permit no schism in the ancient Church. Should the exercise of the new religion be allowed, the petitioners insisted that the godless licentiousness of the Netherlands would excite the contempt of all peoples and potentates. They suggested, in conclusion, that all the principal cities of France, and in particular the city of Paris, had kept themselves clear of the exercise of the new religion, and that repose and prosperity had been the result.
This petition was carried with considerable solemnity by Champagny, attended by many of his confederates, to the Hôtel de Ville, and presented to the magistracy of Brussels. These functionaries were requested to deliver it forthwith to the archduke and Council. The magistrates demurred. A discussion ensued, which grew warmer and warmer as it proceeded. The younger nobles permitted themselves abusive language, which the civic dignitaries would not brook. The session was dissolved, and the magistrates, still followed by the petitioners, came forth into the street. The confederates, more inflamed than ever, continued to vociferate and to threaten. A crowd soon collected in the square. The citizens were naturally curious to know why their senators were thus browbeaten and insulted by a party of insolent young Catholic nobles. The old politician at their head, who, in spite of many services, was not considered a friend to the nation, inspired them with distrust. Being informed of the presentation of the petition, the multitude loudly demanded that the document should be read. This was immediately done. The general drift of the remonstrance was anything but acceptable, but the allusion to Paris, at the close, excited a tempest of indignation. “Paris! Paris! Saint Bartholomew! Saint Bartholomew! Are we to have Paris weddings in Brussels also?” howled the mob, as is often the case, extracting but a single idea, and that a wrong one, from the public lecture which had just been made. “Are we to have a Paris massacre, a Paris bloodbath here in the Netherland capital? God forbid! God forbid! Away with the conspirators! Down with the papists!”
It was easily represented to the inflamed imaginations of the populace that a Brussels Saint Bartholomew had been organized, and that Champagny, who stood there before them, was its originator and manager. The ungrateful Netherlanders forgot the heroism with which the old soldier had arranged the defense of Antwerp against the “Spanish Fury” but two years before. They heard only the instigations of his enemies; they remembered only that he was the hated Granvelle’s brother; they believed only that there was a plot by which, in some utterly incomprehensible manner, they were all to be immediately engaged in cutting each other’s throats and throwing each other out of the windows, as had been done half a dozen years before in Paris. Such was the mischievous intention ascribed to a petition, which Champagny and his friends had as much right to offer—however narrow and mistaken their opinions might now be considered—as had the synod of Dort to present their remonstrances. Never was a more malignant, or more stupid perversion of a simple and not very alarming phrase. No allusion had been made to Saint Bartholomew; but all its horrors were supposed to be concealed in the sentence which referred to Paris. The nobles were arrested on the spot and hurried to prison, with the exception of Champagny, who made his escape at first, and lay concealed for several days. He was, however, finally ferreted out of his hiding place and carried off to Ghent. There he was thrown into strict confinement, being treated in all respects as the accomplice of Aerschot and the other nobles who had been arrested in the time of Ryhove’s revolution. Certainly, this conduct towards a brave and generous gentleman was ill calculated to increase general sympathy for the cause, or to merit the approbation of Orange. There was, however, a strong prejudice against Champagny. His brother Granvelle had never been forgotten by the Netherlanders, and was still regarded as their most untiring foe, while Champagny was supposed to be in close league with the cardinal. In these views the people were entirely wrong.
While these events were taking place in Brussels and Antwerp, the two armies of the states and of Don John were indolently watching each other. The sinews of war had been cut upon both sides. Both parties were cramped by the most abject poverty. The troops under Bossu and Casimir, in the camp near Mechlin, were already discontented, for want of pay. The 100,000 pounds of Elizabeth had already been spent, and it was not probable that the offended queen would soon furnish another subsidy. The states could with difficulty extort anything like the assessed quotas from the different provinces. The Duke of Alençon was still at Mons, from which place he had issued a violent proclamation of war against Don John—a manifesto which had, however, not been followed up by very vigorous demonstrations. Don John himself was in his fortified camp at Bouge, within a league of Namur, but the here was consuming with mental and with bodily fever. He was, as it were, besieged. He was left entirely without funds, while his royal brother obstinately refused compliance with his earnest demands to be recalled, and coldly neglected his importunities for pecuniary assistance.
Compelled to carry on a war against an armed rebellion with such gold only as could be extracted from royal words; stung to the heart by the suspicion of which he felt himself the object at home, and by the hatred with which he was regarded in the provinces; outraged in his inmost feelings by the murder of Escovedo; foiled, outwitted, reduced to a political nullity by the masterly tactics of the “odious heretic of heretics” to whom he had originally offered his own patronage and the royal forgiveness, the high-spirited soldier was an object to excite the tenderness even of religious and political opponents. Wearied with the turmoil of camps without battle and of cabinets without counsel, he sighed for repose, even if it could be found only in a cloister or the grave. “I rejoice to see by your letter,” he wrote, pathetically, to John Andrew Doria, at Genoa, “that your life is flowing on with such calmness, while the world around me is so tumultuously agitated. I consider you most fortunate that you are passing the remainder of your days for God and yourself; that you are not forced to put yourself perpetually in the scales of the world’s events, nor to venture yourself daily on its hazardous games.” He proceeded to inform. his friend of his own painful situation, surrounded by innumerable enemies, without means of holding out more than three months, and cut off from all assistance by a government which could not see that if the present chance were lost, all was lost. He declared it impossible for him to fight in the position to which he was reduced, pressed as he was within half a mile of the point which he had always considered as his last refuge. He stated also that the French were strengthening themselves in Hainault, under Alençon, and that the King of France was in readiness to break in through Burgundy, should his brother obtain a firm foothold in the provinces. “I have besought his Majesty over and over again,” he continued, “to send to me his orders; if they come they shall be executed, unless they arrive too late. They have cut off our hands, and we have now nothing for it but to stretch forth our heads also to the axe. I grieve to trouble you with my sorrows, but I trust to your sympathy as a man and a friend. I hope that you will remember me in your prayers, for you can put your trust where, in former days, I never could place my own.”
The dying crusader wrote another letter, in the same mournful strain, to another intimate friend, Don Pedro Mendoza, Spanish envoy in Genoa. It was dated upon the same day from his camp near Namur, and repeated the statement that the King of France was ready to invade the Netherlands, so soon as Alençon should prepare an opening. “His Majesty,” continued Don John, “is resolved upon nothing; at least, I am kept in ignorance of his intentions. Our life is doled out to us here by moments. I cry aloud, but it profits me little. Matters will soon be disposed, through our negligence, exactly as the Devil would best wish them. It is plain that we are left here to pine away till our last breath. God direct us all as He may see fit; in His hands are all things.”
Four days later he wrote to the king, stating that he was confined to his chamber with a fever, by which he was already as much reduced as if he had been ill for a month. “I assure your Majesty,” said he, “that the work here is enough to destroy any constitution and any life.” He reminded Philip how often he had been warned by him as to the insidious practices of the French. Those prophecies had now become facts. The French had entered the country, while some of the inhabitants were frightened, others disaffected. Don John declared himself in a dilemma. With his small force, hardly enough to make head against the enemy immediately in front, and to protect the places which required guarding, ’twas impossible for him to leave his position to attack the enemy in Burgundy. If he remained stationary, the communications were cut off through which his money and supplies reached him. “Thus I remain,” said he, “perplexed and confused, desiring, more than life, some decision on your Majesty’s part, for which I have implored so many times.” He urged the king most vehemently to send him instructions as to the course to be pursued, adding that it wounded him to the soul to find them so long delayed. He begged to be informed whether he was to attack the enemy in Burgundy, whether he should await where he then was the succor of his Majesty, or whether he was to fight, and if so with which of his enemies: in fine, what he was to do; because, losing or winning, he meant to conform to his Majesty’s will. He felt deeply pained, he said, at being disgraced and abandoned by the king, having served him, both as a brother, and a man, with love and faith and heartiness. “Our lives,” said he, “are at stake upon this game, and all we wish is to lose them honorably.” He begged the king to send a special envoy to France, with remonstrance on the subject of Alençon, and another to the pope to ask for the duke’s excommunication. He protested that he would give his blood rather than occasion so much annoyance to the king, but that he felt it his duty to tell the naked truth. The pest was ravaging his little army. Twelve hundred were now in hospital, besides those nursed in private houses, and he had no means or money to remedy the evil. Moreover, the enemy, seeing that they were not opposed in the open field, had cut off the passage into Liege by the Meuse, and had advanced to Nivelles and Chimay for the sake of communications with France, by the same river.
Ten days after these pathetic passages had been written, the writer was dead. Since the assassination of Escovedo, a consuming melancholy had settled upon his spirits, and a burning fever came, in the month of September, to destroy his physical strength. The house where he lay was a hovel, the only chamber of which had been long used as a pigeon-house. This wretched garret was cleansed, as well as it could be of its filth, and hung with tapestry emblazoned with armorial bearings. In that dovecot the hero of Lepanto was destined to expire. During the last few days’ of his illness, he was delirious. Tossing upon his uneasy couch, he again arranged in imagination, the combinations of great battles, again shouted his orders to rushing squadrons, and listened with brightening eye to the trumpet of victory. Reason returned, however, before the hour of death, and permitted him the opportunity to make the dispositions rendered necessary by his condition. He appointed his nephew, Alexander of Parma, who had been watching assiduously over his deathbed, to succeed him, provisionally, in the command of the army and in his other dignities, received the last sacraments with composure, and tranquilly breathed his last upon the first day of October, the month which, since the battle of Lepanto, he had always considered a festive and a fortunate one.
It was inevitable that suspicion of poison should be at once excited by his decease. Those suspicions have been never set at rest, and never proved. Two Englishmen, Ratcliff and Gray by name, had been arrested and executed on a charge of having been employed by Secretary Walsingham to assassinate the governor. The charge was doubtless an infamous falsehood, but had Philip, who was suspected of being the real criminal, really compassed the death of his brother, it was nonetheless probable that an innocent victim or two would be executed, to save appearances. Now that time has unveiled to us many mysteries, now that we have learned from Philip’s own lips and those of his accomplices the exact manner in which Montigny and Escovedo were put to death, the world will hardly be very charitable with regard to other imputations. It was vehemently suspected that Don John had been murdered by the command of Philip, but no such fact was ever proved.
The body, when opened that it might be embalmed, was supposed to offer evidence of poison. The heart was dry, the other internal organs were likewise so desiccated as to crumble when touched, and the general color of the interior was of a blackish brown, as if it had been singed. Various persons were mentioned as the probable criminals; various motives assigned for the commission of the deed. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that there were causes, which were undisputed, for his death, sufficient to render a search for the more mysterious ones comparatively superfluous. A disorder called the pest was raging in his camp, and had carried off a thousand of his soldiers within a few days, while his mental sufferings had been acute enough to turn his heart to ashes. Disappointed, tormented by friend and foe, suspected, insulted, broken-spirited, it was not strange that he should prove an easy victim to a pestilent disorder before which many stronger men were daily falling.
On the third day after his decease, the funeral rites were celebrated. A dispute between the Spaniards, Germans, and Netherlanders in the army arose, each claiming precedence in the ceremony, on account of superior national propinquity to the illustrious deceased. All were, in truth, equally near to him, for different reasons, and it was arranged that all should share equally in the obsequies. The corpse, disemboweled and embalmed, was laid upon a couch of state. The hero was clad in complete armor; his sword, helmet, and steel gauntlets lying at his feet; a coronet, blazing with precious stones, upon his head; the jeweled chain and insignia of the Golden Fleece about his neck; and perfumed gloves upon his hands. Thus royally and martially arrayed, he was placed upon his bier and borne forth from the house where he had died, by the gentlemen of his bedchamber. From them he was received by the colonels of the regiments stationed next to his own quarters. These chiefs, followed by their troops with inverted arms and muffled drums, escorted the body to the next station, where it was received by the commanding officers of other national regiments, to be again transmitted to those of the third. Thus by soldiers of the three nations, it was successively conducted to the gates of Namur, where it was received by the civic authorities. The pall-bearers, old Peter Ernest Mansfeld, Ottavio Gonzaga, the Marquis de Villa Franca, and the Count de Reux, then bore it to the church, where it was deposited until the royal orders should be received from Spain. The heart of the hero was permanently buried beneath the pavement of the little church, and a monumental inscription, prepared by Alexander Farnese, still indicates the spot where that lion heart returned to dust.
It had been Don John’s dying request to Philip that his remains might be buried in the Escorial by the side of his imperial father, and the prayer being granted, the royal order in due time arrived for the transportation of the corpse to Spain. Permission had been asked and given for the passage of a small number of Spanish troops through France. The thrifty king had, however, made no allusion to the fact that those soldiers were to bear with them the mortal remains of Lepanto’s hero, for he was disposed to save the expense which a public transportation of the body and the exchange of pompous courtesies with the authorities of every town upon the long journey would occasion. The corpse was accordingly divided into three parts, and packed in three separate bags; and thus the different portions, to save weight, being suspended at the saddle-bows of different troopers, the body of the conqueror was conveyed to its distant resting-place.
Thus irreverently, almost blasphemously, the disjointed relics of the great warrior were hurried through France—France, which the romantic Saracen slave had traversed but two short years before, filled with high hopes, and pursuing extravagant visions. It has been recorded by classic historians, that the different fragments, after their arrival in Spain, were re-united, and fastened together with wire; that the body was then stuffed, attired in magnificent habiliments, placed upon its feet, and supported by a martial staff, and that thus prepared for a royal interview, the mortal remains of Don John were presented to his Most Catholic Majesty. Philip is said to have manifested emotion at sight of the hideous specter—for hideous and spectral, despite of jewels, balsams, and brocades, must have been that unburied corpse, aping life in attitude and vestment, but standing there only to assert its privilege of descending into the tomb. The claim was granted, and Don John of Austria at last found repose by the side of his imperial father.
A sufficient estimate of his character has been apparent in the course of the narrative. Dying before he had quite completed his thirty-third year, he excites pity and admiration almost as much as censure. His military career was a blaze of glory. Commanding in the Moorish wars at twenty-three, and in the Turkish campaigns at twenty-six, he had achieved a matchless renown before he had emerged from early youth; but his sun was destined to go down at noon. He found neither splendor nor power in the Netherlands, where he was deserted by his king and crushed by the superior genius of the Prince of Orange. Although he vindicated his martial skill at Gemblours, the victory was fruitless. It was but the solitary spring of the tiger from his jungle, and after that striking conflict, his life was ended in darkness and obscurity. Possessing military genius of a high order, with extraordinary personal bravery, he was the last of the paladins and the crusaders. His accomplishments were also considerable, and he spoke Italian, German, French, and Spanish with fluency. His beauty was remarkable, his personal fascinations acknowledged by either sex, but as a commander of men, excepting upon the battlefield, he possessed little genius. His ambition was the ambition of a knight-errant, an adventurer, a Norman pirate; it was a personal and tawdry ambition.
Vague and contradictory dreams of crowns, of royal marriages, of extemporized dynasties, floated ever before him; but he was himself always the hero of his own romance. He sought a throne in Africa or in Britain; he dreamed of espousing Mary of Scotland at the expense of Elizabeth, and was even thought to aspire secretly to the hand of the great English queen herself. Thus, crusader and bigot as he was, he was willing to be reconciled with heresy, if heresy could furnish him with a throne.
It is superfluous to state that he was no match, by mental endowments, for William of Orange; but even had he been so, the moral standard by which each measured himself placed the Conqueror far below the Father of a people. It must be admitted that Don John is entitled to but small credit for his political achievements in the Netherlands. He was incapable of perceiving that the great contest between the Reformation and the Inquisition could never be amicably arranged in those provinces, and that the character of William of Orange was neither to be softened by royal smiles, nor perverted by appeals to sordid interests. It would have been perhaps impossible for him, with his education and temperament, to have embraced what seems to us the right cause, but it ought, at least, to have been in his power to read the character of his antagonist, and to estimate his own position with something like accuracy. He may be forgiven that he did not succeed in reconciling hostile parties, when his only plan to accomplish such a purpose was the extermination of the most considerable faction; but although it was not to be expected that he would look on the provinces with the eyes of William the Silent, he might have comprehended that the Netherland chieftain was neither to be purchased nor cajoled. The only system by which the two religions could live together in peace had been discovered by the prince; but toleration, in the eyes of Catholics and of many Protestants, was still thought the deadliest heresy of all.