Egmont in Flanders, Orange at Antwerp, Horn at Tournay, Hoogstraaten at Mechlin, were exerting themselves to suppress insurrection and to avert ruin. What, meanwhile, was the policy of the government? The secret course pursued both at Brussels and at Madrid may be condensed into the usual formula—dissimulation, procrastination, and again dissimulation.
It is at this point necessary to take a rapid survey of the open and the secret proceedings of the king and his representatives from the moment at which Berghen and Montigny arrived in Madrid. Those ill-fated gentlemen had been received with apparent cordiality, and admitted to frequent, but unmeaning, interviews with his Majesty. The current upon which they were embarked was deep and treacherous, but it was smooth and very slow. They assured the king that his letters, ordering the rigorous execution of the inquisition and edicts, had engendered all the evils under which the provinces were laboring. They told him that Spaniards and tools of Spaniards had attempted to govern the country, to the exclusion of native citizens and nobles, but that it would soon be found that Netherlanders were not to be trodden upon like the abject inhabitants of Milan, Naples, and Sicily. Such words as these struck with an unaccustomed sound upon the royal ear, but the envoys, who were both Catholic and loyal, had no idea, in thus expressing their opinions, according to their sense of duty, and in obedience to the king’s desire, upon the causes of the discontent, that they were committing an act of high treason.
When the news of the public preaching reached Spain, there were almost daily consultations at the grove of Segovia. The eminent personages who composed the royal council were the Duke of Alva, the count de Feria, Don Antonio de Toledo, Don Juan Manrique de Lara, Ruy Gomez, Quixada, Councillor Tisnacq, recently appointed President of the State Council, and Councillor Hopper. Six Spaniards and two Netherlanders, one of whom, too, a man of dull intellect and thoroughly subservient character, to deal with the local affairs of the Netherlands in a time of intense excitement? The instructions of the envoys had been to represent the necessity of according three great points—abolition of the inquisition, moderation of the edicts according to the draft prepared in Brussels, and an ample pardon for past transactions. There was much debate upon all these propositions. Philip said little, but he listened attentively to the long discourses in council, and he took an incredible quantity of notes. It was the general opinion that this last demand on the part of the Netherlanders was the fourth link in the chain of treason. The first had been the cabal by which Granvelle had been expelled; the second, the mission of Egmont, the main object of which had been to procure a modification of the state council, in order to bring that body under the control of a few haughty and rebellious nobles; the third had been the presentation of the insolent and seditious Request; and now, to crown the whole, came a proposition embodying the three points—abolition of the inquisition, revocation of the edicts, and a pardon to criminals, for whom death was the only sufficient punishment.
With regard to these three points, it was, after much wrangling, decided to grant them under certain restrictions. To abolish the inquisition would be to remove the only instrument by which the Church had been accustomed to regulate the consciences and the doctrines of its subjects. It would be equivalent to a concession of religious freedom, at least to individuals within their own domiciles, than which no concession could be more pernicious. Nevertheless, it might be advisable to permit the temporary cessation of the papal inquisition, now that the episcopal inquisition had been so much enlarged and strengthened in the Netherlands, on the condition that this branch of the institution should be maintained in energetic condition. With regard to the Moderation, it was thought better to defer that matter till the proposed visit of his Majesty to the provinces. If, however, the regent should think it absolutely necessary to make a change, she must cause a new draft to be made, as that which had been sent was not found admissible. Touching the pardon general, it would be necessary to make many conditions and restrictions before it could be granted. Provided these were sufficiently minute to exclude all persons whom it might be found desirable to chastise, the amnesty was possible. Otherwise it was quite out of the question.
Meantime, Margaret of Parma had been urging her brother to come to a decision, painting the distracted condition of the country in the liveliest colors, and insisting, although perfectly aware of Philip’s private sentiments, upon a favorable decision as to the three points demanded by the envoys. Especially she urged her incapacity to resist any rebellion, and demanded succor of men and money in case the “Moderation” were not accepted by his Majesty.
It was the last day of July before the king wrote at all, to communicate his decisions upon the crisis which had occurred in the first week of April. The disorder for which he had finally prepared a prescription had, before his letter arrived, already passed through its subsequent stages of the field-preaching and the image-breaking. Of course these fresh symptoms would require much consultation, pondering, and note-taking before they could be dealt with. In the meantime they would be considered as not yet having happened. This was the masterly procrastination of the sovereign, when his provinces were in a blaze.
His masterly dissimulation was employed in the direction suggested by his councillors. Philip never originated a thought, nor laid down a plan, but he was ever true to the falsehood of his nature, and was indefatigable in following out the suggestions of others. No greater mistake can be made than to ascribe talent to this plodding and pedantic monarch. The man’s intellect was contemptible, but malignity and duplicity, almost superhuman, have effectually lifted his character out of the regions of the commonplace. He wrote accordingly to say that the pardon, under certain conditions, might be granted, and that the papal inquisition might cease—the bishops now being present in such numbers, “to take care of their flocks,” and the episcopal inquisition being therefore established upon so secure a basis. He added that if a moderation of the edicts were still desired, a new project might be sent to Madrid, as the one brought by Berghen and Montigny was not satisfactory. In arranging this wonderful scheme for composing the tumults of the country, which had grown out of a determined rebellion to the inquisition in any form, he followed not only the advice, but adopted the exact language of his councillors.
Certainly, here was not much encouragement for patriotic hearts in the Netherlands. A pardon, so restricted that none were likely to be forgiven save those who had done no wrong; an episcopal inquisition stimulated to renewed exertions, on the ground that the papal functionaries were to be discharged; and a promise that, although the proposed Moderation of the edicts seemed too mild for the monarch’s acceptance, yet at some future period another project would be matured for settling the matter to universal satisfaction—such were the propositions of the Crown. Nevertheless, Philip thought he had gone too far, even in administering this meager amount of mercy, and that he had been too frank in employing so slender a deception, as in the scheme thus sketched. He therefore summoned a notary, before whom, in presence of the Duke of Alva, the Licentiate Menchaca and Dr. Velasco, he declared that, although he had just authorized Margaret of Parma, by force of circumstances, to grant pardon to all those who had been compromised in the late disturbances of the Netherlands, yet as he had not done this spontaneously nor freely, he did not consider himself bound by the authorization, but that, on the contrary, he reserved his right to punish all the guilty, and particularly those who had been the authors and encouragers of the sedition.
With regard to the concessions, which he supposed himself to have made in the matter of the inquisition and the edicts, he saved his conscience by another process. Revoking with his right hand all which his left had been doing, he had no sooner dispatched his letters to the duchess regent than he sent off another to his envoy at Rome. In this dispatch he instructed Requesens to inform the pope as to the recent royal decisions upon the three points, and to state that there had not been time to consult his Holiness beforehand. Nevertheless, continued Philip “the prudent,” it was perhaps better thus, since the abolition could have no force, unless the pope, by whom the institution had been established, consented to its suspension. This matter, however, was to be kept a profound secret. So much for the inquisition matter. The papal institution, notwithstanding the official letters, was to exist, unless the pope chose to destroy it; and his Holiness, as we have seen, had sent the Archbishop of Sorrento, a few weeks before, to Brussels, for the purpose of concerting secret measures for strengthening the “Holy Office” in the provinces.
With regard to the proposed moderation of the edicts, Philip informed Pius V, through Requesens, that the project sent by the duchess not having been approved, orders had been transmitted for a new draft, in which all the articles providing for the severe punishment of heretics were to be retained, while alterations, to be agreed upon by the state and privy councils, and the knights of the Fleece, were to be adopted—certainly in no sense of clemency. On the contrary, the king assured his Holiness that, if the severity of chastisement should be mitigated the least in the world by the new articles, they would in no case receive the royal approbation. Philip further implored the pope “not to be scandalized” with regard to the proposed pardon, as it would be by no means extended to offenders against religion. All this was to be kept entirely secret. The king added that rather than permit the least prejudice to the ancient religion, he would sacrifice all his states, and lose a hundred lives if he had so many, for he would never consent to be the sovereign of heretics. He said he would arrange the troubles of the Netherlands, without violence, if possible, because forcible measures would cause the entire destruction of the country. Nevertheless they should be employed, if his purpose could be accomplished in no other way. In that case the king would himself be the executor of his own design, without allowing the peril which he should incur, nor the ruin of the provinces, nor that of his other realms, to prevent him from doing all which a Christian prince was bound to do, to maintain the Catholic religion and the authority of the Holy See, as well as to testify his personal regard for the reigning pontiff, whom he so much loved and esteemed.
Here was plain speaking. Here were all the coming horrors distinctly foreshadowed. Here was the truth told to the only being with whom Philip ever was sincere. Yet even on this occasion, he permitted himself a falsehood by which his Holiness was not deceived. Philip had no intention of going to the Netherlands in person, and the pope knew that he had none. “I feel it in my bones,” said Granvelle, mournfully, “that nobody in Rome believes in his Majesty’s journey to the provinces.” From that time forward, however, the king began to promise this visit, which was held out as a panacea for every ill, and made to serve as an excuse for constant delay.
It may well be supposed that, if Philip’s secret policy had been thoroughly understood in the Netherlands, the outbreak would have come sooner. On the receipt, however, of the public dispatches from Madrid, the administration in Brussels made great efforts to represent their tenor as highly satisfactory. The papal inquisition was to be abolished, a pardon was to be granted, a new moderation was to be arranged at some indefinite period; what more would men have? Yet without seeing the face of the cards, the people suspected the real truth, and Orange was convinced of it. Viglius wrote that if the king did not make his intended visit soon, he would come too late, and that every week more harm was done by procrastination than could be repaired by months of labor and perhaps by torrents of blood. What the precise process was, through which Philip was to cure all disorders by his simple presence, the president did not explain.
As for the measures propounded by the king after so long a delay, they were of course worse than useless, for events had been marching while he had been musing. The course suggested was, according to Viglius, but “a plaster for a wound, but a drag-chain for the wheel.” He urged that the convocation of the states-general was the only remedy for the perils in which the country was involved, unless the king should come in person. He however expressed the hope that by general consultation some means would be devised by which, if not a good, at least a less desperate aspect would be given to public affairs, “so that the commonwealth, if fall it must, might at least fall upon its feet like a cat, and break its legs rather than its neck.”
Notwithstanding this highly figurative view of the subject, and notwithstanding the urgent representations of Duchess Margaret to her brother, that nobles and people were all clamoring about the necessity of convening the states-general, Philip was true to his instincts on this as on the other questions. He knew very well that the states-general of the Netherlands and Spanish despotism were incompatible ideas, and he recoiled from the idea of the assembly with infinite aversion. At the same time a little wholesome deception could do no harm. He wrote to the duchess, therefore, that he was determined never to allow the states-general to be convened. He forbade her to consent to the step under any circumstances, but ordered her to keep his prohibition a profound secret. He wished, he said, the people to think that it was only for the moment that the convocation was forbidden, and that the duchess was expecting to receive the necessary permission at another time. It was his desire, he distinctly stated, that the people should not despair of obtaining the assembly, but he was resolved never to consent to the step, for he knew very well what was meant by a meeting of the states-general. Certainly after so ingenuous but secret a declaration from the disciple of Machiavelli, Margaret might well consider the arguments to be used afterward by herself and others, in favor of the ardently desired measure, as quite superfluous.
Such then was the policy secretly resolved upon by Philip, even before he heard of the startling events which were afterwards to break upon him. He would maintain the inquisition and the edicts; he would exterminate the heretics, even if he lost all his realms and his own life in the cause; he would never hear of the national representatives coming together. What then were likely to be his emotions when he should be told of 20,000 armed heretics assembling at one spot, and 15,000 at another, in almost every town in every province, to practice their blasphemous rites; when he should be told of the whirlwind which had swept all the ecclesiastical accumulations of ages out of existence; when he should read Margaret’s despairing letters, in which she acknowledged that she had at last committed an act unworthy of God, of her king, and of herself, in permitting liberty of worship to the renegades from the ancient church!
The account given by the duchess was in truth very dismal. She said that grief consumed her soul and crimson suffused her cheeks while she related the recent transactions. She took God to witness that she had resisted long, that she had past many sleepless nights, that she had been wasted with fever and grief. After this penitential preface she confessed that, being a prisoner and almost besieged in her palace, sick in body and soul, she had promised pardon and security to the confederates, with liberty of holding assemblies to heretics in places where the practice had already obtained. These concessions had been made valid until the king, by and with the consent of the states-general, should definitely arrange the matter. She stated, however, that she had given her consent to these two demands, not in the royal name, but in her own. The king was not bound by her promise, and she expressed the hope that he would have no regard to any such obligation. She further implored her brother to come forth as soon as possible to avenge the injuries inflicted upon the ancient church, adding, that if deprived of that consolation, she should incontinently depart this life. That hope alone would prevent her death.
This was certainly strong language. She was also very explicit in her representations of the influence which had been used by certain personages to prevent the exercise of any authority upon her own part. “Wherefore,” said Margaret, “I eat my heart, and shall never have peace till the arrival of your Majesty.”
There was no doubt who those personages were who, as it was pretended, had thus held the duchess in bondage, and compelled her to grant these infamous concessions. In her secret Italian letters, she furnished the king with a tissue of most extravagant and improbable falsehoods, supplied to her mainly by Noircarmes and Mansfeld, as to the course pursued at this momentous crisis by Orange, Egmont, Horn, and Hoogstraaten. They had all, she said, declared against God and against religion. Horn, at least, was for killing all the priests and monks in the country, if full satisfaction were not given to the demands of the heretics. Egmont had declared openly for the beggars, and was levying troops in Germany. Orange had the firm intention of making himself master of the whole country, and of dividing it among the other seigniors and himself. The prince had said that if she took refuge in Mons, as she had proposed, they would instantly convoke the states-general, and take all necessary measures. Egmont had held the same language, saying that he would march at the head of 40,000 men to besiege her in that city. All these seigniors, however, had avowed their determination to prevent her flight, to assemble the estates, and to drag her by force before the assembly, in order to compel her consent to every measure which might be deemed expedient. Under all these circumstances, she had been obliged to defer her retreat, and to make the concessions which had overwhelmed her with disgrace.
With such infamous calumnies, utterly disproved by every fact in the case, and unsupported by a tittle of evidence, save the hearsay reports of a man like Noircarmes, did this “woman, nourished at Rome, in whom no one could put confidence,” dig the graves of men who were doing their best to serve her.
Philip’s rage at first hearing of the image-breaking has been indicated. He was ill of an intermittent fever at the wood of Segovia when the news arrived, and it may well be supposed that his wrath at these proceedings was not likely to assuage his malady. Nevertheless, after the first burst of indignation, he found relief in his usual deception. While slowly maturing the most tremendous vengeance which anointed monarch ever deliberately wreaked upon his people, he wrote to say, that it was “his intention to treat his vassals and subjects in the provinces like a good and clement prince, not to ruin them nor to put them into servitude, but to exercise all humanity, sweetness, and grace, avoiding all harshness.” Such were the avowed intentions of the sovereign towards his people at the moment when the terrible Alva, who was to be the exponent of all this “humanity, sweetness, and grace,” was already beginning the preparations for his famous invasion of the Netherlands.
The essence of the compact agreed to upon the 23rd of August between the confederates and the regent, was that the preaching of the Reformed religion should be tolerated in places where it had previously to that date been established. Upon this basis Egmont, Horn, Orange, Hoogstraaten, and others were directed once more to attempt the pacification of the different provinces.
Egmont departed for his government of Flanders, and from that moment vanished all his pretensions, which at best had been slender enough, to the character of a national chieftain. During the whole of the year his course had been changeful. He had felt the influence of Orange; he had generous instincts; he had much vanity; he had the pride of high rank, which did not easily brook the domination of strangers, in a land which he considered himself and his compeers entitled by their birth to rule. At this juncture, however, particularly when in the company of Noircarmes, Berlaymont, and Viglius, he expressed, notwithstanding their calumnious misstatements, the deepest detestation of the heretics. He was a fervent Catholic, and he regarded the image-breaking as an unpardonable crime. “We must take up arms,” said he, “sooner or later, to bring these Reformers to reason, or they will end by laying down the law for us.” On the other hand, his anger would be often appeased by the grave but gracious remonstrances of Orange. During part of the summer, the Reformers had been so strong in Flanders that upon a single day 60,000 armed men had been assembled at the different field-preachings within that province. “All they needed was a Jacquemart, or a Philip van Artevelde,” says a Catholic contemporary, “but they would have scorned to march under the banner of a brewer; having dared to raise their eyes for a chief, to the most illustrious warrior of his age.” No doubt, had Egmont ever listened to these aspirations, he might have taken the field against the government with an invincible force, seized the capital, imprisoned the regent, and mastered the whole country, which was entirely defenseless, before Philip would have had time to write more than ten dispatches upon the subject.
These hopes of the Reformers, if hopes they could be called, were now destined to be most bitterly disappointed. Egmont entered Flanders, not as a chief of rebels, not as a wise pacificator, but as an unscrupulous partisan of government, disposed to take summary vengeance on all suspected persons who should fall in his way. He ordered numerous executions of image-breakers and of other heretics. The whole province was in a state of alarm, for, although he had not been furnished by the regent with a strong body of troops, yet the name of the conqueror at Saint Quentin and Gravelines was worth many regiments. His severity was excessive. His sanguinary exertions were ably seconded also by his secretary Bakkerzeel, a man who exercised the greatest influence over his chief, and who was now fiercely atoning for having signed the Compromise by persecuting those whom that league had been formed to protect. “Amid all the perplexities of the Duchess Regent,” says a Walloon historian, “this virtuous princess was consoled by the exploits of Bakkerzeel, gentleman in Count Egmont’s service. On one occasion he hanged twenty heretics, including a minister, at a single heat.”
Such achievements as these by the hands or the orders of the distinguished general who had been most absurdly held up as a possible protector of the civil and religious liberties of the country, created profound sensation. Flanders and Artois were filled with the wives and children of suspected thousands who had fled the country to escape the wrath of Egmont. The cries and piteous lamentations of these unfortunate creatures were heard on every side. Count Louis was earnestly implored to intercede for the persecuted Reformers. “You who have been so nobly gifted by Heaven, you who have good will and singular bounty written upon your face,” said Utenhove to Louis, “have the power to save these poor victims from the throats of the ravenous wolves.” The count responded to the appeal, and strove to soften the severity of Egmont, without, however, producing any very signal effect. Flanders was soon pacified, nor was that important province permitted to enjoy the benefits of the agreement which had been extorted from the duchess. The preachings were forbidden, and the ministers and congregations arrested and chastised, even in places where the custom had been established previously to the 23rd of August. Certainly such vigorous exertions upon the part both of master and man did not savor of treason to Philip, and hardly seemed to indicate the final doom of Egmont and Bakkerzeel.
The course of Orange at Antwerp was consistent with his whole career. He honestly came to arrange a pacification, but he knew that this end could be gained only by loyally maintaining the Accord which had been signed between the confederates and the regent. He came back to the city on the 26th of August, and found order partially re-established. The burghers having at last become thoroughly alarmed, and the fury of the image-breakers entirely appeased, it had been comparatively easy to restore tranquility. The tranquility, however, rather restored itself, and when the calm had succeeded to the tempest, the placid heads of the burgomasters once more emerged from the waves.
Three image-breakers, who had been taken in the act, were hanged by order of the magistrates upon the 28th of August. The presence of Orange gave them courage to achieve these executions which he could not prevent, as the fifth article of the Accord enjoined the chastisement of the rioters. The magistrates chose that the “chastisement” on this occasion should be exemplary, and it was not in the power of Orange to interfere with the regular government of the city when acting according to its laws. The deed was not his, however, and he hastened, in order to obviate the necessity of further violence, to prepare articles of agreement, upon the basis of Margaret’s concessions. Public preaching, according to the Reformed religion, had already taken place within the city. Upon the 22nd, possession had been taken of at least three churches. The senate had deputed pensionary Wesenbeck to expostulate with the ministers, for the magistrates were at that moment not able to command. Taffin, the Walloon preacher, had been tractable, and had agreed to postpone his exercises. He furthermore had accompanied the pensionary to the cathedral, in order to persuade Herman Modet that it would be better for him likewise to defer his intended ministrations. They had found that eloquent enthusiast already in the great church, burning with impatience to ascend upon the ruins, and quite unable to resist the temptation of setting a Flemish psalm and preaching a Flemish sermon within the walls which had for so many centuries been vocal only to the Roman tongue and the Roman ritual. All that he would concede to the entreaties of his colleague and of the magistrate, was that his sermon should be short. In this, however, he had overrated his powers of retention, for the sermon not only became a long one, but he had preached another upon the afternoon of the same day. The city of Antwerp, therefore, was clearly within the seventh clause of the treaty of the 24th of August, for preaching had taken place in the cathedral, previously to the signing of that Accord.
Upon the second September, therefore, after many protracted interviews with the heads of the Reformed religion, the prince drew up sixteen articles of agreement between them, the magistrates, and the government, which were duly signed and exchanged. They were conceived in the true spirit of statesmanship, and could the rulers of the land have elevated themselves to the mental height of William de Nassau, had Philip been able of comprehending such a mind, the prince, who alone possessed the power in those distracted times of governing the wills of all men, would have enabled the monarch to transmit that beautiful cluster of provinces, without the loss of a single jewel, to the inheritors of his crown.
If the prince were playing a game, he played it honorably. To have conceived the thought of religious toleration in an age of universal dogmatism; to have labored to produce mutual respect among conflicting opinions, at a period when many dissenters were as bigoted as the orthodox, and when most Reformers fiercely proclaimed not liberty for every Christian doctrine, but only a new creed in place of all the rest; to have admitted the possibility of several roads to heaven, when zealots of all creeds would shut up all pathways but their own; if such sentiments and purposes were sins, they would have been ill-exchanged for the best virtues of the age. Yet, no doubt, this was his crying offense in the opinion of many contemporaries. He was now becoming apostate from the ancient Church, but he had long thought that emperors, kings, and popes had taken altogether too much care of men’s souls in times past, and had sent too many of them prematurely to their great account. He was equally indisposed to grant full powers for the same purpose to Calvinists, Lutherans, or Anabaptists. “He censured the severity of our theologians,” said a Catholic contemporary, accumulating all the religious offenses of the prince in a single paragraph, “because they keep strictly the constitutions of the Church without conceding a single point to their adversaries; he blamed the Calvinists as seditious and unruly people, yet nevertheless had a horror for the imperial edicts which condemned them to death; he said it was a cruel thing to take a man’s life for sustaining an erroneous opinion; in short, he fantasized in his imagination a kind of religion, half Catholic, half Reformed, in order to content all persons; a system which would have been adopted could he have had his way.” This picture, drawn by one of his most brilliant and bitter enemies, excites our admiration while intended to inspire aversion.
The articles of agreement at Antwerp thus promulgated assigned three churches to the different sects of Reformers, stipulated that no attempt should be made by Catholics or Protestants to disturb the religious worship of each other, and provided that neither by mutual taunts in their sermons, nor by singing street ballads, together with improper allusions and overt acts of hostility, should the good fellowship which ought to reign between brethren and fellow citizens, even although entertaining different opinions as to religious rites and doctrines, be for the future interrupted. This was the basis upon which the very brief religious peace, broken almost as soon as established, was concluded by William of Orange, not only at Antwerp, but at Utrecht, Amsterdam, and other principal cities within his government.
The prince, however, notwithstanding his unwearied exertions, had slender hopes of a peaceful result. He felt that the last step taken by the Reformation had been off a precipice. He liked not such rapid progress. He knew that the king would never forgive the image-breaking. He felt that he would never recognize the Accord of the 24th of August. Sir Thomas Gresham, who, as the representative of the Protestant Queen of England in the great commercial metropolis of Europe, was fully conversant with the turn things were taking, was already advising some other place for the sale of English commodities. He gave notice to his government that commerce would have no security at Antwerp “in those brabbling times.” He was on confidential terms with the prince, who invited him to dine upon the 4th of September, and caused pensionary Wesenbeck, who was also present, to read aloud the agreement which was that day to be proclaimed at the town-house. Orange expressed himself, however, very doubtfully as to the future prospects of the provinces, and as to the probable temper of the king. “In all his talke,” says Gresham, “the prince saide unto me, ‘I know this will nothing contente the king.’”
While Egmont had been thus busied in Flanders, and Orange at Antwerp, Count Horn had been doing his best in the important city of Tournay. The admiral was not especially gifted with intellect, nor with the power of managing men, but he went there with an honest purpose of seeing the Accord executed, intending, if it should prove practicable, rather to favor the government than the Reformers. At the same time, for the purpose of giving satisfaction to the members of “the religion,” and of manifesting his sincere desire for a pacification, he accepted lodgings which had been prepared for him at the house of a Calvinist merchant in the city, rather than take up his quarters with fierce old governor Moulbais in the citadel. This gave much offense to the Catholics, and inspired the Reformers with the hope of having their preaching inside the town. To this privilege they were entitled, for the practice had already been established there, previously to the 24th of October. Nevertheless, at first he was disposed to limit them, in accordance with the wishes of the duchess, to extramural exercises.
Upon his arrival, by a somewhat ominous conjuncture, he had supped with some of the leading citizens in the hall of the “gehenna,” or torture room, certainly not a locality calculated to inspire a healthy appetite. On the following Sunday he had been entertained with a great banquet, at which all the principal burghers were present, held in a house on the market-place. The festivities had been interrupted by a quarrel, which had been taking place in the cathedral. Beneath the vaults of that edifice, tradition said that a vast treasure was hidden, and the canons had been known to boast that this buried wealth would be sufficient to rebuild their temple more magnificently than ever, in case of its total destruction. The admiral had accordingly placed a strong guard in the church as soon as he arrived, and commenced very extensive excavations in search of this imaginary mine. The regent informed her brother that the count was prosecuting this work with the view of appropriating whatever might be found to his own benefit. As she knew that he was a ruined man, there seemed no more satisfactory mode of accounting for these proceedings. Horn had, however, expressly stated to her that every penny which should come into his possession from that or any other source would carefully be restored to the rightful owners. Nothing of consequence was ever found to justify the golden legends of the monks, but in the meantime the money-diggers gave great offense. The canons, naturally alarmed for the safety of their fabulous treasure, had forced the guard, by surreptitiously obtaining the countersign from a certain official of the town. A quarrel ensued which ended in the appearance of this personage, together with the commander of the military force on guard in the cathedral, before the banqueting company. The count, in the rough way habitual with him, gave the culprit a sound rebuke for his intermeddling, and threatened, in case the offense were repeated, to have him instantly bound, gagged, and forwarded to Brussels for further punishment. The matter thus satisfactorily adjusted, the banquet proceeded, the merchants present being all delighted at seeing the said official, who was exceedingly unpopular, “so well huffed by the count.” The excavations were continued for a long time, until there seemed danger of destroying the foundation of the church, but only a few bits of money were discovered, with some other articles of small value.
Horn had taken his apartments in the city in order to be at hand to suppress any tumults, and to inspire confidence in the people. He had come to a city where five sixths of the inhabitants were of the Reformed religion, and he did not, therefore, think it judicious to attempt violently the suppression of their worship. Upon his arrival he had issued a proclamation, ordering that all property which might have been pillaged from the religious houses should be instantly restored to the magistracy, under penalty that all who disobeyed the command should “be forthwith strangled at the gibbet.” Nothing was brought back, however, for the simple reason that nothing had been stolen. There was, therefore, no one to be strangled.
The next step was to publish the Accord of 24th of August, and to signify the intention of the admiral to enforce its observance. The preachings were as enthusiastically attended as ever, while the storm which had been raging among the images had in the meantime been entirely allayed. Congregations of 15,000 were still going to hear Ambrose Wille in the suburbs, but they were very tranquil in their demeanor. It was arranged between the admiral and the leaders of the Reformed consistories, that three places, to be selected by Horn, should be assigned for their places of worship. At these spots, which were outside the walls, permission was given the Reformers to build meeting-houses. To this arrangement the duchess formally gave her consent.
Nicholas Taffin, councillor, in the name of the Reformers, made “a brave and elegant harangue” before the magistrates, representing that, as on the most moderate computation, three quarters of the population were dissenters, as the regent had ordered the construction of the new temples, and as the Catholics retained possession of all the churches in the city, it was no more than fair that the community should bear the expense of the new buildings. It was indignantly replied, however, that Catholics could not be expected to pay for the maintenance of heresy, particularly when they had just been so much exasperated by the image-breaking. Councillor Taffin took nothing, therefore by his “brave and elegant harangue,” saving a small vote of forty livres.
The building was, however, immediately commenced. Many nobles and rich citizens contributed to the work, some making donations in money, others giving quantities of oaks, poplars, elms, and other timber trees, to be used in the construction. The foundation of the first temple outside the Porte de Cocquerel was immediately laid. Vast heaps of broken images and other ornaments of the desecrated churches were most unwisely used for this purpose, and the Catholics were exceedingly enraged at beholding those male and female saints, who had for centuries been placed in such “reverend and elevated positions,” fallen so low as to be the foundation stones of temples whose builders denounced all those holy things as idols.
As the autumn began to wane, the people were clamorous for permission to have their preaching inside the city. The new buildings could not be finished before the winter, but in the meantime the camp-meetings were becoming, in the stormy seasons fast approaching, a very inconvenient mode of worship. On the other hand, the duchess was furious at the proposition, and commanded Horn on no account to consent that the interior of Tournay should be profaned by these heretical rites. It was in vain that the admiral represented the justice of the claim, as these exercises had taken place in several of the city churches previously to the Accord of the 24th of August. That agreement had been made by the duchess only to be broken. She had already received money and the permission to make levies, and was fast assuming a tone very different from the abject demeanor which had characterized her in August. Count Horn had been used even as Egmont, Orange, and Hoogstraaten had been employed, in order that their personal influence with the Reformers might be turned to account. The tools and the work accomplished by them were to be thrown away at the most convenient opportunity.
The admiral was placed in a most intolerable position. An honest, commonplace, sullen kind of man, he had come to a city full of heretics, to enforce concessions just made by the government to heresy. He soon found himself watched, paltered with, suspected by the administration at Brussels. Governor Moulbais in the citadel, who was nominally under his authority, refused obedience to his orders, was evidently receiving secret instructions from the regent, and was determined to cannonade the city into submission at a very early day. Horn required him to pledge himself that no fresh troops should enter the castle. Moulbais swore he would make no such promise to a living soul. The admiral stormed with his usual violence, expressed his regret that his brother Montigny had so bad a lieutenant in the citadel, but could make no impression upon the determined veteran, who knew, better than Horn, the game which was preparing. Small reinforcements were daily arriving at the castle; the soldiers of the garrison had been heard to boast “that they would soon carve and eat the townsmen’s flesh on their dressers,” and all the good effect from the admiral’s proclamation on arriving, had completely vanished.
Horn complained bitterly of the situation in which he was placed. He knew himself the mark of incessant and calumnious misrepresentation both at Brussels and Madrid. He had been doing his best, at a momentous crisis, to serve the government without violating its engagements, but he declared himself to be neither theologian nor jurist, and incapable, while suspected and unassisted, of performing a task which the most learned doctors of the council would find impracticable. He would rather, he bitterly exclaimed, endure a siege in any fortress by the Turks, than be placed in such a position. He was doing all that he was capable of doing, yet whatever he did was wrong. There was a great difference, he said, between being in a place and talking about it at a distance.
In the middle of October he was recalled by the duchess, whose letters had been uniformly so ambiguous that he confessed he was quite unable to divine their meaning. Before he left the city, he committed his most unpardonable crime. Urged by the leaders of the Reformed congregations to permit their exercises in the Clothiers’ Hall until their temples should be finished, the count accorded his consent provisionally, and subject to revocation by the regent, to whom the arrangement was immediately to be communicated.
Horn departed, and the Reformers took instant possession of the hall. It was found in a very dirty and disorderly condition, encumbered with benches, scaffoldings, stakes, gibbets, and all the machinery used for public executions upon the market-place. A vast body of men went to work with a will; scrubbing, cleaning, whitewashing, and removing all the foul lumber of the hall; singing in chorus, as they did so, the hymns of Clement Marot. By dinner time the place was ready. The pulpit and benches for the congregation had taken the place of the gibbet timber. It is difficult to comprehend that such work as this was a deadly crime. Nevertheless, Horn, who was himself a sincere Catholic, had committed the most mortal of all his offenses against Philip and against God, by having countenanced so flagitious a transaction.
The admiral went to Brussels. Secretary de la Torre, a very second-rate personage, was dispatched to Tournay to convey the orders of the regent. Governor Moulbais, now in charge of affairs both civil and military, was to prepare all things for the garrison, which was soon to be dispatched under Noircarmes. The duchess had now arms in her hands, and her language was bold. La Torre advised the Reformers to be wise “while the rod was yet green and growing, lest it should be gathered for their backs; for it was unbecoming in subjects to make bargains with their King.” There was hardly any decent pretext used in violating the Accord of the 24th of August, so soon as the government was strong enough to break it. It was always said that the preachings suppressed, had not been established previously to that arrangement; but the preachings had in reality obtained almost everywhere, and were now universally abolished. The ridiculous quibble was also used that, in the preachings other religious exercises were not included, whereas it was notorious that they had never been separated. It is, however, a gratuitous task to unravel the deceptions of tyranny when it hardly deigns to disguise itself. The dissimulations which have resisted the influence of centuries are more worthy of serious investigation, and of these the epoch offers us a sufficient supply.
At the close of the year, the city of Tournay was completely subjugated and the Reformed religion suppressed. Upon the second day of January, 1567, the Seignior de Noircarmes arrived before the gates at the head of eleven companies, with orders from Duchess Margaret to strengthen the garrison and disarm the citizens. He gave the magistrates exactly one hour and a half to decide whether they would submit without a murmur. He expressed an intention of maintaining the Accord of 24th August, a ridiculous affectation under the circumstances, as the event proved. The notables were summoned, submission agreed upon, and within the prescribed time the magistrates came before Noircarmes, with an unconditional acceptance of his terms. That truculent personage told them, in reply, that they had done wisely, for if they had delayed receiving the garrison a minute longer, he would have instantly burned the city to ashes and put every one of the inhabitants to the sword. He had been fully authorized to do so, and subsequent events were to show, upon more than one dreadful occasion, how capable Noircarmes would have been of fulfilling this menace.
The soldiers, who had made a forced march all night, and who had been firmly persuaded that the city would refuse the terms demanded, were excessively disappointed at being obliged to forego the sack and pillage upon which they had reckoned. Eight or nine hundred rascally peasants, too, who had followed in the skirts of the regiments, each provided with a great empty bag, which they expected to fill with booty which they might purchase of the soldiers, or steal in the midst of the expected carnage and rapine, shared the discontent of the soldiery, by whom they were now driven ignominiously out of the town.
The citizens were immediately disarmed. All the fine weapons which they had been obliged to purchase at their own expense when they had been arranged by the magistrates under eight banners, for defense of the city against tumult and invasion, were taken from them; the most beautiful cutlasses, carbines, poniards, and pistols, being divided by Noircarmes among his officers. Thus Tournay was tranquilized.
During the whole of these proceedings in Flanders, and at Antwerp, Tournay, and Mechlin, the conduct of the duchess had been marked with snore than her usual treachery. She had been disavowing acts which the men upon whom she relied in her utmost need had been doing by her authority; she had been affecting to praise their conduct, while she was secretly misrepresenting their actions and maligning their motives, and she had been straining every nerve to make foreign levies, while attempting to amuse the confederates and sectaries with an affectation of clemency.
When Orange complained that she had been censuring his proceedings at Antwerp, and holding language unfavorable to his character, she protested that she thoroughly approved his arrangements—excepting only the two points of the intramural preachings and the permission to heretics of other exercises than sermons—and that if she were displeased with him he might be sure that she would rather tell him so than speak ill of him behind his back. The prince, who had been compelled by necessity, and fully authorized by the terms of the “Accord,” to grant those two points which were the vital matter in his arrangements, answered very calmly that he was not so frivolous as to believe in her having used language to his discredit, had he not been quite certain of the fact, as he would soon prove by evidence. Orange was not the man to be deceived as to the position in which he stood, nor as to the character of those with whom he dealt. Margaret wrote, however, in the same vein concerning him to Hoogstraaten, affirming that nothing could be further from her intention than to characterize the proceedings of “her cousin, the Prince of Orange, as contrary to the service of his Majesty; knowing, as she did, how constant had been his affection, and how diligent his actions, in the cause of God and the king.” She also sent Councillor d’Assonleville on a special mission to the prince, instructing that smooth personage to inform her said cousin of Orange that he was and always had been “loved and cherished by his Majesty, and that for herself she had ever loved him like a brother or a child.”
She wrote to Horn, approving of his conduct in the main, although in obscure terms, and expressing great confidence in his zeal, loyalty, and good intentions. She accorded the same praise to Hoogstraaten, while as to Egmont she was perpetually reproaching him for the suspicions which he seemed obstinately to entertain as to her disposition and that of Philip, in regard to his conduct and character.
It has already been partly seen what were her private sentiments and secret representations as to the career of the distinguished personages thus encouraged and commended. Her pictures were painted in daily darkening colors. She told her brother that Orange, Egmont, and Horn were about to place themselves at the head of the confederates, who were to take up arms and had been levying troops; that the Lutheran religion was to be forcibly established; that the whole power of the government was to be placed in the triumvirate thus created by those seigniors; and that Philip was in reality to be excluded entirely from those provinces which were his ancient patrimony. All this information she had obtained from Mansfeld, at whom the nobles were constantly sneering as at a faithful valet who would never receive his wages.
She also informed the king that the scheme for dividing the country was already arranged—that Augustus of Saxony was to have Friesland and Overysseh; Count Brederode, Holland; the Dukes of Cleves and Lorraine, Gueldres; the King of France, Flanders, Artois, and Hainault, of which territories Egmont was to be perpetual stadholder; the Prince of Orange, Brabant; and so on indefinitely. A general massacre of all the Catholics had been arranged by Orange, Horn, and Egmont, to commence as soon as the king should put his foot on shipboard to come to the country. This last remarkable fact Margaret reported to Philip upon the respectable authority of Noircarmes.
She apologized for having employed the service of these nobles, on the ground of necessity. Their proceedings in Flanders, at Antwerp, Tournay, Mechlin, had been highly reprehensible, and she had been obliged to disavow them in the most important particulars. As for Egmont, she had most unwillingly entrusted forces to his hands fur the purpose of putting down the Flemish sectaries. She had been afraid to show a want of confidence in his character, but at the same time she believed that all soldiers under Egmont’s orders would be so many enemies to the king. Notwithstanding his protestations of fidelity to the ancient religion and to his Majesty, she feared that he was busied with some great plot against God and the king. When we remember the ruthless manner in which the unfortunate count had actually been raging against the sectaries, and the sanguinary proofs which he had been giving of his fidelity to “God and the king,” it seems almost incredible that Margaret could have written down all these monstrous assertions.
The duchess gave, moreover, repeated warnings to her brother, that the nobles were in the habit of obtaining possession of all the correspondence between Madrid and Brussels, and that they spent a vast deal of money in order to read her own and Philip’s most private letters. She warned him therefore, to be upon his guard, for she believed that almost all their dispatches were read. Such being the case, and the tenor of those documents being what we have seen it to be, her complaints as to the incredulity of those seigniors to her affectionate protestations, seem quite wonderful.
It is necessary to allude to certain important events contemporaneous with those recorded in the last chapter, that the reader may thoroughly understand the position of the leading personages in this great drama at the close of the year 1566.
The Prince of Orange had, as we have seen, been exerting all his energies faithfully to accomplish the pacification of the commercial metropolis, upon the basis assented to beforehand by the duchess. He had established a temporary religious peace, by which alone at that crisis the gathering tempest could be averted; but he had permitted the law to take its course upon certain rioters, who had been regularly condemned by courts of justice. He had worked day and night—notwithstanding immense obstacles, calumnious misstatements, and conflicting opinions—to restore order out of chaos; he had freely imperiled his own life—dashing into a tumultuous mob on one occasion, wounding several with the halberd which he snatched from one of his guard, and dispersing almost with his single arm a dangerous and threatening insurrection—and he had remained in Antwerp, at the pressing solicitations of the magistracy, who represented that the lives of not a single ecclesiastic would be safe as soon as his back was turned, and that all the merchants would forthwith depart from the city. It was nevertheless necessary that he should make a personal visit to his government of Holland, where similar disorders had been prevailing, and where men of all ranks and parties were clamoring for their stadholder.
Notwithstanding all his exertions however, he was thoroughly aware of the position in which he stood towards the government. The sugared phrases of Margaret, the deliberate commendation of the “benign and debonair” Philip, produced no effect upon this statesman, who was accustomed to look through and through men’s actions to the core of their hearts. In the hearts of Philip and Margaret he already saw treachery and revenge indelibly imprinted. He had been especially indignant at the insult which the duchess regent had put upon him, by sending Duke Eric of Brunswick with an armed force into Holland in order to protect Gouda, Woerden, and other places within the prince’s own government. He was thoroughly conversant with the general tone in which the other seigniors and himself were described to their sovereign. He was already convinced that the country was to be conquered by foreign mercenaries, and that his own life, with those of many other nobles, was to be sacrificed. The moment had arrived in which he was justified in looking about him for means of defense, both for himself and his country, if the king should be so insane as to carry out the purposes which the prince suspected. The time was fast approaching in which a statesman placed upon such an elevation before the world as that which he occupied, would be obliged to choose his part for life. To be the unscrupulous tool of tyranny, a rebel, or an exile, was his necessary fate. To a man so prone to read the future, the moment for his choice seemed already arrived. Moreover, he thought it doubtful, and events were most signally to justify his doubts, whether he could be accepted as the instrument of despotism, even were he inclined to prostitute himself to such service. At this point, therefore, undoubtedly began the treasonable thoughts of William the Silent, if it be treason to attempt the protection of ancient and chartered liberties against a foreign oppressor. He dispatched a private envoy to Egmont, representing the grave suspicions manifested by the duchess in sending Duke Eric into Holland, and proposing that means should be taken into consideration for obviating the dangers with which the country was menaced. Catholics as well as Protestants, he intimated, were to be crushed in one universal conquest as soon as Philip had completed the formidable preparations which he was making for invading the provinces. For himself, he said, he would not remain in the land to witness the utter desolation of the people, nor to fall an unresisting victim to the vengeance which he foresaw. If, however, he might rely upon the cooperation of Egmont and Horn, he was willing, with the advice of the states-general, to risk preparations against the armed invasion of Spaniards by which the country was to be reduced to slavery. It was incumbent, however, upon men placed as they were, “not to let the grass grow under their feet,” and the moment for action was fast approaching.
This was the scheme which Orange was willing to attempt. To make use of his own influence and that of his friends, to interpose between a sovereign insane with bigotry, and a people in a state of religious frenzy, to resist brutal violence if need should be by force, and to compel the sovereign to respect the charters which he had sworn to maintain, and which were far more ancient than his sovereignty; so much of treason did William of Orange already contemplate, for in no other way could he be loyal to his country and his own honor.
Nothing came of this secret embassy, for Egmont’s heart and fate were already fixed. Before Orange departed, however, for the North, where his presence in the Dutch provinces was now imperatively required, a memorable interview took place at Dendermonde between Orange, Horn, Egmont, Hoogstraaten, and Count Louis. The nature of this conference was probably similar to that of the secret mission from Orange to Egmont just recorded. It was not a long consultation. The gentlemen met at eleven o’clock, and conversed until dinner was ready, which was between twelve and one in the afternoon. They discussed the contents of a letter recently received by Horn from his brother Montigny at Segovia, giving a lively picture of Philip’s fury at the recent events in the Netherlands, and expressing the Baron’s own astonishment and indignation that it had been impossible for the seigniors to prevent such outrages as the public preaching, the image-breaking, and the Accord. They had also some conversation concerning the dissatisfaction manifested by the duchess at the proceedings of Count Horn at Tournay, and they read a very remarkable letter which had been furnished them, as having been written by the Spanish envoy in Paris, Don Francis of Alava, to Margaret of Parma. This letter was forged. At least the regent, in her Italian correspondence, asserted it to be fictitious, and in those secret letters to Philip she usually told the truth. The astuteness of William of Orange had in this instance been deceived. The striking fidelity, however, with which the present and future policy of the government was sketched, the accuracy with which many unborn events were foreshadowed, together with the minute touches which gave an air of genuineness to the fictitious dispatch, might well deceive even so sagacious an observer as the prince.
The letters alluded to the deep and long-settled hostility of Philip to Orange, Horn, and Egmont, as to a fact entirely within the writer’s knowledge, and that of his correspondent, but urged upon the duchess the assumption of an extraordinary degree of apparent cordiality in her intercourse with them. It was the king’s intention to use them and to destroy them, said the writer, and it was the regent’s duty to second the design. “The tumults and troubles have not been without their secret concurrence,” said the supposititious Alava, “and your Highness may rest assured that they will be the first upon whom his Majesty will seize, not to confer benefits, but to chastise them as they deserve. Your Highness, however, should show no symptom of displeasure, but should constantly maintain in their minds the idea that his Majesty considers them as the most faithful of his servants. While they are persuaded of this, they can be more easily used, but when the time comes, they will be treated in another manner. Your Highness may rest assured that his Majesty is not less inclined than your Highness that they should receive the punishment which they merit.” The duchess was furthermore recommended “to deal with the three seigniors according to the example of the Spanish governments in its intercourse with the envoys, Bergen and Montigny, who are met with a smiling face, but who are closely watched, and who will never be permitted to leave Spain alive.” The remainder of the letter alludes to supposed engagements between France and Spain for the extirpation of heresy, from which allusion to the generally accepted but mistaken notion as to the Bayonne conference, a decided proof seems to be furnished that the letter was not genuine. Great complaints, however, are made, as to the conduct of the queen regent, who is described as “a certain lady well known to her Highness, and as a person without faith, friendship, or truth; the most consummate hypocrite in the world.” After giving instances of the duplicity manifested by Catherine de Medici, the writer continues, “She sends her little black dwarf to me upon frequent errands, in order that by means of this spy she may worm out my secrets. I am, however, upon my guard, and flatter myself that I learn more from him than she from me. She shall never be able to boast of having deceived a Spaniard.”
An extract or two from this very celebrated document seemed indispensable, because of the great importance attached to it, both at the Dendermonde Conference, and at the trials of Egmont and Horn. The contemporary writers of Holland had no doubt of its genuineness, and what is more remarkable, Strada, the historiographer of the Farnese family, after quoting Margaret’s denial of the authenticity of the letter, coolly observes, “Whether this were only an invention of the conspirators, or actually a dispatch from Alava, I shall not decide. It is certain, however, that the duchess declared it to be false.”
Certainly, as we read the epistles, and observe how profoundly the writer seems to have sounded the deep guile of the Spanish Cabinet, and how distinctly events, then far in the future, are indicated, we are tempted to exclaim, “aut Alava, aut Diabolus,” either the envoy wrote the dispatch, or Orange. Who else could look into the future, and into Philip’s heart so unerringly?
As the charge has never been made, so far as we are aware, against the prince, it is superfluous to discuss the amount of immorality which should belong to such a deception. A tendency to employ stratagem in his warfare against Spain was, no doubt, a blemish upon his high character. Before he is condemned, however, in the Court of Conscience, the ineffable wiles of the policy with which he had to combat must be thoroughly scanned, as well as the pure and lofty purpose for which his life’s long battle was fought.
There was, doubtless, some conversation at Dendermonde on the propriety or possibility of forcible resistance to a Spanish army, with which it seemed probable that Philip was about to invade the provinces, and take the lives of the leading nobles. Count Louis was in favor of making provision in Germany for the accomplishment of this purpose. It is also highly probable that the prince may have encouraged the proposition. In the sense of his former communication to Egmont, he may have reasoned on the necessity of making levies to sustain the decisions of the states-general against violence. There is, however, no proof of any such fact. Egmont, at any rate, opposed the scheme, on the ground that “it was wrong to entertain any such ill opinion of so good a king as Philip, that he had never done any thing unjust towards his subjects, and that if any one was in fear, he had better leave the country.” Egmont, moreover, doubted the authenticity of the letters from Alava, but agreed to carry them to Brussels, and to lay them before the regent. That lady, when she saw them, warmly assured the count that they were inventions.
The conference broke up after it had lasted an hour and a half. The nobles then went to dinner, at which other persons appear to have been present, and the celebrated Dendermonde meeting was brought to a close. After the repast was finished, each of the five nobles mounted his horse, and departed on his separate way.
From this time forth, the position of these leading seigniors became more sharply defined. Orange was left in almost complete isolation. Without the assistance of Egmont, any effective resistance to the impending invasion from Spain seemed out of the question. The count, however, had taken his irrevocable and fatal resolution. After various oscillations during the stormy period which had elapsed, his mind, notwithstanding all the disturbing causes by which it had hitherto been partially influenced, now pointed steadily to the point of loyalty. The guidance of that pole star was to lead him to utter shipwreck. The unfortunate noble, entrenched against all fear of Philip by the brazen wall of an easy conscience, saw no fault in his past at which he should grow pale with apprehension. Moreover, he was sanguine by nature, a Catholic in religion, a royalist from habit and conviction. Henceforth he was determined that his services to the crown should more than counterbalance any idle speeches or insolent demonstrations of which he might have been previously guilty.
Horn pursued a different course, but one which separated him also from the prince, while it led to the same fate which Egmont was blindly pursuing. The admiral had committed no act of treason. On the contrary, he had been doing his best, under most difficult circumstances, to avert rebellion and save the interests of a most ungrateful sovereign. He was now disposed to wrap himself in his virtue, to retreat from a court life, for which he had never felt a vocation, and to resign all connection with a government by which he felt himself very badly treated. Moody, wrathful, disappointed, ruined, and calumniated, he would no longer keep terms with king or duchess. He had griefs of long standing against the whole of the royal family. He had never forgiven the Emperor for refusing him, when young, the appointment of chamberlain. He had served Philip long and faithfully, but he had never received a stiver of salary or “merced,” notwithstanding all his work as state councillor, as admiral, as superintendent in Spain; while his younger brother had long been in receipt of nine or ten thousand florins yearly. He had spent 400,000 florins in the king’s service; his estates were mortgaged to their full value; he had been obliged to sell his family plate. He had done his best in Tournay to serve the duchess, and he had averted the “Sicilian vespers,” which had been imminent at his arrival.
He had saved the Catholics from a general massacre, yet he heard nevertheless from Montigny, that all his actions were distorted in Spain, and his motives blackened. His heart no longer inclined him to continue in Philip’s service, even were he furnished with the means of doing so. He had instructed his secretary, Alonzo de la Loo, whom he had dispatched many months previously to Madrid, that he was no longer to press his master’s claims for a “merced,” but to signify that he abandoned all demands and resigned all posts. He could turn hermit for the rest of his days, as well as the Emperor Charles. If he had little, he could live upon little. It was in this sense that he spoke to Margaret of Parma, to Assonleville, to all around him. It was precisely in this strain and temper that he wrote to Philip, indignantly defending his course at Tournay, protesting against the tortuous conduct of the duchess, and bluntly declaring that he would treat no longer with ladies upon matters which concerned a man’s honor.
Thus, smarting under a sense of gross injustice, the admiral expressed himself in terms which Philip was not likely to forgive. He had undertaken the pacification of Tournay, because it was Montigny’s government, and he had promised his services whenever they should be requisite. Horn was a loyal and affectionate brother, and it is pathetic to find him congratulating Montigny on being, after all, better off in Spain than in the Netherlands. Neither loyalty nor the sincere Catholicism for which Montigny at this period commended Horn in his private letters, could save the two brothers from the doom which was now fast approaching.
Thus Horn, blind as Egmont—not being aware that a single step beyond implicit obedience had created an impassable gulf between Philip and himself—resolved to meet his destiny in sullen retirement. Not an entirely disinterested man, perhaps, but an honest one, as the world went, mediocre in mind, but brave, generous, and direct of purpose, goaded by the shafts of calumny, hunted down by the whole pack which fawned upon power as it grew more powerful, he now retreated to his “desert,” as he called his ruined home at Weert, where he stood at bay, growling defiance at the regent, at Philip, at all the world.
Thus were the two prominent personages upon whose cooperation Orange had hitherto endeavored to rely, entirely separated from him. The confederacy of nobles, too, was dissolved, having accomplished little, notwithstanding all its noisy demonstrations, and having lost all credit with the people by the formal cassation of the Compromise in consequence of the Accord of August. As a body, they had justified the sarcasm of Hubert Languet, that “the confederated nobles had ruined their country by their folly and incapacity.” They had profaned a holy cause by indecent orgies, compromised it by seditious demonstrations, abandoned it when most in need of assistance. Bakkerzeel had distinguished himself by hanging sectaries in Flanders. “Golden Fleece” de Hammes, after creating great scandal in and about Antwerp, since the Accord, had ended by accepting an artillery commission in the Emperor’s army, together with three hundred crowns for convoy from Duchess Margaret. Culemburg was serving the cause of religious freedom by defacing the churches within his ancestral domains, pulling down statues, dining in chapels, and giving the holy wafer to his parrot. Nothing could be more stupid than these acts of irreverence, by which Catholics were offended and honest patriots disgusted. Nothing could be more opposed to the sentiments of Orange, whose first principle was abstinence by all denominations of Christians from mutual insults. At the same time, it is somewhat revolting to observe the indignation with which such offenses were regarded by men of the most abandoned character. Thus, Armenteros, whose name was synonymous with government swindling, who had been rolling up money year after year, by peculations, auctioneering of high posts in church and state, bribes, and all kinds of picking and stealing, could not contain his horror as he referred to wafers eaten by parrots, or “toasted on forks” by renegade priests; and poured out his emotions on the subject into the faithful bosom of Antonio Perez, the man with whose debaucheries, political villainies, and deliberate murders all Europe was to ring.
No doubt there were many individuals in the confederacy for whom it was reserved to render honorable service in the national cause. The names of Louis Nassau, Marnix of St. Aldegonde, Bernard de Merode, were to be written in golden letters in their country’s rolls; but at this moment they were impatient, inconsiderate, out of the control of Orange. Louis was anxious for the king to come from Spain with his army, and for “the bear dance to begin.” Brederode, noisy, bawling, and absurd as ever, was bringing ridicule upon the national cause by his buffoonery, and endangering the whole people by his inadequate yet rebellious exertions.
What course was the Prince of Orange to adopt? He could find no one to comprehend his views. He felt certain at the close of the year that the purpose of the government was fixed. He made no secret of his determination never to lend himself as an instrument for the contemplated subjugation of the people. He had repeatedly resigned all his offices. He was now determined that the resignation once for all should be accepted. If he used dissimulation, it was because Philip’s deception permitted no man to be frank. If the sovereign constantly disavowed all hostile purposes against his people, and manifested extreme affection for the men whom he had already doomed to the scaffold, how could the prince openly denounce him? It was his duty to save his country and his friends from impending ruin. He preserved, therefore, an attitude of watchfulness. Philip, in the depth of his cabinet, was under a constant inspection by the sleepless prince. The sovereign assured his sister that her apprehensions about their correspondence was groundless. He always locked up his papers, and took the key with him. Nevertheless, the key was taken out of his pocket and the papers read. Orange was accustomed to observe, that men of leisure might occupy themselves with philosophical pursuits and with the secrets of nature, but that it was his business to study the hearts of kings. He knew the man and the woman with whom he had to deal. We have seen enough of the policy secretly pursued by Philip and Margaret to appreciate the accuracy with which the prince, groping as it were in the dark, had judged the whole situation. Had his friends taken his warnings, they might have lived to render services against tyranny. Had he imitated their example of false loyalty, there would have been one additional victim, more illustrious than all the rest, and a whole country hopelessly enslaved.
It is by keeping these considerations in view, that we can explain his connection with such a man as Brederode. The enterprises of that noble, of Tholouse, and others, and the resistance of Valenciennes, could hardly have been prevented even by the opposition of the prince. But why should he take the field against men who, however rashly or ineffectually, were endeavoring to oppose tyranny, when he knew himself already proscribed and doomed by the tyrant? Such loyalty he left to Egmont. Till late in the autumn, he had still believed in the possibility of convoking the states-general, and of making preparations in Germany to enforce their decrees.
The confederates and sectaries had boasted that they could easily raise an army of 60,000 men within the provinces, that twelve hundred thousand florins monthly would be furnished by the rich merchants of Antwerp, and that it was ridiculous to suppose that the German mercenaries enrolled by the duchess in Saxony, Hesse, and other Protestant countries, would ever render serious assistance against the adherents of the reformed religion. Without placing much confidence in such exaggerated statements, the prince might well be justified in believing himself strong enough, if backed by the confederacy, by Egmont, and by his own boundless influence, both at Antwerp and in his own government, to sustain the constituted authorities of the nation even against a Spanish army, and to interpose with legitimate and irresistible strength between the insane tyrant and the country which he was preparing to crush. It was the opinion of the best informed Catholics that, if Egmont should declare for the confederacy, he could take the field with 60,000 men, and make himself master of the whole country at a blow. In conjunction with Orange, the moral and physical force would have been invincible.
It was therefore not Orange alone, but the Catholics and Protestants alike, the whole population of the country, and the duchess regent herself, who desired the convocation of the estates. Notwithstanding Philip’s deliberate but secret determination never to assemble that body, although the hope was ever to be held out that they should be convened, Margaret had been most importunate that her brother should permit the measure. “There was less danger,” she felt herself compelled to say, “in assembling than in not assembling the States; it was better to preserve the Catholic religion for a part of the country, than to lose it altogether.” “The more it was delayed,” she said, “the more ruinous and desperate became the public affairs. If the measure were postponed much longer, all Flanders, half Brabant, the whole of Holland, Zealand, Gueldres, Tournay, Lille, Mechlin, would be lost forever, without a chance of ever restoring the ancient religion.” The country, in short, was “without faith, King, or law,” and nothing worse could be apprehended from any deliberation of the states-general. These being the opinions of the duchess, and according to her statement those of nearly all the good Catholics in the country, it could hardly seem astonishing or treasonable that the prince should also be in favor of the measure.
As the duchess grew stronger, however, and as the people, aghast at the fate of Tournay and Valenciennes, began to lose courage, she saw less reason for assembling the states. Orange, on the other hand, completely deserted by Egmont and Horn, and having little confidence in the characters of the ex-confederates, remained comparatively quiescent but watchful.
At the close of the year, an important pamphlet from his hand was circulated, in which his views as to the necessity of allowing some degree of religious freedom were urged upon the royal government with his usual sagacity of thought, moderation of language, and modesty in tone. The man who had held the most important civil and military offices in the country almost from boyhood, and who was looked up to by friend and foe as the most important personage in the three millions of its inhabitants, apologized for his “presumption” in coming forward publicly with his advice. “I would not,” he said, “in matters of such importance, affect to be wiser or to make greater pretensions than my age or experience warrants, yet seeing affairs in such perplexity, I will rather incur the risk of being charged with forwardness than neglect that which I consider my duty.”
This, then, was the attitude of the principal personages in the Netherlands, and the situation of affairs at the end of the eventful year 1566, the last year of peace which the men then living or their children were to know. The government, weak at the commencement, was strong at the close. The confederacy was broken and scattered. The Request, the beggar banquets, the public preaching, the image-breaking, the Accord of August, had been followed by reaction. Tournay had accepted its garrison. Egmont, completely obedient to the crown, was compelling all the cities of Flanders and Artois to receive soldiers sufficient to maintain implicit obedience, and to extinguish all heretical demonstrations, so that the regent was at comparative leisure to effect the reduction of Valenciennes.
This ancient city, in the province of Hainault, and on the frontier of France, had been founded by the Emperor Valentinian, from whom it had derived its name. Originally established by him as a city of refuge, it had received the privilege of affording an asylum to debtors, to outlaws, and even to murderers. This ancient right had been continued, under certain modifications, even till the period with which we are now occupied. Never, however, according to the government, had the right of asylum, even in the wildest times, been so abused by the city before. What were debtors, robbers, murderers, compared to heretics? Yet these worst enemies of their race swarmed in the rebellious city, practicing even now the foulest rites of Calvin, and obeying those most pestilential of all preachers, Guido de Bray, and Peregrine de la Grange. The place was the hotbed of heresy and sedition, and it seemed to be agreed, as by common accord, that the last struggle for what was called the new religion, should take place beneath its walls.
Pleasantly situated in a fertile valley, provided with very strong fortifications and very deep moats, Valenciennes, with the Scheld flowing through its center, and furnishing the means of laying the circumjacent meadows under water, was considered in those days almost impregnable. The city was summoned, almost at the same time as Tournay, to accept a garrison. This demand of government was met by a peremptory refusal. Noircarmes, towards the middle of December, ordered the magistrates to send a deputation to confer with him at Condé. Pensionary Outreman accordingly repaired to that neighboring city, accompanied by some of his colleagues. This committee was not unfavorable to the demands of government. The magistracies of the cities, generally, were far from rebellious, but in the case of Valenciennes the real power at that moment was with the Calvinist consistory and the ministers. The deputies, after their return from Condé, summoned the leading members of the Reformed religion, together with the preachers. It was urged that it was their duty forthwith to use their influence in favor of the demand made by the government upon the city.
“May I grow mute as a fish!” answered de la Grange, stoutly, “may the tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth, before I persuade my people to accept a garrison of cruel mercenaries, by whom their rights of conscience are to be trampled upon.”
Councillor Outreman reasoned with the fiery minister, that if he and his colleague were afraid of their own lives, ample provision should be made with government for their departure under safe conduct. La Grange replied that he had no fears for himself, that the Lord would protect those who preached and those who believed in his holy word, but that He would not forgive them should they now bend their necks to His enemies.
It was soon very obvious that no arrangement could be made. The magistrates could exert no authority, the preachers were all-powerful, and the citizens, said a Catholic inhabitant of Valenciennes, “allowed themselves to be led by their ministers like oxen.” Upon the 17th of December, 1566, a proclamation was accordingly issued by the duchess regent, declaring the city in a state of siege, and all its inhabitants rebels. The crimes for which this penalty was denounced, were elaborately set forth in the edict. Preaching according to the Reformed religion had been permitted in two or three churches, the sacrament according to the Calvinistic manner had been publicly administered, together with a renunciation by the communicants of their adhesion to the Catholic Church, and now a rebellious refusal to receive the garrison sent to them by the duchess had been added to the list of their iniquities. For offenses like these, the regent deemed it her duty to forbid all inhabitants of any city, village, or province of the Netherlands holding communication with Valenciennes, buying or selling with its inhabitants, or furnishing them with provisions, on pain of being considered accomplices in their rebellion, and as such of being executed with the halter.
The city was now invested by Noircarmes with all the troops which could be spared. The confederates gave promises of assistance to the beleaguered citizens; Orange privately encouraged them to hold out in their legitimate refusal; Brederode and others busied themselves with hostile demonstrations which were destined to remain barren; but in the meantime, the inhabitants had nothing to rely upon save their own stout hearts and arms.
At first, the siege was sustained with a light heart. Frequent sallies were made, smart skirmishes were ventured, in which the Huguenots, on the testimony of a most bitter Catholic contemporary, conducted themselves with the bravery of veteran troops, and as if they had done nothing all their lives but fight; forays were made upon the monasteries of the neighborhood for the purpose of procuring supplies, and the broken statues of the dismantled churches were used to build a bridge across an arm of the river, which was called in derision the Bridge of Idols. Noircarmes and the six officers under him, who were thought to be conducting their operations with languor, were christened the Seven Sleepers. Gigantic spectacles, three feet in circumference, were planted derisively upon the ramparts, in order that the artillery, which it was said that the papists of Arras were sending, might be seen, as soon as it should arrive. Councillor Outreman, who had left the city before the siege, came into it again, on commission from Noircarmes. He was received with contempt, his proposals on behalf of the government were answered with outcries of fury; he was pelted with stones, and was very glad to make his escape alive. The pulpits thundered with the valiant deeds of Joshua, Judas Maccabeus, and other Bible heroes. The miracles wrought in their behalf served to encourage the enthusiasm of the people, while the movements making at various points in the neighborhood encouraged a hope of a general rising throughout the country.
Those hopes were destined to disappointment. There were large assemblages made, to be sure, at two points. Nearly 3,000 sectaries had been collected at Lannoy under Pierre Cornaille, who, having been a locksmith and afterwards a Calvinist preacher, was now disposed to try his fortune as a general. His band was, however, disorderly. Rustics armed with pitchforks, young students and old soldiers out of employment, furnished with rusty matchlocks, pikes, and halberds, composed his force. A company similar in character, and already amounting to some 1,200 in number, was collecting at Watrelots. It was hoped that an imposing array would soon be assembled, and that the two bands, making a junction, would then march to the relief of Valenciennes. It was boasted that in a very short time, 30,000 men would be in the field. There was even a fear of some such result felt by the Catholics.
It was then that Noircarmes and his “seven sleepers” showed that they were awake. Early in January 1567, that fierce soldier, among whose vices slothfulness was certainly never reckoned before or afterwards, fell upon the locksmith’s army at Lannoy, while the Seigneur de Rassinghem attacked the force at Watrelots on the same day. Noircarmes destroyed half his enemies at the very first charge. The ill-assorted rabble fell asunder at once. The preacher fought well, but his undisciplined force fled at the first sight of the enemy. Those who carried arquebusses threw them down without a single discharge, that they might run the faster. At least a thousand were soon stretched dead upon the field; others were hunted into the river. Twenty-six hundred, according to the Catholic accounts, were exterminated in an hour.
Rassinghem, on his part, with five or six hundred regulars, attacked Teriel’s force, numbering at least twice as many. Half of these were soon cut to pieces and put to flight. Six hundred, however, who had seen some service, took refuge in the cemetery of Watrelots. Here, from behind the stone wall of the enclosure, they sustained the attack of the Catholics with some spirit. The repose of the dead in the quiet country churchyard was disturbed by the uproar of a most sanguinary conflict. The temporary fort was soon carried, and the Huguenots retreated into the church. A rattling arquebusade was poured in upon them as they struggled in the narrow doorway. At least four hundred corpses were soon strewn among the ancient graves. The rest were hunted into the church, and from the church into the belfry. A fire was then made in the steeple and kept up till all were roasted or suffocated. Not a man escaped.
This was the issue in the first stricken field in the Netherlands, for the cause of religious liberty. It must be confessed that it was not very encouraging to the lovers of freedom. The partisans of government were elated, in proportion to the apprehension which had been felt for the result of this rising in the Walloon country. “These good hypocrites,” wrote a correspondent of Orange, “are lifting up their heads like so many dromedaries. They are becoming unmanageable with pride.” The Duke of Aerschot and Count Meghen gave great banquets in Brussels, where all the good chevaliers drank deep in honor of the victory, and to the health of his Majesty and Madame. “I saw Berlaymont just go by the window,” wrote Schwartz to the prince. “He was coming from Aerschot’s dinner with a face as red as the Cardinal’s new hat.”
On the other hand, the citizens of Valenciennes were depressed in equal measure with the exultation of their antagonists. There was no more talk of seven sleepers now, no more lunettes stuck upon lances, to spy the coming forces of the enemy. It was felt that the government was wide awake, and that the city would soon see the impending horrors without telescopes. The siege was pressed more closely. Noircarmes took up a commanding position at Saint Armand, by which he was enabled to cut off all communication between the city and the surrounding country. All the villages in the neighborhood were pillaged; all the fields laid waste. All the infamies which an insolent soldiery can inflict upon helpless peasantry were daily enacted. Men and women who attempted any communication with the city were murdered in cold blood by hundreds. The villagers were plundered of their miserable possessions, children were stripped naked in the midst of winter for the sake of the rags which covered them; matrons and virgins were sold at public auction by the tap of drum; sick and wounded wretches were burned over slow fires, to afford amusement to the soldiers. In brief, the whole unmitigated curse which military power inflamed by religious bigotry can embody, had descended upon the heads of these unfortunate provincials who had dared to worship God in Christian churches without a Roman ritual.
Meantime, the city maintained a stout heart still. The whole population were arranged under different banners. The rich and poor alike took arms to defend the walls which sheltered them. The town paupers were enrolled in three companies, which bore the significant title of the “Tous-nuds” or the “Stark-nakeds,” and many was the fierce conflict delivered outside the gates by men, who, in the words of a Catholic then in the city, might rather be taken for “experienced veterans than for burghers and artisans.” At the same time, to the honor of Valenciennes, it must be stated, upon the same incontestable authority, that not a Catholic in the city was injured or insulted. The priests who had remained there were not allowed to say mass, but they never met with an opprobrious word or look from the people.
The inhabitants of the city called upon the confederates for assistance. They also issued an address to the Knights of the Fleece; a paper which narrated the story of their wrongs in pathetic and startling language. They appealed to those puissant and illustrious chevaliers to prevent the perpetration of the great wrong which was now impending over so many innocent heads. “Wait not,” they said, “till the thunderbolt has fallen, till the deluge has overwhelmed us, till the fires already blazing have laid the land in coals and ashes, till no other course be possible, but to abandon the country in its desolation to foreign barbarity. Let the cause of the oppressed come to your ears. So shall your conscience become a shield of iron; so shall the happiness of a whole country witness before the angels, of your truth to his Majesty, in the cause of his true grandeur and glory.”
These stirring appeals to an order of which Philip was chief, Viglius chancellor, Egmont, Mansfeld, Aerschot, Berlaymont, and others, chevaliers, were not likely to produce much effect. The city could rely upon no assistance in those high quarters.
Meantime, however, the bold Brederode was attempting a very extensive diversion, which, if successful, would have saved Valenciennes and the whole country beside. That eccentric personage, during the autumn and winter had been creating disturbances in various parts of the country. Wherever he happened to be established, there came from the windows of his apartments a sound of revelry and uproar. Suspicious characters in various costumes thronged his door and dogged his footsteps. At the same time the authorities felt themselves obliged to treat him with respect. At Horn he had entertained many of the leading citizens at a great banquet. The health of the beggars had been drunk in mighty potations, and their shibboleth had resounded through the house. In the midst of the festivities, Brederode had suspended a beggar’s medal around the neck of the burgomaster, who had consented to be his guest upon that occasion, but who had no intention of enrolling himself in the fraternities of actual or political mendicants. The excellent magistrate, however, was near becoming a member of both. The emblem by which he had been conspicuously adorned proved very embarrassing to him upon his recovery from the effects of his orgies with the “great beggar,” and he was subsequently punished for his imprudence by the confiscation of half his property.
Early in January, Brederode had stationed himself in his city of Viane. There, in virtue of his seignorial rights, he had removed all statues and other popish emblems from the churches, performing the operation, however, with much quietness and decorum. He had also collected many disorderly men-at-arms in this city, and had strengthened its fortifications, to resist, as he said, the threatened attacks of Duke Eric of Brunswick and his German mercenaries. A printing press was established in the place, whence satirical pamphlets, hymnbooks, and other pestiferous productions, were constantly issuing to the annoyance of government. Many lawless and uproarious individuals enjoyed the count’s hospitality. All the dregs and filth of the provinces, according to Doctor Viglius, were accumulated at Viane as in a cesspool. Along the placid banks of the Lech, on which river the city stands, the “hydra of rebellion” lay ever coiled and threatening.
Brederode was supposed to be revolving vast schemes, both political and military, and Margaret of Parma was kept in continual apprehension by the bravado of this very noisy conspirator. She called upon William of Orange, as usual, for assistance. The prince, however, was very ill-disposed to come to her relief. An extreme disgust for the policy of the government already began to characterize his public language. In the autumn and winter he had done all that man could do for the safety of the monarch’s crown, and for the people’s happiness. His services in Antwerp have been recorded. As soon as he could tear himself from that city, where the magistrates and all classes of citizens clung to him as to their only savior, he had hastened to tranquilize the provinces of Holland, Zealand, and Utrecht. He had made arrangements in the principal cities there upon the same basis which he had adopted in Antwerp, and to which Margaret had consented in August. It was quite out of the question to establish order without permitting the Reformers, who constituted much the larger portion of the population, to have liberty of religious exercises at some places, not consecrated, within the cities.
At Amsterdam, for instance, as he informed the duchess, there were swarms of unlearned, barbarous people, mariners and the like, who could by no means perceive the propriety of doing their preaching in the open country, seeing that the open country, at that season, was quite under water. Margaret’s gracious suggestion that, perhaps, something might be done with boats, was also considered inadmissible. “I know not,” said Orange, “who could have advised your highness to make such a proposition.” He informed her, likewise, that the barbarous mariners had a clear right to their preaching, for the custom had already been established previously to the August treaty, at a place called the “Lastadge,” among the wharves. “In the name of God, then,” wrote Margaret, “let them continue to preach in the Lastadge.” This being all the barbarians wanted, an Accord, with the full consent of the regent, was drawn up at Amsterdam and the other northern cities. The Catholics kept churches and cathedrals, but in the winter season, the greater part of the population obtained permission to worship God upon dry land, in warehouses and dockyards.
Within a very few weeks, however, the whole arrangement was coolly cancelled by the duchess, her permission revoked, and peremptory prohibition of all preaching within or without the walls proclaimed. The government was growing stronger. Had not Noircarmes and Rassinghem cut to pieces three or four thousand of these sectaries marching to battle under parsons, locksmiths, and similar chieftains? Were not all lovers of good government “erecting their heads like dromedaries?”
It may easily be comprehended that the prince could not with complacency permit himself to be thus perpetually stultified by a weak, false, and imperious woman. She had repeatedly called upon him when she was appalled at the tempest and sinking in the ocean; and she had as constantly disavowed his deeds and reviled his character when she felt herself in safety again. He had tranquilized the old Batavian provinces, where the old Batavian spirit still lingered, by his personal influence and his unwearied exertions. Men of all ranks and religions were grateful for his labors. The Reformers had not gained much, but they were satisfied. The Catholics retained their churches, their property, their consideration.
The states of Holland had voted him 50,000 florins, as an acknowledgment of his efforts in restoring peace. He had refused the present. He was in debt, pressed for money, but he did not choose, as he informed Philip, “that men should think his actions governed by motives of avarice or particular interest, instead of the true affection which he bore to his Majesty’s service and the good of the country.” Nevertheless, his back was hardly turned before all his work was undone by the regent.
A new and important step on the part of the government had now placed him in an attitude of almost avowed rebellion. All functionaries, from governors of provinces down to subalterns in the army, were required to take a new oath of allegiance, “novum et hactenus inusitatum religionis juramentum,” as the prince characterized it, which was, he said, quite equal to the inquisition. Every man who bore his Majesty’s commission was ordered solemnly to pledge himself to obey the orders of government, everywhere, and against every person, without limitation or restriction. Count Mansfeld, now “factotum at Brussels,” had taken the oath with great fervor. So had Aerschot, Berlaymont, Meghen, and, after a little wavering, Egmont. Orange spurned the proposition. He had taken oaths enough which he had never broken, nor intended now to break. He was ready still to do everything conducive to the real interest of the monarch. Who dared do more was no true servant to the government, no true lover of the country. He would never disgrace himself by a blind pledge, through which he might be constrained to do acts detrimental, in his opinion, to the safety of the crown, the happiness of the commonwealth, and his own honor. The alternative presented he willingly embraced. He renounced all his offices, and desired no longer to serve a government whose policy he did not approve, a king by whom he was suspected.
His resignation was not accepted by the duchess, who still made efforts to retain the services of a man who was necessary to her administration. She begged him, notwithstanding the purely defensive and watchful attitude which he had now assumed, to take measures that Brederode should abandon his mischievous courses. She also reproached the prince with having furnished that personage with artillery for his fortifications. Orange answered, somewhat contemptuously, that he was not Brederode’s keeper, and had no occasion to meddle with his affairs. He had given him three small field-pieces, promised long ago, not that he mentioned that circumstance as an excuse for the donation. “Thank God,” said he, “we have always had the liberty in this country of making to friends or relatives what presents we liked, and methinks that things have come to a pretty pass when such trifles are scrutinized.” Certainly, as Suzerain of Viane, and threatened with invasion in his seignorial rights, the count might think himself justified in strengthening the bulwarks of his little stronghold, and the prince could hardly be deemed very seriously to endanger the safety of the crown by the insignificant present which had annoyed the regent.
It is not so agreeable to contemplate the apparent intimacy which the prince accorded to so disreputable a character, but Orange was now in hostility to the government, was convinced by evidence, whose accuracy time was most signally to establish, that his own head, as well as many others, were already doomed to the block, while the whole country was devoted to abject servitude, and he was therefore disposed to look with more indulgence upon the follies of those who were endeavoring, however weakly and insanely, to avert the horrors which he foresaw. The time for reasoning had passed. All that true wisdom and practical statesmanship could suggest, he had already placed at the disposal of a woman who stabbed him in the back even while she leaned upon his arm—of a king who had already drawn his death warrant, while reproaching his “cousin of Orange” for want of confidence in the royal friendship. Was he now to attempt the subjugation of his country by interfering with the proceedings of men whom he had no power to command, and who, at least, were attempting to oppose tyranny? Even if he should do so, he was perfectly aware of the reward reserved for his loyalty. He liked not such honors as he foresaw for all those who had ever interposed between the monarch and his vengeance. For himself he had the liberation of a country, the foundation of a free commonwealth to achieve. There was much work for those hands before he should fall a victim to the crowned assassin.
Early in February, Brederode, Hoogstraaten, Horn, and some other gentlemen, visited the prince at Breda. Here it is supposed the advice of Orange was asked concerning the new movement contemplated by Brederode. He was bent upon presenting a new petition to the duchess with great solemnity. There is no evidence to show that the prince approved the step, which must have seemed to him superfluous, if not puerile. He probably regarded the matter with indifference. Brederode, however, who was fond of making demonstrations, and thought himself endowed with a genius for such work, wrote to the regent for letters of safe conduct that he might come to Brussels with his petition. The passports were contemptuously refused. He then came to Antwerp, from which city he forwarded the document to Brussels in a letter.
By this new Request, the exercise of the reformed religion was claimed as a right, while the duchess was summoned to disband the forces which she had been collecting, and to maintain in good faith the “August” treaty. These claims were somewhat bolder than those of the previous April, although the liberal party was much weaker and the confederacy entirely disbanded. Brederode, no doubt, thought it good generalship to throw the last loaf of bread into the enemy’s camp before the city should surrender. His haughty tone was at once taken down by Margaret of Parma. She “wondered,” she said, “what manner of nobles these were, whom after requesting, a year before, to be saved only from the inquisition, now presumed to talk about preaching in the cities.” The concessions of August had always been odious, and were now canceled. “As for you and your accomplices,” she continued to the count, “you will do well to go to your homes at once without meddling with public affairs, for, in case of disobedience, I shall deal with you as I shall deem expedient.”
Brederode, not easily abashed, disregarded the advice, and continued in Antwerp. Here, accepting the answer of the regent as a formal declaration of hostilities, he busied himself in levying troops in and about the city.
Orange had returned to Antwerp early in February. During his absence, Hoogstraaten had acted as governor at the instance of the prince and of the regent. During the winter, that nobleman, who was very young and very fiery, had carried matters with a high hand, whenever there had been the least attempt at sedition. Liberal in principles, and the devoted friend of Orange, he was disposed however to prove that the champions of religious liberty were not the patrons of sedition. A riot occurring in the cathedral, where a violent mob were engaged in defacing whatever was left to deface in that church, and in heaping insults on the papists at their worship, the little count, who, says a Catholic contemporary, “had the courage of a lion,” dashed in among them, sword in hand, killed three upon the spot, and, aided by his followers, succeeded in slaying, wounding, or capturing all the rest. He had also tracked the ringleader of the tumult to his lodging, where he had caused him to be arrested at midnight, and hanged at once in his shirt without any form of trial. Such rapid proceedings little resembled the calm and judicious moderation of Orange upon all occasions, but they certainly might have sufficed to convince Philip that all antagonists of the inquisition were not heretics and outlaws. Upon the arrival of the prince in Antwerp, it was considered advisable that Hoogstraaten should remain associated with him in the temporary government of the city.
During the month of February, Brederode remained in Antwerp, secretly enrolling troops. It was probably his intention—if so desultory and irresponsible an individual could be said to have an intention—to make an attempt upon the Island of Walcheren. If such important cities as Flushing and Middelburg could be gained, he thought it possible to prevent the armed invasion now soon expected from Spain. Orange had sent an officer to those cities, who was to reconnoiter their condition, and to advise them against receiving a garrison from government without his authority. So far he connived at Brederode’s proceedings, as he had a perfect right to do, for Walcheren was within what had been the prince’s government, and he had no disposition that these cities should share the fate of Tourney, Valenciennes, Bois le Duc, and other towns which had already passed or were passing under the spears of foreign mercenaries.
It is also probable that he did not take any special pains to check the enrollments of Brederode. The peace of Antwerp was not endangered, and to the preservation of that city the prince seemed now to limit himself. He was hereditary burgrave of Antwerp, but officer of Philip’s never more. Despite the shrill demands of Duchess Margaret, therefore, the prince did not take very active measures by which the crown of Philip might be secured. He, perhaps, looked upon the struggle almost with indifference. Nevertheless, he issued a formal proclamation by which the count’s enlistments were forbidden. Van der Aa, a gentleman who had been active in making these levies, was compelled to leave the city. Brederode was already gone to the north to busy himself with further enrolments.
In the meantime, there had been much alarm in Brussels. Egmont, who omitted no opportunity of manifesting his loyalty, offered to throw himself at once into the Isle of Walcheren, for the purpose of dislodging any rebels who might have effected an entrance. He collected accordingly seven or eight hundred Walloon veterans, at his disposal in Flanders, in the little port of Sas de Ghent, prepared at once to execute his intention, “worthy,” says a Catholic writer, “of his well-known courage and magnanimity.” The duchess expressed gratitude for the count’s devotion and loyalty, but his services in the sequel proved unnecessary. The rebels, several boat-loads of whom had been cruising about in the neighborhood of Flushing during the early part of March, had been refused admittance into any of the ports on the island. They therefore sailed up the Scheld, and landed at a little village called Ostrawell, at the distance of somewhat more than a mile from Antwerp.
The commander of the expedition was Marnix of Tholouse, brother to Marnix of Saint Aldegonde. This young nobleman, who had left college to fight for the cause of religious liberty, was possessed of fine talents and accomplishments. Like his illustrious brother, he was already a sincere convert to the doctrines of the Reformed Church. He had nothing, however, but courage to recommend him as a leader in a military expedition. He was a mere boy, utterly without experience in the field. His troops were raw levies, vagabonds, and outlaws.
Such as it was, however, his army was soon posted at Ostrawell in a convenient position, and with considerable judgment. He had the Scheld and its dykes in his rear, on his right and left the dykes and the village. In front he threw up a breastwork and sunk a trench. Here then was set up the standard of rebellion, and hither flocked daily many malcontents from the country round. Within a few days 3,000 men were in his camp. On the other hand, Brederode was busy in Holland, and boasted of taking the field ere long with 6,000 soldiers at the very least. Together they would march to the relief of Valenciennes, and dictate peace in Brussels.
It was obvious that this matter could not be allowed to go on. The duchess, with some trepidation, accepted the offer made by Philip de Lannoy, Seigneur de Beauvoir, commander of her bodyguard in Brussels, to destroy this nest of rebels without delay. Half the whole number of these soldiers was placed at his disposition, and Egmont supplied De Beauvoir with four hundred of his veteran Walloons.
With a force numbering only eight hundred, but all picked men, the intrepid officer undertook his enterprise, with great dispatch and secrecy. Upon the 12th of March, the whole troop was sent off in small parties, to avoid suspicion, and armed only with sword and dagger. Their helmets, bucklers, arquebusses, corselets, spears, standards and drums, were delivered to their officers, by whom they were conveyed noiselessly to the place of rendezvous. Before daybreak, upon the following morning, De Beauvoir met his soldiers at the abbey of Saint Bernard, within a league of Antwerp. Here he gave them their arms, supplied them with refreshments, and made them a brief speech. He instructed them that they were to advance, with furled banners and without beat of drum, till within sight of the enemy, that the foremost section was to deliver its fire, retreat to the rear and load, to be followed by the next, which was to do the same, and above all, that not an arquebus should be discharged till the faces of the enemy could be distinguished.
The troop started. After a few minutes’ march they were in full sight of Ostrawell. They then displayed their flags and advanced upon the fort with loud huzzas. Tholouse was as much taken by surprise as if they had suddenly emerged from the bowels of the earth. He had been informed that the government at Brussels was in extreme trepidation. When he first heard the advancing trumpets and sudden shouts, he thought it a detachment of Brederode’s promised force. The cross on the banners soon undeceived him. Nevertheless “like a brave and generous young gentleman as he was,” he lost no time in drawing up his men for action, implored them to defend their breastworks, which were impregnable against so small a force, and instructed them to wait patiently with their fire, till the enemy were near enough to be marked.
These orders were disobeyed. The “young scholar,” as De Beauvoir had designated him, had no power to infuse his own spirit into his rabble rout of followers. They were already panic-struck by the unexpected appearance of the enemy. The Catholics came on with the coolness of veterans, taking as deliberate aim as if it had been they, not their enemies, who were behind breastworks. The troops of Tholouse fired wildly, precipitately, quite over the heads of the assailants. Many of the defenders were slain as fast as they showed themselves above their bulwarks. The ditch was crossed, the breastwork carried at a single determined charge. The rebels made little resistance, but fled as soon as the enemy entered their fort. It was a hunt, not a battle. Hundreds were stretched dead in the camp; hundreds were driven into the Scheld; six or eight hundred took refuge in a farmhouse, but De Beauvoir’s men set fire to the building, and every rebel who had entered it was burned alive or shot. No quarter was given. Hardly a man of the 3,000 who had held the fort escaped. The body of Tholouse was cut into a hundred pieces. The Seigneur de Beauvoir had reason, in the brief letter which gave an account of this exploit, to assure her Highness that there were “some very valiant fellows in his little troop.” Certainly they had accomplished the enterprise entrusted to them with promptness, neatness, and entire success. Of the great rebellious gathering, which every day had seemed to grow more formidable, not a vestige was left.
This bloody drama had been enacted in full sight of Antwerp. The fight had lasted from daybreak till ten o’clock in the forenoon, during the whole of which period, the city ramparts looking towards Ostrawell, the roofs of houses, the towers of churches had been swarming with eager spectators. The sound of drum and trumpet, the rattle of musketry, the shouts of victory, the despairing cries of the vanquished were heard by thousands who deeply sympathized with the rebels thus enduring so sanguinary a chastisement. In Antwerp there were 40,000 people opposed to the Church of Rome. Of this number the greater proportion were Calvinists, and of these Calvinists there were thousands looking down from the battlements upon the disastrous fight.
The excitement soon became uncontrollable. Before ten o’clock vast numbers of sectaries came pouring towards the Red Gate, which afforded the readiest egress to the scene of action, the drawbridge of the Ostrawell Gate having been destroyed the night before by command of Orange. They came from every street and alley of the city. Some were armed with lance, pike, or arquebus; some bore sledgehammers; others had the partisans, battle-axes, and huge two-handed swords of the previous century; all were determined upon issuing forth to the rescue of their friends in the fields outside the town. The wife of Tholouse, not yet aware of her husband’s death, although his defeat was obvious, flew from street to street, calling upon the Calvinists to save or to avenge their perishing brethren.
A terrible tumult prevailed. Ten thousand men were already up and in arms. It was then that the Prince of Orange, who was sometimes described by his enemies as timid and pusillanimous by nature, showed the mettle he was made of. His sense of duty no longer bade him defend the crown of Philip—which thenceforth was to be entrusted to the hirelings of the Inquisition—but the vast population of Antwerp, the women, the children, and the enormous wealth of the richest city in the world had been confided to his care, and he had accepted the responsibility. Mounting his horse, he made his appearance instantly at the Red Gate, before as formidable a mob as man has ever faced. He came there almost alone, without guards. Hoogstraaten arrived soon afterwards with the same intention. The prince was received with howls of execration. A thousand hoarse voices called him the pope’s servant, minister of Antichrist, and lavished upon him many more epithets of the same nature. His life was in imminent danger. A furious clothier leveled an arquebus full at his breast. “Die, treacherous Villain!” he cried, “thou who art the cause that our brethren have perished thus miserably in yonder field.” The loaded weapon was struck away by another hand in the crowd, while the prince, neither daunted by the ferocious demonstrations against his life, nor enraged by the virulent abuse to which he was subjected, continued tranquilly, earnestly, imperatively to address the crowd. William of Orange had that in his face and tongue “which men willingly call master-authority.” With what other talisman could he, without violence and without soldiers, have quelled even for a moment ten thousand furious Calvinists, armed, enraged against his person, and thirsting for vengeance on Catholics?
The postern of the Red Gate had already been broken through before Orange and his co-league, Hoogstraaten, had arrived. The most excited of the Calvinists were preparing to rush forth upon the enemy at Ostrawell. The prince, after he had gained the ear of the multitude, urged that the battle was now over, that the Reformers were entirely cut to pieces, the enemy retiring, and that a disorderly and ill-armed mob would be unable to retrieve the fortunes of the day. Many were persuaded to abandon the design. Five hundred of the most violent, however, insisted upon leaving the gates, and the governors, distinctly warning these zealots that their blood must be upon their own heads, reluctantly permitted that number to issue from the city. The rest of the mob, not appeased, but uncertain, and disposed to take vengeance upon the Catholics within the walls, for the disaster which had been occurring without, thronged tumultuously to the long, wide street, called the Mere, situate in the very heart of the city.
Meantime the ardor of those who had sallied from the gate grew sensibly cooler, when they found themselves in the open fields. De Beauvoir, whose men, after the victory, had scattered in pursuit of the fugitives, now heard the tumult in the city. Suspecting an attack, he rallied his compact little army again for a fresh encounter. The last of the vanquished Tholousians who had been captured, more fortunate than their predecessors, had been spared for ransom. There were three hundred of them, rather a dangerous number of prisoners for a force of eight hundred, who were just going into another battle. De Beauvoir commanded his soldiers, therefore, to shoot them all. This order having been accomplished, the Catholics marched towards Antwerp, drums beating, colors flying. The five hundred Calvinists, not liking their appearance, and being in reality outnumbered, retreated within the gates as hastily as they had just issued from them. De Beauvoir advanced close to the city moat, on the margin of which he planted the banners of the unfortunate Tholouse, and sounded a trumpet of defiance. Finding that the citizens had apparently no stomach for the fight, he removed his trophies, and took his departure.
On the other hand, the tumult within the walls had again increased. The Calvinists had been collecting in great numbers upon the Mere. This was a large and splendid thoroughfare, rather an oblong marketplace than a street, filled with stately buildings, and communicating by various cross streets with the Exchange and with many other public edifices. By an early hour in the afternoon twelve or fifteen thousand Calvinists, all armed and fighting men, had assembled upon the place. They had barricaded the whole precinct with pavements and upturned wagons. They had already broken into the arsenal and obtained many field-pieces, which were planted at the entrance of every street and by-way. They had stormed the city jail and liberated the prisoners, all of whom, grateful and ferocious, came to swell the numbers who defended the stronghold on the Mere. A tremendous mischief was afoot. Threats of pillaging the churches and the houses of the Catholics, of sacking the whole opulent city, were distinctly heard among this powerful mob, excited by religious enthusiasm, but containing within one great heterogeneous mass the elements of every crime which humanity can commit. The alarm throughout the city was indescribable. The cries of women and children, as they remained in trembling expectation of what the next hour might bring forth, were, said one who heard them, “enough to soften the hardest hearts.”
Nevertheless the diligence and courage of the prince kept pace with the insurrection. He had caused the eight companies of guards enrolled in September to be mustered upon the square in front of the city hall, for the protection of that building and of the magistracy. He had summoned the senate of the city, the board of ancients, the deans of guilds, the ward-masters, to consult with him at the council-room. At the peril of his life he had again gone before the angry mob in the Mere, advancing against their cannon and their outcries, and compelling them to appoint eight deputies to treat with him and the magistrates at the town-hall. This done, quickly but deliberately he had drawn up six articles, to which those deputies gave their assent, and in which the city government cordially united. These articles provided that the keys of the city should remain in the possession of the prince and of Hoogstraaten, that the watch should be held by burghers and soldiers together, that the magistrates should permit the entrance of no garrison, and that the citizens should be entrusted with the care of the charters, especially with that of the joyful entrance.
These arrangements, when laid before the assembly at the Mere by their deputies, were not received with favor. The Calvinists demanded the keys of the city. They did not choose to be locked up at the mercy of any man. They had already threatened to blow the city hall into the air if the keys were not delivered to them. They claimed that burghers, without distinction of religion, instead of mercenary troops, should be allowed to guard the market-place in front of the town-hall.
It was now nightfall, and no definite arrangement had been concluded. Nevertheless, a temporary truce was made, by means of a concession as to the guard. It was agreed that the burghers, Calvinists and Lutherans, as well as Catholics, should be employed to protect the city. By subtlety, however, the Calvinists detailed for that service, were posted not in the town-house square, but on the ramparts and at the gates.
A night of dreadful expectation was passed. The army of 15,000 mutineers remained encamped and barricaded on the Mere, with guns loaded and artillery pointed. Fierce cries of “Long live the beggars,” “Down with the papists,” and other significant watchwords, were heard all night long, but no more serious outbreak occurred.
During the whole of the following day, the Calvinists remained in their encampment, the Catholics and the city guardsmen at their posts near the city hall. The prince was occupied in the council-chamber from morning till night with the municipal authorities, the deputies of “the religion,” and the guild officers, in framing a new treaty of peace. Towards evening fifteen articles were agreed upon, which were to be proposed forthwith to the insurgents, and in case of non-acceptance to be enforced. The arrangement provided that there should be no garrison; that the September contracts permitting the Reformed worship at certain places within the city should be maintained; that men of different parties should refrain from mutual insults; that the two governors, the prince and Hoogstraaten, should keep the keys; that the city should be guarded by both soldiers and citizens, without distinction of religious creed; that a band of four hundred cavalry and a small flotilla of vessels of war should be maintained for the defense of the place, and that the expenses to be incurred should be levied upon all classes, clerical and lay, Catholic and Reformed, without any exception.
It had been intended that the governors, accompanied by the magistrates, should forthwith proceed to the Mere, for the purpose of laying these terms before the insurgents. Night had, however, already arrived, and it was understood that the ill temper of the Calvinists had rather increased than diminished, so that it was doubtful whether the arrangement would be accepted. It was, therefore, necessary to await the issue of another day, rather than to provoke a night battle in the streets.
During the night the prince labored incessantly to provide against the dangers of the morrow. The Calvinists had fiercely expressed their disinclination to any reasonable arrangement. They had threatened, without further pause, to plunder the religious houses and the mansions of all the wealthy Catholics, and to drive every papist out of town. They had summoned the Lutherans to join with them in their revolt, and menaced them, in case of refusal, with the same fate which awaited the Catholics. The prince, who was himself a Lutheran, not entirely free from the universal prejudice against the Calvinists, whose sect he afterwards embraced, was fully aware of the deplorable fact, that the enmity at that day between Calvinists and Lutherans was as fierce as that between Reformers and Catholics. He now made use of this feeling, and of his influence with those of the Augsburg Confession, to save the city. During the night he had interviews with the ministers and notable members of the Lutheran churches, and induced them to form an alliance upon this occasion with the Catholics and with all friends of order, against an army of outlaws who were threatening to burn and sack the city. The Lutherans, in the silence of night, took arms and encamped, to the number of three or four thousand, upon the riverside, in the neighborhood of Saint Michael’s cloister. The prince also sent for the deans of all the foreign mercantile associations—Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, English, Hanseatic—engaged their assistance also for the protection of the city, and commanded them to remain in their armor at their respective factories, ready to act at a moment’s warning. It was agreed that they should be informed at frequent intervals as to the progress of events.
On the morning of the 15th, the city of Antwerp presented a fearful sight. Three distinct armies were arrayed at different points within its walls. The Calvinists, 15,000 strong, lay in their encampment on the Mere; the Lutherans, armed, and eager for action, were at St. Michael’s; the Catholics and the regulars of the city guard were posted on the square. Between thirty-five and forty thousand men were up, according to the most moderate computation. All parties were excited, and eager for the fray. The fires of religious hatred burned fiercely in every breast. Many malefactors and outlaws, who had found refuge in the course of recent events at Antwerp, were in the ranks of the Calvinists, profaning a sacred cause, and inspiring a fanatical party with bloody resolutions. Papists, once and forever, were to be hunted down, even as they had been for years pursuing Reformers. Let the men who had fed fat on the spoils of plundered Christians be dealt with in like fashion. Let their homes be sacked, their bodies given to the dogs—such were the cries uttered by thousands of armed men.
On the other hand, the Lutherans, as angry and as rich as the Catholics, saw in every Calvinist a murderer and a robber. They thirsted after their blood, for the spirit of religious frenzy, the characteristic of the century, can with difficulty be comprehended in our colder and more skeptical age. There was every probability that a bloody battle was to be fought that day in the streets of Antwerp—a general engagement, in the course of which, whoever might be the victors, the city was sure to be delivered over to fire, sack, and outrage. Such would have been the result, according to the concurrent testimony of eyewitnesses, and contemporary historians of every country and creed, but for the courage and wisdom of one man. William of Orange knew what would be the consequence of a battle, pent up within the walls of Antwerp. He foresaw the horrible havoc which was to be expected, the desolation which would be brought to every hearth in the city. “Never were men so desperate and so willing to fight,” said Sir Thomas Gresham, who had been expecting every hour his summons to share in the conflict. If the prince were unable that morning to avert the impending calamity, no other power, under heaven, could save Antwerp from destruction.
The articles prepared on the 14th had been already approved by those who represented the Catholic and Lutheran interests. They were read early in the morning to the troops assembled on the square and at St. Michael’s, and received with hearty cheers. It was now necessary that the Calvinists should accept them, or that the quarrel should be fought out at once. At ten o’clock, William of Orange, attended by his colleague Hoogstraaten, together with a committee of the municipal authorities, and followed by a hundred troopers, rode to the Mere. They wore red scarves over their armor, as symbols by which all those who had united to put clown the insurrection were distinguished. The 15,000 Calvinists, fierce and disorderly as ever, maintained a threatening aspect. Nevertheless, the prince was allowed to ride into the midst of the square. The articles were then read aloud by his command, after which, with great composure, he made a few observations. He pointed out that the arrangement offered them was founded upon the September concessions, that the right of worship was conceded, that the foreign garrison was forbidden, and that nothing further could be justly demanded or honorably admitted. He told them that a struggle upon their part would be hopeless, for the Catholics and Lutherans, who were all agreed as to the justice of the treaty, outnumbered them by nearly two to one. He, therefore, most earnestly and affectionately adjured them to testify their acceptance to the peace offered by repeating the words with which he should conclude. Then, with a firm voice, the prince exclaimed, “God save the king?” It was the last time that those words were ever heard from the lips of the man already proscribed by Philip. The crowd of Calvinists hesitated an instant, and then, unable to resist the tranquil influence, convinced by his reasonable language, they raised one tremendous shout of “Vive le Roi!”
The deed was done, the peace accepted, the dreadful battle averted, Antwerp saved. The deputies of the Calvinists now formally accepted and signed the articles. Kind words were exchanged among the various classes of fellow citizens, who but an hour before had been thirsting for each other’s blood; the artillery and other weapons of war were restored to the arsenals; Calvinists, Lutherans, and Catholics all laid down their arms; and the city, by three o’clock, was entirely quiet. Fifty thousand armed men had been up, according to some estimates, yet, after three days of dreadful expectation, not a single person had been injured, and the tumult was new appeased.
The prince had, in truth, used the mutual animosity of Protestant sects to a good purpose, averting bloodshed by the very weapons with which the battle was to have been waged. Had it been possible for a man like William the Silent to occupy the throne where Philip the Prudent sat, how different might have been the history of Spain and the fate of the Netherlands. Gresham was right, however, in his conjecture that the regent and court would not “take the business well.” Margaret of Parma was incapable of comprehending such a mind as that of Orange, or of appreciating its efforts. She was surrounded by unscrupulous and mercenary soldiers, who hailed the coming civil war as the most profitable of speculations. “Factotum” Mansfeld, the Counts Arembera and Meghen, the Duke of Aerschot, the sanguinary Noircarmes, were already counting their share in the coming confiscations. In the internecine conflict approaching, there would be gold for the gathering, even if no honorable laurels would wreath their swords. “Meghen with his regiment is desolating the country,” wrote William of Orange to the Landgrave of Hesse, “and reducing many people to poverty. Aremberg is doing the same in Friesland. They are only thinking how, under the pretext of religion, they may grind the poor Christians, and grow rich and powerful upon their estates and their blood.”
The Seignior de Beauvoir wrote to the duchess, claiming all the estates of Tholouse, and of his brother St. Aldegonde, as his reward for the Ostrawell victory, while Noircarmes was at this very moment to commence at Valenciennes that career of murder and spoliation which, continued at Mons a few years afterwards, was to load his name with infamy.
From such a regent, surrounded by such councillors, was the work of William de Nassau’s hands to gain applause? What was it to them that carnage and plunder had been spared in one of the richest and most populous cities in Christendom? Were not carnage and plunder the very elements in which they disported themselves? And what more dreadful offense against God and Philip could be committed than to permit, as the prince had just permitted, the right of worship in a Christian land to Calvinists and Lutherans? As a matter of course, therefore, Margaret of Parma denounced the terms by which Antwerp had been saved as a “novel and exorbitant capitulation,” and had no intention of signifying her approbation either to prince or magistrate.
Valenciennes, whose fate depended so closely upon the issue of these various events, was now trembling to her fall. Noircarmes had been drawing the lines more and more closely about the city, and by a refinement of cruelty had compelled many Calvinists from Tournay to act as pioneers in the trenches against their own brethren in Valenciennes. After the defeat of Tholouse, and the consequent frustration of all Brederode’s arrangements to relieve the siege, the duchess had sent a fresh summons to Valenciennes, together with letters acquainting the citizens with the results of the Ostrawell battle. The intelligence was not believed. Egmont and Aerschot, however, to whom Margaret had entrusted this last mission to the beleaguered town, roundly rebuked the deputies who came to treat with them, for their insolence in daring to doubt the ward of the regent. The two seigniors had established themselves in the Chateau of Beusnage, at a league’s distance from Valenciennes. Here they received commissioners from the city, half of whom were Catholics appointed by the magistrates, half Calvinists deputed by the consistories. These envoys were informed that the duchess would pardon the city for its past offenses, provided the gates should now be opened, the garrison received, and a complete suppression of all religion except that of Rome acquiesced in without a murmur. As nearly the whole population was of the Calvinist faith, these terms could hardly be thought favorable. It was, however, added, that fourteen days should be allowed to the Reformers for the purpose of converting their property, and retiring from the country.
The deputies, after conferring with their constituents in the city, returned on the following day with counter-propositions, which were not more likely to find favor with the government. They offered to accept the garrison, provided the soldiers should live at their own expense, without any tax to the citizens for their board, lodging, or pay. They claimed that all property which had been seized should be restored, all persons accused of treason liberated. They demanded the unconditional revocation of the edict by which the city had been declared rebellious, together with a guarantee from the Knights of the Fleece and the state council that the terms of the proposed treaty should be strictly observed.
As soon as these terms had been read to the two seigniors, the duke of Aerschot burst into an immoderate fit of laughter. He protested that nothing could be more ludicrous than such propositions, worthy of a conqueror dictating a peace, thus offered by a city closely beleaguered, and entirely at the mercy of the enemy. The duke’s hilarity was not shared by Egmont, who, on the contrary, fell into a furious passion. He swore that the city should be burned about their ears, and that every one of the inhabitants should be put to the sword for the insolent language which they had thus dared to address to a most clement sovereign. He ordered the trembling deputies instantly to return with this peremptory rejection of their terms, and with his command that the proposals of government should be accepted within three days’ delay.
The commissioners fell upon their knees at Egmont’s feet, and begged for mercy. They implored him at least to send this imperious message by some other hand than theirs, and to permit them to absent themselves from the city. They should be torn limb from limb, they said, by the enraged inhabitants, if they dared to present themselves with such instructions before them. Egmont, however, assured them that they should be sent into the city, bound hand and foot, if they did not instantly obey his orders. The deputies, therefore, with heavy hearts, were fain to return home with this bitter result to their negotiations. The terms were rejected, as a matter of course, but the gloomy forebodings of the commissioners, as to their own fate at the hands of their fellow citizens, were not fulfilled.
Instant measures were now taken to cannonade the city. Egmont, at the hazard of his life, descended into the foss, to reconnoiter the works, and to form an opinion as to the most eligible quarter at which to direct the batteries. Having communicated the result of his investigations to Noircarmes, he returned to report all these proceedings to the regent at Brussels. Certainly the count had now separated himself far enough from William of Orange, and was manifesting an energy in the cause of tyranny which was sufficiently unscrupulous. Many people who had been deceived by his more generous demonstrations in former times, tried to persuade themselves that he was acting a part. Noircarmes, however—and no man was more competent to decide the question—distinctly expressed his entire confidence in Egmont’s loyalty. Margaret had responded warmly to his eulogies, had read with approbation secret letters from Egmont to Noircarmes, and had expressed the utmost respect and affection for “the Count.” Egmont had also lost no time in writing to Philip, informing him that he had selected the most eligible spot for battering down the obstinate city of Valenciennes, regretting that he could not have had the eight or ten military companies, now at his disposal, at an earlier day, in which case he should have been able to suppress many tumults, but congratulating his sovereign that the preachers were all fugitive, the Reformed religion suppressed, and the people disarmed. He assured the king that he would neglect no effort to prevent any renewal of the tumults, and expressed the hope that his Majesty would be satisfied with his conduct, notwithstanding the calumnies of which the times were full.
Noircarmes meanwhile, had unmasked his batteries, and opened his fire exactly according to Egmont’s suggestions. The artillery played first upon what was called the “White Tower,” which happened to bear this ancient, rhyming inscription:
For some unknown reason, the rather insipid quatrain was tortured into a baleful prophecy. It was considered very ominous that the battery should be first opened against this Sibylline tower. The chimes, too, which had been playing, all through the siege, the music of Marot’s sacred songs, happened that morning to be sounding forth from every belfry the twenty-second psalm: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
It was Palm Sunday, the 23rd of March. The women and children were going mournfully about the streets, bearing green branches in their hands, and praying upon their knees, in every part of the city. Despair and superstition had taken possession of citizens, who up to that period had justified La Noue’s assertion that none could endure a siege like Huguenots. As soon as the cannonading began, the spirit of the inhabitants seemed to depart. The ministers exhorted their flocks in vain as the tiles and chimneys began to topple into the streets, and the concussions of the artillery were responded to by the universal wailing of affrighted women.
Upon the very first day after the unmasking of the batteries, the city sent to Noircarmes, offering almost an unconditional surrender. Not the slightest breach had been effected—not the least danger of an assault existed—yet the citizens, who had earned the respect of their antagonists by the courageous manner in which they had sallied and skirmished during the siege, now in despair at any hope of eventual succor, and completely demoralized by the course of recent events outside their walls, surrendered ignominiously, and at discretion. The only stipulation agreed to by Noircarmes was that the city should not be sacked and that the lives of the inhabitants should be spared.
This pledge was, however, only made to be broken. Noircarmes entered the city and closed the gates. All the richest citizens, who of course were deemed the most criminal, were instantly arrested. The soldiers, although not permitted formally to sack the city, were quartered upon the inhabitants, whom they robbed and murdered, according to the testimony of a Catholic citizen, almost at their pleasure.
Michael Herlin, a very wealthy and distinguished burgher, was arrested upon the first day. The two ministers, Guido de Bray and Peregrine de la Grange, together with the son of Herlin, effected their escape by the water-gate. Having taken refuge in a tavern at Saint Arnaud, they were observed, as they sat at supper, by a peasant, who forthwith ran off to the mayor of the borough with the intelligence that some individuals, who looked like fugitives, had arrived at Saint Arnaud. One of them, said the informer, was richly dressed, and wore a gold-hilted sword with velvet scabbard. By the description, the mayor recognized Herlin the younger, and suspected his companions. They were all arrested, and sent to Noircarmes. The two Herlin’s, father and son, were immediately beheaded. Guido de Bray and Peregrine de la Grange were loaded with chains, and thrown into a filthy dungeon, previously to their being hanged. Here they were visited by the Countess de Roeulx, who was curious to see how the Calvinists sustained themselves in their martyrdom. She asked them how they could sleep, eat, or drink, when covered with such heavy fetters. “The cause, and my good conscience,” answered De Bray, “make me eat, drink, and sleep better than those who are doing me wrong. These shackles are more honorable to me than golden rings and chains. They are more useful to me, and as I hear their clank, methinks I hear the music of sweet voices and the tinkling of lutes.”
This exultation never deserted these courageous enthusiasts. They received their condemnation to death “as if it had been an invitation to a marriage feast.” They encouraged the friends who crowded their path to the scaffold with exhortations to remain true in the Reformed faith. La Grange, standing upon the ladder, proclaimed with a loud voice, that he was slain for having preached the pure word of God to a Christian people in a Christian land. De Bray, under the same gibbet, testified stoutly that he, too, had committed that offense alone. He warned his friends to obey the magistrates, and all others in authority, except in matters of conscience; to abstain from sedition, but to obey the will of God. The executioner threw him from the ladder while he was yet speaking. So ended the lives of two eloquent, learned, and highly-gifted divines.
Many hundreds of victims were sacrificed in the unfortunate city. “There were a great many other citizens strangled or beheaded,” says an aristocratic Catholic historian of the time, “but they were mostly personages of little quality, whose names are quite unknown to me.” The franchises of the city were all revoked. There was a prodigious amount of property confiscated to the benefit of Noircarmes and the rest of the “Seven Sleepers.” Many Calvinists were burned, others were hanged. “For two whole years,” says another Catholic, who was a citizen of Valenciennes at the time, “there was scarcely a week in which several citizens were not executed and often a great number were despatched at a time. All this gave so much alarm to the good and innocent, that many quitted the city as fast as they could.” If the good and innocent happened to be rich, they might be sure that Noircarmes would deem that a crime for which no goodness and innocence could atone.
Upon the fate of Valenciennes had depended, as if by common agreement, the whole destiny of the anti-Catholic party. “People had learned at last,” says another Walloon, “that the king had long arms, and that he had not been enlisting soldiers to string beads. So they drew in their horns and their evil tempers, meaning to put them forth again, should the government not succeed at the siege of Valenciennes.” The government had succeeded, however, and the consternation was extreme, the general submission immediate and even abject. “The capture of Valenciennes,” wrote Noircarmes to Granvelle, “has worked a miracle. The other cities all come forth to meet me, putting the rope around their own necks.” No opposition was offered anywhere. Tournay had been crushed; Valenciennes, Bois le Duc, and all other important places, accepted their garrisons without a murmur. Even Antwerp had made its last struggle, and as soon as the back of Orange was turned, knelt down in the dust to receive its bridle. The prince had been able, by his courage and wisdom, to avert a sanguinary conflict within its walls, but his personal presence alone could not guarantee anything like religious liberty for the inhabitants, now that the rest of the country was subdued. On the 26th of April, sixteen companies of infantry, under Count Mansfeld, entered the gates. On the 28th, the duchess made a visit to the city, where she was received with respect, but where her eyes were shocked by that which she termed the “abominable, sad, and hideous spectacle of the desolated churches.”
To the eyes of all who loved their fatherland and their race, the sight of a desolate country, with its ancient charters superseded by brute force, its industrious population swarming from the land in droves, as if the pestilence were raging, with gibbets and scaffolds erected in every village, and with a sickening and universal apprehension of still darker disasters to follow, was a spectacle still more sad, hideous, and abominable.
For it was now decided that the duke of Alva, at the head of a Spanish army, should forthwith take his departure for the Netherlands. A land already subjugated was to be crushed, and every vestige of its ancient liberties destroyed. The conquered provinces, once the abode of municipal liberty, of science, art, and literature, and blessed with an unexampled mercantile and manufacturing prosperity, were to be placed in absolute subjection to the cabinet council at Madrid. A dull and malignant bigot, assisted by a few Spanish grandees, and residing at the other extremity of Europe, was thenceforth to exercise despotic authority over countries which for centuries had enjoyed a local administration, and a system nearly approaching to complete self-government. Such was the policy devised by Granvelle and Spinosa, which the duke of Alva, upon the 15th of April, had left Madrid to enforce.
It was very natural that Margaret of Parma should be indignant at being thus superseded. She considered herself as having acquired much credit by the manner in which the latter insurrectionary movements had been suppressed, so soon as Philip, after his endless tergiversations, had supplied her with arms and money. Therefore she wrote in a tone of great asperity to her brother, expressing her discontent. She had always been trammeled in her action, she said, by his restrictions upon her authority. She complained that he had no regard for her reputation or her peace of mind. Notwithstanding all impediments and dangers, she had at last settled the country, and now another person was to reap the honor. She also dispatched the Seigneur de Billy to Spain, for the purpose of making verbal representations to his Majesty upon the inexpediency of sending the duke of Alva to the Netherlands at that juncture with a Spanish army.
Margaret gained nothing, however, by her letters and her envoy, save a round rebuke from Philip, who was not accustomed to brook the language of remonstrance, even from his sister. His purpose was firmed. Absolute submission was now to be rendered by all. “He was highly astonished and dissatisfied,” he said, “that she should dare to write to him with so much passion, and in so resolute a manner. If she received no other recompense, save the glory of having restored the service of God, she ought to express her gratitude to the king for having given her the opportunity of so doing.”
The affectation of clement intentions was still maintained, together with the empty pretense of the royal visit. Alva and his army were coming merely to prepare the way for the king, who still represented himself as “debonair and gentle, slow to anger, and averse from bloodshed.” Superficial people believed that the king was really coming, and hoped wonders from his advent. The duchess knew better. The pope never believed in it, Granvelle never believed in it, the Prince of Orange never believed in it, Councillor d’Assonleville never believed in it. “His Majesty,” says the Walloon historian, who wrote from Assonleville’s papers, “had many imperative reasons for not coming. He was fond of quiet, he was a great negotiator, distinguished for phlegm and modesty, disinclined to long journeys, particularly to sea voyages, which were very painful to him. Moreover, he was then building his Escorial with so much taste and affection that it was impossible for him to leave home.” These excellent reasons sufficed to detain the monarch, in whose place a general was appointed, who, it must be confessed, was neither phlegmatic nor modest, and whose energies were quite equal to the work required. There had in truth never been anything in the king’s project of visiting the Netherlands but pretense.
On the other hand, the work of Orange for the time was finished. He had saved Antwerp, he had done his best to maintain the liberties of the country, the rights of conscience, and the royal authority, so far as they were compatible with each other. The alternative had now been distinctly forced upon every man, either to promise blind obedience or to accept the position of a rebel. William of Orange had thus become a rebel. He had been requested to sign the new oath, greedily taken by the Mansfeld’s, the Berlaymont’s, the Aerschot’s, and the Egmont’s, to obey every order which he might receive, against every person and in every place, without restriction or limitation, and he had distinctly and repeatedly declined the demand. He had again and again insisted upon resigning all his offices. The duchess, more and more anxious to gain over such an influential personage to the cause of tyranny, had been most importunate in her requisitions. “A man with so noble a heart,” she wrote to the prince, “and with a descent from such illustrious and loyal ancestors, can surely not forget his duties to his Majesty and the country.”
William of Orange knew his duty to both better than the duchess could understand. He answered this fresh summons by reminding her that he had uniformly refused the new and extraordinary pledge required of him. He had been true to his old oaths, and therefore no fresh pledge was necessary. Moreover, a pledge without limitation he would never take.
The case might happen, he said, that he should be ordered to do things contrary to his conscience, prejudicial to his Majesty’s service, and in violation of his oaths to maintain the laws of the country. He therefore once more resigned all his offices, and signified his intention of leaving the provinces. Margaret had previously invited him to an interview at Brussels, which he had declined, because he had discovered a conspiracy in that place to “play him a trick.” Assonleville had already been sent to him without effect. He had refused to meet a deputation of Fleece Knights at Mechlin, from the same suspicion of foul play. After the termination of the Antwerp tumult, Orange again wrote to the duchess, upon the 19th of March, repeating his refusal to take the oath, and stating that he considered himself as at least suspended from all his functions, since she had refused, upon the ground of incapacity, to accept his formal resignation. Margaret now determined, by the advice of the state council, to send Secretary Berty, provided with an ample letter of instructions, upon a special mission to the prince at Antwerp. That respectable functionary performed his task with credit, going through the usual formalities, and adducing the threadbare arguments in favor of the unlimited oath, with much adroitness and decorum. He mildly pointed out the impropriety of laying down such responsible posts as those which the prince now occupied at such a juncture. He alluded to the distress which the step must occasion to the debonair sovereign.
William of Orange became somewhat impatient under the official lecture of this secretary to the privy council, a mere man of sealing-wax and protocols. The slender stock of platitudes with which he had come provided was soon exhausted. His arguments shriveled at once in the scorn with which the prince received them. The great statesman, who, it was hoped, would be entrapped to ruin, dishonor, and death by such very feeble artifices, asked indignantly whether it were really expected that he should acknowledge himself perjured to his old obligations by now signing new ones; that he should disgrace him self by an unlimited pledge which might require him to break his oaths to the provincial statutes and to the Emperor; that he should consent to administer the religious edicts which he abhorred; that he should act as executioner of Christians on account of their religious opinions, an office against which his soul revolted; that he should bind himself by an unlimited promise which might require him to put his own wife to death, because she was a Lutheran. Moreover, was it to be supposed that he would obey without restriction any orders issued to him in his Majesty’s name, when the king’s representative might be a person whose supremacy it ill became one of his race to acknowledge? Was William of Orange to receive absolute commands from the duke of Alva? Having mentioned that name with indignation, the prince became silent.
It was very obvious that no impression was to be made upon the man by formalists. Poor Berty having conjugated his paradigm conscientiously through all its moods and tenses, returned to his green board in the council-room with his procès verbal of the conference. Before he took his leave, however, he prevailed upon Orange to hold an interview with the Duke of Aerschot, Count Mansfeld, and Count Egmont.
This memorable meeting took place at Willebroek, a village midway between Antwerp and Brussels, in the first week of April. The Duke of Aerschot was prevented from attending, but Mansfeld and Egmont—accompanied by the faithful Berty, to make another procès verbal—duly made their appearance. The prince had never felt much sympathy with Mansfeld, but a tender and honest friendship had always existed between himself and Egmont, notwithstanding the difference of their characters, the incessant artifices employed by the Spanish court to separate them, and the impassable chasm which now existed between their respective positions towards the government.
The same commonplaces of argument and rhetoric were now discussed between Orange and the other three personages, the prince distinctly stating, in conclusion, that he considered himself as discharged from all his offices, and that he was about to leave the Netherlands for Germany. The interview, had it been confined to such formal conversation, would have but little historic interest. Egmont’s choice had been made. Several months before he had signified his determination to hold those for enemies who should cease to conduct themselves as faithful vassals, declared himself to be without fear that the country was to be placed in the hands of Spaniards, and disavowed all intention, in any case whatever, of taking arms against the king. His subsequent course, as we have seen, had been entirely in conformity with these solemn declarations. Nevertheless, the prince, to whom they had been made, thought it still possible to withdraw his friend from the precipice upon which he stood, and to save him from his impending fate. His love for Egmont had, in his own noble and pathetic language, “struck its roots too deeply into his heart” to permit him, in this their parting interview, to neglect a last effort, even if this solemn warning were destined to be disregarded.
By any reasonable construction of history, Philip was an unscrupulous usurper, who was attempting to convert himself from a Duke of Brabant and a Count of Holland into an absolute king. It was William who was maintaining, Philip who was destroying; and the monarch who was thus blasting the happiness of the provinces, and about to decimate their population, was by the same process to undermine his own power forever, and to divest himself of his richest inheritance. The man on whom he might have leaned for support, had he been capable of comprehending his character, and of understanding the age in which he had himself been called upon to reign, was, through Philip’s own insanity, converted into the instrument by which his most valuable provinces were to be taken from him, and eventually re-organized into an independent commonwealth. Could a vision, like that imagined by the immortal dramatist for another tyrant and murderer, have revealed the future to Philip, he, too, might have beheld his victim, not crowned himself, but pointing to a line of kings, even to some who two-fold balls and treble scepters carried, and smiling on them for his. But such considerations as these had no effect upon the Prince of Orange. He knew himself already proscribed, and he knew that the secret condemnation had extended to Egmont also. He was anxious that his friend should prefer the privations of exile, with the chance of becoming the champion of a struggling country, to the wretched fate towards which his blind confidence was leading him. Even then it seemed possible that the brave soldier, who had been recently defiling his sword in the cause of tyranny, might become mindful of his brighter and earlier fame. Had Egmont been as true to his native land as, until “the long divorce of steel fell on him,” he was faithful to Philip, he might yet have earned brighter laurels than those gained at St. Quentin and Gravelingen. Was he doomed to fall, he might find a glorious death upon freedom’s battlefield, in place of that darker departure then so near him, which the prophetic language of Orange depicted, but which he was too sanguine to fear. He spoke with confidence of the royal clemency. “Alas, Egmont,” answered the prince, “the king’s clemency, of which you boast, will destroy you. Would that I might be deceived, but I foresee too clearly that you are to be the bridge which the Spaniards will destroy so soon as they have passed over it to invade our country.” With these last, solemn words he concluded his appeal to awaken the count from his fatal security. Then, as if persuaded that he was looking upon his friend for the last time, William of Orange threw his arms around Egmont, and held him for a moment in a close embrace. Tears fell from the eyes of both at this parting moment—and then the brief scene of simple and lofty pathos terminated—Egmont and Orange separated from each other, never to meet again on earth.
A few days afterwards, Orange addressed a letter to Philip. once more resigning all his offices, and announcing his intention of departing from the Netherlands for Germany. He added that he should be always ready to place himself and his property at the king’s orders in everything which he believed conducive to the true service of his Majesty. The prince had already received a remarkable warning from old Landgrave Philip of Hesse, who had not forgotten the insidious manner in which his own memorable captivity had been brought about by the arts of Granvelle and of Alva. “Let them not smear your mouths with honey,” said the landgrave. “If the three seigniors, of whom the Duchess Margaret has had so much to say, are invited to court by Alva, under pretext of friendly consultation, let them be wary, and think twice ere they accept. I know the duke of Alva and the Spaniards, and how they dealt with me.”
The prince, before he departed, took a final leave of Horn and Egmont, by letters, which, as if aware of the monumental character they were to assume for posterity, he drew up in Latin. He desired, now that he was turning his back upon the country, that those two nobles who had refused to imitate, and had advised against his course, should remember that he was acting deliberately, conscientiously, and in pursuance of a long-settled plan.
To Count Horn he declared himself unable to connive longer at the sins daily committed against the country and his own conscience. He assured him that the government had been accustoming the country to panniers, in order that it might now accept patiently the saddle and bridle. For himself, he said, his back was not strong enough for the weight already imposed upon it, and he preferred to endure any calamity which might happen to him in exile, rather than be compelled by those whom they had all condemned to acquiesce in the object so long and steadily pursued.
He reminded Egmont, who had been urging him by letter to remain, that his resolution had been deliberately taken, and long since communicated to his friends. He could not, in conscience, take the oath required; nor would he, now that all eyes were turned upon him, remain in the land, the only recusant. He preferred to encounter all that could happen, rather than attempt to please others by the sacrifice of liberty, of his fatherland, of his own conscience. “I hope, therefore,” said he to Egmont in conclusion, “that you, after weighing my reasons, will not disapprove my departure. The rest I leave to God, who will dispose of all as may most conduce to the glory of his name. For yourself, I pray you to believe that you have no more sincere friend than I am. My love for you has struck such deep root into my heart, that it can be lessened by no distance of time or place, and I pray you in return to maintain the same feelings towards me which you have always cherished.”
The prince had left Antwerp upon the 11th of April, and had written these letters from Breda, upon the 13th of the same month. Upon the 22nd, he took his departure for Dillenburg, the ancestral seat of his family in Germany, by the way of Grave and Cleves.
It was not to be supposed that this parting message would influence Egmont’s decision with regard to his own movements, when his determination had not been shaken at his memorable interview with the prince. The count’s fate was sealed. Had he not been praised by Noircarmes; had he not earned the hypocritical commendations of Duchess Margaret; nay more, had he not just received a most affectionate letter of thanks and approbation from the King of Spain himself? This letter, one of the most striking monuments of Philip’s cold-blooded perfidy, was dated the 26th of March. “I am pleased, my cousin,” wrote the monarch to Egmont, “that you have taken the new oath, not that I considered it at all necessary so far as regards yourself, but for the example which you have thus given to others, and which I hope they will all follow. I have received not less pleasure in hearing of the excellent manner in which you are doing your duty, the assistance you are rendering, and the offers which you are making to my sister, for which I thank you, and request you to continue in the same course.”
The words were written by the royal hand which had already signed the death-warrant of the man to whom they were addressed. Alva, who came provided with full powers to carry out the great scheme resolved upon, unrestrained by provincial laws or by the statutes of the Golden Fleece, had left Madrid to embark for Carthagena, at the very moment when Egmont was reading the royal letter. “The Spanish honey,” to use once more old Landgrave Philip’s homely metaphor, had done its work, and the unfortunate victim was already entrapped.
Count Horn remained in gloomy silence in his lair at Weert, awaiting the hunters of men, already on their way. It seemed inconceivable that he, too, who knew himself suspected and disliked, should have thus blinded himself to his position. It will be seen, however, that the same perfidy was to be employed to ensnare him which proved so successful with Egmont.
As for the prince himself, he did not move too soon. Not long after his arrival in Germany, Vandenesse, the king’s private secretary, but Orange’s secret agent, wrote him word that he had read letters from the king to Alva, in which the Duke was instructed to “arrest the Prince as soon as he could lay hands upon him, and not to let his trial last more than twenty-four hours.”
Brederode had remained at Viane, and afterwards at Amsterdam, since the ill-starred expedition of Tholouse, which he had organized, but at which he had not assisted. He had given much annoyance to the magistracy of Amsterdam, and to all respectable persons, Calvinist or Catholic. He made much mischief, but excited no hopes in the minds of Reformers. He was ever surrounded by a host of pot companions, swaggering nobles disguised as sailors, bankrupt tradesmen, fugitives and outlaws of every description, excellent people to drink the beggars’ health and to bawl the beggars’ songs, but quite unfit for any serious enterprise. People of substance were wary of him, for they had no confidence in his capacity, and were afraid of his frequent demands for contributions to the patriotic cause. He spent his time in the pleasure gardens, shooting at the mark with arquebus or crossbow, drinking with his comrades and shrieking “Vivent les gueux.”
The regent, determined to dislodge him, had sent Secretary La Torre to him in March, with instructions that if Brederode refused to leave Amsterdam, the magistracy were to call for assistance upon Count Meghen, who had a regiment at Utrecht. This clause made it impossible for La Torre to exhibit his instructions to Brederode. Upon his refusal, that personage, although he knew the secretary as well as he knew his own father, coolly informed him that he knew nothing about him; that he did not consider him as respectable a person as he pretended to be; that he did not believe a word of his having any commission from the duchess, and that he should therefore take no notice whatever of his demands. La Torre answered meekly that he was not so presumptuous, nor so destitute of sense, as to put himself into comparison with a gentleman of Count Brederode’s quality, but that as he had served as secretary to the privy council for twenty-three years, he had thought that he might be believed upon his word. Hereupon La Torre drew up a formal protest, and Brederode drew up another. La Torre made a procès verbal of their interview, while Brederode stormed like a madman, and abused the duchess for a capricious and unreasonable tyrant. He ended by imprisoning La Torre for a day or two, and seizing his papers. By a singular coincidence, these events took place on the 13th, 14th, and 15th of March, the very days of the great Antwerp tumult. The manner in which the Prince of Orange had been dealing with forty or fifty thousand armed men, anxious to cut each other’s throats, while Brederode was thus occupied in browbeating a pragmatical but decent old secretary, illustrated the difference in caliber of the two men.
This was the count’s last exploit. He remained at Amsterdam some weeks longer, but the events which succeeded changed the Hector into a faithful vassal. Before the 12th of April, he wrote to Egmont, begging his intercession with Margaret of Parma, and offering “carte blanche” as to terms, if he might only be allowed to make his peace with government. It was, however, somewhat late in the day for the “great beggar” to make his submission. No terms were accorded him, but he was allowed by the duchess to enjoy his revenues provisionally, subject to the king’s pleasure. Upon the 25th of April, he entertained a select circle of friends at his hotel in Amsterdam, and then embarked at midnight for Embden. A numerous procession of his adherents escorted him to the ship, bearing lighted torches, and singing bacchanalian songs. He died within a year afterwards, of disappointment and hard drinking, at Castle Hardenberg, in Germany, after all his fretting and fury, and notwithstanding his vehement protestations to die a poor soldier at the feet of Louis Nassau.
That “good chevalier and good Christian,” as his brother affectionately called him, was in Germany, girding himself for the manly work which Providence had destined him to perform. The life of Brederode, who had engaged in the early struggle, perhaps from the frivolous expectation of hearing himself called Count of Holland, as his ancestors had been, had contributed nothing to the cause of freedom, nor did his death occasion regret. His disorderly band of followers dispersed in every direction upon the departure of their chief. A vessel in which Batenburg, Galaina, and other nobles, with their men-at-arms, were escaping towards a German port, was carried into Harlingen, while those gentlemen, overpowered by sleep and wassail, were unaware of their danger, and delivered over to Count Meghen, by the treachery of their pilot. The soldiers were immediately hanged. The noblemen were reserved to grace the first great scaffold which Alva was to erect upon the horse-market in Brussels.
The confederacy was entirely broken to pieces. Of the chieftains to whom the people had been accustomed to look for support and encouragement, some had rallied to the government, some were in exile, some were in prison. Montigny, closely watched in Spain, was virtually a captive, pining for the young bride to whom he had been wedded amid such brilliant festivities but a few months before his departure, and for the child which was never to look upon its father’s face.
His colleague, Marquis Berghen, more fortunate, was already dead. The excellent Viglius seized the opportunity to put in a good word for Noircarmes, who had been grinding Tournay in the dust, and butchering the inhabitants of Valenciennes. “We have heard of Berghen’s death,” wrote the president to his faithful Joachim. “The Lord of Noircarmes, who has been his substitute in the governorship of Hainault, has given a specimen of what he can do. Although I have no private intimacy with that nobleman, I can not help embracing him with all my benevolence. Therefore, oh my Hopper, pray do your best to have him appointed governor.”
With the departure of Orange, a total eclipse seemed to come over the Netherlands. The country was absolutely helpless, the popular heart cold with apprehension. All persons at all implicated in the late troubles, or suspected of heresy, fled from their homes. Fugitive soldiers were hunted into rivers, cut to pieces in the fields, hanged, burned, or drowned, like dogs, without quarter, and without remorse. The most industrious and valuable part of the population left the land in droves. The tide swept outwards with such rapidity that the Netherlands seemed fast becoming the desolate waste which they had been before the Christian era. Throughout the country, those Reformers who were unable to effect their escape betook themselves to their old lurking-places. The new religion was banished from all the cities, every conventicle was broken up by armed men, the preachers and leading members were hanged, their disciples beaten with rods, reduced to beggary, or imprisoned, even if they sometimes escaped the scaffold. An incredible number, however, were executed for religious causes. Hardly a village so small, says the Antwerp chronicler, but that it could furnish one, two, or three hundred victims to the executioner. The new churches were leveled to the ground, and out of their timbers gallows were constructed. It was thought an ingenious pleasantry to hang the Reformers upon the beams under which they had hoped to worship God. The property of the fugitives was confiscated. The beggars in name became beggars in reality. Many who felt obliged to remain, and who loved their possessions better than their creed, were suddenly converted into the most zealous of Catholics. Persons who had for years not gone to mass, never omitted now their daily and nightly visits to the churches. Persons who had never spoken to an ecclesiastic but with contumely, now could not eat their dinners without one at their table. Many who were suspected of having participated in Calvinistic rites, were foremost and loudest in putting down and denouncing all forms and shows of the reformation. The country was as completely “pacified,” to use the conqueror’s expression, as Gaul had been by Caesar.
The regent issued a fresh edict upon the 24th of May, to refresh the memories of those who might have forgotten previous statutes, which were, however, not calculated to make men oblivious. By this new proclamation, all ministers and teachers were sentenced to the gallows. All persons who had suffered their houses to be used for religious purposes were sentenced to the gallows. All parents or masters whose children or servants had attended such meetings were sentenced to the gallows, while the children and servants were only to be beaten with rods. All people who sang hymns at the burial of their relations were sentenced to the gallows. Parents who allowed their newly-born children to be baptized by other hands than those of the Catholic priest were sentenced to the gallows. The same punishment was denounced against the persons who should christen the child or act as its sponsors. Schoolmasters who should teach any error or false doctrine were likewise to be punished with death. Those who infringed the statutes against the buying and selling of religious books and songs were to receive the same doom, after the first offense. All sneers or insults against priests and ecclesiastics were also made capital crimes. Vagabonds, fugitives, apostates, runaway monks, were ordered forthwith to depart from every city on pain of death. In all cases confiscation of the whole property of the criminal was added to the hanging.
This edict, says a contemporary historian, increased the fear of those professing the new religion to such an extent that they left the country “in great heaps.” It became necessary, therefore, to issue a subsequent proclamation forbidding all persons, whether foreigners or natives, to leave the land or to send away their property, and prohibiting all shipmasters, wagoners, and other agents of travel, from assisting in the flight of such fugitives, all upon pain of death.
Yet will it be credited that the edict of the 24th of May, the provisions of which have just been sketched, actually excited the wrath of Philip on account of its clemency. He wrote to the duchess, expressing the pain and dissatisfaction which he felt, that an edict so indecent, so illegal, so contrary to the Christian religion, should have been published. Nothing, he said, could offend or distress him more deeply, than any outrage whatever, even the slightest one, offered to God and to His Roman Catholic Church. He therefore commanded his sister instantly to revoke the edict. One might almost imagine from reading the king’s letter that Philip was at last appalled at the horrors committed in his name. Alas, he was only indignant that heretics had been suffered to hang who ought to have been burned, and that a few narrow and almost impossible loopholes had been left through which those who had offended might effect their escape.
And thus, while the country is paralyzed with present and expected woe, the swiftly advancing trumpets of the Spanish army resound from beyond the Alps. The curtain is falling upon the prelude to the great tragedy which the prophetic lips of Orange had foretold. When it is again lifted, scenes of disaster and of bloodshed, battles, sieges, executions, deeds of unfaltering but valiant tyranny, of superhuman and successful resistance, of heroic self-sacrifice, fanatical courage and insane cruelty, both in the cause of the Wrong and the Right, will be revealed in awful succession—a spectacle of human energy, human suffering, and human strength to suffer, such as has not often been displayed upon the stage of the world’s events.