The Arrival of the Duke of Alva, the Blood-Council, and the Departure of Duchess Margaret
The armed invasion of the Netherlands was the necessary consequence of all which had gone before. That the inevitable result had been so long deferred lay rather in the incomprehensible tardiness of Philip’s character than in the circumstances of the case. Never did a monarch hold so steadfastly to a deadly purpose, or proceed so languidly and with so much circumvolution to his goal. The mask of benignity, of possible clemency, was now thrown off, but the delusion of his intended visit to the provinces was still maintained. He assured the regent that he should be governed by her advice, and as she had made all needful preparations to receive him in Zealand, that it would be in Zealand he should arrive.
The same two men among Philip’s advisers were prominent as at an earlier day—the prince of Eboli and the duke of Alva. They still represented entirely opposite ideas, and in character, temper, and history, each was the reverse of the other. The policy of the prince was pacific and temporizing, that of the duke uncompromising and ferocious. Ruy Gomez was disposed to prevent, if possible, the armed mission of Alva, and he now openly counseled the king to fulfil his long-deferred promise, and to make his appearance in person before his rebellious subjects. The jealousy and hatred which existed between the prince and the duke—between the man of peace and the man of wrath—were constantly exploding, even in the presence of the king. The wrangling in the council was incessant. Determined, if possible, to prevent the elevation of his rival, the favorite was even for a moment disposed to ask for the command of the army himself. There was something ludicrous in the notion, that a man whose life had been pacific, and who trembled at the noise of arms, should seek to supersede the terrible Alva, of whom his eulogists asserted, with Castilian exaggeration, that the very name of fear inspired him with horror. But there was a limit beyond which the influence of Anna de Mendoza and her husband did not extend. Philip was not to be driven to the Netherlands against his will, nor to be prevented from assigning the command of the army to the most appropriate man in Europe for his purpose.
It was determined at last that the Netherland heresy should be conquered by force of arms. The invasion resembled both a crusade against the infidel, and a treasure-hunting foray into the auriferous Indies, achievements by which Spanish chivalry had so often illustrated itself. The banner of the cross was to be replanted upon the conquered battlements of three hundred infidel cities, and a torrent of wealth, richer than ever flowed from Mexican or Peruvian mines, was to flow into the royal treasury from the perennial fountains of confiscation. Who so fit to be the Tancred and the Pizarro of this bi-colored expedition as the duke of Alva, the man who had been devoted from his earliest childhood, and from his father’s grave, to hostility against unbelievers, and who had prophesied that treasure would flow in a stream, a yard deep, from the Netherlands as soon as the heretics began to meet with their deserts. An army of chosen troops was forthwith collected, by taking the four legions, or terzios, of Naples, Sicily, Sardinia, and Lombardy, and filling their places in Italy by fresh levies. About 10,000 picked and veteran soldiers were thus obtained, of which the duke of Alva was appointed general-in-chief.
Ferdinando Alvarez de Toledo, Duke of Alva, was now in his sixtieth year. He was the most successful and experienced general of Spain, or of Europe. No man had studied more deeply, or practiced more constantly, the military science. In the most important of all arts at that epoch he was the most consummate artist. In the only honorable profession of the age, he was the most thorough and the most pedantic professor. Since the days of Demetrius Poliorcetes, no man had besieged so many cities. Since the days of Fabius Cunctator, no general had avoided so many battles, and no soldier, courageous as he was, ever attained to a more sublime indifference to calumny or depreciation. Having proved in his boyhood, at Fontarabia, and in his maturity at Mühlberg, that he could exhibit heroism and headlong courage, when necessary, he could afford to look with contempt upon the witless gibes which his enemies had occasionally perpetrated at his expense. Conscious of holding his armies in his hand, by the power of an unrivalled discipline, and the magic of a name illustrated by a hundred triumphs, he could bear with patience and benevolence the murmurs of his soldiers when their battles were denied them.
He was born in 1508, of a family which boasted imperial descent. A Palæologus, brother of a Byzantine emperor, had conquered the city of Toledo, and transmitted its appellation as a family name. The father of Ferdinando, Don Garcia, had been slain on the isle of Gerbes, in battle with the Moors, when his son was but four years of age. The child was brought up by his grandfather, Don Frederic, and trained from his tenderest infancy to arms. Hatred to the infidel, and a determination to avenge his father’s blood, crying to him from a foreign grave, were the earliest of his instincts. As a youth he was distinguished for his prowess. His maiden sword was fleshed at Fontarabia, where, although but sixteen years of age, he was considered, by his constancy in hardship, by his brilliant and desperate courage, and by the example of military discipline which he afforded to the troops, to have contributed in no small degree to the success of the Spanish arms.
In 1530, he accompanied the Emperor in his campaign against the Turk. Charles, instinctively recognizing the merit of the youth who was destined to be the life-long companion of his toils and glories, distinguished him with his favor at the opening of his career. Young, brave, and enthusiastic, Ferdinand de Toledo at this period was as interesting a hero as ever illustrated the pages of Castilian romance. His mad ride from Hungary to Spain and back again, accomplished in seventeen days, for the sake of a brief visit to his newly-married wife, is not the least attractive episode in the history of an existence which was destined to be so dark and sanguinary. In 1535, he accompanied the Emperor on his memorable expedition to Tunis. In 1546 and 1547 he was generalissimo in the war against the Smalcaldian league. His most brilliant feat of arms—perhaps the most brilliant exploit of the Emperor’s rein—was the passage of the Elbe and the battle of Mühlberg, accomplished in spite of Maximilian’s bitter and violent reproaches, and the tremendous possibilities of a defeat. That battle had finished the war. The gigantic and magnanimous John Frederic, surprised at his devotions in the church, fled in dismay, leaving his boots behind him, which for their superhuman size, were ridiculously said afterwards to be treasured among the trophies of the Toledo house. The rout was total. “I came, I saw, and God conquered,” said the Emperor, in pious parody of his immortal predecessor’s epigram. Maximilian, with a thousand apologies for his previous insults, embraced the heroic Don Ferdinand over and over again, as, arrayed in a plain suit of blue armor, unadorned save with streaks of his enemies blood, he returned from pursuit of the fugitives. So complete and so sudden was the victory, that it was found impossible to account for it, save on the ground of miraculous interposition. Like Joshua, in the vale of Ajalon, Don Ferdinand was supposed to have commanded the sun to stand still for a season, and to have been obeyed. Otherwise, how could the passage of the river, which was only concluded at six in the evening, and the complete overthrow of the Protestant forces, have all been accomplished within the narrow space of an April twilight? The reply of the duke to Henry II of France, who questioned him subsequently upon the subject, is well known. “Your Majesty, I was too much occupied that evening with what was taking place on the earth beneath, to pay much heed to the evolutions of the heavenly bodies.” Spared as he had been by his good fortune from taking any part in the Algerine expedition, or in witnessing the ignominious retreat from Innspruck, he was obliged to submit to the intercalation of the disastrous siege of Metz in the long history of his successes. Doing the duty of a field marshal and a sentinel, supporting his army by his firmness and his discipline when nothing else could have supported them, he was at last enabled, after half the 100,000 men with whom Charles had begun the siege had been sacrificed, to induce his imperial master to raise the siege before the remaining 50,000 had been frozen or starved to death.
The culminating career of Alva seemed to have closed in the mist which gathered around the setting star of the empire. Having accompanied Philip to England in 1554, on his matrimonial expedition, he was destined in the following years, as viceroy and generalissimo of Italy, to be placed in a series of false positions. A great captain engaged in a little war, the champion of the cross in arms against the successor of St. Peter, he had extricated himself, at last, with his usual adroitness, but with very little glory. To him had been allotted the mortification, to another the triumph. The luster of his own name seemed to sink in the ocean while that of a hated rival, with new spangled ore, suddenly “flamed in the forehead of the morning sky.” While he had been paltering with a dotard, whom he was forbidden to crush, Egmont had struck down the chosen troops of France, and conquered her most illustrious commanders. Here was the unpardonable crime which could only be expiated by the blood of the victor. Unfortunately for his rival, the time was now approaching when the long-deferred revenge was to be satisfied.
On the whole, the Duke of Alva was inferior to no general of his age. As a disciplinarian he was foremost in Spain, perhaps in Europe. A spendthrift of time, he was an economist of blood, and this was, perhaps, in the eye of humanity, his principal virtue. Time and myself are two, was a frequent observation of Philip, and his favorite general considered the maxim as applicable to war as to politics. Such were his qualities as a military commander. As a statesman, he had neither experience nor talent. As a man his character was simple. He did not combine a great variety of vices, but those which he had were colossal, and he possessed no virtues. He was neither lustful nor intemperate, but his professed eulogists admitted his enormous avarice, while the world has agreed that such an amount of stealth and ferocity, of patient vindictiveness and universal bloodthirstiness, were never found in a savage beast of the forest, and but rarely in a human bosom. His history was now to show that his previous thrift of human life was not derived from any love of his kind.
Personally he was stern and overbearing. As difficult of access as Philip himself, he was even more haughty to those who were admitted to his presence. He addressed everyone with the depreciating second person plural. Possessing the right of being covered in the presence of the Spanish monarch, he had been with difficulty brought to renounce it before the German Emperor.
He was of an illustrious family, but his territorial possessions were not extensive. His duchy was a small one, furnishing him with not more than 14,000 crowns of annual income, and with four hundred soldiers. He had, however, been a thrifty financier all his life, never having been without a handsome sum of ready money at interest. Ten years before his arrival in the Netherlands, he was supposed to have already increased his income to 40,000 a year by the proceeds of his investments at Antwerp.
As already intimated, his military character was sometimes profoundly misunderstood. He was often considered rather a pedantic than a practical commander, more capable to discourse of battles than to gain them. Notwithstanding that his own life had been an almost unbroken campaign, the ridiculous accusation of timidity was frequently made against him. A gentleman at the court of the Emperor Charles once addressed a letter to the duke with the title of “General of his Majesty’s armies in the Duchy of Milan in time of peace, and major-domo of the household in the time of war.” It was said that the lesson did the duke good, but that he rewarded very badly the nobleman who gave it, having subsequently caused his head to be taken off. In general, however, Alva manifested a philosophical contempt for the opinions expressed concerning his military fame, and was especially disdainful of criticism expressed by his own soldiers. “Recollect,” said he, at a little later period, to Don John of Austria, “that the first foes with whom one has to contend are one’s own troops, with their clamors for an engagement at this moment, and their murmurs about results at another; with their ‘I thought that the battle should be fought,’ or, ‘it was my opinion that the occasion ought not to be lost.’ Your highness will have opportunity enough to display valor, and will never be weak enough to be conquered by the babble of soldiers.”
In person he was tall, thin, erect, with a small head, a long visage, lean yellow cheek, dark twinkling eyes, adust complexion, black bristling hair, and a long sable-silvered beard, descending in two waving streams upon his breast.
Such being the design, the machinery was well selected. The best man in Europe to lead the invading force was placed at the head of 10,000 picked veterans. The privates in this exquisite little army, said the enthusiastic connoisseur Brantome, who traveled post into Lorraine expressly to see them on their march, all wore engraved or gilded armor, and were in every respect equipped like captains. They were the first who carried muskets, a weapon which very much astonished the Flemings when it first rattled in their ears. The musketeers, he observed, might have been mistaken for princes, with such agreeable and graceful arrogance did they present themselves. Each was attended by his servant or esquire, who carried his piece for him, except in battle, and all were treated with extreme deference by the rest of the army, as if they had been officers. The four regiments of Lombardy, Sardinia, Sicily, and Naples, composed a total of not quite 9,000 of the best foot soldiers in Europe. They were commanded respectively by Don Sancho de Lodroño, Don Gonzalo de Bracamonte, Julien Romero, and Alfonso de Ulloa, all distinguished and experienced generals. The cavalry, amounting to about 1,200, was under the command of the natural son of the duke, Don Ferdinando de Toledo, Prior of the Knights of St. John. Chiapin Vitelli, Marquis of Cetona, who had served the king in many a campaign, was appointed Maréchal de camp, and Gabriel Cerbelloni was placed in command of the artillery. On the way the duke received, as a present from the duke of Savoy, the services of the distinguished engineer, Pacheco, or Paciotti, whose name was to be associated with the most celebrated citadel of the Netherlands, and whose dreadful fate was to be contemporaneous with the earliest successes of the liberal party.
With an army thus perfect, on a small scale, in all its departments, and furnished, in addition, with a force of 2,000 prostitutes, as regularly enrolled, disciplined, and distributed as the cavalry or the artillery, the duke embarked upon his momentous enterprise, on the tenth of May, at Carthagena. Thirty-seven galleys, under command of Prince Andrea Doria, brought the principal part of the force to Genoa, the duke being delayed a few days at Nice by an attack of fever. On the second of June, the army was mustered at Alexandria de Palla, and ordered to rendezvous again at San Ambrosio at the foot of the Alps. It was then directed to make its way over Mount Cenis and through Savoy, Burgundy, and Lorraine, by a regularly arranged triple movement. The second division was each night to encamp on the spot which had been occupied upon the previous night by the vanguard, and the rear was to place itself on the following night in the camp of the corps de bataille. Thus coiling itself along almost in a single line by slow and serpentine windings, with a deliberate, deadly, venomous purpose, this army, which was to be the instrument of Philip’s long deferred vengeance, stole through narrow mountain pass and tangled forest. So close and intricate were many of the defiles through which the journey led them that, had one tithe of the treason which they came to punish, ever existed, save in the diseased imagination of their monarch, not one man would have been left to tell the tale. Egmont, had he really been the traitor and the conspirator he was assumed to be, might have easily organized the means of cutting off the troops before they could have effected their entrance into the country which they had doomed to destruction. His military experience, his qualifications for a daring strobe, his great popularity, and the intense hatred entertained for Alva, would have furnished him with a sufficient machinery for the purpose.
Twelve days’ march carried the army through Burgundy, twelve more through Lorraine. During the whole of the journey they were closely accompanied by a force of cavalry and infantry, ordered upon this service by the King of France, who, for fear of exciting a fresh Huguenot demonstration, had refused the Spaniards a passage through his dominions. This reconnoitering army kept pace with them like their shadow, and watched all their movements. A force of 6,000 Swiss, equally alarmed and uneasy at the progress of the troops, hovered likewise about their flanks, without, however, offering any impediment to their advance. Before the middle of August they had reached Thionville, on the Luxemburg frontier, having on the last day marched a distance of two leagues through a forest, which seemed expressly arranged to allow a small defensive force to embarrass and destroy an invading army. No opposition, however, was attempted, and the Spanish soldiers encamped at last within the territory of the Netherlands, having accomplished their adventurous journey in entire safety, and under perfect discipline.
The duchess had in her secret letters to Philip continued to express her disapprobation of the enterprise thus committed to Alva. She had bitterly complained that now when the country had been pacified by her efforts, another should be sent to reap all the glory, or perhaps to undo all that she had so painfully and so successfully done. She stated to her brother, in most unequivocal language, that the name of Alva was odious enough to make the whole Spanish nation detested in the Netherlands. She could find no language sufficiently strong to express her surprise that the king should have decided upon a measure likely to be attended with such fatal consequences without consulting her on the subject, and in opposition to what had been her uniform advice. She also wrote personally to Alva, imploring, commanding, and threatening, but with equally ill success. The duke knew too well who was sovereign of the Netherlands now, his master’s sister or himself. As to the effects of his armed invasion upon the temper of the provinces, he was supremely indifferent. He came as a conqueror not as a mediator. “I have tamed people of iron in my day,” said he, contemptuously, “shall I not easily crush these men of butter?”
At Thionville he was, however, officially waited upon by Berlaymont and Noircarmes, on the part of the regent. He at this point, moreover, began to receive deputations from various cities, bidding him a hollow and trembling welcome, and deprecating his displeasure for anything in the past which might seem offensive. To all such embassies he replied in vague and conventional language, saying, however, to his confidential attendants, “I am here—so much is certain—whether I am welcome or not is to me a matter of little consequence.” At Tirlemont, on the 22nd of August, he was met by Count Egmont, who had ridden forth from Brussels to show him a becoming respect, as the representative of his sovereign. The count was accompanied by several other noblemen, and brought to the duke a present of several beautiful horses. Alva received him, however, but coldly, for he was unable at first to adjust the mask to his countenance as adroitly as was necessary. Behold the greatest of all the heretics, he observed to his attendants, as soon as the nobleman’s presence was announced, and in a voice loud enough for him to hear. Even after they had exchanged salutations, he addressed several remarks to him in a half jesting, half biting tone, saying among other things, that his countship might have spared him the trouble of making this long journey in his old age. There were other observations in a similar strain which might have well aroused the suspicion of any man not determined, like Egmont, to continue blind and deaf. After a brief interval, however, Alva seems to have commanded himself. He passed his arm lovingly over that stately neck, which he had already devoted to the block, and—the count having resolved beforehand to place himself, if possible, upon amicable terms with the new viceroy—the two rode along side by side in friendly conversation, followed by the regiment of infantry and three companies of light horse, which belonged to the duke’s immediate command. Alva, still attended by Egmont, rode soon afterwards through the Louvain gate into Brussels, where they separated for a season. Lodgings had been taken for the duke at the house of a certain Madame de Jasse, in the neighborhood of Egmont’s palace. Leaving here the principal portion of his attendants, the captain-general, without alighting, forthwith proceeded to the palace to pay his respects to the Duchess of Parma.
For three days the regent had been deliberating with her council as to the propriety of declining any visit from the man whose presence she justly considered a disgrace and an insult to herself. This being the reward of her eight years’ devotion to her brother’s commands, to be superseded by a subject, and one, too, who came to carry out a policy which she had urgently deprecated, it could hardly be expected of the Emperor’s daughter that she should graciously submit to the indignity, and receive her successor with a smiling countenance. In consequence, however, of the submissive language with which the duke had addressed her in his recent communications, offering with true Castilian but empty courtesy, to place his guards, his army, and himself at her feet, she had consented to receive his visit with or without his attendants.
On his appearance in the courtyard, a scene of violent altercation and almost of bloodshed took place between his bodyguard and the archers of the regent’s household, who were at last, with difficulty, persuaded to allow the mercenaries of the hated captain-general to pass. Presenting himself at three o’clock in the afternoon, after these not very satisfactory preliminaries, in the bedchamber of the duchess, where it was her habit to grant confidential audiences, he met, as might easily be supposed, with a chilling reception. The duchess, standing motionless in the center of the apartment, attended by Berlaymont, the Duke of Aerschot, and Count Egmont, acknowledged his salutations with calm severity. Neither she nor any one of her attendants advanced a step to meet him. The duke took off his hat, but she, calmly recognizing his right as a Spanish grandee, insisted upon his remaining covered. A stiff and formal conversation of half an hour’s duration then ensued, all parties remaining upon their feet. The duke, although respectful, found it difficult to conceal his indignation and his haughty sense of approaching triumph. Margaret was cold, stately, and forbidding, disguising her rage and her mortification under a veil of imperial pride. Alva, in a letter to Philip, describing the interview, assured his Majesty that he had treated the duchess with as much deference as he could have shown to the queen, but it is probable, from other contemporaneous accounts, that an ill-disguised and even angry arrogance was at times very visible in his demeanor. The state council had advised the duchess against receiving him until he had duly exhibited his powers. This ceremony had been waived, but upon being questioned by the duchess at this interview as to their nature and extent, he is reported to have coolly answered that he really did not exactly remember, but that he would look them over, and send her information at his earliest convenience.
The next day, however, his commission was duly exhibited. In this document, which bore date January 31, 1567, Philip appointed him to be captain-general “in correspondence with his Majesty’s dear sister of Parma, who was occupied with other matters belonging to the government,” begged the duchess to cooperate with him and to command obedience for him, and ordered all the cities of the Netherlands to receive such garrisons as he should direct.
At the official interview between Alva and Madame de Parma, at which these powers were produced, the necessary preliminary arrangements were made regarding the Spanish troops, which were now to be immediately quartered in the principal cities. The duke, however, informed the regent that as these matters were not within her province, he should take the liberty of arranging them with the authorities, without troubling her in the matter, and would inform her of the result of his measures at their next interview, which was to take place on the 26th of August.
Circular letters signed by Philip, which Alva had brought with him, were now dispatched to the different municipal bodies of the country. In these the cities were severally commanded to accept the garrisons, and to provide for the armies whose active services the king hoped would not be required, but which he had sent beforehand to prepare a peaceful entrance for himself. He enjoined the most absolute obedience to the Duke of Alva until his own arrival, which was to be almost immediate. These letters were dated at Madrid on the 28th of February, and were now accompanied by a brief official circular, signed by Margaret of Parma, in which she announced the arrival of her dear cousin of Alva, and demanded unconditional submission to his authority.
Having thus complied with these demands of external and conventional propriety, the indignant duchess unbosomed herself, in her private Italian letters to her brother, of the rage which had been hitherto partially suppressed. She reiterated her profound regret that Philip had not yet accepted the resignation which she had so recently and so earnestly offered. She disclaimed all jealousy of the supreme powers now conferred upon Alva, but thought that his Majesty might have allowed her to leave the country before the duke arrived with an authority which was so extraordinary, as well as so humiliating to herself. Her honor might thus have been saved. She was pained to perceive that she was like to furnish a perpetual example to all others, who considering the manner in which she had been treated by the king, would henceforth have but little inducement to do their duty. At no time, on no occasion, could any person ever render him such services as hers had been. For nine years she had enjoyed not a moment of repose. If the king had shown her but little gratitude, she was consoled by the thought that she had satisfied her God, herself, and the world. She had compromised her health, perhaps her life, and now that she had pacified the country, now that the king was more absolute, more powerful than ever before, another was sent to enjoy the fruit of her labors and her sufferings.
The duchess made no secret of her indignation at being thus superseded, and as she considered the matter, outraged. She openly avowed her displeasure. She was at times almost beside herself with rage. There was universal sympathy with her emotions, for all hated the duke, and shuddered at the arrival of the Spaniards. The day of doom for all the crimes which had ever been committed in the course of ages, seemed now to have dawned upon the Netherlands. The sword which had so long been hanging over them, seemed now about to descend. Throughout the provinces, there was but one feeling of cold and hopeless dismay. Those who still saw a possibility of effecting their escape from the fated land, swarmed across the frontier. All foreign merchants deserted the great marts. The cities became as still as if the plague-banner had been unfurled on every housetop.
Meantime the captain-general proceeded methodically with his work. He distributed his troops through Brussels, Ghent, Antwerp, and other principal cities. As a measure of necessity and mark of the last humiliation, he required the municipalities to transfer their keys to his keeping. The magistrates of Ghent humbly remonstrated against the indignity, and Egmont was imprudent enough to make himself the mouthpiece of their remonstrance, which, it is needless to add, was unsuccessful. Meantime his own day of reckoning had arrived.
As already observed, the advent of Alva at the head of a foreign army was the natural consequence of all which had gone before. The delusion of the royal visit was still maintained, and the affectation of a possible clemency still displayed, while the monarch sat quietly in his cabinet without a remote intention of leaving Spain, and while the messengers of his accumulated and long concealed wrath were already descending upon their prey. It was the deliberate intention of Philip, when the duke was dispatched to the Netherlands, that all the leaders of the anti-inquisition party, and all who had, at any time or in any way, implicated themselves in opposition to the government, or in censure of its proceedings, should be put to death. It was determined that the provinces should be subjugated to the absolute domination of the council of Spain, a small body of foreigners sitting at the other end of Europe, a junta in which Netherlanders were to have no voice and exercise no influence. The despotic government of the Spanish and Italian possessions was to be extended to these Flemish territories, which were thus to be converted into the helpless dependencies of a foreign and an absolute crown. There was to be a re-organization of the inquisition, upon the same footing claimed for it before the outbreak of the troubles, together with a re-enactment and vigorous enforcement of the famous edicts against heresy.
Such was the scheme recommended by Granvelle and Espinosa, and to be executed by Alva. As part and parcel of this plan, it was also arranged at secret meetings at the house of Espinosa, before the departure of the duke, that all the seigniors against whom the Duchess Margaret had made so many complaints, especially the Prince of Orange, with the Counts Egmont, Horn, and Hoogstraaten, should be immediately arrested and brought to chastisement. The Marquis Berghen and the Baron Montigny, being already in Spain, could be dealt with at pleasure. It was also decided that the gentlemen implicated in the confederacy or compromise, should at once be proceeded against for high treason, without any regard to the promise of pardon granted by the duchess.
The general features of the great project having been thus mapped out, a few indispensable preliminaries were at once executed. In order that Egmont, Horn, and other distinguished victims might not take alarm, and thus escape the doom deliberately arranged for them, royal assurances were dispatched to the Netherlands, cheering their despondency and dispelling their doubts. With his own hand Philip wrote the letter, full of affection and confidence, to Egmont, to which allusion has already been made. He wrote it after Alva had left Madrid upon his mission of vengeance. The same stealthy measures were pursued with regard to others. The Prince of Orange was not capable of falling into the royal trap, however cautiously baited. Unfortunately he could not communicate his wisdom to his friends.
It is difficult to comprehend so very sanguine a temperament as that to which Egmont owed his destruction. It was not the Prince of Orange alone who had prophesied his doom. Warnings had come to the count from every quarter, and they were now frequently repeated. Certainly he was not without anxiety, but he had made his decision, determined to believe in the royal word, and in the royal gratitude for his services rendered, not only against Montmorency and De Thermes, but against the heretics of Flanders. He was, however, much changed. He had grown prematurely old. At forty-six years his hair was white, and he never slept without pistols under his pillow. Nevertheless he affected, and sometimes felt, a light-heartedness which surprised all around him. The Portuguese gentleman Robles, Seigneur de Billy, who had returned early in the summer from Spain, whither he had been sent upon a confidential mission by Madame de Parma, is said to have made repeated communications to Egmont as to the dangerous position in which he stood. Immediately after his arrival in Brussels he had visited the count, then confined to his house by an injury caused by the fall of his horse. “Take care to get well very fast,” said De Billy, “for there are very bad stories told about you in Spain.” Egmont laughed heartily at the observation, as if nothing could well be more absurd than such a warning. His friend—for De Billy is said to have felt a real attachment to the Count—persisted in his prophecies, telling him that “birds in the field sang much more sweetly than those in cages,” and that he would do well to abandon the country before the arrival of Alva.
These warnings were repeated almost daily by the same gentleman, and by others, who were more and more astonished at Egmont’s infatuation. Nevertheless, he had disregarded their admonitions, and had gone forth to meet the duke at Tirlemont. Even then he might have seen, in the coldness of his first reception, and in the disrespectful manner of the Spanish soldiers, who not only did not at first salute him, but who murmured audibly that he was a Lutheran and traitor, that he was not so great a favorite with the government at Madrid as he desired to be.
After the first few moments, however, Alva’s manner had changed, while Chiappin Vitelli, Gabriel de Serbelloni, and other principal officers, received the count with great courtesy, even upon his first appearance. The grand prior, Ferdinando de Toledo, natural son of the duke, and already a distinguished soldier, seems to have felt a warm and unaffected friendship for Egmont, whose brilliant exploits in the field had excited his youthful admiration, and of whose destruction he was, nevertheless, compelled to be the unwilling instrument. For a few days, accordingly, after the arrival of the new governor-general all seemed to be going smoothly. The grand prior and Egmont became exceedingly intimate, passing their time together in banquets, masquerades, and play, as joyously as if the merry days which had succeeded the treaty of Cateau Cambresis were returned. The duke, too, manifested the most friendly dispositions, taking care to wend him large presents of Spanish and Italian fruits, received frequently by the government couriers.
Lapped in this fatal security, Egmont not only forgot his fears, but unfortunately succeeded in inspiring Count Horn with a portion of his confidence. That gentleman had still remained in his solitary mansion at Weert, notwithstanding the artful means which had been used to lure him from that “desert.” It is singular that the very same person who, according to a well-informed Catholic contemporary, had been most eager to warn Egmont of his danger, had also been the foremost instrument for effecting the capture of the admiral. The Seigneur de Billy, on the day after his arrival from Madrid, had written to Horn, telling him that the king was highly pleased with his services and character. De Billy also stated that he had been commissioned by Philip to express distinctly the royal gratitude for the count’s conduct, adding that his Majesty was about to visit the Netherlands in August, and would probably be preceded or accompanied by Baron Montigny.
Alva and his son Don Ferdinando had soon afterwards addressed letters from Gerverbiller (dated the 26th and 27th of July) to Count Horn, filled with expressions of friendship and confidence. The admiral, who had sent one of his gentlemen to greet the duke, now responded from Weert that he was very sensible of the kindness manifested towards him, but that for reasons which his secretary Alonzo de la Loo would more fully communicate, he must for the present beg to be excused from a personal visit to Brussels. The secretary was received by Alva with extreme courtesy. The duke expressed infinite pain that the king had not yet rewarded Count Horn’s services according to their merit, said that a year before he had told his brother Montigny how very much he was the admiral’s friend, and begged La Loo to tell his master that he should not doubt the royal generosity and gratitude. The governor added that, if he could see the count in person, he could tell him things which would please him, and which would prove that he had not been forgotten by his friends. La Loo had afterward a long conversation with the duke’s secretary Albornoz, who assured him that his master had the greatest affection for Count Horn, and that since his affairs were so much embarrassed, he might easily be provided with the post of governor at Milan, or viceroy of Naples, about to become vacant. The secretary added that the duke was much hurt at receiving no visits from many distinguished nobles whose faithful friend and servant he was, and that Count Horn ought to visit Brussels, if not to treat of great affairs, at least to visit the captain-General as a friend. “After all this,” said honest Alonzo, “I am going immediately to Weert, to urge his lordship to yield to the duke’s desires.”
This scientific maneuvering, joined to the urgent representations of Egmont, at last produced its effect. The admiral left his retirement at Weert to fall into the pit which his enemies had been so skillfully preparing at Brussels. On the night of the eighth of September, Egmont received another most significant and mysterious warning. A Spaniard, apparently an officer of rank, came secretly into his house, and urged him solemnly to effect his escape before the morrow. The countess, who related the story afterwards, always believed, without being certain, that the mysterious visitor was Julian Romero, maréchal de camp. Egmont, however, continued as blindly confident as before.
On the following day, September 9th, the grand prior, Don Ferdinando, gave a magnificent dinner, to which Egmont and Horn, together with Noircarmes, the Viscount of Ghent, and many other noblemen were invited. The banquet was enlivened by the music of Alva’s own military band, which the duke sent to entertain the company. At three o’clock he sent a message begging the gentlemen, after their dinner should be concluded, to favor him with their company at his house (the maison de Jassey), as he wished to consult them concerning the plan of the citadel, which he proposed erecting at Antwerp.
At this moment, the grand prior who was seated next to Egmont, whispered in his ear, “Leave this place, Signor Count, instantly; take the fleetest horse in your stable and make your escape without a moment’s delay.” Egmont, much troubled, and remembering the manifold prophecies and admonitions which he had passed by unheeded, rose from the table and went into the next room. He was followed by Noircarmes and two other gentlemen, who had observed his agitation, and were curious as to its cause. The count repeated to them the mysterious words just whispered to him by the grand prior, adding that he was determined to take the advice without a moment’s delay. “Ha! Count,” exclaimed Noircarmes, “do not put lightly such implicit confidence in this stranger who is counseling you to your destruction. What will the Duke of Alva and all the Spaniards say of such a precipitate flight? Will they not say that your Excellency has fled from the consciousness of guilt? Will not your escape be construed into a confession of high treason?”
If these words were really spoken by Noircarmes, and that they were so, we have the testimony of a Walloon gentleman in constant communication with Egmont’s friends and with the whole Catholic party, they furnish another proof of the malignant and cruel character of the man. The advice fixed forever the fate of the vacillating Egmont. He had risen from table determined to take the advice of a noble-minded Spaniard, who had adventured his life to save his friend. He now returned in obedience to the counsel of a fellow countryman, a Flemish noble, to treat the well-meant warning with indifference, and to seat himself again at the last banquet which he was ever to grace with his presence.
At four o’clock, the dinner being finished, Horn and Egmont, accompanied by the other gentlemen, proceeded to the “Jassy” louse, then occupied by Alva, to take part in the deliberations proposed. They were received by the duke with great courtesy. The engineer, Pietro Urbino, soon appeared and laid upon the table a large parchment containing the plan and elevation of the citadel to be erected at Antwerp. A warm discussion upon the subject soon arose, Egmont, Horn, Noircarmes and others, together with the engineers Urbino and Pacheco, all taking part in the debate. After a short time, the Duke of Alva left the apartment, on pretext of a sudden indisposition, leaving the company still warmly engaged in their argument. The council lasted till near seven in the evening. As it broke up, Don Sancho d’Avila, captain of the duke’s guard, requested Egmont to remain for a moment after the rest, as he had a communication to make to him. After an insignificant remark or two, the Spanish officer, as soon as the two were alone, requested Egmont to surrender his sword. The count, agitated, and notwithstanding everything which had gone before, still taken by surprise, scarcely knew what reply to make. Don Sancho repeated that he had been commissioned to arrest him, and again demanded his sword. At the same moment the doors of the adjacent apartment were opened, and Egmont saw himself surrounded by a company of Spanish musketeers and halberdmen. Finding himself thus entrapped, he gave up his sword, saying bitterly, as he did so, that it had at least rendered some service to the king in times which were past. He was then conducted to a chamber, in the upper story of the house, where his temporary prison had been arranged. The windows were barricaded, the daylight excluded, the whole apartment hung with black. Here he remained fourteen days (from the 9th to the 23rd of September). During this period, he was allowed no communication with his friends. His room was lighted day and night with candles, and he was served in strict silence by Spanish attendants, and guarded by Spanish soldiers. The captain of the watch drew his curtain every midnight, and aroused him from sleep that he might be identified by the relieving officer.
Count Horn was arrested upon the same occasion by Captain Salinas, as he was proceeding through the courtyard of the house, after the breaking up of the council. He was confined in another chamber of the mansion, and met with a precisely similar treatment to that experienced by Egmont. Upon the 23rd of September, both were removed under a strong guard to the castle of Ghent.
On this same day, two other important arrests, included and arranged in the same program, had been successfully accomplished. Bakkerzeel, private and confidential secretary of Egmont, and Antony Van Straalen, the rich and influential burgomaster of Antwerp, were taken almost simultaneously. At the request of Alva, the burgomaster had been invited by the Duchess of Parma to repair on business to Brussels. He seemed to have feared an ambuscade, for as he got into his coach to set forth upon the journey, he was so muffled in a multiplicity of clothing, that he was scarcely to be recognized. He was no sooner, however, in the open country and upon a spot remote from human habitations, than he was suddenly beset by a band of forty soldiers under command of Don Alberic Lodron and Don Sancho de Lodroño. These officers had been watching his movements for many days. The capture of Bakkerzeel was accomplished with equal adroitness at about the same hour.
Alva, while he sat at the council board with Egmont and Horn, was secretly informed that those important personages, Bakkerzeel and Straalen, with the private secretary of the admiral, Alonzo de la Loo, in addition, had been thus successfully arrested. He could with difficulty conceal his satisfaction, and left the apartment immediately that the trap might be sprung upon the two principal victims of his treachery. He had himself arranged all the details of these two important arrests, while his natural son, the Prior Don Ferdinando, had been compelled to superintend the proceedings. The plot had been an excellent plot, and was accomplished as successfully as it had been sagaciously conceived. None but Spaniards had been employed in any part of the affair. Officers of high rank in his Majesty’s army had performed the part of spies and policemen with much adroitness, nor was it to be expected that the duty would seem a disgrace, when the Prior of the Knights of Saint John was superintendent of the operations, when the captain-general of the Netherlands had arranged the whole plan, and when all, from subaltern to viceroy, had received minute instructions as to the contemplated treachery from the great chief of the Spanish police, who sat on the throne of Castile and Aragon.
No sooner were these gentlemen in custody than the secretary Albornoz was dispatched to the house of Count Horn, and to that of Bakkerzeel, where all papers were immediately seized, inventoried, and placed in the hands of the duke.
Thus, if amid the most secret communications of Egmont and Horn or their correspondents, a single treasonable thought should be lurking, it was to go hard but it might be twisted into a cord strong enough to strangle them all.
The duke wrote a triumphant letter to his Majesty that very night. He apologized that these important captures had been deferred so long but stated that he had thought it desirable to secure all these leading personages at a single stroke. He then narrated the masterly manner in which the operations had been conducted. Certainly, when it is remembered that the duke had only reached Brussels upon the 23rd of August, and that the two Counts were securely lodged in prison on the ninth of September, it seemed a superfluous modesty upon his part thus to excuse himself for an apparent delay. At any rate, in the eyes of the world and of posterity, his zeal to carry out the bloody commands of his master was sufficiently swift.
The consternation was universal throughout the provinces when the arrests became known. Egmont’s great popularity and distinguished services placed him so high above the mass of citizens, and his attachment to the Catholic religion was moreover so well known, as to make it obvious that no man could now be safe, when men like him were in the power of Alva and his myrmidons. The animosity to the Spaniards increased hourly.
The duchess affected indignation at the arrest of the two nobles, although it nowhere appears that she attempted a word in their defense, or lifted, at any subsequent moment, a finger to save them. She was not anxious to wash her hands of the blood of two innocent men; she was only offended that they had been arrested without her permission. The duke had, it is true, sent Berlaymont and Mansfeld to give her information of the fact, as soon as the capture had been made, with the plausible excuse that he preferred to save her from all the responsibility and all the unpopularity of the measure. Nothing, however, could appease her wrath at this and every other indication of the contempt in which he appeared to hold the sister of his sovereign. She complained of his conduct daily to everyone who was admitted to her presence. Herself oppressed by a sense of personal indignity, she seemed for a moment to identify herself with the cause of the oppressed provinces. She seemed to imagine herself the champion of their liberties, and the Netherlanders, for a moment, seemed to participate in the delusion. Because she was indignant at the insolence of the duke of Alva to herself, the honest citizens began to give her credit for a sympathy with their own wrongs. She expressed herself determined to move about from one city to another, until the answer to her demand for dismissal should arrive. She allowed her immediate attendants to abuse the Spaniards in good set terms upon every occasion. Even her private chaplain permitted himself, in preaching before her in the palace chapel, to denounce the whole nation as a race of traitors and ravishers, and for this offense was only reprimanded, much against her will, by the duchess, and ordered to retire for a season to his convent. She did not attempt to disguise her dissatisfaction at every step which had been taken by the duke. In all this there was much petulance, but very little dignity, while there was neither a spark of real sympathy for the oppressed millions, nor a throb of genuine womanly emotion for the impending fate of the two nobles. Her principal grief was that she had pacified the provinces, and that another had now arrived to reap the glory; but it was difficult, while the unburied bones of many heretics were still hanging, by her decree, on the rafters of their own dismantled churches, for her successfully to enact the part of a benignant and merciful regent. But it is very true that the horrors of the duke’s administration have been propitious to the fame of Margaret, and perhaps more so to that of Cardinal Granvelle. The faint and struggling rays of humanity which occasionally illumined the course of their government, were destined to be extinguished in a chaos so profound and dark that these last beams of light seemed clearer and more bountiful by the contrast.
The Count of Hoogstraaten, who was on his way to Brussels, had, by good fortune, injured his hand through the accidental discharge of a pistol. Detained by this casualty at Cologne, he was informed, before his arrival at the capital, of the arrest of his two distinguished friends, and accepted the hint to betake himself at once to a place of safety.
The loyalty of the elder Mansfeld was beyond dispute even by Alva. His son Charles had, however, been imprudent, and, as we have seen, had even affixed his name to the earliest copies of the Compromise. He had retired, it is true, from all connection with the confederates, but his father knew well that the young count’s signature upon that famous document would prove his death-warrant, were he found in the country. He therefore had sent him into Germany before the arrival of the duke.
The king’s satisfaction was unbounded when he learned this important achievement of Alva, and he wrote immediately to express his approbation in the most extravagant terms. Cardinal Granvelle, on the contrary, affected astonishment at a course which he had secretly counseled. He assured his Majesty that he had never believed Egmont to entertain sentiments opposed to the Catholic religion, nor to the interests of the Crown, up to the period of his own departure from the Netherlands. He was persuaded, he said, that the count had been abused by others, although, to be sure, the cardinal had learned with regret what Egmont had written on the occasion of the baptism of Count Hoogstraaten’s child. As to the other persons arrested, he said that no one regretted their fate. The cardinal added that he was supposed to be himself the instigator of these captures, but that he was not disturbed by that, or by other imputations of a similar nature.
In conversation with those about him, he frequently expressed regret that the Prince of Orange had been too crafty to be caught in the same net in which his more simple companions were so inextricably entangled. Indeed, on the first arrival of the news that men of high rank had been arrested in Brussels, the cardinal eagerly inquired if the Taciturn had been taken, for by that term he always characterized the prince. Receiving a negative reply, he expressed extreme disappointment, adding that, if Orange had escaped, they had taken nobody, and that his capture would have been more valuable than that of every man in the Netherlands.
Peter Titelmann, too, the famous inquisitor, who, retired from active life, was then living upon Philip’s bounty, and encouraged by friendly letters from that monarch, expressed the same opinion. Having been informed that Egmont and Horn had been captured, he eagerly inquired if “wise William” had also been taken. He was, of course, answered in the negative. “Then will our joy be but brief,” he observed. “Woe unto us for the wrath to come from Germany.”
On the 12th of July, of this year, Philip wrote to Granvelle to inquire the particulars of a letter which the Prince of Orange, according to a previous communication of the cardinal, had written to Egmont on the occasion of the baptism of Count Hoogstraaten’s child. On the 17th of August, the cardinal replied by setting the king right as to the error which he had committed. The letter, as he had already stated, was not written by Orange, but by Egmont, and he expressed his astonishment that Madame de Parma had not yet sent it to his Majesty. The duchess must have seen it, because her confessor had shown it to the person who was Granvelle’s informant. In this letter, the cardinal continued, the statement had been made by Egmont to the Prince of Orange that their plots were discovered, that the king was making armaments, that they were unable to resist him, and that therefore it had become necessary to dissemble and to accommodate themselves as well as possible to the present situation, while waiting for other circumstances under which to accomplish their designs. Granvelle advised, moreover, that Straalen, who had been privy to the letter, and perhaps the amanuensis, should be forthwith arrested.
The cardinal was determined not to let the matter sleep, notwithstanding his protestation of a kindly feeling towards the imprisoned count. Against the statement that he knew of a letter which amounted to a full confession of treason, out of Egmont’s own mouth—a fact which, if proved, and perhaps, if even insinuated, would be sufficient with Philip to deprive Egmont of twenty thousand lives—against these constant recommendations to his suspicious and sanguinary master, to ferret out this document, if it were possible, it must be confessed that the churchman’s vague and hypocritical expressions on the side of mercy were very little worth.
Certainly these seeds of suspicion did not fall upon a barren soil. Philip immediately communicated the information thus received to the Duke of Alva, charging him on repeated occasions to find out what was written, either by Egmont or by Straalen, at Egmont’s instigation, stating that such a letter was written at the time of the Hoogstraaten baptism, that it would probably illustrate the opinions of Egmont at that period, and that the letter itself, which the confessor of Madame de Parma had once had in his hands, ought, if possible, to be procured. Thus the very language used by Granvelle to Philip was immediately repeated by the monarch to his representative in the Netherlands, at the moment when all Egmont’s papers were in his possession, and when Egmont’s private secretary was undergoing the torture, in order that secrets might be wrenched from him which had never entered his brain. The fact that no such letter was found, that the duchess had never alluded to any such document, and that neither a careful scrutiny of papers, nor the application of the rack, could elicit any satisfactory information on the subject, leads to the conclusion that no such treasonable paper had ever existed, save in the imagination of the cardinal. At any rate, it is no more than just to hesitate before affixing a damning character to a document, in the absence of any direct proof that there ever was such a document at all. The confessor of Madame de Parma told another person, who told the cardinal, that either Count Egmont, or Burgomaster Straalen, by command of Count Egmont, wrote to the Prince of Orange thus and so. What evidence was this upon which to found a charge of high treason against a man whom Granvelle affected to characterize as otherwise neither opposed to the Catholic religion, nor to the true service of the king? What vulpine kind of mercy was it on the part of the cardinal, while making such deadly insinuations, to recommend the imprisoned victim to clemency?
The unfortunate envoys, Marquis Berghen and Baron Montigny, had remained in Spain under close observation. Of those doomed victims who, in spite of friendly remonstrances and of ominous warnings, had thus ventured into the lion’s den, no retreating footmarks were ever to be seen. Their fate, now that Alva had at last been dispatched to the Netherlands, seemed to be sealed, and the Marquis Berghen, accepting the augury in its most evil sense, immediately afterwards had sickened unto death. Whether it were the sickness of hope deferred, suddenly changing to despair, or whether it were a still more potent and unequivocal poison which came to the relief of the unfortunate nobleman, will perhaps never be ascertained with certainty. The secrets of those terrible prison-houses of Spain, where even the eldest begotten son, and the wedded wife of the monarch, were soon afterwards believed to have been the victims of his dark revenge, can never perhaps be accurately known, until the grave gives up its dead, and the buried crimes of centuries are revealed.
It was very soon after the departure of Alva’s fleet from Carthagena, that the Marquis Berghen felt his end approaching. He sent for the Prince of Eboli, with whom he had always maintained intimate relations, and whom he believed to be his disinterested friend. Relying upon his faithful breast, and trusting to receive from his eyes alone the pious drops of sympathy which he required, the dying noble poured out his long and last complaint. He charged him to tell the man whom he would no longer call his king, that he had ever been true and loyal, that the bitterness of having been constantly suspected, when he was conscious of entire fidelity, was a sharper sorrow than could be lightly believed, and that he hoped the time would come when his own truth and the artifices of his enemies would be brought to light. He closed his parting message by predicting that after he had been long laid in the grave, the impeachments against his character would be at last, although too late, retracted.
So spake the unhappy envoy, and his friend replied with words of consolation. It is probable that he even ventured, in the king’s name, to grant him the liberty of returning to his home, the only remedy, as his physicians had repeatedly stated, which could possibly be applied to his disease. But the devilish hypocrisy of Philip, and the abject perfidy of Eboli, at this juncture, almost surpass belief. The prince came to press the hand and to close the eyes of the dying man whom he called his friend, having first carefully studied a billet of most minute and secret instructions from his master as to the deportment he was to observe upon this solemn occasion and afterward. This paper, written in Philip’s own hand, had been delivered to Eboli on the very day of his visit to Berghen, and bore the superscription that it was not to be read nor opened till the messenger who brought it had left his presence. It directed the prince, if it should be evident that the marquis was past recovery, to promise him, in the king’s name, the permission of returning to the Netherlands. Should, however, a possibility of his surviving appear, Eboli was only to hold out a hope that such permission might eventually be obtained. In case of the death of Berghen, the prince was immediately to confer with the grand inquisitor and with the Count of Feria, upon the measures to be taken for his obsequies. It might seem advisable, in that event, to exhibit the regret which the king and his ministers felt for his death and the great esteem in which they held the nobles of the Netherlands. At the same time, Eboli was further instructed to confer with the same personages as to the most efficient means for preventing the escape of Baron Montigny, to keep a vigilant eye upon his movements, and to give general directions to governors and to postmasters to intercept his flight, should it be attempted. Finally, in case of Berghen’s death, the prince was directed to dispatch a special messenger, apparently on his own responsibility, and as if in the absence and without the knowledge of the king, to inform the Duchess of Parma of the event, and to urge her immediately to take possession of the city of Bergen-op-Zoom, and of all other property belonging to the Marquis, until it should be ascertained whether it were not possible to convict him, after death, of treason, and to confiscate his estates accordingly.
Such were the instructions of Philip to Eboli, and, precisely in accordance with the program, was the horrible comedy enacted at the deathbed of the envoy. Three days after his parting interview with his disinterested friend, the marquis was a corpse. Before his limbs were cold, a messenger was on his way to Brussels, instructing the regent to sequestrate his property, and to arrest, upon suspicion of heresy, the youthful kinsman and niece, who, by the will of the marquis, were to be united in marriage and to share his estate. The whole drama, beginning with the death scene, was enacted according to order. Before the arrival of Alva in the Netherlands, the property of the marquis was in the hands of the government, awaiting the confiscation, which was but for a brief season delayed, while on the other hand, Baron Montigny, Berghen’s companion in doom, who was not, however, so easily to be carried off by homesickness, was closely confined in the alcazar of Segovia, never to leave a Spanish prison alive. There is something pathetic in the delusion in which Montigny and his brother, the Count Horn, both indulged, each believing that the other was out of harm’s way, the one by his absence from the Netherlands, the other by his absence from Spain, while both, involved in the same meshes, were rapidly and surely approaching their fate.
In the same dispatch of the ninth of September, in which the duke communicated to Philip the capture of Egmont and Horn, he announced to him his determination to establish a new court for tine trial of crimes committed during the recent period of troubles. This wonderful tribunal was accordingly created with the least possible delay. It was called the Council of Troubles, but it soon acquired the terrible name, by which it will be forever known in history, of the Blood-Council. It superseded all other institutions. Every court, from those of the municipal magistracies up to the supreme councils of the provinces, were forbidden to take cognizance in future of any cause growing out of the late troubles. The council of state, although it was not formally disbanded, fell into complete desuetude, its members being occasionally summoned into Alva’s private chambers in an irregular manner, while its principal functions were usurped by the Blood-Council. Not only citizens of every province, but the municipal bodies and even the sovereign provincial estates themselves, were compelled to plead, like humble individuals, before this new and extraordinary tribunal. It is unnecessary to allude to the absolute violation which was thus committed of all charters, laws, and privileges, because the very creation of the council was a bold and brutal proclamation that those laws and privileges were at an end. The constitution or maternal principle of this suddenly erected court was of a twofold nature. It defined and it punished the crime of treason. The definitions, couched in eighteen articles, declared it to be treason to have delivered or signed any petition against the new bishops, the Inquisition, or the edicts; to have tolerated public preaching under any circumstances; to have omitted resistance to the image-breaking, to the field-preaching, or to the presentation of the Request by the nobles, and “either through sympathy or surprise” to have asserted that the king did not possess the right to deprive all the provinces of their liberties, or to have maintained that this present tribunal was bound to respect in any manner any laws or any charters. In these brief and simple, but comprehensive terms, was the crime of high treason defined. The punishment was still more briefly, simply, and comprehensively stated, for it was instant death in all cases. So well too did this new and terrible engine perform its work, that in less than three months from the time of its erection, eighteen hundred human beings had suffered death by its summary proceedings; some of the highest, the noblest, and the most virtuous in the land among the number; nor had it then manifested the slightest indication of faltering in its dread career.
Yet, strange to say, this tremendous court, thus established upon the ruins of all the ancient institutions of the country, had not been provided with even a nominal authority from any source whatever. The king had granted it no letters patent or charter, nor had even the Duke of Alva thought it worthwhile to grant any commissions either in his own name or as captain-general, to any of the members composing the board. The Blood-Council was merely an informal club, of which the duke was perpetual president, while the other members were all appointed by himself.
Of these subordinate councillors, two had the right of voting, subject, however, in all cases to his final decision, while the rest of the number did not vote at all. It had not, therefore, in any sense, the character of a judicial, legislative, or executive tribunal, but was purely a board of advice by which the bloody labors of the duke were occasionally lightened as to detail, while not a feather’s weight of power or of responsibility was removed from his shoulders. He reserved for himself the final decision upon all causes which should come before the council, and stated his motives for so doing with grim simplicity. “Two reasons,” he wrote to the king, “have determined me thus to limit the power of the tribunal; the first that, not knowing its members, I might be easily deceived by them; the second, that the men of law only condemn for crimes which are proved; whereas your Majesty knows that affairs of state are governed by very different rules from the laws which they have here.”
It being, therefore, the object of the duke to compose a body of men who would be of assistance to him in condemning for crimes which could not be proved, and in slipping over statutes which were not to be recognized, it must be confessed that he was not unfortunate in the appointments which he made to the office of councillors. In this task of appointment he had the assistance of the experienced Viglius. That learned jurisconsult, with characteristic lubricity, had evaded the dangerous honor for himself, but he nominated a number of persons from whom the duke selected his list. The sacerdotal robes which he had so recently and so “craftily” assumed, furnished his own excuse, and in his letters to his faithful Hopper he repeatedly congratulated himself upon his success in keeping himself at a distance from so bloody and perilous a post.
It is impossible to look at the conduct of the distinguished Frisian at this important juncture without contempt. Bent only upon saving himself, his property, and his reputation, he did not hesitate to bend before the “most illustrious Duke,” as he always denominated him, with fulsome and fawning homage. While he declined to dip his own fingers in the innocent blood which was about to flow in torrents, he did not object to officiate at the initiatory preliminaries of the great Netherland holocaust. His decent and dainty demeanor seems even more offensive than the jocularity of the real murderers. Conscious that no man knew the laws and customs of the Netherlands better than himself, he had the humble effrontery to observe that it was necessary for him at that moment silently to submit his own unskillfulness to the superior judgment and knowledge of others.
Having at last been relieved from the stone of Sisyphus, which, as he plaintively expressed himself, he had been rolling for twenty years, having, by the arrival of Tisnacq, obtained his discharge as president of the state council, he was yet not unwilling to retain the emoluments and the rank of president of the privy council, although both offices had become sinecures since the erection of the Council of Blood. Although his life had been spent in administrative and judicial employments, he did not blush upon a matter of constitutional law to defer to the authority of such jurisconsults as the Duke of Alva and his two Spanish bloodhounds, Vargas and Del Rio.
He did not like, he observed, in his confidential correspondence, to gainsay the duke, when maintaining, that in cases of treason, the privileges of Brabant were powerless, although he mildly doubted whether the Brabantines would agree with the doctrine. He often thought, he said, of remedies for restoring the prosperity of the provinces, but in action he only assisted the duke, to the best of his abilities, in arranging the Blood-Council. He wished well to his country, but he was more anxious for the favor of Alva. “I rejoice,” said he, in one of his letters, “that the most illustrious Duke has written to the king in praise of my obsequiousness; when I am censured here for so reverently cherishing him, it is a consolation that my services to the king and to the governor are not unappreciated there.” Indeed, the duke of Alva, who had originally suspected the president’s character, seemed at last overcome by his indefatigable and cringing homage. He wrote to the king, in whose good graces the learned doctor was most anxious at that portentous period to maintain himself, that the president was very serviceable and diligent, and that he deserved to receive a crumb of comfort from the royal hand. Philip, in consequence, wrote in one of his letters a few lines of vague compliment, which could be shown to Viglius, according to Alva’s suggestion. It is, however, not a little characteristic of the Spanish court and of the Spanish monarch, that, on the very day before, he had sent to the captain-general a few documents of very different import. In order, as he said, that the duke might be ignorant of nothing which related to the Netherlands, he forwarded to him copies of the letters written by Margaret of Parma from Brussels, three years before. These letters, as it will be recollected, contained an account of the secret investigations which the duchess had made as to the private character and opinions of Viglius—at the very moment when he apparently stood highest in her confidence—and charged him with heresy, swindling, and theft. Thus the painstaking and time-serving president, with all his learning and experience, was successively the dupe of Margaret and of Alva, whom he so obsequiously courted, and always of Philip, whom he so feared and worshipped.
With his assistance, the list of blood-councillors was quickly completed. No one who was offered the office refused it. Noircarmes and Berlaymont accepted with very great eagerness. Several presidents and councillors of the different provincial tribunals were appointed, but all the Netherlanders were men of straw. Two Spaniards, Del Rio and Vargas, were the only members who could vote, while their decisions, as already stated, were subject to reversal by Alva. Del Rio was a man without character or talent, a mere tool in the hands of his superiors, but Juan de Vargas was a terrible reality.
No better man could have been found in Europe for the post to which he was thus elevated. To shed human blood was, in his opinion, the only important business and the only exhilarating pastime of life. His youth had been stained with other crimes. He had been obliged to retire from Spain, because of his violation of an orphan child to whom he was guardian, but, in his manhood, he found no pleasure but in murder. He executed Alva’s bloody work with an industry which was almost superhuman, and with a merriment which would have shamed a demon. His execrable jests ring through the blood and smoke and death-cries of those days of perpetual sacrifice. He was proud to be the double of the iron-hearted duke, and acted so uniformly in accordance with his views, that the right of revision remained but nominal. There could be no possibility of collision where the subaltern was only anxious to surpass an incomparable superior. The figure of Vargas rises upon us through the mist of three centuries with terrible distinctness. Even his barbarous grammar has not been forgotten, and his crimes against syntax and against humanity have acquired the same immortality. “Heretici fraxerunt templa, boni nihili faxerunt contra, ergo debent omnes patibulare,”* was the comprehensive but barbarous formula of a man who murdered the Latin language as ruthlessly as he slaughtered his contemporaries.
* “The heretics destroyed the temples, the good men did nothing to prevent it, therefore they should all be hanged.”
Among the ciphers who composed the rest of the board, the Flemish Councillor Hessels was the one whom the duke most respected. He was not without talent or learning, but the duke only valued him for his cruelty. Being allowed to take but little share in the deliberations, Hessels was accustomed to doze away his afternoon hours at the council table, and when awakened from his nap in order that he might express an opinion on the case then before the court, was wont to rub his eyes and to call out “Ad patibulum, ad patibulum,” (“to the gallows with him, to the gallows with him”), with great fervor, but in entire ignorance of the culprit’s name or the merits of the case. His wife, naturally disturbed that her husband’s waking and sleeping hours were alike absorbed with this hangman’s work, more than once ominously expressed her hope to him, that he, whose head and heart were thus engrossed with the gibbet, might not one day come to hang upon it himself, a gloomy prophecy which the Future most terribly fulfilled.
The Council of Blood, thus constituted, held its first session on the 20th of September, at the lodgings of Alva. Springing completely grown and armed to the teeth from the head of its inventor, the new tribunal—at the very outset in possession of all its vigor—forthwith began to manifest a terrible activity in accomplishing the objects of its existence. The councillors having been sworn to “eternal secrecy as to any thing which should be transacted at the board, and having likewise made oath to denounce any one of their number who should violate the pledge,” the court was considered as organized. Alva worked therein seven hours daily. It may be believed that the subordinates were not spared, and that their office proved no sinecure. Their labors, however, were not encumbered by antiquated forms. As this supreme and only tribunal for all the Netherlands had no commission or authority save the will of the captain-general, so it was also thought a matter of supererogation to establish a set of rules and orders such as might be useful in less independent courts. The forms of proceeding were brief and artless. There was a rude organization by which a crowd of commissioners, acting as inferior officers of the council, were spread over the provinces, whose business was to collect information concerning all persons who might be incriminated for participation in the recent troubles. The greatest crime, however, was to be rich, and one which could be expiated by no virtues, however signal. Alva was bent upon proving himself as accomplished a financier as he was indisputably a consummate commander, and he had promised his master an annual income of 500,000 ducats from the confiscations which were to accompany the executions.
It was necessary that the blood torrent should flow at once through the Netherlands, in order that the promised golden river, a yard deep, according to his vaunt, should begin to irrigate the thirsty soil of Spain. It is obvious, from the fundamental laws which were made to define treason at the same moment in which they established the council, that any man might be at any instant summoned to the court. Every man, whether innocent or guilty, whether papist or Protestant, felt his head shaking on his shoulders. If he were wealthy, there seemed no remedy but flight, which was now almost impossible, from the heavy penalties affixed by the new edict upon all carriers, shipmasters, and wagoners, who should aid in the escape of heretics.
A certain number of these commissioners were particularly instructed to collect information as to the treason of Orange, Louis Nassau, Brederode, Egmont, Horn, Culemberg, Van den Berg, Berghen, and Montigny. Upon such information the proceedings against those distinguished seigniors were to be summarily instituted. Particular councillors of the Court of Blood were charged with the arrangement of these important suits, but the commissioners were to report in the first instance to the duke himself, who afterwards returned the paper into the hands of his subordinates.
With regard to the inferior and miscellaneous cases which were daily brought in incredible profusion before the tribunal, the same preliminaries were observed, by way of aping the proceedings in courts of justice. Alva sent the cart-loads of information which were daily brought to him, but which neither he nor any other man had time to read, to be disposed of by the board of councillors. It was the duty of the different subalterns, who, as already stated, had no right of voting, to prepare reports upon the cases. Nothing could be more summary. Information was lodged against a man, or against a hundred men, in one document. The duke sent the papers to the council, and the inferior councillors reported at once to Vargas. If the report concluded with a recommendation of death to the man, or the hundred men in question, Vargas instantly approved it, and execution was done upon the man, or the hundred men, within forty-eight hours. If the report had any other conclusion, it was immediately sent back for revision, and the reporters were overwhelmed with reproaches by the president.
Such being the method of operation, it may be supposed that the councillors were not allowed to slacken in their terrible industry. The register of every city, village, and hamlet throughout the Netherlands showed the daily lists of men, women, and children thus sacrificed at the shrine of the demon who had obtained the mastery over this unhappy land. It was not often that an individual was of sufficient importance to be tried—if trial it could be called—by himself. It was found more expeditious to send them in batches to the furnace. Thus, for example, on the fourth of January, eighty-four inhabitants of Valenciennes were condemned; on another day, ninety-five miscellaneous individuals, from different places in Flanders; on another, forty-six inhabitants of Malines; on another, thirty-five persons from different localities, and so on.
The evening of Shrovetide, a favorite holiday in the Netherlands, afforded an occasion for arresting and carrying off a vast number of doomed individuals at a single swoop. It was correctly supposed that the burghers, filled with wine and wassail, to which perhaps the persecution under which they lived lent an additional and horrible stimulus, might be easily taken from their beds in great numbers, and be delivered over at once to the council. The plot was ingenious, the net was spread accordingly. Many of the doomed were, however, luckily warned of the terrible termination which was impending over their festival, and bestowed themselves in safety for a season. A prize of about five hundred prisoners was all which rewarded the sagacity of the enterprise. It is needless to add that they were all immediately executed. It is a wearisome and odious task to ransack the moldy records of three centuries ago, in order to reproduce the obscure names of the thousands who were thus sacrificed. The dead have buried their dead, and are forgotten. It is likewise hardly necessary to state that the proceedings before the council were all ex parte, and that an information was almost inevitably followed by a death-warrant. It sometimes happened even that the zeal of the councillors outstripped the industry of the commissioners. The sentences were occasionally in advance of the docket. Thus upon one occasion a man’s case was called for trial, but before the investigation was commenced it was discovered that he had been already executed. A cursory examination of the papers proved, moreover, as usual, that the culprit had committed no crime. “No matter for that,” said Vargas, jocosely, “if he has died innocent, it will be all the better for him when he takes his trial in the other world.”
But, however the councillors might indulge in these gentle jests among themselves, it was obvious that innocence was in reality impossible, according to the rules which had been laid down regarding treason. The practice was in accordance with the precept, and persons were daily executed with senseless pretexts, which was worse than executions with no pretexts at all. Thus Peter de Witt of Amsterdam was beheaded, because at one of the tumults in that city he had persuaded a rioter not to fire upon a magistrate. This was taken as sufficient proof that he was a man in authority among the rebels, and he was accordingly put to death. Madame Juriaen, who, in 1566, had struck with her slipper a little wooden image of the Virgin, together with her maidservant, who had witnessed without denouncing the crime, were both drowned by the hangman in a hogshead placed on the scaffold.
Death, even, did not in all cases place a criminal beyond the reach of the executioner. Egbert Meynartzoon, a man of high official rank, had been condemned, together with two colleagues, on an accusation of collecting money in a Lutheran church. He died in prison of dropsy. The sheriff was indignant with the physician, because, in spite of cordials and strengthening prescriptions, the culprit had slipped through his fingers before he had felt those of the hangman. He consoled himself by placing the body on a chair, and having the dead man beheaded in company with his colleagues.
Thus the whole country became a charnel-house; the death-bell tolled hourly in every village; not a family but was called to mourn for its dearest relatives, while the survivors stalked listlessly about, the ghosts of their former selves, among the wrecks of their former homes. The spirit of the nation, within a few months after the arrival of Alva, seemed hopelessly broken. The blood of its best and bravest had already stained the scaffold; the men to whom it had been accustomed to look for guidance and protection, were dead, in prison, or in exile. Submission had ceased to be of any avail, flight was impossible, and the spirit of vengeance had alighted at every fireside. The mourners went daily about the streets, for there was hardly a house which had not been made desolate. The scaffolds, the gallows, the funeral piles, which had been sufficient in ordinary times, furnished now an entirely inadequate machinery for the incessant executions. Columns and stakes in every street, the doorposts of private houses, the fences in the fields were laden with human carcasses, strangled, burned, beheaded. The orchards in the country bore on many a tree the hideous fruit of human bodies.
Thus the Netherlands were crushed, and but for the stringency of the tyranny which had now closed their gates, would have been depopulated. The grass began to grow in the streets of those cities which had recently nourished so many artisans. In all those great manufacturing and industrial marts, where the tide of human life had throbbed so vigorously, there now reigned the silence and the darkness of midnight. It was at this time that the learned Viglius wrote to his friend Hopper, that all venerated the prudence and gentleness of the Duke of Alva. Such were among the first-fruits of that prudence and that gentleness.
The Duchess of Parma had been kept in a continued state of irritation. She had not ceased for many months to demand her release from the odious position of a cipher in a land where she had so lately been sovereign, and she had at last obtained it. Philip transmitted his acceptance of her resignation by the same courier who brought Alva’s commission to be governor-general in her place. The letters to the duchess were full of conventional compliments for her past services, accompanied, however, with a less barren and more acceptable acknowledgment, in the shape of a life income of 14,000 ducats instead of the 8,000 hitherto enjoyed by her Highness.
In addition to this liberal allowance, of which she was never to be deprived, except upon receiving full payment of 140,000 ducats, she was presented with 25,000 florins by the estates of Brabant, and with 30,000 by those of Flanders.
With these substantial tokens of the success of her nine years’ fatigue and intolerable anxiety, she at last took her departure from the Netherlands, having communicated the dissolution of her connection with the provinces by a farewell letter to the Estates dated December 9, 1567. Within a few weeks afterwards, escorted by the Duke of Alva across the frontier of Brabant, attended by a considerable deputation of Flemish nobility into Germany, and accompanied to her journey’s end at Parma by the Count and Countess of Mansfeld, she finally closed her eventful career in the Netherlands.
The horrors of the succeeding administration proved beneficial to her reputation. Upon the dark ground of succeeding years the lines which recorded her history seemed written with letters of light. Yet her conduct in the Netherlands offers but few points for approbation, and many for indignant censure. That she was not entirely destitute of feminine softness and sentiments of bounty, her parting dispatch to her brother proved. In that letter she recommended to him a course of clemency and forgiveness, and reminded him that the nearer kings approach to God in station, the more they should endeavor to imitate him in his attributes of benignity. But the language of this farewell was more tender than had been the spirit of her government. One looks in vain, too, through the general atmosphere of kindness which pervades the epistle, for a special recommendation of those distinguished and doomed seigniors, whose attachment to her person and whose chivalrous and conscientious endeavors to fulfil her own orders, had placed them upon the edge of that precipice from which they were shortly to be hurled. The men who had restrained her from covering herself with disgrace by a precipitate retreat from the post of danger, and who had imperiled their lives by obedience to her express instructions, had been long languishing in solitary confinement, never to be terminated except by a traitor’s death—yet we search in vain for a kind word in their behalf.
Meantime the second civil war in France had broken out. The hollow truce by which the Guise party and the Huguenots had partly pretended to deceive each other was hastened to its end, among other causes, by the march of Alva to the Netherlands. The Huguenots had taken alarm, for they recognized the fellowship which united their foes in all countries against the Reformation, and Condé and Coligny knew too well that the same influence which had brought Alva to Brussels would soon create an exterminating army against their followers. Hostilities were resumed with more bitterness than ever. The battle of St. Denis—fierce, fatal, but indecisive—was fought. The octogenarian hero, Montmorency, fighting like a foot soldier, refusing to yield his sword, and replying to the respectful solicitations of his nearest enemy by dashing his teeth down his throat with the butt-end of his pistol, the hero of so many battles, whose defeat at St. Quintin had been the fatal point in his career, had died at last in his armor, bravely but not gloriously, in conflict with his own countrymen, led by his own heroic nephew. The military control of the Catholic party was completely in the hand of the Guises; the Chancellor de I’Hôpital had abandoned the court after a last and futile effort to reconcile contending factions, which no human power could unite; the Huguenots had possessed themselves of Rochelle and of other strong places, and, under the guidance of adroit statesmen and accomplished generals, were pressing the Most Christian monarch hard in the very heart of his kingdom.
As early as the middle of October, while still in Antwerp, Alva had received several secret agents of the French monarch, then closely beleaguered in his capital. Cardinal Lorraine offered to place several strong places of France in the hands of the Spaniard, and Alva had written to Philip that he was disposed to accept the offer, and to render the service. The places thus held would be a guarantee for his expenses, he said, while in case King Charles and his brother should die, “their possession would enable Philip to assert his own claim to the French crown in right of his wife, the Salic law being merely a pleasantry.”
The queen dowager, adopting now a very different tone from that which characterized her conversation at the Bayonne interview, wrote to Alva, that, if for want of 2,000 Spanish musketeers, which she requested him to furnish, she should be obliged to succumb, she chose to disculpate herself in advance before God and Christian princes for the peace which she should be obliged to make. The duke wrote to her in reply, that it was much better to have a kingdom ruined in preserving it for God and the king by war, than to have it kept entire without war, to the profit of the devil and of his followers. He was also reported on another occasion to have reminded her of the Spanish proverb—that the head of one salmon is worth those of a hundred frogs. The hint, if it were really given, was certainly destined to be acted upon.
The duke not only furnished Catherine with advice, but with the musketeers which she had solicited. Two thousand foot and fifteen hundred horse, under the Count of Aremberg, attended by a choice band of the Catholic nobility of the Netherlands, had joined the royal camp at Paris before the end of the year, to take their part in the brief hostilities by which the second treacherous peace was to be preceded.
Meantime, Alva was not unmindful of the business which had served as a pretext in the arrest of the two counts. The fortifications of the principal cities were pushed on with great rapidity. The memorable citadel of Antwerp in particular had already been commenced in October under the superintendence of the celebrated engineers, Pacheco and Gabriel de Cerbelloni. In a few months it was completed, at a cost of 1,400,000 florins, of which sum the citizens, in spite of their remonstrances, were compelled to contribute more than one quarter. The sum of 400,000 florins was forced from the burghers by a tax upon all hereditary property within the municipality.
Two thousand workmen were employed daily in the construction of this important fortress, which was erected, as its position most plainly manifested, not to protect, but to control the commercial capital of the provinces. It stood at the edge of the city, only separated from its walls by an open esplanade. It was the most perfect pentagon in Europe, having one of its sides resting on the Scheld, two turned towards the city, and two towards the open country. Five bastions, with walls of hammered stone, connected by curtains of turf and masonry, surrounded by walls measuring a league in circumference, and by an outer moat fed by the Scheld, enclosed a spacious enceinte, where a little church with many small lodging-houses, shaded by trees and shrubbery, nestled among the bristling artillery, as if to mimic the appearance of a peaceful and pastoral village. To four of the five bastions, the captain-general, with characteristic ostentation, gave his own names and titles. One was called the duke, the second Ferdinando, a third Toledo, a fourth Alva, while the fifth was baptized with the name of the ill-fated engineer, Pacheco. The water-gate was decorated with the escutcheon of Alva, surrounded by his Golden Fleece collar, with its pendant lamb of God—a symbol of blasphemous irony, which still remains upon the fortress, to recall the image of the tyrant and murderer. Each bastion was honeycombed with casemates and subterranean storehouses, and capable of containing within its bowels a vast supply of provisions, munitions, and soldiers. Such was the celebrated citadel built to tame the turbulent spirit of Antwerp, at the cost of those whom it was to terrify and to insult.
The First Battles of the Eighty Years’ War and the Executions of Egmont and Horn
Late in October, the Duke of Alva made his triumphant entry into the new fortress. During his absence, which was to continue during the remainder of the year, he had ordered the Secretary Courteville and the Councillor del Rio to superintend the commission, which was then actually engaged in collecting materials for the prosecutions to be instituted against the Prince of Orange and the other nobles who had abandoned the country. Accordingly, soon after his return, on the 19th of January, 1568, the prince, his brother Louis of Nassau, his brother-in-law, Count Van den Berg, the Count Hoogstraaten, the Count Culemburg, and the Baron Montigny, were summoned in the name of Alva to appear before the Blood-Council, within thrice fourteen days from the date of the proclamation, under pain of perpetual banishment with confiscation of their estates. It is needless to say that these seigniors did not obey the summons. They knew full well that their obedience would be rewarded only by death.
The charges against the Prince of Orange, which were drawn up in ten articles, stated, chiefly and briefly, that he had been, and was, the head and front of the rebellion; that as soon as his Majesty had left the Netherlands, he had begun his machinations to make himself master of the country and to expel his sovereign by force, if he should attempt to return to the provinces; that he had seduced his Majesty’s subjects by false pretenses that the Spanish Inquisition was about to be introduced; that he had been the secret encourager and director of Brederode and the confederated nobles; and that when sent to Antwerp, in the name of the regent, to put down the rebellion, he had encouraged heresy and accorded freedom of religion to the Reformers.
The articles against Hoogstraaten and the other gentlemen were of similar tenor. It certainly was not a slender proof of the calm effrontery of the government thus to see Alva’s proclamation charging it as a crime upon Orange that he had inveigled the lieges into revolt by a false assertion that the inquisition was about to be established, when letters from the duke to Philip, and from Granvelle to Philip, dated upon nearly the same day, advised the immediate restoration of the inquisition as soon as an adequate number of executions had paved the way for the measure. It was also a sufficient indication of a reckless despotism, that while the duchess, who had made the memorable Accord with the Religionists, received a flattering letter of thanks and a farewell pension of 14,000 ducats yearly, those who, by her orders, had acted upon that treaty as the basis of their negotiations, were summoned to lay down their heads upon the block.
The prince replied to this summons by a brief and somewhat contemptuous plea to the jurisdiction. As a Knight of the Fleece, as a member of the Germanic Empire, as a sovereign prince in France, as a citizen of the Netherlands, he rejected the authority of Alva and of his self-constituted tribunal. His innocence he was willing to establish before competent courts and righteous judges. As a Knight of the Fleece, he said he could be tried only by his peers, the brethren of the Order, and, for that purpose, he could be summoned only by the king as Head of the Chapter, with the sanction of at least six of his fellow knights. In conclusion, he offered to appear before his Imperial Majesty, the Electors, and other members of the Empire, or before the Knights of the Golden Fleece. In the latter case, he claimed the right, under the statutes of that order, to be placed while the trial was pending, not in a solitary prison, as had been the fate of Egmont and of Horn, but under the friendly charge and protection of the brethren themselves. The letter was addressed to the procurator-general, and a duplicate was forwarded to the duke.
From the general tenor of the document, it is obvious both that the prince was not yet ready to throw down the gauntlet to his sovereign, nor to proclaim his adhesion to the new religion. On departing from the Netherlands in the spring, he had said openly that he was still in possession of 60,000 florins yearly, and that he should commence no hostilities against Philip, so long as he did not disturb him in his honor or his estates. Far-seeing politician, if man ever were, he knew the course whither matters were inevitably tending, but he knew how much strength was derived from putting an adversary irretrievably in the wrong. He still maintained an attitude of dignified respect towards the monarch, while he hurled back with defiance the insolent summons of the viceroy. Moreover, the period had not yet arrived for him to break publicly with the ancient faith. Statesman, rather than religionist, at this epoch, he was not disposed to affect a more complete conversion than the one which he had experienced. He was, in truth, not for a new doctrine, but for liberty of conscience. His mind was already expanding beyond any dogmas of the age. The man whom his enemies stigmatized as atheist and renegade, was really in favor of toleration, and, therefore, the more deeply criminal in the eyes of all religious parties.
Events, personal to himself, were rapidly to place him in a position from which he might enter the combat with honor. His character had already been attacked, his property threatened with confiscation. His closest ties of family were now to be severed by the hand of the tyrant. His eldest child, the Count de Buren, torn from his protection, was to be carried into indefinite captivity in a foreign land. It was a remarkable oversight, for a person of his sagacity, that, upon his own departure from the provinces, he should leave his son, then a boy of thirteen years, to pursue his studies at the college of Louvain. Thus exposed to the power of the government, he was soon seized as a hostage for the good behavior of the father. Granvelle appears to have been the first to recommend the step in a secret letter to Philip, but Alva scarcely needed prompting. Accordingly, upon the 13th of February, 1568, the duke sent the seignior de Chassy to Louvain, attended by four officers and by twelve archers. He was furnished with a letter to the Count de Buren, in which that young nobleman was requested to place implicit confidence in the bearer of the dispatch, and was informed that the desire which his Majesty had to see him educated for his service, was the cause of the communication which the Seignior de Chassy was about to make.
That gentleman was, moreover, minutely instructed as to his method of proceeding in this memorable case of kidnapping. He was to present the letter to the young count in presence of his tutor. He was to invite him to Spain in the name of his Majesty. He was to assure him that his Majesty’s commands were solely with a view to his own good, and that he was not commissioned to arrest, but only to escort him. He was to allow the count to be accompanied only by two valets, two pages, a cook, and a keeper of accounts. He was, however, to induce his tutor to accompany him, at least to the Spanish frontier. He was to arrange that the second day after his arrival at Louvain, the count should set out for Antwerp, where he was to lodge with Count Lodron, after which they were to proceed to Flushing, whence they were to embark for Spain. At that city he was to deliver the young prince to the person whom he would find there, commissioned for that purpose by the duke. As soon as he had made the first proposition at Louvain to the count, he was, with the assistance of his retinue, to keep the most strict watch over him day and night, but without allowing the supervision to be perceived.
The plan was carried out admirably, and in strict accordance with the program. It was fortunate, however, for the kidnappers, that the young prince proved favorably disposed to the plan. He accepted the invitation of his captors with alacrity. He even wrote to thank the governor for his friendly offices in his behalf. He received with boyish gratification the festivities with which Lodron enlivened his brief sojourn at Antwerp, and he set forth without reluctance for that gloomy and terrible land of Spain, whence so rarely a Flemish traveler had returned. A changeling, as it were, from his cradle, he seemed completely transformed by his Spanish tuition, for he was educated and not sacrificed by Philip. When he returned to the Netherlands, after a twenty years’ residence in Spain, it was difficult to detect in his gloomy brow, saturnine character, and Jesuitical habits, a trace of the generous spirit which characterized that race of heroes, the house of Orange-Nassau.
Philip had expressed some anxiety as to the consequences of this capture upon the governments of Germany. Alva, however, re-assured his sovereign upon that point, by reason of the extreme docility of the captive, and the quiet manner in which the arrest had been conducted. At that particular juncture, moreover, it would have been difficult for the government of the Netherlands to excite surprise any where, except by an act of clemency. The president and the deputation of professors from the university of Louvain waited upon Vargas, by whom, as acting president of the Blood-Council, the arrest had nominally been made, with a remonstrance that the measure was in gross violation of their statutes and privileges. That personage, however, with his usual contempt both for law and Latin, answered brutally, “Non curamus vestros privilegios,” and with this memorable answer, abruptly closed his interview with the trembling pedants.
Petitions now poured into the council from all quarters, abject recantations from terror-stricken municipalities, humble intercessions in behalf of doomed and imprisoned victims. To a deputation of the magistracy of Antwerp, who came with a prayer for mercy in behalf of some of their most distinguished fellow citizens, then in prison, the duke gave a most passionate and ferocious reply. He expressed his wonder that the citizens of Antwerp, that hotbed of treason, should dare to approach him in behalf of traitors and heretics. Let them look to it in future, he continued, or he would hang every man in the whole city, to set an example to the rest of the country; for his Majesty would rather the whole land should become an uninhabited wilderness, than that a single Dissenter should exist within its territory.
Events now marched with rapidity. The monarch seemed disposed literally to execute the threat of his viceroy. Early in the year, the most sublime sentence of death was promulgated which has ever been pronounced since the creation of the world. The Roman tyrant wished that his enemies’ heads were all upon a single neck, that he might strike them off at a blow; the inquisition assisted Philip to place the heads of all his Netherland subjects upon a single neck for the same fell purpose. Upon the 16th of February, 1568, a sentence of the Holy Office condemned all the inhabitants of the Netherlands to death as heretics. From this universal doom only a few persons, especially named, were excepted. A proclamation of the king, dated ten days later, confirmed this decree of the inquisition, and ordered it to be carried into instant execution, without regard to age, sex, or condition. This is probably the most concise death-warrant that was ever framed. Three millions of people, men, women, and children, were sentenced to the scaffold in three lines; and, as it was well known that these were not harmless thunders, like some bulls of the Vatican, but serious and practical measures, which it was intended should be enforced, the horror which they produced may be easily imagined. It was hardly the purpose of government to compel the absolute completion of the wholesale plan in all its length and breadth, yet in the horrible times upon which they had fallen, the Netherlanders might be excused for believing that no measure was too monstrous to be fulfilled. At any rate, it was certain that when all were condemned, any might at a moment’s warning be carried to the scaffold, and this was precisely the course adopted by the authorities.
Under this universal decree the industry of the Blood-Council might now seem superfluous. Why should not these mock prosecutions be dispensed with against individuals, now that a common sentence had swallowed the whole population in one vast grave? Yet it may be supposed that if the exertions of the commissioners and councillors served no other purpose, they at least furnished the government with valuable evidence as to the relative wealth and other circumstances of the individual victims. The leading thought of the government being that persecution, judiciously managed, might fructify into a golden harvest, it was still desirable to persevere in the cause in which already such bloody progress had been made.
And under this new decree, the executions certainly did not slacken. Men in the highest and the humblest positions were daily and hourly dragged to the stake. Alva, in a single letter to Philip, coolly estimated the number of executions which were to take place immediately after the expiration of holy week, “at eight hundred heads.” Many a citizen, convicted of a hundred thousand florins and of no other crime, saw himself suddenly tied to a horse’s tail, with his hands fastened behind him, and so dragged to the gallows. But although wealth was an unpardonable sin, poverty proved rarely a protection. Reasons sufficient could always be found for dooming the starveling laborer as well as the opulent burgher. To avoid the disturbances created in the streets by the frequent harangues or exhortations addressed to the bystanders by the victims on their way to the scaffold, a new gag was invented. The tongue of each prisoner was screwed into an iron ring, and then seared with a hot iron. The swelling and inflammation which were the immediate result, prevented the tongue from slipping through the ring, and of course effectually precluded all possibility of speech.
Although the minds of men were not yet prepared for concentrated revolt against the tyranny under which they were languishing, it was not possible to suppress all sentiments of humanity, and to tread out every spark of natural indignation. Unfortunately, in the bewilderment and misery of this people, the first development of a forcible and organized resistance was of a depraved and malignant character. Extensive bands of marauders and highway robbers sprang into existence, who called themselves the Wild Beggars, and who, wearing the mask and the symbols of a revolutionary faction, committed great excesses in many parts of the country, robbing, plundering, and murdering. Their principal wrath was exercised against religious houses and persons. Many monasteries were robbed, many clerical persons maimed and maltreated. It became a habit to deprive priests of their noses or ears, and to tie them to the tails of horses. This was the work of ruffian gangs, whose very existence was engendered out of the social and moral putrescence to which the country was reduced, and who were willing to profit by the deep and universal hatred which was felt against Catholics and monks. An edict thundered forth by Alva, authorizing and commanding all persons to slay the wild beggars at sight, without trial or hangman, was of comparatively slight avail. An armed force of veterans actively scouring the country was more successful, and the freebooters were, for a time, suppressed.
Meantime the Counts Egmont and Horn had been kept in rigorous confinement at Ghent. Not a warrant had been read or drawn up for their arrest. Not a single preliminary investigation, not the shadow of an information had preceded the long imprisonment of two men so elevated in rank, so distinguished in the public service. After the expiration of two months, however, the duke condescended to commence a mock process against them. The councillors appointed to this work were Vargas and Del Rio, assisted by Secretary Praets. These persons visited the admiral on the 10th, 11th, 12th, and 17th of November, and Count Egmont on the 12th, 13th, 14th, and 16th of the same month; requiring them to respond to a long, confused, and rambling collection of interrogatories. They were obliged to render these replies in prison, unassisted by any advocates, on penalty of being condemned in contumaciam. The questions, awkwardly drawn up as they seemed, were yet tortuously and cunningly arranged with a view of entrapping the prisoners into self-contradiction. After this work had been completed, all the papers by which they intended to justify their answers were taken away from them. Previously, too, their houses and those of their secretaries, Bakkerzeel and Alonzo de la Loo, had been thoroughly ransacked, and every letter and document which could be found placed in the hands of government. Bakkerzeel, moreover, as already stated, had been repeatedly placed upon the rack, for the purpose of extorting confessions which might implicate his master. These preliminaries and precautionary steps having been taken, the counts had again been left to their solitude for two months longer. On the 10th of January, each was furnished with a copy of the declarations or accusations filed against him by the procurator-general. To these documents, drawn up respectively in sixty-three, and in ninety articles, they were required, within five days’ time, without the assistance of an advocate, and without consultation with any human being, to deliver a written answer, on pain, as before, of being proceeded against and condemned by default.
This order was obeyed within nearly the prescribed period and here, it may be said, their own participation in their trial ceased, while the rest of the proceedings were buried in the deep bosom of the Blood-Council. After their answers had been delivered, and not till then, the prisoners were, by an additional mockery, permitted to employ advocates. These advocates, however, were allowed only occasional interviews with their clients, and always in the presence of certain persons, especially deputed for that purpose by the duke. They were also allowed commissioners to collect evidence and take depositions, but before the witnesses were ready, a purposely premature day, the 5th of May, was fixed upon for declaring the case closed, and not a single tittle of their evidence, personal or documentary, was admitted. Their advocates petitioned for an exhibition of the evidence prepared by government, and were refused. Thus, they were forbidden to use the testimony in their favor, while that which was to be employed against them was kept secret. Finally, the proceedings were formally concluded on the first of June, and the papers laid before the duke. The mass of matter relating to these two monster processes was declared, three days afterwards to have been examined—a physical impossibility in itself—and judgment was pronounced upon the fourth of June. This issue was precipitated by the campaign of Louis Nassau in Friesland, forming a series of important events which it will be soon our duty to describe. It is previously necessary, however, to add a few words in elucidation of the two mock trials which have been thus briefly sketched.
The proceedings had been carried on, from first to last, under protest by the prisoners, under a threat of contumacy on the part of the government. Apart from the totally irresponsible and illegal character of the tribunal before which they were summoned—the Blood-Council being a private institution of Alva’s without pretext or commission—these nobles acknowledged the jurisdiction of but three courts.
As Knights of the Golden Fleece, both claimed the privilege of that Order to be tried by its statutes. As a citizen and noble of Brabant, Egmont claimed the protection of the “Joyeuse Entrée,” a constitution which had been sworn to by Philip and his ancestors, and by Philip more amply than by all his ancestors. As a member and Count of the Holy Roman Empire, the admiral claimed to be tried by his peers, the electors and princes of the realm.
The Countess Egmont, since her husband’s arrest, and the confiscation of his estates before judgment, had been reduced to a life of poverty as well as agony. With her eleven children, all of tender age, she had taken refuge in a convent. Frantic with despair, more utterly desolate, and more deeply wronged than high-born lady had often been before, she left no stone unturned to save her husband from his fate, or at least to obtain for him an impartial and competent tribunal. She addressed the Duke of Alva, the king, the Emperor, her brother the Elector Palatine, and many leading Knights of the Fleece. The Countess Dowager of Horn, both whose sons now lay in the jaws of death, occupied herself also with the most moving appeals to the same high personages. No pains were spared to make the triple plea to the jurisdiction valid. The leading Knights of the Fleece, Mansfeld, whose loyalty was unquestioned, and Hoogstraaten, although himself an outlaw, called upon the King of Spain to protect the statutes of the illustrious order of which he was the chief. The estates of Brabant, upon the petition of Sabina, Countess Egmont, that they would take to heart the privileges of the province, so that her husband might enjoy that protection of which the meanest citizen in the land could not be justly deprived, addressed a feeble and trembling protest to Alva, and enclosed to him the lady’s petition. The Emperor, on behalf of Count Horn, wrote personally to Philip, to claim for him a trial before the members of the realm.
It was all in vain. The conduct of Philip and his viceroy coincided in spirit with the honest brutality of Vargas. “Non curamus vestros privilegios,” summed up the whole of the proceedings. Non curamus vestros privilegios had been the unanswerable reply to every constitutional argument which had been made against tyranny since Philip mounted his father’s throne. It was now the only response deemed necessary to the crowd of petitions in favor of the counts, whether they proceeded from sources humble or august. Personally, the king remained silent as the grave. In writing to the Duke of Alva, he observed that “the Emperor, the Dukes of Bavaria and Lorraine, the Duchess and the Duchess-dowager, had written to him many times, and in the most pressing manner, in favor of the Counts Horn and Egmont.” He added that he had made no reply to them, nor to other Knights of the Fleece who had implored him to respect the statutes of the order, and he begged Alva “to hasten the process as fast as possible.” To an earnest autograph letter, in which the Emperor, on the second of March, 1568, made a last effort to save the illustrious prisoners, he replied, that “the whole world would at last approve his conduct, but that, at any rate, he would not act differently, even if he should risk the loss of the provinces, and if the sky should fall on his head.”
But little heed was paid to the remonstrances in behalf of the imperial Courts, or the privileges of Brabant. These were but cobweb impediments which, indeed, had long been brushed away. President Viglius was even pathetic on the subject of Madame Egmont’s petition to the council of Brabant. It was so bitter, he said, that the duke was slightly annoyed, and took it ill that the royal servants in that council should have his Majesty’s interests so little at heart. It seemed indecent in the eyes of the excellent Frisian, that a wife pleading for her husband, a mother for her eleven children, so soon to be fatherless, should indulge in strong language.
The statutes of the Fleece were obstacles somewhat more serious. As, however, Alva had come to the Netherlands pledged to accomplish the destruction of these two nobles, as soon as he should lay his hands upon them, it was only a question of form, and even that question was, after a little reflection, unceremoniously put aside.
To the petitions in behalf of the two counts, therefore, that they should be placed in the friendly keeping of the Order, and be tried by its statutes, the duke replied, peremptorily, that he had undertaken the cognizance of this affair by commission of his Majesty, as sovereign of the land, not as head of the Golden Fleece, that he should carry it through as it had been commenced, and that the counts should discontinue presentations of petitions upon this point.
In the embarrassment created by the stringent language of these statutes, Doctor Viglius found an opportunity to make himself very useful. Alva had been turning over the laws and regulations of the Order, but could find no loophole. The president, however, came to his rescue, and announced it as his legal opinion that the governor need concern himself no further on the subject, and that the code of the Fleece offered no legal impediment to the process. Alva immediately wrote to communicate this opinion to Philip, adding, with great satisfaction, that he should immediately make it known to the brethren of the Order, a step which was the more necessary because Egmont’s advocate had been making great trouble with these privileges, and had been protesting at every step of the proceedings. In what manner the learned president argued these troublesome statutes out of the way, has nowhere appeared, but he completely reinstated himself in favor, and the king wrote to thank him for his legal exertions.
It was now boldly declared that the statutes of the Fleece did not extend to such crimes as those with which the prisoner were charged. Alva, moreover, received an especial patent, antedated eight or nine months, by which Philip empowered him to proceed against all persons implicated in the troubles, and particularly against Knights of the Golden Fleece.
It is superfluous to observe that these were merely the arbitrary acts of a despot. It is hardly necessary to criticize such proceedings. The execution of the nobles had been settled before Alva left Spain. As they were inhabitants of a constitutional country, it was necessary to stride over the constitution. As they were Knights of the Fleece, it was necessary to set aside the statutes of the Order. The Netherland constitutions seemed so entirely annihilated already, that they could hardly be considered obstacles, but the Order of the Fleece was an august little republic of which Philip was the hereditary chief, of which emperors, kings, and great seigniors were the citizens. Tyranny might be embarrassed by such subtle and golden filaments as these, even while it crashed through municipal charters as if they had been reeds and bulrushes. Nevertheless, the king’s course was taken. Although the 13th, 14th, and 15th chapters of the Order expressly provided for the trial and punishment of brethren who had been guilty of rebellion, heresy, or treason; and although the 11th chapter, perpetual and immutable, of additions to that constitution by the Emperor Charles, conferred on the Order exclusive jurisdiction over all crimes whatever committed by the knights, yet it was coolly proclaimed by Alva, that the crimes for which the admiral and Egmont had been arrested, were beyond the powers of the tribunal.
So much for the plea to the jurisdiction. It is hardly worthwhile to look any further into proceedings which were initiated and brought to a conclusion in the manner already narrated. Nevertheless, as they were called a process, a single glance at the interior of that mass of documents can hardly be superfluous.
The declaration against Count Horn, upon which, supported by invisible witnesses, he was condemned, was in the nature of a narrative. It consisted in a rehearsal of circumstances, some true and some fictitious, with five inferences. These five inferences amounted to five crimes—high treason, rebellion, conspiracy, misprision of treason, and breach of trust. The proof of these crimes was evolved, in a dim and misty manner, out of a purposely confused recital. No events, however, were recapitulated which have not been described in the course of this history. Setting out with a general statement, that the admiral, the Prince of Orange, Count Egmont, and other lords had organized a plot to expel his Majesty from the Netherlands, and to divide the provinces among themselves, the declaration afterwards proceeded to particulars. Ten of its sixty-three articles were occupied with the Cardinal Granvelle, who, by an absurd affectation, was never directly named, but called “a certain personage—a principal personage—a grand personage, of his Majesty’s state-council.” None of the offenses committed against him were forgotten—the 11th of March letter, the fool’s-cap, the livery, were reproduced in the most violent colors, and the cabal against the minister was quietly assumed to constitute treason against the monarch.
The admiral, it was further charged, had advised and consented to the fusion of the finance and privy councils with that of state, a measure which was clearly treasonable. He had, moreover, held interviews with the Prince of Orange, with Egmont, and other nobles, at Breda and at Hoogstraaten, at which meetings the confederacy and the petition had been engendered. That petition had been the cause of all the evils which had swept the land. “It had scandalously injured the king, by affirming that the inquisition was a tyranny to humanity, which was an infamous and unworthy proposition.” The confederacy, with his knowledge and countenance, had enrolled 30,000 men. He had done nothing, any more than Orange or Egmont, to prevent the presentation of the petition. In the consultation at the state-council which ensued, both he and the prince were for leaving Brussels at once, while Count Egmont expressed an intention of going to Aix to drink the waters. Yet Count Egmont’s appearance (proceeded this indictment against another individual) exhibited not a single sign of sickness. The admiral had, moreover, drank the toast of “Vivent les gueux” on various occasions, at the Culemberg House banquet, at the private table of the Prince of Orange, at a supper at the monastery of Saint Bernard’s, at a dinner given by Burgomaster Straalen. He had sanctioned the treaties with the rebels at Duffel, by which he had clearly rendered himself guilty of high treason. He had held an interview with Orange, Egmont, and Hoogstraaten, at Denremonde, for the treasonable purpose of arranging a levy of troops to prevent his Majesty’s entrance into the Netherlands. He had refused to come to Brussels at the request of the Duchess of Parma, when the rebels were about to present the petition. He had written to his secretary that he was thenceforth resolved to serve neither king nor kaiser. He had received from one Taffin, with marks of approbation, a paper stating that the assembling of the states-general was the only remedy for the troubles in the land. He had repeatedly affirmed that the inquisition and edicts ought to be repealed.
On his arrival at Tournay in August 1566, the people had cried, “Vivent les gueux,” a proof that he liked the cry. All his transactions at Tournay, from first to last, had been criminal. He had tolerated Reformed preaching, he had forbidden Catholics and Protestants to molest each other, he had omitted to execute heretics, he had allowed the religionists to erect an edifice for public worship outside the walls. He had said, at the house of Prince Espinoy, that if the king should come into the provinces with force, he would oppose him with 15,000 troops. He had said, if his brother Montigny should be detained in Spain, he would march to his rescue at the head of 50,000 men whom he had at his command. He had on various occasions declared that “men should live according to their consciences”—as if divine and human laws were dead, and men, like wild beasts, were to follow all their lusts and desires. Lastly, he had encouraged the rebellion in Valenciennes.
Of all these crimes and misdeeds the procurator declared himself sufficiently informed, and the aforesaid defendant entirely, commonly, and publicly defamed.
Wherefore, that officer terminated his declaration by claiming “that the cause should be concluded summarily, and without figure or form of process; and that therefore, by his Excellency or his sub-delegated judges, the aforesaid defendant should be declared to have in diverse ways committed high treason, should be degraded from his dignities, and should be condemned to death, with confiscation of all his estates.”
The admiral, thus peremptorily summoned, within five days, without assistance, without documents, and from the walls of a prison, to answer to these charges, solus ex vinculis causam dicere, undertook his task with the boldness of innocence. He protested, of course, to the jurisdiction, and complained of the want of an advocate, not in order to excuse any weakness in his defense, but only any inelegance in his statement. He then proceeded flatly to deny some of the facts, to admit others, and to repel the whole treasonable inference. His answer in all essential respects was triumphant. Supported by the evidence which, alas! was not collected and published till after his death, it was impregnable.
He denied that he had ever plotted against his king, to whom he had ever been attached, but admitted that he had desired the removal of Granvelle, to whom he had always been hostile. He had, however, been an open and avowed enemy to the cardinal, and had been engaged in no secret conspiracy against his character or against his life. He denied that the livery (for which, however, he was not responsible) had been intended to ridicule the cardinal, but asserted that it was intended to afford an example of economy to an extravagant nobility. He had met Orange and Egmont at Breda and Hoogstraaten, and had been glad to do so, for he had been long separated from them. These interviews, however, had been social, not political, for good cheer and merrymaking, not for conspiracy and treason. He had never had any connection with the confederacy; he had neither advised nor protected the petition, but, on the contrary, after hearing of the contemplated movement, had written to give notice thereof to the duchess.
He was in no manner allied with Brederode, but, on the contrary, for various reasons, was not upon friendly terms with him. He had not entered his house since his return from Spain. He had not been a party to the dinner at Culemburg House. Upon that day he had dined with the Prince of Orange, with whom he was lodging, and, after dinner, they had both gone together to visit Mansfeld, who was confined with an inflamed eye. There they had met Egmont, and the three had proceeded together to Culemburg House in order to bring away Hoogstraaten, whom the confederates had compelled to dine with them, and also to warn the nobles not to commit themselves by extravagant and suspicious excesses. They had remained in the house but a few minutes, during which time the company had insisted upon their drinking a single cup to the toast of “Vivent le roy et les gueux.” They had then retired, taking with them Hoogstraaten, and all thinking that they had rendered a service to the government by their visit, instead of having made themselves liable to a charge of treason. As to the cries of “Vivent les gueux” at the tables of Orange, of the Abbot of Saint Bernard, and at other places, those words had been uttered by simple, harmless fellows; and as he considered the table a place of freedom, he had not felt himself justified in rebuking the manners of his associates, particularly in houses where he was himself but a guest. As for committing treason at the Duffel meeting, he had not been there at all.
He thanked God that, at that epoch, he had been absent from Brussels, for had he, as well as Orange and Egmont, been commissioned by the duchess to arrange those difficult matters, he should have considered it his duty to do as they did. He had never thought of levying troops against his Majesty. The Denremonde meeting had been held to consult upon four subjects—the affairs of Tournay; the intercepted letters of the French ambassador, Alava; the letter of Montigny, in which he warned his brother of the evil impression which the Netherland matters were making in Spain; and the affairs of Antwerp, from which city the Prince of Orange found it necessary at that moment to withdraw. With regard to his absence from Brussels, he stated that he had kept away from the Court because he was ruined. He was deeply in debt, and so complete was his embarrassment, that he had been unable in Antwerp to raise 1,000 crowns upon his property, even at an interest of one hundred percent. So far from being able to levy troops, he was hardly able to pay for his daily bread.
With regard to his transactions at Tournay, he had, throughout them all, conformed himself to the instructions of Madame de Parma. As to the cry of “Vivent les gueux,” he should not have cared at that moment if the populace had cried Vive Comte Horn, for his thoughts were then occupied with more substantial matters. He had gone thither under a special commission from the duchess, and had acted under instructions daily received by her own hand. He had, by her orders, effected a temporary compromise between the two religious parties, on the basis of the Duffel treaty. He had permitted the public preaching to continue, but had not introduced it for the first time. He had allowed temples to be built outside the gates, but it was by express command of Madame, as he could prove by her letters. She had even reproved him before the council, because the work had not been accomplished with sufficient dispatch.
With regard to his alleged threat, that he would oppose the king’s entrance with 15,000 men, he answered, with astonishing simplicity, that he did not remember making any such observation, but it was impossible for a man to retain in his mind all the nonsense which he might occasionally utter. The honest admiral thought that his poverty, already pleaded, was so notorious that the charge was not worthy of a serious answer. He also treated the observation which he was charged with having made, relative to his marching to Spain with 50,000 men to rescue Montigny as “frivolous and ridiculous.” He had no power to raise a hundred men. Moreover he had rejoiced at Montigny’s detention, for he had thought that to be out of the Netherlands was to be out of harm’s way. On the whole, he claimed that in all those transactions of his which might be considered anti-Catholic, he had been governed entirely by the instructions of the regent, and by her Accord with the nobles. That Accord, as she had repeatedly stated to him, was to be kept sacred until his Majesty, by advice of the states-general, should otherwise ordain.
Finally, he observed, that law was not his vocation. He was no pettifogger, but he had endeavored loyally to conform himself to the broad and general principles of honor, justice, and truth. In a very few and simple words, he begged his judges to have regard to his deeds, and to a life of loyal service. If he had erred occasionally in those times of tumult, his intentions had ever been faithful and honorable.
The charges against Count Egmont were very similar to those against Count Horn. The answers of both defendants were nearly identical. Interrogations thus addressed to two different persons, as to circumstances which had occurred long before, could not have been thus separately, secretly, but simultaneously answered in language substantially the same, had not that language been the words of truth. Egmont was accused generally of plotting with others to expel the king from the provinces, and to divide the territory among themselves. Through a long series of ninety articles, he was accused of conspiring against the character and life of Cardinal Granvelle. He was the inventor, it was charged, of the fool’s-cap livery. He had joined in the letters to the king, demanding the prelate’s removal. He had favored the fusion of the three councils. He had maintained that the estates-general ought to be forthwith assembled, that otherwise the debts of his Majesty and of the country could never be paid, and that the provinces would go to the French, to the Germans, or to the devil.
He had asserted that he would not be instrumental in burning forty or fifty thousand men, in order that the inquisition and the edicts might be sustained. He had declared that the edicts were rigorous. He had advised the duchess to moderate them, and remove the inquisition, saying that these measures, with a pardon-general in addition, were the only means of quieting the country. He had advised the formation of the confederacy, and promised to it his protection and favor. He had counseled the presentation of the petition. He had arranged all these matters, in consultation with the other nobles, at the interviews at Breda and Hoogstraaten. He had refused the demand of Madame de Parma, to take arms in her defense. He had expressed his intention, at a most critical moment, of going to the baths of Aix for his health, although his personal appearance gave no indication of any malady whatever. He had countenanced and counseled the proceedings of the rebel nobles at Saint Trond. He had made an accord with those of “the religion” at Ghent, Bruges, and other places. He had advised the duchess to grant a pardon to those who had taken up arms.
He had maintained, in common with the Prince of Orange, at a session of the state council, that if Madame should leave Brussels, they would assemble the states-general of their own authority, and raise a force of 40,000 men. He had plotted treason, and made arrangements for the levy of troops at the interview at Denremonde, with Horn, Hoogstraaten, and the Prince of Orange. He had taken under his protection on April 20, 1566, the confederacy of the rebels; had promised that they should never be molested, for the future, on account of the inquisition or the edicts; and that so long as they kept within the terms of the Petition and the Compromise, he would defend them with his own person. He had granted liberty of preaching outside the walls in many cities within his government. He had said repeatedly, that if the king desired to introduce the inquisition into the Netherlands, he would sell all his property and remove to another land, thus declaring with how much contempt and detestation he regarded the said inquisition. He had winked at all the proceedings of the sectaries. He had permitted the cry of “Vivent les gueux” at his table. He had assisted at the banquet at Culemburg House.
These were the principal points in the interminable act of accusation. Like the admiral, Egmont admitted many of the facts, and flatly denied the rest. He indignantly repelled the possibility of a treasonable inference from any of, or all, his deeds. He had certainly desired the removal of Granvelle, for he believed that the king’s service would profit by his recall. He replied, almost in the same terms as the admiral had done, to the charge concerning the livery, and asserted that its principal object had been to set an example of economy. The fool’s-cap and bells had been changed to a bundle of arrows, in consequence of a certain rumor which became rife in Brussels, and in obedience to an ordinance of Madame de Parma. As to the assembling of the states-general, the fusion of the councils, the moderation of the edicts, he had certainly been in favor of these measures, which he considered to be wholesome and lawful, not mischievous or treasonable. He had certainly maintained that the edicts were rigorous, and had advised the duchess, under the perilous circumstances of the country, to grant a temporary modification until the pleasure of his Majesty could be known. With regard to the Compromise, he had advised all his friends to keep out of it, and many in consequence had kept out of it. As to the presentation of the petition, he had given Madame de Parma notice thereof, so soon as he had heard that such a step was contemplated. He used the same language as had been employed by Horn, with regard to the interview at Breda and Hoogstraaten—that they had been meetings of “good cheer” and good fellowship.
He had always been at every moment at the command of the duchess, save when he had gone to Flanders and Artois to suppress the tumults, according to her express orders. He had no connection with the meeting of the nobles at Saint Trond. He had gone to Duffel as special envoy from the duchess, to treat with certain plenipotentiaries appointed at the Saint Trond meeting. He had strictly conformed to the letter of instructions, drawn up by the duchess, which would be found among his papers, but he had never promised the nobles his personal aid or protection. With regard to the Denremonde meeting, he gave almost exactly the same account as Horn had given. The prince, the admiral, and himself, had conversed between a quarter past eleven and dinner time, which was twelve o’clock, on various matters, particularly upon the king’s dissatisfaction with recent events in the Netherlands, and upon a certain letter from the ambassador Alava in Paris to the Duchess of Parma. He had, however, expressed his opinion to Madame that the letter was a forgery. He had permitted public preaching in certain cities, outside the walls, where it had already been established, because this was in accordance with the treaty which Madame had made at Duffel, which she had ordered him honorably to maintain. He had certainly winked at the religious exercises of the Reformers, because he had been expressly commanded to do so, and because the government at that time was not provided with troops to suppress the new religion by force. He related the visit of Horn, Orange, and himself to Culemburg House, at the memorable banquet, in almost the same words which the admiral had used. He had done all in his power to prevent Madame from leaving Brussels, in which effort he had been successful, and from which much good had resulted to the country. He had never recommended that a pardon should be granted to those who had taken up arms, but on the contrary, had advised their chastisement, as had appeared in his demeanor towards the rebels at Osterwel, Tournay, and Valenciennes. He had never permitted the cry of “Vivent les gueux” at his own table, nor encouraged it in his presence anywhere else.
Such were the leading features in these memorable cases of what was called high treason. Trial there was none. The tribunal was incompetent; the prisoners were without advocates; the government evidence was concealed; the testimony for the defense was excluded; and the cause was finally decided before a thousandth part of its merits could have been placed under the eyes of the judge who gave the sentence.
But it is almost puerile to speak of the matter in the terms usually applicable to state trials. The case had been settled in Madrid long before the arrest of the prisoners in Brussels. The sentence, signed by Philip in blank, had been brought in Alva’s portfolio from Spain. The proceedings were a mockery, and, so far as any effect upon public opinion was concerned, might as well have been omitted. If the gentlemen had been shot in the courtyard of Jasse-house, by decree of a drumhead court-martial, an hour after their arrest, the rights of the provinces and the sentiments of humanity would not have been outraged more utterly. Every constitutional and natural right was violated from first to last. This certainly was not a novelty. Thousands of obscure individuals, whose relations and friends were not upon thrones and in high places, but in booths and cellars, and whose fate therefore did not send a shudder of sympathy throughout Europe, had already been sacrificed by the Blood tribunal. Still this great case presented a colossal emblem of the condition in which the Netherlands were now gasping. It was a monumental exhibition of the truth which thousands had already learned to their cost, that law and justice were abrogated throughout the land. The country was simply under martial law—the entire population under sentence of death.
The whole civil power was in Alva’s hand; the whole responsibility in Alva’s breast. Neither the most ignoble nor the most powerful could lift their heads in the sublime desolation which was sweeping the country. This was now proved beyond peradventure. A miserable cobbler or weaver might be hurried from his shop to the scaffold, invoking the jus de non evocando till he was gagged, but the Emperor would not stoop from his throne, nor electors palatine and powerful nobles rush to his rescue; but in behalf of these prisoners the most august hands and voices of Christendom had been lifted up at the foot of Philip’s throne, and their supplications had proved as idle as the millions of tears and death-cries which had been shed or uttered in the lowly places of the land. It was obvious, then, that all intercession must thereafter be useless. Philip was fanatically impressed with his mission. His viceroy was possessed by his loyalty as by a demon. In this way alone, that conduct which can never be palliated may at least be comprehended. It was Philip’s enthusiasm to embody the wrath of God against heretics. It was Alva’s enthusiasm to embody the wrath of Philip. Narrow-minded, isolated, seeing only that section of the world which was visible through the loophole of the fortress in which Nature had imprisoned him for life, placing his glory in unconditional obedience to his superior, questioning nothing, doubting nothing, fearing nothing, the viceroy accomplished his work of hell with all the tranquility of an angel. An iron will, which clove through every obstacle; adamantine fortitude, which sustained without flinching a mountain of responsibility sufficient to crush a common nature, were qualities which, united to his fanatical obedience, made him a man for Philip’s work such as could not have been found again in the world.
The case, then, was tried before a tribunal which was not only incompetent, under the laws of the land, but not even a court of justice in any philosophical or legal sense. Constitutional and municipal law were not more outraged in its creation, than all national and natural maxims.
The reader who has followed step by step the career of the two distinguished victims through the perilous days of Margaret’s administration, is sufficiently aware of the amount of treason with which they are chargeable. It would be an insult to common sense for us to set forth, in full, the injustice of their sentence. Both were guiltless towards the crown, while the hands of one, on the contrary, were deeply dyed in the blood of the people. This truth was so self-evident, that even a member of the Blood-Council, Pierre Arsens, President of Artois, addressed an elaborate memoir to the Duke of Alva, criticizing the case according to the rules of law, and maintaining that Egmont, instead of deserving punishment, was entitled to a signal reward.
So much for the famous treason of Counts Egmont and Horn, so far as regards the history of the proceedings and the merits of the case. The last act of the tragedy was precipitated by occurrences which must be now narrated.
The Prince of Orange had at last thrown down the gauntlet. Proscribed, outlawed, with his Netherland property confiscated, and his eldest child kidnapped, he saw sufficient personal justification for at last stepping into the lists, the avowed champion of a nation’s wrongs. Whether the revolution was to be successful, or to be disastrously crushed; whether its result would be to place him upon a throne or a scaffold, not even he, the deep-revolving and taciturn politician, could possibly foresee. The Reformation, in which he took both a political and a religious interest, might prove a sufficient lever in his hands for the overthrow of Spanish power in the Netherlands. The inquisition might roll back upon his country and himself, crushing them forever. The chances seemed with the inquisition. The Spaniards, under the first chieftain in Europe, were encamped and entrenched in the provinces. The Huguenots had just made their fatal peace in France, to the prophetic dissatisfaction of Coligny. The leading men of liberal sentiments in the Netherlands were captive or in exile. All were embarrassed by the confiscations which, in anticipation of sentence, had severed the nerves of war. The country was terror-stricken, paralyzed, motionless, abject, forswearing its convictions, and imploring only life. At this moment William of Orange reappeared upon the scene.
He replied to the act of condemnation, which had been pronounced against him in default, by a published paper, of moderate length and great eloquence. He had repeatedly offered to place himself, he said, upon trial before a competent court. As a Knight of the Fleece, as a member of the Holy Roman Empire, as a sovereign prince, he could acknowledge no tribunal save the chapters of the knights or of the realm. The Emperor’s personal intercession with Philip had been employed in vain, to obtain the adjudication of his case by either. It would be both death and degradation on his part to acknowledge the jurisdiction of the infamous Council of Blood. He scorned, he said, to plead his cause “before he knew not what base knaves, not fit to be the valets of his companions and himself.”
He appealed therefore to the judgment of the world. He published not an elaborate argument, but a condensed and scathing statement of the outrages which had been practiced upon him. He denied that he had been a party to the Compromise. He denied that he had been concerned in the Request, although he denounced with scorn the tyranny which could treat a petition to government as an act of open war against the sovereign. He spoke of Granvelle with unmeasured wrath. He maintained that his own continuance in office had been desired by the cardinal, in order that his personal popularity might protect the odious designs of the government. The edicts, the inquisition, the persecution, the new bishoprics, had been the causes of the tumults. He concluded with a burst of indignation against Philip’s conduct toward himself. The monarch had forgotten his services and those of his valiant ancestors. He had robbed him of honor, he had robbed him of his son—both dearer to him than life. By thus doing he had degraded himself more than he had injured him, for he had broken all his royal oaths and obligations.
The paper was published early in the summer of 1568. At about the same time, the count of Hoogstraaten published a similar reply to the act of condemnation with which he had been visited. He defended himself mainly upon the ground that all the crimes of which he stood arraigned had been committed in obedience to the literal instructions of the Duchess of Parma, after her accord with the confederates.
The prince now made the greatest possible exertions to raise funds and troops. He had many meetings with influential individuals in Germany. The Protestant princes, particularly the Landgrave of Hesse and the Elector of Saxony, promised him assistance. He brought all his powers of eloquence and of diplomacy to make friends for the cause which he had now boldly espoused. The high-born Demosthenes electrified large assemblies by his indignant invectives against the Spanish Philip. He excelled even his royal antagonist in the industrious subtlety with which he began to form a thousand combinations. Swift, secret, incapable of fatigue, this powerful and patient intellect sped to and fro, disentangling the perplexed skein where all had seemed so hopelessly confused, and gradually unfolding broad schemes of a symmetrical and regenerated polity. He had high correspondents and higher hopes in England. He was already secretly or openly in league with half the sovereigns of Germany. The Huguenots of France looked upon him as their friend, and on Louis of Nassau as their inevitable chieftain, were Coligny destined to fall. He was in league with all the exiled and outlawed nobles of the Netherlands. By his orders recruits were daily enlisted, without sound of drum. He granted a commission to his brother Louis, one of the most skillful and audacious soldiers of the age, in whom the revolt could not have found a more determined partisan, nor the prince a more faithful lieutenant.
This commission, which was dated Dillenburg, April 6, 1568, was a somewhat startling document. It authorized the count to levy troops and wage war against Philip, strictly for Philip’s good. The fiction of loyalty certainly never went further. The Prince of Orange made known to all “to whom those presents should come,” that through the affection which he bore the gracious king, he purposed to expel his Majesty’s forces from the Netherlands. “To show our love for the monarch and his hereditary provinces,” so ran the commission, “to prevent the desolation hanging over the country by the ferocity of the Spaniards, to maintain the privileges sworn to by his Majesty and his predecessors, to prevent the extirpation of all religion by the edicts, and to save the sons and daughters of the land from abject slavery, we have requested our dearly beloved brother Louis Nassau to enroll as many troops as he shall think necessary.”
Van den Berg, Hoogstraaten, and others, provided with similar powers, were also actively engaged in levying troops, but the right hand of the revolt was Count Louis, as his illustrious brother was its head and heart. Two hundred thousand crowns was the sum which the prince considered absolutely necessary for organizing the army with which he contemplated making an entrance into the Netherlands. Half this amount had been produced by the cities of Antwerp, Amsterdam, Leyden, Harlem, Middelburg, Flushing, and other towns, as well as by refugee merchants in England. The other half was subscribed by individuals. The prince himself contributed 50,000 florins, Hoogstraaten 30,000, Louis of Nassau 10,000, Culemberg 30,000, Van der Berg 30,000, the Dowager-Countess Horn 10,000, and other persons in less proportion. Count John of Nassau also pledged his estates to raise a large sum for the cause. The prince himself sold all his jewels, plate, tapestry, and other furniture, which were of almost regal magnificence. Not an enthusiast, but a deliberate, cautious man, he now staked his all upon the hazard, seemingly so desperate. The splendor of his station has been sufficiently depicted. His luxury, his fortune, his family, his life, his children, his honor, all were now ventured, not with the recklessness of a gambler, but with the calm conviction of a statesman.
A private and most audacious attempt to secure the person of Alva and the possession of Brussels had failed. He was soon, however, called upon to employ all his energies against the open warfare which was now commenced.
According to the plan of the prince, the provinces were to be attacked simultaneously, in three places, by his lieutenants, while he himself was waiting in the neighborhood of Cleves, ready for a fourth assault. An army of Huguenots and refugees was to enter Artois upon the frontier of France; a second, under Hoogstraaten, was to operate between the Rhine and the Meuse, while Louis of Nassau was to raise the standard of revolt in Friesland.
The two first adventures were destined to be signally unsuccessful. A force under Seigneur de Cocqueville, latest of all, took the field towards the end of June. It entered the bailiwick of Hesdin in Artois, was immediately driven across the frontier by the count de Roeulx, and cut to pieces at St. Valery by Maréchal de Cossè, governor of Picardy. This action was upon the 18th of July. Of the 2,500 men who composed the expedition, scarce 300 escaped. The few Netherlanders who were taken prisoners were given to the Spanish government, and, of course, hanged.
The force under the Seigneur de Villars was earlier under arms, and the sooner defeated. This luckless gentleman, who had replaced the count of Hoogstraaten, crossed the frontier of Juliers, in the neighborhood of Maestricht, by the 20th of April. His force, infantry and cavalry, amounted to nearly 3,000 men. The object of the enterprise was to raise the country, and, if possible, to obtain a foothold by securing an important city. Roermonde was the first point of attack, but the attempts, both by stratagem and by force, to secure the town, were fruitless. The citizens were not ripe for revolt, and refused the army admittance. While the invaders were, therefore, endeavoring to fire the gates, they were driven off by the approach of a Spanish force.
The duke, so soon as the invasion was known to him, had acted with great promptness. Don Sancho de Lodroño and Don Sancho de Avila, with five vanderas of Spanish infantry, three companies of cavalry, and about three hundred pikemen under Count Eberstein, a force amounting in all to about 1,600 picked troops, had been at once dispatched against Villars. The rebel chieftain, abandoning his attempt upon Roermonde, advanced towards Erkelens. Upon the 25th of April, between Erkelens and Dalem, the Spaniards came up with him, and gave him battle. Villars lost all his cavalry and two vanderas of his infantry in the encounter. With the remainder of his force, amounting to 1,300 men, he effected his retreat in good order to Dalem. Here he rapidly entrenched himself. At four in the afternoon, Sancho de Lodroño, at the head of 600 infantry, reached the spot. He was unable to restrain the impetuosity of his men, although the cavalry under Avila, prevented by the difficult nature of the narrow path through which the rebels had retreated, had not yet arrived. The enemy were two to one, and were fortified; nevertheless, in half an hour the entrenchments were carried, and almost every man in the patriot army put to the sword. Villars himself, with a handful of soldiers, escaped into the town, but was soon afterwards taken prisoner, with all his followers. He sullied the cause in which he was engaged by a base confession of the designs formed by the Prince of Orange—a treachery, however, which did not save him from the scaffold. In the course of this day’s work, the Spanish lost twenty men, and the rebels nearly two hundred. This portion of the liberating forces had been thus disastrously defeated on the eve of the entrance of Count Louis into Friesland.
As early as the 22nd of April, Alva had been informed, by the lieutenant-governor of that province, that the beggars were mustering in great force in the neighborhood of Embden. It was evident that an important enterprise was about to be attempted. Two days afterwards, Louis of Nassau entered the provinces, attended by a small body of troops. His banners blazed with patriotic inscriptions. Nunc aut nunquam, Recuperare aut mori, were the watchwords of his desperate adventure—”Freedom for fatherland and conscience” was the device which was to draw thousands to his standard. On the western wolds of Frisia, he surprised the castle of Wedde, a residence of the absent Aremberg, stadholder of the province. Thence he advanced to Appingadam, or Dam, on the tide waters of the Dollart. Here he was met by his younger brother, the gallant Adolphus, whose days were so nearly numbered, who brought with him a small troop of horse. At Wedde, at Dam, and at Slochteren, the standard was set up. At these three points there daily gathered armed bodies of troops, voluntary adventurers, peasants with any rustic weapon which they could find to their hand. Lieutenant-governor Groesbeck wrote urgently to the duke that the beggars were hourly increasing in force, that the leaders perfectly understood their game, that they kept their plans a secret, but were fast seducing the heart of the country.
On the 4th of May, Louis issued a summons to the magistracy of Gröningen, ordering them to send a deputation to confer with him at Dam. He was prepared, he said, to show the commission with which he was provided. He had not entered the country on a mere personal adventure, but had received orders to raise a sufficient army. By the help of the eternal God, he was determined, he said, to extirpate the detestable tyranny of those savage persecutors who had shed so much Christian blood. He was resolved to lift up the down-trod privileges, and to protect the fugitive, terror-stricken Christians and patriarchs of the country. If the magistrates were disposed to receive him with friendship, it was well. Otherwise, he should, with regret, feel himself obliged to proceed against them, as enemies of his Majesty and of the common weal.
As the result of this summons, Louis received a moderate sum of money, on condition of renouncing for the moment an attack upon the city. With this temporary supply he was able to retain a larger number of the adventurers, who were daily swarming around him.
In the mean time Alva was not idle. On the 30th of April, he wrote to Groesbeck, that he must take care not to be taken napping, that he must keep his eyes well open until the arrival of succor, which was already on the way. He then immediately ordered Count Aremberg, who had just returned from France on conclusion of hostilities, to hasten to the seat of war. Five vanderas of his own regiment, a small body of cavalry, and Braccamonte’s Sardinian legion, making in all a force of nearly 2,500 men, were ordered to follow him with the utmost expedition. Count Meghen, stadholder of Gueldres, with five vanderas of infantry, three of light horse, and some artillery, composing a total of about 1,500 men, was directed to cooperate with Aremberg. Upon this point the orders of the governor-general were explicit. It seemed impossible that the rabble rout under Louis Nassau could stand a moment before nearly 4,000 picked and veteran troops, but the duke was earnest in warning his generals not to undervalue the enemy.
On the seventh of May, Counts Meghen and Aremberg met and conferred at Arnheim, on their way to Friesland. It was fully agreed between them, after having heard full reports of the rising in that province, and of the temper throughout the eastern Netherlands, that it would be rash to attempt any separate enterprise. On the 11th, Aremberg reached Vollenhoven, where he was laid up in his bed with the gout. Bodies of men, while he lay sick, paraded hourly with fife and drum before his windows, and discharged pistols and arquebuses across the ditch of the blockhouse where he was quartered. On the 18th, Braccamonte, with his legion, arrived by water at Harlingen. Not a moment more was lost. Aremberg, notwithstanding his gout, which still confined him to a litter, started at once in pursuit of the enemy. Passing through Groningen, he collected all the troops which could be spared. He also received six pieces of artillery. Six cannon, which the lovers of harmony had baptized with the notes of the gamut, ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la, were placed at his disposal by the authorities, and have acquired historical celebrity. It was, however, ordained that when those musical pieces piped, the Spaniards were not to dance. On the 22nd, followed by his whole force, consisting of Braccamonte’s legion, his own four vanderas, and a troop of Germans, he came in sight of the enemy at Dam. Louis of Nassau sent out a body of arquebusiers, about one thousand strong, from the city. A sharp skirmish ensued, but the beggars were driven into their entrenchments, with a loss of twenty or thirty men, and nightfall terminated the contest.
It was beautiful to see, wrote Aremberg to Alva, how brisk and eager were the Spaniards, notwithstanding the long march which they had that day accomplished. Time was soon to show how easily immoderate valor might swell into a fault. Meantime, Aremberg quartered his troops in and about Wittewerum Abbey, close to the little unwalled city of Dam.
On the other hand, Meghen, whose cooperation had been commanded by Alva, and arranged personally with Aremberg a fortnight before, at Arnheim, had been delayed in his movements. His troops, who had received no wages for a long time, had mutinied. A small sum of money, however, sent from Brussels, quelled this untimely insubordination. Meghen then set forth to effect his junction with his colleague, having assured the governor-general that the war would be ended in six days. The beggars had not a stiver, he said, and must disband or be beaten to pieces as soon as Aremberg and he had joined forces. Nevertheless he admitted that these same “master-beggars,” as he called them, might prove too many for either general alone.
Alva, in reply, expressed his confidence that four or five thousand choice troops of Spain would be enough to make a short war of it, but nevertheless warned his officers of the dangers of overweening confidence. He had been informed that the rebels had assumed the red scarf of the Spanish uniform. He hoped the stratagem would not save them from broken heads, but was unwilling that his Majesty’s badge should be altered.
He reiterated his commands that no enterprise should be undertaken, except by the whole army in concert, and enjoined the generals incontinently to hang and strangle all prisoners the moment they should be taken.
Marching directly northward, Meghen reached Coeverden, some fifty miles from Dam, on the night of the 22nd. He had informed Aremberg that he might expect him with his infantry and his light horse in the course of the next day. On the following morning, the 23rd, Aremberg wrote his last letter to the duke, promising to send a good account of the beggars within a very few hours.
Louis of Nassau had broken up his camp at Dam about midnight. Falling back, in a southerly direction, along the Wold-weg, or forest road, a narrow causeway through a swampy district, he had taken up a position some three leagues from his previous encampment. Near the monastery of Heiliger-Lee, or the “Holy Lion,” he had chosen his ground. A little money in hand, ample promises, and the hopes of booty, had effectually terminated the mutiny, which had also broken out in his camp. Assured that Meghen had not yet effected his junction with Aremberg, prepared to strike, at last, a telling blow for freedom and fatherland, Louis awaited the arrival of his eager foe.
His position was one of commanding strength and fortunate augury. Heiliger-Lee was a wooded eminence, artificially reared by Premonstrant monks. It was the only rising ground in that vast extent of watery pastures, enclosed by the Ems and Lippe—the “fallacious fields” described by Tacitus. Here Hermann, first of Teutonic heroes, had dashed out of existence three veteran legions of tyrant Rome. Here the specter of Varus, begrimed and gory, had risen from the morass to warn Germanicus, who came to avenge him, that Gothic freedom was a dangerous antagonist. And now, in the perpetual reproductions of history, another German warrior occupied a spot of vantage in that same perilous region. The tyranny with which he contended strove to be as universal as that of Rome, and had stretched its wings of conquest into worlds of which the Caesar’s had never dreamed. It was in arms, too, to crush not only the rights of man, but the rights of God. The battle of freedom was to be fought not only for fatherland, but for conscience. The cause was even holier than that which had inspired the arm of Hermann.
Although the swamps of that distant age had been transformed into fruitful pastures, yet the whole district was moist, deceitful, and dangerous. The country was divided into squares, not by hedges but by impassable ditches. Agricultural entrenchments had long made the country almost impregnable, while its defenses against the ocean rendered almost as good service against a more implacable human foe.
Aremberg, leading his soldiers along the narrow causeway, in hot pursuit of what they considered a rabble rout of fugitive beggars, soon reached Winschoten. Here he became aware of the presence of his despicable foe. Louis and Adolphus of Nassau, while sitting at dinner in the convent of the “Holy Lion,” had been warned by a friendly peasant of the approach of the Spaniards. The opportune intelligence had given the patriot general time to make his preparations. His earnest entreaties had made his troops ashamed of their mutinous conduct on the preceding day, and they were now both ready and willing to engage. The village was not far distant from the abbey, and in the neighborhood of the abbey Louis of Nassau was now posted. Behind him was a wood, on his left a hill of moderate elevation, before him an extensive and swampy field. In the front of the field was a causeway leading to the abbey. This was the road which Aremberg was to traverse. On the plain which lay between the wood and the hill, the main body of the beggars were drawn up. They were disposed in two squares or squadrons, rather deep than wide, giving the idea of a less number than they actually contained. The lesser square, in which were 2,800 men, was partially sheltered by the hill. Both were flanked by musketeers. On the brow of the hill was a large body of light armed troops, the enfans perdus of the army. The cavalry, amounting to not more than three hundred men, was placed in front, facing the road along which Aremberg was to arrive.
That road was bordered by a wood extending nearly to the front of the hill. As Aremberg reached its verge, he brought out his artillery, and opened a fire upon the body of light troops. The hill protected a large part of the enemy’s body from this attack. Finding the rebels so strong in numbers and position, Aremberg was disposed only to skirmish. He knew better than did his soldiers the treacherous nature of the ground in front of the enemy. He saw that it was one of those districts where peat had been taken out in large squares for fuel, and where a fallacious and verdant scum upon the surface of deep pools simulated the turf that had been removed. He saw that the battleground presented to him by his sagacious enemy was one great sweep of traps and pitfalls. Before he could carry the position, many men must necessarily be engulfed.
He paused for an instant. He was deficient in cavalry, having only Martinengo’s troop, hardly amounting to four hundred men. He was sure of Meghen’s arrival within twenty-four hours. If, then, he could keep the rebels in check, without allowing them any opportunity to disperse, he should be able, on the morrow, to cut them to pieces, according to the plan agreed upon a fortnight before. But the count had to contend with a double obstacle. His soldiers were very hot, his enemy very cool. The Spaniards, who had so easily driven a thousand musketeers from behind their windmill, the evening before, who had seen the whole rebel force decamp in hot haste on the very night of their arrival before Dam, supposed themselves in full career of victory. Believing that the name alone of the old legions had stricken terror to the hearts of the beggars, and that no resistance was possible to Spanish arms, they reviled their general for his caution. His reason for delay was theirs for hurry. Why should Meghen’s loitering and mutinous troops, arriving at the eleventh hour, share in the triumph and the spoil? No man knew the country better than Aremberg, a native of the Netherlands, the stadholder of the province. Cowardly or heretical motives alone could sway him, if he now held them back in the very hour of victory. Inflamed beyond endurance by these taunts, feeling his pride of country touched to the quick, and willing to show that a Netherlander would lead wherever Spaniards dared to follow, Aremberg allowed himself to commit the grave error for which he was so deeply to atone. Disregarding the dictates of his own experience and the arrangements of his superior, he yielded to the braggart humor of his soldiers, which he had not, like Alva, learned to moderate or to despise.
In the meantime, the body of light troops which had received the fire from the musical pieces of Gröningen was seen to waver. The artillery was then brought beyond the cover of the wood, and pointed more fully upon the two main squares of the enemy. A few shots told. Soon afterward the enfans perdus retreated helter-skelter, entirely deserting their position. This apparent advantage, which was only a preconcerted stratagem, was too much for the fiery Spaniards. They rushed merrily forward to attack the stationary squares, their general being no longer able to restrain their impetuosity. In a moment the whole vanguard had plunged into the morass. In a few minutes more they were all helplessly and hopelessly struggling in the pools, while the musketeers of the enemy poured in a deadly fire upon them, without wetting the soles of their own feet. The pikemen, too, who composed the main body of the larger square, now charged upon all who were extricating themselves from their entanglement, and drove them back again to a muddy death. Simultaneously, the lesser patriot squadron, which had so long been sheltered, emerged from the cover of the hill, made a detour around its base, enveloped the rear-guard of the Spaniards before they could advance to the succor of their perishing comrades, and broke them to pieces almost instantly. Gonzalo de Braccamonte, the very Spanish colonel who had been foremost in denunciation of Aremberg, for his disposition to delay the contest, was now the first to fly. To his bad conduct was ascribed the loss of the day. The anger of Alva was so high, when he was informed of the incident, that he would have condemned the officer to death but for the intercession of his friends and countrymen.
The rout was sudden and absolute. The foolhardiness of the Spaniards had precipitated them into the pit which their enemies had dug. The day was lost. Nothing was left for Aremberg but to perish with honor. Placing himself at the head of his handful of cavalry, he dashed into the mêlée. The shock was sustained by young Adolphus of Nassau, at the head of an equal number of riders. Each leader singled out the other. They met as “captains of might” should do, in the very midst of the affray.* Aremberg, receiving and disregarding a pistol shot from his adversary, laid Adolphus dead at his feet, with a bullet through his body and a saber cut on his head. Two troopers in immediate attendance upon the young count shared the same fate from the same hand. Shortly afterward, the horse of Aremberg, wounded by a musket ball, fell to the ground. A few devoted followers lifted the charger to his legs and the bleeding rider to his saddle. They endeavored to bear their wounded general from the scene of action. The horse staggered a few paces and fell dead. Aremberg disengaged himself from his body, and walked a few paces to the edge of a meadow near the road. Here, wounded in the action, crippled by the disease which had so long tormented him, and scarcely able to sustain longer the burden of his armor, he calmly awaited his fate. A troop of the enemy advanced soon afterwards, and Aremberg fell, covered with wounds, fighting like a hero of Homer, single-handed, against a battalion, with a courage worthy a better cause and a better fate. The sword by which he received his final death-blow was that of the Seigneur de Haultain. That officer having just seen his brother slain before his eyes, forgot the respect due to unsuccessful chivalry.**
* This hotly contested field, with the striking catastrophe of Adolphus and Aremberg, suggests the chivalrous pictures in “Chevy Chase”:
“At last these two stout earls did meet, Like captains of great might, Like lions wode, they laid on lode, And made a cruel fight,” etc., etc.
** The principal authority followed in the foregoing description of the first victory gained by the rebels in the eighty years’ war, which had now fairly commenced, is the Spaniard Mendoza, who fought through this whole campaign in Friesland. Other historians give a still more picturesque aspect to the main incident of the battle. According to Strada (Vol. I, p. 320), who gives as his authority a letter from Mic. Barbanson to Margaret of Parma (May 30, 1568), Adolphus and Aremberg fell by each other’s hands, and lay dead side by side. … Cabrera (Vol. VIII, pp. 486-487) follows Mendoza literally, and ascribes the death of Adolphus to the hand of Aremberg, who in his turn was slain afterward in the mêlée. Meteren, on the contrary, seeming to think, as well as the Spaniards, that the honor of the respective nations was at stake, on the individual prowess of the champions, prefers to appear ignorant that this striking single combat had taken place. He mentions the death of Adolphus as having occurred in the mêlée, and ascribes Aremberg’s death-blow to the Sieur de Haultain. Amelis van Amstel, in a report to the council of Gueldres, relates, on the authority of a prisoner taken in the battle, that the body of Aremberg was brought before Count Louis after the fight, and that the unfortunate but chivalrous officer had been shot through the throat, through the body, and through the head; or, in his own respectful language, “His lordship was shot through the windpipe of his lordship’s throat, in his aide through and through again, and likewise his lordship’s forehead, above his eyes, was very valiantly wounded.”
The battle was scarcely finished when an advancing trumpet was heard. The sound caused the victors to pause in their pursuit, and enabled a remnant of the conquered Spaniards to escape. Meghen’s force was thought to be advancing. That general had indeed arrived, but he was alone. He had reached Zuidlaren, a village some four leagues from the scene of action, on the noon of that day. Here he had found a letter from Aremberg, requesting him to hasten. He had done so. His troops, however, having come from Coevorden that morning, were unable to accomplish so long a march in addition. The count, accompanied by a few attendants, reached the neighborhood of Heiliger-Lee only in time to meet with some of the camp sutlers and other fugitives, from whom he learned the disastrous news of the defeat. Finding that all was lost, he very properly returned to Zuidlaren, from which place he made the best of his way to Gröningen. That important city, the key of Friesland, he was thus enabled to secure. The troops which he brought, in addition to the four German vanderas of Schaumburg, already quartered there, were sufficient to protect it against the ill-equipped army of Louis Nassau.
The patriot leader had accomplished, after all, but a barren victory. He had, to be sure, destroyed a number of Spaniards, amounting, according to the different estimates, from 500 to 1,600 men. He had also broken up a small but veteran army. More than all, he had taught the Netherlanders, by this triumphant termination to a stricken field, that the choice troops of Spain were not invincible. But the moral effect of the victory was the only permanent one. The count’s badly paid troops could with difficulty be kept together. He had no sufficient artillery to reduce the city whose possession would have proved so important to the cause. Moreover, in common with the Prince of Orange and all his brethren, he had been called to mourn for the young and chivalrous Adolphus, whose life-blood had stained the laurels of this first patriot victory. Having remained, and thus wasted the normal three days upon the battlefield, Louis now sat down before Gröningen, fortifying and entrenching himself in a camp within cannon-shot of the city.
On the 23rd we have seen that Aremberg had written, full of confidence, to the governor-general, promising soon to send him good news of the beggars. On the 26th, Count Meghen wrote that, having spoken with a man who had helped to place Aremberg in his coffin, he could hardly entertain any farther doubt as to his fate.
The wrath of the duke was even greater than his surprise. Like Augustus, he called in vain on the dead commander for his legions, but prepared himself to inflict a more rapid and more terrible vengeance than the Roman’s. Recognizing the gravity of his situation, he determined to take the field in person, and to annihilate this insolent chieftain who had dared not only to cope with, but to conquer his veteran regiments. But before he could turn his back upon Brussels, many deeds were to be done. His measures now followed each other in breathless succession, fulminating and blasting at every stroke. On the 28th of May, he issued an edict, banishing, on pain of death, the Prince of Orange, Louis Nassau, Hoogstraaten, Van den Berg, and others, with confiscation of all their property. At the same time he razed the Culemburg Palace to the ground, and erected a pillar upon its ruins, commemorating the accursed conspiracy which had been engendered within its walls. On the first of June, eighteen prisoners of distinction, including the two Barons Batenburg, Maximilian Kock, Blois de Treslong, and others, were executed upon the Horse-Market, in Brussels. In the vigorous language of Hoogstraaten, this horrible tragedy was enacted directly before the windows of that “cruel animal, Noircarmes,” who, in company of his friend, Berlaymont, and the rest of the Blood-Council, looked out upon the shocking spectacle. The heads of the victims were exposed upon stakes, to which also their bodies were fastened. Eleven of these victims were afterward deposited, uncoffined, in unconsecrated ground; the other seven were left unburied to molder on the gibbet. On the second of June, Villars, the leader in the Daalem rising, suffered on the scaffold, with three others.
On the third, Counts Egmont and Horn were brought in a carriage from Ghent to Brussels, guarded by ten companies of infantry and one of cavalry. They were then lodged in the “Brood-huis” opposite the Town Hall, on the great square of Brussels. On the fourth, Alva, having, as he solemnly declared before God and the world, examined thoroughly the mass of documents appertaining to those two great prosecutions which had only been closed three days before, pronounced sentence against the illustrious prisoners. These documents of iniquity signed and sealed by the duke, were sent to the Blood-Council, where they were read by Secretary Praets. The signature of Philip was not wanting, for the sentences had been drawn upon blanks signed by the monarch, of which the viceroy had brought a whole trunk full from Spain. The sentence against Egmont declared very briefly that the duke of Alva, having read all the papers and evidence in the case, had found the count guilty of high treason. It was proved that Egmont had united with the confederates, that he had been a party to the accursed conspiracy of the Prince of Orange, that he had taken the rebel nobles under his protection, and that he had betrayed the government and the Holy Catholic Church by his conduct in Flanders. Therefore the duke condemned him to be executed by the sword on the following day, and decreed that his head should be placed on high in a public place, there to remain until the duke should otherwise direct. The sentence against Count Horn was similar in language and purport.
That afternoon the duke sent for the Bishop of Ypres. The prelate arrived at dusk. As soon as he presented himself, Alva informed him of the sentence which had just been pronounced, and ordered him to convey the intelligence to the prisoners. He further charged him with the duty of shriving the victims, and preparing their souls for death. The bishop fell on his knees, aghast at the terrible decree. He implored the governor-general to have mercy upon the two unfortunate nobles. If their lives could not be spared, he prayed him at any rate to grant delay. With tears and earnest supplications the prelate endeavored to avert or to postpone the doom which had been pronounced. It was in vain. The sentence, inflexible as destiny, had been long before ordained. Its execution had been but hastened by the temporary triumph of rebellion in Friesland. Alva told the bishop roughly that he had not been summoned to give advice. Delay or pardon was alike impossible. He was to act as confessor to the criminals, not as councillor to the viceroy. The bishop, thus rebuked, withdrew to accomplish his melancholy mission. Meanwhile, on the same evening, the miserable Countess of Egmont had been appalled by rumors, too vague for belief, too terrible to be slighted. She was in the chamber of Countess Aremberg, with whom she had come to condole for the death of the count, when the order for the immediate execution of her own husband was announced to her. She hastened to the presence of the governor-general. The princess palatine, whose ancestors had been emperors, remembered only that she was a wife and a mother. She fell at the feet of the man who controlled the fate of her husband, and implored his mercy in humble and submissive terms. The duke, with calm and almost incredible irony, reassured the countess by the information that, on the morrow, her husband was certainly to be released. With this ambiguous phrase, worthy the paltering oracles of antiquity, the wretched woman was obliged to withdraw. Too soon afterward the horrible truth of the words was revealed to her—words of doom, which she had mistaken for consolation.
An hour before midnight the bishop of Ypres reached Egmont’s prison. The count was confined in a chamber on the second story of the Brood-huis, the mansion of the crossbowmen’s guild, in that corner of the building which rests on a narrow street running back from the great square. He was aroused from his sleep by the approach of his visitor. Unable to speak, but indicating by the expression of his features the occurrence of a great misfortune, the bishop, soon after his entrance, placed the paper given to him by Alva in Egmont’s hands. The unfortunate noble thus suddenly received the information that his death sentence had been pronounced, and that its execution was fixed for the next morning. He read the paper through without flinching, and expressed astonishment rather than dismay at its tidings.
Exceedingly sanguine by nature, he had never believed, even after his nine months’ imprisonment, in a fatal termination to the difficulties in which he was involved. He was now startled both at the sudden condemnation which had followed his lingering trial, and at the speed with which his death was to fulfil the sentence. He asked the bishop, with many expressions of amazement, whether pardon was impossible, whether delay at least might not be obtained. The prelate answered by a faithful narrative of the conversation which had just occurred between Alva and himself. Egmont, thus convinced of his inevitable doom, then observed to his companion, with exquisite courtesy, that, since he was to die, he rendered thanks both to God and to the duke that his last moments were to be consoled by so excellent a father confessor.
Afterwards, with a natural burst of indignation, he exclaimed that it was indeed a cruel and unjust sentence. He protested that he had never in his whole life wronged his Majesty; certainly never so deeply as to deserve such a punishment. All that he had done had been with loyal intentions. The king’s true interest had been his constant aim. Nevertheless, if he had fallen into error, he prayed to God that his death might wipe away his misdeeds, and that his name might not be dishonored, nor his children brought to shame. His beloved wife and innocent children were to endure misery enough by his death and the confiscation of his estates. It was at least due to his long services that they should be spared further suffering. He then asked his father confessor what advice he had to give touching his present conduct. The bishop replied by an exhortation that he should turn himself to God, that he should withdraw his thoughts entirely from all earthly interests and prepare himself for the world beyond the grave. He accepted the advice, and kneeling before the bishop, confessed himself. He then asked to receive the sacrament, which the bishop administered after the customary mass. Egmont asked what prayer would be most appropriate at the hour of execution. His confessor replied that there was none more befitting than the one which Jesus had taught his disciples—Our Father, which art in heaven.
Some conversation ensued, in which the count again expressed his gratitude that his parting soul had been soothed by these pious and friendly offices. By a revulsion of feeling, he then bewailed again the sad fate of his wife and of his young children. The bishop entreated him anew to withdraw his mind from such harrowing reflections, and to give himself entirely to God. Overwhelmed with grief, Egmont exclaimed with natural and simple pathos, “Alas! how miserable and frail is our nature, that, when we should think of God only, we are unable to shut out the images of wife and children.”
Recovering from his emotion, and having yet much time, he sat down and wrote with perfect self-possession two letters, one to Philip and one to Alva. The celebrated letter to the king was as follows:
“Sire, I have learned, this evening, the sentence which your Majesty has been pleased to pronounce upon me. Although I have never had a thought, and believe myself never to have done a deed, which could tend to the prejudice of your Majesty’s person or service, or to the detriment of our true ancient and Catholic religion, nevertheless I take patience to bear that which it has pleased the good God to send. If, during these troubles in the Netherlands, I have done or permitted aught which had a different appearance, it has been with the true and good intent to serve God and your Majesty, and the necessity of the times. Therefore, I pray your Majesty to forgive me, and to have compassion on my poor wife, my children, and my servants; having regard to my past services. In which hope I now commend myself to the mercy of God.
“From Brussels, “Ready to die, this 5th June, 1568, “Your Majesty’s very humble and loyal vassal and servant, “Lamoral d’Egmont.”
Having thus kissed the murderous hand which smote him, he handed the letter, stamped rather with superfluous loyalty than with Christian forgiveness, to the bishop, with a request that he would forward it to its destination, accompanied by a letter from his own hand. This duty the bishop solemnly promised to fulfill.
Facing all the details of his execution with the fortitude which belonged to his character, he now took counsel with his confessor as to the language proper for him to hold from the scaffold to the assembled people. The bishop, however, strongly dissuaded him from addressing the multitude at all. The persons farthest removed, urged the priest, would not hear the words, while the Spanish troops in the immediate vicinity would not understand them. It seemed, therefore, the part of wisdom and of dignity for him to be silent, communing only with his God. The count assented to this reasoning, and abandoned his intention of saying a few farewell words to the people, by many of whom he believed himself tenderly beloved. He now made many preparations for the morrow, in order that his thoughts, in the last moments, might not be distracted by mechanical details, cutting the collar from his doublet and from his shirt with his own hands, in order that those of the hangman might have no excuse for contaminating his person. The rest of the night was passed in prayer and meditation.
Fewer circumstances concerning the last night of Count Horn’s life have been preserved. It is, however, well ascertained that the admiral received the sudden news of his condemnation with absolute composure. He was assisted at his devotional exercises in prison by the curate of La Chapelle.
During the night, the necessary preparations for the morning tragedy had been made in the great square of Brussels. It was the intention of government to strike terror to the heart of the people by the exhibition of an impressive and appalling spectacle. The absolute and irresponsible destiny which ruled them was to be made manifest by the immolation of these two men, so elevated by rank, powerful connection, and distinguished service.
The effect would be heightened by the character of the locality where the gloomy show was to be presented. The great square of Brussels had always a striking and theatrical aspect. Its architectural effects, suggesting in some degree the meretricious union between Oriental and a corrupt Grecian art, accomplished in the medieval midnight, have amazed the eyes of many generations. The splendid Hôtel de Ville, with its daring spire and elaborate front, ornamented one side of the place; directly opposite was the graceful but incoherent façade of the Brood-huis, now the last earthly resting place of the two distinguished victims, while grouped around these principal buildings rose the fantastic palaces of the Archers, Mariners, and of other guilds, with their festooned walls and toppling gables bedizened profusely with emblems, statues, and quaint decorations. The place had been alike the scene of many a brilliant tournament and of many a bloody execution. Gallant knights had contended within its precincts, while bright eyes rained influence from all those picturesque balconies and decorated windows. Martyrs to religious and to political liberty had, upon the same spot, endured agonies which might have roused every stone of its pavement to mutiny or softened them to pity. Here Egmont himself, in happier days, had often borne away the prize of skill or of valor, the cynosure of every eye; and hence, almost in the noon of a life illustrated by many brilliant actions, he was to be sent, by the hand of tyranny, to his great account.
On the morning of the fifth of June, 3,000 Spanish troops were drawn up in battle array around a scaffold which had been erected in the center of the square. Upon this scaffold, which was covered with black cloth, were placed two velvet cushions, two iron spikes, and a small table. Upon the table was a silver crucifix. The provost-marshal, Spelle, sat on horseback below, with his red wand in his hand, little dreaming that for him a darker doom was reserved than that of which he was now the minister. The executioner was concealed beneath the draperies of the scaffold.
At eleven o’clock, a company of Spanish soldiers, led by Julian Romero and Captain Salinas, arrived at Egmont’s chamber. The count was ready for them. They were about to bind his hands, but he warmly protested against the indignity, and, opening the folds of his robe, showed them that he had himself shorn off his collars, and made preparations for his death. His request was granted. Egmont, with the bishop at his side, then walked with a steady step the short distance which separated him from the place of execution. Julian Romero and the guard followed him. On his way, he read aloud the fifty-first Psalm: “Hear my cry, O God, and give ear unto my prayer!” He seemed to have selected these scriptural passages as a proof that, notwithstanding the machinations of his enemies, and the cruel punishment to which they had led him, loyalty to his sovereign was as deeply rooted and as religious a sentiment in his bosom as devotion to his God. “Thou wilt prolong the king’s life; and his years as many generations. He shall abide before God for ever! O prepare mercy and truth which may preserve him.” Such was the remarkable prayer of the condemned traitor on his way to the block.
Having ascended the scaffold, he walked across it twice or thrice. He was dressed in a tabard or robe of red damask, over which was thrown a short black mantle, embroidered in gold. He had a black silk hat, with black and white plumes, on his head, and held a handkerchief in his hand. As he strode to and fro, he expressed a bitter regret that he had not been permitted to die, sword in hand, fighting for his country and his king. Sanguine to the last, he passionately asked Romero, whether the sentence was really irrevocable, whether a pardon was not even then to be granted. The marshal shrugged his shoulders, murmuring a negative reply. Upon this, Egmont gnashed his teeth together, rather in rage than despair. Shortly afterward commanding himself again, he threw aside his robe and mantle, and took the badge of the Golden Fleece from his neck. Kneeling, then, upon one of the cushions, he said the Lord’s Prayer aloud, and requested the bishop, who knelt at his side, to repeat it thrice. After this, the prelate gave him the silver crucifix to kiss, and then pronounced his blessing upon him. This done, the count rose again to his feet, laid aside his hat and handkerchief, knelt again upon the cushion, drew a little cap over his eyes, and, folding his hands together, cried with a loud voice, “Lord, into Thy hands I commit my spirit.” The executioner then suddenly appeared, and severed his head from his shoulders at a single blow.
A moment of shuddering silence succeeded the stroke. The whole vast assembly seemed to have felt it in their own hearts. Tears fell from the eyes even of the Spanish soldiery, for they knew and honored Egmont as a valiant general. The French ambassador, Mondoucet, looking upon the scene from a secret place, whispered that he had now seen the head fall before which France had twice trembled. Tears were even seen upon the iron cheek of Alva, as, from a window in a house directly opposite the scaffold, he looked out upon the scene.
A dark cloth was now quickly thrown over the body and the blood, and, within a few minutes, the admiral was seen advancing through the crowd. His bald head was uncovered, his hands were unbound. He calmly saluted such of his acquaintances as he chanced to recognize upon his path. Under a black cloak, which he threw off when he had ascended the scaffold, he wore a plain, dark doublet, and he did not, like Egmont, wear the insignia of the Fleece. Casting his eyes upon the corpse, which lay covered with the dark cloth, he asked if it were the body of Egmont. Being answered in the affirmative, he muttered a few words in Spanish, which were not distinctly audible. His attention was next caught by the sight of his own coat of arms reversed, and he expressed anger at this indignity to his escutcheon, protesting that he had not deserved the insult. He then spoke a few words to the crowd below, wishing them happiness, and begging them to pray for his soul. He did not kiss the crucifix, but he knelt upon the scaffold to pray, and was assisted in his devotions by the Bishop of Ypres. When they were concluded, he rose again to his feet. Then drawing a Milan cap completely over his face, and uttering, in Latin, the same invocation which Egmont had used, he submitted his neck to the stroke.
Egmont had obtained, as a last favor, that his execution should precede that of his friend. Deeming himself in part to blame for Horn’s reappearance in Brussels after the arrival of Alva, and for his death, which was the result, he wished to be spared the pang of seeing him dead. Gemma Frisius, the astrologer who had cast the horoscope of Count Horn at his birth, had come to him in the most solemn manner to warn him against visiting Brussels. The count had answered stoutly that he placed his trust in God, and that, moreover, his friend Egmont was going thither also, who had engaged that no worse fate should befall the one of them than the other.
The heads of both sufferers were now exposed for two hours upon the iron stakes. Their bodies, placed in coffins, remained during the same interval upon the scaffold. Meantime, notwithstanding the presence of the troops, the populace could not be restrained from tears and from execrations. Many crowded about the scaffold, and dipped their handkerchiefs in the blood, to be preserved afterwards as memorials of the crime and as ensigns of revenge.
The bodies were afterwards delivered to their friends. A stately procession of the guilds, accompanied by many of the clergy, conveyed their coffins to the church of Saint Gudule. Thence the body of Egmont was carried to the convent of Saint Clara, near the old Brussels gate, where it was embalmed. His escutcheon and banners were hung upon the outward wall of his residence, by order of the countess. By command of Alva they were immediately torn down. His remains were afterwards conveyed to his city of Sottegem, in Flanders, where they were interred. Count Horn was entombed at Kempen. The bodies had been removed from the scaffold at two o’clock. The heads remained exposed between burning torches for two hours longer. They were then taken down, enclosed in boxes, and, as it was generally supposed, dispatched to Madrid. The King was thus enabled to look upon the dead faces of his victims without the trouble of a journey to the provinces.
Thus died Philip Montmorency, Count of Horn, and Lamoral of Egmont, Prince of Gaveren. The more intense sympathy which seemed to attach itself to the fate of Egmont, rendered the misfortune of his companion in arms and in death comparatively less interesting.
Egmont is a great historical figure, but he was certainly not a great man. His execution remains an enduring monument not only of Philip’s cruelty and perfidy but of his dullness. The king had everything to hope from Egmont and nothing to fear. Granvelle knew the man well, and, almost to the last, could not believe in the possibility of so unparalleled a blunder as that which was to make a victim, a martyr, and a popular idol of a personage brave indeed, but incredibly vacillating and inordinately vain, who, by a little management, might have been converted into a most useful instrument for the royal purposes.
It is not necessary to recapitulate the events of Egmont’s career. Step by step we have studied his course, and at no single period have we discovered even a germ of those elements which make the national champion. His pride of order rendered him furious at the insolence of Granvelle, and caused him to chafe under his dominion. His vanity of high rank and of distinguished military service made him covet the highest place under the Crown, while his hatred of those by whom he considered himself defrauded of his claims, converted him into a malcontent. He had no sympathy with the people, but he loved, as a grand Seignior, to be looked up to and admired by a gaping crowd. He was an unwavering Catholic, held sectaries in utter loathing, and, after the image-breaking, took a positive pleasure in hanging ministers, together with their congregations, and in pressing the besieged Christians of Valenciennes to extremities. Upon more than one occasion he pronounced his unequivocal approval of the infamous edicts, and he exerted himself at times to enforce them within his province. The transitory impression made upon his mind by the lofty nature of Orange was easily effaced in Spain by court flattery and by royal bribes. Notwithstanding the coldness, the rebuffs, and the repeated warnings which might have saved him from destruction, nothing could turn him at last from the fanatic loyalty towards which, after much wavering, his mind irrevocably pointed. His voluntary humiliation as a general, a grandee, a Fleming, and a Christian before the insolent Alva upon his first arrival, would move our contempt were it not for the gentler emotions suggested by the infatuated nobleman’s doom. Upon the departure of Orange, Egmont was only too eager to be employed by Philip in any work which the monarch could find for him to do. Yet this was the man whom Philip chose, through the executioner’s sword, to convert into a popular idol, and whom Poetry has loved to contemplate as a romantic champion of freedom.
As for Horn, details enough have likewise been given of his career to enable the reader thoroughly to understand the man. He was a person of mediocre abilities and thoroughly commonplace character. His high rank and his tragic fate are all which make him interesting. He had little love for court or people. Broken in fortunes, he passed his time mainly in brooding over the ingratitude of Charles and Philip, and in complaining bitterly of the disappointments to which their policy had doomed hm. He cared nothing for Cardinalists or confederates. He disliked Brederode, he detested Granvelle. Gloomy and morose, he went to bed, while the men who were called his fellow conspirators were dining and making merry in the same house with himself. He had as little sympathy with the cry of “Vivent les gueux” as for that of “Vive le Roy.” The most interesting features in his character are his generosity toward his absent brother and the manliness with which, as Montigny’s representative at Tournay, he chose rather to confront the anger of the government, and to incur the deadly revenge of Philip, than make himself the executioner of the harmless Christians in Tournay. In this regard, his conduct is vastly more entitled to our respect than that of Egmont, and he was certainly more deserving of reverence from the people, even though deserted by all men while living, and left headless and solitary in his coffin at Saint Gudule.
The hatred for Alva, which sprang from the graves of these illustrious victims, waxed daily more intense. “Like things of another world,” wrote Hoogstraaten, “seem the cries, lamentations, and just compassion which all the inhabitants of Brussels, noble or ignoble, feel for such barbarous tyranny, while this Nero of an Alva is boasting that he will do the same to all whom he lays his hands upon.” No man believed that the two nobles had committed a crime, and many were even disposed to acquit Philip of his share in the judicial murder. The people ascribed the execution solely to the personal jealousy of the duke. They discoursed to each other not only of the envy with which the governor-general had always regarded the military triumphs of his rival, but related that Egmont had at different times won large sums of Alva at games of hazard, and that he had moreover, on several occasions, carried off the prize from the duke in shooting at the popinjay. Nevertheless, in spite of all these absurd rumors, there is no doubt that Philip and Alva must share equally in the guilt of the transaction, and that the “chastisement” had been arranged before Alva had departed from Spain.
The Countess Egmont remained at the convent of Cambre with her eleven children, plunged in misery and in poverty. The duke wrote to Philip that he doubted if there were so wretched a family in the world. He, at the same time, congratulated his sovereign on the certainty that the more intense the effects, the more fruitful would be the example of this great execution. He stated that the countess was considered a most saintly woman, and that there had been scarcely a night in which, attended by her daughters, she had not gone forth barefooted to offer up prayers for her husband in every church within the city. He added that it was doubtful whether they had money enough to buy themselves a supper that very night, and he begged the king to allow them the means of supporting life. He advised that the countess should be placed, without delay in a Spanish convent, where her daughters might at once take the vail, assuring his Majesty that her dower was entirely inadequate to her support. Thus humanely recommending his sovereign to bestow an alms on the family which his own hand had reduced from a princely station to beggary, the viceroy proceeded to detail the recent events in Friesland, together with the measures which he was about taking to avenge the defeat and death of Count Aremberg.
Alva Defeats Louis of Nassau
Those measures were taken with the precision and promptness which marked the duke’s character, when precision and promptness were desirable. There had been a terrible energy in his every step, since the successful foray of Louis Nassau. Having determined to take the field in person with nearly all the Spanish veterans, he had at once acted upon the necessity of making the capital secure, after his back should be turned. It was impossible to leave 3,000 choice troops to guard Count Egmont. A less number seemed insufficient to prevent a rescue. He had, therefore, no longer delayed the chastisement which had already been determined, but which the events in the North had precipitated. Thus the only positive result of Louis Nassau’s victory was the execution of his imprisoned friends.
The expedition under Aremberg had failed from two causes. The Spanish force had been inadequate, and they had attacked the enemy at a disadvantage. The imprudent attack was the result of the contempt with which they had regarded their antagonist. These errors were not to be repeated. Alva ordered Count Meghen, now commanding in the province of Gröningen, on no account to hazard hostilities until the game was sure. He also immediately ordered large reinforcements to move forward to the seat of war. The commanders entrusted with this duty were Duke Eric of Brunswick, Chiappin Vitelli, Noircarmes, and Count de Roeulx. The rendezvous for the whole force was Deventer, and here they all arrived on the 10th of July. On the same day the Duke of Alva himself entered Deventer, to take command in person. On the evening of the 14th of July, he reached Rolden, a village three leagues distant from Gröningen, at the head of three terzios of Spanish infantry, three companies of light horse, and a troop of dragoons. His whole force in and about Gröningen amounted to 15,000 choice troops besides a large but uncertain number of less disciplined soldiery.
Meantime, Louis of Nassau, since his victory, had accomplished nothing. For this inactivity there was one sufficient excuse, the total want of funds. His only revenue was the amount of blackmail which he was able to levy upon the inhabitants of the province. He repeated his determination to treat them all as enemies, unless they furnished him with the means of expelling their tyrants from the country.
He obtained small sums in this manner from time to time. The inhabitants were favorably disposed, but they were timid and despairing. They saw no clear way towards the accomplishment of the result concerning which Louis was so confident. They knew that the terrible Alva was already on his way. They felt sure of being pillaged by both parties, and of being hanged as rebels, besides, as soon as the governor-general should make his appearance.
Louis had, however, issued two formal proclamations for two especial contributions. In these documents he had succinctly explained that the houses of all recusants should be forthwith burned about their ears, and in consequence of these peremptory measures, he had obtained some 10,000 florins. Alva ordered counter-proclamations to be affixed to church doors and other places, forbidding all persons to contribute to these forced loans of the rebels, on penalty of paying twice as much to the Spaniards, with arbitrary punishment in addition, after his arrival. The miserable inhabitants, thus placed between two fires, had nothing for it but to pay one half of their property to support the rebellion in the first place, with the prospect of giving the other half as a subsidy to tyranny afterwards; while the gibbet stood at the end of the vista to reward their liberality. Such was the horrible position of the peasantry in this civil conflict. The weight of guilt thus accumulated upon the crowned head which conceived, and upon the red right hand which wrought all this misery, what human scales can measure?
With these precarious means of support, the army of Louis of Nassau, as may easily be supposed, was anything but docile. After the victory of Heiliger-Lee there had seemed to his German mercenaries a probability of extensive booty, which grew fainter as the slender fruit of that battle became daily more apparent. The two abbots of Wittewerum and of Heiliger-Lee, who had followed Aremberg’s train in order to be witnesses of his victory, had been obliged to pay to the actual conqueror a heavy price for the entertainment to which they had invited themselves, and these sums, together with the amounts pressed from the reluctant estates, and the forced contributions paid by luckless peasants, enabled him to keep his straggling troops together a few weeks longer. Mutiny, however, was constantly breaking out, and by the eloquent expostulations and vague promises of the count, was with difficulty suppressed.
He had, for a few weeks immediately succeeding the battle, distributed his troops in three different stations. On the approach of the duke, however, he hastily concentrated his whole force at his own strongly fortified camp, within half cannon-shot of Gröningen. His army, such as it was, numbered from 10,000 to 12,000 men. Alva reached Gröningen early in the morning, and without pausing a moment, marched his troops directly through the city. He then immediately occupied an entrenched and fortified house, from which it was easy to inflict damage upon the camp. This done, the duke, with a few attendants, rode forward to reconnoiter the enemy in person. He found him in a well fortified position, having the river on his front, which served as a moat to his camp, and with a deep trench three hundred yards beyond, in addition. Two wooden bridges led across the river; each was commanded by a fortified house, in which was a provision of pine torches, ready at a moment’s warning, to set fire to the bridges. Having thus satisfied himself, the duke rode back to his army, which had received strict orders not to lift a finger till his return. He then dispatched a small force of five hundred musketeers, under Robles, to skirmish with the enemy, and, if possible, to draw them from their trenches.
The troops of Louis, however, showed no greediness to engage. On the contrary, it soon became evident that their dispositions were of an opposite tendency. The count himself, not at that moment trusting his soldiery, who were in an extremely mutinous condition, was desirous of falling back before his formidable antagonist. The duke, faithful, however, to his life-long principles, had no intentions of precipitating the action in those difficult and swampy regions. The skirmishing, therefore, continued for many hours, an additional force of 1,000 men being detailed from the Spanish army. The day was very sultry, however, the enemy reluctant, and the whole action languid. At last, towards evening, a large body, tempted beyond their trenches, engaged warmly with the Spaniards. The combat lasted but a few minutes, the patriots were soon routed, and fled precipitately back to their camp. The panic spread with them, and the whole army was soon in retreat. On retiring, they had, however, set fire to the bridges, and thus secured an advantage at the outset of the chase. The Spaniards were no longer to be held. Vitelli obtained permission to follow with 2,000 additional troops. The 1,500 who had already been engaged, charged furiously upon their retreating foes. Some dashed across the blazing bridges, with their garments and their very beards on fire. Others sprang into the river. Neither fire nor water could check the fierce pursuit. The cavalry, dismounting, drove their horses into the stream, and clinging to their tails, pricked the horses forward with their lances. Having thus been dragged across, they joined their comrades in the mad chase along the narrow dykes, and through the swampy and almost impassable country where the rebels were seeking shelter.
The approach of night, too soon advancing, at last put an end to the hunt. The duke with difficulty recalled his men, and compelled them to restrain their eagerness until the morrow. Three hundred of the patriots were left dead upon the field, besides at least an equal number who perished in the river and canals. The army of Louis was entirely routed, and the duke considered it virtually destroyed. He wrote to the state council that he should pursue them the next day, but doubted whether he should find anybody to talk with him. In this the governor-general soon found himself delightfully disappointed.
Five days later, the duke arrived at Reyden, on the Ems. Owing to the unfavorable disposition of the country people, who were willing to protect the fugitives by false information to their pursuers, he was still in doubt as to the position then occupied by the enemy. He had been fearful that they would be found at this very village of Reyden. It was a fatal error on the part of Count Louis that they were not. Had he made a stand at this point, he might have held out a long time. The bridge which here crossed the river would have afforded him a retreat into Germany at any moment, and the place was easily to be defended in front. Thus he might have maintained himself against his fierce but wary foe, while his brother Orange, who was at Strasburg watching the progress of events, was executing his own long-planned expedition into the heart of the Netherlands. With Alva thus occupied in Friesland, the results of such an invasion might have been prodigious. It was, however, not on the cards for that campaign. The mutinous disposition of the mercenaries under his command had filled Louis with doubt and disgust. Bold and sanguine, but always too fiery and impatient, he saw not much possibility of paying his troops any longer with promises. Perhaps he was not unwilling to place them in a position where they would be obliged to fight or to perish. At any rate, such was their present situation. Instead of halting at Reyden, he had made his stand at Jemmingen, about four leagues distant from that place, and a little further down the river. Alva discovered this important fact soon after his arrival at Reyden, and could not conceal his delight. Already exulting at the error made by his adversary, in neglecting the important position which he now occupied himself, he was doubly delighted at learning the nature of the place which he had in preference selected. He saw that Louis had completely entrapped himself.
Jemmingen was a small town on the left bank of the Ems. The stream, here very broad and deep, is rather a tide inlet than a river, being but a very few miles from the Dollart. This circular bay, or ocean chasm, the result of the violent inundation of the 13th century, surrounds, with the river, a narrow peninsula. In the corner of this peninsula, as in the bottom of a sack, Louis had posted his army. His infantry, as usual, was drawn up in two large squares, and still contained 10,000 men. The rear rested upon the village, the river was upon his left; his meager force of cavalry upon the right. In front were two very deep trenches. The narrow road, which formed the only entrance to his camp, was guarded by a ravelin on each side, and by five pieces of artillery.
The duke having reconnoitered the enemy in person, rode back, satisfied that no escape was possible. The river was too deep and too wide for swimming or wading, and there were but very few boats. Louis was shut up between twelve thousand Spanish veterans and the River Ems. The rebel army, although not insufficient in point of numbers, was in a state of disorganization. They were furious for money and reluctant to fight. They broke out into open mutiny upon the very verge of battle, and swore that they would instantly disband, if the gold, which, as they believed, had been recently brought into the camp, were not immediately distributed among them. Such was the state of things on the eventful morning of the 21st of July. All the expostulations of Count Louis seemed powerless. His eloquence and his patience, both inferior to his valor, were soon exhausted. He peremptorily refused the money for which they clamored, giving the most cogent of all reasons, an empty coffer. He demonstrated plainly that they were in that moment to make their election, whether to win a victory or to submit to a massacre. Neither flight nor surrender was possible. They knew how much quarter they could expect from the lances of the Spaniards or the waters of the Dollart. Their only chance of salvation lay in their own swords. The instinct of self-preservation, thus invoked, exerted a little of its natural effect.
Meantime, a work which had been too long neglected, was then, if possible, to be performed. In that watery territory, the sea was only held in check by artificial means. In a very short time, by the demolition of a few dykes and the opening of a few sluices, the whole country through which the Spaniards had to pass could be laid under water. Believing it yet possible to enlist the ocean in his defense, Louis, having partially reduced his soldiers to obedience, ordered a strong detachment upon this important service. Seizing a spade, he commenced the work himself, and then returned to set his army in battle array. Two or three tide gates had been opened, two or three bridges had been demolished, when Alva, riding in advance of his army, appeared within a mile or two of Jemmingen. It was then eight o’clock in the morning. The patriots redoubled their efforts. By ten o’clock the waters were already knee high, and in some places as deep as to the waist. At that hour, the advanced guard of the Spaniards arrived. Fifteen hundred musketeers were immediately ordered forward by the duke. They were preceded by a company of mounted carabineers, attended by a small band of volunteers of distinction. This little band threw themselves at once upon the troops engaged in destroying the dykes. The rebels fled at the first onset, and the Spaniards closed the gates. Feeling the full importance of the moment, Count Louis ordered a large force of musketeers to recover the position, and to complete the work of inundation. It was too late. The little band of Spaniards held the post with consummate tenacity. Charge after charge, volley after volley, from the overwhelming force brought against them failed to loosen the fierce grip with which they held this key to the whole situation. Before they could be driven from the dykes, their comrades arrived, when all their antagonists at once made a hurried retreat to their camp.
Very much the same tactics were now employed by the duke, as in the engagement near Selwaert Abbey. He was resolved that this affair, also, should be a hunt, not a battle, but foresaw that it was to be a more successful one. There was no loophole of escape, so that after a little successful baiting, the imprisoned victims would be forced to spring from their lurking-place, to perish upon his spears. On his march from Reyden that morning, he had taken care to occupy every farmhouse, every building of whatever description along the road, with his troops. He had left a strong guard on the bridge at Reyden, and had thus closed carefully every avenue. The same 1,500 musketeers were now advanced further towards the camp. This small force, powerfully but secretly sustained, was to feel the enemy, to skirmish with him, and to draw him as soon as possible out of his trenches. The plan succeeded. Gradually the engagements between them and the troops sent out by Count Louis grew more earnest. Finding so insignificant a force opposed to them, the mutinous rebels took courage. The work waxed hot. Lodroño and Romero, commanders of the musketeers, becoming alarmed, sent to the duke for reinforcements. He sent back word in reply, that if they were not enough to damage the enemy, they could, at least, hold their own for the present. So much he had a right to expect of Spanish soldiers. At any rate, he should send no reinforcements. Again they were more warmly pressed, again their messenger returned with the same reply. A third time they sent the most urgent entreaties for succor. The Duke was still inexorable.
Meantime, the result of this scientific angling approached. By noon, the rebels, not being able to see how large a portion of the Spanish army had arrived, began to think the affair not so serious. Count Louis sent out a reconnoitering party upon the river in a few boats. They returned without having been able to discover any large force. It seemed probable, therefore, that the inundation had been more successful in stopping their advance than had been supposed. Louis, always too rash, inflamed his men with temporary enthusiasm. Determined to cut their way out by one vigorous movement, the whole army at last marched forth from their entrenchments, with drums beating, colors flying; but already the concealed reinforcements of their enemies were on the spot. The patriots met with a warmer reception than they had expected. Their courage evaporated. Hardly had they advanced three hundred yards, when the whole body wavered and then retreated precipitately towards the encampment, having scarcely exchanged a shot with the enemy.
Count Louis, in a frenzy of rage and despair, flew from rank to rank, in vain endeavoring to rally his terror-stricken troops. It was hopeless. The battery which guarded the road was entirely deserted. He rushed to the cannon himself, and fired them all with his own hand. It was their first and last discharge. His single arm, however bold, could not turn the tide of battle, and he was swept backwards with his coward troops. In a moment afterwards, Don Lope de Figueroa, who led the van of the Spaniards, dashed upon the battery, and secured it, together with the ravelins. Their own artillery was turned against the rebels, and the road was soon swept.
The Spaniards in large numbers now rushed through the trenches in pursuit of the retreating foe. No resistance was offered, nor quarter given. An impossible escape was all which was attempted. It was not a battle, but a massacre. Many of the beggars in their flight threw down their arms; all had forgotten their use. Their antagonists butchered them in droves, while those who escaped the sword were hurled into the river. Seven Spaniards were killed, and seven thousand rebels. The swift ebb-tide swept the hats of the perishing wretches in such numbers down the stream, that the people at Embden knew the result of the battle in an incredibly short period of time. The skirmishing had lasted from ten o’clock till one, but the butchery continued much longer. It took time to slaughter even unresisting victims. Large numbers obtained refuge for the night upon an island in the river. At low water next day the Spaniards waded to them, and slew every man. Many found concealment in hovels, swamps, and thickets, so that the whole of the following day was occupied in ferreting out and dispatching them. There was so much to be done, that there was work enough for all. “Not a soldier,” says, with great simplicity, a Spanish historian who fought in the battle, “not a soldier, nor even a lad, who wished to share in the victory, but could find somebody to wound, to kill, to burn, or to drown.” The wounding, killing, burning, drowning lasted two days, and very few escaped. The landward pursuit extended for three or four leagues around, so that the roads and pastures were covered with bodies, with corslets, and other weapons. Count Louis himself stripped off his clothes, and made his escape, when all was over, by swimming across the Ems. With the paltry remnant of his troops he again took refuge in Germany.
The Spanish army, two days afterwards, marched back to Gröningen. The page which records their victorious campaign is foul with outrage and red with blood. None of the horrors which accompany the passage of hostile troops through a defenseless country were omitted. Maids and matrons were ravished in multitudes, old men butchered in cold blood. As Alva returned, with the rear-guard of his army, the whole sky was red with a constant conflagration; the very earth seemed changed to ashes. Every peasant’s hovel, every farmhouse, every village upon the road had been burned to the ground. So gross and so extensive had been the outrage, that the commander-in-chief felt it due to his dignity to hang some of his own soldiers who had most distinguished themselves in this work. Thus ended the campaign of Count Louis in Friesland. Thus signally and terribly had the Duke of Alva vindicated the supremacy of Spanish discipline and of his own military skill.
On his return to Gröningen, the estates were summoned, and received a severe lecture for their suspicious demeanor in regard to the rebellion. In order more effectually to control both province and city, the governor-general ordered the construction of a strong fortress, which was soon begun but never completed. Having thus furnished himself with a key to this important and doubtful region, he returned by way of Amsterdam to Utrecht. There he was met by his son Frederic with strong reinforcements. The duke reviewed his whole army, and found himself at the head of 30,000 infantry and 7,000 cavalry. Having fully subdued the province, he had no occupation for such a force, but he improved the opportunity by cutting off the head of an old woman in Utrecht. The Vrow van Diemen, eighteen months previously, had given the preacher Arendsoon a night’s lodging in her house. The crime had, in fact, been committed by her son-in-law, who dwelt under her roof, and who had himself, without her participation, extended this dangerous hospitality to a heretic; but the old lady, although a devout Catholic, was rich. Her execution would strike a wholesome terror into the hearts of her neighbors. The confiscation of her estates would bring a handsome sum into the government coffers. It would be made manifest that the same hand which could destroy an army of 12,000 rebels at a blow could inflict as signal punishment on the small delinquencies of obscure individuals. The old lady, who was past eighty-four years of age, was placed in a chair upon the scaffold. She met her death with heroism, and treated her murderers with contempt. “I understand very well,” she observed, “why my death is considered necessary. The calf is fat and must be killed.” To the executioner she expressed a hope that his sword was sufficiently sharp, “as he was likely to find her old neck very tough.” With this grisly parody upon the pathetic dying words of Anne Boleyn, the courageous old gentlewoman submitted to her fate.
The tragedy of Don Carlos does not strictly belong to our subject, which is the rise of the Netherland commonwealth—not the decline of the Spanish monarchy, nor the life of Philip II. The thread is but slender which connects the unhappy young prince with the fortunes of the northern republic. He was said, no doubt with truth, to desire the government of Flanders. He was also supposed to be in secret correspondence with the leaders of the revolt in the provinces. He appeared, however, to possess very little of their confidence. His name is only once mentioned by William of Orange, who said in a letter that “the Prince of Spain had lately eaten sixteen pounds of fruit, including four pounds of grapes at a single sitting, and had become ill in consequence.” The result was sufficiently natural, but it nowhere appears that the royal youth, born to consume the fruits of the earth so largely, had ever given the Netherlanders any other proof of his capacity to govern them. There is no doubt that he was a most uncomfortable personage at home, both to himself and to others, and that he hated his father very cordially. He was extremely incensed at the nomination of Alva to the Netherlands, because he had hoped that either the king would go thither or entrust the mission to him, in either of which events he should be rid for a time of the paternal authority, or at least of the paternal presence. It seems to be well ascertained that Carlos nourished towards his father a hatred which might lead to criminal attempts, but there is no proof that such attempts were ever made. As to the fabulous amours of the prince and the queen, they had never any existence save in the imagination of poets, who have chosen to find a source of sentimental sorrow for the Infante in the arbitrary substitution of his father for himself in the marriage contract with the daughter of Henry II. As Carlos was but twelve or thirteen years of age when thus deprived of a bride whom he had never seen, the foundation for a passionate regret was but slight. It would hardly be a more absurd fantasy, had the poets chosen to represent Philip’s father, the Emperor Charles, repining in his dotage for the loss of “bloody Mary,” whom he had so handsomely ceded to his son. Philip took a bad old woman to relieve his father; he took a fair young princess at his son’s expense; but similar changes in state marriages were such matters of course, that no emotions were likely to be created in consequence. There is no proof whatever, nor any reason to surmise, that any love passages ever existed between Don Carlos and his stepmother.
As to the process and the death of the prince, the mystery has not yet been removed, and the field is still open to conjecture. It seems a thankless task to grope in the dark after the truth at a variety of sources, when the truth really exists in tangible shape if profane hands could be laid upon it. The secret is buried in the bosom of the Vatican. Philip wrote two letters on the subject to Pius V. The contents of the first (January 21, 1568) are known. He informed the pontiff that he had been obliged to imprison his son, and promised that he would, in the conduct of the affair, omit nothing which could be expected of a father and of a just and prudent king. The second letter, in which he narrated, or is supposed to have narrated, the whole course of the tragic proceedings, down to the death and burial of the prince, has never yet been made public. There are hopes that this secret missive, after three centuries of darkness, may soon see the light.
As Philip generally told the truth to the pope, it is probable that the secret, when once revealed, will contain the veritable solution of the mystery. Till that moment arrives, it seems idle to attempt fathoming the matter. Nevertheless, it may be well briefly to state the case as it stands. As against the king, it rests upon no impregnable, but certainly upon respectable authority. The Prince of Orange, in his famous Apology, calls Philip the murderer of his wife and of his son, and says that there was proof of the facts in France. He alludes to the violent death of Carlos almost as if it were an indisputable truth. “As for Don Charles,” he says, “was he not our future sovereign? And if the father could allege against his son fit cause for death, was it not rather for us to judge him than for three or four monks or inquisitors of Spain?”
The historian, P. Matthieu, relates that Philip assembled his council of conscience; that they recommended mercy; that hereupon Philip gave the matter to the inquisition, by which tribunal Carlos was declared a heretic on account of his connection with Protestants, and for his attempt against his father’s life was condemned to death, and that the sentence was executed by four slaves, two holding the arms, one the feet, while the fourth strangled him.
De Thou gives the following account of the transaction, having derived many of his details from the oral communications of Louis de Foix:
Philip imagined that his son was about to escape from Spain, and to make his way to the Netherlands. The King also believed himself in danger of assassination from Carlos, his chief evidence being that the prince always carried pistols in the pockets of his loose breeches. As Carlos wished always to be alone at night without any domestic in his chamber, de Foix had arranged for him a set of pulleys, by means of which he could open or shut his door without rising from his bed. He always slept with two pistols and two drawn swords under his pillow, and had two loaded arquebuses in a wardrobe close at hand. These remarkable precautions would seem rather to indicate a profound fear of being himself assassinated; but they were nevertheless supposed to justify Philip’s suspicions, that the Infante was meditating parricide. On Christmas eve, however (1567), Don Carlos told his confessor that he had determined to kill a man. The priest, in consequence, refused to admit him to the communion. The prince demanded, at least, a wafer which was not consecrated, in order that he might seem to the people to be participating in the sacrament. The confessor declined the proposal, and immediately repairing to the King, narrated the whole story. Philip exclaimed that he was himself the man whom the prince intended to kill, but that measures should be forthwith taken to prevent such a design. The monarch then consulted the Holy Office of the inquisition, and the resolution was taken to arrest his son. De Foix was compelled to alter the pulleys of the door to the prince’s chamber in such a manner that it could be opened without the usual noise, which was almost sure to awaken him. At midnight, accordingly, Count Lerma entered the room so stealthily that the arms were all removed from the prince’s pillow and the wardrobe, without awakening the sleeper. Philip, Roy Gomez, the Duke de Feria, and two other nobles, then noiselessly crept into the apartment. Carlos still slept so profoundly that it was necessary for Lerma to shake him violently by the arm before he could be aroused. Starting from his sleep in the dead of night, and seeing his father thus accompanied, before his bed, the prince cried out that he was a dead man, and earnestly besought the bystanders to make an end of him at once. Philip assured him, however, that he was not come to kill him, but to chastise him paternally, and to recall him to his duty. He then read him a serious lecture, caused him to rise from his bed, took away his servants, and placed him under guard. He was made to array himself in mourning habiliments, and to sleep on a truckle bed. The Prince was in despair. He soon made various attempts upon his own life. He threw himself into the fire, but was rescued by his guards, with his clothes all in flames. He passed several days without taking any food, and then ate so many patties of minced meat that he nearly died of indigestion. He was also said to have attempted to choke himself with a diamond, and to have been prevented by his guard; to have filled his bed with ice; to have sat in cold draughts; to have gone eleven days without food, the last method being, as one would think, sufficiently thorough. Philip, therefore, seeing his son thus desperate, consulted once more with the Holy Office, and came to the decision that it was better to condemn him legitimately to death than to permit him to die by his own hand. In order, however, to save appearances, the order was secretly carried into execution. Don Carlos was made to swallow poison in a bowl of broth, of which he died in a few hours. This was at the commencement of his twenty-third year. The death was concealed for several months, and was not made public till after Alva’s victory at Jemmingen.
Such was the account drawn up by de Thou from the oral communications of de Foix, and from other sources not indicated. Certainly, such a narrative is far from being entitled to implicit credence. The historian was a contemporary, but he was not in Spain, and the engineer’s testimony is, of course, not entitled to much consideration on the subject of the process and the execution (if there were an execution), although conclusive as to matters which had been within his personal knowledge. For the rest, all that it can be said to establish is the existence of the general rumor, that Carlos came to his death by foul means and in consequence of advice given by the inquisition.
On the other hand, in all the letters written at the period by persons in Madrid most likely, from their position, to know the truth, not a syllable has been found in confirmation of the violent death said to have been suffered by Carlos. Secretary Erasso, the papal nuncio Castagna, the Venetian envoy Cavalli, all express a conviction that the death of the prince had been brought about by his own extravagant conduct and mental excitement—by alternations of starving and voracious eating, by throwing himself into the fire, by icing his bed, and by similar acts of desperation. Nearly every writer alludes to the incident of the refusal of the priest to admit Carlos to communion, upon the ground of his confessed deadly hatred to an individual whom all supposed to be the king. It was also universally believed that Carlos meant to kill his father. The nuncio asked Spinosa (then President of Castile) if this report were true. “If nothing more were to be feared,” answered the priest, “the King would protect himself by other measures, but the matter was worse, if worse could be.” The king, however, summoned all the foreign diplomatic body and assured them that the story was false. After his arrest, the prince, according to Castagna, attempted various means of suicide, abstaining, at last, many days from food, and dying in consequence, “discoursing, upon his deathbed, gravely and like a man of sense.”
The historian Cabrera, official panegyrist of Philip II, speaks of the death of Carlos as a natural one, but leaves a dark kind of mystery about the symptoms of his disease. He states that the prince was tried and condemned by a commission or junta, consisting of Spinosa, Ruy Gomez, and the Licentiate Virviesca, but that he was carried off by an illness, the nature of which he does not describe.
Llorente found nothing in the records of the Inquisition to prove that the Holy Office had ever condemned the prince or instituted any process against him. He states that he was condemned by a commission, but that he died of a sickness which supervened. It must be confessed that the illness was a convenient one, and that such diseases are very apt to attack individuals whom tyrants are disposed to remove from their path, while desirous, at the same time, to save appearances.
It would certainly be presumptuous to accept implicitly the narrative of de Thou, which is literally followed by Hoofd, and by many modern writers. On the other hand, it would be an exaggeration of historical skepticism to absolve Philip from the murder of his son, solely upon negative testimony. The people about court did not believe in the crime. They saw no proofs of it. Of course they saw none. Philip would take good care that there should be none if he had made up his mind that the death of the prince should be considered a natural one. An à priori argument, which omits the character of the suspected culprit, and the extraordinary circumstances of time and place, is not satisfactory. Philip thoroughly understood the business of secret midnight murder. We shall soon have occasion to relate the elaborate and ingenious method by which the assassination of Montigny was accomplished and kept a profound secret from the whole world, until the letters of the royal assassin, after three centuries’ repose, were exhumed, and the foul mystery revealed. Philip was capable of any crime. Moreover, in his letter to his aunt, Queen Catharine of Portugal, he distinctly declares himself, like Abraham, prepared to go all lengths in obedience to the Lord. “I have chosen in this matter,” he said, “to make the sacrifice to God of my own flesh and blood, and to prefer His service and the universal welfare to all other human considerations.” Whenever the letter to Pius V sees the light, it will appear whether the sacrifice which the monarch thus made to his God proceeded beyond the imprisonment and condemnation of his son, or was completed by the actual immolation of the victim.
With regard to the prince himself, it is very certain that, if he had lived, the realms of the Spanish Crown would have numbered one tyrant more. Carlos, from his earliest youth, was remarkable for the ferocity of his character. The Emperor Charles was highly pleased with him, then about fourteen years of age, upon their first interview after the abdication. He flattered himself that the lad had inherited his own martial genius together with his name. Carlos took much interest in his grandfather’s account of his various battles, but when the flight from Innspruck was narrated, he repeated many times, with much vehemence, that he never would have fled; to which position he adhered, notwithstanding all the arguments of the Emperor, and very much to his amusement. The young prince was always fond of soldiers, and listened eagerly to discourses of war. He was in the habit also of recording the names of any military persons who, according to custom, frequently made offers of their services to the heir apparent, and of causing them to take a solemn oath to keep their engagements. No other indications of warlike talent, however, have been preserved concerning him. “He was crafty, ambitious, cruel, violent,” says the envoy Suriano, “a hater of buffoons, a lover of soldiers.” His natural cruelty seems to have been remarkable from his boyhood. After his return from the chase, he was in the habit of cutting the throats of hares and other animals, and of amusing himself with their dying convulsions. He also frequently took pleasure in roasting them alive. He once received a present of a very large snake from some person who seemed to understand how to please this remarkable young prince. After a time, however, the favorite reptile allowed itself to bite its master’s finger, whereupon Don Carlos immediately retaliated by biting off its head.
He was excessively angry at the suggestion that the prince who was expected to spring from his father’s marriage with the English queen, would one day reign over the Netherlands, and swore he would challenge him to mortal combat in order to prevent such an infringement of his rights. His father and grandfather were both highly diverted with this manifestation of spirit, but it was not decreed that the world should witness the execution of these fraternal intentions against the babe which was never to be born.
Ferocity, in short, seems to have been the leading characteristic of the unhappy Carlos. His preceptor, a man of learning and merit, who was called “the honorable John,” tried to mitigate this excessive ardor of temperament by a course of Cicero de Officiis, which he read to him daily. Neither the eloquence of Tully, however, nor the precepts of the honorable John made the least impression upon this very savage nature. As he grew older he did not grow wiser nor more gentle. He was prematurely and grossly licentious. All the money which as a boy he was allowed, he spent upon women of low character, and when he was penniless, he gave them his chains, his medals, even the clothes from his back. He took pleasure in affronting respectable females when he met them in the streets, insulting them by the coarsest language and gestures. Being cruel, cunning, fierce and licentious, he seemed to combine many of the worst qualities of a lunatic. That he probably was one is the best defense which can be offered for his conduct. In attempting to offer violence to a female, while he was at the university of Alcalà, he fell down a stone staircase, from which cause he was laid up for a long time with a severely wounded head, and was supposed to have injured his brain.
The traits of ferocity recorded of him during his short life are so numerous that humanity can hardly desire that it should have been prolonged. A few drops of water having once fallen upon his head from a window, as he passed through the street, he gave peremptory orders to his guard to burn the house to the ground, and to put every one of its inhabitants to the sword. The soldiers went forthwith to execute the order, but more humane than their master, returned with the excuse that the Holy Sacrament of the Viaticum had that moment been carried into the house. This appeal to the superstition of the prince successfully suspended the execution of the crime which his inconceivable malignity had contemplated. On another occasion, a nobleman, who slept near his chamber, failed to answer his bell on the instant. Springing upon his dilatory attendant, as soon as he made his appearance, the prince seized him in his arms and was about to throw him from the window, when the cries of the unfortunate chamberlain attracted attention and procured a rescue.
The Cardinal Espinoza had once accidentally detained at his palace an actor who was to perform a favorite part by express command of Don Carlos. Furious at this detention, the prince took the priest by the throat as soon as he presented himself at the palace, and plucking his dagger from its sheath, swore, by the soul of his father, that he would take his life on the spot. The grand inquisitor fell on his knees and begged for mercy, but it is probable that the entrance of the king alone saved his life.
There was often something ludicrous mingled with the atrocious in these ungovernable explosions of wrath. Don Pedro Manuel, his chamberlain, had once, by his command, ordered a pair of boots to be made for the prince. When brought home, they were, unfortunately, too tight. The prince, after vainly endeavoring to pull them on, fell into a blazing passion. He swore that it was the fault of Don Pedro, who always wore tight boots himself, but he at the same time protested that his father was really at the bottom of the affair. He gave the young nobleman a box on the ear for thus conspiring with the king against his comfort, and then ordered the boots to be chopped into little pieces, stewed and seasoned. Then sending for the culprit shoemaker, he ordered him to eat his own boots, thus converted into a pottage; and with this punishment the unfortunate mechanic, who had thought his life forfeited, was sufficiently glad to comply.
Even the puissant Alva could not escape his violence. Like all the men in whom his father reposed confidence, the duke was odious to the heir apparent. Don Carlos detested him with the whole force of his little soul. He hated him as only a virtuous person deserved to be hated by such a ruffian. The heir apparent had taken the Netherlands under his patronage. He had even formed the design of repairing secretly to the provinces, and could not, therefore, disguise his wrath at the appointment of the duke. It is doubtful whether the country would have benefited by the gratification of his wishes. It is possible that the pranks of so malignant an ape might have been even more mischievous than the concentrated and vigorous tyranny of an Alva. When the new captain-general called, before his departure, to pay his respects to the Infante, the duke seemed, to his surprise, to have suddenly entered the den of a wild beast. Don Carlos sprang upon him with a howl of fury, brandishing a dagger in his hand. He uttered reproaches at having been defrauded of the Netherland government. He swore that Alva should never accomplish his mission, nor leave his presence alive. He was proceeding to make good the threat with his poniard, when the duke closed with him. A violent struggle succeeded. Both rolled together on the ground, the prince biting and striking like a demoniac, the duke defending himself as well as he was able, without attempting his adversary’s life. Before the combat was decided, the approach of many persons put an end to the disgraceful scene. As decent a veil as possible was thrown over the transaction, and the duke departed on his mission. Before the end of the year, the prince was in the prison whence he never came forth alive.
The figure of Don Carlos was as misshapen as his mind. His head was disproportionately large, his limbs were rickety, one shoulder was higher, one leg longer than the other. With features resembling those of his father, but with a swarthy instead of a fair complexion, with an expression of countenance both fierce and foolish, and with a character such as we have sketched it, upon the evidence of those who knew him well, it is indeed strange that he should ever have been transformed by the magic of poetry into a romantic hero. As cruel and cunning as his father, as mad as his great-grandmother, he has left a name which not even his dark and mysterious fate can render interesting.