History of Holland
By George Edmundson

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Chapter IX: Maurice and Oldenbarneveldt

The conclusion of the truce did not bring, with material progress and trade expansion, internal peace to the United Provinces. The relations between the Prince-stadholder and the all-powerful Advocate had long been strained. In the long-drawn-out negotiations Maurice had never disguised his dislike to the project of a truce, and, though he finally acquiesced, it was a sullen acquiescence. At first there was no overt breach between the two men, but Maurice, though he did not refuse to meet Oldenbarneveldt, was cold and unfriendly. He did not attempt to interfere with the old statesman’s control of the machinery of administration or with his diplomatic activities, for he was naturally indolent and took little interest in politics. Had he been ambitious, he might many years before have obtained by general consent sovereign power, but he did not seek it. His passion was the study of military science. From his early youth he had spent his life in camps, and now he found himself without occupation. The enemies of Oldenbarneveldt seized the opportunity to arouse Maurice’s suspicions of the Advocate’s motives in bringing about the truce, and even to hint that he had been bribed with Spanish gold. Chief among these enemies was Francis van Aerssens, for a number of years ambassador of the States at Paris. Aerssens owed much to the Advocate, but he attributed his removal from his post at the French court to the decision of Oldenbarneveldt to replace him by his son-in-law, Van der Myle. He never forgave his recall, and alike by subtle insinuation and unscrupulous accusation, strove to blacken the character and reputation of his former benefactor.

By a curious fatality it was the outbreak of fierce sectarian strife and dissension between the extreme and the moderate Calvinists which was eventually to change the latent hostility of Maurice to Oldenbarneveldt into open antagonism. Neither of the two men had strong religious convictions, but circumstances brought it about that they were to range themselves irrevocably on opposite sides in a quarrel between fanatical theologians on the subject of predestination and grace.

From early times Calvinism in the northern Netherlands had been divided into two schools. The strict Calvinists or “Reformed,” known by their opponents as “Precisians,” and the liberal Calvinists, “the Evangelicals,” otherwise “the Libertines.” To this Libertine party belonged William the Silent, Oldenbarneveldt and the majority of the burgher-regents of Holland. These men regarded the religious question from the statesman’s point of view. Having risen in rebellion against the tyranny of the Spanish Inquisition, they were anxious to preserve their countrymen (only a minority of whom were Protestants) from being placed under the heel of a religious intolerance as narrow and bigoted as that from which they had escaped. The “Reformed” congregations on the other hand, led by the preachers, were anxious to summon a National Synod for the purpose of creating a State Church to whose tenets, rigidly defined by the Heidelberg catechism and the Netherland confession, all would be required to conform on pain of being deprived of their rights as citizens. The Libertines were opposed to such a scheme, as an interference with the rights of each province to regulate its own religious affairs, and as an attempt to assert the supremacy of Church over State.

The struggle between the two parties, which had continued intermittently for a number of years, suddenly became acute through the appointment by Maurice of Jacob Harmensz, better known as Arminius, to the Chair of Theology at Leyden, vacated by the death of Junius in 1602. The leader of the strict Calvinist school, the learned Franciscus Gomarus, had at the time of the appointment of Arminius already been a professor at Leyden for eight years. Each teacher gathered round him a following of devoted disciples, and a violent collision was inevitable. Prolonged and heated controversy on the high doctrines of Predestination and Freewill led to many appeals being made to the States-General and to the Estates of Holland to convene a Synod to settle the disputed questions, but neither of these bodies in the midst of the negotiations for the truce was willing to complicate matters by taking a step that could not fail to accentuate existing discords. Six months after the truce was signed Arminius died. The quarrel, however, was only to grow more embittered. Johannes Uyttenbogaert took the leadership of the Arminians, and finally, after consultation with Oldenbarneveldt, he called together a convention of Arminian preachers and laymen at Gouda (June, 1610). They drew up for presentation to the Estates a petition, known as the Remonstratie, consisting of five articles, in which they defined the points wherein they differed from the orthodox Calvinist doctrines on the subjects of predestination, election and grace. The Gomarists on their part drew up a Contra-Remonstratie containing seven articles, and they declined to submit to any decision on matters of doctrine, save from a purely Church Synod. These two weighty declarations gained for the two parties henceforth the names of Remonstrants and Contra-Remonstrants. For the next three years a fierce controversy raged in every province, pulpit replying to pulpit, and pamphlet to pamphlet. The Contra-Remonstrants roundly accused their adversaries of holding Pelagian and Socinian opinions and of being Papists in disguise. This last accusation drew to their side the great majority of the Protestant population, but the Remonstrants had many adherents among the burgher-regents, and they could count upon a majority in the Estates of Holland, Utrecht and Overyssel, and they had the powerful support of Oldenbarneveldt.

The Advocate was no theologian, and on the doctrinal points in dispute he probably held no very clear views. He inclined, however, to the Arminians because of their greater tolerance, and above all for their readiness to acknowledge the authority of the State as supreme, in religious as well as in civil matters. He was anxious to bring about an accommodation which should give satisfaction to both parties, but he was dealing with fanatics, and the fires of religious bigotry when once kindled are difficult to quench. And now was seen a curious object lesson in the many-headed character of the government of the United Netherlands. A majority of the provinces in the States-General favoured the Contra-Remonstrants. The Estates of Holland, however, under the influence of Oldenbarneveldt by a small majority refused the Contra-Remonstrant demand and resolved to take drastic action against the Gomarists. But a number of the representative towns in Holland, and among them Amsterdam, declined to enforce the resolution. At Rotterdam, on the other hand, and in the other town-councils, where the Arminians had the majority, the Gomarist preachers were expelled from their pulpits; and the Advocate was determined by coercion, if necessary, to enforce the authority of the Estates throughout the province. But coercion without the use of the military force was impossible in face of the growing uprising of popular passion; and the military forces could not be employed without the consent of the stadholder. Thus in 1617, with the question of civil war in Holland trembling in the balance, the ultimate decision lay with the stadholder; and Maurice after long hesitation determined to throw the sword of the soldier into the scale against the influence of the statesman.

Maurice had not as yet openly broken with his father’s old friend, whose immense services to the republic during the greater part of four decades he fully recognised. As to the questions now in dispute the stadholder was to an even less degree than the Advocate a zealous theologian. It is reported that he declared that he did not know whether predestination was blue or green. His court-chaplain, Uyttenbogaert, was a leading Arminian; and both his step-mother, Louise (see p. 78), to whose opinions he attached much weight, and his younger brother, Frederick Henry, were by inclination “libertines.” On the other hand William Lewis, the Frisian Stadholder, was a zealous Calvinist, and he used all his influence with his cousin to urge him to make a firm stand against Oldenbarneveldt, and those who were trying to overthrow the Reformed faith. Sir Dudley Carleton, the new English ambassador, ranged himself also as a strong opponent of the Advocate. While Maurice, however, was hesitating as to the action he should take, Oldenbarneveldt determined upon a step which amounted to a declaration of war. In December, 1616, he carried in the Estates of Holland a proposal that they should, in the exercise of their sovereign rights, enlist a provincial force of 4000 militia (waardgelders) in their pay. Thus Holland, though a strong minority in the Estates was in opposition, declared its intention of upholding the principle of provincial sovereignty against the authority of the States-General. The States-General at the instance of the two stadholders, May, 1617, declared for the summoning of a National Synod by a vote of four provinces against three. The Estates of Holland, again with a sharp division of opinion but by a majority, declined to obey the summons. An impasse was thus reached and Maurice at last openly declared for the Contra-Remonstrant side.

On July 23 the Prince, accompanied by his suite, ostentatiously attended divine service at the Cloister Church at the Hague, where the Contra-Remonstrants had a fortnight before, in face of the prohibition of the Estates, established themselves. This step was countered by decisive action on the part of Oldenbarneveldt. A proposal was made in the Estates of Holland, August 4, known as the “Sharp Resolution"–and it well merited its name, for it was of the most drastic character. It was a most unqualified declaration of provincial sovereignty, and yet it was only passed in the teeth of a strong minority by the exertion of the Advocate’s personal influence. By this resolution Holland declined to assent to the summoning of any Synod, National or Provincial, and asserted the supremacy of the Estates in matters of religion. The municipal authorities were ordered to raise levies of Waardgelders to keep the peace; and all officials, civil or military, were required to take an oath of obedience to the Estates on pain of dismissal. A strong protest was made by the representatives of the dissenting cities headed by Reinier Pauw, burgomaster of Amsterdam.

On the plea of ill-health Oldenbarneveldt now left the Hague, and took up his residence at Utrecht. His object was to keep this province firm in its alliance with Holland. He did not return till November 6, but all the time he was in active correspondence with his party in Holland, at whose head were the three pensionaries of Rotterdam, Leyden and Haarlem–De Groot, Hoogerbeets and De Haan. Under their leadership levies of Waardgelders were made in a number of towns; but other towns, including Amsterdam, refused, and the total levy did not amount to more than 1800 men. Meanwhile the majority of the States-General, urged on by Maurice and William Lewis, were determined, despite the resistance of Holland and Utrecht, to carry through the proposal for the summoning of a National Synod. Overyssel had been overawed and persuaded to assent, so that there were five votes against two in its favour. All through the winter the wrangling went on, and estrangement between the contending parties grew more bitter and acute. A perfect flood of pamphlets, broadsheets and pasquinades issued from the press; and in particular the most violent and envenomed attacks were made upon the character and administration of the Advocate, in which he was accused of having received bribes both from Spanish and French sources and to have betrayed the interests of his country. The chief instigator of these attacks was Oldenbarneveldt’s personal enemy, Francis van Aerssens, whose pen was never idle. The defenders of the Remonstrant cause and of the principles of provincial sovereignty were not lacking in the vigour and virulence of their replies; and the Advocate himself felt that the accusations which were made against him demanded a formal and serious rejoinder. He accordingly prepared a long and careful defence of his whole career, in which he proved conclusively that the charges made against him had no foundation. This Remonstratie he addressed to the Estates of Holland, and he also sent a copy to the Prince. If this document did not at the time avail to silence the voices of prejudiced adversaries whose minds were made up, it has at least had the effect of convincing posterity that, however unwise may have been the course now deliberately pursued by the Advocate, he never for the sake of personal gain betrayed the interests of his country. Had he now seen that the attempt of a majority in the Estates of Holland to resist the will of the majority in the States-General could only lead to civil war, and had he resigned his post, advising the Estates to disband the Waardgeldersand yield to superior force, a catastrophe might have been averted. There is no reason to believe that in such circumstances Maurice would have countenanced any extreme harshness in dealing with the Advocate. But Oldenbarneveldt, long accustomed to the exercise of power, was determined not to yield one jot of the claim of the sovereign province of Holland to supremacy within its own borders in matters of religion. The die was cast and the issue had to be decided by force of arms.

On June 28, 1618, a solemn protest was made by the Advocate in the States-General against the summoning of a National Synod in opposition to the expressed opinion of the Estates of Holland; and a threat was made that Holland might withhold her contribution to the general fund. The majority of the States-General (July 9) declared the raising of local levies illegal, and (July 23) it was resolved that a commission be sent to Utrecht with Maurice at its head to demand the disbanding of the Waardgelders in that town.

The Estates of Holland[5] impelled by Oldenbarneveldt now took a very strong step, a step which could not be retrieved. They resolved also to despatch commissioners to Utrecht to urge the town-council to stand firm. De Groot, Hoogerbeets and two others were nominated, and they at once set out for Utrecht. Maurice, with the deputation from the States-General and a large suite, left the Hague only a little later than De Groot and his companions, and reached Utrecht on the evening of the 25th. This strange situation lasted for several days, and much parleying and several angry discussions took place. Matters were further complicated by the news that the dissentient towns of Holland were also sending a deputation. This news had a considerable effect upon Colonel Ogle, the commander of the Waardgelders in Utrecht, and his officers. They were already wavering; they now saw that resistance to the orders of the States-General would be useless. The Prince, who had been collecting a body of troops, now determined on action. His force entered the city on the evening of the 31st, and on the following morning he commanded the local levies to lay down their arms. They at once obeyed, and Maurice took possession of the city. The Holland commissioners and the members of the town-council fled. Maurice appointed a new town-council entirely Contra-Remonstrant; and changes were made in both branches of the Estates, so as to secure a Contra-Remonstrant majority and with it the vote of the province in the States-General for the National Synod. Holland now stood alone, and its opposition had to be dealt with in a fashion even sterner than that of Utrecht.

The Remonstrant cities of Holland were still for resistance, and attempts were made to influence the stadholder not to resort to extreme measures. Maurice had, however, made up his mind. On August 18 the States-General passed a resolution demanding the dismissal of the Waardgelders in Holland within twenty-four hours. The placard was published on the 20th and was immediately obeyed. The Estates of Holland had been summoned to meet on the 21st, and were at once called upon to deal with the question of the National Synod. A few days later (August 28) a secret resolution was adopted by the majority in the States-General, without the knowledge of the Holland deputies, to arrest Oldenbarneveldt, De Groot, Hoogerbeets and Ledenburg, the secretary of the Estates of Utrecht, on the ground that their action in the troubles at Utrecht had been dangerous to the State. On the following day the Advocate, on his way to attend the meeting of the Estates, was arrested and placed in confinement. De Groot, Hoogerbeets and Ledenburg met with similar treatment. After protesting the Estates adjourned on the 30th until September 12, the deputies alleging that it was necessary to consult their principals in this emergency, but in reality because the suddenness of the blow had stricken them with terror. It was a prudent step, for Maurice was resolved to purge the Estates and the town-councils of Holland, as he had already purged those of Utrecht. Attended by a strong body-guard he went from town to town, changing the magistracies, so as to place everywhere the Contra-Remonstrants in power. As a consequence of this action the deputies sent by the towns were likewise changed; and, when the Estates next met, the supporters of Oldenbarneveldt and his policy had disappeared. A peaceful revolution had been accomplished. All opposition to the summoning of the Synod was crushed; and (November 9) the Estates passed a vote of thanks to the stadholder for “the care and fidelity” with which he had discharged a difficult and necessary duty.

Meanwhile Oldenbarneveldt and the other prisoners had been confined in separate rooms in the Binnenhof and were treated with excessive harshness and severity. They were permitted to have no communication with the outside world, no books, paper or writing materials; and the conditions of their imprisonment were such as to be injurious to health. A commission was appointed by the States-General to examine the accused, and it began its labours in November. The method of procedure was unjust and unfair in the extreme, even had it been a case of dealing with vile criminals. The treatment of Oldenbarneveldt in particular was almost indecently harsh. The aged statesman had to appear sixty times before the commission and was examined and cross-examined on every incident of the forty years of his administration and on every detail of his private life. He was allowed not only to have no legal adviser, but also was forbidden access to any books of reference or to any papers or to make any notes. It was thus hoped that, having to trust entirely to his memory, the old man might be led into self-contradictions or to making damaging admissions against himself. De Groot and Hoogerbeets had to undergo a similar, though less protracted, inquisition. Such was its effect upon Ledenburg that he committed suicide.

It was not until February 20, 1619, that the States-General appointed an extraordinary court for the trial of the accused. It consisted of twenty-four members, of whom twelve were Hollanders.

It is needless to say that such a court had no legal status; and the fact that nearly all its members were the Advocate’s personal or political enemies is a proof that the proceedings were judicial only in name. It was appointed not to try, but to condemn the prisoners. Oldenbarneveldt protested in the strongest terms against the court’s competence. He had been the servant of the Estates of the sovereign province of Holland, and to them alone was he responsible. He denied to the States-General any sovereign rights; they were simply an assembly representing a number of sovereign allies. These were bold statements, and they were accompanied by an absolute denial of the charges brought against him. It was quite useless. All the prisoners were condemned, first De Groot, then Hoogerbeets, then Oldenbarneveldt. The trials were concluded on May 1, but it was resolved to defer the sentences until after the close of the National Synod, which had been meeting at Dordrecht. This took place on May 9.

Meanwhile strong and influential efforts were made for leniency. The French ambassador, Aubrey du Maurier, during the trial did his utmost to secure fair treatment for the Advocate; and a special envoy, Châtillon, was sent from Paris to express the French king’s firm belief in the aged statesman’s integrity and patriotism based on an intimate knowledge of all the diplomatic proceedings during and after the negotiations for the Truce. But these representations had no effect and were indeed resented. Equally unfruitful were the efforts made by Louise de Coligny to soften the severity of her step-son’s attitude. Even William Lewis wrote to Maurice not to proceed too harshly in the matter. All was in vain. The Prince’s heart was steeled. He kept asking whether the Advocate or his family had sued for pardon. But Oldenbarneveldt was far too proud to take any step which implied an admission of guilt; and all the members of his family were as firmly resolved as he was not to supplicate for grace. Few, however, believed that capital punishment would be carried out. On Sunday, May 12, however, sentence of death was solemnly pronounced; and on the following morning the head of the great statesman and patriot was stricken off on a scaffold erected in the Binnenhof immediately in front of the windows of Maurice’s residence. The Advocate’s last words were a protestation of his absolute innocence of the charge of being a traitor to his country; and posterity has endorsed the declaration.

That Oldenbarneveldt had in the last two years of his life acted indiscreetly and arrogantly there can be no question. His long tenure of power had made him impatient of contradiction; and, having once committed himself to a certain course of action, he determined to carry it through in the teeth of opposition, regardless of consequences and with a narrow obstinacy of temper that aroused bitter resentment. His whole correspondence and private papers were however seized and carefully scrutinised by his personal enemies; and, had they found any evidence to substantiate the charges brought against him, it would have been published to the world. It is clear that not a shred of such evidence was discovered, and that the Advocate was perfectly innocent of the treasonable conduct for which a packed court condemned him to suffer death. Such was the reward that Oldenbarneveldt received for life-long services of priceless value to his country. He more than any other man was the real founder of the Dutch Republic; and it will remain an ineffaceable stain on Maurice’s memory that he was consenting unto this cruel and unjust sentence.

Sentences of imprisonment for life were passed upon De Groot and Hoogerbeets. They were confined in the castle of Loevestein. The conditions of captivity were so far relaxed that the famous jurist was allowed to receive books for the continuance of his studies. Through the ingenuity and daring of his wife De Groot contrived to escape in 1621 by concealing himself in a trunk supposed to be filled with heavy tomes. The trunk was conveyed by water to Rotterdam, from whence the prisoner managed to make his way safely to France.

Concurrently with the political trials the National Synod had been pursuing its labours at Dordrecht. On November 13 rather more than one hundred delegates assembled under the presidency of Johannes Bogerman of Leeuwarden. Fifty-eight of the delegates were preachers, professors and elders elected by the provincial synods, fifteen were commissioners appointed by the States-General, twenty-eight were members of foreign Reformed churches. English and Scottish representatives took an active part in the proceedings. The Synod decided to summon the Remonstrants to send a deputation to make their defence. On December 6 accordingly, a body of twelve leading Remonstrants with Simon Episcopius at their head took their seats at a table facing the assembly. Episcopius made a long harangue in Latin occupying nine sessions. His eloquence was, however, wasted on a court that had already prejudged the cause for which he pleaded. After much wrangling and many recriminations Bogerman ordered the Remonstrants to withdraw. They did so only to meet in an “anti-synod” at Rotterdam at which the authority of the Dordrecht assembly to pronounce decisions on matters of faith was denied. Meanwhile the Contra-Remonstrant divines at Dordrecht during many weary sessions proceeded to draw up a series of canons defining the true Reformed doctrine and condemning utterly, as false and heretical, the five points set forth in the Remonstrance. On May 1 the Netherland confession and the Heidelberg catechism were unanimously adopted, as being in conformity with Holy Scripture, and as fixing the standard of orthodox teaching. The Synod was dissolved eight days later. The final session was the 154th; and this great assembly of delegates from many lands, the nearest approach to a general council of the Protestant churches that has ever been held, came to a close amidst much festivity and no small congratulation. No time was lost in taking action by the dominant party against their opponents. Two hundred Remonstrant preachers were driven into exile; and the congregations were treated with the same spirit of intolerance as had hitherto been the lot of the Catholics, and were forbidden the exercise of public worship.

After the Advocate’s death, except for the persecution directed against the Remonstrant party, the course of public affairs went on smoothly. Maurice, who by the death of his brother, Philip William, had in February, 1618, become Prince of Orange, was virtually sovereign in the United Provinces. His name appeared in treaties with eastern potentates and in diplomatic despatches, just as if he were a reigning monarch; and the people of the Netherlands were even at times spoken of as his subjects. But Maurice never cared to trouble himself about the details of politics, and he now left the management of affairs in the hands of a few men that he could trust, notably in those of Francis van Aerssens (henceforth generally known as lord of Sommelsdijk) and Reinier Pauw, the influential burgomaster of Amsterdam. Aerssens had shown himself spiteful and vindictive in his conduct towards his earlier patron, Oldenbarneveldt, but being a clever diplomatist and gifted with considerable powers of statesmanship, he became henceforth for many years the trusted adviser and confidant not only of Maurice, but of his successor Frederick Henry.

The year 1620 was marked by the sudden death in June of William Lewis, the Stadholder of Friesland. His loss was much deplored by Maurice, who had for years been accustomed to rely upon the tried experience and sound judgment of his cousin both in peace and war. A few months earlier (March) Louise de Coligny had died at Fontainebleau. She too had been from his youth the wise adviser of her step-son, but she was deeply grieved at the fate of Oldenbarneveldt, and after his execution left the Netherlands to take up her residence in her native country. By the death of William Lewis the two stadholderates of Groningen with Drente and of Friesland became vacant. Maurice succeeded to that of Groningen, but the Frieslanders remained faithful to the house of Nassau-Siegen and elected Ernest Casimir, the younger brother of William Lewis, as their stadholder.


General Preface  •  Prologue  •  Chapter I: The Burgundian Netherlands  •  Chapter II: Habsburg Rule in the Netherlands  •  Chapter III  •  Chapter IV: The Revolt of the Netherlands  •  Chapter V: William the Silent  •  Chapter VI: The Beginnings of the Dutch Republic  •  Chapter VII: The System of Government  •  Chapter VIII: The Twelve Years’ Truce  •  Chapter IX: Maurice and Oldenbarneveldt  •  Chapter X: From the End of the Twelve Years’ Truce to the Peace of Muenster  •  Chapter XI  •  Chapter XII: Letters, Science and Art  •  Chapter XIII: The Stadholderate of William II.  •  Chapter XIV  •  Chapter XV  •  Chapter XVI  •  Chapter XVII  •  Chapter XVIII  •  Chapter XIX  •  Chapter XX: The War of the Spanish Succession and the Treaties of Utrecht, 1702-1715  •  Chapter XXI: The Stadholderless Republic, 1715-1740  •  Chapter XXII: The Austrian Succession War. William Iv, 1740-1751  •  Chapter XXIII: The Regency of Anne and of Brunswick.  •  Chapter XXIV  •  Chapter XXV: Stadholderate of William V, continued, 1780-1788  •  Chapter XXVI: The Orange Restoration. Downfall of the Republic, 1788-1795  •  Chapter XXVII: The Batavian Republic, 1795-1806  •  Chapter XXVIII: The Kingdom of Holland and the French Annexation, 1806-1814  •  Chapter XXIX: The Formation of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, 1814-1815  •  Chapter XXX: The Kingdom of the Netherlands–union of Holland and Belgium, 1815-1830  •  Chapter XXXI: The Belgian Revolution, 1830-1842  •  Chapter XXXII: William II. Revision of the Constitution.  •  Chapter XXXIII: Reign of William III to the Death of Thorbecke, 1849-1872  •  Chapter XXXIV: The Later Reign of William III, and the Regency Of Queen Emma, 1872-1898  •  Chapter XXXV: The Reign of Queen Wilhelmina, 1898-1917  •  Epilogue  •  Footnotes