History of Holland
By George Edmundson

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Chapter III


Philip at the time of his accession to the sovereignty of the Netherlands was already King of Naples and Sicily, and Duke of Milan, and, by his marriage in 1554 to Mary Tudor, King-consort of England, in which country he was residing when summoned by his father to assist at the abdication ceremony at Brussels. A few months later (January 16, 1556) by a further act of abdication on the part of Charles V he became King of Castile and Aragon. It was a tremendous inheritance, and there is no reason to doubt that Philip entered upon his task with a deep sense that he had a mission to fulfil and with a self-sacrificing determination to spare himself no personal labour in the discharge of his duties. But though he bore to his father a certain physical likeness, Philip in character and disposition was almost his antithesis. Silent, reserved, inaccessible, Philip had none of the restless energy or the geniality of Charles, and was as slow and undecided in action as he was bigoted in his opinions and unscrupulous in his determination to compass his ends. He found himself on his accession to power faced with many difficulties, for the treasury was not merely empty, it was burdened with debt. Through lack of means he was compelled to patch up a temporary peace (February 5, 1556) with the French king at Vaucelles, and to take steps to reorganise his finances.

One of Philip’s first acts was the appointment of Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, to the post vacated by his aunt Mary; but it was a position, as long as the king remained in the Netherlands, of small responsibility. Early in 1556 he summoned the States-General to Brussels and asked for a grant of 1,300,000 florins. The taxes proposed were disapproved by the principal provinces and eventually refused. Philip was very much annoyed, but was compelled to modify his proposals and accept what was offered by the delegates. There was indeed from the very outset no love lost between the new ruler and his Netherland subjects. Philip had spent nearly all his life in Spain, where he had received his education and early training, and he had grown up to manhood, in the narrowest sense of the word, a Spaniard. He was as unfamiliar with the laws, customs and privileges of the several provinces of his Netherland dominions as he was with the language of their peoples. He spoke and wrote only Castilian correctly, and during his four years’ residence at Brussels he remained coldly and haughtily aloof, a foreigner and alien in a land where he never felt at home. Philip at the beginning of his reign honestly endeavoured to follow in his father’s steps and to carry out his policy; but acts, which the great emperor with his conciliatory address and Flemish sympathies could venture upon with impunity, became suspect and questionable when attempted by the son. Philip made the great mistake of taking into his private confidence only foreign advisers, chief among whom was Anthony Perrenot de Granvelle, Bishop of Arras, a Burgundian by birth, the son of Nicholas Perrenot, who for thirty years had been the trusted counsellor of Charles V.

The opening of Philip’s reign was marked by signal military successes. War broke out afresh with France, after a brief truce, in 1557. The French arms however sustained two crushing reverses at St Quentin, August 10, 1557, and at Gravelines, July 13, 1558. Lamoral, Count of Egmont, who commanded the cavalry, was the chief agent in winning these victories. By the treaty of Cateau-Cambresis peace was concluded, in which the French made many concessions, but were allowed to retain, at the cost of Philip’s ally, the town of Calais which had been captured from the English by a surprise attack in 1558. By the death of Queen Mary, which was said to have been hastened by the news of the loss of Calais, Philip’s relations with England were entirely changed, and one of the reasons for a continuance of his residence in the Netherlands was removed. Peace with France therefore was no sooner assured than Philip determined to return to Spain, where his presence was required. He chose his half-sister Margaret, Duchess of Parma, to be regent in place of the Duke of Savoy. In July he summoned the Chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece–destined to be the last that was ever held–to Ghent in order to announce his intended departure. A little later the States-General were called together, also at Ghent, for a solemn leave-taking. On August 26, Philip embarked at Flushing, and quitted the Netherlands, never again to return.

Philip’s choice of Margaret as governess-general was a happy one. She was a natural daughter of Charles V. Her mother was a Fleming, and she had been brought up under the care of her aunts, Margaret of Austria and Mary of Hungary. She resembled those able rulers in being a woman of strong character and statesmanlike qualities, and no doubt she would have been as successful in her administration had she had the same opportunities and the same freedom of action as her predecessors. Philip, however, though henceforth he passed the whole of his life in Spain, had no intention of loosening in any way his grasp of the reins of power or of delegating any share of his sovereign authority. On his return to Madrid he showed plainly that he meant to treat the Netherland provinces as if they were dependencies of the Spanish crown, and he required from Margaret and her advisers that all the details of policy, legislation and administration should be submitted to him for supervision and sanction. This necessitated the writing of voluminous despatches and entailed with a man of his habits of indecision interminable delays. Margaret moreover was instructed that in all matters she must be guided by the advice of her three councils. By far the most important of the three was the Council Of State, which at this time consisted of five members–Anthony Granvelle, Bishop of Arras; Baron de Barlaymont; Viglius van Zwychem van Aytta; Lamoral, Count of Egmont; and William, Prince of Orange. Barlaymont was likewise president of the Council of Finance and Viglius president of the Privy Council. By far the most important member of the Council of State, as he was much the ablest, was the Bishop of Arras; and he, with Barlaymont and Viglius, formed an inner confidential council from whom alone the regent asked advice. The members of this inner council, nicknamed the Consulta, were all devoted to the interests of Philip. Egmont and Orange, because of their great influence and popularity with the people, were allowed to be nominally Councillors of State, but they were rarely consulted and were practically shut out from confidential access to the regent. It is no wonder that both were discontented with their position and soon showed openly their dissatisfaction.

Egmont, a man of showy rather than of solid qualities, held in 1559 the important posts of Stadholder of Flanders and Artois. The Prince of Orange was the eldest of the five sons of William, Count of Nassau-Dillenburg, head of the younger or German branch of the famous house of Nassau. Members of the elder or Netherland branch had for several generations rendered distinguished services to their Burgundian and Habsburg sovereigns. This elder branch became extinct in the person of Réné, the son of Henry of Nassau, one of Charles V’s most trusted friends and advisers, by Claude, sister of Philibert, Prince of Orange-Châlons. Philibert being childless bequeathed his small principality to Réné; and Réné in his turn, being killed at the siege of St Dizier in 1544, left by will all his possessions to his cousin William, who thus became Prince of Orange. His parents were Lutherans, but Charles insisted that William, at that time eleven years of age, should be brought up as a Catholic at the Court of Mary of Hungary. Here he became a great favourite of the emperor, who in 1550 conferred on him the hand of a great heiress, Anne of Egmont, only child of the Count of Buren. Anne died in 1558, leaving two children, a son, Philip William, and a daughter. At the ceremony of the abdication in 1555, Charles entered the hall leaning on the shoulder of William, on whom, despite his youth, he had already bestowed an important command. Philip likewise specially recognised William’s ability and gave evidence of his confidence in him by appointing him one of the plenipotentiaries to conclude with France the treaty of Cateau-Cambresis in 1559. He had also made him a Knight of the Golden Fleece, a Councillor of State and Stadholder of Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht and Burgundy (Franche-Comté). Nevertheless there arose between Philip and Orange a growing feeling of distrust and dislike, with the result that William speedily found himself at the head of a patriotic opposition to any attempts of the Spanish king to govern the Netherlands by Spanish methods. The presence of a large body of Spanish troops in the country aroused the suspicion that Philip intended to use them, if necessary, to support him in overriding by force the liberties and privileges of the provinces. It was largely owing to the influence of Orange that the States-General in 1559 refused to vote the grant of supplies for which Philip had asked, unless he promised that all foreign troops should be withdrawn from the Netherlands. The king was much incensed at such a humiliating rebuff and is reported, when on the point of embarking at Flushing, to have charged William with being the man who had instigated the States thus to thwart him.

Thus, when Margaret of Parma entered upon her duties as regent, she found that there was a feeling of deep dissatisfaction and general irritation in the provinces; and this was accentuated as soon as it was found that, though Philip had departed, his policy remained. The spirit of the absent king from his distant cabinet in Madrid brooded, as it were, over the land. It was soon seen that Margaret, whatever her statesmanlike qualities or natural inclination might be, had no real authority, nor was she permitted to take any steps or to initiate any policy without the advice and approval of the three confidential councillors placed at her side by Philip–Granvelle, Viglius and Barlaymont. Of these Granvelle, both by reason of his conspicuous abilities and of his being admitted more freely than anyone else into the inner counsels of a sovereign, as secretive in his methods as he was suspicious and distrustful of his agents, held the foremost position and drew upon himself the odium of a policy with which, though it was dictated from Spain, his name was identified.

Orange and Egmont, with whom were joined a number of other leading nobles (among these Philip de Montmorency, Count of Hoorn, his brother the lord of Montigny, the Counts of Meghem and Hoogstraeten and the Marquis of Berghen), little by little adopted an attitude of increasing hostility to this policy, which they regarded as anti-national and tending to the establishment of a foreign despotism in the Netherlands.

The continued presence of the Spanish troops, the severe measures that were being taken for the suppression of heresy, and a proposal for the erection of a number of new bishoprics, aroused popular discontent and suspicion. Orange and Egmont, finding that they were never consulted except on matters of routine, wrote to Philip (July, 1561) stating that they found that their attendance at the meetings of the Council of State was useless and asked to be allowed to resign their posts. Meanwhile, feeling that the presence of the Spanish troops was a source of weakness rather than of strength, Margaret and Granvelle were urging upon the king the necessity of their withdrawal. Neither the nobles nor the regent succeeded in obtaining any satisfactory response. Orange and Egmont accordingly absented themselves from the Council, and Margaret ventured on her own authority to send away the Spanish regiments.

The question of the bishoprics was more serious. It was not a new question. The episcopal organisation in the Netherlands was admittedly inadequate. It had long been the intention of Charles V to create a number of new sees, but in his crowded life he had never found the opportunity of carrying out the proposed scheme, and it was one of the legacies that at his abdication he handed on to his son. One of the first steps taken by Philip was to obtain a Bull from Pope Paul IV for the creation of the new bishoprics, and this Bull was renewed and confirmed by Pius IV, January, 1560. Up to this time the entire area of the seventeen provinces had been divided into three unwieldy dioceses–Utrecht, Arras and Tournay. The See of Utrecht comprised nearly the whole of the modern kingdom of the Netherlands. Nor was there any archiepiscopal see. The metropolitical jurisdiction was exercised by the three foreign Archbishops of Cologne, Rheims and Treves. Philip now divided the land into fourteen dioceses (Charles had proposed six) with three Metropolitans at Mechlin, Utrecht and ’sHertogenbosch[3]. Granvelle, who had obtained the Cardinal’s hat, February, 1561, was appointed Archbishop of Mechlin, and by virtue of this office Primate of the Netherlands, December, 1561. This new organisation was not carried out without arousing widespread opposition.

The existing bishops resented the diminution of their jurisdiction and dignity, and still louder were the protests of the abbots, whose endowments were appropriated to furnish the incomes of the new sees. Still more formidable was the hostility of the people generally, a hostility founded on fear, for the introduction of so many new bishops nominated by the king was looked upon as being the first step to prepare the way for the bringing in of the dreaded Spanish Inquisition. Already the edicts against heretics, which Charles V had enacted and severely enforced, were being carried out throughout the length and breadth of the land with increasing and merciless barbarity. Both papal and episcopal inquisitors were active in the work of persecution, and so many were the sentences that in many places the civil authorities, and even some of the stadholders, declined to carry out the executions. Public opinion looked upon Granvelle as the author of the new bishoprics scheme and the instigator of the increased activity of the persecutors. He was accused of being eager to take any measures to repress the ancient liberties of the Netherland provinces and to establish a centralised system of absolute rule, in order to ingratiate himself with the king and so to secure his own advancement. That the cardinal was ambitious of power there can be no question. But to men of Granvelle’s great abilities, as administrator and statesman, ambition is not necessarily a fault; and access to the secret records and correspondence of the time has revealed that the part played by him was far from being so sinister as was believed. The Bishop of Arras was not consulted about the bishoprics proposal until after the Papal Bull had been secured, and at first he was unfavourable to it and was not anxious to become archbishop and primate. It was his advice which led Margaret to send away the hated Spanish regiments from Netherland soil; and, far from being naturally a relentless persecutor, there is proof that neither he nor the president of the Privy Council, the jurist Viglius, believed in the policy of harsh and brutal methods for stamping out heretical opinions. They had in this as in other matters to obey their master, and allow the odium to fall upon themselves.

To Orange and Egmont, the two leaders of the opposition to Granvelle, a third name, that of Philip de Montmorency, Count of Hoorn and Admiral of Flanders, has now to be added. These three worked together for the overthrow of the Cardinal, but their opposition at this time was based rather on political than on religious grounds. They all professed the Catholic faith, but the marriage of Orange in August, 1561, with a Lutheran, Anne daughter of Maurice of Saxony and granddaughter of Philip of Hesse, was ominous of coming change in William’s religious opinions. In 1562 the discontent of the nobles led to the formation of a league against the cardinal, of which, in addition to the three leaders, the Counts of Brederode, Mansfeld and Hoogstraeten were the principal members. This league, of which Orange was the brain and moving spirit, had as its chief aim the removal of Granvelle from office, and then redress of grievances. It found widespread support. The cardinal was assailed by a torrent of lampoons and pasquinades of the bitterest description. But, though Margaret began to see that the unpopularity of the minister was undermining her position, and was rendering for her the task of government more and more difficult, Philip was obdurate and closed his ears. The long distance between Madrid and Brussels and the procrastinating habits of the Spanish king added immensely to the regent’s perplexities. She could not act on her own initiative, and her appeals to Philip were either disregarded or after long delay met by evasive replies.

The discontented nobles in vain tried to obtain redress for their grievances. In the autumn of 1562 Montigny was sent on a special mission to Madrid, but returned without effecting anything. Orange, Egmont and Hoorn thereupon drew up a joint letter containing a bold demand for the dismissal of Granvelle, as the chief cause of all the troubles in the land. The king replied by asking that one of them should go in person to Spain to discuss the grievances with him, and suggesting that Egmont should be sent. Egmont however was averse to the proposal, and another and stronger letter signed by the three leaders was despatched to Madrid. Finding that both Margaret and Granvelle himself were in agreement with Orange, Egmont and Hoorn in their view of the situation, Margaret advising, with the cardinal’s acquiescence, the necessity of the minister’s removal from his post, Philip determined at last that Granvelle should leave the Netherlands. But in accordance with the counsel of Alva, who was opposed on principle to any concession, he characteristically employed circuitous and clandestine means to conceal from the world any appearance of yielding to the request of his subjects. In January, 1564 he sent a letter to the Duchess of Parma expressing his displeasure at the lords’ letter, and saying that they must substantiate their complaints. The same messenger (Armenteros, the duchess’ secretary) carried another letter for Granvelle headed “secret,” in which the cardinal was told that “owing to the strong feeling that had been aroused against him, he was to ask permission from the regent to go away for a short time to visit his mother.” About a week after these letters had reached their destination another courier brought a reply to the three nobles, which, though written on the same day as the others, bore a date three weeks later, in which they were bidden to take their places again in the Council of State, and a promise was given that the charges against Granvelle after substantiation should be maturely considered. This letter was delivered on March 1, after Granvelle had already, in obedience to the king’s orders, asked for leave of absence to visit his mother in Franche-Comté. The cardinal actually left Brussels on March 13, to the great joy of every class of the people, never to return.

With the departure of Granvelle, the nobles once more took their seats on the Council of State. The Consulta disappeared, and the regent herself appeared to be relieved and to welcome the disappearance of the man whose authority had overshadowed her own. But the change, though it placed large powers of administration and of patronage in the hands of Netherlanders instead of foreigners, did not by any means introduce purer methods of government. Many of the nobles were heavily in debt; most of them were self-seeking; offices and emoluments were eagerly sought for, and were even put up for sale. Armenteros, Margaret’s private secretary (to whom the nickname of Argenteros was given), was the leading spirit in this disgraceful traffic, and enriched himself by the acceptance of bribes for the nomination to preferments. It was an unedifying state of things; and public opinion was not long in expressing its discontent with such an exhibition of widespread venality and greed. All this was duly reported to Philip by Granvelle, who continued, in his retirement, to keep himself well informed of all that was going on.

Meanwhile by the efforts of Orange, Egmont and Hoorn, chiefly of the former, proposals of reform were being urged for the strengthening of the powers of the Council of State, for the reorganisation of finance, and for the more moderate execution of the placards against heresy. While discussion concerning these matters was in progress, came an order from Philip (August, 1564) for the enforcing of the decrees of the recently concluded Council of Trent. This at once aroused protest and opposition. It was denounced as an infringement of the fundamental privileges of the provinces. Philip’s instructions however were peremptory. In these circumstances it was resolved by the Council of State to despatch Egmont on a special mission to Madrid to explain to the king in person the condition of affairs in the Netherlands. Egmont having expressed his willingness to go, instructions were drawn up for him by Viglius. When these were read at a meeting of the council convened for the purpose, Orange in a long and eloquent speech boldly expressed his dissent from much that Viglius had written, and wished that Philip should be plainly told that it was impossible to enforce the decrees and that the severity of religious persecution must be moderated. The council determined to revise the instructions on the lines suggested by Orange, whose words had such an effect upon the aged Viglius, that he had that very night a stroke of apoplexy, which proved fatal.

Egmont set out for Spain, January 15, 1565, and on his arrival was received by Philip with extreme courtesy and graciousness. He was entertained splendidly; presents were made to him, which, being considerably in debt, he gladly accepted; but as regards his mission he was put off with evasions and blandishments, and he returned home with a reply from the king containing some vague promises of reform in financial and other matters, but an absolute refusal to modify the decrees against heresy. Rather would he sacrifice a hundred thousand lives, if he had them, than concede liberty of worship in any form. For some months however no attempt was made to carry out active persecutions; and the regent meanwhile did her utmost to place before the king urgent reasons for the modification of his policy, owing to the angry spirit of unrest and suspicion which was arising in the provinces. She begged Philip to visit the Netherlands and acquaint himself personally with the difficulties of a situation which, unless her advice were taken, would rapidly grow worse and pass beyond her control. Philip however was deaf alike to remonstrance or entreaty. On November 5, 1565, a royal despatch reached Brussels in which the strictest orders were renewed for the promulgation throughout the provinces of the decrees of the Council of Trent and for the execution of the placards against heretics, while the proposals that had been made for an extension of the powers of the Council of State and for the summoning of the States-General were refused. As soon as these fateful decisions were known, and the Inquisition began to set about its fell work in real earnest, the popular indignation knew no bounds. A large number of the magistrates refused to take any part in the cruel persecution that arose, following the example of Orange, Egmont, Berghen and others of the stadholders and leading nobles. A strong spirit of opposition to arbitrary and foreign rule arose and found expression in the action taken by a large number of the members of the so-called “lesser nobility.” Many of these had come to Brussels, and at a meeting at the house of the Count of Culemburg the formation of a league to resist arbitrary rule was proposed. The leaders were Lewis of Nassau, brother of the Prince of Orange, Nicolas de Harnes, Philip de Marnix, lord of Sainte Aldegonde, and Henry, Viscount of Brederode. Other meetings were held, and a document embodying the principles and demands of the Confederates was drawn up, known as the Compromise, which was widely distributed among the nobles and quickly obtained large and constantly increasing support. The signatories of the Compromise, while professing themselves to be faithful and loyal subjects of the king, denounced the Inquisition in its every form “as being unjust and contrary to all laws human and divine"; and they pledged themselves to stand by one another in resisting its introduction into the Netherlands and in preventing the carrying-out of the placards against heresy, while at the same time undertaking to maintain the royal authority and public peace in the land.

At first the great nobles stood aloof, doubtful what course to pursue. At the instigation of Orange conferences were held, at which, by his advice, a petition or Request, setting forth the grievances and asking for redress, should be made in writing for presentation to the regent. The original draft of this document was the work of Lewis of Nassau. These conferences, however, revealed that there was a considerable divergence of views among the leading nobles. Egmont and Meghem were indeed so alarmed at the character of the movement, which seemed to them to savour of treason, that they separated themselves henceforth from Orange and Hoorn and openly took the side of the government. The duchess after some demur agreed to receive the petition. A body of confederates under the leadership of Brederode and Lewis of Nassau marched to the palace, where they were received by Margaret in person. The petitioners asked the regent to send an envoy to Madrid to lay before the king the state of feeling among his loyal subjects in the Netherlands, praying him to withdraw the Inquisition and moderate the placards against heresy, and meanwhile by her own authority to suspend them until the king’s answer had been received. The regent replied that she had no power to suspend the Inquisition or the placards, but would undertake, while awaiting the royal reply, to mitigate their operation.

On the last day of their stay at Brussels, April 8, the confederates under the presidency of Brederode, to the number of about three hundred, dined together at the Hotel Culemburg. In the course of the meal Brederode drew the attention of the company now somewhat excited with wine to a contemptuous phrase attributed by common report to Barlaymont. Margaret was somewhat perturbed at the formidable numbers of the deputation, as it entered the palace court, and it was said that Barlaymont remarked that “these beggars” (ces gueux) need cause her no fear. Brederode declared that he had no objection to the name and was quite willing to be “a beggar” in the cause of his country and his king. It was destined to be a name famous in history. Immediately loud cries arose from the assembled guests, until the great hall echoed with the shouts of Vivent les Gueux. From this date onwards the confederates were known as “les gueux,” and they adopted a coarse grey dress with the symbols of beggarhood–the wallet and the bowl–worn as the insigniaof their league. It was the beginning of a popular movement, which made rapid headway among all classes. A medal was likewise struck, which bore on one side the head of the king, on the other two clasped hands with the inscription–Fidèles au roy jusques à la besace.

Thus was the opposition to the tyrannical measures of the government organising itself in the spring of 1566. It is a great mistake to suppose that the majority of those who signed “the Compromise” or presented “the Request” were disloyal to their sovereign or converts to the reformed faith. Among those who denounced the methods of the Inquisition and of the Blood Placards were a large number, who without ceasing to be Catholics, had been disillusioned by the abuses which had crept into the Roman Church, desired their removal only to a less degree than the Protestants themselves, and had no sympathy with the terrible and remorseless persecution on Spanish lines, which sought to crush out all liberty of thought and all efforts of religious reform by the stake and the sword of the executioner. Nevertheless this league of the nobles gave encouragement to the sectaries and was the signal for a great increase in the number and activity of the Calvinist and Zwinglian preachers, who flocked into the land from the neighbouring countries. Such was the boldness of these preachers that, instead of being contented with secret meetings, they began to hold their conventicles in the fields or in the outskirts of the towns. Crowds of people thronged to hear them, and the authority of the magistrates was defied and flouted. The regent was in despair. Shortly after the presentation of the Request it was determined by the advice of the council to send special envoys to lay before the king once more the serious state of things. The Marquis of Berghen and Baron Montigny consented with some demur to undertake the mission, but for various reasons they did not reach Madrid till some two months later. They were received with apparent courtesy, and after several conferences the king, on July 31, despatched a letter to Margaret in which he undertook to do away with the Papal Inquisition and offered to allow such moderation of the Placards as did not imply any recognition of heretical opinions or any injury to the Catholic faith. He refused to consent to the meeting of the States, but he sent letters couched in most friendly terms to Orange and Egmont appealing to their loyalty and asking them to support the regent by their advice and influence. These demonstrations of a conciliatory temper were however mere temporising. He was playing false. A document is in existence, dated August 9, in which Philip states that these concessions had been extorted from him against his will and that he did not regard himself as bound by them, and he informed the Pope that the abolition of the Papal Inquisition was a mere form of words.

Meanwhile events were moving fast in the Netherlands. The open-air preachings were attended by thousands; and at Antwerp, which was one of the chief centres of Calvinism, disorders broke out, and armed conflicts were feared. Orange himself, as burgrave of Antwerp, at the request of the duchess visited the town and with the aid of Brederode and Meghem succeeded in effecting a compromise between the Catholic and Protestant parties. The latter were allowed to hold their preachings undisturbed, so long as they met outside and not within the city walls. The regent in her alarm was even driven to make overtures to the confederates to assist her in the maintenance of order. There was much parleying, in which Orange and Egmont took part; and in July an assembly of the signatories of the Compromise was called together at St Trond in the district of Liège. Some two thousand were present, presided over by Lewis of Nassau. It was resolved to send twelve delegates to Margaret to lay before her the necessity of finding a remedy for the evils which were afflicting and disturbing the land. They offered to consult with Orange and Egmont as to the best means by which they could work together for the country’s good, but hinting that, if no redress was given, they might be forced to look for foreign aid. Indeed this was no empty threat, for Lewis had already been in communication with the Protestant leaders both in France and in the Rhinelands, as to the terms on which they would furnish armed assistance; and Orange was probably not altogether in ignorance of the fact. The regent was angry at the tone of the delegates, whom she received on July 26, but in her present impotence thought it best to dissemble. She promised to give consideration to the petition, and summoned a meeting of the Knights of the Golden Fleece to meet at Brussels on August 18, when she would decide upon her answer. But, when that date arrived, other and more pressing reasons than the advice of counsellors compelled her to yield to the confederates a large part of their demands. On August 23 she agreed, in return for help in the restoration of order, to concede liberty of preaching, so long as those who assembled did not bear arms and did not interfere with the Catholic places of worship and religious services. Further an indemnity was promised to all who had signed the Compromise.

The reasons which influenced her were, first the receipt, on August 12, of the conciliatory letter from the king, to which reference has already been made, in which he consented to a certain measure of toleration; and secondly a sudden outburst of iconoclastic fury on the part of the Calvinistic sectaries, which had spread with great rapidity through many parts of the land. On August 14, at St Omer, Ypres, Courtray, Valenciennes and Tournay, fanatical mobs entered the churches destroying and wrecking, desecrating the altars, images, vestments and works of art, and carrying away the sacred vessels and all that was valuable. On August 16 and 17 the cathedral of Antwerp was entered by infuriated and sacrilegious bands armed with axes and hammers, who made havoc and ruin of the interior of the beautiful church. In Holland and Zeeland similar excesses were committed. Such conduct aroused a feeling of the deepest indignation and reprobation in the minds of all right-thinking men, and alienated utterly those more moderate Catholics who up till now had been in favour of moderation. Of the great nobles, who had hitherto upheld the cause of the national liberties and privileges against the encroachments of a foreign despotism, many now fell away. Among these were Aremberg, Meghem and Mansfeld. Egmont hesitated. As might have been expected, the news of the outrages, when it reached Philip’s ears, filled him with rage and grief; and he is reported to have exclaimed, “It shall cost them dear. I swear it by the soul of my father.” From this time forward he was determined to visit with exemplary punishment not only the rioters and the Protestant sectaries, but more especially the great nobles on whose shoulders he laid the whole blame for the troubles that had arisen.

He was in no hurry to act, and announced that it was his intention to go to the Netherlands in person and enquire into the alleged grievances. So he told his councillors and wrote to Margaret. No one seems to have suspected his deep-laid scheme for allaying the suspicions of his intended victims until the right moment came for laying his hands upon them and crushing all opposition by overwhelming force. Orange alone, who had his paid spies at Madrid, had a presage of what was coming and took measures of precaution betimes. An intercepted letter from the Spanish ambassador at Paris to the Regent Margaret, specifically mentioned Orange, Egmont and Hoorn as deserving of exemplary punishment; and on October 3 the prince arranged a meeting at Dendermonde to consider what should be their course of action. In addition to Egmont and Hoorn, Hoogstraeten and Lewis of Nassau were present. William and Lewis urged that steps should be taken for preparing armed resistance should the necessity arise. But neither Egmont nor Hoorn would consent; they would not be guilty of any act of disloyalty to their sovereign. The result of the meeting was a great disappointment to Orange, and this date marked a turning-point in his life. In concert with his brothers, John and Lewis, he began to enter into negotiations with several of the German Protestant princes for the formation of a league for the protection of the adherents of the reformed faith in the Netherlands. Now for the first time he severed his nominal allegiance to the Roman Church, and in a letter to Philip of Hesse avowed himself a Lutheran.

During these same autumn months Philip furnished his sister with considerable sums of money for the levying of a strong mercenary force, German and Walloon. Possessed now of a body of troops that she could trust, Margaret in the spring of 1567 took energetic steps to suppress all insurrectionary movements and disorders, and did not scruple to disregard the concessions which had been wrung from her on August 23. The confederate nobles, satisfied with her promises, had somewhat prematurely dissolved their league; but one of the most fiery and zealous among them, John de Marnix, lord of Thoulouse, collected at Antwerp a body of some 2000 Calvinists and attempted to make himself master of that city. At Austruweel he was encountered (March 13) by a Walloon force despatched by Margaret with orders to “exterminate the heretics.” Thoulouse and almost the whole of his following perished in the fight. In the south at the same time the conventicles were mercilessly suppressed and the preachers driven into exile.

Margaret now felt herself strong enough to demand that the stadholders and leading nobles should, on pain of dismissal from their posts, take an oath “to serve the king and to act for and against whomsoever His Majesty might order.” Egmont took the oath; Hoorn, Hoogstraeten and Brederode declined to do so and resigned their offices. Orange offered his resignation, but Margaret was unwilling to accept it and urged him to discuss the matter first with Egmont and Meghem. The three nobles met accordingly at Willebroek, April 2. William used his utmost powers of persuasion in an attempt to convince Egmont that he was courting destruction. But in vain. He himself was not to be moved from his decision, and the two friends, who had worked together so long in the patriot cause, parted, never to meet again. Orange saw that he was no longer safe in the Netherlands and, on April 22, he set out from Breda for the residence of his brother John at Dillenburg. Here in exile he could watch in security the progress of events, and be near at hand should circumstances again require his intervention in the affairs of the Netherlands.

Orange did not take this extreme step without adequate cause. At the very time that he left the Netherlands Philip was taking leave of the Duke of Alva, whom he was despatching at the head of a veteran force to carry out without pity or remorse the stern duty of expelling heresy from the provinces and punishing all those, and especially the leaders, who had ventured to oppose the arbitrary exercise of the royal authority. He had for some time been preparing this expedition. He still kept up the pretence that he was coming in person to enquire into the alleged grievances, but he never had the slightest intention of quitting Madrid. Alva sailed from Cartagena (April 27) for Genoa, and proceeded at once to draw together from the various Spanish garrisons in Italy a picked body of some 12,000 men. With these he set out in June for his long march across the Alps and through Burgundy, Lorraine and Luxemburg. His progress, jealously watched by the French and Swiss, met with no opposition save for the difficulties of the route. He entered the Netherlands on August 8, with his army intact. A number of notables, amongst whom was Egmont, came to meet him on his way to Brussels. He received them, more particularly Egmont, with every appearance of graciousness. Alva as yet bore only the title of Captain-General, but the king had bestowed on him full powers civil and military; and the Duchess of Parma, though still nominally regent, found herself reduced to a nonentity. Alva’s first step was to place strong Spanish garrisons in the principal cities, his next to get the leaders who had been marked for destruction into his power. To effect this he succeeded by fair and flattering words in securing the presence of both Egmont and Hoorn at Brussels. Under the pretence of taking part in a consultation they were (September 9) invited to the duke’s residence and on their arrival suddenly found themselves arrested. At the same time their secretaries and papers were seized, and Antony van Stralen, the burgomaster of Antwerp, was placed under arrest. These high-handed actions were the prelude to a reign of terror; and Margaret, already humiliated by finding herself superseded, requested her brother to accept her resignation. On October 6 the office of Governor-General was conferred upon Alva; and shortly afterwards the duchess left the Netherlands and returned to Parma.

Alva had now the reins of power in his hand, and with a relentless zeal and cold-blooded ferocity, which have made his name a by-word, he set about the accomplishment of the fell task with which his master had entrusted him. He had to enforce with drastic rigour all the penalties decreed by the placards against heretics and preachers, and to deal summarily with all who had taken any part in opposition to the government. But to attempt to do this by means of the ordinary courts and magistrates would consume time and lead to many acquittals. Alva therefore had no sooner thrown off the mask by the sudden and skilfully planned arrest of Egmont and Hoorn, than he proceeded to erect an extraordinary tribunal, which had no legal standing except such as the arbitrary will of the duke conferred upon it. This so-called Council of Troubles, which speedily acquired in popular usage the name of the Council of Blood, virtually consisted of Alva himself, who was president and to whose final decision all cases were referred, and two Spanish lawyers, his chosen tools and agents, Juan de Vargas and Louis del Rio. The two royalist nobles, Noircarmes and Barlaymont, and five Netherland jurists also had seats; but, as only the Spaniards voted, the others before long ceased to attend the meetings. The proceedings indeed were, from the legal point of view, a mere travesty of justice. A whole army of commissioners was let loose upon the land, and informers were encouraged and rewarded. Multitudes of accused were hauled before the tribunal and were condemned by batches almost without the form of a trial. For long hours day by day Vargas and del Rio revelled in their work of butchery; and in all parts of the Netherlands the executioners were busy. It was of no use for the accused to appeal to the charters and privileges of their provinces. All alike were summoned to Brussels; non curamus privilegios vestros declared Vargas in his ungrammatical Latin. Hand in hand with the wholesale sentences of death went the confiscation of property. Vast sums went into the treasury. The whole land for awhile was terror-stricken. All organised opposition was crushed, and no one dared to raise his voice in protest.

The Prince of Orange was summoned to appear in person before the council within six weeks, under pain of perpetual banishment and confiscation of his estates. He refused to come, and energetically denied that the council had any jurisdiction over him. The same sentence was passed upon all the other leaders who had placed themselves out of reach of Alva’s arm–Sainte Aldegonde, Hoogstraeten, Culemburg, Montigny, Lewis of Nassau and others. Unable to lay hands upon the prince himself, the governor-general took dastardly advantage of William’s indiscretion in leaving his eldest son at Louvain to pursue his studies at the university. At the beginning of 1568 Philip William, Count of Buren in right of his mother, was seized and sent to Madrid to be brought up at the court of Philip to hate the cause to which his father henceforth devoted his life. Already indeed, before the abduction of his son, Orange from his safe retreat at Dillenburg had been exerting himself to raise troops for the invasion of the Netherlands. He still professed loyalty to the king and declared that in the king’s name he wished to restore to the provinces those liberties and privileges which Philip himself had sworn that he would maintain. The difficulty was to find the large sum of money required for such an enterprise, and it was only by extraordinary efforts that a sufficient amount was obtained. Part of the money was collected in Antwerp and various towns of Holland and Zeeland, the rest subscribed by individuals. John of Nassau pledged his estates, Orange sold his plate and jewels, and finally a war-chest of 200,000 florins was gathered together. It was proposed to attack the Netherlands from three directions. From the north Lewis of Nassau was to lead an army from the Ems into Friesland; Hoogstraeten on the east to effect an entrance by way of Maestricht; while another force of Huguenots and refugees in the south was to march into Artois. It was an almost desperate scheme in the face of veteran troops in a central position under such a tried commander as Alva. The last-named French force and that under Hoogstraeten were easily defeated and scattered by Spanish detachments sent to meet them. Lewis of Nassau was at first more successful. Entering Groningen at the head of eight or nine thousand undisciplined troops he was attacked, May 23, in a strong position behind a morass by a Spanish force under the Count of Aremberg, Stadholder of Friesland, at Heiligerlee. He gained a complete victory. Aremberg himself was slain, as was also the younger brother of Lewis, Adolphus of Nassau. The triumph of the invaders was of short duration. Alva himself took in hand the task of dealing with the rebels. At the head of 15,000 troops he drove before him the levies of Nassau to Jemmingen on the estuary of the Ems, and here with the loss of only seven men he completely annihilated them. Lewis himself and a few others alone escaped by throwing themselves into the water and swimming for their lives.

The action at Heiligerlee, by compelling the governor-general to take the field, had hastened the fate of Egmont and Hoorn. After their arrest the two noblemen were kept in solitary confinement in the citadel of Ghent for several months, while the long list of charges against them was being examined by the Council of Troubles–in other words by Vargas and del Rio. These charges they angrily denied; and great efforts were made on their behalf by the wife of Egmont and the dowager Countess of Hoorn. Appeals were made to the governor-general and to Philip himself, either for pardon on the ground of services rendered to the State, or at least for a trial, as Knights of the Golden Fleece, before the Court of the Order. The Emperor Maximilian himself pleaded with Philip for clemency, but without avail. Their doom had been settled in advance, and the king was inflexible. Alva accordingly determined that they should be executed before he left Brussels for his campaign in the north. On June 2, the council, after refusing to hear any further evidence in the prisoners’ favour, pronounced them guilty of high treason; and Alva at once signed the sentences of death. Egmont and Hoorn the next day were brought by a strong detachment of troops from Ghent to Brussels and were confined in a building opposite the town hall, known as the Broodhuis. On June 5, their heads were struck off upon a scaffold erected in the great square before their place of confinement. Both of them met their death with the utmost calmness and courage. The effect of this momentous stroke of vengeance upon these two patriot leaders, both of them good Catholics, who had always professed loyalty to their sovereign, and one of whom, Egmont, had performed distinguished services for his country and king, was profound. A wave of mingled rage and sorrow swept over the land. It was not only an act of cruel injustice, but even as an act of policy a blunder of the first magnitude, which was sure to bring, as it did bring, retribution in its train.


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

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By George Edmundson
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