History of Holland
By George Edmundson

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Chapter IV: The Revolt of the Netherlands

The complete failure of the expeditions of Hoogstraeten and of Lewis of Nassau was a great discouragement to the Prince of Orange. Nevertheless after receiving the news of Jemmingen he wrote to his brother, “With God’s help I am determined to go on.” By great exertions he succeeded in gathering together a heterogeneous force of German and Walloon mercenaries numbering about 18,000 men, and with these in the beginning of October he crossed the frontier. But to maintain such a force in the field required far larger financial resources than William had at his disposal. Alva was aware of this, and, as the prince made his way into Brabant, he followed his steps with a small body of veteran troops, cutting off supplies and stragglers, but declining battle. The mercenaries, debarred from plunder and in arrears of pay, could not be kept together more than a few weeks. In November Orange withdrew into France and disbanded the remnants of his army. In disguise he managed to escape with some difficulty through France to Dillenburg. His brothers, Lewis and Henry, joined the Huguenot army under Coligny and took part in the battles of Moncontour and Jarnac.

Alva was now apparently supreme in the Netherlands; and crowds of refugees fled the country to escape the wholesale persecutions of the Council of Blood. Alva however, like his predecessor and indeed like all Spanish governors engaged in carrying out the policy of Philip II, was always hampered by lack of funds. The Spanish treasury was empty. The governor-general’s troops no less than those of Orange clamoured for their regular pay, and it was necessary to find means to satisfy them. The taxes voted for nine years in 1559 had come to an end. New taxes could only be imposed with the assent of the States-General. Alva, however, after his victory at Jemmingen and the dispersion of the army of Orange, felt himself strong enough to summon the States-General and demand their assent to the scheme of taxation which he proposed. The governor-general asked for (1) a tax of five per cent., the “twentieth penny,” on all transfers of real estate, (2) a tax of ten per cent., the “tenth penny,” on all sales of commodities. These taxes, which were an attempt to introduce into the Netherlands the system known in Castile as alcabala, were to be granted in perpetuity, thus, as the duke hoped, obviating the necessity of having again to summon the States-General. In addition to these annual taxes he proposed a payment once for all of one per cent., “the hundredth penny,” on all property, real or personal. Such a demand was contrary to all precedent in the Netherlands and an infringement of time-honoured charters and privileges; and even the terror, which Alva’s iron-handed tyranny had inspired, did not prevent his meeting with strong opposition. The proposals had to be referred to the provincial estates, and everywhere difficulties were raised. All classes were united in resistance. Petitions came pouring in protesting against impositions which threatened to ruin the trade and industries of the country. Alva found it impossible to proceed.

The “hundredth penny” was voted, but instead of the other taxes, which were to provide a steady annual income, he had to content himself with a fixed payment of 2,000,000 guilders for two years only. The imposition of these taxes on the model of the alcabala had been part of a scheme for sweeping away all the provincial jurisdictions and rights and forming the whole of the Netherlands into a unified state, as subservient to despotic rule as was Castile itself. A greater centralisation of government had been the constant policy of the Burgundian and Habsburg rulers since the time of Philip the Good, a policy to be commended if carried out in a statesmanlike and moderate spirit without any sudden or violent infringement of traditional liberties. The aim of Philip of Spain as it was interpreted by his chosen instrument, the Duke of Alva, was far more drastic. With Alva and his master all restrictions upon the absolute authority of the sovereign were obstacles to be swept remorselessly out of the way; civil and religious liberty in their eyes deserved no better fate than to be suppressed by force. Alva’s experience was that of many would-be tyrants before and since his day, that the successful application of force is limited by the power of the purse. His exchequer was empty. Philip was himself in financial difficulties and could spare him no money from Spain. The refusal of the provincial estates of the Netherlands to sanction his scheme of taxation deprived him of the means for imposing his will upon them. His reign of terror had produced throughout the land a superficial appearance of peace. There were at the beginning of 1570 no open disturbances or insurrectionary movements to be crushed, but the people were seething with discontent, and the feeling of hatred aroused by the presence of the Spanish Inquisition and the foreign soldiery and by the proceedings of the Council of Blood was, day by day, becoming deeper and more embittered.

This condition of affairs was duly reported to the king at Madrid; and there was no lack of councillors at his side who were unfriendly to Alva and eager to make the most of the complaints against him. Among these enemies was Ruy Gomez, the king’s private secretary, who recommended a policy of leniency, as did Granvelle, who was now at Naples. Philip never had any scruples about throwing over his agents, and he announced his intention of proclaiming an amnesty on the occasion when Anne of Austria, his intended bride and fourth wife, set sail from Antwerp for Spain. The proclamation was actually made at Antwerp by the governor-general in person, July 16, 1570. It was a limited declaration of clemency, for six classes of offenders were excepted, and it only extended to those who within two months made their peace with the Catholic Church and abjured the Reformed doctrines.

During the years 1570-71 there were however few outward signs of the gradual undermining of Alva’s authority. There was sullen resentment and discontent throughout the land, but no attempt at overt resistance. The iron hand of the governor-general did not relax its firm grasp of the reins of power, and the fear of his implacable vengeance filled men’s hearts. He ruled by force, not by love; and those who refused to submit had either to fly the country or to perish by the hands of the executioner. Nevertheless during these sad years the Prince of Orange and Lewis of Nassau, in spite of the apparent hopelessness of the situation, were unremitting in their efforts to raise fresh forces. William at Dillenburg exerted himself to the uttermost to obtain assistance from the Protestant princes of the Rhineland. With the Calvinists he was, however, as yet strongly suspect. He himself was held to be a lukewarm convert from Catholicism to the doctrines of Augsburg; and his wife was the daughter and heiress of Maurice of Saxony, the champion of Lutheranism. William’s repudiation of Anne of Saxony for her repeated infidelities (March, 1571) severed this Lutheran alliance. The unfortunate Anne, after six years’ imprisonment, died insane in 1577. At the same time the closest relations of confidence and friendship sprang up between Orange and the well-known Calvinist writer and leader, Philip de Marnix, lord of Sainte Aldegonde. This connection with Sainte Aldegonde ensured for William the support of the Calvinists; and secret agents of the prince were soon busily at work in the different parts of the provinces promising armed assistance and collecting levies for the raising of an invading force. Foremost among these active helpers were Jacob van Wesenbeke, Diedrich Sonoy and Paul Buys; and the chief scene of their operations were the provinces of Holland and Zeeland, already distinguished for their zeal in the cause of freedom. The amount of cash that was raised was, however, for some time very small. There was goodwill in plenty, but the utter failure of the prince’s earlier efforts had made people despair.

These earlier efforts had indeed, on land, been disastrous, but they had not been confined entirely to land operations. Orange, in his capacity as a sovereign prince, had given letters of marque to a number of vessels under the command of the lord of Dolhain. These vessels were simply corsairs and they were manned by fierce fanatical sectaries, desperadoes inflamed at once by bitter hatred of the papists and by the hope of plunder. These “Beggars of the Sea” (Gueux de mer), as they were called, rapidly increased in number and soon made themselves a terror in the narrow seas by their deeds of reckless daring and cruelty. William tried in vain to restrain excesses which brought him little profit and no small discredit. It was to no purpose that he associated the lord of Lumbres in the chief command with Dolhain. Their subordinates, William de Blois, lord of Treslong, and William de la Marck, lord of Lumey, were bold, unscrupulous adventurers who found it to their interest to allow their unruly crews to burn and pillage, as they lusted, not only their enemies’ ships in the open sea, but churches and monasteries along the coast and up the estuaries that they infested. The difficulty was to find harbours in which they could take refuge and dispose of their booty. For some time they were permitted to use the English ports freely, and the Huguenot stronghold at La Rochelle was also open to them as a market. Queen Elizabeth, as was her wont, had no scruple in conniving at acts of piracy to the injury of the Spaniard; but at last, at the beginning of 1572, in consequence of strong representations from Madrid, she judged it politic to issue an order forbidding the Sea-Beggars to enter any English harbours. The pirates, thus deprived of the shelter which had made their depredations possible, would have been speedily in very bad case, but for an unexpected and surprising stroke of good fortune. It chanced that a large number of vessels under Lumbres and Treslong were driven by stress of weather into the estuary of the Maas; and finding that the Spanish garrison of Brill had left the town upon a punitive expedition, the rovers landed and effected an entry by burning one of the gates. The place was seized and pillaged, and the marauders were on the point of returning with their spoil to their ships, when at the suggestion of Treslong it was determined to place a garrison in the town and hold it as a harbour of refuge in the name of the Prince of Orange, as Stadholder of Holland. On April 1, 1572, the prince’s flag was hoisted over Brill, and the foundation stone was laid of the future Dutch republic.

William himself at first did not realise the importance of this capture, and did not take any steps to express his active approval; but it was otherwise with his brother Lewis, who was at the time using his utmost endeavours to secure if not the actual help, at least the connivance, of Charles IX to his conducting an expedition from France into the Netherlands. Lewis saw at once the great advantage to the cause of the possession of a port like Brill, and he urged the Beggars to try and gain possession of Flushing also, before Alva’s orders for the strengthening of the garrison and the defences had been carried out. Flushing by its position commanded the approach by water to Antwerp. When the ships of Lumbres and Treslong appeared before the town, the inhabitants rose in revolt, over-powered the garrison, and opened the gates. This striking success, following upon the taking of Brill, aroused great enthusiasm. The rebels had now a firm foothold both in Holland and Zeeland, and their numbers grew rapidly from day to day. Soon the whole of the island of Walcheren, on which Flushing stands, was in their hands with the exception of the capital Middelburg; and in Holland several important towns hoisted the flag of revolt and acknowledged the Prince of Orange as their lawful Stadholder. From Holland the rebellion spread into Friesland. Finally on June 19 an assembly of the Estates of Holland was, at the instance of Dordrecht, convened to meet in that town. There was but one representative of the nobility present at this meeting, whose legality was more than doubtful, but it included deputies of no less than twelve out of the fourteen towns which were members of the Estates. The prince sent Ste Aldegonde as his plenipotentiary. The step taken was practically an act of insurrection against the king. William had resigned his stadholdership in 1568 and had afterwards been declared an outlaw. Bossu had been by royal authority appointed to the vacant office. The Estates now formally recognised the prince as Stadholder of the king in Holland, Zeeland, West Friesland and Utrecht; and he was further invested with the supreme command of the forces both by land and sea and was charged with the duty of protecting the country against foreign oppression or invasion by foreign troops. Ste Aldegonde in the name of the prince announced his acceptance of the posts that had been conferred on him and declared that he desired, as a condition of such acceptance, that the principle of religious freedom and liberty of worship should be conceded to Catholics and Protestants alike. To this the Estates assented. Orange took an oath to maintain the towns in the rights and privileges of which they had been deprived by Alva and not to enter into any negotiations or conclude any treaty with Spain without their consent. The Court of Holland for the administration of justice was reconstituted and a Chamber of Finance erected. The question of finance was indeed crucial, for the new stadholder asked for a subsidy of 100,000 crowns a month for the support of the army he had raised for the invasion of Brabant; and the Estates agreed to take measures for appropriating certain taxes for the purpose, an undertaking which had, however, in this time of present distress small likelihood of effectual result.

The course of events indeed in the months which followed this historic gathering at Dordrecht was not encouraging to those who had thus dared somewhat prematurely to brave the wrath of Philip and the vengeance of Alva. Lewis of Nassau had for some time been engaged in raising a Huguenot force for the invasion of the southern Netherlands. The news of the capture of Brill and Flushing stirred him to sudden action. He had collected only a small body of men, but, with characteristic impetuosity he now led these across the frontier, and, before Alva was aware of his presence in Hainault, had captured by surprise Valenciennes and Mons (May 24). It was a rash move, for no sooner did the news reach the governor-general than he sent his son, Don Frederick of Toledo, at the head of a powerful force to expel the invader. Don Frederick quickly made himself master of Valenciennes and then proceeded (June 3) to lay siege to Mons, where Lewis, in hopes that relief would reach him, prepared for an obstinate defence. These hopes were not without foundation, for he knew that, beyond the Rhine, Orange with a considerable army was on the point of entering the Netherlands from the east, and that the Huguenot leader, Genlis, was leading another force from France to his succour. William at the head of 20,000 German and 3000 Walloon mercenaries actually entered Gelderland (July 7), captured Roeremonde and then marched into Brabant. Here (July 19) the news reached him of the complete defeat and annihilation of the raw levies of Genlis by Toledo’s veteran troops. Hampered by lack of funds William now, as throughout his life, showed himself to be lacking in the higher qualities of military leadership. With an ill-paid mercenary force time was a factor of primary importance, nevertheless the prince made no effort to move from his encampment near Roeremonde for some five weeks. Meanwhile his troops got out of hand and committed many excesses, and when, on August 27, he set out once more to march westwards, he found to his disappointment that there was no popular rising in his favour. Louvain and Brussels shut their gates, and though Mechlin, Termonde and a few other places surrendered, the prince saw only too plainly that his advance into Flanders would not bring about the relief of Mons. All his plans had gone awry. Alva could not be induced to withdraw any portion of the army that was closely blockading Mons, but contented himself in following Orange with a force under his own command while avoiding a general action. And then like a thunderclap, September 5, the news of the massacre of St Bartholomew was brought to the prince, and he knew that the promise of Coligny to conduct 12,000 arquebusiers to the succour of Lewis could not be redeemed. In this emergency William saw that he must himself endeavour to raise the siege. He accordingly marched from Flanders and, September 11, encamped at the village of Harmignies, a short distance from Mons. In the night six hundred Spaniards, each of whom to prevent mistakes wore a white shirt over his armour, surprised the camp. The prince himself was awakened by a little dog that slept in his tent and only narrowly escaped with his life, several hundred of his troops being slain by the Camisaders. He was now thoroughly discouraged and on the following day retreated first to Mechlin, then to Roeremonde, where on September 30 the ill-fated expedition was disbanded. The retirement from Harmignies decided the fate of Mons. Favourable conditions were granted and Lewis of Nassau, who was ill with fever, met with chivalrous treatment and was allowed to return to Dillenburg.

William now found himself faced with something like financial ruin. Mercenary armies are very costly, and by bitter experience he had learnt the futility of opposing a half-hearted and badly disciplined force to the veteran troops of Alva. He resolved therefore to go in person to Holland to organise and direct the strong movement of revolt, which had found expression in the meeting of the Estates at Dordrecht. His agents had long been busy going about from town to town collecting funds in the name of the prince and encouraging the people in their resistance to the Inquisition and to foreign tyranny. William’s declaration that henceforth he intended to live and die in their midst and to devote himself with all his powers to the defence of the rights and liberties of the land met with willing and vigorous support throughout the greater part of Holland, West Friesland and Zeeland; and contributions for the supply of the necessary ways and means began to flow in. It was, however, a desperate struggle to which he had pledged himself, and to which he was to consecrate without flinching the rest of his life. If, however, the prince’s resolve was firm, no less so was that of Alva.

Alva had his enemies at the Spanish court, always ready to excite distrust against the duke in the mind of the suspicious king. In July, 1572, the Duke of Medina-Coeli had been sent from Spain to enquire into the state of affairs in the Netherlands; probably it was intended that he should take over the administration and supersede the governor-general. On his arrival, however, Medina-Coeli quickly saw that the difficulties of the situation required a stronger hand than his, and he did not attempt to interfere with Alva’s continued exercise of supreme authority. The governor-general, on his side, knew well what was the meaning of this mission of Medina-Coeli, and no sooner was the army of Orange dispersed than he determined, while the reins of power were still in his hands, to visit the rebellious towns of the north with condign vengeance.

At the head of a powerful force, Frederick of Toledo marched northwards. Mechlin, which had received Orange, was given over for three days to pillage and outrage. Then Zutphen was taken and sacked. Naarden, which had, though without regular defences, dared to resist the Spaniards, was utterly destroyed and the entire population massacred. Amsterdam, one of the few towns of Holland which had remained loyal to the king, served as a basis for further operations. Although it was already December and the season was unfavourable, Toledo now determined to lay siege to the important town of Haarlem. Haarlem was difficult of approach. It was protected on two sides by broad sheets of shallow water, the Haarlem lake and the estuary of the Y, divided from one another by a narrow neck of land. On another side was a thick wood. It was garrisoned by 4000 men, stern Calvinists, under the resolute leadership of Ripperda and Lancelot Brederode. An attempt to storm the place (December 21) was beaten off with heavy loss to the assailants; so Toledo, despite the inclemency of the weather, had to invest the city. Another desperate assault, January 31, disastrously failed, and the siege was turned into a blockade. The position, however, of the besiegers was in some respects worse than that of the besieged; and Toledo would have abandoned his task in despair had not his father ordered him at all costs to proceed. William meanwhile made several efforts to relieve the town. Bodies of skaters in the winter, and when the ice disappeared, numbers of boats crossed over the Haarlem lake from Leyden and managed to carry supplies of food into the town, and resistance might have been indefinitely prolonged had not Bossu put a stop to all intercourse between Haarlem and the outside world by convoying a flotilla of armed vessels from the Y into the lake. Surrender was now only a question of time. On July 11,1573, after a relieving force of 4000 men, sent by Orange, had been utterly defeated, and the inhabitants were perishing by famine, Toledo gained possession of Haarlem. The survivors of the heroic garrison were all butchered, and Ripperda and Brederode, their gallant leaders, executed. A number of the leading citizens were likewise put to death, but the town was spared from pillage on condition of paying a heavy fine. The siege had lasted seven months, and the army of Toledo, which had suffered terribly during the winter, is said to have lost twelve thousand men.

Alva in his letters to the king laid great stress on the clemency with which he had treated Haarlem. It had been spared the wholesale destruction of Zutphen and Naarden, and the duke hoped that by this exhibition of comparative leniency he might induce the other rebel towns to open their gates without opposition. He was deceived. On July 18 Alkmaar was summoned to surrender, but refused. Alva’s indignation knew no bounds, and he vowed that every man, woman and child in the contumacious town should be put to the sword. The threat, however, could not at once be executed. Toledo’s army, debarred from the sack of Haarlem, became mutinous through lack of pay. Until they received the arrears due to them, they refused to stir. Not till August 21 was Don Frederick able to invest Alkmaar with a force of 16,000 men. The garrison consisted of some 1300 burghers with 800 troops thrown into the town by Sonoy, Orange’s lieutenant in North Holland. Two desperate assaults were repulsed with heavy loss, and then the Spaniards proceeded to blockade the town. Sonoy now, by the orders of the prince, gained the consent of the cultivators of the surrounding district to the cutting of the dykes. The camps and trenches of the besiegers were flooded out; and (October 8) the siege was raised and the army of Don Frederick retired, leaving Alkmaar untaken. Within a week another disaster befell the Spanish arms. Between Hoorn and Enkhuizen the fleet of Bossu on the Zuyder Zee was attacked by the Sea-Beggars and was completely defeated. Bossu himself was taken prisoner and was held as a hostage for the safety of Ste Aldegonde, who fell into the hands of the Spaniards about month later.

This naval victory, following upon the retreat from Alkmaar, strengthened greatly the efforts of Orange and gave fresh life to the patriot cause. It likewise marked the end of the six years of Alva’s blood-stained rule in the Netherlands. Weary and disappointed, always hampered by lack of funds, angry at the loss of the king’s confidence and chafing at the evidence of it in the presence of Medina-Coeli at his side, the governor-general begged that he might be relieved of his functions. His request was granted, October 29. The chosen successor was the Grand Commander, Don Luis de Requesens, governor of Milan. It was only with much reluctance that Requesens, finding the king’s command insistent and peremptory, accepted the charge.

The Grand Commander was indeed far from being a suitable man for dealing with the difficult situation in the Netherlands, for he was a Spanish grandee pure and simple and did not even speak French. Even the loyalists received him coolly. He knew nothing of the country, and whatever his ability or disposition it was felt that he would not be allowed a free hand in his policy or adequate means for carrying it out. That his temper was conciliatory was quickly shown. An amnesty was proclaimed for political offenders except three hundred persons (among these Orange and his principal adherents), and pardon to all heretics who abjured their errors. He went even further than this by entering into a secret exchange of views with William himself through Ste Aldegonde as an intermediary, in the hope of finding some common meeting-ground for an understanding. But the prince was immovable. Unless freedom of worship, the upholding of all ancient charters and liberties and the removal of Spaniards and all foreigners from any share in the government or administration of the land were granted, resistance would be continued to the last. These were conditions Requesens had no power even to consider.

Orange during this time was on his side using all his diplomatic ability to gain help for the oppressed Netherlanders from France and England. But Charles IX had his own difficulties and was in too feeble health (he died May, 1574) to take any decided step, and Queen Elizabeth, though she connived at assistance being given to the rebel cause on strictly commercial terms, was not willing either to show open hostility to Philip or to support subjects in revolt against their sovereign. William’s position appeared well-nigh desperate, for at the opening of the year 1574 his authority was only recognised in a few of the towns of Holland and in some of the Zeeland islands, and the Spaniards had sent a large force to invest Leyden. He had, however, made up his mind to cast in his lot with the brave Hollanders and Zeelanders in their gallant struggle against overwhelming odds. To identify himself more completely with his followers, the prince, October, 1573, openly announced his adhesion to Calvinism. There are no grounds for doubting his sincerity in taking this step; it was not an act of pure opportunism. His early Catholicism had probably been little more than an outward profession, and as soon as he began to think seriously about religious questions, his natural bent had led him first to the Lutheran faith of his family, and then to the sterner doctrines, which had gained so firm a foothold in the towns of Holland and Zeeland. Nevertheless William, though henceforth a consistent Calvinist, was remarkable among his contemporaries for the principles of religious toleration he both inculcated and practised. He was constitutionally averse to religious persecution in any form, and by the zealots of his party he was denounced as lukewarm; but throughout his life he upheld the right of the individual, who was peaceful and law-abiding, to liberty of opinion and freedom of worship.

The year 1574 opened favourably. By a remarkable feat of arms the veteran Spanish commander Mondragon had, October, 1572, reconquered several of the Zeeland islands. His men on one occasion at ebb-tide marched across the channel which lies between South Beveland and the mainland, the water reaching up to their necks. The patriot forces had since then recovered much of the lost ground, but Middelburg was strongly held, and so long as the Spaniards had command of the sea, was the key to the possession of Zeeland. On January 29, 1574, the Sea-Beggars under Boisot attacked the Spanish fleet near Roemerswaal and after a bloody encounter gained a complete victory. The siege of Middelburg was now pressed and Mondragon surrendered, February 18. The prince at once set to work to create a patriot government in the province. Four towns had representatives, Middelburg, Zierikzee, Veere and Flushing. William himself acquired by purchase the marquisate of Flushing and thus was able to exercise a preponderating influence in the Provincial Estates, all of whose members were required to be Calvinists and supporters of the rebel cause.

The investment of Leyden by the Spaniards threatened however, now that Haarlem had fallen, to isolate South Holland and Zeeland; and William did not feel himself strong enough to make any serious attempt to raise the siege. Lewis of Nassau therefore, with the help of French money, set himself to work with his usual enthusiastic energy to collect a force in the Rhineland with which to invade the Netherlands from the east and effect a diversion. At the head of 7000 foot and 3000 horse–half-disciplined troops, partly Huguenot volunteers, partly German mercenaries–he tried to cross the Meuse above Maestricht with the intention of effecting a junction with the Prince of Orange. He was accompanied by John and Henry of Nassau, his brothers, and Christopher, son of the Elector Palatine. He found his course blocked by a Spanish force under the command of Sancho d’Avila and Mondragon. The encounter took place on the heath of Mook (April 14) and ended in the crushing defeat of the invaders. Lewis and his young brother, Henry, and Duke Christopher perished, and their army was completely scattered. The death of his brothers was a great grief to William. Lewis had for years been his chief support, and the loss of this dauntless champion was indeed a heavy blow to the cause for which he had sacrificed his life. He was only thirty-six years of age, while Henry, the youngest of the Nassaus, to whom the Prince was deeply attached, was but a youth of twenty-four.

The invasion of Lewis had nevertheless the result of raising the siege of Leyden; but only for a time. After the victory at Mook the Spanish troops were free to continue the task of reconquering rebel Holland for the king. On May 26 a strong force under Valdez advanced to Leyden and completely isolated the town by surrounding it with a girdle of forts. The attack came suddenly, and unfortunately the place had not been adequately provisioned. So strong was the position of the Spaniards that the stadholder did not feel that any relieving force that he could send would have any chance of breaking through the investing lines and revictualling the garrison. In these circumstances he summoned, June 1, a meeting of the Estates of Holland at Rotterdam and proposed, as a desperate resource, that the dykes should be cut and the land submerged, and that the light vessels of the Sea-Beggars under Boisot should sail over the waters, attack the Spanish forts and force an entrance into the town. After considerable opposition the proposal was agreed to and the waters were allowed to flow out upon the low-lying fields, villages and farms, which lie between the sea, the Rhine, the Waal and the Maas. Unfortunately the season was not favourable, and though the water reached nearly to the higher land round Leyden on which the Spanish redoubts were erected, and by alarming Valdez caused him to press the blockade more closely, it was not deep enough even for the light-draught vessels, which Boisot had gathered together, to make their way to the town. So the month of August passed and September began. Meanwhile the prince, who was the soul of the enterprise, was confined to his sick-bed by a violent attack of fever, and the pangs of famine began to be cruelly felt within the beleaguered town. A portion of the citizens were half-hearted in the struggle, and began to agitate for surrender and even sent out emissaries to try to make terms with the Spanish commander. But there were within Leyden leaders of iron resolution, the heroic Burgomaster Pieter Adriaanzoon van der Werf; the commandant of the garrison, Jan van der Does; Dirk van Bronkhorst, Jan van Hout and many others who remained staunch and true in face of the appalling agony of a starving population; men who knew the fate in store for them if they fell into the enemy’s hands and were determined to resist as long as they had strength to fight. At last in mid-September faint hopes began to dawn. William recovered, and a fierce equinoctial gale driving the flood-tide up the rivers gradually deepened the waters up to the very dyke on which the entrenchments of the besiegers stood. Urged on by Orange, Boisot now made a great effort. Anxiously from the towers was the approach of the relieving fleet watched. The town was at the very last extremity. The people were dying of hunger on every side. Some fierce combats took place as soon as the Sea-Beggars, experts at this amphibious warfare, arrived at the outlying Spanish forts, but not for long. Alarmed at the rising of the waters and fearing that the fleet of Boisot might cut off their escape, the Spaniards retreated in the night; and on the morning of October 3 the vessels of the relieving force, laden with provisions, entered the town. The long-drawn-out agony was over and Leyden saved from the fate of Haarlem, just at the moment when further resistance had become impossible. Had Leyden fallen the probability is that the whole of South Holland would have been conquered, and the revolt might have collapsed. In such a narrow escape well might the people of the town see an intervention of Providence on their behalf. The prince himself hastened to Leyden on the following day, reorganised the government of the town and in commemoration of this great deliverance founded the University, which was to become in the 17th century one of the most famous seats of learning in Europe.

The successful relief of Leyden was followed by a mutiny of the army of Valdez. They were owed long arrears of pay, had endured great hardships, and now that they saw themselves deprived of the hope of the pillage of the town, they put their commander and his officers under arrest and marched under a leader elected by themselves into Utrecht. Other mutinies occurred in various parts of the southern provinces, for Requesens had no funds, and it was useless to appeal to Philip, for the Spanish treasury was empty. This state of things led to a practical cessation of active hostilities for many months; and Requesens seized the opportunity to open negotiations with Orange. These were, however, doomed to be fruitless, for the king would not hear of any real concessions being made to the Protestants. The position of William was equally beset with difficulties, politically and financially. In the month following the relief of Leyden he even threatened to withdraw from the country unless his authority were more fully recognised and adequate supplies were furnished for the conduct of the war. The Estates accordingly, November 12, asked him to assume the title of Regent or Governor, with “absolute might, authority and sovereign control” of the affairs of the country. They also voted him an allowance of 49,000 guilders a month; but, while thus conferring on the man who still claimed to be the “Stadholder of the king” practically supreme power, the burgher-corporations of the towns were very jealous of surrendering in the smallest degree that control over taxation which was one of their most valued rights. The exercise of authority, however, by the prince from this time forward was very great, for he had complete control in military and naval matters, and in the general conduct of affairs he held all the administrative threads in his own hands. He had become indispensable, and in everything but name a sovereign in Holland and Zeeland.

The first part of 1575 was marked by a lull in warlike operations, and conferences were held at Breda between envoys of Orange and Requesens, only to find that there was no common ground of agreement. The marriage of the prince (June 24) with Charlotte de Bourbon, daughter of the Duke of Montpensier, was a daring step which aroused much prejudice against him. The bride, who was of the blood-royal of France, had been Abbess of Jouarre, but had abjured her vows, run away and become a Calvinist. This was bad enough, but the legality of the union was rendered the more questionable by the fact that Anne of Saxony was still alive. On all sides came protests–from Charlotte’s father, from John of Nassau, and from Anne’s relations in Saxony and Hesse. But William’s character was such that opposition only made him more determined to carry out his purpose. The wedding was celebrated at Brill with Calvinist rites. The union, whether legitimate or not, was undoubtedly one of great happiness.

Meanwhile the governor-general, unable to obtain any financial help from Spain, had managed to persuade the provinces, always in dread of the excesses of the mutinous soldiery, to raise a loan of 1,200,000 guilders to meet their demands for arrears of pay. Requesens was thus enabled to put in the late summer a considerable army into the field and among other successes to gain possession of the Zeeland islands, Duiveland and Schouwen. On September 27 a force under the command of the veteran Mondragon waded across the shallow channels dividing the islands, which fell into their hands. Zierikzee, the chief town of Schouwen, made a stout resistance, but had at length to surrender (July, 1576). This conquest separated South Holland from the rest of Zeeland; and, as Haarlem and Amsterdam were in the hands of the Spaniards, the only territory over which the authority of Orange extended was the low-lying corner of land between the Rhine and the Maas, of which Delft was the centre.

The situation again appeared well-nigh desperate, and the stadholder began to look anxiously round in the hope of obtaining foreign assistance. It was to the interest of both France and England to assist a movement which distracted the attention and weakened the power of Spain. But Henry III of France was too much occupied with civil and religious disturbances in his own country, and Elizabeth of England, while receiving with courtesy the envoys both of Orange and Requesens, gave evasive replies to both. She was jealous of France, and pleased to see the growing embarrassment of her enemy Philip, but the Tudor queen had no love either for rebels or for Calvinists. While refusing therefore openly to take the side of the Hollanders and Zeelanders, she agreed to give them secret help; and no obstacle was placed in the way of the English volunteers, who had already since 1572 been enlisting in the Dutch service. It was at this time that those English and Scottish Brigades were first formed which remained for nearly two centuries in that service, and were always to be found in the very forefront of the fighting throughout the great war of Liberation.

On March 4, 1576, Requesens died; and in the considerable interval that elapsed before the arrival of his successor, the outlook for the patriot cause became distinctly brighter. The Estates of Holland and Zeeland met at Delft (April 25, 1576); and the assembly was noteworthy for the passing of an Act of Federation. This Act, which was the work of Orange, bound the two provinces together for common action in defence of their rights and liberties and was the first step towards that larger union, which three years later laid the foundations of the Dutch Republic. By this Act sovereign powers were conferred upon William; he was in the name of the king to exercise all the prerogatives of a ruler. It required all his influence to secure the insertion of articles (1) extending a certain measure of toleration to all forms of religious worship that were not contrary to the Gospel, (2) giving authority to the prince in case of need to offer the Protectorate of the federated provinces to a foreign prince. Orange knew only too well that Holland and Zeeland were not strong enough alone to resist the power of Spain. His hopes of securing the support of the other provinces, in which Catholics were in the majority, depended, he clearly saw, on the numerous adherents to the ancient faith in Holland and Zeeland being protected against the persecuting zeal of the dominant Calvinism of those provinces. In any case–and this continued to be his settled conviction to the end of his life–the actual independence of the whole or any portion of the Netherlands did not seem to him to lie within the bounds of practical politics. The object for which he strove was the obtaining of substantial guarantees for the maintenance of the ancient charters, which exempted the provinces from the presence of foreign officials, foreign tribunals, foreign soldiery and arbitrary methods of taxation. As Philip had deliberately infringed all those privileges which he had sworn to maintain, it was the duty of all patriotic Netherlanders to resist his authority, and, if resistance failed to bring redress, to offer the sovereignty with the necessary restrictions to some other prince willing to accept it on those conditions and powerful enough to protect the provinces from Spanish attack. In order to grasp the principles which guided William’s policy during the next few years it is essential to bear in mind (1) that he sought to bring about a union of all the Netherland provinces on a basis of toleration, (2) that he did not aim at the erection of the Netherlands into an independent State.

On the death of Requesens the Council of State had assumed temporary charge of the administration. There had for some time been growing dissatisfaction even amongst the loyalist Catholics of the southern provinces at the presence and over-bearing attitude of so many Spanish officials and Spanish troops in the land and at the severity of the religious persecution. Representations were made to the king by the Council of State of the general discontent throughout the country, of the deplorable results of the policy of force and repression, and urging the withdrawal of the troops, the mitigation of the edicts, and the appointment of a member of the royal house to the governorship. To these representations and requests no answer was sent for months in accordance with Philip’s habitual dilatoriness in dealing with difficult affairs of State. He did, however, actually nominate in April his bastard brother, Don John of Austria, the famous victor of Lepanto, as Requesens’ successor. But Don John, who was then in Italy, had other ambitions, and looked with suspicion upon Philip’s motives in assigning him the thankless task of dealing with the troubles in the Low Countries. Instead of hurrying northwards, he first betook himself to Madrid where he met with a cold reception. Delay, however, so far from troubling Philip, was thoroughly in accordance with the whole bent of his character and policy. For six months Don John remained in Spain, and it was a half-year during which the situation in the Netherlands had been to a very large extent transformed.

The position of Orange and his followers in Holland and Zeeland in the spring of 1576 had again darkened. In June the surrender of Zierikzee to Mondragon was a heavy blow to the patriot cause, for it gave the Spaniards a firm footing in the very heart of the Zeeland archipelago and drove a wedge between South Holland and the island of Walcheren. This conquest was, however, destined to have important results of a very different character from what might have been expected. The town had surrendered on favourable terms and pillage was forbidden. Baulked of their expected booty, the Spanish troops, to whom large arrears of pay were due, mutinied. Under their own “eletto” they marched to Aalst, where they were joined by other mutineers, and soon a large force was collected together, who lived by plunder and were a terror to the country. The Council declared them to be outlaws, but the revolted soldiery defied its authority and scoffed at its threats. This was a moment which, as Orange was quick to perceive, was extremely favourable for a vigorous renewal of his efforts to draw together all the provinces to take common action in their resistance to Spanish tyranny. His agents and envoys in all parts of the Netherlands, but especially in Flanders and Brabant, urged his views upon the more influential members of the provincial estates and upon leading noblemen, like the Duke of Aerschot and other hitherto loyal supporters of the government, who were now suspected of wavering. His efforts met with a success which a few months earlier would have been deemed impossible. The conduct of the Spanish troops, and the lack of any central authority to protect the inhabitants against their insolence and depredations, had effected a great change in public opinion. In Brussels Baron de Héze (a god-child of the prince) had been appointed to the command of the troops in the pay of the Estates of Brabant. De Héze exerted himself to arouse popular opinion in the capital in favour of Orange and against the Spaniards. To such an extent was he successful that he ventured, Sept. 21, to arrest the whole of the Council of State with the exception of the Spanish member Roda, who fled to Antwerp. William now entered into direct negotiations with Aerschot and other prominent nobles of Flanders and Brabant. He took a further step by sending, at the request of the citizens of Ghent, a strong armed force to protect the town against the Spanish garrison in the citadel. In the absence of any lawful government, the States-General were summoned to meet at Brussels on September 22. Deputies from Brabant, Flanders and Hainault alone attended, but in the name of the States-General they nominated Aerschot, Viglius and Sasbout as Councillors of State, and appointed Aerschot to the command of the forces, with the Count of Lalaing as his lieutenant. They then, Sept. 27, approached the prince with proposals for forming a union of all the provinces. As a preliminary it was agreed that the conditions, which had been put forward by William as indispensable–namely, exclusion of all foreigners from administrative posts, dismissal of foreign troops, and religious toleration–should be accepted. The proposals were gladly received by William, and Ghent was chosen as the place where nine delegates from Holland and Zeeland should confer with nine delegates nominated by the States-General as representing the other provinces. They met on October 19. Difficulties arose on two points–the recognition to be accorded to Don John of Austria, and the principle of non-interference with religious beliefs. Orange himself had always been an advocate of toleration, but the representatives of Holland and Zeeland showed an obstinate disinclination to allow liberty of Catholic worship within their borders; and this attitude of theirs might, in spite of the prince’s efforts, have led to a breaking-off of the negotiations, had not an event occurred which speedily led to a sinking of differences on the only possible basis, that of mutual concession and compromise.

The citadel of Antwerp was, during this month of October, garrisoned by a body of mutinous Spanish troops under the command of Sancho d’Avila, the victor of Mook. Champagney, the governor, had with him a body of German mercenaries under a certain Count Oberstein; and at his request, such was the threatening attitude of the Spaniards, the States-General sent Havré with a reinforcement of Walloon troops. On Sunday, November 4, the garrison, which had been joined by other bands of mutineers, turned the guns of the citadel upon the town and sallying forth attacked the forces of Champagney. The Germans offered but a feeble resistance. Oberstein perished; Champagney and Havré took refuge on vessels in the river; and the Spaniards were masters of Antwerp. The scene of massacre, lust and wholesale pillage, which followed, left a memory behind it unique in its horror even among the excesses of this blood-stained time. The “Spanish Fury,” as it was called, spelt the ruin of what, but a short time before, had been the wealthiest and most flourishing commercial city in the world.

The news of this disaster reached the States-General, as they were in the act of considering the draft proposals which had been submitted to them by the Ghent conference. At the same time tidings came that Don John, who had travelled through France in disguise, had arrived at Luxemburg. They quickly therefore came to a decision to ratify the pact, known as the Pacification of Ghent, and on November 8 it was signed. The Pacification was really a treaty between the Prince of Orange and the Estates of Holland and Zeeland on the one hand, and the States-General representing the other provinces. It was agreed that the Spanish troops should be compelled to leave the Netherlands and that the States-General of the whole seventeen provinces, as they were convened at the abdication of Charles V, should be called together to decide upon the question of religious toleration and other matters of national importance. Meanwhile the placards against heresy were suspended, and all the illegal measures and sentences of Alva declared null and void. His confiscated property was restored to Orange, and his position, as stadholder in Holland and Zeeland, acknowledged. Don John was informed that he would not be recognised as governor-general unless he would consent to dismiss the Spanish troops, accept the Pacification of Ghent, and swear to maintain the rights and privileges of the Provinces. Negotiations ensued, but for a long time to little purpose; and Don John, who was rather an impetuous knight-errant than a statesman and diplomatist, remained during the winter months at Namur, angry at his reception and chafing at the conditions imposed upon him, which he dared not accept without permission from the king. In December the States-General containing deputies from all the provinces met at Brussels, and in January the Pacification of Ghent was confirmed, and a new compact, to which the name of the Union of Brussels was given, was drawn up by a number of influential Catholics. This document, to which signatures were invited, was intended to give to the Pacification of Ghent the sanction of popular support and to be at the same time a guarantee for the maintenance of the royal authority and the Catholic religion. The Union of Brussels was generally approved throughout the southern provinces, and the signatories from every class were numbered by thousands. Don John, who was at Huy, saw that it was necessary to temporise. He was willing, he declared, to dismiss the foreign troops and send them out of the country and to maintain the ancient charters and liberties of the provinces, provided that nothing was done to subvert the king’s authority or the Catholic faith. Finally, on February 12, a treaty called “The Perpetual Edict,” a most inappropriate name, was signed, and the States-General acknowledged Don John as governor-general. The agreement was principally the work of Aerschot and the loyalist Catholic party, who followed his leadership, and was far from being entirely acceptable to Orange. He had no trust in the good faith of either Philip or his representative, and, though he recommended Holland and Zeeland to acquiesce in the treaty and acknowledge Don John as governor-general, it was with the secret resolve to keep a close watch upon his every action, and not to brook any attempt to interfere with religious liberty in the two provinces, in which he exercised almost sovereign power and with whose struggles for freedom he had identified himself.

The undertaking of Don John with regard to the Spanish troops was punctually kept. Before the end of April they had all left the country; and on May 1 the new governor-general made his state entry into Brussels. It was to outward appearances very brilliant. But the hero of Lepanto found himself at once distrusted by the Catholic nobles and checkmated by the influence and diplomacy of the ever watchful William of Orange. Chafing at his impotence, and ill-supported by the king, who sent no reply to his appeals for financial help, Don John suddenly left the capital and, placing himself at the head of a body of Walloon troops, seized Namur. Feeling himself in this stronghold more secure, he tried to bring pressure on the States-General to place in his hands wider powers and to stand by him in his efforts to force Orange to submit to the authority of the king. His efforts were in vain. William had warned the States-General and the nobles of the anti-Spanish party in Brabant and Flanders that Don John was not to be trusted, and he now pointed to the present attitude of the governor-general, as a proof that his suspicions were well-founded. Indeed the eyes of all true patriots began to turn to the prince, who had been quietly strengthening his position, not only in Holland and Zeeland, where he was supreme, but also in Utrecht and Gelderland; and popular movements in Brussels and elsewhere took place in his favour. So strongly marked was the Orange feeling in the capital that the States-General acceded to the general wish that the prince should be invited to come in person to Brussels. Confidence was expressed by Catholics no less than by Protestants that only under his leadership could the country be delivered from Spanish tyranny. A deputation was sent, bearing the invitation; but for a while William hesitated in giving an affirmative reply. On September 23, however, he made his entry into Brussels amidst general demonstrations of joy and was welcomed as “the Restorer and Defender of the Father-land’s liberty.” Thus, ten years after he had been declared an outlaw and banished, did the Prince of Orange return in triumph to the town which had witnessed the execution of Egmont and Hoorn. It was the proudest day of his life and the supreme point of his career.


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