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History of the United Netherlands from the Death of William the Silent to the Twelve Year's Truce, 1600-02 online

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Online LibraryJohn Lothrop MotleyHistory of the United Netherlands from the Death of William the Silent to the Twelve Year's Truce, 1600-02 → online text (page 1 of 4)
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From the Death of William the Silent to the Twelve Year's Truce - 1609

By John Lothrop Motley

MOTLEY'S HISTORY OF THE NETHERLANDS, Project Gutenberg Edition, Vol. 74

History of the United Netherlands, 1600-1602


Effects of the Nieuport campaign - The general and the statesman -
The Roman empire and the Turk - Disgraceful proceedings of the
mutinous soldiers in Hungary - The Dunkirk pirates - Siege of Ostend
by the Archduke - Attack on Rheinberg by Prince Maurice - Siege and
capitulation of Meura - Attempt on Bois-le-Duc - Concentration of the
war at Ostend - Account of the belligerents - Details of the siege -
Feigned offer of Sir Francis Vere to capitulate - Arrival of
reinforcements from the States - Attack and overthrow of the

The Nieuport campaign had exhausted for the time both belligerents.
The victor had saved the republic from impending annihilation, but was
incapable of further efforts during the summer. The conquered cardinal-
archduke, remaining essentially in the same position as before, consoled
himself with the agreeable fiction that the States, notwithstanding their
triumph, had in reality suffered the most in the great battle. Meantime
both parties did their best to repair damages and to recruit their

The States - or in other words Barneveld, who was the States - had learned
a lesson. Time was to show whether it would be a profitable one, or
whether Maurice, who was the preceptor of Europe in the art of war, would
continue to be a docile pupil of the great Advocate even in military
affairs. It is probable that the alienation between the statesman and
the general, which was to widen as time advanced, may be dated from the
day of Nieuport.

Fables have even been told which indicated the popular belief in an
intensity of resentment on the part of the prince, which certainly did
not exist till long afterwards.

"Ah, scoundrel!" the stadholder was said to have exclaimed, giving the
Advocate a box on the ear as he came to wish him joy of his great
victory, "you sold us, but God prevented your making the transfer."

History would disdain even an allusion to such figments - quite as
disgraceful, certainly to Maurice as to Barneveld - did they not point the
moral and foreshadow some of the vast but distant results of events which
had already taken place, and had they not been so generally repeated that
it is a duty for the lover of truth to put his foot upon the calumny,
even at the risk for a passing moment of reviving it.

The condition of the war in Flanders had established a temporary
equilibrium among the western powers - France and England discussing,
intriguing, and combining in secret with each other, against each other,
and in spite of each other, in regard to the great conflict - while Spain
and the cardinal-archduke on the one side, and the republic on the other,
prepared themselves for another encounter in the blood-stained arena.

Meantime, on the opposite verge of what was called European civilization,
the perpetual war between the Roman Empire and the Grand Turk had for the
moment been brought into a nearly similar equation. Notwithstanding the
vast amount of gunpowder exploded during so many wearisome years, the
problem of the Crescent and the Cross was not much nearer a solution in
the East than was that of mass and conventicle in the West. War was the
normal and natural condition of mankind. This fact, at least, seemed to
have been acquired and added to the mass of human knowledge.

From the prolific womb of Germany came forth, to swell impartially the
Protestant and Catholic hosts, vast swarms of human creatures. Sold by
their masters at as high prices as could be agreed upon beforehand, and
receiving for themselves five stivers a day, irregularly paid, until the
carrion-crow rendered them the last service, they found at times more
demand for their labor in the great European market than they could fully
supply. There were not Germans enough every year for the consumption of
the Turk, and the pope, and the emperor, and the republic, and the
Catholic king, and the Christian king, with both ends of Europe ablaze at
once. So it happened that the Duke of Mercoeur and other heroes of the
League, having effected their reconciliation with the Bearnese, and for a
handsome price paid down on the nail having acknowledged him to be their
legitimate and Catholic sovereign, now turned their temporary attention
to the Turk. The sweepings of the League - Frenchmen, Walloons, Germans,
Italians, Spaniards - were tossed into Hungary, because for a season the
war had become languid in Flanders. And the warriors grown grey in the
religious wars of France astonished the pagans on the Danube by a variety
of crimes and cruelties such as Christians only could imagine. Thus,
while the forces of the Sultan were besieging Buda, a detachment of
these ancient Leaguers lay in Pappa, a fortified town not far from Raab,
which Archduke Maximilian had taken by storm two years before. Finding
their existence monotonous and payments unpunctual, they rose upon the
governor; Michael Maroti, and then entered into a treaty with the Turkish
commander outside the walls. Bringing all the principal citizens of the
town, their wives and children, and all their moveable property into the
market-place, they offered to sell the lot, including the governor, for a
hundred thousand rix dollars. The bargain was struck, and the Turk,
paying him all his cash on hand and giving hostages for the remainder,
carried off six hundred of the men and women, promising soon to
return and complete the transaction. Meantime the imperial general,
Schwartzenberg, came before the place, urging the mutineers with promises
of speedy payment, and with appeals to their sense of shame, to abstain
from the disgraceful work. He might as well have preached to the wild
swine swarming in the adjacent forests. Siege thereupon was laid to the
place. In a sortie the brave Schwartzenberg was killed, but Colonitz
coming up in force the mutineers were locked up in the town which they
had seized, and the Turk never came to their relief. Famine drove them
at last to choose between surrender and a desperate attempt to cut their
way out. They took the bolder course, and were all either killed or
captured. And now - the mutineers having given the Turk this lesson in
Christian honour towards captives - their comrades and the rest of the
imperial forces showed them the latest and most approved Christian method
of treating mutineers. Several hundred of the prisoners were distributed
among the different nationalities composing the army to be dealt with at
pleasure. The honest Germans were the most straightforward of all
towards their portion of the prisoners, for they shot them down at once,
without an instant's hesitation. But the Lorrainers, the remainder of
the French troops, the Walloons, and especially the Hungarians - whose
countrymen and women had been sold into captivity - all vied with each
other in the invention of cruelties at which the soul sickens, and which
the pen almost refuses to depict.

These operations and diversions had no sensible effect upon the progress
of the war, which crept on with the same monotonous and sluggish cruelty
as ever; but the incidents narrated paint the course of civilization more
vividly than the detailed accounts of siege and battle; mining and
countermining, assaults and ambuscades can do, of which the history books
are full. The leaguers of Buda and of other cities and fortresses in
Hungary went their course; and it was destined to remain for a still
longer season doubtful whether Cross or Crescent should ultimately wave
over the whole territory of Eastern Europe, and whether the vigorous
Moslem, believing in himself, his mission, his discipline, and his
resources, should ultimately absorb what was left of the ancient Roman

Meantime, such of the Walloons, Lorrainers, Germans, and Frenchmen as had
grown wearied of the fighting on the Danube and the Theiss - might have
recourse for variety to the perpetual carnage on the Meuse, the Rhine,
and the Scheld. If there was not bloodshed enough for all, it was surely
not the fault of Mahomet, nor Clement, nor Philip.

During the remainder of the year not much was done in of the stadholder
or the cardinal, but there was immense damage done to the Dutch shipping
by the famous privateersman, Van der Waecken, with his squadron of twelve
or fourteen armed cruisers. In vain had the States exerted themselves to
destroy the robbers cave, Dunkirk. Shiploads of granite had been brought
from Norway, and stone fleets had been sunk in the channel, but the
insatiable quicksands had swallowed them as fast as they could be
deposited, the tide rolled as freely as before, and the bold pirates
sailed forth as gaily as ever to prey upon the defenceless trading
vessels and herring-smacks of the States. For it was only upon non-
combatants that Admiral Van der Waecken made war, and the fishermen
especially, who mainly belonged to the Memnonite religion, with its
doctrines of non-resistance - not a very comfortable practice in that
sanguinary age - were his constant victims. And his cruelties might have
almost served as a model to the Christian warriors on the Turkish
frontier. After each vessel had been rifled of everything worth
possessing, and then scuttled, the admiral would order the crews to be,
thrown overboard at once, or, if he chanced to be in a merry mood, would
cause them to be fastened to the cabin floor, or nailed crossways on the
deck and then would sail away leaving ship and sailors to sink at
leisure. The States gave chase as well as they could to the miscreant -
a Dutchman born, and with a crew mainly composed of renegade
Netherlanders and other outcasts, preying for base lucre on their
defenceless countryman - and their cruisers were occasionally fortunate
enough to capture and bring in one of the pirate ships. In such cases,
short shrift was granted, and the buccaneers were hanged without mercy,
thirty-eight having been executed in one morning at Rotterdam. The
admiral with most of his vessels escaped, however, to the coast of Spain,
where his crews during the autumn mainly contrived to desert, and where
he himself died in the winter, whether from malady, remorse, or
disappointment at not being rewarded by a high position in the Spanish

The war was in its old age. The leaf of a new century had been turned,
and men in middle life had never known what the word Peace meant.
Perhaps they could hardly imagine such a condition. This is easily said,
but it is difficult really to picture to ourselves the moral constitution
of a race of mankind which had been born and had grown up, marrying and
giving in marriage, dying and burying their dead, and so passing on from
the cradle towards the grave, accepting the eternal clang of arms, and
the constant participation by themselves and those nearest to them in the
dangers, privations, and horrors of siege and battle-field as the
commonplaces of life. At least, those Netherlanders knew what fighting
for independence of a foreign tyrant meant. They must have hated Spain
very thoroughly, and believed in the right of man to worship God
according to the dictates of his conscience, and to govern himself upon
his own soil, however meagre, very earnestly, or they would hardly have
spent their blood and treasure, year after year; with such mercantile
regularity when it was always in their power to make peace by giving up
the object for which they had been fighting.

Yet the war, although in its old age, was not fallen into decrepitude.
The most considerable and most sanguinary pitched battle of what then
were modern times had just been fought, and the combatants were preparing
themselves for a fresh wrestle, as if the conflict had only begun. And
now - although the great leaguers of Harlem, Leyden, and Antwerp, as well
as the more recent masterpieces of Prince Maurice in Gelderland and
Friesland were still fresh in men's memory - there was to be a siege,
which for endurance, pertinacity, valour, and bloodshed on both sides,
had not yet been foreshadowed, far less equalled, upon the fatal
Netherland soil.

That place of fashionable resort, where the fine folk of Europe now
bathe, and flirt, and prattle politics or scandal so cheerfully during
the summer solstice - cool and comfortable Ostend - was throughout the
sixteenth century as obscure a fishing village as could be found in
Christendom. Nothing, had ever happened there, nobody had ever lived
there, and it was not until a much later period that the famous oyster,
now identified with its name, had been brought to its bay to be educated.
It was known for nothing except for claiming to have invented the
pickling of herrings, which was not at all the fact. Towards the latter
part of the century, however, the poor little open village had been
fortified to such purpose as to enable it to beat off the great Alexander
Farnese, when he had made an impromptu effort to seize it in the year
1583, after his successful enterprise against Dunkirk and Nieuport, and
subsequent preparation had fortunately been made against any further
attempt. For in the opening period of the new century thousands and tens
of thousands were to come to those yellow sands, not for a midsummer
holiday, but to join hands in one of the most enduring struggles that
history had yet recorded, and on which the attention of Europe was for a
long time to be steadily fixed.

Ostend - East-end - was the only possession of the republic in Flanders.
Having been at last thoroughly fortified according to the principles of
the age, it was a place whence much damage was inflicted upon the enemy,
and whence forays upon the obedient Flemings could very successfully be
conducted. Being in the hands of so enterprising a naval power, it
controlled the coast, while the cardinal-archduke on the other side
fondly hoped that its possession would give him supremacy on the sea.
The States of Flanders declared it to be a thorn in the Belgic lion's
foot, and called urgently upon their sovereign to remove the annoyance.

They offered Albert 300,000 florins a month so long as the siege should
last, besides an extraordinary sum of 300,000, of which one third was to
be paid when the place should be invested, one-third when the breach had
been made, and one-third after the town had been taken. It was obvious
that, although they thought the extraction of the thorn might prove
troublesome, the process would be accomplished within a reasonable time.
The cardinal-archduke, on his part, was as anxious as the "members" of
Flanders. Asking how long the Duke of Parma had been in taking Antwerp,
and being told "eighteen months," he replied that, if necessary, he was
willing to employ eighteen years in reducing Ostend.

The town thus about to assume so much importance in the world's eye had
about three thousand inhabitants within its lowly; thatch-roofed houses.
It fronted directly upon the seacoast and stretched backward in a
southerly direction, having the sandy downs on the right and left, and a
swampy, spongy soil on the inner verge, where it communicated with the
land. Its northern part, small and scarcely inhabited, was lashed by the
ocean, and exposed to perpetual danger from its storms and flood-tides,
but was partially protected from these encroachments by a dyke stretching
along the coast on the west. Here had hitherto been the harbour formed
by the mouth of the river Iperleda as it mingled with the sea, but this
entrance had become so choked with sand as to be almost useless at low
water. This circumstance would have rendered the labours of the archduke
comparatively easy, and much discouraged the States, had there not
fortunately been a new harbour which had formed itself on the eastern
side exactly at the period of threatened danger. The dwarf mountain
range of dunes which encircled the town on the eastern side had been
purposely levelled, lest the higher summits should offer positions of
vantage to a besieging foe. In consequence of this operation, the sea
had burst over the land and swept completely around the place, almost
converting it into an island, while at high water there opened a wide and
profound gulf which with the ebb left an excellent channel quite deep
enough for even the ships of war of those days. The next care of the
States authorities was to pierce their fortifications on this side at a
convenient point, thus creating a safe and snug haven within the walls
for the fleets of transports which were soon to arrive by open sea, laden
with soldiers and munitions.

The whole place was about half an hour's walk in circumference. It was
surrounded with a regular counterscarp, bastions, and casemates, while
the proximity of the ocean and the humid nature of the soil ensured it a
network of foss and canal on every side. On the left or western side,
where the old harbour had once been, and which was the most vulnerable by
nature, was a series of strong ravelins, the most conspicuous of which
were called the Sand Hill, the Porcupine, and Hell's Mouth. Beyond
these, towards the southwest, were some detached fortifications, resting
for support, however, upon the place itself, called the Polder, the
Square, and the South Square. On the east side, which was almost
inaccessible, as it would seem, by such siege machinery as then existed,
was a work called the Spanish half-moon, situate on the new harbour
called the Guele or Gullet.

Towards the west and southwest, externally, upon the territory of
Flanders - not an inch of which belonged to the republic, save the sea-
beaten corner in which nestled the little town-eighteen fortresses had
been constructed by the archduke as a protection against hostile
incursions from the place. Of these, the most considerable were
St. Albert, often mentioned during the Nieuport campaign, St. Isabella
St. Clara, and Great-Thirst.

On the 5th July, 1601, the archduke came before the town, and formally
began the siege. He established his headquarters in the fort which bore
the name of his patron saint. Frederic van den Berg meanwhile occupied
fort Breden on the eastern side, with the intention, if possible, of
getting possession of the Gullet, or at least of rendering the entrance
to that harbour impossible by means of his hostile demonstrations. Under
Van den Berg was Count Bucquoy-Longueval, a Walloon officer of much
energy and experience, now general-in-chief of artillery in the
archduke's army.

The numbers with which Albert took the field at first have not been
accurately stated, but it is probable that his object was to keep as many
as twenty thousand constantly engaged in the siege, and that in this
regard he was generally successful.

Within the town were fifty-nine companies of infantry, to which were soon
added twenty-three more under command of young Chatillon, grandson of the
great Coligny. It was "an olla podrida of nationalities," according to
the diarist of the siege - [Meteren]. English, Scotch, Dutch, Flemings,
Frenchmen, Germans, mixed in about equal proportions. Commander-in-
chief at the outset was Sir Francis Vere, who established himself by the
middle of July in the place, sent thither by order of the States-General.
It had been the desire of that assembly that the stadholder should make
another foray in Flanders for the purpose of driving off the archduke
before he should have time to complete his preliminary operations. But
for that year at least Maurice was resolved not to renounce his own
schemes in deference to those so much more ignorant than himself of the
art of war, even if Barneveld and his subordinates on their part had not
learned a requisite lesson of modesty.

So the prince, instead of risking another Nieuport campaign, took the
field with a small but well-appointed force, about ten thousand men in
all, marched to the Rhine, and early in June, laid siege to Rheinberg.
It was his purpose to leave the archduke for the time to break his teeth
against the walls of Ostend, while he would himself protect the eastern
frontier, over which came regular reinforcements and supplies for the
Catholic armies. His works were laid out with his customary precision
and neatness. But, standing as usual, like a professor at his
blackboard, demonstrating his proposition to the town, he was disturbed
in his calculations by the abstraction from his little army of two
thousand English troops ordered by the States-General to march to the
defence of Ostend. The most mathematical but most obedient of princes,
annoyed but not disconcerted, sent off the troops but continued his

"By this specimen," cried the French envoy, with enthusiasm, "judge of
the energy of this little commonwealth. They are besieging Berg with an
army of twelve thousand men, a place beyond the frontier, and five days'
march from the Hague. They are defending another important place,
besieged by the principal forces of the archdukes, and there is good
chance of success at both points. They are doing all this too with such
a train of equipages of artillery, of munitions, of barks, of ships of
war, that I hardly know of a monarch in the world who would not be
troubled to furnish such a force of warlike machinery."

By the middle of July he sprang a mine under the fortifications, doing
much damage and sending into the air a considerable portion of the
garrison. Two of the soldiers were blown into his own camp, and one of
them, strangely enough, was but slightly injured. Coming as he did
through the air at cannon-ball speed, he was of course able to bring the
freshest intelligence from the interior of the town.

His news as to the condition of the siege confirmed the theory of the
stadholder. He persisted in his operations for three weeks longer, and
the place was then surrendered. The same terms - moderate and honourable
were given to the garrison and the burghers as in all Maurice's
victories. Those who liked to stay were at liberty to do so, accepting
the prohibition of public worship according to the Roman ritual, but
guaranteed against inquisition into household or conscience. The
garrison went out with the honours of war, and thus the place, whose
military value caused it to change hands almost as frequently as a
counter in a game, was once more in possession of the republic. In the
course of the following week Maurice laid siege to the city of Meurs, a
little farther up the Rhine, which immediately capitulated. Thus the
keys to the debatable land of Cleves and Juliers, the scene of the
Admiral of Arragon's recent barbarities, were now held by the stadholder.

These achievements were followed by an unsuccessful attempt upon
Bois-le-Duc in the course of November. The place would have fallen
notwithstanding the slenderness of the besieging army had not a sudden
and severe frost caused the prudent prince to raise the siege. Feeling
that his cousin Frederic van den Berg, who had been despatched from
before Ostend to command the relieving force near Bois-le-Duc, might take
advantage of the prematurely frozen canals and rivers to make an
incursion into Holland, he left his city just as his works had been
sufficiently advanced to ensure possession of the prize, and hastened to
protect the heart of the republic from possible danger.

Nothing further was accomplished by Maurice that year, but meantime
something had been doing within and around Ostend.

For now the siege of Ostend became the war, and was likely to continue
to be the war for a long time to come; all other military operations
being to a certain degree suspended, as if by general consent of both
belligerants, or rendered subsidiary to the main design. So long as this
little place should be beleaguered it was the purpose of the States, and
of Maurice, acting in harmony with those authorities, to concentrate
their resources so as to strengthen the grip with which the only scrap of
Flanders was held by the republic,

And as time wore on, the supposed necessities of the wealthy province,
which, in political importance, made up a full half of the archduke's
dominions, together with self-esteem and an exaggerated idea of military

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Online LibraryJohn Lothrop MotleyHistory of the United Netherlands from the Death of William the Silent to the Twelve Year's Truce, 1600-02 → online text (page 1 of 4)