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History of the United Netherlands: from the death of William the Silent to the twelve years' truce--1609 (Volume 2) online

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England and France, while it was also provided that the
Netherland fleet should, within a certain period, be recalled
from the Spanish coast.

A day of public fast, humiliation, thanksgiving, and prayer
was ordered throughout the republic for the 9th of May, in
order to propitiate the favour of Heaven on the great work to
be undertaken ; and, as a further precaution. Prince Maurice
ordered all garrisons in the strong places to be doubled, lest
the slippery enemy should take advantage of too much confi-
dence reposed in his good faith. The preachers throughout
the commonwealth, each according to his individual bias,

•* Meteren, 551''o. Gallucci, 325.

** Meteren, 551, Gallucci, 386. Grotius, xvi. 788. Wagenaar, ix. 250, et »ef.


improved the occasion by denouncing the Spaniard from their
pulpits and inflaming the popular hatred against the ancient
enemy, or by dilating on the blessings of peace and the
horrors of war."' The peace party and the war party, the be-
lievers in Barneveld and the especial adherents of Prince
Maurice, seemed to divide the land in nearly equal portions.

While the Netherlands, both rebellious and obedient, were
filled with these various emotions, the other countries of
Europe were profoundly amazed at the sudden revelation. It
was on the whole regarded as a confession of impotence on the
part of Spain that the archdukes should now prepare to send
envoys to the revolted provinces as to a free and independent
people. Universal monarchy, brought to such a pass as this,
was hardly what had been expected after the tremendous de-
signs and the grandiloquent language on which the world had
80 long been feeding as its daily bread. The spectacle of
anointed monarchs thus far humbling themselves to the
people — of rebellion dictating terms, instead of writhing in
dust at the foot of the throne — was something new in history.
The heavens and earth might soon be expected to pass away,
now that such a catastrophe was occurring.

The King of France had also been kept in ignorance of
these events. It was impossible, however, that the negotia-
tions could go forward without his consent and formal partici-
pation. Accordingly on receiving the news he appointed an
especial mission to the Hague — President Jeannin and De
Russy, besides his regular resident ambassador Buzanval.
Meantime startling news reached the republic in the earl^
days of May.

•* Wagenaar, ix. 251.

31S '^^^ UiSiTEi> JN'ETliEKLAKDS. Chap. XL V J


A Dutch fleet under Heemskerk sent to the coast of Spain and Portugal —
Encounter with the Spanish war-fleet under D'Avila — Death of both
commanders-in-chief — Victory of the Netherlanders — Massacre of the

The States-General had not been inclined to be tranquil
under the check which Admiral Haultain had received upon
the coast of Spain in the autumn of 1606. The deed of ter-
rible self-devotion by which Klaaszoon and his comrades had
in that crisis saved the reputation of the repubhc, had proved
that her fleets needed only skilful handling and determined
leaders to conquer their enemy in the Western seas as certainly
as they had done in the archipelagos of the East. And there
was one pre-eminent naval commander, still in the very prime
of life, but seasoned by an experience at the poles and in the
tropics such as few mariners in that early but expanding
maritime epoch could boast. Jacob van Heemskerk, unlike
many of the navigators and ocean warriors who had made and
were destined to make the Orange flag of the United Pro-
vinces illustrious over the world, was not of humble parentage.
Sprung of an ancient, knightly race, which had frequently
distinguished itself in his native province of Holland, he had
followed the seas almost from his cradle. By turns a com-
mercial voyager, an explorer, a privateer's-man, or an admiral
of war-fleets, in days when sharp distinctions between the
merchant service and the public service, corsairs' work and
cruisers' work, did not exist, he had ever proved himself equal
to any emergency — a man incapable of fatigue, of perplexity,
or of fear. - We have followed his career during that awful
winter in Nova Zembla, where, with such unflinching cheer-
ful heroism, he sustained the courage of his comrades — the


first band of scientific martyrs that had ever braved the dan-
gers and demanded the secrets of those arctic regions. His
glorious name — as those of so many of his comrades and
countrymen — has been rudely torn from cape, promontory,
island, and continent, once illustrated by courage and sufi'er-
ing, but the noble record will ever remflin/

Subsequently he had much navigated the Indian ocean; his
latest achievement having been, with two hundred men, in a
couple of yachts, to cajjture an immense Portuguese caiTack,
mounting thirty guns, and manned with eight hundred
sailors, and to bring back a prodigious booty for the exchequer
of the republic. A man with delicate features, large brown
eyes, a thin high nose, fair hair and beard, and a soft, gentle
expression, he concealed, under a quiet exterior, and on ordi-
nary occasions a very plain and pacific costume, a most daring
nature, and an indomitable ambition for military and naval

He was the man of all others in the commonwealth to lead
any new enterprise that audacity could conceive against the
hereditary enemy.

The public and the States-General were anxious to retrace
the track of Haul tain, and to efface the memory of his inglori-
ous return from the Spanish coast. The sailors of Holland
and Zeeland were indignant that the richly freighted fleets of
the two Indies had been allowed to slip so easily through their
fingers. The great East India Corporation was importunate
with Government that such blunders should not be repeated,
and that the armaments known to be pre})aring in the Portu-
guese ports, the homeward-bound fleets that might be looked
for at any moment off the peninsular coast, and the Spanish
cruisers which were again preparing to molest the merchant
fleets of the Company, should be dealt with effectively and in

Twenty-six vessels of smaU size but of good sailing qualities,

' For a full and learned difiscrtation i fallen see in particular Bennet and
on the causes of the oblivion into | Van Wyk, 111 ; Hoofdetuk, 156, e< jjey.
which the early Dutch voyages have i


according to the idea of the epoch, were provided, together
with four tenders. Of this fleet the command was offered to
Jacob van Heemskerk. He accepted with alacrity, express-
ing with his usual quiet self-confidence the hope that, living
or dead, his fatherland would have cause to thank him. In-
spired only by the love f)f glory, he asked for no remuneration
for his services save thirteen per cent, of the booty, after half a
million florins should have been paid into the public treasury.
It was hardly probable that this would prove a large share of
prize money, while considerable victories alone could entitle
him to receive a stiver.

The expedition sailed in the early days of April for the coast
of Spain and Portugal, the admiral having full discretion to
do anything that might in his judgment redound to the advan-
tage of the republic. Next in command was the vice-admiral
of Zeeland, Laurenz Alteras. Another famous seaman in
the fleet was Captain Henry Janszoon of Amsterdam, com-
monly called Long Harry, while the weather-beaten and
well-beloved Admiral Lambert, familiarly styled by his
countrymen " Pretty Lambert," some of whose achievements
have already been recorded in these pages, was the comrade
of aU others upon whom Heemskerk most depended.^ After
the 10th April the admiral, lying off and on near the mouth
of the Tagus, sent a lugger in trading disguise to reconnoitre
that river. He ascertained by his spies, sent in this and sub-
sequently in other directions, as well as by occasional mer-
chantmen spoken with at sea, that the Portuguese fleet for
India would not be ready to sail for many weeks ; that no
valuable argosies were yet to be looked for from America, but
that a great war-fleet, comprising many galleons of the largest
size, was at that very moment cruising in the Straits of Gib-
raltar. Such of the Netherland traders as were returning
from the Levant, as well as those designing to enter the
Mediterranean, were likely to fall prizes to this formidable
enemy. The heart of Jacob Heemskerk danced for joy. He
had come forth for glory, not for booty, and here was what he

' Wagenaar, ix. 358.


had scarcely dared to hope for — a powerful antagonist instead

of peaceful, scarcely resisting, but richly-laden merchantmen.

The accounts received were so accurate as to assure him that

the Gibraltar fleet was far superior to his own in size of

vessels, weight of metal, and number of combatants. The

circumstances only increased his eagerness. The more he

was over-matched, the greater would be the honour of victory,

and he steered for the straits, tacking to and fro in the teeth

of a strong head-wind.

On the morning of the 25th April he was in the narrowest

part of the mountain-channel, and learned that the

. . 25 ADril

whole Spanish fleet was in the Bay of Gibraltar.

The marble pillar of Hercules rose before him. Heemskerk
was of a poetic temperament, and his imagination was inflamed
by the spectacle which met his eyes. Geographical position,
splendour of natural scenery, immortal fable, and romantic
history, had combined to throw a spell over that region. It
seemed marked out for perpetual illustration by human
valour. The deeds by which, many generations later, those
localities were to become identified with the fame of a splen-
did empire — then only the most energetic rival of the young
republic, but destined under infinitely better geographical
conditions to follow on her track of empire, and with far more
prodigious results — were still in the womb of futurity. But
St. Vincent, Trafalgar, Gibraltar — words which were one day
to stir the English heart, and to conjure heroic English
shapes from the depths so long as history endures — were
capes and promontories already familiar to legend and

Those Netherlanders had come forth from their slender
little fatherland to offer battle at last within his own harbours
and under his own fortresses to the despot who aspired to
universal monarchy, and who claimed the lordshij) of the seas.
The Hollanders and Zeelanders had gained victories on the
German Ocean, in the Channel, throughout the Indies, but
now they were to measure strength with the ancient enemy
in this most conspicuous theatre, and before the eyes of
VOL, IV. — Y


Christendom. It was on this famous spot that the ancient
demigod had torn asunder by main strength the continents
of Europe and Africa, There stood the oj)posite fragments of
the riven mountain-chain, Calpe and Ahyla, gazing at each
other, in eternal separation, across the gulf, emblems of those
two antagonistic races which the terrible hand of Destiny has
so ominously disjoined. Nine centuries before, the African
king, Moses son of Nuzir, and his lieutenant, Tarik son of
Abdallah, had crossed that strait and burned the ships which
brought them. Black Africa had conquered a portion of
whiter Europe, and laid the foundation of the deadly mutual
repugnance which nine hundred years of bloodshed had
heightened into insanity of hatred. Tarik had taken the
town and mountain, Carteia and Calpe, and given to both
his o^vn name. Gib-al-Tarik, the cliff of Tarik, they are
called to this day.

Within the two horns of that beautiful bay, and protected
by the fortress on the precipitous rock, lay the Spanish fleet
at anchor. There were ten galleons of the largest size,
besides lesser war-vessels and caiTacks, in all twenty-one
sail. The admiral commanding was Don Juan Alvarez
d Avila, a veteran who had fought at Lepanto under Don
John of Austria. His son was captain of his flag-ship, the
St. Augustine. The vice-admiral's galleon was called ' Our
Lady of La Vega,' the rear-admiral's was the ' Mother of
God,' and all the other ships were baptized by the holy
names deemed most aj^projjriate, in the Spanish service, to
deeds of carnage.

On the other hand, the nomenclature of the Dutch ships
suggested a menagerie. There was the Tiger, the Sea Dog,
the Griffin, the Red Lion, the Golden Lion, the Black Bear,
the White Bear ; these, with the iEolus and the Morning
Star, were the leading vessels of the little fleet.

On first attaining a distant view of the enemy, Heemskerk
summoned all the captains on board his flag-ship, the uEolus,
and addressed them in a few stirrino* words.

"It is difficult," he said, "for Netherlanders not to conquer on


salt water.^ Our fathers have gained many a victory in dis-
tant seas, but it is for us to tear from the enemy's list of titles
his arrogant appellation of Monarch of the Ocean. Here, on
the verge of two continents, Europe is watching our deeds,
while the Moors of Africa are to learn for the first time in
what estimation they are to hold the Batavian republic.
Remember that you have no choice between triumph and
destruction. I have led you into a position whence escape is
impossible — and I ask of none of you more than I am prepared
to do myself — whither I am sure that you will follow.
The enemy's ships are far superior to ours in bulk ; but
remember that their excessive size makes them difficult to
handle and easier to hit, while our own vessels are entirely
within control. Their decks are swarming "with men, and
thus there wiW be more certainty that our shot will take
effect. Remember, too, that we are all sailors, accustomed
from our cradles to the ocean ; while yonder Spaniards are
mainly soldiers and landsmen, qualmish at the smell of bilge-
water, and sickening at the roll of the waves.* This day
begins a long list of naval victories, which will make our
fatherland for ever illustrious, or lay the foundation of an
honourable peace, by placing, through our triumph, in the
hands of the States-General, the power of dictating its terms."

His comrades long remembered the enthusiasm which
flashed from the man, usually so gentle and composed in
demeanour, so simple in attire. Clad in complete armour,
with the orange-plumes waving from his casque and the
orange-scarf across his breast, he stood there in front of the
mainmast of the ^olus, the very embodiment of an ancient^

He then briefly announced his plan of attack. It was of
antique simplicity. He would lay his own ship alongside

' Grotius, Meteren, and Wagenaar i apud nos nautse pugnant, apud illos
all rive essentially the Barae report of I milites quos ego mihi vidore videor ut
this sneecli. and I am inclined to tliink sunt delirati sentina; odore ac jacta-
therefore that sometliing very like it tione fluctuum propeexiinimes in ver
was really spoken. tiginem dari.' — Grotius, 734.

* " lUud vero vol prsecipuum quod


that of the Spanish admiral. Pretty Lambert in the Tiger
was to grapple with her on the other side. Vice-admiral
Alteras and Captain Bras were to attack the enemy's vice-
admiral in the same way. Thus, two by two, the little
Netherland ships were to come into closest quarters with
each one of the great galleons. Heemskerk would himself
lead the way, and all were to follow, as closely as possible,
in his wake. The oath to stand by each other was then
solemnly renewed, and a parting health was drunk. The
captains then returned to their ships.

As the Lepanto warrior, Don Juan d'Avila, saw the little
vessels slowly moving towards him, he summoned a Hollander
whom he had on board, one Skipper Gevaerts of a captured
Dutch trading bark, and asked him whether those ships in
the distance were Netherlanders.

" Not a doubt of it," replied the skipper.

The admiral then asked him what their purpose could pos-
sibly be, in venturing so near Gibraltar.

" Either I am entirely mistaken in my countrymen,"
answered G-evaerts, " or they are coming for the express pur-
pose of offering you battle." ^

The Spaniard laughed loud and long. The idea that those
puny vessels could be bent on such a purpose seemed to him
irresistibly comic, and he promised his prisoner, with much
condescension, that the St. Augustine alone should sink the
whole fleet.

Gevaerts, having his own ideas on the subject, but not
being called upon to express them, thanked the admiral for
his urbanity, and respectfully withdrew.

At least four thousand soldiers were in D'Avila's ships,
besides seamen. There were seven hundred in the St. Augus-
tine, four hundred and fifty in Our Lady of Vega, and so o)
in proportion. There were also one or two hundred nob.,
volunteers who came* thronging on board, scenting the battle
from afar, and desirous of having a hand in the destruction of
the insolent Dutchmen.

* Meteren, 547,


It was about one in the afternoon. There was not much
wind, but the Hollanders, slowly drifting on the
eternal river that pours from the Atlantic into the
Mediterranean, were now very near. All hands had been
piped on board every one of the ships, all had gone down on
their knees in humble prayer, and the loving cup had then
been passed around.^

Heemskerk, leading the way towards the Spanish admiral,
ordered the gunners of the tEoIus not to fire until the vessels
struck each other. " Wait till you hear it crack," ^ he said,
adding a j^romise of a hundred florins to the man who should
pull down the admiral's flag, Avila, notwithstanding his
previous merriment, thought it best, for the moment, to avoid
the coming collision. Leaving to other galleons, which he
interposed between himself and the enemy, the task of sum-
marily sinking the Dutch fleet, he cut the cable of the St,
Augustine and drifted farther into the bay. Heemskerk, not
allowing himself to be foiled in his purpose, steered past two
or three galleons, and came crashing against the admiral.
Almost simultaneously. Pretty Lambert laid himself along
her quarter on the other side. The St. Augustine fired into
the ^olus as she approached, but without doing much
damage. The Dutch admiral, as he was coming in contact,
discharged his forward guns, and poured an effective volley
of musketiy into his antagonist.

The St. Augustine fired again, straight across the centre
of the ^olus, at a few yards' distance. A cannon-ball took
off the head of a sailor, standing near Heemskerk, and
carried away the admiral's leg, close to the body. He fell on
deck, and, knowing himself to be mortally wounded, im-
plored the next in command on board. Captain Verhoef, to
fight his ship to the last, and to conceal his death from the
rest of the fleet. Then prophesying a glorious victory for
the republic, and piously commending his soul to his Maker,
he soon breathed his last. A cloak was thrown over him,

* Meteren, Wagenaar, Grotiiis.

' " En dat sy bet hoorden kraaken." — Meteren, 547''o,


and the battle raged. The few who were aware that the
noble Heemskerk was gone, burned to avenge his death, and
to obey the dying commands of their beloved chief The
rest of the Hollanders believed themselves under his directing
influence, and fought as if his eyes were upon them. Thus
the sj)irit of the departed hero still watched over and guided
the battle.

The iEolus now fired a broadside into her antagonist,
making fearful havoc, and killing Admiral D'Avila. The
commanders-in-chief of both contending fleets had thus fallen
at the very beginning of the battle. While the St. Augus-
tine was engaged in deadly encounter, yard-arm and yard-
arm, with the ^olus and the Tiger, Vice-admiral Alteras
had, however, not carried out his part of the plan. Before he
could succeed in laying himself alongside of the Spanish vice-
admiral, he had been attacked by two galleons. Three other
Dutch ships, however, attacked the vice-admiral, and, after
an obstinate combat, silenced all her batteries and set her on
fire. Her conquerors were then obliged to draw off rather
hastily, and to occupy themselves for a time in extinguishing
their own burning sails, which had taken fire from the close
contact with their enemy. Our Lady of Vega, aU ablaze fi'om
top-gallant-mast to quarter-deck, floated helplessly about, a
spectre of flame, her guns going ofi" wildly, and her crew
dashing themselves into the sea, in order to escape by drown-
ing from a fiery death. She was consumed to the water's edge.

Meantime, Vice-admiral Alteras had successively defeated
both his antagonists; drifting in with them until almost under
the guns of the fortress, but never leaving them until, by his
superior gunnery and seamanship, he had sunk one of them,
and driven the other a helpless wreck on shore.

Long Harry, while Alteras had been thus employed, had
engaged another great galleon, and set her on fire. She^ too,
was thoroughly burned to her hulk ; but Admiral Harry was

By this time, although it was early of an April afternoon,
and heavy clouds of smoke, enveloping the combatants jient


together in so small a space, seemed to make an atmosphere
of midnight, as the flames of the burning galleons died away.
There was a difficult}^, too, in bringing all the Netherland
ships into action — several of the smaller ones having been
purposely stationed by Heemskerk on the edge of the bay to
prevent the possible escajje of any of the Spaniards. While
some of these distant shijjs were crowding sail, in order to
come to closer quarters, now that the day seemed going against
the Spaniards, a tremendous explosion suddenly shook the air.
One of the largest galleons, engaged in combat with a couj^le
of Dutch vessels, had received a hot shot full in her powder
magazine, and blew up with all on board. The blazing frag-
ments drifted about among the other ships, and two more
were soon on fire, their guns going off and their magazines
exploding. The rock of Gibraltar seemed to reel. To the
murky darkness succeeded the intolerable glare of a new and
vast conflagration. The scene in that narrow roadstead was
now almost infernal. It seemed, said an eye-witness, as if
heaven and earth were passing away. A hopeless panic
seizAl the Spaniards. The battle was over. The St. Augus-
tine still lay in the deadly embrace of her antagonists, but all
the other galleons were sunk or burned. Several of the lesser
war-ships had also been destroyed. It was nearly sunset.
The St. Augustine at last ran up a white flag, but it was not
observed in the fierceness of the last moments of combat ; the
men from the ^olus and the Tiger making a simultaneous
rush on board the vanquished foe.

The fight was done, but the massacre was at its beginning.
The trumpeter of Captain Kleinsorg clambered like a monkey
up the mast of the St. Augustine, hauled down the ad-
miral's flag, the last which was still waving, and gained the
hundred florins. The ship was full of dead and dying ; but a
brutal, infamous butchery now took place. Some Netherland
prisoners were found in the hold, who related that two mes-
seno-ers had been successively despatched to take their lives,
as they lay there in chains, and that each had been shot,
as he made his way towards the execution of the orders.


This information did not chill the ardour of their victorious
countrymen. No quarter was given. Such of the victims
as succeeded in throwing themselves overboard, out of the
St. Augustine, or any of the burning or sinking ships, were
pursued by the Netherlanders, who rowed about among them
in boats, shooting, stabbing, and drowning their victims by
hundreds. It was a sickening spectacle. The bay, said those
who were there, seemed sown with corpses. Probably two or
three thousand were thus put to death, or had met their fate
before. Had the chivalrous Heemskerk lived, it is possible
that he might have stopped the massacre. But the thought
of the grief which would fill the commonwealth when the
news should arrive of his death — thus turning the joy of the
great triumjih into lamentations — increased the animosity of
his comrades. Moreover, in ransacking the Spanish admiral's
ship, all his papers had been found, among them many secret

Online LibraryJohn Lothrop MotleyHistory of the United Netherlands: from the death of William the Silent to the twelve years' truce--1609 (Volume 2) → online text (page 85 of 118)