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against the Protestants, and even introduced a modified species
of inquisition into the Netherlands, but with little effect toward
the suppression of the reformed doctrines. The misunderstandings
between his only son Philip and Mary of England, whom he had
induced him to marry, and the unamiable disposition of this young
prince, tormented him almost as much as he was humiliated by the
victories of Henry II. of France, the successor of Francis I.,
and the successful dissimulation of Maurice, elector of Saxony,
by whom he was completely outwitted, deceived, and defeated.
Impelled by these motives, and others, perhaps, which are and
must ever remain unknown, Charles at length decided on abdicating
the whole of his immense possessions. He chose the city of Brussels
as the scene of the solemnity, and the day fixed for it was the
25th of October, 1555. It took place accordingly, in the presence
of the king of Bohemia, the duke of Savoy, the dowager queens
of France and Hungary, the duchess of Lorraine, and an immense
assemblage of nobility from various countries. Charles resigned
the empire to his brother Ferdinand, already king of the Romans;
and all the rest of his dominions to his son. Soon after the
ceremony, Charles embarked from Zealand on his voyage to Spain.
He retired to the monastery of St. Justus, near the town of
Placentia, in Estremadura. He entered this retreat in February,
1556, and died there on the 21st of September, 1558, in the
fifty-ninth year of his age. The last six months of his existence,
contrasted with the daring vigor of his former life, formed a
melancholy picture of timidity and superstition.

The whole of the provinces of the Netherlands being now for the
first time united under one sovereign, such a junction marks
the limits of a second epoch in their history. It would be a
presumptuous and vain attempt to trace, in a compass so confined
as ours, the various changes in manners and customs which arose
in these countries during a period of one thousand years. The
extended and profound remarks of many celebrated writers on the
state of Europe from the decline of the Roman power to the epoch
at which we are now arrived must be referred to, to judge of
the gradual progress of civilization through the gloom of the
dark ages, till the dawn of enlightenment which led to the grand
system of European politics commenced during the reign of Charles
V. The amazing increase of commerce was, above all other
considerations, the cause of the growth of liberty in the
Netherlands. The Reformation opened the minds of men to that
intellectual freedom without which political enfranchisement is
a worthless privilege. The invention of printing opened a thousand
channels to the flow of erudition and talent, and sent them out
from the reservoirs of individual possession to fertilize the
whole domain of human nature. War, which seems to be an instinct
of man, and which particular instances of heroism often raise to
the dignity of a passion, was reduced to a science, and made
subservient to those great principles of policy in which society
began to perceive its only chance of durable good. Manufactures
attained a state of high perfection, and went on progressively
with the growth of wealth and luxury. The opulence of the towns
of Brabant and Flanders was without any previous example in the
state of Europe. A merchant of Bruges took upon himself alone
the security for the ransom of John the Fearless, taken at the
battle of Nicopolis, amounting to two hundred thousand ducats.
A provost of Valenciennes repaired to Paris at one of the great
fairs periodically held there, and purchased on his own account
every article that was for sale. At a repast given by one of the
counts of Flanders to the Flemish magistrates the seats they
occupied were unfurnished with cushions. Those proud burghers
folded their sumptuous cloaks and sat on them. After the feast
they were retiring without retaining these important and costly
articles of dress; and on a courtier reminding them of their
apparent neglect, the burgomaster of Bruges replied, "We Flemings
are not in the habit of carrying away the cushions after dinner!"
The meetings of the different towns for the sports of archery were
signalized by the most splendid display of dress and decoration.
The archers were habited in silk, damask, and the finest linen,
and carried chains of gold of great weight and value. Luxury
was at its height among women. The queen of Philip the Fair of
France, on a visit to Bruges, exclaimed, with astonishment not
unmixed with envy, "I thought myself the only queen here; but
I see six hundred others who appear more so than I."

The court of Phillip the Good seemed to carry magnificence and
splendor to their greatest possible height. The dresses of both
men and women at this chivalric epoch were of almost incredible
expense. Velvet, satin, gold, and precious stones seemed the
ordinary materials for the dress of either sex; while the very
housings of the horses sparkled with brilliants and cost immense
sums. This absurd extravagance was carried so far that Charles
V. found himself forced at length to proclaim sumptuary laws
for its repression.

The style of the banquets given on grand occasions was regulated
on a scale of almost puerile splendor. The Banquet of Vows given
at Lille, in the year 1453, and so called from the obligations
entered into by some of the nobles to accompany Philip in a new
crusade against the infidels, showed a succession of costly
fooleries, most amusing in the detail given by an eye-witness
(Olivier de la Marche), the minutest of the chroniclers, but
unluckily too long to find a place in our pages.

Such excessive luxury naturally led to great corruption of manners
and the commission of terrible crimes. During the reign of Philip de
Male, there were committed in the city of Ghent and its outskirts, in
less than a year, above fourteen hundred murders in gambling-houses
and other resorts of debauchery. As early as the tenth century,
the petty sovereigns established on the ruins of the empire of
Charlemagne began the independent coining of money; and the various
provinces were during the rest of this epoch inundated with a most
embarrassing variety of gold, silver, and copper. Even in ages of
comparative darkness, literature made feeble efforts to burst
through the entangled weeds of superstition, ignorance, and war.
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, history was greatly
cultivated; and Froissart, Monstrelet, Olivier de la Marche, and
Philip de Comines, gave to their chronicles and memoirs a charm
of style since their days almost unrivalled. Poetry began to be
followed with success in the Netherlands, in the Dutch, Flemish,
and French languages; and even before the institution of the
Floral Games in France, Belgium possessed its chambers of rhetoric
(_rederykkamers_) which labored to keep alive the sacred flame
of poetry with more zeal than success. In the fourteenth and
fifteenth centuries, these societies were established in almost
every burgh of Flanders and Brabant; the principal towns possessing
several at once.

The arts in their several branches made considerable progress
in the Netherlands during this epoch. Architecture was greatly
cultivated in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; most of
the cathedrals and town houses being constructed in that age.
Their vastness, solidity, and beauty of design and execution,
make them still speaking monuments of the stern magnificence
and finished taste of the times. The patronage of Philip the
Good, Charles the Rash, and Margaret of Austria, brought music
into fashion, and led to its cultivation in a remarkable degree.
The first musicians of France were drawn from Flanders; and other
professors from that country acquired great celebrity in Italy
for their scientific improvements in their delightful art.

Painting, which had languished before the fifteenth century,
sprung at once into a new existence from the invention of John Van
Eyck, known better by the name of John of Bruges. His accidental
discovery of the art of painting in oil quickly spread over Europe,
and served to perpetuate to all time the records of the genius
which has bequeathed its vivid impressions to the world. Painting
on glass, polishing diamonds, the Carillon, lace, and tapestry,
were among the inventions which owed their birth to the Netherlands
in these ages, when the faculties of mankind sought so many new
channels for mechanical development. The discovery of a new world
by Columbus and other eminent navigators gave a fresh and powerful
impulse to European talent, by affording an immense reservoir for
its reward. The town of Antwerp was, during the reign of Charles
V., the outlet for the industry of Europe, and the receptacle
for the productions of all the nations of the earth. Its port
was so often crowded with vessels that each successive fleet
was obliged to wait long in the Scheldt before it could obtain
admission for the discharge of its cargoes. The university of
Louvain, that great nursery of science, was founded in 1425, and
served greatly to the spread of knowledge, although it degenerated
into the hotbed of those fierce disputes which stamped on theology
the degradation of bigotry, and drew down odium on a study that,
if purely practiced, ought only to inspire veneration.

Charles V. was the first to establish a solid plan of government,
instead of the constant fluctuations in the management of justice,
police, and finance. He caused the edicts of the various sovereigns,
and the municipal usages, to be embodied into a system of laws; and
thus gave stability and method to the enjoyment of the prosperity
in which he left his dominions.



A.D. 1555 - 1566

It has been shown that the Netherlands were never in a more
flourishing state than at the accession of Philip II. The external
relations of the country presented an aspect of prosperity and
peace. England was closely allied to it by Queen Mary's marriage
with Philip; France, fatigued with war, had just concluded with it
a five years truce; Germany, paralyzed by religious dissensions,
exhausted itself in domestic quarrels; the other states were
too distant or too weak to inspire any uneasiness; and nothing
appeared wanting for the public weal. Nevertheless there was
something dangerous and alarming in the situation of the Low
Countries; but the danger consisted wholly in the connection
between the monarch and the people, and the alarm was not sounded
till the mischief was beyond remedy.

From the time that Charles V. was called to reign over Spain,
he may be said to have been virtually lost to the country of
his birth. He was no longer a mere duke of Brabant or Limberg,
a count of Flanders or Holland; he was also king of Castile,
Aragon, Leon, and Navarre, of Naples, and of Sicily. These various
kingdoms had interests evidently opposed to those of the Low
Countries, and forms of government far different. It was scarcely
to be doubted that the absolute monarch of so many peoples would
look with a jealous eye on the institutions of those provinces
which placed limits to his power; and the natural consequence was
that he who was a legitimate king in the south soon degenerated
into a usurping master in the north.

But during the reign of Charles the danger was in some measure
lessened, or at least concealed from public view, by the apparent
facility with which he submitted to and observed the laws and
customs of his native country. With Philip, the case was far
different, and the results too obvious. Uninformed on the Belgian
character, despising the state of manners, and ignorant of the
language, no sympathy attached him to the people. He brought
with him to the throne all the hostile prejudices of a foreigner,
without one of the kindly or considerate feelings of a compatriot.

Spain, where this young prince had hitherto passed his life, was
in some degree excluded from European civilization. A contest of
seven centuries between the Mohammedan tribes and the descendants
of the Visigoths, cruel, like all civil wars, and, like all those
of religion, not merely a contest of rulers, but essentially of
the people, had given to the manners and feelings of this unhappy
country a deep stamp of barbarity. The ferocity of military
chieftains had become the basis of the government and laws. The
Christian kings had adopted the perfidious and bloody system of
the despotic sultans they replaced. Magnificence and tyranny,
power and cruelty, wisdom and dissimulation, respect and fear,
were inseparably associated in the minds of a people so governed.
They comprehended nothing in religion but a God armed with
omnipotence and vengeance, or in politics but a king as terrible
as the deity he represented.

Philip, bred in this school of slavish superstition, taught that he
was the despot for whom it was formed, familiar with the degrading
tactics of eastern tyranny, was at once the most contemptible
and unfortunate of men. Isolated from his kind, and wishing to
appear superior to those beyond whom his station had placed him,
he was insensible to the affections which soften and ennoble
human nature. He was perpetually filled with one idea - that of
his greatness; he had but one ambition - that of command; but
one enjoyment - that of exciting fear. Victim to this revolting
selfishness, his heart was never free from care; and the bitter
melancholy of his character seemed to nourish a desire of evil-doing,
which irritated suffering often produces in man. Deceit and blood
were his greatest, if not his only, delights. The religious zeal
which he affected, or felt, showed itself but in acts of cruelty;
and the fanatic bigotry which inspired him formed the strongest
contrast to the divine spirit of Christianity.

Nature had endowed this ferocious being with wonderful penetration
and unusual self-command; the first revealing to him the views
of others, and the latter giving him the surest means of
counteracting them, by enabling him to control himself. Although
ignorant, he had a prodigious instinct of cunning. He wanted
courage, but its place was supplied by the harsh obstinacy of
wounded pride. All the corruptions of intrigue were familiar
to him; yet he often failed in his most deep-laid designs, at
the very moment of their apparent success, by the recoil of the
bad faith and treachery with which his plans were overcharged.

Such was the man who now began that terrible reign which menaced
utter ruin to the national prosperity of the Netherlands. His
father had already sapped its foundations, by encouraging foreign
manners and ideas among the nobility, and dazzling them with the
hope of the honors and wealth which he had at his disposal abroad.
His severe edicts against heresy had also begun to accustom the
nation to religious discords and hatred. Philip soon enlarged
on what Charles had commenced, and he unmercifully sacrificed
the well-being of a people to the worst objects of his selfish

Philip had only once visited the Netherlands before his accession
to sovereign power. Being at that time twenty-two years of age, his
opinions were formed and his prejudices deeply rooted. Everything
that he observed on this visit was calculated to revolt both. The
frank cordiality of the people appeared too familiar. The expression
of popular rights sounded like the voice of rebellion. Even the
magnificence displayed in his honor offended his jealous vanity.
From that moment he seems to have conceived an implacable aversion
to the country, in which alone, of all his vast possessions, he
could not display the power or inspire the terror of despotism.

The sovereign's dislike was fully equalled by the disgust of his
subjects. His haughty severity and vexatious etiquette revolted
their pride as well as their plain dealing; and the moral qualities
of their new sovereign were considered with loathing. The commercial
and political connection between the Netherlands and Spain had
given the two people ample opportunities for mutual acquaintance.
The dark, vindictive dispositions of the latter inspired a deep
antipathy in those whom civilization had softened and liberty
rendered frank and generous; and the new sovereign seemed to
embody all that was repulsive and odious in the nation of which
he was the type. Yet Philip did not at first act in a way to
make himself more particularly hated. He rather, by an apparent
consideration for a few points of political interest and individual
privilege, and particularly by the revocation of some of the edicts
against heretics, removed the suspicions his earlier conduct
had excited; and his intended victims did not perceive that the
despot sought to lull them to sleep, in the hopes of making them
an easier prey.

Philip knew well that force alone was insufficient to reduce
such a people to slavery. He succeeded in persuading the states
to grant him considerable subsidies, some of which were to be paid
by instalments during a period of nine years. That was gaining
a great step toward his designs, as it superseded the necessity
of a yearly application to the three orders, the guardians of
the public liberty. At the same time he sent secret agents to
Rome, to obtain the approbation of the pope to his insidious
but most effective plan for placing the whole of the clergy in
dependence upon the crown. He also kept up the army of Spaniards
and Germans which his father had formed on the frontiers of France;
and although he did not remove from their employments the
functionaries already in place, he took care to make no new
appointments to office among the natives of the Netherlands.

In the midst of these cunning preparations for tyranny, Philip
was suddenly attacked in two quarters at once; by Henry II. of
France, and by Pope Paul IV. A prince less obstinate than Philip
would in such circumstances have renounced, or at least postponed,
his designs against the liberties of so important a part of his
dominions, as those to which he was obliged to have recourse
for aid in support of this double war. But he seemed to make
every foreign consideration subservient to the object of domestic
aggression which he had so much at heart.

He, however, promptly met the threatened dangers from abroad. He
turned his first attention toward his contest with the pope; and
he extricated himself from it with an adroitness that proved the
whole force and cunning of his character. Having first publicly
obtained the opinion of several doctors of theology, that he
was justified in taking arms against the pontiff (a point on
which there was really no doubt), he prosecuted the war with
the utmost vigor, by the means of the afterward notorious duke
of Alva, at that time viceroy of his Italian dominions. Paul soon
yielded to superior skill and force, and demanded terms of peace,
which were granted with a readiness and seeming liberality that
astonished no one more than the defeated pontiff. But Philip's
moderation to his enemy was far outdone by his perfidy to his
allies. He confirmed Alva's consent to the confiscation of the
domains of the noble Romans who had espoused his cause; and thus
gained a stanch and powerful supporter to all his future projects
in the religious authority of the successor of St. Peter.

His conduct in the conclusion of the war with France was not
less base. His army, under the command of Philibert Emmanuel,
duke of Savoy, consisting of Belgians, Germans, and Spaniards,
with a considerable body of English, sent by Mary to the assistance
of her husband, penetrated into Picardy, and gained a complete
victory over the French forces. The honor of this brilliant affair,
which took place near St. Quintin, was almost wholly due to the
count d'Egmont, a Belgian noble, who commanded the light cavalry;
but the king, unwilling to let anyone man enjoy the glory of
the day, piously pretended that he owed the entire obligation
to St. Lawrence, on whose festival the battle was fought. His
gratitude or hypocrisy found a fitting monument in the celebrated
convent and palace of the Escurial, which he absurdly caused to
be built in the form of a gridiron, the instrument of the saint's
martyrdom. When the news of the victory reached Charles V. in his
retreat, the old warrior inquired if Philip was in Paris? but
the cautious victor had no notion of such prompt manoeuvring; nor
would he risk against foreign enemies the exhaustion of forces
destined for the enslavement of his people.

The French in some measure retrieved their late disgrace by the
capture of Calais, the only town remaining to England of all its
French conquests, and which, consequently, had deeply interested
the national glory of each people. In the early part of the year
1558, one of the generals of Henry II. made an irruption into
western Flanders; but the gallant count of Egmont once more proved
his valor and skill by attacking and totally defeating the invaders
near the town of Gravelines.

A general peace was concluded in April, 1559, which bore the
name of C√Ґteau-Cambresis, from that of the place where it was
negotiated. Philip secured for himself various advantages in the
treaty; but he sacrificed the interests of England, by consenting
to the retention of Calais by the French king - a cession deeply
humiliating to the national pride of his allies; and, if general
opinion be correct, a proximate cause of his consort's death. The
alliance of France and the support of Rome, the important results
of the two wars now brought to a close, were counterbalanced
by the well-known hostility of Elizabeth, who had succeeded to
the throne of England; and this latter consideration was an
additional motive with Philip to push forward the design of
consolidating his despotism in the Low Countries.

To lead his already deceived subjects the more surely into the
snare, he announced his intended departure on a short visit to
Spain; and created for the period of his absence a provisional
government, chiefly composed of the leading men among the Belgian
nobility. He flattered himself that the states, dazzled by the
illustrious illusion thus prepared, would cheerfully grant to
this provisional government the right of levying taxes during
the temporary absence of the sovereign. He also reckoned on the
influence of the clergy in the national assembly, to procure the
revival of the edicts against heresy, which he had gained the
merit of suspending. These, with many minor details of profound
duplicity, formed the principal features of a plan, which, if
successful, would have reduced the Netherlands to the wretched
state of colonial dependence by which Naples and Sicily were
held in the tenure of Spain.

As soon as the states had consented to place the whole powers of
government in the hands of the new administration for the period
of the king's absence, the royal hypocrite believed his scheme
secure, and flattered himself he had established an instrument of
durable despotism. The composition of this new government was
a masterpiece of political machinery. It consisted of several
councils, in which the most distinguished citizens were entitled
to a place, in sufficient numbers to deceive the people with a
show of representation, but not enough to command a majority,
which was sure on any important question to rest with the titled
creatures of the court. The edicts against heresy, soon adopted,
gave to the clergy an almost unlimited power over the lives and
fortunes of the people. But almost all the dignitaries of the
church being men of great respectability and moderation, chosen
by the body of the inferior clergy, these extraordinary powers
excited little alarm. Philip's project was suddenly to replace
these virtuous ecclesiastics by others of his own choice, as
soon as the states broke up from their annual meeting; and for
this intention he had procured the secret consent and authority
of the court of Rome.

In support of these combinations, the Belgian troops were completely
broken up and scattered in small bodies over the country. The
whole of this force, so redoubtable to the fears of despotism,
consisted of only three thousand cavalry. It was now divided
into fourteen companies (or squadrons in the modern phraseology),
under the command of as many independent chiefs, so as to leave
little chance of any principle of union reigning among them. But
the German and Spanish troops in Philip's pay were cantoned on the

Online LibraryThomas Colley GrattanHolland The History of the Netherlands → online text (page 8 of 32)