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furniture, and incurred debts on his estates. Having at length
assembled a considerable force, he divided it into four armies,
each of which was to march into the Netherlands by a different
route. Before setting out, however, he thought it necessary to
publish a manifesto to the world, in justification of a step so
serious as engaging in hostilities with the forces of one whom he
had hitherto acknowledged, and still wished to acknowledge, as
his sovereign. In this manifesto, also, he made it known that
he had changed his religious views : although hitherto a Catholic,
he was now convinced that the doctrines of the Protestants were
more agreeable to Scripture.

The issue of this first attempt was unfortunate. In several en-
gagements with the enemy, the different bands of patriots were
successful. In one of them. Count Adolphus, a brother of the
Prince of Orange, was killed in the moment of victory ; but at
last Alva himself hurrying down to the frontier, the provisions
of the prince's army beginning to fail, and winter drawing near,
they were compelled to retire. The prince and his brother Count
Louis led the remains of their army into France, to assist the Hu-
guenots in the meantime, until there should be a better opening
into the Netherlands. Alva, prouder of this success than he had
been of any of his former victories, returned to Flanders, and
caused medals to be struck and monuments to be raised in com-
memoration of it, and, what was most offensive to all the people,
a brass statue of himself, in a heroic attitude, to be erected at
Antwerp. Delivered now from the fear of any interruption from
the Prince of Orange, he resumed his exactions and his cruelties;
and for four years he and the Inquisition carried on the work of
persecution and blood. To detail the history of these four years
of tyranny is impossible ; we can but sketch the line of the prin-
cipal events, and show how the minds of the people were ripened
for the final struggle.

The Duke of Alva was greatly in want of money to pay his
troops, maintain the fortifications of the various towns, and carry
on his government ; and Alva was not the man to respect, even
if the times had been less disturbed than they were, the ancient
right which the people of the Netherlands claimed of taxing
themselves through their Assembly of States. Accordingly, with



a soldier-like impatience of indirect taxation, he determined to
accumulate a vast sum of money by a very summary process.
Pie imposed three taxes : the Urst an immediate tax of one
per cent, on all property, personal or real ; the second an an-
nual tax of twenty per cent, on all heritable property ; and the
third a tax of ten per cent, on every sale or transfer of g-oods.
Crushed and broken-spirited by all that they had already endured,
the burg'hers stood utterly aghast at this new infliction. Persecu-
tion for relig"ion's sake was hard to bear, and the Inquisition was
very obnoxious, still it was but a portion of the population that
actually suffered personally in such cases ; but here was a visita-
tion which came home to every Fleming* and every Dutchman,
and seemed but a prelude of utter ruin. Three such taxes as these
of Governor Alva were never heard of within the memory of man.
Utterly amazed and bewildered at first, the burghers at length
ti'ied to argue, and singled out the third of the taxes as the spe-
cial subject of their representations. A tax of ten per cent, on sales
of goods would amount in many cases, they said, to the value
of the commodities themselves ; since the same commodities were
often transferred from one person to another, and from him
to a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, before they came into the
hands of the consumer. In vain did the states make these re-
monstrances ; in vain did Viglius, the president of the council,
second them ; in vain even did the states offer to pay a large sum
in lieu of the proposed taxes. Alva was inexorable. At length
the general convention of the states, after procuring a few paltry
concessions, was obliged to yield to the imposition of the taxes :
on this condition, however, that all the states, without exception,
should g'ive in their adherence. This was a condition, as it
proved, of singular importance ; for, gifted with greater boldness
and resolution than the other provinces, Utrecht refused to com-
ply with the governor's demands ; and, by nobly persevering in its
resistance, not only raised a more determined spirit in the other
provinces, but delayed the collection of the taxes so long, that in
the meantime Alva received instructions from Spain to desist
from measures calculated to produce such dangerous results.
Alva's conduct, however, had already produced its effects ; and
the people of the Netherlands had come to detest the very name
of Spain.

The Prince of Orange, who, after a short period of military
service on the side of the Protestants in France, had returned to
his estates in Germany, was earnestly intent on the condition
of affairs in the Netherlands. All that could be done, however,
was to harass the Spaniards as much as possible in the mean-
time, and enter into negotiations with the Protestant powers of
other countries, with a view to obtain the means necessary for
a bolder conflict. Both these courses of action were adopted
by William ; and it is a remarkable characteristic of his whole j
life, that even when he is least heard of, he was busy in secret.



"\Miile others were marchmg- hither and thither, and performing
heroic actions, they were but doing* the errands on which he
had sent them : it was he who, whether living- in retirement in
his castle in Nassau, or advancing" into the Netherlands by the
German frontier, or hovering- in his ship on the coasts of Plolland
and Zealand, was really at the centre of affairs, directing all the
movements that were going- on, arranging everything, foreseeing
everything', taking charge of everything. Of William's military
actions — his battles by sea and land — we hear much ; but his real
greatness consisted in his prudence, his decision, his fertility in
stratagem, his statesmanlike width of view, his vast knowledge
of men and of the state of Europe at the time ; and these are
qualities which make less noise in historj''. This peculiarity in
the life of the Prince of Orange makes the name of William The
Taciturn, which his contemporaries gave him, on account of the
sparing use he made of speech, doubly significant. The mode of
harassing Alva which the prince resolved upon at the period at
which we have now arrived, was that of stationing a fleet of
cruisers along the coasts of Zealand and Holland, for the purpose
not only of capturing Spanish vessels, but also of seizing on
advantageous positions along the shore. Nor was it difficult to
obtain such a fleet. The unheard-of severities of Alva's regency
had driven numbers of merchants with their ships into the ports
of England. For some time the politic Elizabeth permitted them
safe harbour and free commerce ; but at last, to prevent an open
rupture with Philip, she forbade their reception. Compelled
thus to make the sea their home, the Dutch and Flemish mer-
chants banded together, and placed themselves under the du'ec-
tion of the Prince of Orange, who commissioned them in the
service of the Netherlands, authorising them to capture all
Spanish vessels for their own profit, except a fifth part of the
prize-money, which William was to receive and apply for the
good of the Netherlands. As another means of collecting a suffi-
cient sum of money for future necessities, William came to an
understanding with the itinerant Protestant preachers, who, even
during the fiercest paroxysms of Alva's cruelty and the zeal of
the new Inquisition, continued to walk through the country in
disguise, teaching and consoling the people. These preachers
WlUiam converted into civil functionaries, employing them to
ask and receive contributions from the Protestant part of the
commmiity, now larger in many localities than the Catholic.
Thus was William providing, as well as he could, that prime
necessary in all enterprises — money.

Alva, enraged at the news he had received of the great damage
done to the Spanish shipping by the Dutch and Flemish vessels
that swarmed on the coasts of Holland and Zealand, and doubly
enraged when he heard that men had actually landed from
several of these vessels, and taken a fort on the island of Bommel,
issued an immediate order for the collection of the taxes he had



previously imposed, money being* now more necessary tlian
ever. The people, however, protested that they were reduced
to beg:g"ary already, and had no means of satisfying his de-
mands ; and he had just erected seventeen gibbets in front of
seventeen of the principal houses in Brussels, with the intention
of hang'ing seventeen of the principal burgesses thereon, in order
to terriiy the rest into submission, when, after all was ready,
and the very nooses had been made on the ends of the ropes,
the news came into the town that the Dutch and Flemish ves-
sels, under the bold and savage Count de la Marck, had made
a descent on the island of Voorn and taken the town of Brille,
which was reckoned one of the keys of the Netherlands. Alva was
amazed : he had not time even to hang the seventeen burgesses.
A council was held, and the Count de Bossut despatched with a
body of Spanish troops to the island of Voorn. Bossut laid siege
to Brille, and was in hopes of being able to reduce it with his
artillery, when one of the townsmen swimming along a canal
till he came to a sluice which the Spaniards had overlooked,
broke it, and let in such a deluge of water as overflowed the
artillery, drowned a number of the Spaniards, and forced the
rest to take to their ships, all wet and dripping as they were.
This victory roused a determined spirit of resolution among the
inhabitants of Holland and Zealand. The town of Flushing set
the example ; the towns of Dort, Gouda, Haarlem, and Leyden
followed. In a short time all the towns of the two maritime
provinces, except Amsterdam and Middleburg, had risen up
and expelled their garrisons. In the provinces of Utrecht,
Friesland, and Overyssel, similar risings took place. In this
general movement the Protestants, unable to resist the oppor-
tunity of revenging their own past suiFerings, were guilty of
some atrocities, particularly against the monks.

The scheme of an insurrection in the maritime provinces hav-
ing turned out according* to his wishes, the Prince of Orange
now advanced into the Netherlands by the French frontier,
having succeeded, by negotiation with Protestant powers, and by
the expenditure of money, in assembling an army of about 20,000
men, consisting of Germans, French, English, and Scotch. With
the strength ot this army he now began to grapple with Alva ia
the very seat of his power — the southern provinces of Flanders,
Brabant, and Antwerp. He first took the town of Mons, an
important position near the French frontier; and ere long he
had reduced several other important towns. This was the only
mode of action by which he could make any impression ; for, in
all cases of attempts to deliver a conquered country, the only
mode of procedure is to root out the foreig'n garrisons of towns
one by one ; and a general victory in the open field is only valu-
able as conducing to that end, by either inducing* the towns to
surrender in despair, or making the process of besieging them
less tedious. But at this time, after so much success, various



^circumstances conspired both to diminish and dispirit his army.
The most discourag-ing* blow of all was the massacre of St Bar-
tholomew, in which, on the night of the' 24th of Aug-ust 157-2,
more than 60,000 of the Protestants of France perished. By
this event, all hope of assistance from France was destroyed;
and, after several fruitless eng-agements with Alva's army, Wil-
liam was obliged to disband his forces, and to retire from active
military operation.

The condition of the Netherlands was now as follows : — Alva
was nominally their governor ; but in the late struggle, no fewer
than sixty or seventy towns, principally in Holland, Zealand,
and Flanders, had thrown off the yoke, and now bade defiance
to the Spanish government. Unless these towns were recovered,
Philip could no long:er be said to be king of the Netherlands.
Alva's exertions were therefore devoted to the recovery of these
towns ; and his officers were almost all employed in sieges.
Mens, Tergoes, Mechlin, Zutphen, and Naerden, were succes-
sively reduced ; and so dreadful were the enormities perpetrated
by the Spanish soldiers, that the citizens, after the surrender of
other towns, resolved to exhaust every means of resistance rather
than submit. The town of Haarlem distinguished itself by the
desperate bravery with which for seven months it stood out
against a large army under Alva's son. At leng-th, trusting' to a
truce with the Spaniard, the famished citizens agreed to sur-
render. The siege, some accounts say, had cost the Spaniards
10,000 men ; and now they took a fearful vengeance. Hundreds
of the most respectable citizens were executed ; and when the
four executioners were tired of their bloody work, they tied their
victims two by two together, and flung them into the lake of
Haarlem. As showing how deep a hold the great struggle of
the sixteenth century has taken of the popular memory, and how
many local associations there are connected with it, we may
quote the following account of a curious Haarlem custom, the
origin of which is traced to the siege of the city in 1572 : — " In
walking through the streets of Haarlem, we saw a rather
curious memorial of these disastrous times. At the sides of the
doors of various houses hung* a small neatly-framed board, on
which was spread a piece of tine lace-work of an oval form, resem-
bling the top of a lady's cap with a border : the object, indeed,
on a casual inspection, might have been taken for a lady's cap
hung out to dry. Beneath it, to show the transparency of the lace,
there was placed a piece of pink paper or silk. On asking* the
meaning of these exhibitions, I was informed that they origi-
nated in a circumstance which occurred at the siege of Haarlem.
Before surrendering the town, a deputation of aged matrons
waited on the Spanish general to know in what manner the
women who were at the time in childbirth should be protected
from molestation in case of the introduction of the soldiery ; and
he requested that at the door of each house containing a female


SO situated an appropriate token should be hung- out, and pro^
mised that that house should not be troubled. This, according-
to the tradition, was attended to ; and till the present day, every
house in which there is a female in this condition is disting-uisheii
in the manner I have mentioned. The lace is hung- out several
weeks previous to the expected birth, and hangs several weeks
afterwards, a small alteration being" made as soon as the sex of
the child is known. I was further assured, that during- the time
which is allowed for these exhibitions, the house is exempted
from all legal execution, and that the husband cannot be taken
to serve as a soldier." *

TVTiile Alva was thus engaged in retrieving the revolted dis-
tricts, his king at Madrid was growing dissatisfied with his
conduct. He began to think that he had made an error in
sending such a man into the Netherlands, who could scarcely
make a discrimination in his cruelties between Protestants and
Cathohcs ; and he looked about for a general to succeed him.
He found such a person in Don Luis Zanega y Requesens, com-
mander of the order of Malta, a true Catholic, but a man of
calm and temperate mind. Requesens accordingly made his
entry into Brussels on the 17th of November 1573; and the
stern old Alva returned to Spain, to be ill-treated by a master
whom he had served too faithfully.


In the civil government of the country, Requesens pursued
quite a different line of policy from his predecessor. He began
his rule by breaking down the brass statue which Alva had
erected of himself at Antwerp, dissolving the Council of Tumults,
abandoning the obnoxious taxes, and publishing an amnesty for
past offences committed by the inhabitants of the revolted dis-
tricts. But while thus changing the whole tone of the govern-
ment, he was obliged to continue all those military operations
which Alva had begun, for the purpose of compelling the rebel
cities of Holland and Zealand to reacknowledge the sovereignty
of Philip. The first object of his attention was the town of
Middleburg in Zealand, which had been kept in a state of close
siege by the patriots for about a year and a half, and the loss of
which would be a severe blow to the Spanish cause. He caused
a large fleet to be collected, and appointing two able admirals
to the command of it, he went on board one of the ships himself,
and sailed down the Scheldt for the relief of the town. The
Prince of Orange, then in Holland, immediately hastened to the
critical spot ; and by his directions, the fleet of the patriots under-
Boissot, admiral of Holland, met the Spanish one, and engaging^
with it on the 29th of January 1574, gained a complete victory,
sinking the ship of one of the Spanish admirals, and obliging

♦ Chambers's Tour in Holland and Belgium.


the other to swim for his life. Tlequesens himself stood on the
djke of Sacherlo, and witnessed the disaster. After this the-
town of ^liddleburg surrendered to the Prince of Orange ; and
the cause of the j)atriots in the maritime provinces appeared
more hopeful than ever. In the meantime, two of the prince's
brothers, Count Louis and Count Henry of Nassau, who had
for some time been residing- in Germany, advanced at the head
of an army in the du'ection of the ^laas, with the intention of
exciting the inland provinces to assume a position similar to
that which Holland and Zealand were so nobly maintaining.
The issue of this attempt was fatal. Requesens had despatched
a strong force to oppose them ; and on the 14th of April a battle
was fought between the two armies near the village of Mooch :
the royalists were victorious, and the two brave princes were
killed. This defeat, and the death of two men so eminent and
so popular, were indeed a heavy blow to the patriots; but its
consequences were far less severe than they might have been.
The Spanish troops, who had a long arrear of pay due them,
became mutinous and unmanageable after the victory, and
threatened to pillage Antwerp. Requesens contrived at length
to appease them for the time by raising a hundred thousand
florins from the citizens, pledging his own jewels, and melting
down his plate to raise more, and granting the mutineers a free
jjardon. But the interval had been of use to the jDatriots ; for
a large fleet having been equipped by Requesens, and having
been removed, during the mutiny, from Antwerp, where it was
lying, a little way down the Scheldt, to be out of the reach of
the soldiers, Boissot, the Zealand admiral, boldly sailed up the
river, took forty of the ships, and shattered and sunk many
more. At length, however, the mutineers returned to their duty ;
and Requesens, having vainly tried in the first place to end the
war by a proclamation of the king's pardon to all his Catholic
subjects in the Netherlands, collected his whole force for the
siege of the large and populous city of Leyden.

The story of this siege is one of the most spirit-stirring in
the annals of heroism. Leyden stands in a low situation in the
midst of a labyrinth of rivulets and canals. That branch of
the Rhine which still retains its ancient name passes through
the middle of it ; and from this stream such an infinity of canals
are derived, that it is difficult to say whether the water or the
land possesses the greater space. By these canals the ground
on which the city stands is divided into a great number of small
islands, united together by bridges. For five months all other
operations were suspended ; all the energy of Requesens, on the
one hand, was directed towards getting possession of this city ;
and ail the energy of the Prince of Orange, on the other hand,
towards assisting the citizens, and preventing it from being
taken. The issue depended entirely, however, on the bravery
and resolution of the citizens of Leyden themselves. Pent up



within their walls, they had to resist the attacks and stratagems
of the besieg-ers ; and all that the Prince of Orang-e could do,
was to occupy the surrounding country, harass the besiegers as
much as possible, and enable the citizens to hold out, by con-
veying to them supplies of provisions and men.

Nobly, nay, up to the highest heroic pitch of human nature,
did the citizens behave. They had to endure a siege in its most
dreary form, that of blockade. Instead of attempting to storm
the town, Valdez, the Spanish general, resolved to reduce it by
the slow but sure process of starvation. For this jDurpose he
completely surrounded the town by a circle of forts, more than
sixty in number; and the inhabitants thus saw themselves walled
completely in from all the rest of the earth, with its growing
crops and its well-filled granaries, and restricted entirely to
whatever quantity of provisions there chanced to be on the small
spot of ground which they walked up and down in. They had
no means even of communicating with the Prince of Orange
and their other friends outside, except by carrier-pigeons, which
were trained for the purpose. One attempt was made by the
citizens to break through the line of blockade, for the sake of
keeping possession of a piece of pasture-ground for their cattle ;
but it was unsuccessful ; and they began now to work day and
night at repairing their fortifications, so as to resist the Spanish
batteries when they should begin to play. Like fire pent up,
the patriotism of the inhabitants burned more fiercely and
brightly ; every man became a hero, every woman an orator,
and words of flashing genius were spoken, and deeds of wild
bravery done, such as would have been impossible except among
20,000 human beings living in the same city, and all roused at
once to the same unnatural state of emotion. The two leading-
spirits were John Van der Does, the commander, better known
by his Latinised name of Dousa, as one of the best writers of
Latin verse at that time, when so many able men devoted them-
selves to this kind of literary exercise ; and Peter Van der Werf,
the burgomaster. Under tiie management of these two men,
every precaution was adopted that was necessary for the defence
of the city. The resolution come to was, that the last man
among them should die of want rather than admit the Spa-
niards into the town. Coolly, and with a foresight thoroughly
Dutch, Dousa and Van der Werf set about making an inven-
tory of all that was eatable in the town ; corn, cattle, nay,
even horses and dogs; calculating how long the stock could
last at the rate of so much a day to every man and woman
in the city ; adopting means to get the whole placed under the
management of a dispensing committee ; and deciding what
should be the allowance per head at fij'st, so as to prevent their
stock from being eaten up too fast. It was impossible, how-
ever, to collect all the food into one fund, or to regulate
its consumption by municipal arrangements ; and after two



months had elapsed, famine had commenced in earnest, and those
devices for mitig-ating- the gnawings of hung-er began to be
employed which none but starving- men could bear to think
of. Not only the flesh of dogs and horses, but roots, weeds,
nettles, every green thing that the eye could detect shooting up
from the earth, was ravenously eaten. Many died of want, and
thousands fell ill. Still they held out, and indignantly rejected
the offers made to them by the besiegers. " When we have
nothing* else left," said Dousa, in reply to a message from Valdez,
*' we will eat our left hands, keeping the right to fight with."
Once, indeed, hunger seemed to overcome their patriotism, and
for some days crowds of gaunt and famished wretches moved

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 10 of 59)