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for their king. In 1554, Philip, pursuing his father's scheme for
adding England to the territories of the Spanish crown, went to
London and married Mary, queen of England ; but after a re-
sidence of fourteen months, he returned to the Netherlands,
where his father formally resigned the government into his

Philip spent the first five years of his reign in the Netherlands,
waiting the issue of a war in which he was engag'ed with France.
During this period his Flemish and Dutch subjects began to
have some experience of his government. They observed with,
alarm that the king hated the country, and distrusted its people.
He would speak no other language than Spanish ; his counsellors
were Spaniards ; he kept Spaniards alone about his person ; and
it was to Spaniards that all vacant posts were assigned. Besides,
certain of his measures gave great dissatisfaction. He re-enacted
the persecuting edicts ag-ainst the Protestants, which his father
in the end of his reign had suffered to fall into disuse ; and the
severities which ensued began to drive hundreds of the most use-
ful citizens out of the country, as well as to injure trade, by de-
terring Protestant merchants from the Dutch and Flemish ports.
Dark hints, too, were thrown out that he intended to establish
an ecclesiastical court in the Netherlands similar to the Spanish
Inquisition, and the spirit of Catholics as well as of Protestants
revolted from the thought that this chamber of horrors should
ever become one of the institutions of their free land. He had
also increased the number of the bishops in the Netherlands from
five to seventeen ; and this was regarded as the mere appointment
of twelve persons devoted to the Spanish interest, who would
help, if necessary, to overawe the people. Lastly, he kept the-
provinces full of Spanish troops ; and this was a direct violation
of a fundamental law of the country. Against these measures
the nobles and citizens complained bitterly, and from them drew
sad anticipations of the future. Nor were they more satisfied
with the address in which, through the bishop of Arras as his
spokesman, he took farewell of them at a convention of the
states held at Ghent previous to his departure for Spain. The
oration recommended severity against heresy, and only promised
the withdrawal of the foreign troops. The reply of the states
was firm and bold, and the recollection of it must have rankled
afterwards in the revengeful mind of Philip. " I would rather



be no king- at all," he said to one of liis ministers at the time,
"than have heretics formj subjects." But suppressing- his re-
sentment in the meantime, he set sail for Spain in Aug-ust 1559,
leaving" his half-sister, the Duchess of Parma, a natural daug-htei*
of Charles V., to act as his viceroy in the Netherlands.

The duchess was to be assisted in the government by a Council
of State consisting- of the six following persons : Antony de Gran-
velle, bishop of Arras, and afterwards a cardinal ; the Count de
Barlaimont, Vig-lius de Quichem, the Count Horn, the Count
Eg-mont, and the Prince of Orang-e. Three of these, Gran-
velle, Barlaimont, and Vig-lius, were devoted to the Spanish
interest, and were therefore very unpopular in the Netherlands ;
the others were men of tried patriotism, from whose presence
in the council much good might be expected. Granvelle was a
man of extraordinary political abilities, and the fit minister of
such a king as the moody and scheming Philip ; Barlaimont had
also distinguished himself; and in all the country there was not
so eminent a lawyer as Viglius. Counts Egmont and Horn Avere
two of the most promising men in the Netherlands, and both of
them had rendered services of no ordinary kind to Philip by
their conduct in the war with France. Of the Prince of Orange,
the principal personage in this strugg-le, and the true hero of the
Netherlands, we must speak more particularly.

William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, sometimes called William
I., was born at the castle of Dillembourg, in Germany, in 1533.
He was the son of William, Count of Nassau, and the heir there-
fore of the large possessions of the house of Nassau in France
and Germany, and in the Netherlands. At the age of eleven
years he had succeeded, besides, to the French princedom of
Orange, by the will of his cousin Rene of Nassau ; so that before
he arrived at manhood, he was one of the richest and most
powerful noblemen in Europe. William was educated in the
principles of the Reformation ; but having entered, when quite
a boy, into the employment of the Emperor Charles V., he
changed the habits of a Protestant for those of a Roman Catho-
lic; and accordingly, at the time at which we introduce him
to our readers, he was conscientiously a Catholic, although by
no means a bigoted, nor even perhaps what the Spaniards would
have called a sound one. The Emperor Charles, who, like all
such men, possessed a shrewd insight into character, and could
pick out by a glance the men of mind and talent from among
those who came within his notice, had from the first singled out
the young Prince of Orange as a person from whom great things
were to be expected. Accordingly, in the emplo3rment of Charles,
Prince William had had ample opportunities of displaying the
two kinds of ability then most in request, and which erery public
man of that age, except he were an ecclesiastic, was required
to combine — diplomatic and military talent. While yet scarcely
more than twenty years of age, he had risen to be the first



man in the emperor's regard. And this Hking- of Charles for him
was not merely of that kind which an elderly and experienced
man sometimes contracts for a fresh-hearted and enthusiastic
youth ; it was a real friendship on equal terms ; for so highly did
he value the prudence and wisdom of the young warrior and
politician, that he confided to him the greatest state secrets ; and
was often heard to say that from the Prince of Orange he had
received many very important political hints. It was on the arm
of William of Orange that Charles had leant for support on the
memorable day when, in the Assembly of the States at Brussels,
he rose feebly from his seat, and declared his abdication of the
sovereign power. And it is said that one of Charles's last advices
to his son Philip was to cultivate the good-will of the people of
the Netherlands, and especially to defer to the counsels of the
Prince of Orange. AVhen, therefore, in the year 1555, Philip
began his rule in the Netherlands, there were few persons who
were either better entitled or more truly disposed to act the part of
faithful and loyal advisers than William of Nassau, then twenty-
two years of age. But close as had been William's relation to
the late emperor, there were stronger principles and feelings in
his mind than gratitude to the son of the man he had loved.
He had thought deeply on the question, how a nation should be
governed, and had come to entertain opinions very hostile to
arbitrary power ; he had observed what appeared to him, even as
a Catholic, gross blunders in the mode of treating religious diffe-
rences ; he had imbibed deeply the Dutch spirit of independence ;
and it was the most earnest wish of his heart to see the Nether-
lands prosperous and happy. Nor was he at all a visionary, or a
man whose activity would be officious and troublesome ; he was
eminently a practical man, one who had a strong sense of what
is expedient in existing circumstances ; and his manner was so
grave and quiet, that he obtained the name of William the
Silent. Still, many things occurred during Philip's five years'
residence in the Netherlands to make him speak out and remon-
strate. He was one of those who had tried to persuade the king
to use gentler and more popular measures, and the consequence
was, that a decided aversion grew up in the dark and haughty
mind of Philip to the Prince of Orange.


Having thus introduced the Prince of Orange to the reader,
we return to the history of the Netherlands, which were now
under the local manao:ement of the Duchess of Parma. The
administration of this female viceroy produced violent discontent.
The persecutions of the Protestants were becoming so fierce
that over and above the suffering inflicted on individuals, the
commerce of the country was sensibly falling off. The establish-
ment of a court like the Inquisition was still in contemplation ;
Spaniards were still appointed to places of trust in preference to



rieming's ; and finally, the Spanish soldiers, who oug'ht to have
heen removed long- ag-o, were still burdening the country with
their presence. The woes of the people were becoming- intoler-
able ; occasionally there were slight outbreaks of violence ; and
a low murmur of vehement feeling ran through the whole
population, foreboding a general eruption. " Our poor father-
land," they said to each other ; " God has afflicted it with two
enemies, water and Spaniards : we have built dykes, and over-
come the one, but how shall we get rid of the other ? Why,
if nothing better occur, we know one way at least, and we shall
keep it in reserve — we can set the two enemies against each
other. We can break down the dykes, inundate the country,
and let the water and the Spaniards fight it out between them."
Granvelle was the object of their special hatred : to him they
attributed every unpopular measure. At length a confederacy of
influential persons was formed to procure his recall ; the Prince
of Orange placed himself at the head of it ; and, by persevering
effort, it succeeded in its end, and Granvelle left the Netherlands
early in 1564.

The recall of Granvelle did not restore tranquillity. Viglius
and Barlaimont continued to act in the same spirit. Private com-
munications from Spain directed the regent to follow their advice,
and to disregard the counsels of the Orange party; and the
obnoxious edicts against the Protestants were still put in force.
About this time, too, the decrees of the famous Council of Trent,
which had been convened in 1545 to take into consideration the
state of the church, and the means of suppressing the Reforma-
tion, and which had closed its sittings in the end of 1563, were
made public ; and Philip, the most zealous Catholic of his time,
issued immediate orders for their being enforced both in Spain
and the Netherlands. In Spain the decrees were received as a
matter of course ; but at the announcement that they were to be
executed in the Netherlands, the whole country burst out in
a storm of indignation. In many places the decrees were not
executed at all ; and wherever the authorities did attempt to
execute them, the people rose and compelled them to desist.

In this dilemma the regent resolved to send an ambassador to
Spain to represent the state of affairs to Philip better than could
be done in writing, and to receive his instructions how she should
proceed. Count Egmont was the person chosen ; because, in
addition to his great merits as a subject of Philip, he was one of
the most popular noblemen in the Netherlands. Setting out for
Spain early in 1565, he was received by Philip in the most cour-
teous manner, loaded with marks of kindness, and dismissed with
a thorough conviction that the king intended to pursue a milder
policy in the future government of the Low Countries. Philip,
however, had but deceived him ; and at the time when he was
flattering him with hopes of concessions, he was despatching
orders to the regent strictly to put in force the decrees of the



Council of Trent, and in all things to carry out the king-'s re-
solute purpose of extinguishing- heresy in the Netherlands. In
vain did the Prince of Orange and the Counts Horn and Egmont
protest that a civil war would be the consequence ; in vain did
the people lament, threaten, and murmur : the decrees were re-
published, and the inquisitors began to select their victims. All
that the three patriotic noblemen could do was to retire from the
council, and wash their hands of the guilt which the government
was incurring. There were others, however, who, impatient of
the inflictions with which Philip's obstinacy was visiting the
country, resolved on a bolder, and, as it appeared, less considerate
mode of action. A political club or confederacy was organised
among the nobility, for the express purpose of resisting the estab-
lishment of the Inquisition. They bound themselves by a solemn
oath " to oppose the introduction of the Inquisition, whether it
were attempted openly or secretly, or by whatever name it should
be called ; " and also to protect and defend each other from all
the consequences which might result from their having formed
this league.

Perplexed and alarmed, the regent implored the Prince of
Orange and his two associates, Counts Egmont and Horn, to
return to the council and give her their advice. They did so :
and a speech of the Prince of Orange, in which he asserted
strongly the utter folly of attempting to suppress opinion by
force, and argued that " such is the nature of heresy, that if it
rests it rusts, but whoever rubs it whets it," had the effect of in-
clining the regent to mitigate the ferocity of her former edicts.
Meanwhile the confederates were becoming bolder and more
numerous. Assembling in great numbers at Brussels, they walked
in procession through the streets to the palace of the regent,
where they were admitted to an interview. In reply to their
petition, she said that she was very willing to send one or more
persons to Spain to lay the complaints before the king. Obliged
to be content with this answer, the confederates withdrew.
Next day three hundred of them met at a grand entertainment
given to them by one of their number. Among other things, it
was debated what name they should assume. " Oh," said one of
them, " did you not hear the Count de Barlaimont yesterday
whisper to the regent, when he was standing by her side, that
she need not be afraid ' of such a set of beggars ? ' Let us call our-
selves The Beggars ; we could not find a better name." The pro-
posal was enthusiastically agreed to ; and, amid deafening uproar,
the whole company tilled and shattered their glasses to the toast,
Long live the Beggars ! {Gueux.) In the full spirit of the freak,
the host sent out for a beggar's wallet and a wooden bowl ; and
slinging the wallet across his back amidst clamours of applause,
he drank from the bowl, and declared he would lose life and for-
tune for the great cause of the Beggars. The bowl went round,
and all made the same enthusiastic declaration. From that day



the Gueux, or Beg-g-ars, became tlie name of tlie faction ; and
every one wore the wallet, or some other symbol of mendi-

While the nobles and influential persons were thus preparing-
to co-operate, in case of a collision with the Spanish government,
a sudden and disastrous movement occurred among' the lower
classes. In times of g-eneral excitement, it frequently happens
that malice or accident casts abroad among* the people some wild
and incredible rumour; such was the case on the present occasion.
IntelHgence spread with rapidity through the towns and cities of
Flanders that the reg-ent had given her permission for the public
exercise of the Protestant form of worship ; multitudes poured
out into the fields after their preachers ; congre^-ations of many
thousands assembled ; and the local authorities found themselves
powerless. A great proportion of these congregations were doubt-
less pious and peacefully-disposed Protestants ; but taking advan-
tage of the ferment, many idle and disorderly persons joined them,,
and by their efforts the general cause was disgraced. In Tourney,
Ypres, Valenciennes, and other towns, the mob of real or assumed
Protestants broke into the churches, and destroyed the altars
and all the symbols of worship in the Roman Catholic rituaL
Antwerp was for some time protected from similar outrages by
the presence of the Prince of Orange ; but when he was sum-
moned by the regent to Brussels, the fury of the people broke-
out unrestrained. The great cathedral was the principal object
of their dislike. Rushing to it in thousands, they shattered the
painted windows with stones, tore down the images, and dashed
them against the pavement; slit up the splendid pictures, and
broke in pieces the large organ, then believed to be the finest in
Europe. For many days the Iconoclasts, or Image-breakers, as
they were called, continued their ravages in almost all the towns
of Flanders and Brabant. The contagion was spreading like-
wise in Zealand and Holland, and more than 400 churches had
been destroyed, when the Prince of Orange, Counts Egmont
and Horn, and other patriotic noblemen, then at Brussels ia
consultation with the regent, both vexed at the outrages them-
selves, and fearful that the cause of hberty in the Netherlands,
might suffer from them, hastened into their respective provinces,,
and partly by force, partly by persuasion, succeeded in restoring
order. It is deeply to be regretted that such excesses should,
have stained the sacred cause of liberty; but this was an age
when little was known of religious toleration, the uppermost
sect, whatever it was, making it almost a duty to oppress the.
others. For these outrages, we presume, the Protestants of the
Netherlands in the present day are as sorry as are the Roman
Catholics for the unjustifiable cruelties perpetrated in their

After the interview between the Gueux and the regent men-
tioned above, an ambassador had been sent to Philip in Spain ta



-detail grievances. Instead of deferring- to his representations,
Philip and his counsellors, one of whom was Granvelle, wej'e
resolutely preparing- means to crush the confederacy, and break
the proud spirit of the Netherlands. Secret orders were g'iven
for the collection of troops ; the recent was to be instructed to
-amuse the patriots until the means of punishing them were ready ;
^nd in a short time, it was hoped, there would no longer be a
patriot or a heretic in the Low Countries. It is easy to 'conceive
with what rag-e and bitterness of heart Philip, while indulo-in<^
these dreams, must have received intelligence of the terrible
•doings of the Iconoclasts. But, as cautious and dissimulating as
he was obstinate and revengeful, he concealed his intentions in
the meantime, announced them to the regent only in secret
letters and despatches, and held out hopes in public to the
patriots and the people of the Netherlands that he was soon to
pay them a visit in person to inquire into the condition of aifairs.

It has never been clearly ascertained by what means it was
that the Prince of Orange contrived to obtain intelligence of
Philip's most secret plans and purposes ; but certain it is that
nothing passed in the cabinet at Madrid which did not find its
way to the ears of the prince. Philip's intentions with regard to
the Netherlands became known to him by means of a letter to
the regent from the Spanish ambassador at Paris, a copy of
which he had procured. The prince had hitherto endeavoured
•to act as a loyal subject ; but this letter made it plain that it
was time to be making preparations for a decided rupture. His
first step therefore was to hold a conference with four other
noblemen ; namely, his brother, Louis of Nassau, and the Counts
Egmont, Horn, and Hoogstraten. He laid the letter before
them, and the effect was as might have been expected on all
of them, except Count Egmont ; for, by some infatuation, this
nobleman, mindful of the kindness he had experienced from
Philip when visiting him as ambassador, persisted in believing
that the kino-'s designs were really conciliatory. In vain the
prince argued with him ; the count would not be convinced, and
the conference was broken up. Meantime the people, warned
by the prince of the approach of an army, began to emio-rate in
great numbers ; and, after waiting to the last moment, William
himself, in April 1567, withdrew with his familv to his estates
in Germany. Most earnestly did he try to jpersuade Count
Eg-mont to accompany him ; but his intreaties were to no pur-
2)ose ; and he left him with these words—" I tell you, Egmont,
3-0U are a bridge by which the Spaniards will come into this
country ; they will pass over you, and then break you down."

The man whom Philip had sent into the Netherlands at the
head of the army as the fit instrument of his purposes of ven-
geance, was the Duke of Alva, a personage who united the most
consummate military skill with the disposition of a ruffian, ready
10 undertake any enterprise, however base. Such was the man

6 9


who, at tlie age of sixty, in the month of August 1567, made his
entry into the Netherlands by the province of Luxemburg", at the
head of an army of fifteen thousand men. One of his first acts,
after arriving" at Brussels, was to seize the Counts Egmont and
Horn, and send them prisoners to Ghent. This and other acts
convinced the Duchess of Parma that she was no longer the real
regent of the Netherlands ; and accordingly, haying asked and
obtained leave to resign, she quitted the country early in 1568,
Alva assuming the government instead.

Now that a grand struggle was to ensue in the Netherlands,
we trust our readers clearly understand what it was about. On
the one hand was a nation of quiet, orderly people, industrious
in a high degree, prosperous in their commerce, and disposed ta
remain peaceful subjects of a foreign monarch : all they asked
was to be let alone, and to be allowed to worship God in the way
they preferred. On the other hand was a sovereign, who, un-
thankful for the blessing of reigning over such a happy and
well-disposed nation, and stimulated by passion and bigotry, re-
solved on compelling them all to be Catholics.


Alva was a suitable instrument to work out Philip's designs.
Supported by a powerful army, he was unscrupulous in his per-
secution. Blood was shed like water ; the scaffolds were crowded
with victims ; the prisons filled with men in all the agonies of
suspense. He appointed a court, called the Court of Tumults, to
investigate with rigour into past offences. The Inquisition also
pursued its diabolical vocation without opposition or disguise,
covering the land with its black and baleful shadow. Here-
tics hid their heads, glad if present conformity would save
them from the tortures which others were enduring for actions
which they had thought forgotten. Above 18,000 persons in
all are said to have suffered death by Alva's orders. And
thousands more fied from the country, dispersing themselves
through France and Germany ; many of them also finding an
asylum in England, into which, being kindly received by Queen
Elizabeth, they carried those arts and habits which had raised
the Flemings high among commercial nations, and which at
once incorporated themselves with the genial civilisation of
England. The Prince of Orange was declared a rebel ; and his
eldest son, the Count de Buren, 'then a student at the university
of Louvain, was seized and sent a prisoner into Spain, But
perhaps the most signal act of cruelty in the beginning of Alva's
reo-ency was the execution of the Counts Egmont and Horn.
After an imprisonment of nine months, these unfortunate noble-
men were brought to a mock trial, and beheaded at Brussels.
So popular were they, and so universal was the sympathy for
their fate, that even the presence of the executioner, and of the
spies who surrounded the scaffold, could not prevent the citizens



of Brussels from dipping their handkerchiefs in the bloody and
treasuring them up as relics.

The Prince of Orange, residing on his family estates of Nassau
in Germany, was attentively observing all that was going* on in
the Netherlands, and making diligent preparations for an at-
tempt in their behalf. He entered into communication with
Elizabeth, queen of England, with the leaders of the Huguenots
in France, and with the various Protestant princes of Germany;
and from all of these he received either actual assistance in men
and money, or the promise of future support. To meet the ex-
penses of the expedition he was fitting out, he sold his jolate and

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 9 of 59)