An excursion must be made to Delft, only twenty minutes distant from The Hague by rail. Pepys calls it “a most sweet town, with bridges and a river in every street,” and that is a tolerably accurate description. It seems thinly inhabited, and the Dutch themselves look upon it as a place where one will die of ennui. It has scarcely changed with two hundred years. The view of Delft by Van der Meer in the Museum at The Hague might have been painted yesterday. All the trees are clipt, for in artificial Holland every work of Nature is artificialized. At certain seasons, numbers of storks may be seen upon the chimney-tops, for Delft is supposed to be the stork town par excellence. Near the shady canal Oude Delft is a low building, once the Convent of St. Agata, with an ornamental door surmounted by a relief, leading into a courtyard. It is a common barrack now, for Holland, which has no local histories, has no regard whatever for its historic associations or monuments. Yet this is the greatest shrine of Dutch history, for it is here that William the Silent died.
Philip II. had promised 25,000 crowns of gold to any one who would murder the Prince of Orange. An attempt had already been made, but had failed, and William refused to take any measures for self-protection, saying, “It is useless: my years are in the hands of God; if there is a wretch who has no fear of death, my life is in his hand, however I may guard it.”
At length, a young man of seven-and-twenty appeared at Delft, who gave himself out to be one Guyon, a Protestant, son of Pierre Guyon, executed at Besancon for having embraced Calvinism, and declared that he was exiled for his religion. Really he was Balthazar Gerard, a bigoted Catholic, but his conduct in Holland soon procured him the reputation of an evangelical saint.
The Prince took him into his service and sent him to accompany a mission from the States of Holland to the Court of France, whence he returned to bring the news of the death of the Duke of Anjou to William. At that time the Prince was living with his court in the convent of St. Agata, where he received Balthazar alone in his chamber. The moment was opportune, but the would-be assassin had no arms ready. William gave him a small sum of money and bade him hold himself in readiness to be sent back to France.
With the money Balthazar bought two pistols from a soldier (who afterward killed himself when he heard the use which was made of the purchase). On the next day, June 10, 1584, Balthazar returned to the convent as William was descending the staircase to dinner, with his fourth wife, Louise de Coligny (daughter of the Admiral who fell in the massacre of St. Bartholomew), on his arm. He presented his passport and begged the Prince to sign it, but was told to return later. At dinner the Princess asked William who was the young man who had spoken to him, for his expression was the most terrible she had ever seen.
The Prince laughed, said it was Guyon, and was as gay as usual. Dinner being over, the family party were about to remount the stair-case. The assassin was waiting in a dark corner at the foot of the stairs, and as William passed he discharged a pistol with three balls and fled. The Prince staggered, saying, “I am wounded; God have mercy upon me and my poor people.” His sister Catherine van Schwartzbourg asked, “Do you trust in Jesus Christ?” He said, “Yes,” with a feeble voice, sat down upon the stairs, and died.
Balthazar reached the rampart of the town in safety, hoping to swim to the other side of the moat, where a horse awaited him. But he had dropt his hat and his second pistol in his flight, and so he was traced and seized before he could leap from the wall.
Amid horrible tortures, he not only confest, but continued to triumph in his crime. His judges believed him to be possest of the devil.
The next day he was executed. His right hand was burned off in a tube of red-hot iron; the flesh of his arms and legs was torn off with red-hot pincers; but he never made a cry. It was not till his breast was cut open, and his heart torn out and flung in his face, that he expired. His head was then fixt on a pike, and his body, cut into four quarters, exposed on the four gates of the town.
Close to the Prinsenhof is the Oude Kerk with a leaning tower. It is arranged like a very ugly theater inside, but contains, with other tombs of celebrities, the monument of Admiral van Tromp, 1650–“Martinus Harberti Trompius” whose effigy lies upon his back, with swollen feet. It was this Van Tromp who defeated the English fleet under Blake, and perished, as rep-resented on the monument, in an engagement off Scheveningen. It was he who, after his victory over the English, caused a broom to be hoisted at his mast-head to typify that he had swept the Channel clear of his enemies.