PHILIP might be well excused the utmost violence of resentment on this occasion, had it been bounded by fair and honorable efforts for the maintenance of his authority. But every general principle seemed lost in the base inveteracy of private hatred. The ruin of the Prince of Orange was his main object, and his industry and ingenuity were taxed to the utmost to procure his murder. Existing documents prove that he first wished to accomplish this in such a way as that the responsibility and odium of the act might rest on the prince of Parma; but the mind of the prince was at that period too magnanimous to allow of a participation in the crime. The correspondence on the subject is preserved in the archives, and the date of Philip’s first letter (30th of November, 1579) proves that even before the final disavowal of his authority by the United Provinces he had harbored his diabolical design. The prince remonstrated, but with no effect. It even appears that Philip’s anxiety would not admit of the delay necessary for the prince’s reply. The infamous edict of proscription against William bears date the 15th of March; and the most pressing letters commanded the prince of Parma to make it public. It was not, however, till the 15th of June that he sent forth the fatal ban.
This edict, under Philip’s own signature, is a tissue of invective and virulence. The illustrious object of its abuse is accused of having engaged the heretics to profane the churches and break the images; of having persecuted and massacred the Catholic priests; of hypocrisy, tyranny, and perjury; and, as the height of atrocity, of having introduced liberty of conscience into his country ! For these causes, and many others, the king declares him “proscribed and banished as a public pest” ; and it is permitted to all persons to assail him “in his fortune, person, and life, as an enemy to human nature.” Philip also, “for the recompense of virtue and the punishment of crime,” promises to who-ever will deliver up William of Nassau, dead or alive, “in lands or money, at his choice, the sum of twenty-five thou-sand golden crowns; to grant a free pardon to such person for all former offences of what kind soever, and to invest him with letters patent of nobility.”
In reply to this brutal document of human depravity, William published all over Europe his famous “Apology,” of which it is enough to say that language could not pro-duce a more splendid refutation of every charge or a more terrible recrimination against the guilty tyrant. It was attributed to the pen of Peter de Villiers, a Protestant minister. It is universally pronounced one of the noblest monuments of history. William, from the hour of his proscription, became at once the equal in worldly station, as he had ever been the superior in moral worth, of his royal calumniator. He took his place as a prince of an imperial family, not less ancient or illustrious than that of the House of Austria; and he stood forward at the supreme tribunal of public feeling and opinion as the accuser of a king who disgraced his lineage and his throne.
By a separate article in the treaty with the states, the duke of Alençon secured to William the sovereignty of Holland and Zealand, as well as the lordship of Friesland, with his title of stadtholder, retaining to the duke his claim on the prince’s faith and homage. The exact nature of William’s authority was finally ratified on the 24th of July, 1581; on which day he took the prescribed oath, and entered on the exercise of his well-earned rights.
Philip now formed the design of sending back the duchess of Parma to resume her former situation as stadtholderess, and exercise the authority conjointly with her son. But the latter positively declined this proposal of divided power; and he, consequently, was left alone to its entire exercise. Military affairs made but slow progress this year. The most remarkable event was the capture of La Noue, a native of Bretagne, one of the bravest, and certainly the cleverest, officers in the service of the states, into which he had passed after having given important aid to the Huguenots of France. He was considered so important a prize that Philip refused all proposals for his exchange, and detained him in the castle of Limburg for five years.
The siege of Cambray was now undertaken by the prince of Parma in person; while the duke of Alençon, at the head of a large army and the flower of the French nobility, advanced to its relief, and soon forced his rival to raise the siege. The new sovereign of the Netherlands entered the town, and was received with tumultuous joy by the half-starved citizens and garrison. The prince of Parma sought an equivalent for this check in the attack of Tournay, which he immediately afterward invested. The town was but feebly garrisoned; but the Protestant inhabitants prepared for a desperate defence, under the exciting example of the princess of Epinoi, wife of the governor, who was himself absent. This remarkable woman furnishes another proof of the female heroism which abounded in these wars. Though wounded in the arm, she fought in the breach sword in hand, braving peril and death. And when at length it was impossible to hold out longer, she obtained an honorable capitulation, and marched out, on the 29th of November, on horseback, at the head of the garrison, with an air of triumph rather than of defeat.
The duke of Alençon, now created duke of Anjou, by which title we shall hereafter distinguish him, had repaired to England, in hopes of completing his project of marriage with Elizabeth. After three months of almost confident expectation, the virgin queen, at this time fifty years of age, with a caprice not quite justifiable, broke all her former engagements; and, happily for herself and her country, declined the marriage. Anjou burst out into all the violence of his turbulent temper, and set sail for the Nether-lands. Elizabeth made all the reparation in her power, by the honors paid him on his dismissal. She accompanied him as far as Canterbury, and sent him away under the convoy of the earl of Leicester, her chief favorite; and with a brilliant suite and a fleet of fifteen sail. Anjou was received at Antwerp with equal distinction; and was inaugurated there on the 19th of February as duke of Brabant, Lothier, Limburg, and Guelders, with many other titles, of which he soon proved himself unworthy. When the Prince of Orange, at the ceremony, placed the ducal mantle on his shoulders, Anjou said to him, “Fasten it so well, prince, that they cannot take it off again!”
During the rejoicings which followed this inauspicious ceremony, Philip’s proscription against the Prince of Orange put forth its first fruits. The latter gave a grand dinner in the chateau of Antwerp, which he occupied, on the 18th of March, the birthday of the duke of Anjou; and, as he was quitting the dining-room, on his way to his private chamber, a young man stepped forward and offered a pretended petition, William being at all times of easy access for such an object. While he read the paper, the treacherous sup-pliant discharged a pistol at his head : the ball struck him under the left ear, and passed out at the right cheek. As he tottered and fell, the assassin drew a poniard to add suicide to the crime, but he was instantly put to death by the attendant guards. The young Count Maurice, William’s second son, examined the murderer’s body; and the papers found on him, and subsequent inquiries, told fully who and what he was. His name was John Jaureguay, his age twenty-three years; he was a native of Biscay, and clerk to a Spanish merchant of Antwerp, called Gaspar Anastro. This man had instigated him to the crime; having received a promise signed by King Philip, engaging to give him twenty-eight thousand ducats and other advantages, if he would undertake to assassinate the Prince of Orange. The inducements held out by Anastro to his simple dupe, were backed strongly by the persuasions of Antony Timmerman, a Dominican monk; and by Venero, Anastro’s cashier, who had from fear declined becoming himself the murderer. Jaureguay had duly heard mass, and received the sacrament, before executing his attempt; and in his pockets were found a catechism of the Jesuits, with tablets filled with prayers in the Spanish language; one in particular being addressed to the Angel Gabriel, imploring his intercession with God and the Virgin, to aid him in the consummation of his object. Other accompanying absurdities seem to pronounce this miserable wretch to be as much an instrument in the hands of others as the weapon of his crime was in his own. Timmerman and Venero made a full avowal of their criminality, and suffered death in the usual barbarous manner of the times. The Jesuits, some years afterward, solemnly gathered the remains of these three pretended martyrs, and exposed them as holy relics for public veneration. Anastro effected his escape.
The alarm and indignation of the people of Antwerp knew no bounds. Their suspicions at first fell on the duke of Anjou and the French party; but the truth was soon discovered; and the rapid recovery of the Prince of Orange from his desperate wound set everything once more to rights. But a premature report of his death flew rapidly abroad; and he had anticipated proofs of his importance in the eyes of all Europe, in the frantic delight of the base, and the deep affliction of the good. Within three months, William was able to accompany the duke of Anjou in his visits to Ghent, Bruges, and the other chief towns of Flanders; in each of which the ceremony of inauguration was repeated. Several military exploits now took place, and various towns fell into the hands of the opposing parties; changing masters with a rapidity, as well as a previous en-durance of suffering, that must have carried confusion and change on the contending principles of allegiance into the hearts and heads of the harassed inhabitants.
The duke of Anjou, intemperate, inconstant, and unprincipled, saw that his authority was but the shadow of power, compared to the deep-fixed practices of despotism which governed the other nations of Europe. The French officers, who formed his suite and possessed all his confidence, had no difficulty in raising his discontent into treason against the people with whom he had made a solemn compact. Tho result of their councils was a deep-laid plot against Flemish liberty; and its execution was ere-long attempted. He sent secret orders to the governors of Dunkirk, Bruges, Ter-monde, and other towns, to seize on and hold them in his name; reserving for himself the infamy of the enterprise against Antwerp. To prepare for its execution, he caused his numerous army of French and Swiss to approach the city; and they were encamped in the neighborhood, at a place called Borgerhout.
On the 17th of January, 1583, the duke dined somewhat earlier than usual, under the pretext of proceeding after-ward to review his army in their camp. He set out at noon, accompanied by his guard of two hundred horse; and when he reached the second drawbridge, one of his officers gave the preconcerted signal for an attack on the Flemish guard, by pretending that he had fallen and broken his leg. The duke called out to his followers, “Courage, courage! the town is ours!” The guard at the gate was all soon despatched; and the French troops, which waited out-side to the number of three thousand, rushed quickly in, furiously shouting the war-cry, “Town taken! town taken! kill ! kill !” The astonished but intrepid citizens, recovering from their confusion, instantly flew to arms. All differences in religion or politics were forgotten in the common danger to their freedom. Catholics and Protestants, men and women, rushed alike to the conflict. The ancient spirit of Flanders seemed to animate all. Workmen, armed with the instruments of their various trades, started from their shops and flung themselves upon the enemy. A baker sprang from the cellar where he was kneading his dough, and with his oven shovel struck a French dragoon to the ground. Those who had firearms, after expending their bullets, took from their pouches and pockets pieces of money, which they bent between their teeth, and used for charging their arquebuses. The French were driven successively from the streets and ramparts, and the cannons planted on the latter were immediately turned against the reinforcements which attempted to enter the town. The French were everywhere beaten; the duke of Anjou saved himself by flight, and reached Termonde, after the perilous necessity of passing through a large tract of inundated country. His loss in this base enterprise amounted to one thousand five hundred; while that of the citizens did not exceed eighty men. The attempts simultaneously made on the other towns succeeded at Dunkirk and Termonde; but all the others failed.
The character of the Prince of Orange never appeared so thoroughly great as at this crisis. With wisdom and magnanimity rarely equalled and never surpassed, he threw himself and his authority between the indignation of the country and the guilt of Anjou; saving the former from excess, and the latter from execration. The disgraced and discomfited duke proffered to the states excuses as mean as they were hypocritical; and his brother, the king of France, sent a special envoy to intercede for him. But it was the influence of William that screened the culprit from public reprobation and ruin, and regained for him the place and power which he might easily have secured for himself, had he not prized the welfare of his country far above all objects of private advantage. A new treaty was negotiated, confirming Anjou in his former station, with renewed security against any future treachery on his part. He in the mean-time retired to France, to let the public indignation subside; but before he could assume sufficient confidence again to face the country he had so basely injured his worthless existence was suddenly terminated, some thought by poison the common solution of all such doubtful questions in those days in the month of June in the following year. He expired in his twenty-ninth year.
A disgusting proof of public ingratitude and want of judgment was previously furnished by the conduct of the people of Antwerp against him who had been so often their deliverer from such various dangers. Unable to comprehend the greatness of his mind, they openly accused the Prince of Orange of having joined with the French for their subjugation, and of having concealed a body of that detested nation in the citadel. The populace rushed to the place, and having minutely examined it, were convinced of their own absurdity and the prince’s innocence. He scorned to demand their punishment for such an outrageous calumny; but he was not the less afflicted at it. He took the resolution of quitting Flanders, as it turned out, forever; and he retired into Zealand, where he was better known and consequently better trusted.
In the midst of the consequent confusion in the former of these provinces, the prince of Parma, with indefatigable vigor, made himself master of town after town; and turned his particular attention to the creation of a naval force, which was greatly favored by the possession of Dunkirk, Nieuport, and Gravelines. Native treachery was not idle in this time of tumult and confusion. The count of Renneberg, governor of Friesland and Groningen, had set the basest example, and gone over to the Spaniards. The prince of Chimay, son of the duke of Arschot, and governor of Bruges, yielded to the persuasions of his father, and gave up the place to the prince of Parma. Hembyse also, amply confirming the bad opinion in which the Prince of Orange always held him, returned to Ghent, where he regained a great portion of his former influence, and immediately commenced a correspondence with the prince of Parma, offering to deliver up both Ghent and Termonde. An attempt was consequently made by the Spaniards to surprise the former town; but the citizens were prepared for this, having intercepted some of the letters of Hembyse; and the traitor was seized, tried, condemned, and executed on the 4th of August, 1584. He was upward of seventy years of age. Ryhove, his celebrated colleague, died in Holland some years later.
But the fate of so insignificant a person as Hembyse passed almost unnoticed, in the agitation caused by an event which shortly preceded his death.
From the moment of their abandonment by the duke of Anjou, the United Provinces considered themselves in-dependent; and although they consented to renew his authority over the country at large, at the solicitation of the Prince of Orange, they were resolved to confirm the influence of the latter over their particular interests, which they were now sensible could acquire stability only by that means. The death of Anjou left them without a sovereign; and they did not hesitate in the choice which they were now called upon to make. On whom, indeed, could they fix but William of Nassau, without the utmost injustice to him, and the deepest injury to themselves? To whom could they turn, in preference to him who had given consistency to the early explosion of their despair; to him who first gave the country political existence, then nursed it into freedom, and now beheld it in the vigor and prime of independence? He had seen the necessity, but certainly overrated the value, of foreign support, to enable the new state to cope with the tremendous tyranny from which it had broken. He had tried successively Germany, England and France. From the first and the last of these powers he had received two governors, to whom he cheerfully resigned the title. The incapacity of both, and the treachery of the latter, proved to the states that their only chance for safety was in the consolidation of William’s authority; and they contemplated the noblest reward which a grateful nation could bestow on a glorious liberator. And is it to be believed that he who for twenty years had sacrificed his repose, lavished his fortune, and risked his life, for the public cause, now aimed at absolute dominion, or coveted a despotism which all his actions prove him to have abhorred? Defeated bigotry has put forward such vapid accusations. He has been also held responsible for the early cruelties which, it is notorious, he used every means to avert, and frequently punished. But while these revolting acts can only be viewed in the light of reprisals against the bloodiest persecution that ever existed, by exasperated men driven to vengeance by a bad example, not one single act of cruelty or bad faith has ever been made good against William, who may be safely pronounced one of the wisest and best men that history has held up as examples to the species.
The authority of one author has been produced to prove that, during the lifetime of his brother Louis, offers were made to him by France of the sovereignty of the northern provinces, on condition of the southern being joined to the French crown. That he ever accepted those offers is with-out proof; that he never acted on them is certain. But he might have been justified in purchasing freedom for those states which had so well earned it, at the price even of a qualified independence under another power, to the exclusion of those which had never heartily struggled against Spain. The best evidence, however, of William’s real views is to be found in the Capitulation, as it is called; that is to say, the act which was on the point of being executed between him and the states, when a base fanatic, instigated by a bloody tyrant, put a period to his splendid career. This capitulation exists at full length, but was never formally executed. Its conditions are founded on the same principles, and conceived in nearly the same terms, as those accepted by the duke of Anjou; and the whole compact is one of the most thoroughly liberal that history has on record. The prince repaired to Delft for the ceremony of his inauguration, the price of his long labors ; but there, instead of anticipated dignity, he met the sudden stroke of death.
On the 10th of July, as he left his dining-room, and while he placed his foot on the first step of the great stair leading to the upper apartments of his house, a man named Balthazar Gerard (who, like the former assassin, waited for him at the moment of convivial relaxation), discharged a pistol at his body. Three balls entered it. He fell into the arms of an attendant, and cried out faintly, in the French language, “God pity me! I am sadly wounded God have mercy on my soul, and on this unfortunate nation!” His sister, the countess of Swartzenberg, who now hastened to his side, asked him in German if he did not recommend his soul to God? He answered, “Yes,” in the same language, but with a feeble voice. He was carried into the dining-room, where he immediately expired. His sister closed his eyes; his wife, too, was on the spot Louisa, daughter of the illustrious Coligny, and widow of the gallant count of Teligny, both of whom were also murdered almost in her sight, in the frightful massacre of St. Bartholomew. We may not enter on a description of the afflicting scene which followed; but the mind is pleased in picturing the bold solemnity with which Prince Maurice, then eighteen years of age, swore not vengeance or hatred against his father’s murderers but that he would faithfully and religiously follow the glorious example he had given him.
Whoever would really enjoy the spirit of historical de-tails should never omit an opportunity of seeing places rendered memorable by associations connected with the deeds, and especially with the death, of great men; the spot, for instance, where William was assassinated at Delft; the old staircase he was just on the point of ascending; the narrow pass between that and the dining-hall whence he came out, of scarcely sufficient extent for the murderer to hold forth his arm and his pistol, two and a half feet long. This weapon, and its fellow, are both preserved in the museum of The Hague, together with two of the fatal bullets, and the very clothes which the victim wore. The leathern doublet, pierced by the balls and burned by the powder, lies beside the other parts of the dress, the simple gravity of which, in fashion and color, irresistibly brings the wise, great man before us, and adds a hundred-fold to the interest excited by a recital of his murder.
There is but one important feature in the character of William which we have hitherto left untouched, but which the circumstances of his death seemed to sanctify, and point out for record in the same page with it. We mean his religious opinions; and we shall despatch a subject which is, in regard to all men, so delicate, indeed so sacred, in a few words. He was born a Lutheran. When he arrived, a boy, at the court of Charles V., he was initiated into the Catholic creed, in which he was thenceforward brought up. Afterward, when he could think for himself and choose his profession of faith, he embraced the doctrine of Calvin. His whole public conduct seems to prove that he viewed sectarian principles chiefly in the light of political instruments; and that, himself a conscientious Christian, in the broad sense of the term, he was deeply imbued with the spirit of universal toleration, and considered the various shades of belief as subservient to the one grand principle of civil and religious liberty, for which he had long devoted and at length laid down his life. His assassin was taken alive, and four days afterward executed with terrible circumstances of cruelty, which he bore as a martyr might have borne them. He was a native of Burgundy, and had for some months lingered near his victim, and insinuated himself into his confidence by a feigned attachment to liberty, and an apparent zeal for the reformed faith. He was nevertheless a bigoted Catholic and, by his own confession, he had communicated his design to, and received encouragement to its execution from, more than one minister of the sect to which he belonged. But his avowal criminated a more important accomplice, and one whose character stands so high in history that it behooves us to examine thoroughly the truth of the accusation, and the nature of the collateral proofs by which it is supported. Most writers on this question have leaned to the side which all would wish to adopt, for the honor of human nature and the integrity of a celebrated name. But an original letter exists in the archives of Brussels, from the prince of Parma him-self to Philip of Spain, in which he admits that Balthazar Gerard had communicated to him his intention of murdering the Prince of Orange some months before the deed was done ; and he mixes phrases of compassion for “the poor man” (the murderer) and of praise for the act ; which, if the document be really authentic, sinks Alexander of Parma as low as the wretch with whom he sympathized.