THE duke of Parma had chosen the count of Mans-field for his successor, and the nomination was approved by the king. He entered on his government under most disheartening circumstances. The rapid con-quests of Prince Maurice in Brabant and Flanders were scarcely less mortifying than the total disorganization into which those two provinces had fallen. They were ravaged by bands of robbers called Picaroons, whose audacity reached such a height that they opposed in large bodies the forces sent for their suppression by the government. They on one occasion killed the provost of Flanders, and burned his lieu-tenant in a hollow tree; and on another they mutilated a whole troop of the national militia, and their commander, with circumstances of most revolting cruelty.
The authority of governor-general, though not the title, was now fully shared by the count of Fuentes, who was sent to Brussels by the king of Spain; and the ill effects of this double viceroyalty was soon seen, in the brilliant progress of Prince Maurice, and the continual reverses sustained by the royalist armies. The king, still bent on projects of bigotry, sacrificed without scruple men and treasure for the overthrow of Henry IV. and the success of the League. The affairs of the Netherlands seemed now a secondary object ; and he drew largely on his forces in that country for reinforcements to the ranks of his tottering allies. A final blow was, however, struck against the hopes of in-tolerance in France, and to the existence of the League, by the conversion of Henry IV. to the Catholic religion; he deeming theological disputes, which put the happiness of a whole kingdom in jeopardy, as quite subordinate to the public good.
Such was the prosperity of the United Provinces, that they had been enabled to send a large supply, both of money and men, to the aid of Henry, their constant and generous ally. And notwithstanding this, their armies and fleets, so far from suffering diminution, were augmented day by day. Philip, resolved to summon up all his energy for the revival of the war against the republic, now appointed the archduke Ernest, brother of the emperor Rodolf, to the post which the disunion of Mansfield and Fuentes rendered as embarrassing as it had become inglorious. This prince, of a gentle and conciliatory character, was received at Brussels with great magnificence and general joy; his presence reviving the deep-felt hopes of peace entertained by the suffering people. Such were also the cordial wishes of the prince; but more than one design, formed at this period against the life of Prince Maurice, frustrated every expectation of the kind. A priest of the province of Namur, named Michael Renichon, disguised as a soldier, was the new instrument meant to strike another blow at the greatness of the House of Nassau, in the person of its gallant representative, Prince Maurice; as also in that of his brother, Frederic Henry, then ten years of age. On the confession of the intended assassin, he was employed by Count Berlairnont to murder the two princes. Renichon happily mismanaged the affair, and betrayed his intention. He was arrested at Breda, con-ducted to The Hague, and there tried and executed on the 3d of June, 1594. This miserable wretch accused the arch-duke Ernest of having countenanced his attempt; but nothing whatever tends to criminate, while every probability acquits, that prince of such a participation.
In this same year a soldier named Peter Dufour em-barked in a like atrocious plot. He, too, was seized and executed before he could carry it into effect ; and to his dying hour persisted in accusing the archduke of being his instigator. But neither the judges who tried, nor the best historians who record, his intended crime, gave any belief to this accusation. The mild and honorable disposition of the prince held a sufficient guarantee against its likelihood; and it is not less pleasing to be able fully to join in the prevalent opinion, than to mark a spirit of candor and impartiality break forth through the mass of bad and violent passions which crowd the records of that age.
But all the esteem inspired by the personal character of Ernest could not overcome the repugnance of the United Provinces to trust to the apparent sincerity of the tyrant in whose name he made his overtures for peace. They were all respectfully and firmly rejected; and Prince Maurice, in the meantime, with his usual activity, passed the Meuse and the Rhine, and invested and quickly took the town of Groningen, by which he consummated the establishment of the republic, and secured its rank among the principal powers of Europe.
The archduke Ernest, finding all his efforts for peace frustrated, and all hopes of gaining his object by hostility to be vain, became a prey to disappointment and regret, and died, from the effects of a slow fever, on the 21st of February, 1595; leaving to the count of Fuentes the honors and anxieties of the government, subject to the ratification of the king. This nobleman began the exercise of his temporary functions by an irruption into France, at the head of a small army; war having been declared against Spain by Henry IV., who, on his side, had despatched the Admiral de Villars to attack Philip’s possessions in Hainault and Artois. This gallant officer lost a battle and his life in the contest; and Fuentes, encouraged by the victory, took some frontier towns, and laid siege to Cambray, the great object of his plans. The citizens, who detested their governor, the marquis of Bologni, who had for some time assumed an independent tyranny over them, gave up the place to the besiegers ; and the citadel surrendered some days later. After this exploit Fuentes returned to Brussels, where, notwithstanding his success, he was extremely unpopular. He had placed a part of his forces under the command of Mondragon, one of the oldest and cleverest officers in the service of Spain. Some trifling affairs took place in Brabant; but the arrival of the archduke Albert, whom the king had appointed to succeed his brother Ernest in the office of governor-general, deprived Fuentes of any further opportunity of signalizing his talents for supreme command. Albert arrived at Brussels on the 11th of February, 1596, accompanied by the Prince of Orange, who, when count of Beuren, had been carried off from the university of Lou-vain, twenty-eight years previously, and held captive in Spain during the whole of that period.
The archduke Albert, fifth son of the emperor Maximilian II., and brother of Rodolf, stood high in the opinion of Philip, his uncle, and merited his reputation for talents, bravery, and prudence. He had been early made arch-bishop of Toledo, and afterward cardinal ; but his profession was not that of these nominal dignities. He was a warrior and politician of considerable capacity; and had for some years faithfully served the king, as viceroy of Portugal. But Philip meant him for the more independent situation of sovereign of the Netherlands, and at the same time destined him to be the husband of his daughter Isabella. He now sent him, in the capacity of governor-general, to prepare the way for the important change; at once to gain the good graces of the people, and soothe, by this removal from Philip’s too close neighborhood, the jealousy of his son, the hereditary prince of Spain. Albert brought with him to Brussels a small reinforcement for the army, with a large supply of money, more wanting at this conjuncture than men. He highly praised the conduct of Fuentes in the operations just finished; and resolved to continue the war on the same plan, but with forces much superior.
He opened his first campaign early; and, by a display of clever manoeuvring, which threatened an attempt to force the French to raise the siege of La Fere, in the heart of Picardy, he concealed his real design the capture of Calais; and he succeeded in its completion almost before it was suspected. The Spanish and Walloon troops, led on by Rone, a distinguished officer, carried the first defences : after nine days of siege the place was forced to surrender; and in a few more the citadel followed the example. The archduke soon after took the towns of Ardres and Hulst; and by prudently avoiding a battle, to which he was constantly provoked by Henry IV., who commanded the French army in person, he established his character for military talent of no ordinary degree.
He at the same time made overtures of reconciliation to the United Provinces, and hoped that the return of the Prince of Orange would be a means of effecting so desirable a purpose. But the Dutch were not to be deceived by the apparent sincerity of Spanish negotiation. They even doubted the sentiments of the Prince of Orange, whose attachments and principles had been formed in so hated a school; and nothing passed between them and him but mutual civilities. They clearly evinced their disapprobation of his intended visit to Holland; and he consequently fixed his residence in Brussels, passing his life in an inglorious neutrality.
A naval expedition formed in this year by the English and Dutch against Cadiz, commanded by the earl of Essex, and Counts Louis and William of Nassau, cousins of Prince Maurice, was crowned with brilliant success, and somewhat consoled the provinces for the contemporary exploits of the archduke. But the following year opened with an affair which at once proved his unceasing activity, and added largely to the reputation of his rival, Prince Maurice. The former had detached the count of Varas, with about six thousand men, for the purpose of invading the province of Holland; but Maurice, with equal energy and superior talent, followed his movements, came up with him near Turnhout, on the 24th of January, 1597; and after a sharp action, of which the Dutch cavalry bore the whole brunt, Varas was killed, and his troops defeated with considerable loss.
This action may be taken as a fair sample of the difficulty with which any estimate can be formed of the relative losses on such occasions. The Dutch historians state the loss of the royalists, in killed, at upward of two thou-sand. Meteren, a good authority, says the peasants buried two thousand two hundred and fifty; while Bentivoglio, an Italian writer in the interest of Spain, makes the number exactly half that amount. Grotius says that the loss of the Dutch was four men killed. Bentivoglio states it at one hundred. But, at either computation, it is clear that the affair was a brilliant one on the part of Prince Maurice.
This was in its consequences a most disastrous affair to the archduke. His army was disorganized, and his finances exhausted; while the confidence of the states in their troops and their general was considerably raised. But the taking of Amiens by Portocarrero, one of the most enterprising of the Spanish captains, gave a new turn to the failing fortunes of Albert. This gallant officer, whose greatness of mind, according to some historians, was much disproportioned to the smallness of his person, gained possession of that important town by a well-conducted stratagem, and maintained his conquest valiantly till he was killed in its defence. Henry IV. made prodigious efforts to recover the place, the chief bulwark on that side of France; and having forced Montenegro, the worthy successor of Portocarrero, to capitulate, granted him and his garrison most honorable conditions. Henry, having secured Amiens against any new attack, returned to Paris and made a triumphal entry into the city.
During this year Prince Maurice took a number of towns in rapid succession; and the states, according to their custom, caused various medals, in gold, silver, and copper, to be struck, to commemorate the victories which had signalized their arms.
Philip II, feeling himself approaching the termination of his long and agitating career, now wholly occupied himself in negotiations for peace with France. Henry IV. de-sired it as anxiously. The pope, Clement VIII., encouraged by his exhortations this mutual inclination. The king of Poland sent ambassadors to The Hague and to London, to induce the states and Queen Elizabeth to become parties in a general pacification. These overtures led to no conclusion; but the conferences between France and Spain went on with apparent cordiality and great promptitude, and a peace was concluded between these powers at Vervins, on the 2d of May, 1598.
Shortly after the publication of this treaty, another important act was made known to the world, by which Philip ceded to Albert and Isabella, on their being formally affianced a ceremony which now took place the sovereignty of Burgundy and the Netherlands. This act bears date the 6th of May, and was proclaimed with all the solemnity due to so important a transaction. It contained thirteen articles; and was based on the misfortunes which the absence of the sovereign had hitherto caused to the Low Countries. The Catholic religion was declared that of the state, in its full integrity. The provinces were guaranteed against dismemberment. The archdukes, by which title the joint sovereigns were designated without any distinction of sex, were secured in the possession, with right of succession to their children; and a provision was added, that in default of posterity their possessions should revert to the Spanish crown. The infanta Isabella soon sent her procuration to the arch-duke, her affianced husband, giving him full power and authority to take possession of the ceded dominions in her name as in his own; and Albert was inaugurated with great pomp at Brussels, on the 22d of August. Having put every-thing in order for the regulation of the government during his absence, he set out for Spain for the purpose of accomplishing his spousals, and bringing back his bride to the chief seat of their joint power. But before his departure he wrote to the various states of the republic, and to Prince Maurice himself, strongly recommending submission and reconciliation. These letters received no answer; a new plot against the life of Prince Maurice, by a wretched individual named Peter Pann, having aroused the indignation of the country, and determined it to treat with suspicion and contempt every insidious proposition from the tyranny it defied.
Albert placed his uncle, the cardinal Andrew of Austria, at the head of the temporary government, and set out on his journey; taking the little town of Halle in his route, and placing at the altar of the Virgin, who is there held in particular honor, his cardinal’s hat as a token of his veneration. He had not made much progress when he received accounts of the demise of Philip II., who died, after long suffering, and with great resignation, on the 13th of September, 1598, at the age of seventy-two. Albert was several months on his journey through Germany; and the ceremonials of his union with the infanta did not take place till the 18th of April, 1599, when it was finally solemnized in the city of Valencia in Spain.
This transaction, by which the Netherlands were positively erected into a separate sovereignty, seems naturally to make the limits of another epoch in their history. It completely decided the division between the northern and southern provinces, which, although it had virtually taken place long previous to this period, could scarcely be considered as formally consummated until now. Here then we shall pause anew, and take a rapid review of the social state of the Netherlands during the last half century, which was beyond all doubt the most important period of their history, from the earliest times till the present.
It has been seen that when Charles V. resigned his throne and the possession of his vast dominions to his son, arts, commerce, and manufactures had risen to a state of considerable perfection throughout the Netherlands. The revolution, of which we have traced the rise and progress, naturally produced to those provinces which relapsed into slavery a most lamentable change in every branch of industry, and struck a blow at the general prosperity, the effects of which are felt to this very day. Arts, science, and literature were sure to be checked and withered in the blaze of civil war; and we have now to mark the retrograde movements of most of those charms and advantages of civilized life, in which Flanders and the other southern states were so rich.
The rapid spread of enlightenment on religious subjects soon converted the manufactories and workshops of Flanders into so many conventicles of reform; and the clear-sighted artisans fled in thousands from the tyranny of Alva into England, Germany, and Holland those happier countries, where the government adopted and went hand in hand with the progress of rational belief. Commerce followed the fate of manufactures. The foreign merchants one by one abandoned the theatre of bigotry and persecution; and even Antwerp, which had succeeded Bruges as the great mart of European traffic, was ruined by the horrible excesses of the Spanish soldiery, and never recovered from the shock. Its trade, its wealth, and its prosperity, were gradually transferred to Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and the towns of Holland and Zealand; and the growth of Dutch commerce attained its proud maturity in the establishment of the India Company in 1596, the effects of which we shall have hereafter more particularly to dwell on.
The exciting and romantic enterprises of the Portuguese and Spanish navigators in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries roused all the ardor of other nations for those distant adventures; and the people of the Netherlands were early influenced by the general spirit of Europe. If they were not the discoverers of new worlds, they were certainly the first to make the name of European respected and venerated by the natives.
Animated by the ardor which springs from the spirit of freedom and the enthusiasm of success, the United Provinces labored for the discovery of new outlets for their commerce and navigation. The government encouraged the speculations of individuals, which promised fresh and fertile sources of revenue, so necessary for the maintenance of the war. Until the year 1581. the merchants of Holland and Zealand were satisfied to find the productions of India at Lisbon, which was the mart of that branch of trade ever since the Portuguese discovered the passage by the Cape of Good. Hope. But Philip II., having conquered Portugal, excluded the United Provinces from the ports of that country; and their enterprising mariners were from that period driven to those efforts which rapidly led to private fortune and general prosperity. The English had opened the way in this career; and the states-general having offered a large reward for the discovery of a northwest passage, frequent and most ad-venturous voyages took place. Houtman, Le Maire, Heemskirk, Ryp, and others, became celebrated for their enterprise, and some for their perilous and interesting adventures.
The United Provinces were soon without any rival on the seas. In Europe alone they had one thousand two hundred merchant ships in activity, and upward of seventy thousand sailors constantly employed. They built annually two thousand vessels. In the year 1598, eighty ships sailed from their ports for the Indies or America. They carried on, besides, an extensive trade on the coast of Guinea, whence they brought large quantities of gold-dust; and found, in short, in all quarters of the globe the reward of their skill, industry, and courage.
The spirit of conquest soon became grafted on the habits of trade. Expedition succeeded to expedition. Failure taught wisdom to those who did not want bravery. The random efforts of individuals were succeeded by organized plans, under associations well constituted and wealthy; and these soon gave birth to those eastern and western companies before alluded to. The disputes between the English and the Hanseatic towns were carefully observed by the Dutch, and turned to their own advantage. The English manufacturers, who quickly began to flourish, from the influx of Flemish workmen under the encouragement of Elizabeth, formed companies in the Netherlands, and sent their cloths into those very towns of Germany which formerly possessed the exclusive privilege of their manufacture. These towns naturally felt dissatisfied, and their complaints were encouraged by the king of Spain. The English adventurers received orders to quit the empire; and, invited by the states-general, many of them fixed their residence in Middleburg, which became the most celebrated woollen market in Europe.
The establishment of the Jews in the towns of the re-public forms a remarkable epoch in the annals of trade. This people, so outraged by the loathsome bigotry which Christians have not blushed to call religion, so far from being depressed by the general persecution, seemed to find it a fresh stimulus to the exertion of their industry. To escape death in Spain and Portugal they took refuge in Holland, where toleration encouraged and just principles of state maintained them. They were at first taken for Catholics, and subjected to suspicion ; but when their real faith was understood they were no longer molested.
Astronomy and geography, two sciences so closely al-lied with and so essential to navigation, flourished now throughout Europe. Ortilius of Antwerp, and Gerard Mercator of Rupelmonde, were two of the greatest geographers of the sixteenth century; and the reform in the calendar at the end of that period gave stability to the calculations of time, which had previously suffered all the inconvenient fluctuations attendant on the old style.
Literature had assumed during the revolution in the Netherlands the almost exclusive and repulsive aspect of controversial learning. The university of Douay, installed in 1562 as a new screen against the piercing light of re-form, quickly became the stronghold of intolerance. That of Leyden, established by the efforts of the Prince of Orange, soon after the famous siege of that town in 1574, was on a less exclusive plan its professors being in the first instance drawn from Germany. Many Flemish historians succeeded in this century to the ancient and uncultivated chroniclers of preceding times; the civil wars drawing forth many writers, who recorded what they witnessed, but often in a spirit of partisanship and want of candor, which seriously embarrasses him who desires to learn the truth on both sides of an important question. Poetry declined and drooped in these times of tumult and suffering; and the chambers of rhetoric, to which its cultivation had been chiefly due, gradually lost their influence, and finally ceased to exist.
In fixing our attention on the republic of the United Provinces during the epoch now completed, we feel the desire, and lament the impossibility, of entering on the de-tails of government in that most remarkable state. For these we must refer to what appears to us the best authority for clear and ample information on the prerogative of the stadtholder, the constitution of the states-general, the privileges of the tribunals and local assemblies, and other points of moment concerning the principles of the Belgic confederation.