PREVIOUS to his departure for Spain, the archduke Albert had placed the government of the provinces which acknowledged his domination in the hands of his uncle, the cardinal Andrew of Austria, leaving in command of the army Francisco Mendoza, admiral of Aragon. The troops at his disposal amounted to twenty-two thousand fighting men a formidable force, and enough to justify the serious apprehensions of the republic. Albert, whose finances were exhausted by payments made to the numerous Spanish and Italian mutineers, had left orders with Mendoza to secure some place on the Rhine, which might open a passage for free quarters in the enemy’s country. But this unprincipled officer forced his way into the neutral districts of Cleves and Westphalia ; and with a body of executioners ready to hang up all who might resist, and of priests to prepare them for death, he carried such terror on his march that no opposition was ventured. The atrocious cruelties of Mendoza and his troops baffle all description : on one occasion they murdered, in cold blood, the count of Walkenstein, who surrendered his castle on the express condition of his freedom; and they committed every possible excess that may be imagined of ferocious soldiery encouraged by a base commander.
Prince Maurice soon put into motion, to oppose this army of brigands, his small disposable force of about seven thousand men. With these, however, and a succession of masterly manoeuvres, he contrived to preserve the republic from invasion, and to paralyze and almost destroy an army three times superior in numbers to his own. The horrors committed by the Spaniards, in the midst of peace, and without the slightest provocation, could not fail to excite the utmost indignation in a nation so fond of liberty and so proud as Germany. The duchy of Cleves felt particularly aggrieved; and Sybilla, the sister of the duke, a real heroine in a glorious cause, so worked on the excited passions of the people by her eloquence and her tears that she persuaded all the orders of the state to unite against the odious enemy. Some troops were suddenly raised; and a league was formed between several princes of the empire to revenge the common cause. The count de la Lippe was chosen general of their united forces; and the choice could not have fallen on one more certainly incapable or more probably treacherous.
The German army, with their usual want of activity, did not open the campaign till the month of June. It consisted of fourteen thousand men; and never was an army so badly conducted. Without money, artillery, provisions, or discipline, it was at any moment ready to break up and abandon its incompetent general ; and on the very first en-counter with the enemy, and after a loss of a couple of hundred men, it became self-disbanded; and, flying in every direction, not a single man could be rallied to clear away this disgrace.
The states-general, cruelly disappointed at this result of measures from which they had looked for so important a diversion in their favor, now resolved on a vigorous exertion of their own energies, and determined to undertake a naval expedition of a magnitude greater than any they had hitherto attempted. The force of public opinion was at this period more powerful than it had ever yet been in the United Provinces; for a great number of the inhabitants, who, during the life of Philip IL, conscientiously believed that they could not lawfully abjure the authority once recognized and sworn to, became now liberated from those respectable, although absurd, scruples; and the death of one unfeeling despot gave thousands of new citizens to the state.
A fleet of seventy-three vessels, carrying eight thousand men, was soon equipped, under the order of Admiral Van-der Goes; and, after a series of attempts on the coasts of Spain, Portugal, Africa, and the Canary Isles, this expedition, from which the most splendid results were expected, was shattered, dispersed, and reduced to nothing by a succession of unheard of mishaps.
To these disappointments were now added domestic dissensions in the republic, in consequence of the new taxes absolutely necessary for the exigencies of the state. The conduct of Queen Elizabeth greatly added to the general embarrassment : she called for the payment of her former loans; insisted on the recall of the English troops, and declared her resolution to make peace with Spain. Several German princes promised aid in men and money, but never furnished either; and in this most critical juncture, Henry IV. was the only foreign sovereign who did not abandon the republic. He sent them one thousand Swiss troops, whom he had in his pay ; allowed them to levy three thousand more in France ; and gave them a loan of two hundred thousand crowns a very convenient supply in their exhausted state.
The archdukes Albert and Isabella arrived in the Nether-lands in September, and made their entrance into Brussels with unexampled magnificence. They soon found them-selves in a situation quite as critical as was that of the United Provinces, and both parties displayed immense energy to remedy their mutual embarrassments. The winter was extremely rigorous; so much so as to allow of military operations being undertaken on the ice. Prince Maurice soon commenced a Christmas campaign by taking the town of Wachtendenck; and he followed up his success by obtaining possession of the important forts of Crevecoeur and St. Andrew, in the island of Bommel. A most dangerous mutiny at the same time broke out in the army of the archdukes; and Albert seemed left without troops or money at the very beginning of his sovereignty.
But these successes of Prince Maurice were only the prelude to an expedition of infinitely more moment, arranged with the utmost secrecy, and executed with an energy scarcely to be looked for from the situation of the states. This was nothing less than an invasion poured into the very heart of Flanders, thus putting the archdukes on the defence of their own most vital possessions, and changing completely the whole character of the war. The whole disposable troops of the republic, amounting to about seven-teen thousand men, were secretly assembled in the island of Walcheren, in the month of June; and setting sail for Flanders, they disembarked near Ghent, and arrived on the 20th of that month under the walls of Bruges. Some previous negotiations with that town had led the prince to expect that it would have opened its gates at his approach. In this he was, however, disappointed; and after taking possession of some forts in the neighborhood, he continued his march to Nieuport, which place he invested on the 1st of July.
At the news of this invasion the archdukes, though taken by surprise, displayed a promptness and decision that proved them worthy of the sovereignty which seemed at stake. With incredible activity they mustered, in a few days, an army of twelve thousand men, which they passed in review near Ghent. On this occasion Isabella, proving her title to a place among those heroic women with whom the age abounded, rode through the royalist ranks, and harangued them in a style of inspiring eloquence that in-flamed their courage and secured their fidelity. Albert, seizing the moment of this excitement, put himself at their head, and marched to seek the enemy, leaving his intrepid wife at Bruges, the nearest town to the scene of the action he was resolved on. He gained possession of all the forts taken and garrisoned by Maurice a few days before; and pushing forward with his apparently irresistible troops, he came up on the morning of the 2d of July with a large body of those of the states, consisting of about three thousand men, sent forward under the command of Count Ernest of Nassau to reconnoitre and judge of the extent of this most unexpected movement : for Prince Maurice was, in his turn, completely surprised; and not merely by one of those manoeuvres of war by which the best generals are sometimes deceived, but by an exertion of political vigor and capacity of which history offers few more striking examples. Such a circumstance, however, served only to draw forth a fresh display of those uncommon talents which in so many various accidents of war had placed Maurice on the highest rank for military talent. The detachment under Count Ernest of Nassau was chiefly composed of Scottish infantry; and this small force stood firmly opposed to the impetuous attack of the whole royalist army thus giving time to the main body under the prince to take up a position, and form in order of battle. Count Ernest was at length driven back, with the loss of eight hundred men killed, almost all Scottish; and being cut off from the rest of the army, was forced to take refuge in Ostend, which town was in possession of the troops of the states.
The army of Albert now marched on, flushed with this first success and confident of final victory. Prince Maurice received them with the courage of a gallant soldier and the precaution of a consummate general. He had caused the fleet of ships of war and transports, which had sailed along the coast from Zealand, and landed supplies of ammunition and provisions, to retire far from the shore, so as to leave to his army no chance of escape but in victory. The commissioners from the states, who always accompanied the prince as a council of observation rather than of war, had retired to Ostend in great consternation, to wait the issue of the battle which now seemed inevitable. A scene of deep feeling and heroism was the next episode of this memorable day, and throws the charm of natural affection over those circumstances in which glory too seldom leaves a place for the softer emotions of the heart. -When the patriot army was in its position, and firmly waiting the advance of the foe, Prince Maurice turned to his brother, Frederick Henry, then sixteen years of age, and several young noblemen, English, French, and German, who like him attended on the great captain to learn the art of war : he pointed out in a few words the perilous situation in which he was placed; declared his resolution to conquer or perish on the battle-field, and recommended the boyish band to retire to Ostend, and wait for some less desperate occasion to share his renown or revenge his fall. Frederick Henry spurned the affectionate suggestion, and swore to stand by his brother to the last; and all his young companions adopted the same generous resolution.
The army of the states was placed in order of battle, about a league in front of Nieuport, in the sand hills with which the neighborhood abounds, its left wing resting on the seashore. Its losses of the morning, and of the garrisons left in the forts near Bruges, reduced it to an almost exact equality with that of the archduke. Each of these armies was composed of that variety of troops which made them respectively an epitome of the various nations of Europe. The patriot force contained Dutch, English, French, German, and Swiss, under the orders of Count Louis of Nassau, Sir Francis and Sir Horace Vere, brothers and English officers of great celebrity, with other distinguished captains. The archduke mustered Spaniards, Italians, -Walloons, and Irish in his ranks, led on by Mendoza, La Berlotta, and their fellow-veterans. Both armies were in the highest state of discipline, trained to war by long service, and enthusiastic in the several causes which they served; the two highest principles of enthusiasm urging them on religious fanaticism on the one hand, and the love of freedom on the other. The rival generals rode along their respective lines, addressed a few brief sentences of encouragement to their men, and presently the bloody contest began.
It was three o’clock in the afternoon when the archduke commenced the attack. His advanced guard, commanded by Mendoza and composed of those former mutineers who now resolved to atone for their misconduct, marched across the sand-hills with desperate resolution. They soon came into contact with the English contingent under Francis Vere, who was desperately wounded in the shock. The assault was almost irresistible. The English, borne down by numbers, were forced to give way; but the main body pressed on to their support. Horace Vere stepped forward to supply his brother’s place. Not an inch of ground more was gained or lost; the firing ceased, and pikes and swords crossed each other in the resolute conflict of man to man. The action became general along the whole line. The two commanders-in-chief were at all points. Nothing could exceed their mutual display of skill and courage. At length the Spanish cavalry, broken by the well-directed fire of the patriot artillery, fell back on their infantry and threw it into confusion. The archduke at the same instant was wounded by a lance in the cheek, unhorsed, and forced to quit the field. The report of his death, and the sight of his war-steed galloping alone across the field, spread alarm through the royalist ranks. Prince Maurice saw and seized on the critical moment. He who had so patiently maintained his position for three hours of desperate conflict now knew the crisis for a prompt and general advance. He gave the word and led on to the charge, and the victory was at once his own.
The defeat of the royalist army was complete. The whole of the artillery, baggage, standards, and ammunition, fell into the possession of the conquerors. Night coming on saved those who fled. and the nature of the ground prevented the cavalry from consummating the destruction of the whole. As far as the conflicting accounts of the various historians may be compared and calculated on, the royalists had three thousand killed, and among them sevearl officers of rank; while the patriot army, including those who fell in the morning action, lost something more than half the number. The archduke, furnished with a fresh horse, gained Bruges in safety; but he only waited there long enough to join his heroic wife, with whom he proceeded rapidly to Ghent, and thence to Brussels. Mendoza was wounded and taken prisoner, and with difficulty saved by Prince Maurice from the fury of the German auxiliaries.
The moral effect produced by this victory on the vanquishers and vanquished, and on the state of public opinion throughout Europe, was immense; but its immediate con-sequences were incredibly trifling. Not one result in a military point of view followed an event which appeared almost decisive of the war. Nieuport was again invested three days after the battle; but a strong reinforcement entering the place saved it from all danger, and Maurice found himself forced for want of supplies to abandon the scene of his greatest exploit. He returned to Holland, welcomed by the acclamations of his grateful country, and exciting the jealousy and hatred of all who envied his glory or feared his power. Among the sincere and conscientious republicans who saw danger to the public liberty in the growing influence of a successful soldier, placed at the head of affairs and endeared to the people by every hereditary and personal claim, was Olden Barneveldt, the pensionary; and from this period may be traced the growth of the mutual antipathy which led to the sacrifice of the most virtuous statesman of Holland, and the eternal disgrace of its hitherto heroic chief.
The states of the Catholic provinces assembled at Brussels now gave the archdukes to understand that nothing but peace could satisfy their wishes or save the country from exhaustion and ruin. Albert saw the reasonableness of their remonstrances, and attempted to carry the great object into effect. The states-general listened to his proposals. Commissioners were appointed on both sides to treat of terms. They met at Berg-op-Zoom; but their conferences were broken up almost as soon as commenced. The Spanish deputies insisted on the submission of the republic to its ancient masters. Such a proposal was worse than insulting; it proved the inveterate insincerity of those with whom it originated, and who knew it could not be entertained for a moment. Preparations for hostilities were therefore commenced on both sides, and the whole of the winter was thus employed.
Early in the spring Prince Maurice opened the campaign at the head of sixteen thousand men, chiefly composed of English and French, who seemed throughout the contest to forget their national animosities, and to know no rivalry but that of emulation in the cause of liberty. The town of Rhinberg soon fell into the hands of the prince. His next attempt was against Bois-le-due; and the siege of this place was signalized by an event that flavored of the chivalric contests now going out of fashion. A Norman gentleman of the name of Breaute, in the service of Prince Maurice, challenged the royalist garrison to meet him and twenty of his comrades in arms under the walls of the place. The cartel was accepted by a Fleming named Abramzoom, but better known by the epithet Leckerbeetje (savory bit), who, with twenty more, met Breaute and his friends. The combat was desperate. The Flemish champion was killed at the first shock by his Norman challenger; but the latter falling into the hands of the enemy, they treacherously and cruelly put him to death, in violation of the strict conditions of the fight. Prince Maurice was forced to raise the siege of Boisle-due, and turn his attention in another direction.
The archduke Albert had now resolved to invest Ostend, a place of great importance to the United Provinces, but little worth to either party in comparison with the dreadful waste of treasure and human life which was the consequence of its memorable siege. Sir Francis Vere commanded in the place at the period of its final investment; but governors, garrisons, and besieging forces, were renewed and replaced with a rapidity which gives one of the most frightful instances of the ravages of war. The siege of Ostend lasted upward of three years. It became a school for the young nobility of all Europe, who repaired to either one or the other party to learn the principles and the practice of attack and defence. Everything that the art of strategy could devise was resorted to on either side. The slaughter in the various assaults, sorties., and bombardments was enormous. Squadrons at sea gave a double interest to the land operations; and the celebrated brothers Frederick and Ambrose Spinola founded their reputation on these opposing elements. Frederick was killed in one of the naval combats with the Dutch galleys, and the fame of reducing Ostend was reserved for Ambrose. This afterward celebrated general had undertaken the command at the earnest entreaties of the archduke and the king of Spain, and by the firmness and vigor of his measures he revived the courage of the worn-out assailants of the place. Re-doubled attacks and multiplied mines at length reduced the town to a mere mass of ruin, and scarcely left its still undaunted garrison sufficient footing on which to prolong their desperate defence. Ostend at length surrendered, on the 22d of September, 1604, and the victors marched in over its crumbled walls and shattered batteries. Scarcely a vestige of the place remained beyond those terrible evidences of destruction. Its ditches, filled up with the rubbish of ramparts, bastions, and redoubts, left no distinct line of separation between the operations of its attack and its defence. It resembled rather a vast sepulchre than a ruined town, a mountain of earth and rubbish, without a single house in which the wretched remnant of the inhabitants could hide their heads a monument of desolation on which victory might have sat and wept.
During the progress of this memorable siege Queen Elizabeth of England had died, after a long and,, it must be pronounced, a glorious reign; though the glory belongs rather to the nation than to the monarch, whose memory is marked with indelible stains of private cruelty, as in the cases of Essex and Mary Queen of Scots, and of public wrongs, as in that of her whole system of tyranny in Ireland. With respect to the United Provinces she was a harsh protectress and a capricious ally. She in turns advised them to remain faithful to the old impurities of religion and to their intolerable king; refused to incorporate them with her own states; and then used her best efforts for subjecting them to her sway. She seemed to take pleasure in the uncertainty to which she reduced them, by constant demands for payment of her loans, and threats of making peace with Spain. Thus the states-general were not much affected by the news of her death; and so rejoiced were they at the accession of James I. to the throne of England that all the bells of Holland rang out merry peals; bonfires were set blazing all over the country; a letter of congratulation was despatched to the new monarch ; and it was speedily followed by a solemn embassy composed of Prince Frederick Henry, the grand pensionary De Barneveldt, and others of the first dignitaries of the republic. These ambassadors were grievously disappointed at the reception given to them by James, who treated them as little better than rebels to their lawful king. But this first disposition to contempt and insult was soon overcome by the united talents of Barneveldt and the great duke of Sully, who were at the same period ambassadors from France at the English court. The result of the negotiations was an agreement between those two powers to take the republic under their protection, and use their best efforts for obtaining the recognition of its independence by Spain.
The states-general considered themselves amply recompensed for the loss of Ostend by the taking of Ecluse, Rhinberg, and Grave, all of which had in the interval surrendered to Prince Maurice; but they were seriously alarmed on finding themselves abandoned by King James, who concluded a separate peace with Philip III. of Spain in the month of August this year.
This event gives rise to a question very important to the honor of James, and consequently to England itself, as the acts of the absolute monarchs of those days must be considered as those of the nations which submitted to such a form of government. Historians of great authority have asserted that it appeared that, by a secret agreement, the king had expressly reserved the power of sending assistance to Holland. Others deny the existence of this secret article; and lean heavily on the reputation of James for his conduct in the transaction. It must be considered a very doubtful point, and is to be judged rather by subsequent events than by any direct testimony.
The two monarchs stipulated in the treaty that “neither was to give support of any kind to the revolted subjects of the other.” It is nevertheless true that James did not withdraw his troops from the service of the states; but he authorized the Spaniards to levy soldiers in England. The United Provinces were at once afflicted and indignant at this equivocal conduct. Their first impulse was to deprive the English of the liberty of navigating the Scheldt. They even arrested the progress of several of their merchant-ships. But soon after, gratified at finding that James received their deputy with the title of ambassador, they resolved to dissimulate their resentment.
Prince Maurice and Spinola now took the field with their respective armies; and a rapid series of operations placing them in direct contact, displayed their talents in the most striking points of view. The first steps on the part of the prince were a new invasion of Flanders, and an attempt on Antwerp, which he hoped to carry before the Spanish army could arrive to its succor. But the promptitude and sagacity of Spinola defeated this plan, which Maurice was obliged to abandon after some loss; while the royalist general re-solved to signalize himself by some important movement, and, ere his design was suspected, he had penetrated into the province of Overyssel, and thus retorted his rival’s favorite measure of carrying the war into the enemy’s country. Several towns were rapidly reduced; but Maurice flew toward the threatened provinces, and by his active measures forced Spinola to fall back on the Rhine and take up a position near Roeroord, where he was impetuously attacked by the Dutch army. But the cavalry having followed up too slowly the orders of Maurice, his hope of surprising the royalists was frustrated; and the Spanish forces, gaining time by this hesitation, soon changed the fortune of the day. The Dutch cavalry shamefully took to flight, despite the gallant endeavors of both Maurice and his brother Frederick Henry ; and at this juncture a large reinforcement of Spaniards arrived under the command of Velasco. Maurice now brought forward some companies of English and French infantry under Horatio Vere and D’Omerville, also a distinguished officer. The battle was again fiercely renewed; and the Spaniards now gave way, and had been completely defeated, had not Spinola put in practice an old and generally successful stratagem. He caused almost all the drums of his army to beat in one direction, so as to give the impression that a still larger reinforcement was approaching. Maurice, apprehensive that the former panic might find a parallel in a fresh one, prudently ordered a retreat, which he was able to effect in good order, in preference to risking the total disorganization of his troops. The loss on each side was nearly the same ; but the glory of this hard-fought day remained on the side of Spinola, who proved himself a worthy successor of the great duke of Parma, and an antagonist with whom Maurice might contend without dishonor.
The naval transactions of this year restored the balance which Spinola’s successes had begun to turn in favor of the royalist cause. A squadron of ships, commanded by Hautain, admiral of Zealand, attacked a superior force of Spanish vessels close to Dover, and defeated them with consider-able loss. But the victory was sullied by an act of great barbarity. All the soldiers found on board the captured ships were tied two and two and mercilessly flung into the sea. Some contrived to extricate themselves, and gained the shore by swimming; others were picked up by the English boats, whose crews witnessed the scene and hastened to their relief. The generous British seamen could not remain neuter in such a moment, nor repress their indignation against those whom they had hitherto so long considered as friends. The Dutch vessels pursuing those of Spain which fled into Dover harbor, were fired on by the cannon of the castle and forced to give up the chase. The English loudly complained that the Dutch had on this occasion violated their territory; and this transaction laid the foundation of the quarrel which subsequently broke out between England and the republic, and which the jealousies of rival merchants in either state unceasingly fomented. In this year also the Dutch succeeded in capturing the chief of the Dun-kirk privateers, which had so long annoyed their trade; and they cruelly ordered sixty of the prisoners to be put to death. But the people, more humane than the authorities, rescued them from the executioners and set them free.
But these domestic instances of success and inhumanity were trifling in comparison with the splendid train of distant events, accompanied by a course of wholesale benevolence, that redeemed the traits of petty guilt. The maritime enterprises of Holland, forced by the imprudent policy of Spain to seek a wider career than in the narrow seas of Europe, were day by day extended in the Indies. To ruin if possible their increasing trade, Philip III. sent out the admiral Hurtado, with a fleet of eight galleons and thirty-two galleys. The Dutch squadron of five vessels, commanded by Wolfert Hermanszoon, attacked them off the coast of Malabar, and his temerity was crowned with great success. He took two of their vessels, and completely drove the remainder from the Indian seas. He then concluded a treaty with the natives of the isle of Banda, by which he promised to support them against the Spaniards and Portuguese, on condition that they were to give his fellow-countrymen the exclusive privilege of purchasing the spices of the island. This treaty was the foundation of the influence which the Dutch so soon succeeded in forming in the East Indies; and they established it by a candid, mild, and tolerant conduct, strongly contrasted with the pride and bigotry which had signalized every act of the Portuguese and Spaniards.
The prodigious success of the Indian trade occasioned numerous societies to be formed all through the republic. But by their great number they became at length injurious to each other. The spirit of speculation was pushed too far; and the merchants, who paid enormous prices for India goods, found themselves forced to sell in Europe at a loss. Many of those societies were too weak, in military force as well as in capital, to resist the armed competition of the Spaniards, and to support themselves in their disputes with the native princes. At length the states-general re-solved to unite the whole of these scattered partnerships into one grand company, which was soon organized on a solid basis that led ere long to incredible wealth at home and a rapid succession of conquests in the East.