THE princess-dowager of Orange, and Du Maurier, the French ambassador, had vainly implored mercy for the innocent victim at the hands of the inexorable stadtholder. Maurice refused to see his mother-in-law: he left the ambassador’s appeal unanswered. This is enough for the rigid justice of history that cannot be blinded by partiality, but hands over to shame, at the close of their career, even those whom she nursed in the very cradle of heroism. But an accusation has become current, more fatal to the fame of Prince Maurice, because it strikes at the root of his claims to feeling, which could not be impugned by a mere perseverance in severity that might have sprung from mistaken views. It is asserted, but only as general belief, that he witnessed the execution of Barneveldt. The little window of an octagonal tower, overlooking the square of the Binnenhof at The Hague, where the tragedy was acted, is still shown as the spot from which the prince gazed on the scene. Almost concealed from view among the clustering buildings of the place, it is well adapted to give weight to the tradition; but it may not, perhaps, even now be too late to raise a generous incredulity as to an assertion of which no eye-witness attestation is recorded, and which might have been the invention of malignity. There are many statements of history which it is immaterial to substantiate or disprove. Splendid fictions of public virtue have often produced their good if once received as fact ; but, when private character is at stake, every conscientious writer or reader will cherish his “historic doubts,” when he reflects on the facility with which calumny is sent abroad, the avidity with which it is received, and the careless ease with which men credit what it costs little to invent and propagate, but requires an age of trouble and an almost impossible conjunction of opportunities effectually to refute.
Grotius and Hoogerbeets were confined in the castle of Louvestein. Moersbergen, a leading patriot of Utrecht, De Haan, pensionary of Haarlem, and Uitenbogaard, the chosen confidant of Maurice, but the friend of Barneveldt, were next accused and sentenced to imprisonment or banishment. And thus Arminianism, deprived of its chiefs, was for the time completely stifled. The Remonstrants, thrown into utter despair, looked to emigration as their last resource. Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden, and Frederick, duke of Holstein, offered them shelter and protection in their respective states. Several availed themselves of these offers; but the states-general, alarmed at the progress of self-expatriation, moderated their rigor, and thus checked the desolating evil. Several of the imprisoned Arminians had the good fortune to elude the vigilance of their jailers; but the escape of Grotius is the most remarkable of all, both from his own celebrity as one of the first writers of his age in the most varied walks of literature, and from its peculiar circumstances, which only found a parallel in European history after a lapse of two centuries. We allude to the escape of Lavalette from the prison of the Conciergerie in Paris in 1815, which so painfully excited the interest of all Europe for the intended victim’s wife, whose reason was the forfeit of her exertion.
Grotius was freely allowed during his close imprisonment all the relaxations of study. His friends supplied him with quantities of books, which were usually brought into the fortress in a trunk two feet two inches long, which the governor regularly and carefully examined during the first year. But custom brought relaxation in the strictness of the prison rules; and the wife of the illustrious prisoner, his faithful and constant visitor, proposed the plan of his escape, to which he gave a ready and, all hazards considered, a courageous assent. Shut up in this trunk for two hours, and with all the risk of suffocation, and of injury from the rude handling of the soldiers who carried it out of the fort, Grotius was brought clear off by the very agents of his persecutors, and safely delivered to the care of his devoted and discreet female servant, who knew the secret and kept it well. She attended the important consignment in the barge to the town of Gorcum; and after various risks of discovery, providentially escaped, Grotius at length found himself safe beyond the limits of his native land. His wife, whose torturing suspense may be imagined the while, concealed the stratagem as long as it was possible to impose on the jailer with the pardonable and praiseworthy fiction of her husband’s illness and confinement to his bed. The government, outrageous at the result of the affair, at first proposed to hold this interesting prisoner in place of the prey they had lost, and to proceed criminally against her. But after a fortnight’s confinement she was restored to liberty, and the country saved from the disgrace of so ungenerous and cowardly a proceeding. Grotius repaired to Paris, where he was received in the most flattering manner, and distinguished by a pension of one thousand crowns allowed by the king. He soon published his vindication one of the most eloquent and unanswerable productions of its kind, in which those times of unjust accusations and illegal punishments were so fertile.
The expiration of the twelve years’ truce was now at hand; and the United Provinces, after that long period of intestine trouble and disgrace, had once more to recommence a more congenial struggle against foreign enemies; for a renewal of the war with Spain might be fairly considered a return to the regimen best suited to the constitution of the people. The republic saw, however, with consider-able anxiety, the approach of this new contest. It was fully sensible of its own weakness. Exile had reduced its population; patriotism had subsided; foreign friends were dead; the troops were unused to warfare; the hatred against Spanish cruelty had lost its excitement ; the finances were in confusion; Prince Maurice had no longer the activity of youth; and the still more vigorous impulse of fighting for his country’s liberty was changed to the dishonoring task of upholding his own tyranny.
The archdukes, encouraged by these considerations, had hopes of bringing back the United Provinces to their domination. They accordingly sent an embassy to Holland with proposals to that effect. It was received with indignation; and the ambassador, Peckius, was obliged to be escorted back to the frontiers by soldiers, to protect him from the insults of the people. Military operations were, however, for a while refrained from on either side, in consequence of the deaths of Philip III. of Spain and the archduke Albert. Philip IV. succeeded his father at the age of sixteen; and the archduchess Isabella found herself alone at the head of the government in the Belgian provinces. Olivarez became as sovereign a minister in Spain, as his predecessor the duke of Lerma had been; but the archduchess, though now with only the title of stadtholderess of the Netherlands, held the reins of power with a firm and steady hand.
In the celebrated thirty years’ war which had commenced between the Protestants and Catholics of Germany, the former had met with considerable assistance from the United Provinces. Barneveldt, who foresaw the embarrassments which the country would have to contend with on the expiration of that truce, had strongly opposed its meddling in the quarrel; but his ruin and death left no restraint on the policy which prompted the republic to aid the Protestant cause. Fifty thousand florins a month to the revolted Protestants, and a like sum to the princes of the union, were for some time advanced. Frederick, the elector palatine, son-in-law of the king of England, and nephew of the prince, was chosen by the Bohemians for their king; but in spite of the enthusiastic wishes of the English nation, James persisted in refusing to interfere in Frederick’s favor. France, governed by De Luynes, a favorite whose influence was deeply pledged, and, it is said, dearly sold to Spain, abandoned the system of Henry IV., and upheld the House of Austria. Thus the new monarch, only aided by the United Provinces, and that feebly, was soon driven from his temporary dignity; his hereditary dominions in the palatinate were overrun by the Spanish army under Spinola; and Frederick, utterly defeated at the battle of Prague, was obliged to take refuge in Holland. James’s abandonment of his son-in-law has been universally blamed by almost every historian. He certainly allowed a few generous individuals to raise a regiment in England of two thousand four hundred chosen soldiers, who, under the command of the gallant Sir Horace Vere, could only vainly regret the impossibility of opposition to ten times their number of veteran troops.
This contest was carried on at first with almost all the advantages on the side of the House of Austria. Two men of extraordinary character, which presented a savage parody of military talent, and a courage chiefly remarkable for the ferocity into which it degenerated, struggled for a while against the imperial arms. These were the count of Mans-field and Christian of Brunswick. At the head of two desperate bands, which, by dint of hard fighting, acquired something of the consistency of regular armies, they maintained a long resistance; but the duke of Bavaria, commanding the troops of the emperor, and Count Tilly at the head of those of Spain, completed in the year 1622 the defeat of their daring and semi-barbarous opponents.
Spinola was resolved to commence the war against the republic by some important exploit. He therefore laid siege to Berg-op-Zoom, a place of great consequence, commanding the navigation of the Meuse and the coasts of all the islands of Zealand. But Maurice, roused from the lethargy of despotism which seemed to have wholly changed his character, repaired to the scene of threatened danger; and succeeded, after a series of desperate efforts on both sides, to raise the siege, forcing Spinola to abandon his attempt with a loss of upward of twelve thousand men. Frederick Henry in the meantime had made an incursion into Brabant with a body of light troops; and ravaging the country up to the very gates of Mechlin, Louvain, and Brussels, levied contributions to the amount of six hundred thousand florins. The states completed this series of good fortune by obtaining the possession of West Friesland, by means of Count Mansfield, whom they had despatched thither at the head of his formidable army, and who had, in spite of the opposition of Count Tilly, successfully performed his mission.
We must now turn from these brief records of military affairs, the more pleasing theme for the historian of the Netherlands in comparison with domestic events, which claim attention but to create sensations of regret and censure. Prince Maurice had enjoyed without restraint the fruits of his ambitious daring. His power was uncontrolled and unopposed, but it was publicly odious; and private resentments were only withheld by fear, and, perhaps, in some measure by the moderation and patience which distinguished the disciples of Arminianism. In the midst, however, of the apparent calm, a deep conspiracy was formed against the life of the prince. The motives, the conduct, and the termination of this plot, excite feelings of many opposite kinds. We cannot, as in former instances, wholly execrate the de-sign and approve the punishment. Commiseration is mingled with blame, when we mark the sons of Barneveldt, urged on by the excess of filial affection to avenge their venerable father’s fate; and despite our abhorrence for the object in view, we sympathize with the conspirators rather than the intended victim. William von Stoutenbourg and Renier de Groeneveld were the names of these two sons of the late pensionary. The latter was the younger; but, of more impetuous character than his brother, he was the principal in the plot. Instead of any efforts to soften down the hatred of this unfortunate family, these brothers had been removed from their employments, their property was confiscated, and despair soon urged them to desperation. In such a time of general discontent it was easy to find accomplices. Seven or eight determined men readily joined in the plot; of these, two were Catholics, the rest Arminians ; the chief of whom was Henry Slatius, a preacher of considerable eloquence, talent, and energy. It was first proposed to attack the prince at Rotterdam; but the place was soon after changed for Ryswyk, a village near The Hague, and afterward celebrated by the treaty of peace signed there and which bears its name. Ten other associates were son engaged by the exertions of Slatius : these were Arminian artisans and sailors, to whom the actual execution of the murder was to be confided; and they were persuaded that it was planned with the connivance of Prince Frederick Henry, who was considered by the Arminians as the secret partisan of their sect. The 6th of February was fixed on for the accomplishment of the deed. The better to conceal the design, the conspirators agreed to go unarmed to the place, where they were to find a box containing pistols and poniards in a spot agreed upon. The death of the Prince of Orange was not the only object intended. During the con-fusion subsequent to the hoped-for success of that first blow, the chief conspirators intended to excite simultaneous revolts at Leyden, Gouda, and Rotterdam, in which towns the Arminians were most numerous. A general revolution throughout Holland was firmly reckoned on as the infallible result; and success was enthusiastically looked for to their country’s freedom and their individual fame.
But the plot, however cautiously laid and resolutely per-severed in, was doomed to the fate of many another; and the horror of a second murder (but with far different provocation from the first) averted from the illustrious family to whom was still destined the glory of consolidating the country it had formed. Two brothers named Blansaart, and one Parthy, having procured a considerable sum of money’ from the leading conspirators, repaired to The Hague, as they asserted, for the purpose of betraying the plot; but they were forestalled in this purpose : four of the sailors had gone out to Ryswyk the preceding evening, and laid the whole of the project, together with the wages of their intended crime, before the prince; who, it would appear, then occupied the ancient chateau, which no longer exists at Ryswyk. The box of arms was found in the place pointed out by the informers, and measures were instantly taken to arrest the various accomplices. Several were seized. Groeneveld had escaped along the coast disguised as a fisherman, and had nearly effected his passage to England, when he was recognized and arrested in the island of Vlieland. Slatius and others were also intercepted in their attempts at escape. Stoutenbourg, the most culpable of all, was the most fortunate; probably from the energy of character which marks the difference between a bold adventurer and a timid speculator. He is believed to have passed from The Hague in the same manner as Grotius quitted his prison; and, by the aid of a faithful servant, he accomplished his escape through various perils, and finally reached Brussels, where the arch-duchess Isabella took him under her special protection. He for several years made efforts to be allowed to return to Holland; but finding them hopeless, even after the death of Maurice, he embraced the Catholic religion, and obtained the command of a troop of Spanish cavalry, at the head of which he made incursions into his native country, carrying before him a black flag with the effigy of a death’s head, to announce the mournful vengeance which he came to execute.
Fifteen persons were executed for the conspiracy. If ever mercy was becoming to a man, it would have been pre-eminently so to Maurice on this occasion ; but he was inflexible as adamant. The mother, the wife, and the son of Groeneveld, threw themselves at his feet, imploring par-don. Prayers, tears and sobs were alike ineffectual. It is even said that Maurice asked the wretched mother “why she begged mercy for her son, having refused to do as much for her husband?” To which cruel question she is reported to have made the sublime answer “Because myson is guilty, and my husband was not.”
These bloody executions caused a deep sentiment of gloom. The conspiracy excited more pity for the victims than horror for the intended crime. Maurice, from being the idol of his countrymen, was now become an object of their fear and dislike. When he moved from town to town, the people no longer hailed him with acclamations; and even the common tokens of outward respect were at times withheld. The Spaniards, taking advantage of the internal weakness consequent on this state of public feeling in the States, made repeated incursions into the provinces, which were now united but in title, not in spirit. Spinola was once more in the field, and had invested the important town of Breda, which was the patrimonial inheritance of the princes of Orange. Maurice was oppressed with anxiety and, regret; and, for the sake of his better feelings, it may be hoped, with remorse. He could effect nothing against his rival; and he saw his own laurels withering from his care-worn brow. The only hope left of obtaining the so much wanted supplies of money was in the completion of a new treaty with France and England. Cardinal Richelieu, desirous of setting bounds to the ambition and the successes of the House of Austria, readily came into the views of the States; and an obligation for a loan of one million two hundred thousand livres during the year 1624, and one million more for each of the two succeeding years, was granted by the king of France, on condition that the republic made no new truce with Spain without his mediation.
An alliance nearly similar was at the same time concluded with England. Perpetual quarrels on commercial questions loosened the ties which bound the States to their ancient allies. The failure of his son’s intended marriage with the infanta of Spain had opened the eyes of King James to the way in which he was despised by those who seemed so much to respect him. He was highly indignant; and he undertook to revenge himself by aiding the republic. He agreed to furnish six thousand men, and supply the funds for their pay, with a provision for repayment by the States at the conclusion of a peace with Spain.
Prince Maurice had no opportunity of reaping the expected advantages from these treaties. Baffled in all his efforts for relieving Breda, and being unsuccessful in a new attempt upon Antwerp, he returned to The Hague, where a lingering illness, that had for some time exhausted him, terminated in his death on the 23rd of April, 1625, in his fifty-ninth year. Most writers attribute this event to agitation at being unable to relieve Breda from the attack of Spinola. It is in any case absurd to suppose that the loss of a single town could have produced so fatal an effect on one whose life had been an almost continual game of the chances of war. But cause enough for Maurice’s death may be found in the wearing effects of thirty years of active military service, and the more wasting ravages of half as many of domestic despotism.