THE district in which Dordrecht is situated, and the grounds in its environs which are at present sub-merged, formed in those times an island just raised above the waters, and which was called Holland or Holtland (which means wooded land, or, according to some, hollow land). The formation of this island, or rather its recovery from the waters, being only of recent date, the right to its possession was more disputable than that of long-established countries. All the bishops and abbots whose states bordered the Rhine and the Meuse had, being equally covetous and grasping, and mutually resolved to pounce on the prey, made it their common property. A certain Count Thierry, descended from the counts of Ghent, governed about this period the western extremity of Friesland the country which now forms the province of Holland; and with much difficulty maintained his power against the Frisons, by whom his right was not acknowledged. Beaten out of his own territories by these refractory insurgents, he sought refuge in the ecclesiastical island, where he intrenched himself, and founded a town which is believed to have been the origin of Dordrecht.
This Count Thierry, like all the feudal lords, took ad-vantage of his position to establish and levy certain duties on all the vessels which sailed past his territory, dispossessing in the meantime some vassals of the church, and beating, as we have stated, the bishop of Utrecht himself.
Complaints and appeals without number were laid at the foot of the imperial throne. Godfrey of Eenham, whom the emperor had created. duke of Lower Lorraine, was commanded to call the whole country to arms. The bishop of Liege, though actually dying, put himself at the head of the expedition, to revenge his brother prelate, and punish the audacious spoiler of the church property. But Thierry and his fierce Frisons took Godfrey prisoner, and cut his army in pieces. The victor had the good sense and moderation to spare his prisoners, and set them free without ransom. He received in return an imperial amnesty; and from that period the count of Holland and his posterity formed a barrier against which the ecclesiastical power and the remains of the imperial supremacy continually struggled, to be only shattered in each new assault. John Egmont, an old chronicler, says that the counts of Holland were “a sword in the flanks of the bishops of Utrecht.”
As the partial independence of the great vassals became consolidated, the monarchs were proportionally anxious to prevent its perpetuation in the same families. In pursuance of this system, Godfrey of Eenham obtained the preference over the Counts Lambert and Robert; and Frederick of Luxemburg was named duke of Lower Lorraine in 1046, instead of a second Godfrey, who was nephew and expect-ant heir to the first. But this Godfrey, upheld by Baldwin of Flanders, forced the emperor to concede to him the inheritance of the dukedom. Baldwin secured for his share the country of Alost and Waas, and the citadel of Ghent; and he also succeeded in obtaining in marriage for his son the Countess Richilde, heiress of Hainault and Namur. Thus was Flanders incessantly gaining new aggrandizement, while the duchy of Lorraine was crumbling away on every side.
In the year 1066 this state of Flanders, even then flourishing and powerful, furnished assistance, both in men and ships, to William the Bastard of Normandy, for the conquest of England. William was son-in-law to Count Bald-win, and recompensed the assistance of his wife’s father by an annual payment of three hundred silver marks. It was Mathilda, the Flemish princess and wife of the conqueror, who worked with her own hands the celebrated tapestry of Bayeux, on which is embroidered the whole history of the conquest, and which is the most curious monument of the state of the arts in that age.
Flanders acquired a positive and considerable superiority over all the other parts of the Netherlands, from the first establishment of its counts or earls. The descendants of Baldwin Bras-de-fer, after having valiantly repulsed the Normans toward the end of the ninth century, showed themselves worthy of ruling over an industrious and energetic people. They had built towns, cut down and cleared away forests, and reclaimed inundated lands : above all things, they had understood and guarded against the danger of parcelling out their states at every succeeding generation; and the county of Flanders passed entire into the hands of the first-born of the family. The stability produced by this state of things had allowed the people to prosper. The Normans now visited the coasts, not as enemies, but as merchants ; and Bruges became the mart of the booty acquired by these bold pirates in England and on the high seas. The fisheries had begun to acquire an importance sufficient to establish the herring as one of the chief aliments of the population. Maritime commerce had made such strides that Spain and Portugal were well known to both sailors and traders, and the voyage from Flanders to Lisbon was estimated at fifteen days’ sail. Woollen stuffs formed the principal wealth of the country; but salt, corn, and jewelry were also important branches of traffic; while the youth of Flanders were so famous for their excellence in all martial pursuits that foreign sovereigns were at all times desirous of obtaining bodies of troops from this nation.
The greatest part of Flanders was attached, as has been seen, to the king of France, and not to Lorraine; but the dependence was little more than nominal. In 1071 the king of France attempted to exercise his authority over the country, by naming to the government the sanie Countess Richilde who had received Hainault and Namur for her dower, and who was left a widow, with sons still in their minority. The people assembled in the principal towns, and protested against this intervention of the French monarch. But we must remark that it was only the population of the low lands (whose sturdy ancestors had ever resisted foreign domination) that now took part in this op-position. The vassals which the counts of Flanders possessed in the Gallic provinces (the high grounds), and in general all the nobility, pronounced strongly for submission to France; for the principles of political freedom had not yet been fixed in the minds of the inhabitants of those parts of the country. But the lowlanders joined together under Robert, surnamed the Frison, brother of the de-ceased count; and they so completely defeated the French, the nobles and their unworthy associates of the high ground, that they despoiled the usurping Countess Richilde of even her hereditary possessions. In this war perished the celebrated Norman, William Fitz-Osborn, who had flown to the succor of the defeated countess, of whom he was enamored.
Robert the Frison, not satisfied with having beaten the king of France and the bishop of Liege, reinstated in 1076 the grandson of Thierry of Holland in the possessions which had been forced from him by the duke of Lower Lorraine, in the name of the emperor and the bishop of Utrecht; so that it was this valiant chieftain, who, above all others, is entitled to the praise of having successfully opposed the system of foreign domination on all the principal points of the country. Four years later, Othon of Nassau was the first to unite in one county the various cantons of Guelders. Finally, in 1086, Henry of Louvain, the direct descendant of Lambert, joined to his title that of count of Brabant; End from this period the country was partitioned pretty nearly as it was destined to remain for several centuries.
In the midst of this gradual organization of the various counties, history for some time loses sight of those Frisons, the maritime people of the north, who took little part in the civil wars of two centuries. But still there was no portion of Europe which at that time offered a finer picture of social improvement than these damp and unhealthy coasts. The name of Frisons extended from the Weser to the westward of the Zuyder Zee, but not quite to the Rhine; and it became usual to consider no longer as Frisons the subjects of the counts of Holland, whom we may now begin to distinguish as Hollanders or Dutch. The Frison race alone re-fused to recognize the sovereign counts. They boasted of being self-governed; owning no allegiance but to the emperor, and regarding the counts of his nomination as so many officers charged to require obedience to the laws of the country, but themselves obliged in all things to respect them. But the counts of Holland, the bishops of Utrecht, and several German lords, dignified from time to time with the title of counts of Friesland, insisted that it carried with it a personal authority superior to that of the sovereign they represented. The descendants of the Count Thierry, a race of men remarkably warlike, were the most violent in this assumption of power. Defeat after defeat, however, punished their obstinacy; and numbers of those princes met death on the pikes of their Frison opponents. The latter had no regular leaders; but at the approach of the enemy the inhabitants of each canton flew to arms, like the members of a single family; and all the feudal forces brought against them failed to subdue this popular militia.
The frequent result of these collisions was the refusal of the Frisons to recognize any authority whatever but that of the national judges. Each canton was governed according to its own laws. If a difficulty arose, the deputies of the nation met together on the borders of the Ems, in a place called “the Trees of Upstal” (Upstall-boomen), where three old oaks stood in the middle of an immense plain. In this primitive council-place chieftains were chosen, who, on swearing to maintain the laws and oppose the common enemy, were invested with a limited and temporary authority.
It does not appear that Friesland possessed any large towns, with the exception of Staveren. In this respect the Frisons resembled those ancient Germans who had a horror of shutting themselves up within walls. They lived in a way completely patriarchal; dwelling in isolated cabins, and with habits of the utmost frugality. We read in one of their old histories that a whole convent of Benedictines was terrified at the voracity of a German sculptor who was repairing their chapel. They implored him to look else-where for his food; for that he and his sons consumed enough to exhaust the whole stock of the monastery.
In no part of Europe was the good sense of the people so effectively opposed to the unreasonable practices of Catholicism in those days. The Frisons successfully resisted the payment of tithes; and as a punishment (if the monks are to be believed) the sea inflicted upon them repeated inundations. They forced their priests to marry, saying that the man who had no wife necessarily sought for the wife of another. They acknowledged no ecclesiastical decree, if secular judges, double the number of the priests, did not bear a part in it. Thus the spirit of liberty burst forth in all their proceedings, and they were justified in calling themselves Vri-Vriesen, Free-Frisons.
No nation is more interested than England in the examination of all that concerns this remote corner of Europe, so resolute in its opposition to both civil and religious tyranny ; for it was there that those Saxon institutions and principles were first developed without constraint, while the time of their establishment in England was still distant. Restrained by our narrow limits, we can merely indicate this curious state of things; nor may we enter on many mysteries of social government which the most learned find a difficulty in solving. What were the rights of the nobles in their connection with these freemen? What ties of reciprocal interest bound the different cantons to each other? What were the privileges of the towns? These are the minute but important points of detail which are overshadowed by the grand and imposing figure of the national independence. But in fact the emperors themselves, in these distant times, had little knowledge of this province, and spoke of it vaguely, and as it were at random, in their diplomas, the chief monuments of the history of the Middle Ages. The counts of Holland and the apostolic nuncios addressed their acts and rescripts indiscriminately to the nobles, clergy, magistrates, judges, consuls, or commons of Friesland. Sometimes appeared in those documents the vague and imposing title of “the great Frison,” applied to some popular leader. All this confusion tends to prove, on the authority of the historians of the epoch, and the charters so carefully collected by the learned, that this question, now so impossible to solve, was even then not rightly understood what were really those fierce and redoubtable Frisons in their popular and political relations? The fact is, that liberty was a matter so difficult to be comprehended by the writers of those times that Froissart gave es his opinion, about the year 1380, that the Frisons were a most unreasonable race, for not recognizing the authority and power of the great lords.
The eleventh century had been for the Netherlands (with the exception of Friesland and Flanders) an epoch of organization; and had nearly fixed the political existence of the provinces, which were so long confounded in the vast possessions of the empire. It is therefore important to ascertain under what influence and on what basis these provinces became consolidated at that period. Holland and Zealand, animated by the spirit which we may fairly distinguish under the mingled title of Saxon and maritime, countries scarcely accessible, and with a vigorous population, possessed, in the descendants of Thierry I., a race of national chieftains who did not attempt despotic rule over so unconquerable a people. In Brabant, the maritime towns of Berg-op-Zoom and Antwerp formed, in the Flemish style, so many republics, small but not insignificant; while the southern parts of the province were under the sway of a nobility who crushed, trampled on, or sold their vassals at their pleasure or caprice. The bishopric of Liege offered also the same contrast; the domains of the nobility being governed with the utmost harshness, while those prince prelates lavished on their plebeian vassals privileges which might have been supposed the fruits of generosity, were it not clear that the object was to create an opposition in the lower orders against the turbulent aristocracy, whom they found it impossible to manage single-handed. The wars of these bishops against the petty nobles, who made their castles so many receptacles of robbers and plunder, were thus the foundation of public liberty. And it appears tolerably certain that the Paladins of Ariosto were in reality nothing more than those brigand chieftains of the Ardennes, whoso ruined residences preserve to this day the names which the poet borrowed from the old romance writers. But in all the rest of the Netherlands, excepting the provinces already mentioned, no form of government existed, but that fierce feudality which reduced the people into serfs, and turned the social state of man into a cheerless waste of bondage.
It was then that the Crusades, with wild and stirring fanaticism, agitated, in the common impulse given to all Europe, even those little states which seemed to slumber in their isolated independence. Nowhere did the voice of Peter the. Hermit find a more sympathizing echo than in these lands, still desolated by so many intestine struggles. Godfrey of Bouillon, duke of Lower Lorraine, took the lead in this chivalric and religious frenzy. With him set out the counts of Hainault and Flanders; the latter of whom received from the English crusaders the honorable appellation of Fitz St. George. But although the valor of all these princes was conspicuous, from the foundation of the kingdom of Jerusalem by Godfrey of Bouillon in 1098, until that of the Latin empire of Constantinople by Baldwin of Flanders in 1203, still the simple gentlemen and peasants of Friesland did not less distinguish themselves. They were, on all occasions, the first to mount the breach or lead the charge; and the pope’s nuncio found himself forced to prohibit the very women of Friesland from embarking for the Holy Land so anxious were they to share the perils and glory of their husbands and brothers in combating the Saracens.
The outlet given by the crusaders to the overboiling ardor of these warlike countries was a source of infinite ad-vantage to their internal economy ; under the rapid progress of civilization, the population increased and the fields were cultivated. The nobility, reduced to moderation by the enfeebling consequences of extensive foreign wars, became comparatively impotent in their attempted efforts against domestic freedom. Those of Flanders and Brabant, also, were almost decimated in the terrible battle of Bouvines, fought between the Emperor Othon and Philip Augustus, king of France. On no occasion, however, had this reduced but not degenerate nobility shown more heroic valor. The Flemish knights, disdaining to mount their horses or form their ranks for the repulse of the French cavalry, composed of common persons, contemptuously received their shock on foot and in the disorder of individual resistance. The brave Buridan of Ypres led his comrades to the fight, with the chivalric war-cry, “Let each now think of her he loves!” But the issue of this battle was ruinous to the Belgians, in consequence of the bad generalship of the emperor, who had divided his army into small portions, which were defeated in detail.
While the nobility thus declined, the towns began rapidly to develop the elements of popular force. In 1120, a Flemish knight who might descend so far as to marry a woman of the plebeian ranks incurred the penalty of degradation and servitude. In 1220, scarcely a serf was to be found in all Flanders. The Countess Jane had enfranchised all those belonging to her as early as 1222. In 1300, the chiefs of the gilden, or trades, were more powerful than the nobles. These dates and these facts must suffice to mark the epoch at which the great mass of the nation arose from the wretchedness in which it was plunged by the Norman invasion, and acquired sufficient strength and freedom to form a real political force. But it is remarkable that the same results took place in all the counties or dukedoms of the Lowlands precisely at the same period. In fact, if we start from the year 1200 on this interesting inquiry, we shall see the commons attacking, in the first place, the petty feudal lords, and next the counts and the dukes themselves, as often as justice was denied them. In 1257, the peasants of Holland and the burghers of Utrecht proclaimed freedom and equality, drove out the bishop and the nobles, and began a memorable struggle which lasted full two hundred years. In 1260, the townspeople of Flanders appealed to the king of France against the decrees of their count, who ended the quarrel by the loss of his county. In 1303, Mechlin and Louvain, the chief towns of Brabant, expelled the patrician families. A coincidence like this cannot be attributed to trifling or partial causes, such as the misconduct of a single count, or other local evil; but to a great general movement in the popular mind, the progress of agriculture and industry in the whole country, superinducing an increase of wealth and intelligence, which, when unrestrained by the influence of a corrupt government, must naturally lead to the liberty and the happiness of a people.
The weaving of woollen and linen cloths was one of the chief sources of this growing prosperity. A prodigious quantity of cloth and linen was manufactured in all parts of the Netherlands. The maritime prosperity acquired an equal increase by the carrying trade, both in imports and exports. Whole fleets of Dutch and Flemish merchant ships repaired regularly to the coasts of Spain and Languedoc. Flanders was already become the great market for England and all the north of Europe. The great increase of population forced all parts of the country into cultivation; so much so, that lands were in those times sold at high price, which are today left waste from imputed sterility.
Legislation naturally followed the movements of those positive and material interests. The earliest of the towns, after the invasion of the Normans, were in some degree but places of refuge. It was soon, however, established that the regular inhabitants of these bulwarks of the country should not be subjected to any servitude beyond their care and defence; but the citizen who might absent himself for a longer period than forty days was considered a deserter and deprived of his rights. It was about the year 1100 that the commons began to possess the privilege of regulating their internal affairs; they appointed their judges and magistrates, and attached to their authority the old custom of ordering all the citizens to assemble or march when the summons of the feudal lord sounded the signal for their assemblage or service. By this means each municipal magistracy had the disposal of a force far superior to those of the nobles, for the population of the towns exceeded both in number and discipline the vassals of the seigniorial lands. And these trained bands of the towns made war in a way very different from that hitherto practiced; for the chivalry of the country, making the trade of arms a profession for life, the feuds of the chieftains produced hereditary struggles, almost always slow, and mutually disastrous. But the townsmen, forced to tear themselves from every association of home and its manifold endearments, advanced boldly to the object of the contest; never shrinking from the dangers of war, from fear of that still greater to be found in a pro-longed struggle. It is thus that it may be remarked, during the memorable conflicts of the thirteenth century, that when even the bravest of the knights advised their counts or dukes to grant or demand a truce, the citizen militia never knew but one cry” To the charge!”
Evidence was soon given of the importance of this new nation, when it became forced to take up arms against enemies still more redoubtable than the counts. In 1301, the Flemings, who had abandoned their own sovereign to attach themselves to Philip the Fair, king of France, began to repent of their newly-formed allegiance, and to be weary of the master they had chosen. Two citizens of Bruges, Peter de Koning, a draper, and John Breydel, a butcher, put themselves at the head of their fellow-townsmen, and completely dislodged the French troops who garrisoned it. The following year the militia of Bruges and the immediate neighborhood sustained alone, at the battle of Courtrai, the shock of one of the finest armies that France ever sent into the field. Victory soon declared for the gallant men of Bruges; upward of three thousand of the French chivalry, besides common soldiers, were left dead on the field. In 1304, after a long contested battle, the Flemings forced the king of France to release their count, whom he had held prisoner. “I believe it rains Flemings!” said Philip, astonished to see them crowd on him from all sides of the field. But this multitude of warriors, always ready to meet the foe, were provided for the most part by the towns. In the seigniorial system a village hardly furnished more than four or five men, and these only on important occasions; but in that of the towns every citizen was enrolled as a soldier to defend the country at all times.
The same system established in Brabant forced the duke of that province to sanction and guarantee the popular privileges, and the superiority of the people over the nobility. Such was the result of the famous contract concluded in 1312 at Cortenbergh, by which the duke created a legislative and judicial assembly to meet every twenty-one days for the provincial business; and to consist of fourteen deputies, of whom only four were to be nobles, and ten were chosen from the people. The duke was bound by this act to hold himself in obedience to the legislative decisions of the council, and renounced all right of levying arbitrary taxes or duties on the state. Thus were the local privileges of the people by degrees secured and ratified; but the various towns, making common cause for general liberty, became strictly united together, and progressively extended their influence and power. The confederation between Flanders and Brabant was soon consolidated. The burghers of Bruges, who had taken the lead in the grand national union, and had been the foremost to expel the foreign force, took umbrage in 1323 at an arbitrary measure of their count, Louis (called of Cressy by posthumous nomination, from his having been killed at that celebrated fight), by which he ceded to the count of Namur, his great-uncle, the port of Ecluse, and authorized him to levy duties there in the style of the feudal lords of the high country. It was but the affair of a day to the intrepid citizens to attack the fortress of Ecluse, carry it by assault, and take prisoner the old count of Namur. They destroyed in a short time almost all the strong castles of the nobles throughout the province; and having been joined by all the towns of west-ern Flanders, they finally made prisoners of Count Louis himself, with almost the whole of the nobility, who had taken refuge with him in the town of Courtrai. But Ghent, actuated by the jealousy which at all times existed between it and Bruges, stood aloof at this crisis. The latter town was obliged to come to a compromise with the count, who soon afterward, on a new quarrel breaking out, and sup-ported by the king of France, almost annihilated his sturdy opponents at the battle of Cassel, where the Flemish infantry, commanded by Nicholas Zannekin and others, were literally cut to pieces by the French knights and men-at-arms.
This check proved the absolute necessity of union among the rival cities. Ten years after the battle of Cassel, Ghent set the example of general opposition; this example was promptly followed, and the chief towns flew to arms. The celebrated James d.’Artaveldt, commonly called the brewer of Ghent, put himself at the head of this formidable insurrection. He was a man of a distinguished family, who had himself enrolled among the guild of brewers, to entitle him to occupy a place in the corporation of Ghent, which he soon succeeded in managing and leading at his pleasure. The tyranny of the count, and the French party which supported him, became so intolerable to Artaveldt, that he resolved to assail them at all hazards, unappalled by the fate of his father-in-law, Sohier de Courtrai, who lost his head for a similar attempt, and notwithstanding the hitherto devoted fidelity of his native city to the count. One only object seemed insurmountable. The Flemings had sworn allegiance to the crown of France; and they revolted at the idea of perjury, even from an extorted oath. But to overcome their scruples, Artaveldt proposed to acknowledge the claim of Edward III. of England to the French crown. The Flemings readily acceded to this arrangement; quickly overwhelmed Count Louis of Cressy and his French partisans; and then joined, with an army of sixty thousand men, the English monarch, who had landed at Antwerp. These numerous auxiliaries rendered Edward’s army irresistible; and soon afterward the French and English fleets, both of formidable power, but the latter of inferior force, met near Sluys, and engaged in a battle meant to be decisive of the war: victory remained doubtful during an entire day of fighting, until a Flemish squadron, hastening to the aid of the English, fixed the fate of the combat by the utter defeat of the enemy.
A truce between the two kings did not deprive Artaveldt of his well-earned authority. He was invested with the title of ruward, or conservator of the peace, of Flanders, and governed the whole province with almost sovereign sway. It was said that King Edward used familiarly to call him “his dear gossip” ; and it is certain that there was not a feudal lord of the time whose power was not eclipsed by this leader of the people. One of the principal motives which cemented the attachment of the Flemings to Artaveldt was the advantage obtained through his influence with Edward for facilitating the trade with England, whence they pro-cured the chief supply of wool for their manufactories. Edward promised them seventy thousand sacks as the reward of their alliance. But though greatly influenced by the stimulus of general interest, the Flemings loved their domestic liberty better than English wool; and when they found that their ruward degenerated from a firm patriot into the partisan of a foreign prince, they became disgusted with him altogether; and he perished in 1345, in a tumult raised against him by those by whom he had been so lately idolized. The Flemings held firm, nevertheless, in their alliance with England, only regulating the connection by a steady principle of national independence.
Edward knew well how to conciliate and manage these faithful and important auxiliaries (luring all his continental wars. A Flemish army covered the siege of Calais in 1348; and, under the command of Giles de Rypergherste, a mere weaver of Ghent, they beat the dauphin of France in a pitched battle. But Calais once taken, and a truce concluded, the English king abandoned his allies. These, left wholly to their own resources, forced the French and the heir of their count, young Louis de Male, to recognize their right to self-government according to their ancient privileges, and of not being forced to give aid to France in any war against England. Flanders may therefore be pronounced as forming, at this epoch, both in right and fact, a truly independent principality.
But such struggles as these left a deep and immovable sentiment of hatred in the minds of the vanquished. Louis de Male longed for the re-establishment and extension of his authority; and had the art to gain over to his views not only all the nobles, but many of the most influential guilds or trades. Ghent, which long resisted his attempts, was at length reduced by famine; and the count projected the ruin, or at least the total subjection, of this turbulent town.
A son of Artaveldt started forth at this juncture, when the popular cause seemed lost, and joining with his fellow-citizens, John Lyons and Peter du Bois, he led seven thou-sand resolute burghers against forty thousand feudal vassals. He completely defeated the count, and took the town of Bruges, where Louis de Male only obtained safety by hiding himself under the bed of an old woman who gave him shelter. Thus once more feudality was defeated in a fresh struggle with civic freedom.
The consequences of this event were immense. They reached to the very heart of France, where the people bore in great discontent the feudal yoke; and Froissart declares that the success of the people of Ghent had nearly over-thrown the superiority of the nobility over the people in France. But the king, Charles VI., excited by his uncle, Philip the Bold, duke of Burgundy, took arms in support of the defeated count, and marched with a powerful army against the rebellious burghers. Though defeated in four successive combats, in the latter of which, that of Roosbeke, Artaveldt was killed, the Flemings would not submit to their imperious count, who used every persuasion with Charles to continue his assistance for the punishment of these refractory subjects. But the duke of Burgundy was aware that a too great perseverance would end, either in driving the people to despair and the possible defeat of the French, or the entire conquest of the country and its junction to the crown of France. He, being son-in-law to Louis de Male, and consequently aspiring to the inheritance of Flanders, saw with a keen glance the advantage of a present compromise. On the death of Louis, who is stated to have been murdered by Philip’s brother, the duke of Berri, he concluded a peace with the rebel burghers, and entered at once upon the sovereignty of the country.