IT has been shown that the Netherlands were never in a more flourishing state than at the accession of Philip II. The external relations of the country presented an aspect of prosperity and peace. England was closely allied to it by Queen Mary’s marriage with Philip; France, fatigued with war, had just concluded with it a five years’ truce; Germany, paralyzed by religious dissensions, exhausted itself in domestic quarrels; the other states were too distant or too weak to inspire any uneasiness; and nothing appeared wanting for the public weal. Nevertheless there was something dangerous and alarming in the situation of the Low Countries; but the danger consisted wholly in the connection between the monarch and the people, and the alarm was not sounded till the mischief was beyond remedy.
From the time that Charles V. was called to reign over Spain, he may be said to have been virtually lost to the country of his birth. He was no longer a mere duke of Brabant or Limberg, a count of Flanders or Holland; he was also king of Castile, Aragon, Leon, and Navarre, of Naples, and of Sicily. These various kingdoms had interests evidently opposed to those of the Low Countries, and forms of government far different. It was scarcely to be doubted that the absolute monarch of so many peoples would look with a jealous eye on the institutions of those provinces which placed limits to his power; and the natural consequence was that he who was a legitimate king in the south soon degenerated into a usurping master in the north.
But during the reign of Charles the danger was in some measure lessened, or at least concealed from public view, by the apparent facility with which he submitted to and ob.. served the laws and customs of his native country. With Philip, the case was far different, and the results too obvious. Uninformed on the Belgian character, despising the state of manners, and ignorant of the language, no sympathy attached him to the people. He brought with him to the throne all the hostile prejudices of a foreigner, without one of the kindly or considerate feelings of a compatriot.
Spain, where this young prince had hitherto passed his life, was in some degree excluded from European civilization. A contest of seven centuries between the Mohammedan tribes and the descendants of the Visigoths, cruel, like all civil wars, and, like all those of religion, not merely a con-test of rulers, but essentially of the people, had given to the manners and feelings of this unhappy country a deep stamp of barbarity. The ferocity of military chieftains had become the basis of the government and laws. The Christian kings had adopted the perfidious and bloody system of the despotic sultans they replaced. Magnificence and tyranny, power and cruelty, wisdom and dissimulation, respect and fear, were inseparably associated in the minds of a people so governed. They comprehended nothing in religion but a God armed with omnipotence and vengeance, or in politics but a king as terrible as the deity he represented.
Philip, bred in this school of slavish superstition, taught that he was the despot for whom it was formed, familiar with the degrading tactics of eastern tyranny, was at once the most contemptible and unfortunate of men. Isolated from his kind, and wishing to appear superior to those beyond whom his station had placed him, he was insensible to the affections which soften and ennoble human nature. He was perpetually filled with one idea–that of his greatness; he had but one ambition that of command; but one enjoyment that of exciting fear. Victim to this revolting selfishness, his heart was never free from care; and the bitter melancholy of his character seemed to nourish a desire of evil-doing, which irritated suffering often produces in man. Deceit and blood were his greatest, if not his only, delights. The religious zeal which he affected, or felt, showed itself but in acts of cruelty; and the fanatic bigotry which in-spired him formed the strongest contrast to the divine spirit of Christianity.
Nature had endowed this ferocious being with wonderful penetration and unusual self-command; the first revealing to him the views of others, and the latter giving him the surest means of counteracting them, by enabling him to control himself. Although ignorant, he had a prodigious instinct of cunning. He wanted courage, but its place was supplied by the harsh obstinacy of wounded pride. All the corruptions of intrigue were familiar to him; yet he often failed in his most deep-laid designs, at the very moment of their apparent success, by the recoil of the bad faith man treachery with which his plans were overcharged.
Such was the man who now began that terrible reign which menaced utter ruin to the national prosperity of the Netherlands. His father had already sapped its foundations, by encouraging foreign manners and ideas among the nobility, and dazzling them with the hope of the honors and wealth which he had at his disposal abroad. His severe edicts against heresy had also begun to accustom the nation to religious discords and hatred. Philip soon enlarged on what Charles had commenced, and he unmercifully sacrificed the well-being of a people to the worst objects of his selfish ambition.
Philip had only once visited the Netherlands before his ac-cession to sovereign power. Being at that time twenty-two years of age, his opinions were formed and his prejudices deeply rooted. Everything that he observed on this visit was calculated to revolt both. The frank cordiality of the people appeared too familiar. The expression of popular rights sounded like the voice of rebellion. Even the magnificence displayed in his honor offended his jealous vanity. From that moment he seems to have conceived an implacable aversion to the country, in which alone, of all his vast possessions, he could not display the power or inspire the terror of despotism.
The sovereign’s dislike was fully equalled by the disgust of his subjects. His haughty severity and vexatious etiquette revolted their pride as well as their plain dealing; and the moral qualities of their new sovereign were considered with loathing. The commercial and political connection between the Netherlands and Spain had given the two people ample opportunities for mutual acquaintance. The dark, vindictive dispositions of the latter inspired a deep antipathy in those whom civilization had softened and liberty rendered frank and generous; and the new sovereign seemed to em-body all that was repulsive and odious in the nation of which he was the type. Yet Philip did not at first act in a way to make himself more particularly hated. He rather, by an apparent consideration for a few points of political interest and individual privilege, and particularly by the revocation of some of the edicts against heretics, removed the suspicions his earlier conduct had excited; and his intended victims did not perceive that the despot sought to lull them to sleep, in the hopes of making them an easier prey.
Philip knew well that force alone was insufficient to reduce such a people to slavery. He succeeded in persuading the states to grant him considerable subsidies, some of which were to be paid by instalments during a period of nine years. That was gaining a great step toward his designs, as it superseded the necessity of a yearly application to the three orders, the guardians of the public liberty. At the same time he sent secret agents to Rome, to obtain the approbation of the pope to his insidious but most effective plan for placing the whole of the clergy in dependence upon the crown. He also kept up the army of Spaniards and Germans which his father had formed on the frontiers of France; and although he did not remove from their employments the functionaries already in place, he took care to make no new appointments to office among the natives of the Netherlands.
In the midst of these cunning preparations for tyranny, Philip was suddenly attacked in two quarters at once; by Henry II. of France, and by Pope Paul IV. A prince less obstinate than Philip would in such circumstances have renounced, or at least postponed, his designs against the liberties of so important a part of his dominions, as those to which he was obliged to have recourse for aid in support of this double war. But he seemed to make every foreign consideration subservient to the object of domestic aggression which he had so much at heart.
He, however, promptly met the threatened dangers from abroad. He turned his first attention toward his contest with the pope; and he extricated himself from it with an adroitness that proved the whole force and cunning of his character. Having first publicly obtained the opinion of several doctors of theology, that he was justified in taking arms against the pontiff (a point on which there was really no doubt), he prosecuted the war with the utmost vigor, by the means of the afterward notorious duke of Alva, at that time viceroy of his Italian dominions. Paul soon yielded to superior skill and force, and demanded terms of peace, which were granted with a readiness and seeming liberality that astonished no one more than the defeated pontiff. But Philip’s moderation to his enemy was far outdone by his perfidy to his allies. He confirmed Alva’s consent to the confiscation of the domains of the noble Romans who had espoused his cause; and thus gained a stanch and powerful supporter to all his future projects in the religious authority of the successor of St. Peter.
His conduct in the conclusion of the war with France was not less base. His army, under the command of Philibert Emmanuel, duke of Savoy, consisting of Belgians, Germans, and Spaniards, with a considerable body of English, sent by Mary to the assistance of her husband, penetrated into Picardy, and gained a complete victory over the French forces. The honor of this brilliant affair, which took place near St. Quintin, was almost wholly due to the count d’Egmont, a Belgian noble, who commanded the light cavalry; but the king, unwilling to let any one man enjoy the glory of the day, piously pretended that he owed the entire obligation to St. Lawrence, on whose festival the battle was fought. His gratitude or hypocrisy found a fitting monument in the celebrated convent and palace of the Escurial, which he absurdly caused to be built in the form of a grid-iron, the instrument of the saint’s martyrdom. When the news of the victory reached Charles V. in his retreat, the old warrior inquired if Philip was in Paris? but the cautious victor had no notion of such prompt manoeuvring; nor would he risk against foreign enemies the exhaustion of forces destined for the enslavement of his people.
The French in some measure retrieved their late disgrace by the capture of Calais, the only town remaining to England of all its French conquests, and which, consequently, had deeply interested the national glory of each people. In the early part of the year 1558, one of the generals of Henry II. made an irruption into western Flanders; but the gallant count of Egmont once more proved his valor and skill by attacking and totally defeating the invaders near the town of Gravelines.
A general peace was concluded in April, 1559, which bore the name of Câteau-Cambresis, from that of the place where it was negotiated. Philip secured for himself various advantages in the treaty; but he sacrificed the interests of England, by consenting to the retention of Calais by file French king a cession deeply humiliating to the national pride of his allies; and, if general opinion be correct, a proximate cause of his consort’s death. The alliance of France and the support of Rome, the important results of the two wars now brought to a close, were counterbalanced by the well-known hostility of Elizabeth, who had succeeded to the throne of England; and this latter consideration was an additional motive with Philip to push forward the design of consolidating his despotism in the Low Countries.
To lead his already deceived subjects the more surely into the snare, he announced his intended departure on a short visit to Spain; and created for the period of his absence a provisional government, chiefly composed of the leading men among the Belgian nobility. He flattered himself that the states, dazzled by the illustrious illusion thus prepared, would cheerfully grant to this provisional government the right of levying taxes during the temporary absence of the sovereign. He also reckoned on the influence of the clergy in the national assembly, to procure the revival of the edicts against heresy, which he had gained the merit of suspending. These, with many minor details of profound duplicity, formed the principal features of a plan, which, if successful, would have reduced the Nether-lands to the wretched state of colonial dependence by which Naples and Sicily were held in the tenure of Spain.
As soon as the states had consented to place the whole powers of government in the hands of the new administration for the period of the king’s absence, the royal hypocrite believed his scheme secure, and flattered himself he had established an instrument of durable despotism. The composition of this new government was a masterpiece of political machinery. It consisted of several councils, in which the most distinguished citizens were entitled to a place, in sufficient numbers to deceive the people with a show of representation, but not enough to command a majority, which was sure on any important question to rest with the titled creatures of the court. The edicts against heresy, soon adopted, gave to the clergy an almost unlimited power over the lives and fortunes of the people. But almost all the dignitaries of the church being men of great respect-ability and moderation, chosen by the body of the inferior clergy, these extraordinary powers excited little alarm.
Philip’s project was suddenly to replace these virtuous ecclesiastics by others of his own choice, as soon as the states broke up from their annual meeting; and for this intention he had procured the secret consent and authority of the court of Rome.
In support of these combinations, the Belgian troops were completely broken up and scattered in small bodies over the country. The whole of this force, so redoubtable to the fears of despotism, consisted of only three thousand cavalry. It was now divided into fourteen companies (or squadrons in the modern phraseology), under the command of as many independent chiefs, so as to leave little chance of any principle of union reigning among them. But the German and Spanish troops in Philip’s pay were cantoned on the frontiers, ready to stifle any incipient effort in opposition to his plans. In addition to these imposing means for their execution, he had secured a still more secret and more powerful support : a secret article in the treaty of Câteau-Cambresis obliged the king of France to assist him with the whole armies of France against his Belgian subjects, should they prove refractory. Thus the late war, of which the Netherlands had borne all the weight, and earned all the glory, only brought about the junction of the defeated enemy with their own king for the extinction of their national independence.
To complete the execution of this system of perfidy, Philip convened an assembly of all the states at Ghent, in the month of July, 1559. This meeting of the representatives of the three orders of the state offered no apparent obstacle to Philip’s views. The clergy, alarmed at the progress of the new doctrines, gathered more closely round the government of which they required the support. The nobles had lost much of their ancient attachment to liberty; and had become, in various ways, dependent on the royal favor. Many of the first families were then represented by men possessed rather of courage and candor than of fore-sight and sagacity. That of Nassau, the most distinguished of all, seemed the least interested in the national cause. A great part of its possessions were in Germany and France, where it had recently acquired the sovereign principality of Orange. It was only from the third order that of the commons that Philip had to expect any opposition. Already, during the war, it had shown some discontent, and had insisted on the nomination of commissioners to control the accounts and the disbursements of the subsidies. But it seemed improbable that among this class of men any would be found capable of penetrating the manifold combinations of the king, and disconcerting his designs.
Anthony Perrenotte de Granvelle, bishop of Arras, who was considered as Philip’s favorite counsellor, but who was in reality no more than his docile agent, was commissioned to address the assembly in the name of his master, who spoke only Spanish. His oration was one of cautious deception, and contained the most flattering assurances of Philip’s attachment to the people of the Netherlands. It excused the king for not having nominated his only son, Don Carlos, to reign over them in his name; alleging, as a proof of his royal affection, that he preferred giving them as stadtholderess a Belgian princess, Madame Marguerite, duchess of Parma, the natural daughter of Charles V. by a young lady, a native of Audenarde. Fair promises and fine words were thus lavished in profusion to gain the confidence of the deputies.
But notwithstanding all the talent, the caution, and the mystery of Philip and his minister, there was among the nobles one man who saw through all. This individual, endowed with many of the highest attributes of political genius, and preeminently with judgment, the most important of all, entered fearlessly into the contest against tyranny despising every personal sacrifice for the country’s good. Without making himself suspiciously prominent, he privately warned some members of the states of the coming danger. Those in whom he confided did not betray the trust. They spread among the other deputies the alarm, and pointed out the danger to which they had been so judiciously awakened. The consequence was a re-ply to Philip’s demand, in vague and general terms, with-out binding the nation by any pledge; and a unanimous entreaty that he would diminish the taxes, withdraw the foreign troops, and intrust no official employments to any but natives of the country. The object of this last request was the removal of Granvelle, who was born in Franche-Comte.
Philip was utterly astounded at all this. In the first moment of his vexation he imprudently cried out, “Would ye, then, also bereave me of my place; I, who am a Spaniard?” But he soon recovered his self-command, and resumed his usual mask; expressed his regret at not having sooner learned the wishes of the states; promised to remove the foreign troops within three months; and set off for Zealand, with assumed composure, but filled with the fury of a discovered traitor and a humiliated despot.
A fleet under the command of Count Horn, the admiral of the United Provinces, waited at Flessingue to form his escort to Spain. At the very moment of his departure, William of Nassau, prince of Orange and governor of Zealand, waited on him to pay his official respects. The king, taking him apart from the other attendant nobles, recommended him to hasten the execution of several gentlemen and wealthy citizens attached to the newly introduced religious opinions. Then, quite suddenly, whether in the random impulse of suppressed rage, or that his piercing glance discovered William’s secret feelings in his countenance, he accused him with having been the means of thwarting his designs. “Sire,” replied Nassau, “it was the work of the national states. “”No !” cried Philip, grasping him furiously by the arm; “it was not done by the states, but by you, and you alone!” Schiller. The words of Philip were: “Alo, no los estados; ma vos, vos, vos!” Vos thus used in Spanish is a term of contempt, equivalent to toi in French.
This glorious accusation was not repelled. He who had saved his country in unmasking the designs of its tyrant admitted by his silence his title to the hatred of the one and the gratitude of the other. On the 20th of August, Philip embarked and set sail; turning his back forever on the country which offered the first check to his despotism; and, after a perilous voyage, he arrived in that which permitted a free indulgence to his ferocious and sanguinary career.
For some time after Philip’s departure, the Netherlands continued to enjoy considerable prosperity. From the period of the Peace of Câteau-Cambresis, commerce and navigation had acquired new and increasing activity. The fisheries, but particularly that of herrings, became daily more important; that one alone occupying two thousand boats. While Holland, Zealand and Friesland made this progress in their peculiar branches of industry, the southern provinces were not less active or successful. Spain and the colonies offered such a mart for the objects of their manufacture that in a single year they received from Flanders fifty large ships filled with articles of household furniture and utensils. The exportation of woollen goods amounted to enormous sums. Bruges alone sold annually to the amount of four million florins of stuffs of Spanish, and as much of English, wool; and the least value of the florin then was quadruple its present worth. The commerce with England, though less important than that with Spain, was calculated yearly at twenty-four million florins, which was chiefly clear profit to the Netherlands, as their exportations consisted almost entirely of objects of their own manufacture. Their commercial relations with France, Germany, Italy, Portugal, and the Levant, were daily increasing. Antwerp was the centre of this prodigious trade. Several sovereigns, among others Elizabeth of England, had recognized agents in that city, equivalent to consuls of the present times; and loans of immense amount were frequently negotiated by them with wealthy merchants, who furnished them, not in negotiable bills or for unredeemable debentures, but in solid gold, and on a simple acknowledgment.
Flanders and Brabant were still the richest and most flourishing portions of the state. Some municipal fêtes given about this time afford a notion of their opulence. On one of these occasions the town of Mechlin sent a deputation to Antwerp, consisting of three hundred and twenty-six horsemen dressed in velvet and satin with gold and silver ornaments; while those of Brussels consisted of three hundred and forty, as splendidly equipped, and accompanied by seven huge triumphal chariots and seventy-eight carriages of various constructions a prodigious number for those days.
But the splendor and prosperity which thus sprung out of the national industry and independence, and which a wise or a generous sovereign would have promoted, or at least have established on a permanent basis, was destined speedily to sink beneath the bigoted fury of Philip II. The new government which he had established was most ingeniously adapted to produce every imaginable evil to the state. The king, hundreds of leagues distant, could not himself issue an order but with a lapse of time ruinous to any object of pressing importance. The stadtholderess, who represented him, having but a nominal authority, was forced to follow her instructions, and liable to have all her acts reversed; besides which, she had the king’s orders to consult her private council on all affairs whatever, and the council of state on any matter of paramount importance. These two councils, however, contained the elements of a serious opposition to the royal projects, in the persons of the patriot nobles sprinkled among Philip’s devoted creatures. Thus the influence of the crown was often thwarted, if not actually balanced; and the proposals which emanated from it frequently opposed by the stadtholderess herself. She, although a woman of masculine appearance and habits,’ was possessed of no strength of mind. Her prevailing sentiment seemed to be dread of the king; yet she was at times influenced by a sense of justice, and by the remonstrances of the well-judging members of her councils. But these were not all the difficulties that clogged the machinery of the state. After the king, the government, and the councils, had de-liberated on any measure, its execution rested with the provincial governors or stadtholders, or the magistrates of the towns. Almost every one of these, being strongly attached to the laws and customs of the nation, hesitated, or refused to obey the orders conveyed to them, when those orders appeared illegal. Some, however, yielded to the authority of the government; so it often happened that an edict, which in one district was carried into full effect, was in others deferred, rejected, or violated, in a way productive of great confusion in the public affairs.
Philip was conscious that he had himself to blame for the consequent disorder. In nominating the members of the two councils, he had overreached himself in his plan for silently sapping the liberty that was so obnoxious to his designs. But to neutralize the influence of the restive members, he had left Granvelle the first place in the administration. This man, an immoral ecclesiastic, an eloquent orator, a supple courtier, and a profound politician, bloated with pride, envy, insolence, and vanity, was the real head of the government.1 Next to him among the royalist party was Viglius, president of the privy council, an erudite school-man, attached less to the broad principles of justice than to the letter of the laws, and thus carrying pedantry into the very councils of the state. Next in order came the count de Berlaimont, head of the financial department a stern and intolerant satellite of the court, and a furious enemy to those national institutions which operated as checks upon fraud. These three individuals formed the stadtholderess’s privy council. The remaining creatures of the king were mere subaltern agents.
A government so composed could scarcely fail to excite discontent and create danger to the public weal. The first proof of incapacity was elicited by the measures required for the departure of the Spanish troops. The period fixed by the king had already expired, and these obnoxious foreigners were still in the country, living in part on pillage, and each day committing some new excess. Complaints were carried in successive gradation from the government to the council, and from the council to the king. The Spaniards were removed to Zealand ; but instead of being embarked at any of its ports, they were detained there on various pretexts. Money, ships, or, on necessity, a wind, was professed to be still wanting for their final removal, by those who found excuses for delay in every element of nature or subterfuge of art. In the meantime those ferocious soldiers ravaged a part of the country. The simple natives at length declared they would open the sluices of their dikes; preferring to be swallowed by the waters rather than remain exposed to the cruelty and rapacity of those Spaniards. Still the embarkation was postponed; until the king, requiring his troops in Spain for some domestic project, they took their long-desired departure in the beginning of the year 1561.
The public discontent at this just cause was soon, how-ever, overwhelmed by one infinitely more important and lasting. The Belgian clergy had hitherto formed a free and powerful order in the state, governed and represented by four bishops, chosen by the chapters of the towns or elected by the monks of the principal abbeys. These bishops, possessing an independent territorial revenue, and not directly subject to the influence of the crown, had interests and feelings in common with the nation. But Philip had prepared, and the pope had sanctioned, the new system of ecclesiastical organization before alluded to, and the provisional government now put it into execution. Instead of four bishops, it was intended to appoint eighteen, their nomination being vested in the king. By a wily system of trickery, the subserviency of the abbeys was also aimed at. The new prelates, on a pretended principle of economy, were endowed with the title of abbots of the chief monasteries of their respective dioceses. Thus not only would they enjoy the immense wealth of these establishments, but the political rights of the abbots whom they were to succeed; and the whole of the ecclesiastical order become gradually represented (after the death of the then living abbots) by the creatures of the crown.
The consequences of this vital blow to the integrity of the national institutions were evident; and the indignation of both clergy and laity was universal. Every legal means of opposition was resorted to, but the people were without leaders; the states were not in session. While the authority of the pope and the king combined, the reverence excited by the very name of religion, and the address and perseverance of the government, formed too powerful a combination, and triumphed over the national discontents which had not yet been formed into resistance. The new bishops were appointed; Granvelle securing for himself the archiepiscopal see of Mechlin, with the title of primate of the Low Countries. At the same time Paul IV. put the crowning point to the capital of his ambition, by presenting him with a cardinal’s hat.
The new bishops were to a man most. violent, intolerant, and it may be conscientious, opponents to the wide-spreading doctrines of reform. The execution of the edicts against heresy was confided to them. The provincial governors and inferior magistrates were commanded to aid them with a strong arm; and the most unjust and frightful persecution immediately commenced. But still some of these governors and magistrates, considering themselves not only the officers of the prince, but the protectors of the people, and the de-fenders of the laws rather than of the faith, did not blindly conform to those harsh and illegal commands. The Prince of Orange, stadtholder of Holland, Zealand, and Utrecht, and the count of Egmont, governor of Flanders and Artois, permitted no persecutions in those five provinces. But in various places the very people, even when influenced by their superiors, openly opposed it. Catholics as well as Protestants were indignant at the atrocious spectacles of cruelty presented on all sides. The public peace was endangered by isolated acts of resistance, and fears of a general insurrection soon became universal.
The apparent temporizing or seeming uncertainty of the champions of the new doctrines formed the great obstacle to the reformation, and tended. to prolong the dreadful struggle which was now only commencing in the Low Countries. It was a matter of great difficulty to convince the people that popery was absurd, and at the same time to set limits to the absurdity. Had the change been from blind belief to total infidelity, it would (as in a modern instance) have been much easier, though less lasting. Men might, in a time of such excitement, have been persuaded that all religion productive of abuses such as then abounded was a farce, and that common sense called for its abolition. But when the boundaries of belief became a question; when the world was told it ought to reject some doctrines, and retain others which seemed as difficult of comprehension; when one tenet was pronounced idolatry, and to doubt another declared damnation the world either exploded or recoiled : it went too far or it shrank back; plunged into atheism, or relapsed into popery. It was thus the reformation was checked in the first instance. Its supporters were the strong-minded and intelligent; and they never, and least of all in those days, formed the mass. Superstition and bigotry had enervated the intellects of the majority; and the high resolve of those with whom the great work commenced was mixed with a severity that materially retarded its progress: For though personal interests, as with Henry VIII. of England, and rigid enthusiasm, as with Calvin, strengthened the infant reformation; the first led to violence which irritated many, the second to austerity which disgusted them; and it was soon discovered that the change was almost confined to forms of practice, and that the essentials of abuse were likely to be carefully preserved. All these, and other arguments, artfully modified to distract the people, were urged by the new bishops in the Netherlands, and by those whom they employed to arrest the progress of reform.
Among the various causes of the general confusion, the situation of Brabant gave to that province a peculiar share of suffering. Brussels, its capital, being the seat of government, had no particular chief magistrate, like the other provinces. The executive power was therefore wholly confided to the municipal authorities and the territorial proprietors. But these, though generally patriotic in their views, were divided into a multiplicity of different opinions. Rivalry and resentment produced a total want of union, ended in anarchy, and prepared the way for civil war. William of Nassau penetrated the cause, and proposed the remedy in moving for the appointment of a provincial governor. This proposition terrified Granvelle, who saw, as clearly as did his sagacious opponent in the council, that the nomination of a special protector between the people and the government would have paralyzed all his efforts for hurrying on the discord and resistance which were meant to be the plausible excuses for the introduction of arbitrary power. He therefore energetically dissented from the proposed measure, and William immediately desisted from his demand. But he at the same time claimed, in the name of the whole country, the convocation of the states-general. This assembly alone was competent to decide what was just, legal, and obligatory for each province and every town. Governors, magistrates, and simple citizens, would thus have some rule for their common conduct; and the government would be at least endowed with the dignity of uniformity and steadiness. The ministers endeavored to evade a demand which they were at first unwilling openly to re-fuse. But the firm demeanor and persuasive eloquence of the Prince of Orange carried before them all who were not actually bought by the crown; and Granvelle found himself at length forced to avow that an express order from the king forbade the convocation of the states, on any pre-text, during his absence.
The veil was thus rent asunder which had in some measure concealed the deformity of Philip’s despotism. The result was a powerful confederacy, among all who held it odious, for the overthrow of Granvelle, to whom they chose to attribute the king’s conduct; thus bringing into practical result the sound principle of ministerial responsibility, with-out which, except in some peculiar case of local urgency or political crisis, the name of constitutional government is but a mockery. Many of the royalist nobles united for the national cause; and even the stadtholderess joined her efforts to theirs, for an object which would relieve her from the tyranny which none felt more than she did. Those who composed this confederacy against the minister were actuated by a great variety of motives. The duchess of Parma hated him, as a domestic spy robbing her of all real authority; the royalist nobles, as an insolent upstart at every instant mortifying their pride. The counts Egmont and Horn, with nobler sentiments, opposed him as the author of their country’s growing misfortunes. But it is doubtful if any of the confederates except the Prince of Orange clearly saw that they were putting themselves in direct and personal opposition to the king himself. William alone, clear-sighted in politics and profound in his views, knew, in thus devoting himself to the public cause, the adversary with whom he entered the lists.
This great man, for whom the national traditions still preserve the sacred title of “father” (Vader-Willem), and who was in truth not merely the parent but the political creator of the country, was at this period in his thirtieth year. He already joined the vigor of manhood to the wisdom of age. Brought up under the eye of Charles V., whose sagacity soon discovered his precocious talents, he was admitted to the councils of the emperor at a time of life which was little advanced beyond mere boyhood. He alone was chosen by this powerful sovereign to be present at the audiences which he gave to foreign ambassadors, which proves that in early youth he well deserved by his discretion the surname of “the taciturn.” It was on the arm of William, then twenty years of age, and already named by him to the command of the Belgian troops, that this powerful monarch leaned for support on the memorable day of his abdication; and he immediately afterward employed him on the important mission of bearing the imperial crown to his brother Ferdinand, in whose favor he had resigned it. William’s grateful attachment to Charles did not blind him to the de-merits of Philip. He repaired to France, as one of the hostages on the part of the latter monarch for the fulfilment of the peace of Câteau-Cambresis ; and he then learned from the lips of Henry II., who soon conceived a high esteem for him, the measures reciprocally agreed on by the two sovereigns for the oppression of their subjects. From that moment his mind was made up on the character of Philip, and on the part which he had himself to perform; and he never felt a doubt on the first point, nor swerved from the latter.
But even before his patriotism was openly displayed, Philip had taken a dislike to one in whom his shrewdness quickly discovered an intellect of which he was jealous. He could not actually remove William from all interference with public affairs; but he refused him the government of Flanders, and opposed, in secret, his projected marriage with a princess of the House of Lorraine, which was calculated to bring him a considerable accession of fortune, and consequently of influence. It may be therefore said that William, in his subsequent conduct, was urged by motives of personal enmity against Philip. Be it so. We do not seek to raise him above the common feelings of humanity; and we should risk the sinking him below them, if we supposed him insensible to the natural effects of just resentment.
The secret impulses of conduct can never be known beyond the individual’s own breast ; but actions must, however questionable, be taken as the tests of motives. In all those of William’s illustrious career we can detect none that might be supposed to spring from vulgar or base feelings. If his hostility to Philip was indeed increased by private dislike, . he has at least set an example of unparalleled dignity in his method of revenge; but in calmly considering and weighing, without deciding on the question, we see nothing that should deprive William of an unsullied title to pure and perfect patriotism. The injuries done to him by Philip at this period were not of a nature to excite any violent hatred. Enough of public wrong was inflicted to arouse the patriot, but not of private ill to inflame the man. Neither was William of a vindictive disposition. He was never known to turn the knife of an assassin against his royal rival, even when the blade hired by the latter glanced from him reeking with his blood. And though William’s enmity may have been kept alive or strengthened by the provocations he received, it is certain that, if a foe to the king, he was, as long as it was possible, the faithful counsellor of the crown. He spared no pains to impress on the monarch who hated him the real means for preventing the coming evils; and had not a revolution been absolutely inevitable, it is he who would have prevented it.
Such was the chief of the patriot party, chosen by the silent election of general opinion, and by that involuntary homage to genius which leads individuals in the train of those master-minds who take the lead in public affairs. Counts Egmont and Horn, and some others, largely shared with him the popular favor. The multitude could not for some time distinguish the uncertain and capricious opposition of an offended courtier from the determined resistance of a great man. William was still comparatively young; he had lived long out of the country; and it was little by little that his eminent public virtues were developed and understood.
The great object of immediate good was the removal of Cardinal Granvelle. William boldly put himself at the head of the confederacy. He wrote to the king, conjointly with Counts Egmont and Horn, faithfully portraying the state of affairs. The duchess of Parma backed this remonstrance with a strenuous request for Granvelle’s dismission. Philip’s reply to the three noblemen was a mere tissue of duplicity to obtain delay, accompanied by an invitation to Count Egmont to repair to Madrid, to hear his sentiments at large by word of mouth. His only answer to the stadtholderess was a positive recommendation to use every possible means to disunite and breed ill-will among the three confederate lords. It was difficult to deprive William of the confidence of his friends, and impossible to deceive him. He saw the trap prepared by the royal intrigues, restrained Egmont for a while from the fatal step he was but too well inclined to take, and persuaded him and Horn to renew with him their firm but respectful representations; at the same time begging permission to resign their various employments, and simultaneously ceasing to appear at the court of the stadtholderess.
In the meantime every possible indignity was offered to the cardinal by private pique and public satire. Several lords, following Count Egmont’s example, had a kind of capuchon or fool’s-cap embroidered on the liveries of their varlets; and it was generally known that this was meant as a practical parody on the cardinal’s hat. The crowd laughed heartily at this stupid pleasantry; and the coarse satire of the times may be judged by a caricature, which was forwarded to the cardinal’s own hands, representing him in the act of hatching a nest full of eggs, from which a crowd of bishops escaped, while overhead was the devil in propria persona, with the following scroll: “This is my well-beloved son listen to him!”
Philip, thus driven before the popular voice, found him-self forced to the choice of throwing off the mask at once, or of sacrificing Granvelle. An invincible inclination for manoeuvring and deceit decided him on the latter measure; and the cardinal, recalled but not disgraced, quitted the Netherlands on the 10th of March, 1564. The secret instructions to the stadtholderess remained unrevoked; the president Viglius succeeded to the post which Granvelle had occupied; and it was clear that the projects of the king had suffered no change.
Nevertheless some good resulted from the departure of the unpopular minister. The public fermentation subsided; the patriot lords reappeared at court; and the Prince of Orange acquired an increasing influence in the council and over the stadtholderess, who by his advice adopted a conciliatory line of conduct–a fallacious but still a temporary hope for the nation. But the calm was of short duration. Scarcely was this moderation evinced by the government, when Philip, obstinate in his designs, and outrageous in his resentment, sent an order to have the edicts against heresy put into most rigorous execution, and to proclaim through-out the seventeen provinces the furious decree of the Council of Trent.
The revolting cruelty and illegality of the first edicts were already admitted. As to the decrees of this memorable council, they were only adapted for countries in sub-mission to an absolute despotism. They were received in the Netherlands with general reprobation. Even the new bishops loudly denounced them as unjust innovations; and thus Philip found zealous opponents in those on whom he had reckoned as is most servile tools. The stadtholderess was not the less urged to implicit obedience to the orders of the king by Viglius and De Berlaimont, who took upon themselves an almost menacing tone. The duchess assembled a council of state, and asked its advice as to her proceedings. The Prince of Orange at once boldly proposed disobedience to measures fraught with danger to the monarchy and ruin to the nation. The council could not resist his appeal to their best feelings. His proposal that fresh remonstrances should be addressed to the king met with almost general support. The president Viglius, who had spoken in the opening of the council in favor of the king’s orders, was overwhelmed by William’s reasoning, and demanded time to prepare his reply. His agitation during the debate, and his despair of carrying the measures against the patriot party, brought on in the night an attack of apoplexy.
It was resolved to despatch a special envoy to Spain, to explain to Philip the views of the council, and to lay before him a plan proposed by the Prince of Orange for forming a junction between the two councils and that of finance, and forming them into one body. The object of this measure was at once to give greater union and power to the provisional government, to create a central administration in the Netherlands, and to remove from some obscure and avaricious financiers the exclusive management of the national resources. The Count of Egmont, chosen by the council for this important mission, set out for Madrid in the month of February, 1565. Philip received him with profound hypocrisy; loaded him with the most flattering promises; sent him back in the utmost elation : and when the credulous count returned to Brussels, he found that the written orders, of which he was the bearer, were in direct variance with every word which the king had uttered.
These orders were chiefly concerning the reiterated subject of the persecution to be inflexibly pursued against the religious reformers. Not satisfied with the hitherto established forms of punishment, Philip now expressly commanded that the more revolting means decreed by his father in the rigor of his early zeal, such as burning, living burial, and the like, should be adopted; and he some-what more obscurely directed that the victims should be no longer publicly immolated, but secretly destroyed. He endeavored, by this vague phraseology, to avoid the actual utterance of the word “inquisition” ; but he thus virtually-established that atrocious tribunal, with attributes still more terrific than even in Spain; for there the condemned had at least the consolation of dying in open day, and of displaying the fortitude which is rarely proof against the horror of a private execution. Philip had thus consummated his treason against the principles of justice and the practices of jurisprudence, which had heretofore characterized the country; and against the most vital of those privileges which he had solemnly sworn to maintain.
His design of establishing this horrible tribunal, so impiously named “holy” by its founders, had been long suspected by the people of the Netherlands. The expression of those fears had reached him more than once. He as often replied by assurances that he had formed no such project, and particularly to Count d’Egmont during his recent visit to Madrid. But at that very time he assembled a conclave of his creatures, doctors of theology, of whom he formally demanded an opinion as to whether he could conscientiously tolerate two sorts of religion in the Netherlands. The doctors, hoping to please him, replied, that “he might, for the avoidance of a greater evil.” Philip trembled with rage, and exclaimed, with a threatening tone, “I ask not if I can, but if I ought.” The theologians read in this question the nature of the expected reply; and it was amply conformable to his wish. He immediately threw himself on his knees before a crucifix, and raising his hands toward heaven, put up a prayer for strength in his resolution to pursue as deadly enemies all who viewed that effigy with feelings different from his own. If this were not really a sacrilegious farce, it must be that the blaspheming bigot believed the Deity to be a monster of cruelty like himself.
Even Viglius was terrified by the nature of Philip’s commands; and the patriot lords once more withdrew from all share in the government, leaving to the duchess of Parma and her ministers the whole responsibility of the new measures. They were at length put into actual and vigorous execution in the beginning of the year 1566. The inquisitors of the faith, with their familiars, stalked abroad boldly in the devoted provinces, carrying persecution and death in their train. Numerous but partial insurrections opposed these odious intruders. Every district and town became the scene of frightful executions or tumultuous resistance. The converts to the new doctrines multiplied, as usual, under the effects of persecution. “There was nowhere to be seen,” says a contemporary author, “the meanest mechanic who did not find a weapon to strike down the murderers of his compatriots.” Holland, Zealand and Utrecht alone escaped from those fast accumulating horrors. William of Nassau was there.