Commencement Of The Revolution
THE stadtholderess and her ministers now began to tremble. Philip’s favorite counsellors advised him to yield to the popular despair; but nothing could change his determination to pursue his bloody game to the last chance. He had foreseen the impossibility of reducing the country to slavery as long as it maintained its tranquillity, and that union which forms in itself the elements and the cement of strength. It was from deep calculation that he had excited the troubles, and now kept them alive. He knew that the structure of illegal power could only be raised on the ruins of public rights and national happiness; and the materials of desolation found sympathy in his congenial mind.
And now in reality began the awful revolution of the Netherlands against their tyrant. In a few years this so lately flourishing and happy nation presented a frightful picture; and in the midst of European peace, prosperity, and civilization, the wickedness of one prince drew down on the country he misgoverned more evils than it had suffered for centuries from the worst effects of its foreign foes.
William of Nassau has been accused of having at length urged on the stadtholderess to promulgate the final edicts and the resolutions of the Council of Trent, and then retiring from the council of state. This line of conduct may be safely admitted and fairly defended by his admirers. He had seen the uselessness of remonstrance against the intentions of the king. Every possible means had been tried, without effect, to soften his pitiless heart to the sufferings of the country. At length the moment came when the people had reached that pitch of despair which is the great force of the oppressed, and William felt that their strength was now equal to the contest he had long foreseen. It is therefore absurd to accuse him of artifice in the exercise of that wisdom which rarely failed him on any important crisis. A change of circumstances gives a new name to actions and motives ; and it would be hard to blame William of Nassau for the only point in which he bore the least resemblance to Philip of Spain that depth of penetration, which the latter turned to every base and the former to every noble purpose.
Up to the present moment the Prince of Orange and the Counts Egmont and Horn, with their partisans and friends, had sincerely desired the public peace, and acted in the common interest of the king and the people. But all the nobles had not acted with the same constitutional moderation. Many of those, disappointed on personal accounts, others professing the new doctrines, and the rest variously affected by manifold motives, formed a body of violent and sometimes of imprudent malcontents. The marriage of Alexander, prince of Parma, son of the stadtholderess, which was at this time celebrated at Brussels, brought together an immense number of these dissatisfied nobles, who be-came thus drawn into closer connection, and whose national candor was more than usually brought out in the confidential intercourse of society. Politics and patriotism were the common subjects of conversation in the various convivial meetings that took place. Two German nobles, Counts Holle and Schwarzemberg, at that period in the Netherlands, loudly proclaimed the favorable disposition of the princes of the empire toward the Belgians. It was supposed even thus early that negotiations had been opened with several of those sovereigns. In short, nothing seemed wanting but a leader, to give consistency and weight to the confederacy which was as yet but in embryo. This was doubly furnished in the persons of Louis of Nassau and Henry de Brederode. The former, brother of the Prince of Orange, was possessed of many of those brilliant qualities which mark men as worthy of distinction in times of peril. Educated at Geneva, he was passionately attached to the reformed religion, and identified in his hatred the Catholic Church and the tyranny of Spain. Brave and impetuous, he was, to his elder brother, but as an adventurous partisan compared with a sagacious general. He loved William as well as he did their common cause, and his life was devoted to both.
Henry de Brederode, lord of Vienen and marquis of Utrecht, was descended from the ancient counts of Holland. This illustrious origin, which in his own eyes formed a high claim to distinction, had not procured him any of those employments or dignities which he considered his due. He was presumptuous and rash, and rather a fluent speaker than an eloquent orator. Louis of Nassau was thoroughly inspired by the justice of the cause he espoused; De Brederode espoused it for the glory of becoming its champion. The first only wished for action; the latter longed for distinction. But neither the enthusiasm of Nassau, nor the vanity of De Brederodo, was allied with those superior attributes required to form a hero.
The confederation acquired its perfect organization in the month of February, 1566, on the tenth of which month its celebrated manifesto was signed by its numerous adherents. The first name affixed to this document was that of Philip de Marnix, lord of St. Aldegonde, from whose pen it emanated; a man of great talents both as soldier and writer. Numbers of the nobility followed him on this muster-roll of patriotism, and many of the most zealous royalists were among them. This remarkable proclamation of general feeling consisted chiefly in a powerful reprehension of the illegal establishment of the Inquisition in the Low Countries, and a solemn obligation on the members of the confederacy to unite in the common cause against this detested nuisance. Men of all ranks and classes offered their signatures, and several Catholic priests among the rest. The Prince of Orange, and the Counts Egmont, Horn, and Meghem, declined becoming actual parties to this bold measure; and when the question was debated as to the most appropriate way of presenting an address to the stadtholderess these noblemen advised the mildest and most respectful demeanor on the part of the purposed deputation.
At the first intelligence of these proceedings, the duchess of Parma, absorbed by terror, had no resource but to assemble hastily such members of the council of state as were at Brussels; and she entreated, by the most pressing letters, the Prince of Orange and Count Horn to resume their places at this council. But three courses of conduct seemed applicable to the emergency: to take up arms; to grant the demands of the confederates; or to temporize and to amuse them with a feint of moderation, until the orders of the king might be obtained from Spain. It was not, however, till after a lapse of four months that the council finally met to deliberate on these important questions; and during this long interval at such a crisis the confederates gained constant accessions to their numbers, and completely consolidated their plans. The opinions in the council were greatly divided as to the mode of treatment toward those whom one party considered as patriots acting in their constitutional rights, and the other as rebels in open revolt against the king. The Prince of Orange and De Berlaimont were the principal leaders and chief speakers on either side. But the reasonings of the former, backed by the urgency of events, carried the majority of the suffrages; and a promised redress of grievances was agreed on beforehand as the anticipated answer to the coming demands.
Even while the council of state held its sittings, the re-port was spread through Brussels that the confederates were approaching. And at length they did enter the city, to the amount of some hundreds of the representatives of the first families in the country. On the following day, the 5th of April, 1566, they walked in solemn procession to the palace.
Their demeanor was highly imposing, from their mingled air of forbearance and determination. All Brussels thronged out to gaze and sympathize with this extraordinary spectacle of men whose resolute step showed they were no common suppliants, but whose modest bearing had none of the seditious air of faction. The stadtholderess received the distinguished petitioners with courtesy, listened to their detail of grievances, and returned a moderate, conciliatory, but evasive answer.
The confederation, which owed its birth to, and was cradled in social enjoyments, was consolidated in the midst of a feast. The day following this first deputation to the stadtholderess, De Brederode gave a grand repast to his associates in the Hotel de Culembourg. Three hundred guests were present. Inflamed by joy and hope, their spirits rose high under the influence of wine, and temperance gave way to temerity. In the midst of their carousing, some of the members remarked that when the stadtholderess received the written petition, Count Berlaimont observed to her that “she had nothing to fear from such a band of beggars” (tas de GUEUX). The fact was that many of the confederates were, from individual extravagance and mismanagement, reduced to such a state of poverty as to justify in some sort the sarcasm. The chiefs of the company being at that very moment debating on the name which they should choose for this patriotic league, the title of Gueux was instantly proposed, and adopted with acclamation. The reproach it was originally intended to convey became neutralized, as its general application to men of all ranks and fortunes concealed its effect as a stigma on many to whom it might be seriously applied. Neither were examples wanting of the most absurd and apparently dishonoring nicknames being elsewhere adopted by powerful political parties. “Long live the Gueux!” was the toast given and tumultuously drunk by this mad-brained company; and Brederode, setting no bounds to the boisterous excitement which followed, procured immediately, and slung across his shoulders, a wallet such as was worn by pilgrims and beg. gars; drank to the health of all present, in a wooden cup or porringer; and loudly swore that he was ready to sacrifice his fortune and life for the common cause. Each man passed round the bowl, which he first put to his lips, repeated the oath, and thus pledged himself to the compact. The wallet next went the rounds of the whole assembly, and was finally hung upon a nail driven into the wall for the purpose; and gazed on with such enthusiasm as the emblems of political or religious faith, however worthless or absurd, never fail to inspire in the minds of enthusiasts.
The tumult caused by this ceremony, so ridiculous in itself, but so sublime in its results, attracted to the spot the Prince of Orange and Counts Egmont and Horn, whose presence is universally attributed by the historians to accident, but which was probably that kind of chance that leads medical practitioners in our days to the field where a duel is fought. They entered; and Brederode, who did the honors of the mansion, forced them to be seated, and to join in the festivity. The following was Egmont’s account of their conduct: “We drank a single glass of wine each, to shouts of ‘Long live the king! Long live the Gueux!’ It was the first time I had heard the confederacy so named, and I avow that it displeased me; but the times were so critical that people were obliged to tolerate many things contrary to their inclinations, and I believed my-self on this occasion to act with perfect innocence.” The appearance of three such distinguished personages heightened the general excitement ; and the most important assemblage that had for centuries met together in the Nether-lands mingled the discussion of affairs of state with all the burlesque extravagance of a debauch. But this frantic scene did not finish the affair. What they resolved on while drunk, they prepared to perform when sober. Rallying signs and watchwords were adopted and soon displayed. It was thought that nothing better suited the occasion than the immediate adoption of the costume as well as the title of beggary. In a very few days the city streets were filled with men in gray cloaks, fashioned on the model of those used by mendicants and pilgrims. Each confederate caused this uniform to be worn by every member of his family, and replaced with it the livery of his servants. Several fastened to their girdles or their sword-hilts small wooden drinking-cups, clasp-knives, and other symbols of the begging fraternity; while all soon wore on their breasts a medal of gold or silver, representing on one side the effigy of Philip, with the words, “Faithful to the king”; and on the reverse, two hands clasped, with the motto, “Jusqu’ à la besace” (Even to the wallet). From this origin arose the application of the word Gueux, in its political sense, as common to all the inhabitants of the Netherlands who embraced the cause of the Reformation and took up arms against their tyrant. Having presented two subsequent remonstrances to the stadtholderess, and obtained some consoling promises of moderation, the chief confederates quitted Brussels, leaving several directors to sustain their cause in the capital; while they themselves spread into the various provinces, exciting the people to join the legal and constitutional resistance with which they were- resolved to oppose the march of bigotry and despotism.
A new form of edict was now decided on by the stadtholderess and her council; and after various insidious and illegal but successful tricks, the consent of several of the provinces was obtained to the adoption of measures that, under a guise of comparative moderation, were little less abominable than those commanded by the king. These were formally signed by the council, and despatched to Spain to receive Philip’s sanction, and thus acquire the force of law. The embassy to Madrid was confided to the marquis of Bergen and the baron de Montigny; the latter of whom was brother to Count Horn, and had formerly been employed on a like mission. Montigny appears to have had some qualms of apprehension in undertaking this new office. His good genius seemed for a while to stand between him and the fate which awaited him. An accident which happened to his colleague allowed an excuse for retarding his journey. But the stadtholderess urged him away: he set out, and reached his destination; not to defend the cause of his country at the foot of the throne, but to perish a victim to his patriotism.
The situation of the patriot lords was at this crisis peculiarly embarrassing. The conduct of the confederates was so essentially tantamount to open rebellion, that the Prince of Orange and his friends found it almost impossible to pre-serve a neutrality between the court and the people. All their wishes urged them to join at once in the public cause; but they were restrained by a lingering sense of loyalty to the king, whose employments they still held, and whose confidence they were, therefore, nominally supposed to share. They seemed reduced to the necessity of coming to an explanation, and, perhaps, a premature rupture with the government; of joining in the harsh measures it was likely to adopt against those with whose proceedings they sympathized; or, as a last alternative, to withdraw, as they had done before, wholly from all interference in public affairs. Still their presence in the council of state was, even though their influence had greatly decreased, of vast service to the patriots, in checking the hostility of the court; and the confederates, on the other hand, were restrained from acts of open violence, by fear of the disapprobation of these their best and most powerful friends. Be their individual motives of reasoning what they might, they at length adopted the alternative above alluded to, and resigned their places. Count Horn retired to his estates; Count Egmont repaired to Aix-la-Chapelle, under the pretext of being ordered thither by his physicians; the Prince of Orange remained for a while at Brussels.
In the meanwhile, the confederation gained ground every day. Its measures had totally changed the face of affairs in all parts of the nation. The general discontent now acquired stability, and consequent importance. The chief merchants of many of the towns enrolled themselves in the patriot band. Many active and ardent minds, hitherto withheld by the doubtful construction of the association, now freely entered into it when it took the form of union and respectability. Energy, if not excess, seemed legitimatized. The vanity of the leaders was flattered by the consequence they acquired; and weak minds gladly embraced an occasion of mixing with those whose importance gave both protection and concealment to their insignificance.
An occasion so favorable for the rapid promulgation of the new doctrines was promptly taken advantage of by the French Huguenots and their Protestant brethren of Germany. The disciples of reform poured from all quarters into the Low Countries, and made prodigious progress, with all the energy of proselytes, and too often with the fury of fanatics. The three principal sects into which the reformers were divided, were those of the Anabaptists, the Calvinists, and the Lutherans. The first and least numerous were chiefly established in Friesland. The second were spread over the eastern provinces. Their doctrines being already admitted into some kingdoms of the north, they were protected by the most powerful princes of the empire. The third, and by far the most numerous and wealthy, abounded in the southern provinces, and particularly in Flanders. They were supported by the zealous efforts of French, Swiss, and German ministers; and their dogmas were nearly the same with those of the established religion of England. The city of Antwerp was the central point of union for the three sects ; but the only principle they held in common was their hatred against popery, the Inquisition, and Spain.
The stadtholderess had now issued orders to the chief magistrates to proceed with moderation against the heretics; orders which were obeyed in their most ample latitude by those to whose sympathies they were so congenial. Until then, the Protestants were satisfied to meet by stealth at night; but under this negative protection of the authorities they now boldly assembled in public. Field-preachings commenced in Flanders; and the minister who first set this example was Herman Stricker, a converted monk, a native of Overyssel, a powerful speaker, and a bold enthusiast. He soon drew together an audience of seven thousand per-sons. A furious magistrate rushed among this crowd, and hoped to disperse them sword in hand; but he was soon struck down, mortally wounded, with a shower of stones. Irritated and emboldened by this rash attempt, the Protestants assembled in still greater numbers near Alost; but on this occasion they appeared with poniards, guns, and halberds. They intrenched themselves under the protection of wagons and all sorts of obstacles to a sudden attack; placed outposts and videttes; and thus took the field in the doubly dangerous aspect of fanaticism and war. Similar assemblies soon spread over the whole of Flanders, inflamed by the exhortations of Stricker and another preacher, called Peter Dathen, of Poperingue. It was calculated that fifteen thousand men attended at some of these preachings ; while a third apostle of Calvinism, Ambrose Ville, a Frenchman, successfully excited the inhabitants of Tournay, Valenciennes, and Antwerp, to form a common league for the promulgation of their faith. The sudden appearance of De Brederode at the latter place decided their plan, and gave the courage to fix on a day for its execution. An immense assemblage simultaneously quitted the three cities at a pre-concerted time; and when they united their forces at the appointed rendezvous, the preachings, exhortations, and psalm-singing commenced, under the auspices of several Huguenot and German ministers, and continued for several days in all the zealous extravagance which may be well imagined to characterize such a scene.
The citizens of Antwerp were terrified for the safety of the place, and courier after courier was despatched to the stadtholderess at Brussels to implore her presence. The duchess, not daring to take such a step without the authority of the king, sent Count Meghem as her representative, with proposals to the magistrates to call out the garrison. The populace soon understood the object of this messenger; and assailing him with a violent outcry, forced him to fly from the city. Then the Calvinists petitioned the magistrates for permission to openly exercise their religion, and for the grant of a temple in which to celebrate its rites. The magistrates in this conjuncture renewed their application to the stadtholderess, and entreated her to send the Prince of Orange, as the only person capable of saving the city from destruction. The duchess was forced to adopt this bitter alternative; and the prince, after repeated refusals to mix again in public affairs, yielded, at length, less to the supplications of the stadtholderess than to his own wishes to do another service to the cause of his country. At half a league from the city he was met by De Brederode, with an immense concourse of people of all sects and opinions, who hailed him as a protector from the tyranny of the king, and a savior from the dangers of their own excess. Nothing could exceed the wisdom, the firmness, and the benevolence, with which he managed all conflicting interests, and preserved tranquillity amid a chaos of opposing prejudices and passions.
From the first establishment of the field-preachings the stadtholderess had implored the confederate lords to aid her for the reestablishment of order. De Brederode seized this excuse for convoking a general meeting of the associates, which consequently took place at the town of St. Trend, in the district of Liege. Full two thousand of the members appeared on the summons. The language held in this assembly was much stronger and less equivocal than that formerly used. The delay in the arrival of the king’s answer presaged ill as to his intentions; while the rapid growth of the public power seemed to mark the present as the time for successfully demanding all that the people required. Several of the Catholic members, still royalists at heart, were shocked to hear a total liberty of conscience spoken of as one of the privileges sought for. The young count of Mansfield, among others, withdrew immediately from the confaderation; and thus the first stone seemed to be removed from this imperfectly constructed edifice.
The Prince of Orange and Count Egmont were applied to, and appointed by the stadtholderess, with full powers to treat with the confederates. Twelve of the latter, among whom were Louis of Nassau, De Brederode, and De Culembourg, met them by appointment at Duffle, a village not far from Mechlin. The result of the conference was a respectful but firm address to the stadtholderess, repelling her accusations of having entered into foreign treaties; declaring their readiness to march against the French troops, should they set foot in the country; and claiming, with the utmost force of reasoning, the convocation of the states-general. This was replied to by an entreaty that they would still wait patiently for twenty-four days, in hopes of an answer from the king; and she sent the marquess of Bergen in all speed to Madrid, to support Montigny in his efforts to obtain some prompt decision from Philip. The king, who was then at Segovia, assembled his council, consisting of the duke of Alva and eight other grandees. The two deputies from the Netherlands attended at the deliberations, which were held for several successive days; but the king was never present. The whole state of affairs being debated with what appears a calm and dispassionate view, considering the hostile prejudices of this council, it was decided to advise the king to adapt generally a more moderate line of conduct in the Netherlands, and to abolish the inquisition; at the same time prohibiting under the most awful threats all confederation, assemblage, or public preachings, under any pretext whatever.
The king’s first care on receiving this advice was to order, in all the principal towns of Spain and the Nether-lands, prayer and processions to implore the divine approbation on the resolutions which he had formed. He appeared then in person at the council of state, and issued a decree, by which he refused his consent to the convocation of the states-general, and bound himself to take several German regiments into his pay. He ordered the duchess of Parma, by a private letter, to immediately cause to be raised three thousand cavalry and ten thousand foot, and he remitted to her for this purpose three hundred thousand florins in gold. He next wrote with his own hand to several of his partisans in the various towns, encouraging them in their fidelity to his purpose, and promising them his support. He rejected the adoption of the moderation recommended to him; but he consented to the abolition of the inquisition in its most odious sense, re-establishing that modified species of ecclesiastical tyranny which had been introduced into the Netherlands by Charles V. The people of that devoted country were thus successful in obtaining one important concession from the king, and in meeting unexpected consideration from this Spanish council. Whether these measures had been calculated with a view to their failure, it is not now easy to determine; at all events they came too late. When Philip’s letters reached Brussels, the iconoclasts or image-breakers were abroad.
It requires no profound research to comprehend the impulse which leads a horde of fanatics to the most monstrous excesses. That the deeds of the iconoclasts arose from the spontaneous outburst of mere vulgar fury, admits of no doubt. The aspersion which would trace those deeds to the meeting of St. Trend, and fix the infamy on the body of nobility there assembled, is scarcely worthy of refutation. The very lowest of the people were the actors as well as the authors of the outrages, which were at once shocking to every friend of liberty, and injurious to that sacred cause. Artois and western Flanders were the scenes of the first exploits of the iconoclasts. A band of peasants, intermixed with beggars and various other vagabonds, to the amount of about three hundred, urged by fanaticism and those baser passions which animate every lawless body of men, armed with hatchets, clubs, and hammers, forced open the doors of some of the village churches in the neighborhood of St. Omer, and tore down and destroyed not only the images and relics of saints, but those very ornaments which Christians of all sects hold sacred, and essential to the most simple rites of religion.
The cities of Ypres, Lille, and other places of importance, were soon subject to similar visitations; and the whole of Flanders was in a few days ravaged by furious multitudes, whose frantic energy spread terror and destruction on their route. Antwerp was. protected for a while by the presence of the Prince of Orange; but an order from the stadtholderess having obliged him to repair to Brussels, a few nights after his departure the celebrated cathedral shared the fate of many a minor temple, and was utterly pillaged. The blind fury of the spoilers was not confined to the mere effigies which they considered the types of idolatry, nor even to the pictures, the vases, the sixty-six altars, and their richly wrought accessories; but it was equally fatal to the splendid organ, which was considered the finest at that time in existence. The rapidity and the order with which this torch-light scene was acted, without a single accident among the numerous doers, has excited the wonder of almost all its early historians. One of them does not hesitate to ascribe the “miracle” to the absolute agency of demons. For three days and nights these revolting scenes were acted, and every church in the city shared the fate of the cathedral, which next to St. Peter’s at Rome was the most magnificent in Christendom.
Ghent, Tournay, Valenciennes, Mechlin, and other cities, were next the theatres of similar excesses; and in an incredibly short space of time above four hundred churches were pillaged in Flanders and Brabant. Zealand, Utrecht, and others of the northern provinces, suffered more or less; Friesland, Guelders, and Holland alone escaped, and even the latter but in partial instances.
These terrible scenes extinguished every hope of reconciliation with the king. An inveterate and interminable hatred was now established between him and the people; for the whole nation was identified with deeds which were in reality only shared by the most base, and were loathsome to all who were enlightened. It was in vain that the patriot nobles might hope or strive to exculpate themselves; they were sure to be held criminal either in fact or by implication. No show of loyalty, no efforts to restore order, no personal sacrifice, could save them from the hatred or screen them from the vengeance of Philip.
The affright of the stadtholderess during the short reign of anarchy and terror was without bounds. She strove to make her escape from Brussels, and was restrained from so doing only by the joint solicitations of Viglius and the various knights of the order of the Golden Fleece, consisting of the first among the nobles of all parties. But, in fact, a species of violence was used to restrain her from this most fatal step; for Viglius gave orders that the gates of the city should be shut, and egress refused to any one belonging to the court. The somewhat less terrified duchess now named Count Mansfield governor of the town, reinforced the garrison, ordered arms to be distributed to all her adherents, and then called a council to deliberate on the measures to be adopted. A compromise with the confederates and the re-formers was unanimously agreed to. The Prince of Orange and Counts Egmont and Horn were once more appointed to this arduous arbitration between the court and the people. Necessity now extorted almost every concession which had been so long denied to justice and prudence. The confederates were declared absolved from all responsibility relative to their proceedings. The suppression of the Inquisition, the abolition of the edicts against heresy, and a permission for the preachings, were simultaneously published.
The confederates on their side undertook to remain faithful to the service of the king, to do their best for the establishment of order, and to punish the iconoclasts. A regular treaty to this effect was drawn up and executed by the respective plenipotentiaries, and formally approved by the stadtholderess, who affixed her sign-manual to the instrument. She only consented to this measure after a long struggle, and with tears in her eyes; and it was with a trembling hand that she wrote an account of these trans-actions to the king.
Soon after this the several governors repaired to their respective provinces, and their efforts for the reestablishment of tranquillity were attended with various degrees of success. Several of the ringleaders in the late excesses were executed; and this severity was not confined to the partisans of the Catholic Church. The Prince of Orange and Count Egmont, with others of the patriot lords, set the example of this just severity. John Casambrot, lord of Beckerzeel, Egmont’s secretary, and a leading member of the confederation, put himself at the head of some others of the associated gentlemen, fell upon a refractory band of iconoclasts near Gramont, in Flanders, and took thirty prisoners, of whom he ordered twenty-eight to be hanged on the spot.