ALL the services just related in the common cause of the country and the king produced no effect on the vindictive spirit of the latter. Neither the lapse of time, the proofs of repentance, nor the fulfilment of their duty, could efface the hatred excited by a conscientious opposition to even one design of despotism.
Philip was ill at Segovia when he received accounts of the excesses of the image-breakers, and of the convention concluded with the heretics. Despatches from the stadtholderess, with private advices from Viglius, Egmont, Mansfield, Meghem, De Berlaimont, and others, gave him ample information as to the real state of things, and they thus strove to palliate their having acceded to the convention. The emperor even wrote to his royal nephew, imploring him to treat his wayward subjects with moderation, and offered his mediation between them. Philip, though severely suffering, gave great attention to the details of this correspondence, which he minutely examined, and laid before his council of state, with notes and observations taken by himself. But he took special care to send to them only such parts as he chose them to be well informed upon; his natural distrust not suffering him to have any confidential communication with men.
Again the Spanish council appears to have interfered between the people of the Netherlands and the enmity of the monarch; and the offered mediation of the emperor was recommended to his acceptance, to avoid the appearance of a forced concession to the popular will. Philip was also strongly urged to repair to the scene of the disturbances; and a main question of debate was, whether he should march at the head of an army or confide himself to the loyalty and good faith of his Belgian subjects. But the indolence or the pride of Philip was too strong to admit of his taking so vigorous a measure; and all these consultations ended in two letters to the stadtholderess. In the first he declared his firm intention to visit the Netherlands in person; refused to convoke the states-general; passed in silence the treaties concluded with the Protestants and the confederates; and finished by a declaration that he would throw himself wholly on the fidelity of the country. In his second letter, meant for the stadtholderess alone, he authorized her to assemble the states-general if public opinion became too powerful for resistance, but on no account to let it transpire that he had under any circumstances given his consent.
During these deliberations in Spain, the Protestants in the Netherlands amply availed themselves of the privileges they had gained. They erected numerous wooden churches with incredible activity. Young and old, noble and plebeian, of these energetic men, assisted in the manual labors of these occupations; and the women freely applied the produce of their ornaments and jewels to forward the pious work. But the furious outrages of the iconoclasts had done infinite mischief to both political and religious freedom; many of the Catholics, and particularly the priests, gradually withdrew themselves from the confederacy, which thus lost some of its most firm supporters. And, on the other hand, the severity with which some of its members pursued the guilty offended and alarmed the body of the people, who could not distinguish the shades of difference between the love of liberty and the practice of licentiousness.
The stadtholderess and her satellites adroitly took advantage of this state of things to sow dissension among the patriots. Autograph letters from Philip to the principal lords were distributed among them with such artful and mysterious precautions as to throw the rest into perplexity, and give each suspicions of the other’s fidelity. The report of the immediate arrival of Philip had also considerable effect over the less resolute or more selfish ; and the confederation was dissolving rapidly under the operations of intrigue, self-interest, and fear. Even the Count of Egmont was not proof against the subtle seductions of the wily monarch, whose severe yet flattering letters half frightened and half soothed him into a relapse of royalism. But with the Prince of Orange Philip had no chance of success. It is unquestionable that, be his means of acquiring information what they might, he did succeed in procuring minute intelligence of all that was going on in the king’s most secret council. He had from time to time procured copies of the stadtholderess’s despatches; but the document which threw the most important light upon the real intentions of Philip was a confidential epistle to the stadtholderess from D’Alava, the Spanish minister at Paris, in which he spoke in terms too clear to admit any doubt as to the terrible example which the king was resolved to make among the patriot lords. Bergen and Montigny confirmed this by the accounts they sent home from Madrid of the alteration in the manner with which they were treated by Philip and his courtiers; and the Prince of Orange was more firmly decided in his opinions of the coming vengeance of the tyrant.
William summoned his brother Louis, the Counts Egmont, Horn, and Hoogstraeten, to a secret conference at Termonde; and he there submitted to them this letter of Alava’s, with others which he had received from Spain, confirmatory of his worst fears. Louis of Nassau voted for open and instant rebellion; William recommended a cautious observance of the projects of government, not doubting but a fair pretext would be soon given to justify the most vigorous overt acts of revolt; but Egmont at once struck a death-blow to the energetic project of one brother, and the cautious amendment of the other, by declaring his present resolution to devote himself wholly to the service of the king, and on no inducement whatever to risk the perils of rebellion. He expressed his perfect reliance on the justice and the goodness of Philip when once he should see the determined loyalty of those whom he had hitherto had so much reason to suspect; and he exhorted the others to follow his example. The two brothers and Count Horn implored him in their turn to abandon this blind reliance on the tyrant; but in vain. His new and unlooked-for profession of faith completely paralyzed their plans. He possessed too largely the confidence of both the soldiery and the people to make it possible to attempt any serious measure of resistance in which he would not take a part. The meeting broke up without coming to any decision. All those who bore a part in it were expected at Brussels to attend the council of state; Egmont alone repaired thither. The stadtholderess questioned him on the object of the conference at Termonde : he only replied by an indignant glance, at the same time presenting a copy of Alava’s letter.
The stadtholderess now applied her whole efforts to destroy the union among the patriot lords. She, in the mean-time, ordered levies of troops to the amount of some thou-sands, the command of which was given to the nobles on whose attachment she could reckon. The most vigorous measures were adopted. Noircarmes, governor of Hainault, appeared before Valenciennes, which, being in the power of the Calvinists, had assumed a most determined attitude of resistance. He vainly summoned the place to submission, and to admit a royalist garrison; and on receiving an obstinate refusal, he commenced the siege in form. An undisciplined rabble of between three thousand and four thousand Gueux, under the direction of John de Soreas, gathered together in the neighborhood of Lilie and Tournay, with a show of attacking these places. But the governor of the former town dispersed one party of them; and Noircarmes surprised and almost destroyed the main body their leader falling in the action. These were the first encounters of the civil war, which raged without cessation for upward of forty years in these devoted countries, and which is universally allowed to be the most remarkable that ever desolated any isolated portion of Europe. The space which we have already given to the causes which produced this memorable revolution, now actually commenced, will not allow us to do more than rapidly sketch the fierce events that succeeded each other with frightful rapidity.
While Valenciennes prepared for a vigorous resistance, a general synod of the Protestants was held at Antwerp, and De Brederode undertook an attempt to see the stadtholderess, and lay before her the complaints of this body; but she refused to admit him into the capital. He then addressed to her a remonstrance in writing, in which he reproached her with her violation of the treaties, on the faith of which the confederates had dispersed, and the majority of the Protestants laid down their arms. He implored her to revoke the new proclamations, by which she prohibited them from the free exercise of their religion; and, above all things, he insisted on the abandonment of the siege of Valenciennes, and the disbanding of the new levies. The stadtholderess’s reply was one of haughty reproach and de-fiance. The gauntlet was now thrown down; no possible hope of reconciliation remained; and the whole country flew to arms. A sudden attempt on the part of the royalists, under Count Meghem, against Bois-le-duc, was repulsed by eight hundred men, commanded by an officer named Bomberg, in the immediate service of De Brederode, who had fortified himself in his garrison town of Vienen.
The Prince of Orange maintained at Antwerp an attitude of extreme firmness and caution. His time for action had not yet arrived; but his advice and protection were of infinite importance on many occasions. John de Marnix, lord of Toulouse, brother of Philip de St. Aldegonde, took possession of Osterweel on the Scheldt, a quarter of a league from Antwerp, and fortified himself in a strong position. But he was impetuously attacked by the Count de Lannoy with a considerable force, and perished, after a desperate defence, with full one thousand of his followers. Three hundred who laid down their arms were immediately after the action butchered in cold blood. Antwerp was on this occasion saved from the excesses of its divided and furious citizens, and preserved from the horrors of pillage, by the calmness and intrepidity of the Prince of Orange. Valenciennes at length capitulated to the royalists, disheartened by the defeat and death of De Marnix, and terrified by a bombardment of thirty-six hours. The governor, two preachers, and about forty of the citizens were hanged by the victors, and the reformed religion prohibited. Noircarmes promptly followed up his success. Maestricht, Turnhout, and Bois-le-duc submitted at his approach; and the insurgents were soon driven from all the provinces, Holland alone excepted. Brederode fled to Germany, where he died the following year.
The stadtholderess showed, in her success, no small proofs of decision. She and her counsellors, acting under orders from the king, were resolved on embarrassing to the utmost the patriot lords; and a new oath of allegiance, to be proposed to every functionary of the state, was considered as a certain means for attaining this object without the violence of an unmerited dismissal. The terms of this oath were strongly opposed to every principle of patriotism and toleration. Count Mansfield was the first of the nobles who took it. The duke of Arschot, Counts Meghem, Berlaimont, and Egmont followed his example. The counts of Horn, Hoogstraeten, De Brederode, and others, refused on various pretexts. Every artifice and persuasion was tried to induce the Prince of Orange to subscribe to this new test; but his resolution had been for some time formed. He saw that every chance of constitutional resistance to tyranny was for the present at an end. The time for petitioning was gone by. The confederation was dissolved. A royalist army was in the field; the Duke of Alva was notoriously approaching at the head of another, more numerous. It was worse than useless to conclude a hollow convention with the stadtholderess of mock loyalty on his part and mock confidence on hers. Many other important considerations convinced William that his only honorable, safe, and wise course was to exile himself from the Nether-lands altogether, until more propitious circumstances allowed of his acting openly, boldly, and with effect.
Before he put this plan of voluntary banishment into execution, he and Egmont had a parting interview at the village of WiIlebroek, between Antwerp and Brussels. Count Mansfield, and Berti, secretary to the stadtholderess, were present at this memorable meeting. The details of what passed were reported to the confederates by one of their party, who contrived to conceal himself in the chimney of the chamber. Nothing could exceed the energetic warmth with which the two illustrious friends reciprocally endeavored to turn each other from their respective line of con-duct; but in vain. Egmont’s fatal confidence in the king was not to be shaken; nor was Nassau’s penetrating mind to be deceived by the romantic delusion which led away his friend. They separated with most affectionate expressions; and Nassau was even moved to tears. His parting words were to the following effect : “Confide, then, since it must be so, in the gratitude of the king; but a painful presentiment (God grant it may prove a false one!) tells me that you will serve the Spaniards as the bridge by which they will enter the country, and which they will destroy as soon as they have passed over it !”
On the 11th of April, a few days after this conference, the Prince of Orange set out for Germany, with his three brothers and his whole family, with the exception of his eldest son Philip William, count de Beuren, whom he left behind a student in the University of Louvain. He believed that the privileges of the college and the franchises of Brabant would prove a sufficient protection to the youth; and this appears the only instance in which William’s vigilant prudence was deceived. The departure of the prince seemed to remove all hope of protection or support from the unfortunate Protestants, now left the prey of their implacable tyrant. The confederation of the nobles was completely broken up. The counts of Hoogstraeten, Bergen, and Culembourg followed the example of the Prince of Orange, and escaped to Germany; and the greater number of those who remained behind took the new oath of allegiance, and became reconciled to the government.
This total dispersion of the confederacy brought all the towns of Holland into obedience to the king. But the emigration which immediately commenced threatened the country with ruin. England and Germany swarmed with Dutch and Belgian refugees; and all the efforts of the stadtholderess could not restrain the thousands that took to flight. She was not more successful in her attempts to influence the measures of the king. She implored him, in repeated letters, to abandon his design of sending a foreign army into the country, which she represented as being now quite reduced to submission and tranquillity. She added that the mere report of this royal invasion (so to call it) had already deprived the Netherlands of many thousands of its best inhabitants; and that the appearance of the troops would change it into a desert. These arguments, meant to dissuade, were the very means of encouraging Philip in his design. He conceived his project to be now ripe for the complete suppression of freedom; and Alva soon began his march.
On the 5th of May, 1567, this celebrated captain, whose reputation was so quickly destined to sink into the notoriety of an executioner, began his memorable march; and on the 22d of August he, with his two natural sons, and his veteran army consisting of about fifteen thousand men, arrived at the walls of Brussels. The discipline observed on this march was a terrible forewarning to the people of the Netherlands of the influence of the general and the obedience of the troops. They had little chance of resistance against such soldiers so commanded.
Several of the Belgian nobility went forward to meet Alva, to render him the accustomed honors, and endeavor thus early to gain his good graces. Among them was the infatuated Egmont, who made a present to Alva of two superb horses, which the latter received with a disdainful air of condescension. Alva’s first care was the distribution of his troops several thousands of whom were placed in Antwerp, Ghent, and other important towns, and the remainder reserved under his own immediate orders at Brussels. His approach was celebrated by universal terror; and his arrival was thoroughly humiliating to the duchess of Parma. He immediately produced his commission as commander-in-chief of the royal armies in the Netherlands; but he next showed her another, which confided to him powers infinitely more extended than any Marguerite herself had enjoyed, and which proved to her that the almost sovereign power over the country was virtually vested in him.
Alva first turned his attention to the seizure of those patriot lords whose pertinacious infatuation left them with-in his reach. He summoned a meeting of all the members of the council of state and the knights of the order of the Golden Fleece, to deliberate on matters of great importance. Counts Egmont and Horn attended, among many others; and at the conclusion of the council they were both arrested (some historians assert by the hands of Alva and his eldest son), as was also Van Straeten, burgomaster of Antwerp, and Casambrot, Egmont’s secretary. The young count of Mansfield appeared for a moment at this meeting; but, warned by his father of the fate intended him, as an original member of the confederation, he had time to fly. The count of Hoogstraeten was happily detained by illness, and thus escaped the fate of his friends. Egmont and Horn were transferred to the citadel of Ghent, under an escort of three thousand Spanish soldiers. Several other persons of the first families were arrested ; and those who had originally been taken in arms were executed without delay.
The next measures of the new governor were the re-establishment of the Inquisition, the promulgation of the decrees of the Council of Trent, the revocation of the duchess of Parma’s edicts, and the royal refusal to recognize the terms of her treaties with the Protestants. He immediately established a special tribunal, composed of twelve members, with full powers to inquire into and pronounce judgment on every circumstance connected with the late troubles. He named himself president of this council, and appointed a Spaniard, named Vargas, as vice-president a wretch of the most diabolical cruelty. Several others of the judges were also Spaniards, in direct infraction of the fundamental laws of the country. This council, immortalized by its infamy, was named by the new governor (for so Alva was in fact, though not yet in name), the Council of Troubles. By the people it was soon designed the Council of Blood. In its atrocious proceedings no respect was paid to titles, con-tracts, or privileges, however sacred. Its judgments were without appeal. Every subject of the state was amenable to its summons; clergy and laity, the first individuals of the country, as well as the most wretched outcasts of society. Its decrees were passed with disgusting rapidity and con-tempt of form. Contumacy was punished with exile and confiscation. Those who, strong in innocence, dared to brave a trial were lost without resource. The accused were forced to its bar without previous warning. Many a wealthy citizen was dragged to trial four leagues’ distance, tied to a horse’s tail. The number of victims was appalling. On one occasion, the town of Valenciennes alone saw fifty-five of its citizens fall by the hands of the executioner. Hanging, beheading, quartering and burning were the every-day spectacles. The enormous confiscations only added to the thirst for gold and blood by which Alva and his satellites were parched. History offers no example of parallel horrors; for while party vengeance on other occasions has led to scenes of fury and terror, they arose, in this instance, from the vilest cupidity and the most cold-blooded cruelty.
After three months of such atrocity, Alva, fatigued rather than satiated with butchery, resigned his hateful functions wholly into the hands of Vargas,, who was chiefly aided by the members Delrio and Dela Torre. Even at this remote period we cannot repress the indignation excited by the mention of those monsters, and it is impossible not to feel satisfaction in fixing upon their names the brand of historic execration. One of these wretches, called Hesselts, used at length to sleep during the mock trials of the already doomed victims; and as often as he was roused up by his colleagues, he used to cry out mechanically, “To the gibbet! to the gibbet!” so familiar was his tongue with the sounds of condemnation.
The despair of the people may be imagined from the fact that, until the end of the year 1567, their only consolation was the prospect of the king’s arrival! He never dreamed of coming. Even the delight of feasting in horrors like these could not conquer his indolence. The good duchess of Parma for so she was in comparison with her successor was not long left to oppose the feeble barrier of her prayers between Alva and his victims. She demanded her dismissal from the nominal ‘dignity, which was now but a title of disgrace. Philip granted it readily, accompanied by a hypocritical letter, a present of thirty thousand crowns, and the promise of an annual pension of twenty thousand more. She left Brussels in the month of April, 1568, raised to a high place in the esteem and gratitude of the people, less by any actual claims from her own conduct than by its fortuitous contrast with the infamy of her successor. She retired to Italy, and died at Naples in the month of February, 1586.
Ferdinand Alvarez de Toledo, duke of Alva, was of a distinguished family in Spain, and even boasted of his de-scent from one of the Moorish monarchs who had reigned in the insignificant kingdom of Toledo. When hé assumed the chief command in the Netherlands, he was sixty years of age; having grown old and obdurate in pride, ferocity, and avarice. His deeds must stand instead of a more de-tailed portrait, which, to be thoroughly striking, should be traced with a pen dipped in blood. He was a fierce and clever soldier, brought up in the school of Charles V., and trained to his profession in the wars of that monarch in Germany, and subsequently in that of Philip II. against France. In addition to the horrors acted by the Council of Blood, Alva committed many deeds of collateral but minor tyranny; among others, he issued a decree forbidding, under severe penalties, any inhabitant of the country to marry without his express permission. His furious edicts against emigration were attempted to be enforced in vain. Elizabeth of England opened all the ports of her kingdom to the Flemish refugees, who carried with them those abundant stores of manufacturing knowledge which she wisely knew to be the elements of national wealth.
Alva soon summoned the Prince of Orange, his brothers, and all the confederate lords, to appear before the council and answer to the charge of high treason. The prince gave a prompt and contemptuous answer, denying the authority of Alva and his council, and acknowledging for his judges only the emperor, whose vassal he was, or the king of Spain in person, as president of the order of the Golden Fleece. The other lords made replies nearly similar. The trials of each were, therefore, proceeded on, by contumacy; confiscation of property being an object almost as dear to the tyrant viceroy as the death of his victims. Judgments were promptly pronounced against those present or absent, alive or dead. Witness the case of the unfortunate marquess of Bergues, who had previously expired at Madrid, as was universally believed, by poison; and his equally ill-fated colleague in the embassy, the Baron Montigny, was for a while imprisoned at Segovia, where he was soon after secretly beheaded, on the base pretext of former disaffection.
The departure of the duchess of Parma having left Alva undisputed as well as unlimited authority, he proceeded rapidly in his terrible career. The count of Beuren was seized at Louvain, and sent prisoner to Madrid; and wherever it was possible to lay hands on a suspected patriot, the occasion was not neglected. It would be a revolting task to enter into a minute detail of all the horrors committed, and impossible to record the names of the victims who so quickly fell before Alva’s insatiate cruelty. The people were driven to frenzy. Bands of wretches fled to the woods and marshes; whence, half famished and perishing for want, they revenged themselves with pillage and murder. Pirates infested and ravaged the coast; and thus., from both sea and land, the whole extent of the Netherlands was devoted to carnage and ruin. The chronicles of Brabant and Holland, chiefly written in Flemish by contemporary authors, abound in thrilling details of the horrors of this general desolation, with long lists of those who perished. Suffice it to say, that, on the recorded boast of Alva himself, he caused eighteen thousand inhabitants of the Low Countries to perish by the hands of the executioner, during his less than six years’ sovereignty in the Netherlands.
The most important of these tragical scenes was now soon to be acted. The Counts Egmont and Horn, having submitted to some previous interrogatories by Vargas and others, were removed from Ghent to Brussels, on the 3d of June, under a strong escort. The following day they passed through the mockery of a trial before the Council of Blood; and on the 5th they were both beheaded in the great square of Brussels, in the presence of Alva, who gloated on the spectacle from a balcony that commanded the execution. The same day Van Straeten and Casambrot shared the fate of their illustrious friends, in the castle of Vilvorde; with many others whose names only find a place in the local chronicles of the times. Egmont and Horn met their fate with the firmness expected from their well-proved courage.
These judicial murders excited in the Netherlands an agitation without bounds. It was no longer hatred or aversion that filled men’s minds, but fury and despair. The outbursting of a general revolt was hourly watched for.
The foreign powers, without exception, expressed their disapproval of these executions. The emperor Maximilian II., and all the Catholic princes, condemned them. The former sent his brother expressly to the king of Spain, to warn him that without a cessation of his cruelties he could not restrain a general declaration from the members of the empire, which would, in all likelihood, deprive him of every acre of land in the Netherlands. The princes of the Protestant states held no terms in the expression of their disgust and resentment; and everything seemed now ripe, both at home and abroad, to favor the enterprise on which the Prince of Orange was determined to risk his fortune and his life. But his principal resources were to be found in his genius and courage, and in the heroic devotion partaken by his whole family in the cause of their country. His brother, Count John, advanced him a considerable sum of money; the Flemings and Hollanders, in England and else-where, subscribed largely; the prince himself, after raising loans in every possible way on his private means, sold his jewels, his plate, and even the furniture of his houses, and threw the amount into the common fund.
Two remarkable events took place this year in Spain, and added to the general odium entertained against Philip’s character throughout Europe. The first was the death of his son Don Carlos, whose sad story is too well known in connection with the annals of his country to require a place here; the other was the death of the queen. Universal opinion assigned poison as the cause; and Charles IX. of France, her brother, who loved her with great tenderness, seems to have joined in this belief. Astonishment and horror filled all minds on the double denouement of this romantic tragedy; and the enemies of the tyrant reaped all the advantages it was so well adapted to produce them.
The Prince of Orange, having raised a considerable force in Germany, now entered on the war with all the well-directed energy by which he was characterized. The queen of England, the French Huguenots, and the Protestant princes of Germany, all lent him their aid in money or in men; and he opened his first campaign with great advantage. He formed his army into four several corps, intending to enter the country on as many different points, and by a sudden irruption on that most vulnerable to rouse at once the hopes and the co-operation of the people. His brothers Louis and Adolphus, at the head of one of these divisions, penetrated into Friesland, and there commenced the contest. The count of Aremberg, governor of this province, assisted by the Spanish troops under Gonsalvo de Bracamonte, quickly opposed the invaders. They met on the 24th of May near the abbey of Heiligerlee, which gave its name to the battle ; and after a short contest the royalists were defeated with great loss. The count of Aremberg and Adolphus of Nassau encountered in single combat, and fell by each other’s hands. The victory was dearly purchased by the loss of this gallant prince, the first of his illustrious family who have on so many occasions, down to these very days, freely shed their blood for the freedom and happiness of the country which may be so emphatically called their own.
Alva immediately hastened, to the scene of this first action, and soon forced Count Louis to another at a place called Jemminghem, near the town of Embden, on the 21st of July. Their forces were nearly equal, about fourteen thousand on either side; but all the advantage of discipline and skill was in favor of Alva ; and the consequence was, the total rout of the patriots with a considerable loss in killed and the whole of the cannon and baggage. The en-tire province of Friesland was thus again reduced to obedience, and Alva hastened back to Brabant to make head against the Prince of Orange. The latter had now under his command an army of twenty-eight thousand men an imposing force in point of numbers, being double that which his rival was able to muster. He soon made himself master of the towns of Tongres and St. Trond, and the whole province of Liege was in his power. He advanced boldly against Alva, and for several months did all that manoeuvring could do to force him to a battle. But the wily veteran knew his trade too well; he felt sure that in time the prince’s force would disperse for want of pay and supplies; and he man-aged his resources so ably that with little risk and scarcely any loss he finally succeeded in his object. In the month of October the prince found himself forced to disband his large but undisciplined force; and he retired into France to recruit his funds and consider on the best measures for some future enterprise.
The insolent triumph of Alva knew no bounds. The rest of the year was consumed in new executions. The hotel of Culembourg, the early cradle of De Brederode’s confederacy, was razed to the ground, and a pillar erected on the spot commemorative of the deed; while Alva, resolved to erect a monument of his success as well as of his hate, had his own statue in brass, formed of the cannons taken at Jemminghem, set up in the citadel of Antwerp, with various symbols of power and an inscription of inflated pride.
The following year was ushered in by a demand of unwonted and extravagant rapacity; the establishment of two taxes on property, personal and real, to the amount of the hundredth penny (or denier) on each kind; and at every transfer or sale ten per cent on personal and five per cent for real property. The states-general, of whom this demand was made, were unanimous in their opposition, as well as the ministers; but particularly De Berlaimont and Viglius. Alva was so irritated that he even menaced the venerable president of the council, but could not succeed in intimidating him. He obstinately persisted in his design for a considerable period; resisting arguments and prayers, and even the more likely means tried for softening his cupidity, by furnishing him with sums from other sources equivalent to those which the new taxes were calculated to produce. To his repeated threats against Viglius the latter replied, that “he was convinced the king would not condemn him unheard; but that at any rate his gray hairs saved him from any ignoble fear of death.”
A deputation was sent from the states-general to Philip explaining the impossibility of persevering in the attempted taxes, which were incompatible with every principle of commercial liberty. But Alva would not abandon his design till he had forced every province into resistance, and the king himself commanded him to desist. The events of this and the following year, 1570, may be shortly summed up; none of any striking interest or eventual importance having occurred. The sufferings of the country were increasing from day to day under the intolerable tyranny which bore it down. The patriots attempted nothing on land; but their naval force began from this time to acquire that consistency and power which was so soon to render it the chief means of resistance and the great source of wealth. The privateers or corsairs, which began to swarm from every port in Holland and Zealand, and which found refuge in all those of England, sullied many gallant exploits by instances of culpable excess; so much so that the Prince of Orange was forced to withdraw the command which he had delegated to the lord of Dolhain, and to replace him by Gislain de Fiennes: for already several of the exiled nobles and ruined merchants of Antwerp and Amsterdam had joined these bold adventurers; and purchased or built, with the remnant of their fortunes, many vessels, in which they carried on a most productive warfare against Spanish commerce through the whole extent of the English Channel, from the mouth of the Embs to the harbor of La Rochelle.
One of those frightful inundations to which the northern provinces were so constantly exposed occurred this year, carrying away the dikes, and destroying lives and property to a considerable amount. In Friesland alone twenty thou-sand men were victims to this calamity. But no suffering could affect the inflexible sternness of the duke of Alva; and to such excess did he carry his persecution that Philip himself began to be discontented, and thought his representative was overstepping the bounds of delegated tyranny. He even reproached him sharply in some of his despatches. The governor replied in the same strain; and such was the effect of this correspondence that Philip resolved to remove him from his command. But the king’s marriage with Anne of Austria, daughter of the emperor Maximilian, obliged him to defer his intentions for a while; and he at length named John de la Cerda, duke of Medina-Celi, for Alva’s successor. Upward of a year, however, elapsed be-fore this new governor was finally appointed ; and he made his appearance on the coast of Flanders with a considerable fleet, on the 11th of May, 1572. He was afforded on this very day a specimen of the sort of people he came to contend with; for his fleet was suddenly attacked by that of the patriots, and many of his vessels burned and taken before his eyes, with their rich cargoes and considerable treasures intended for the service of the state.
The duke of Medina-Celi proceeded rapidly to Brussels, where he was ceremoniously received by Alva, who, how-ever, refused to resign the government, under the pretext that the term of his appointment had not expired, and that he was resolved first to completely suppress all symptoms of revolt in the northern provinces. He succeeded in effectually disgusting La Cerda, who almost immediately demanded and obtained his own recall to Spain. Alva, left once more in undisputed possession of his power, turned it with increased vigor into new channels of oppression. He was soon again employed in efforts to effect the levying of his favorite taxes; and such was the resolution of the trades-men of Brussels, that, sooner than submit, they almost universally closed their shops altogether. Alva, furious at this measure, caused sixty of the citizens to be seized, and ordered them to be hanged opposite their own doors. The gibbets were actually erected, when, on the very morning of the day fixed for the executions, he received despatches that wholly disconcerted him and stopped their completion.
To avoid an open rupture with Spain, the queen of England had just at this time interdicted the Dutch and Flemish privateers from taking shelter in her ports. William de la Marck, count of Lunoy, had now the chief command of this adventurous force. He was distinguished by an inveterate hatred against the Spaniards, and had made a wild and romantic vow never to cut his hair or beard till he had avenged the murders of Egmont and Horn. He was impetuous and terrible in all his actions, and bore the surname of “the wild boar of the Ardennes.” Driven out of the harbors of England, he resolved on some desperate enterprise; and on the 1st of April he succeeded in surprising the little town of Brille, in the island of Voorn, situate between Zealand and Holland. This insignificant place acquired great celebrity from this event, which may be considered the first successful step toward the establishment of liberty and the republic.
Alva was confounded by the news of this exploit, but with his usual activity he immediately turned his whole attention toward the point of greatest danger. His embarrassment, however, became every day more considerable. Lunoy’s success was the signal of a general revolt. In a few days every town in Holland and Zealand declared for liberty, with the exception of Amsterdam and Middleburg, where the Spanish garrisons were too strong for the people to attempt their expulsion.
The Prince of Orange, who had been on the watch for a favorable moment, now entered Brabant at the head of twenty thousand men, composed of French, German, and English, and made himself master of several important places; while his indefatigable brother Louis, with a minor force, suddenly appeared in Hainault, and, joined by a large body of French Huguenots under De Genlis, he seized on Mons, the capital of the province, on the 25th of May.
Alva turned first toward the recovery of this important place, and gave the command of the siege to his son Frederic of Toledo, who was assisted by the counsels of Noircarmes and Vitelli; but Louis of Nassau held out for upward of three months, and only surrendered on an honorable capitulation in the month of September; his French allies having been first entirely defeated, and their brave leader De Genlis taken prisoner. The Prince of Orange had in the meantime secured possession of Louvain, Ruremonde, Mechlin, and other towns, carried Termonde and Oudenarde by assault, and made demonstrations which seemed to court Alva once more to try the fortune of the campaign in a pitched battle. But such were not William’s real intentions, nor did the cautious tactics of his able opponent allow him to provoke such a risk. He, however, ordered his son Frederic to march with all his force into Holland, and he soon undertook the siege of Haerlem. By the time that Mons fell again into the power of the Spaniards, sixty-five towns and their territories, chiefly in the northern provinces, had thrown off the yoke. The single port of Flessingue contained one hundred and fifty patriot vessels, well armed and equipped ; and from that epoch may be dated the rapid growth of the first naval power in Europe, with the single exception of Great Britain.
It is here worthy of remark, that all the horrors of which the people of Flanders were the victims, and in their full proportion, had not the effect of exciting them to revolt; but they rose up with fury against the payment of the new taxes. They sacrificed everything sooner than pay these unjust exactions Omnia dabant, ne decimam darant. The next important event in these wars was the siege of Haerlem, before which place the Spaniards were arrested in their progress for seven months, and which they at length succeeded in taking ‘with a loss of ten thousand men.
The details of this memorable siege are calculated to arouse every feeling of pity for the heroic defenders, and of execration against the cruel assailants. A widow, named Kenau Hasselaer, gained a niche in history by her remark-able valor at the head of a battalion of three hundred of her townswomen, who bore a part in all the labors and perils of the siege. After the surrender, and in pursuance of Alva’s common system, his ferocious son caused the governor and the other chief officers to be beheaded; and upward of two thousand of the worn-out garrison and burghers were either put to the sword, or tied two and two and drowned in the lake which gives its name to the town. Tergoes in South Beveland, Mechlin, Naerden, and other towns, were about the same period the scenes of gallant actions, and of subsequent cruelties of the most revolting nature as soon as they fell into the power of the Spaniards. Strada, with all his bigotry to the Spanish cause, admits that these excesses were atrocious crimes rather than just punishments: non poena, sed flagitium. Horrors like these were sure to force reprisals on the part of the maddened patriots. De la Marck carried on his daring exploits with a cruelty which excited the indignation of the Prince of Orange, by whom he was removed from his command. The contest was for a while prosecuted with a decrease of vigor proportioned to the serious losses on both sides; money and the munitions of war began to fail; and though the Spaniards succeeded in taking The Hague, they were repulsed before Alkmaer with great loss, and their fleet was almost entirely destroyed in a naval combat on the Zuyder Zee. The count Bossu, their admiral, was taken in this fight, with about three hundred of his best sailors.
Holland was now from one end to the other the theatre of the most shocking events. While the people performed deeds of the greatest heroism, the perfidy and cruelty of the Spaniards had no bounds. The patriots saw more danger in submission than in resistance; each town, which was in succession subdued, endured the last extremities of suffering before it yielded, and victory was frequently the consequence of despair. This unlooked-for turn in affairs decided the king to remove Alva, whose barbarous and rapacious conduct was now objected to even by Philip, when it produced results disastrous to his cause. Don Luis Zanega y Requesens, commander of the order of Malta, was named to the government of the Netherlands. He arrived at Brussels on the 17th of November, 1573; and on the 18th of the following month, the monster whom he succeeded set out for Spain, loaded with the booty to which he had waded through oceans of blood, and with the curses of the country, which, however, owed its subsequent freedom to the impulse given by his intolerable cruelty. He repaired to Spain; and after various fluctuations of favor and disgrace at the hands of his congenial master, he died in his bed, at Lisbon, in 1582, at the advanced age of seventy-four years.