Imágenes de página

but two principles, bigotry and despotism. Charles had been stern and haughty, but he was a Fleming. He respected the public feelings, if he was jealous of the public rights; and, to the last, the people forgot, in the bravery, the steadiness, and the grandeur of their countryman, the casual oppression by which he made them feel that he was their lord. But with Philip they had no tie; he was of neither their country, their habits, nor their language; he disdained their nation; he scorned that commerce on which they prided themselves; and he hated the privileges that distinguished them still more justly than their opulence. He was a Spaniard; and the character, in that day, implied haughtiness, contempt of industry, fiery persecution, and a passion for carrying all things by the sword. Spain had taken the lead for a century in war; but it was war unmitigated by even those ruder graces that in other lands concealed its deformity. The Spanish Bellona wore no embroidered garment, and no armour glittering from the hands of the "artificer of the gods." She was a naked savage, from head to foot dipped in blood, stalking through the field with prodigious power, but merciless in her triumphs, and knowing no close to conquest but massacre. The French of that day were the cavaliers of Europe, the Germans the soldiers, the Italians the hirelings, and the Spaniards the prize-fighters.

The long duration of the Gothic and Moorish contests had turned the people into desperadoes, and the chieftains into tyrants. A perverted religion had at once inflamed their pride and hardened their hearts. Their seclusion from other countries had made them ignorant of the general progress of manners in Europe, while their conquest of the Moors had swelled the national insolence, by the double triumph over enemies and infidels. To invest this powerful and extraordinary people with the highest facilities for disturbing Europe, there was but one thing still required,-money. The Spaniard was poor, and the exhaustion of his country by a war of seven centuries, not less than his original scorn of commerce, seemed to place him at an immeasurable distance from the

command of wealth. But there are resources in the system of things that singularly baffle the calcula tions of man. Suddenly, and by a change little short of miraculous, a stream of gold was poured in upon Spain-an influx of wealth that made all past opulence poor, covered a nation to which the poorest community of Europe had been rich. The magnificent discovery of the Western World opened a treasure-house to the Spaniard, that, even to our day, neither national prodigality, nor the vanity of kings, had been able to exhaust; and which continued pouring forth its gold and jewels, until the time came for retaliating tyranny by rebellion, and the long servitude of South America was righted by the sword.

Charles V. had resigned his dominions on the 25th of October, 1555, in Brussels, in the presence of an assemblage of princes and nobles worthy of so solemn an occasion. The German empire was given to Ferdinand his brother; but his son Philip, constituted sovereign of the remaining and much more powerful share of his dominions, became in one day King of Naples, Sicily, Spain, and Duke of the Netherlands.

All power is comparative; and, in the scale of Europe, in the sixteenth century, the tremendous power of Philip made all other sovereignty kick the beam. While England was rude, still weakened by her civil wars, and embittered by religious distractions,-Germany, but the frag ments of kingdoms, struggling for superiority or for existence, and still more enfeebled by religious distractions, France, worn out by foreign defeat, festering with party struggles, and already feeling the first throes of that terrible conflict in which corruption, the civil sword, and foreign violence, were to make the name of the League conspicuous among the calamities of nations, Philip, in Spain, governed a nation of the first warriors of the world; in Italy, the masters of the Oriental trade, the most brilliant known; and in the Netherlands, the most opulent communities, the most unrivalled manufacturers, and the most vigorous, intelligent, and lordly race of merchants that ever traversed the seas.

But the Spanish King was a native

barbarian. He had the haughtiness of his nation, without their magnanimity; he was by his nature a lover of human misery. He delighted in cold blood. All things combined to make him the most consummate of tyrants. Education had formed him for a bigot; the great talents, and universal power, of his celebrated father had made him envious of the fame which he had not the faculties to reach; and he resolved to be a conqueror, without military science or courage, and a despot, without the art to conciliate, or the power to bow his people to chains.

The Netherlands were the country of freedom, and Philip's first exploit was to overthrow their privileges. A secret article in the treaty of Cateau Cambresis bound his late enemy to assist him with the French troops in his design; and thus fortified, he summoned the memorable assembly of the States at Ghent, in July 1559. But he was met, at the first step, by an opposition whose source he could scarcely develope. His specious declarations of respect for the national independence, were met by plain demands that he should give effect to his words by realities, that he should retrench his imposts, send back the foreign garrisons, and limit the high offices of state to natives. The last stipulation for once overcame the political wiliness of the tyrant. He burst out with the indignant question-" Am I not a Spaniard ? Would you deprive


His first attempt had now obvious ly failed, and in wrath he determined to return to Spain, and there brood over some new project of dissimulation and revenge. One of those nobles who waited on him to pay their homage at his departure was the Governor of Zealand, William, Prince of Orange. His last command was characteristic. It was an injunction to William to expedite the death of a number of citizens suspected of Protestantism. This cruel command could scarcely have been heard by the noble nature of William without some cloud on his brow. Philip's sagacity had probably long suspected the allegiance of William to his career of perfidy. But he seems now to have found instant confirmation in his countenance. He

charged him on the spot with having been the secret cause of his defeat. The Prince simply stated, that all which had been done was "the public act of the States." Philip, once more forgetting his disguise, shook him by the arm, and furiously exclaimed-" No, it was not the States, but you, you, you!" (No son los estados, puo vos, vos, vos!) He now sailed for Spain, never to return.

William, whom his nation still call by the well-deserved title of Vader William, the true father of his country, was the eldest of the numerous progeny, five sons and seven daughters, of the Count of Nassau, by Juliana Countess of Stolberg. It is no superstition to follow, in the lives of men destined for great influences on the world, the training by which Providence seems to prepare them for greatness. The grace of William's countenance, or gratitude for the services of his family, had made him in his boyhood a favourite of the Emperor Charles, by whom he had been taken to Court, educated in all the knowledge of that day of profound and active statesmanship, and trained to military command. Charles had evidently conceived so high an opinion of his sagacity, that even when but a boy, his pupil was admitted to the most secret councils of the empire, and was present at the private interviews with ambassadors. As a more open distinction, William, at twenty, was appointed bearer of the imperial crown to Ferdinand; and by a still more important distinction, passing over all his generals, the Emperor placed him, still a youth of twenty-two, at the head of all his troops in the Netherlands, with the title of Generalissi


William's name at the court was descriptive-it was, Silence.

Philip was a bigot still more than a tyrant; and his religious zeal was more formidable than his thirst of power. The tyrant strikes but at those who resist his authority; the bigot includes in the more sweeping sentence, all who dissent from his opinion. The tyrant's violence is public, the resistance is plain, the victims are numbered. The bigot's violence is personal, its grounds are secret, and therefore undefinable. Where suspicion constitutes guilt, no innocence can be secure; and

where the innocent and the guilty are incapable of being distinguished but by the capricious judgment of a mind impregnated with the love of blood, the cruelty will be limited only by the want of power.

Philip felt his despotism restricted by the great lords and opulent burghers of the Flemish provinces. But the populace lay below the sweep of his sceptre. He declared the Reformation a crime against the state, and 德 thus brought the blow down to the most obscure. At once to signalize his zeal for Rome, and to scourge a people whom, both high and low, he hated, he resolved to establish the Inquisition in the Netherlands. It was established in the year 1566. The provinces were at first disgusted at the sight of the monks and familiars of that dreadful tribunal stalking through the country, and pronouncing insults to common sense, and abominations to the spirit of Christianity, in the name of Heaven. They were next alarmed by their cruelty, and finally roused into insurrection by the necessity of selfdefence. The whole of the southern provinces became a scene, first of Romish execution, and next of popular revenge. The peasants abandoned their tillage, the workmen their manufactories, all armed themselves, and all exercised a fierce retaliation on the monks, and their attendant ministers. The country was suddenly in a state of ruin.

[ocr errors]

lysed by the sight of the confederates assembling in Brussels, and marching in procession to lay their remonstrance before the Vice-Queen.

The confederates now wanted nothing but a connexion with the lower ranks to give them full vigour, and they found it in so simple a thing as a popular title. The transaction bears a striking resemblance to our own habits, and reminds us of our ancient alliance in manners and freedom.

The confederates celebrated their meeting by a public dinner, a thing so purely free, that under no despotic government has it ever been adopted. Three hundred of those eminent patriots dined together. De Brederode, Marquis of Utrecht, a man of the most ancient birth, fond of distinction, possessed of remarkable powers of popular address, presided. It was the complete type of a great English political dinner. The name which they should take was the topic, when one of the members started up, and indignantly observed of the insolence of the government, that on their remonstrance being presented, one of the council, the Count de Berlaimont, had contemptuously told the Princess of Parma, that "she had nothing to fear from such a gang of mendicants" (Gueux.)

The name was caught by instinct. Scorn for the sarcasm may have done something in the choice; while political sagacity may have done more. To retrieve this ruin, now be- The title was instantly hailed with unicame the object of the great lords. versal acclamation. To make the imThe marriage of the Prince of Parma pression unalterable, De Brederode, with the Vice-Queen, brought the without delay, added the deed to majority y of the higher ranks to Brus- the word, descended from his chair, sels. There they communicated their re-appeared with a beggar's wallet on thoughts on the conduct of govern- his back, and a beggar's wooden cup ment; and the manifesto of a confe- in his hand, swore to the cause, drank deracy was drawn up by De Marnix, the general health in his cup, and

a man of ability

Lord of Aldigande, and fame, and signed by the leading barons. The Inquisition was the chief object of complaint in this cele- its round, was finally nailed to the

passed it round. As it circled through

the hall, each man pledged himself

to the cause. The wallet then went

Eefforts for its removal. This bold

a solemn pledge never to remit their there, amid shouts of " Vivent les Gueux!" hung, as the emblem of the measure took the council of govern- night, the new palladium of Flemish ment totally by surprise. Their de- liberty.

cision was fortunately postponed un

The Prince of Orange and the

til the confederation had acquired Counts Egmont and Horn had, by a the council at last met to give their adding their names to the confedefirmness, and in April 1566, when remarkable exertion, abstained from

final determination, they

were para- racy; yet, on this night, by an equal

[ocr errors]

ly remarkable coincidence, they entered the banqueting-room together, were received with the distinction due to their high rank, and suffered themselves to be forced to join in the festivity. Vivent les Gueux!" rang on every side round them. The talismanic cup was put to their lips, and they unconsciously allowed themselves, as they afterwards declared, to give way to this burst of irregular patriotism.

But the pledge of the night did not vanish with its festivity. The confederates began by adopting the usual garb of the mendicant. The citizens of the Flemish capital, who had gazed, but a few days before, with pride and admiration on the stately procession of their native nobility, were now not less astonished to see them transformed into pilgrims. The grey cloak of the bedesman had univer sally superseded the velvet and the sables; their gold-hilted daggers were laid aside for the clasp-knife, their knightly swords for the simple blade, with the wooden cup in its hilt. All their ornaments were confined to a gold medal on the breast, bearing on one face the image of Philip, and on the other the expressive emblem of two hands grasping each other, with the motto, "Even to the wallet" (Jusqu'à la besace). Their numerous servants and retainers were clothed in the same costume; and Brussels in a moment looked like the headquarters of a new levy of the Crusaders.

Two years of various fortune followed. The great sects of Anabaptists, Calvinists, and Lutherans, equally sustained the popular spirit against their common terror and hatred, the Inquisition. Immense prayer-meetings, headed by popular preachers, began to be held in the fields, to which the people came from all parts of the country, and came armed. Fear produced fanaticism, and fanaticism produced popular violence.


Romish churches were robbed, or torn to the ground. The troops were let loose to retaliate on the furious peasantry. The country was covered with blood and flame. The Spanish King still dissembled, and the confederates still attempted to negotiate; but war was inevitable. The Prince of Orange, already marked out as the head of the rebellion, received a let ter from Madrid, which gave him full

information of the proceedings of the Council. He decided to retire, until he could strike a more decisive blow for his country; and after vainly endeavouring to persuade his friend, Count Egmont, to retire with him, and abandon all confidence in Philip's offers of conciliation, heleft the States, and withdrew with his family into his German dominions.

The heaviest scourge of kingly and monkish persecution was now to fall upon the unhappy Netherlanders. In August of the year 1567, a year which will be calendared for ever in the annals of massacre, the Duke of Alva entered Brussels at the head of a Spanish army. The force was but fifteen thousand, but they were the "invincibles" of Europe, a movable column of the royal force, which, quartered through the country, and in possession of all the garrison towns, had already held the nation in awe.

Alva was a true Spaniard, and might be taken for a representative of his country and his age. He had great faculties for war and state, activity, resource, knowledge of government, and the most intrepid valour. But his character was darkened by cruelty the most remorseless, and his knowledge only urged him to secure obedience by force. His political sagacity had but one secret for every thing, dissimulation while the victim was not in his power, and instant execution when it was. Spain, his native country, had taught him ferocity; Germany, where his chief experience had been acquired, had taught him war; Italy had taught him artifice; and thus gloomy, dexterous, and profound, he arrived in the Netherlands, to put in practice all the fierce lessons of his life, to trample down man in the field and the dungeon, and exercise with equal and sanguinary delight the scaffold and the sword.

Alva's first proceeding was to summon a general meeting of the council of state and the Knights of the Golden Fleece, these including the chief nobility. The unhappy Counts Egmont and Horn, still unwarned by the parting advice of the Prince of Orange, and urged by their fate, attended the summons. They were instantly seized, and sent off to Ghent under a strong Spanish escort. Philip had by this act declared war

against his people; disguise was at an end, and he disclosed the whole guilty physiognomy of his system. By a royal proclamation the decrees of the hated Council of Trent were made law, the conciliatory measures of the Vice-queen were revoked, and last and most abhorred of all, the Inquisition was re-established in its full atrocity. His next step was to subvert all law, and place the lives of the people in the hands of a council of twelve, before whom every man who incurred his suspicions was to be tried. We have had but one tribunal in history that could rival this chosen seat of murder, the revolutionary tribunal of France; but its cruelty was more merciful. The career of the revolutionary victims was short; they perished at the moment by the bullet or the sabre, The cruelty of the Spanish tribunal enjoyed the agonies of its victims still more than their death. It pro tracted pain through every refine ment of torture. It enlisted famine, nakedness, the tardy death of the dungeon, the miseries of the scourge and the rack, the terrors of death in public by the axe and the fagot, the deeper terror of death in secret-unconsoled by popular sympathy, or the glories of having given a heroic testimony to the truth-into the service of a tyranny, which, not contented with infliction here, denounced the sufferings of a future world, haughtily claimed the privileges of a minister of the divine wrath, and by a daring impiety, beyond the reach and almost beyond the imagination of man, asserted the power to kill alike the body and the soul.

But Alva missed his principal blow. "Have they," said Cardinal Granville, the former minister of Philip to the Netherlands-" Have they taken Silence?" (William's wellknown name.) On his being answered, "No.". "Well, then," was the crafty politician's reply, "if that fish has escaped the net, Alva's draught is worth nothing."

But the time was now at hand for this great patriot and warrior to ap.


Alva's commission had virtually superseded all other authority, and the Princess of Parma, after having found herself turned into a cipher, solicited her resignation, and withdrew to Italy, to die. The trials

of the imprisoned nobles commenced with a palpable determination to shed their blood, Between the arraignment and deaths of the Counts Egmont and Horn, there were but two days. On the 3d of June they were brought to trial, and on the 5th, 1568, they were beheaded in the great square of Brussels. Then followed a long course of devastation among the nobles. The scaffold flowed with the most ancient blood of the land. The sittings of the tribunal exhausted even the murderers who presided. They were often awoke from stupefaction or sleep to pronounce sentence, and the sentence was always" to the scaffold."

But all was imperfect without the seizure of the Prince of Orange. He was summoned to appear before the council, on pain of confiscation. He excused himself, on the plea, "that as a Knight of the Golden Fleece, he could not be judged but by the king and the knights.' His estates were confiscated without delay, his city of Breda was entered by a Spanish gar rison, and, the severest blow of all, his eldest son, William, whom he had left at the University of Louvain, in reliance on the immunity and sacredness of the place, was seized and sent to Spain, there to be kept as an hostage, and educated in Popery.

There is a time for all things; and history has no more important lesson, than that the highest abilities, and the most righteous cause, may be thrown away by hurrying that time. During the last ten years from the accession of Philip, the Prince of Orange possessed sufficient grounds for taking up arms, but his sagacity waited for the ripening of time. Within the last two years, he had been personally urged by his friends and his brother to anticipate the vengeance of Philip, of which the assurance lay before him in documents on his table, by heading a national insurrection. Still he felt, by the strength of his own extraordinary intellect, or perhaps still more by the high direction of that Providence which raises up great men for its own great purposes, that the time was not come, and he resisted the solicitation. But the time was now fully come; he prepared to throw his life and sovereignty into the scale, and from this hour never faltered,

« AnteriorContinuar »