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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 12 — Reaction – Submission of the southern Netherlands

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Treaty between the Governor and Nobles – Liberty given the Reformed to Build Churches – Remonstrances of Margaret – Reply of Orange – Anger of Philip – His Cruel Resolve – Philip's Treachery – Letters that Read Two Ways – the Governor raises Soldiers – A Great Treachery Meditated – Egmont's and Horn's Compliance with the Court, and Severities against the Reformed – Horn at Tournay – Forbids the Reformed to Worship inside the Walls – Permitted to erect Churches outside – Money and Materials – the Governor Violates the Accord – Re-formed Religion Forbidden in Tournay and Valenciennes – Siege of Valenciennes by Noircarmes – Sufferings of the Besieged – They Surrender-Treachery of Noircarmes – Execution of the Two Protestant Ministers – Terror inspired by the Fall of Valenciennes – Abject Submission of the Southern Netherlands.

The first effect of the tumults was favorable to the Reformers. The insurrection had thoroughly alarmed the Duchess of Parma, and the Protestants obtained from her fear concessions which they would in vain have solicited from her sense of justice. At a conference between the leading nobles and the governor at Brussels on the 25th of August, the following treaty was agreed to and signed: – The duchess promised on her part "that the Inquisition should be abolished from this time forward for ever," and that the Protestants should have liberty of worship in all those places where their worship had been previously established. These stipulations were accompanied with a promise that all past offenses of image-breaking and Beggar manifestoes should be condoned. The nobles undertook on their part to dissolve their Confederacy, to return to the service of the State, to see that the Reformed did not come armed to their assemblies, and that in their sermons they did not inveigh against the Popish religion. [1] Thus a gleam broke out through the cloud, and the storm was succeeded by a momentary calm.

On the signing of this treaty the princes went down to their several provinces, and earnestly labored to restore the public peace. The Prince of Orange and Counts Egmont, Horn, and Hoog-straten were especially zealous in this matter, nor were their efforts without success. In Antwerp, where Orange was governor, and where he was greatly beloved, quiet was speedily re-established, the great cathedral was again opened, and the Romish worship resumed as aforetime. It was agreed that all the consecrated edifices should remain in the possession of the Roman Catholics, but a convention was at the same time made with the Dutch and Walloon congregations, empowering them to erect places of worship within the city-walls for their own use. The latter arrangement, – the privilege, namely, accorded the Reformed of worshipping within the walls – was a concession which it cost the bigotry of Margaret a grudge to make. But Orange, in reply to her remonstrances, told her that, in the first place, this was expedient, seeing assemblies of 20,000 or 25,000 persons were greater menaces to the public peace outside the walls, where they were removed from the eye of the magistrate, than they could possibly be within the city, where not only were their congregations smaller, their numbers seldom exceeding 10,000, but their language and bearing were more modest; and, in the second place, this concession, he reminded the duchess, was necessary. The Reformed were now 200,000 strong, they were determined to enjoy their rights, and he had no soldiers to gainsay their demands, nor could he prevail on a single burgher to bear arms against them. [2] In a few days the Walloon congregation, availing themselves of their new liberties, laid the first stone of their future church on a spot which had been allotted them; and their example was speedily followed by the Dutch Reformed congregation. Through the efforts of Orange the troubles were quieted all over Holland and Brabant. His success was mainly owing to the great weight of his personal character, for soldiers to enforce submission he had none. The churches were given back to the priests, who, doffing the lay vestments in which many of them had encased themselves in their terror, resumed the public celebration of their rites; and the Protestants were contented with the liberty accorded them of worshipping in fabrics of their own creation, which in a few places were situated within the walls, but in the great majority of cases stood outside, in the suburbs, or the open country.

Meanwhile the news of churches sacked, images destroyed, and holy things profaned was travelling to Spain. Philip, who during his stay in Brussels had been wont to spend his nights in the stews, or to roam masked through the streets, satiating his base appetites upon their foul garbage, when the tidings of the profanation reached him, first shuddered with horror, and next trembled with rage. Plucking at his beard, he exclaimed, "It shall cost them dear, I swear it by the soul of my father." [3]

For every image that had been mutilated hundreds of living men were to die; the affront offered to the Roman Catholic faith, and its saints in stone, must be washed out in the blood of the inhabitants of the Netherlands. So did the tyrant resolve.

Meanwhile keeping secret the terrible purpose in his breast, he, began to move toward it with his usual slowness, but with more than his usual doggedness and duplicity. Before the news of the image-breaking had arrived, the king had written to Margaret of Parma, in answer to the petition which the two envoys, the Marquis of Berghen and the Count de Montigny, had brought to Madrid, saying to her – so bland and gracious did he seem – that he would pardon the guilty, on certain conditions, and that seeing there was now a full staff of bishops in the Provinces, able and doubtless willing vigilantly to guard the members of their flock, the Inquisition was no longer necessary,

and should henceforth cease. Here was pardon and the abolition of the Inquisition: what more could the Netherlanders ask? But if the letter was meant to read one way in Brussels, it was made to read another way in Madrid. No sooner had Philip indited it than, summoning two attorneys to his closet, he made them draw out a formal protest in the presence of witnesses to the effect that the promise of pardon, being not voluntary but compulsory, was not binding, and that he was not obliged thereby to spare any one whom he chose to consider guilty. As regarded the Inquisition, Philip wrote to the Pope, telling him that he had indeed said to the Netherlanders that he would abolish it, but that need not scandalise his Holiness, inasmuch as he neither could nor would abolish the Inquisition unless the Pope gave his consent. As regarded the meeting of the Assembly of the States for which the Confederates had also petitioned, Philip replied with his characteristic prudence, that he forbade its meeting for the moment; but in a secret letter to Margaret he told her that that moment meant for ever. The two noblemen who brought the petition were not permitted to carry back the answer: that would have been dangerous. They might have initiated their countrymen into the Spanish reading of the letter. They were still, upon various pretences, detained at Madrid.

Along with this very pleasant letter, which the governor was to make known to all Philip's subjects of the Netherlands, that they might know how gracious a master they had, came another communication, which Margaret was not to make known, but on the contrary keep to herself. Philip announced in this letter that he had sent the governor a sum of money for raising soldiers, and that he wished the new battalions to be enlisted exclusively from Papists, for on these the king and the duchess might rely for an absolute compliance with their will. The regent was not remiss in executing this order; she immediately levied a body of cavalry and five regiments of infantry. As her levies increased her fears left her, and the conciliatory spirit which led her to consent to the Accord of the 25th of August, was changed to a mood of mind very different.

But if the Accord was to be kept, the good effects of which had been seen in a pacified country, and if the guilty were to be pardoned and the Inquisition abolished, as the king's letter had promised, where was the need of raising armaments? Surely these soldiers are not merely to string beads. A great treachery is meditated, said Orange and his companions, Egmont and Horn. It is not the abolition of the Inquisition, but a rekindling of its fires on a still larger scale, that awaits us; and instead of a resurrection of Flemish liberty by the assembling of the States-General, it is the entire effacement of whatever traces of old rights still remain in these unhappy countries, and the establishment of naked despotism on the ruins of freedom by an armed force, that is contemplated. Of that these levies left Orange in no doubt. In the Council all three nobles expressed their disapprobation of the measure, as a rekindling of the flames of civil discord and sedition.

Every day new proofs of this were coming to light. The train-bands of the tyrant were gathering round the country, and the circle of its privileges and its liberties was contracting from one hour to another. The regent had no cause to complain of the lukewarmness of Egmont and Horn, whatever suspicions she might entertain of Orange. The prince was now a Lutheran, and he had calmed the iconoclastic tumults all over Brabant, Holland, and Zealand, without staining his hands with a single drop of blood. The Counts Egmont and Horn were Romanists, and their suppression of the image-breakings in Flanders and Tournay had been marked by great severity towards the Reformers. Egmont showed himself an ardent partisan of the Government, and his proceedings spread terror through Flanders and Artois. Thousands of Protestants fled the country; their wives and families were left destitute; the public profession of the Reformed religion was forbidden, despite the. Accord; and numbers of its adherents, including ministers, hanged. [4] The chief guilt of these cruelties rests with Egmont's secretary, Bakkerzeel, who had great influence over the count, and who, along with his chief, received his reward in due time from the Government they so zealously and unscrupulously served.

It was much after the same fashion that Tournay was pacified by Count Horn. Five-sixths of the inhabitants of that important place were Calvinists; Horn, therefore, feared to forbid the public preachings. But no church and no spot inside the walls would Horn permit to be defiled by the Protestant worship; nevertheless, three places outside the gates were assigned for sermon. The eloquent Ambrose Wille, whom we have already met, was the preacher, and his congregation generally numbered from fifteen to twenty thousand hearers. Permission was at last given for the erection of churches on the three spots where the field-preaching had been held; and Councillor Taffen made what he judged an eminently reasonable proposal to the magistrates touching the cost of their erection. The Papists, he said, who were not more than a fourth of the citizens, retained all the old churches; the other three-fourths, who were Protestants, were compelled to build new ones, and in these circumstances he thought it only fair that the community should defray the expense of their erection. The Romanists exclaimed against the proposal. To be compelled to refrain from burning the heretics was much, but to be taxed for the support of heresy was an unheard-of oppression. Money and materials, however, were forthcoming in abundance: the latter were somewhat too plentiful; fragments of broken images and demolished altars were lying about everywhere, and were freely but indiscreetly used by the Protestants in the erection

of their new fabrics. The sight of the things which they had worshipped, built into the walls of a heretical temple, stung the Romanists to the quick as the last disgrace of their idols.

The levies of the regent were coming in rapidly, and as her soldiers increased her tone waxed the bolder. The Accord of the 25th of August, which was the charter of the Protestants, gave her but small concern. She had made it in her weakness with the intention of breaking it when she should be strong. She confiscated all the liberties the Reformed enjoyed under that arrangement. The sermons were forbidden, on the ridiculous pretext that, although the liberty of preaching had been conceded, that did not include the other exercises commonly practiced at the field assemblies, such as singing, praying, and dispensing the Sacraments. Garrisons were placed by the regent in Tournay, in Valenciennes, and many other towns; the profession of the Reformed religion was suppressed in them; the Roman temples were re-opened, and the Popish rites restored in their former splendor.

The fall of Valenciennes as a Protestant city exerted so disastrous and decisive an influence upon the whole country, that it must detain us for a little while. In the end of the year 1566 – the last year of peace which the Netherlands were to see for more than a generation – the regent sent the truculent Noircarmes to demand that Valenciennes should open its gates to a garrison. Strongly fortified, Protestant to all but a fourth or sixth of its population, courageous and united, Valenciennes refused to admit the soldiers of Margaret. Her general thereupon declared it in a state of siege, and invested it with his troops. Its fate engaged the interest of the surrounding villages and distracts, and the peasants, armed with pitchforks, picks, and rusty muskets, assembling to the number of 3,000, marched to its relief. They were met by the troops of Noircarmes, discomfited, and almost exterminated. Another company also marching to its assistance met a similar fate. Those who escaped the slaughter took refuge in the church of Watrelots, only to be overtaken by a more dreadful death. The belfry, into which they had retreated, was set on fire, and the whole perished. These disasters, however, did not dispirit the besieged.

They made vigorous sallies, and kept the enemy at bay. To cut off all communication between the city and the surrounding country, and so reduce the besieged by famine, orders were given to the soldiers to lay the district waste. The villages were pillaged or burned, the inhabitants slaughtered in cold blood, or stripped naked in the dead of winter, or roasted alive over slow fires to amuse a brutal soldiery. Matrons and virgins were sold in public auction at tuck of drum. While these horrible butcheries were being enacted outside Valenciennes, Noircarmes was drawing his lines closer about the city. In answer to a summons from Margaret, the inhabitants offered to surrender on certain conditions. These were indignantly rejected, and Noircarmes now commenced to bombard Valenciennes. It was the morning of Palm-Sunday. The bells in the steeples were chiming the air to which the 22nd Psalm, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" as versified by Marot, was commonly sung. The boom of the cannon, the quaking of the houses, the toppling of the chimneys, mingling with the melancholy chimes of the steeples, and the wailings of the women and children in the streets, formed a scene depressing indeed, and which seems to have weighed down the spirits of the inhabitants into despair. The city sent to Noircarmes offering to surrender on the simple condition that it should not be sacked, and that the lives of the inhabitants should be spared. The general gave his promise only to break it. Noircarmes closed the gates when he had entered. The wealthy citizens he arrested; some hundreds were hanged, and others were sent to the stake. [5] There was no regular sack, but the soldiers were quartered on the inhabitants, and murdered and robbed as they had a mind. The elders and deacons and principal members of the Protestant congregation were put to death. [6] The two Protestant preachers, Guido de Bray and Peregrine de la Grange, the eloquent Huguenot, made their escape, but being discovered they were brought back, cast into a filthy dungeon, and loaded with chains.

In their prison they were visited by the Countess of Reux, who asked them how they could eat and drink and sleep with so heavy a chain, and so terrible a fate in prospect. "My good cause," replied De Bray, "gives me a good conscience, and my good conscience gives me a good appetite." "My bread is sweeter, and my sleep sounder," he continued, "than that of my persecutors." "But your heavy irons?" interposed the countess. "It is guilt that makes a chain heavy," replied the prisoner, "innocence makes mine light. I glory in my chains, I account them my badges of honor, their clanking is to my ear as sweet music; it refreshes me like a psalm." [7]

They were sentenced to be hanged. When their fate was announced to them, says Brandt, "they received it as glad tidings, and prepared as cheerfully to meet it as if they had been going to a wedding-feast." De Bray was careful to leave behind him the secret of his sound sleep in heavy irons and a filthy dungeon, that others in like circumstances might enjoy the same tranquillity. "A good conscience, a good conscience! " "Take care," said he to all those who had come to see him die, "Take care to do nothing against your conscience, otherwise you will have an executioner always at your heels, and a pandemonium burning within you." Peregrine de la Grange addressed the spectators from the ladder, "taking heaven and earth to witness that he died for no cause save that of having preached the pure Word

of God." Guido do Bray kneeled on the scaffold to pray; but the executioner instantly raised him, and compelled him to take his place on the ladder. Standing with the rope round his neck he addressed the people, bidding them give all due reverence to the magistrate, and adhere to the Word of God, which he had purely preached. His discourse was stopped by the hangman suddenly throwing him off. At the instant a strange frenzy seized the soldiers that guarded the market-place. Breaking their ranks, they ran about the town in great disorder, "nobody knowing what ailed them," firing off their muskets, and wounding and killing Papists and Protestants indiscriminately. [8]

We stand on the threshold of a second great era of persecution to the Church of the Netherlands. The horrors of this era, of which the scaffolds of these two learned and eloquent divines mark the commencement, were to be so awful that the sufferings of the past forty years would not be remembered. The severities that attended the fall of the powerful and Protestant Valenciennes discouraged the other cities; they looked to see the terrible Noircarmes and his soldiers arrive at their gates, offering the alternative of accepting a garrison, or enduring siege with its attendant miseries as witnessed in the case of Valenciennes. They made up their minds to submission in the hope of better days to come. If they could have read the future: if they had known that submission would deepen into slavery; that one terrible woe would depart only to make room for another more terrible, and that the despot of Spain, whose heart bigotry had made hard as the nether millstone, would never cease emptying upon them the vials of his wrath, they would have chosen the bolder, which would also have been the better part. Had they accepted conflict, the hardest-fought fields would have been as nothing compared with the humiliations and inflictions that submission entailed upon them. Far better would it have been to have died with arms in their hands than with halters round their necks; far better would it have been to struggle with the foe in the breach or in the field, than to offer their limbs to the inquisitor's rack.

But the Flemings knew not the greatness of the crisis: their hearts fainted in the day of trial. The little city of Geneva had withstood single-handed the soldiers of the Duke of Savoy, and the threats of France and Spain: the powerful Provinces of Brabant and Flanders, with their numerous inhabitants, their strong and opulent cities, and their burghal militia, yielded at the first summons. Even Valenciennes surrendered while its walls were yet entire. The other cities seem to have been conquered by the very name of Noircarmes. The Romanists themselves were astonished at the readiness and abjectness of the submission. "The capture of Valenciennes," wrote Noircarmes to Granvelle, "has worked a miracle. The other cities all come forth to meet me, putting the rope round their own neck." [9] It became a saying, "The governor has found the keys of all the rest of the cities at Valenciennes." [10] Cambray, Hasselt, Maseik, and Maestricht surrendered themselves, as did also Bois-le-Duc. The Reformed in Cambray had driven away the archbishop; now the archbishop returned, accompanied with a party of soldiers, and the Reformed fled in their turn. In the other towns, where hardly a single image had escaped the iconoclast tempest, the Romish worship was restored, and the Protestants were compelled to conform or leave the place. The Prince of Orange had hardly quitted Antwerp, where he had just succeeded in preventing an outbreak which threatened fearful destruction to property and life, when that commercial metropolis submitted its neck to the yoke which it seemed to have cast off with contempt, and returned to a faith whose very symbols it had so recently trampled down as the mire in the streets. Antwerp was soon thereafter honored with a visit from the governor. Margaret signalised her coming by ordering the churches of the Protestants to be pulled down, their children to be re-baptised, and as many of the church-plunderers as could be discovered to be hanged. Her commands were zealously carried out by an obsequious magistracy, [11] It was truly melancholy to witness the sudden change which the Southern Netherlands underwent. Thousands might be seen hurrying from a shore where freedom and the arts had found a home for centuries, where proud cities had arisen, and whither were wafted with every tide the various riches of a world-wide commerce, leaving by their flight the arts to languish and commerce to die. But still more melancholy was it to see the men who remained casting themselves prostrate before altars they had so recently thrown down, and participating in rites which they had repudiated with abhorrence as magical and idolatrous.

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