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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 14 — William unfurls his standard – Execution of Egmont and Horn

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William cited by the Blood Council – His Estates Confiscated – Solicited to Unfurl the Standard against Spain – Funds raised – Soldiers Enlisted – The War waged in the King's Name – Louis of Nassau – The Invading Host Marches – Battle at Dam – Victory of Count Louis – Rage of Alva – Executions – Condemnation of Counts Egmont and Horn – Sentence intimated to them – Egmont's Conduct on the Scaffold – Executed – Death of Count Horn – Battle of Gemmingen – Defeat of Count Louis.

The Prince of Orange had fled from the Netherlands, as we have already seen, and retired to his patrimonial estates of Nassau. Early in the year 1568 the Duke of Alva cited him to appear before the Council of Blood. It was promised that the greatest lenity would be shown him, should be obey the summons, but William was far too sagacious to walk into this trap. His brother Louis of Nassau, his brother-in-law Count van den Berg, and the Counts Hoogstraaten and Culemberg were summoned at tke same time; thrice fourteen days were allowed them for putting in an appearance; should they fail to obey, they were, at the expiration of that period, to incur forfeiture of their estates and perpetual banishment. It is needless to say that these noblemen did not respond to Alva's citation, and, as a matter of course, their estates were confiscated, and sentence of banishment was recorded against them.

Had they succeeded in ensnaring William of Orange, the joy of Philip and Alva would have been unbounded. His sagacity, his strength of character, and his influence with his countrymen, made his capture of more importance to the success of their designs than that of all the rest of the Flemish nobility. Their mortification, when they found that he had escaped them, was therefore extreme. His figure rose menacingly before them in their closets; he disturbed all their calculations; for while this sagacious and dauntless friend of his country's liberties was at large, they could not be sure of retaining their hold on the Netherlands, their prey might any day be wrested from them. But though his person had escaped them, his property was within their reach, and now his numerous estates in France and the Low Countries were confiscated, their revenues appropriated for the uses of Philip, and his eldest son, Count van Buren, a lad of thirteen, and at the time a student in the University of Louvain, was seized as a hostage and carried off to Spain.

There was but one man to whom the inhabitants, in the midst of their ever-accumulating misery and despair, could look with the smallest hope of deliverance. That was the man whom we have just seen stripped of his property and declared an outlaw. The eyes of the exiles abroad were also turned to William of Orange. He began to be earnestly importuned by the refugees in England, in Germany, in Cleves and other parts, to unfurl the standard and strike for his country's liberation. William wished to defer the enterprise in the hope of seeing Spain involved in war with some other nation, when it would be more easy to compel her to let go her hold upon the unhappy Netherlands. But the exiles were importunate, for their numbers were being daily swelled by the new horrors that were continually darkening their native country. William therefore resolved to delay no longer, but instantly to gird himself in obedience to the cry from so many countries, and the yet louder cry, though expressed only in groans, that was coming to him from the Netherlands.

His first care was to raise the necessary funds and soldiers. He could not begin the war with a less sum in hand than two hundred thousand florins. The cities of Antwerp, Haarlem, Amsterdam, and others contributed one-half of that sum; the refugee merchants in London and elsewhere subscribed largely. His brother, Count John of Nassau, gave a considerable sum; and the prince himself completed the amount needed by the sale of his plate, furniture, tapestry, and jewels, which were of great value. In this way were the funds provided.

For troops the chief reliance of William was on the Protestant princes of Germany. He represented to them the danger with which their own prosperity and liberties would be menaced, should the Netherlands be occupied by the Spaniards, and their trade destroyed by the foreign occupation of the sea-board, and the conversion of its great commercial cities into camps. The German princes were not insensible to these considerations, and not only did they advance him sums of money they winked at his levying recruits within their territories. He reckoned, too, on receiving help from the Huguenots of France; nor would the Protestant Queen of England, he trusted, be lacking to him at this crisis. He could confidently reckon on the Flemish refugees scattered all over the northern countries of Europe. They had been warriors as well as traders in their own country, and he could rely on their swelling his ranks with brave and patriotic soldiers. With these resources – how diminutive when compared with the treasures and the armies of that Power to which he was throwing down the gage of battle! – -William resolved on beginning his great struggle.

By a fiction of loyalty this war against the king was made in the name of the king. William unfurled his standard to drive out the Spaniards from Philip's dominions of the Netherlands, in order that he might serve the interests of the king by saving the land from utter desolation, the inhabitants from dire slavery, the charters and privileges from extinction, and religion from utter overthrow. He gave a commission to his brother, dated Dillenburg, 6th April, 1568, to levy troops for the war to be waged for these objects. Louis of Nassau was one of the best soldiers of the

age, and had the cause as much at heart as the prince himself. The count was successful in raising levies in the north of Germany. The motto of his arms was "The freedom of the nation and of conscience," and blazoned on his banners were the words "Victory or death." [1]

Besides the soldiers recruited in the north of Germany by Count Louis, levies had been raised in France and in the Duchy of Cleves, and it was arranged that the liberating army should enter the Netherlands at four points. One division was to march from the south and enter by Artois; a second was to descend along the Meuse from the east; Count Louis was to attack on the north; and the prince himself, at the head of the main body of liberators, was to strike at the heart of the Netherlands by occupying Brabant. The attacking forces on the south and east were repulsed with great slaughter; but the attack on the north under Count Louis was signally successful.

On the 24th April, 1568, the count entered the Provinces and advanced to Dam, on the shores of the Bay of Dollart, the site of thirty-three villages till drowned in a mighty inundation of the ocean. Troops of volunteers were daily joining his standard. Here Count Aremberg, who had been sent by Alva with a body of Spanish and Sardinian troops to oppose him, joined battle with him. The Count of Nassau's little army was strongly posted.

On the right was placed his cavalry, under the command of his brother Count Adolphus. On the left his main army was defended by a hill, on which he had planted a strong band of musketeers. A wood and the walls of a convent guarded his rear; while in front stretched a morass full of pits from which peat had been dug. When the Spaniards came in sight of the enemy drawn up in two little squares on the eminence, they were impatient to begin battle, deeming it impossible that raw levies could withstand them for a moment. Their leader, who knew the nature of the ground, strove to restrain their ardor, but in vain; accusations of treachery and cowardice were hurled at him. "Let us march," said Aremberg, his anger kindled, "not to victory, but to be overcome." The soldiers rushed into the swamp, but though now sensible of their error, they could not retreat, the front ranks being pushed forward by those in the rear, till they were fairly under the enemy's fire. Seeing the Spaniards entangled in the mud, Count Louis attacked them in front, while his brother broke in upon their flank with the cavalry. The musketeers poured in their shot upon them, and one of the squares of foot wheeling round the base of the hill took them in the rear; thus assailed on all sides, and unable to resist, the Spanish host was cut in pieces. Both Adolphus, brother of Louis of Nassau, and Aremberg, the leader of the Spaniards, fell in the battle. The artillery, baggage, and military chest of the Spaniards became the booty of the conquerors. [2]

This issue of the affair was a great blow to Alva. He knew the effect which the prestige of a first victory was sure to have in favor of William. He therefore hastened his measures that he might march against the enemy and inflict on him summary vengeance for having defeated the veteran soldiers of Spain. The first burst of the tyrant's rage fell, however, not on the patriot army, but on those unhappy persons who were in prison at Brussels. Nineteen Confederate noblemen, who had been condemned for high treason by the Council of Blood, were ordered by Alva for immediate execution. They were all beheaded in the horse-market of Brussels. Eight died as Roman Catholics, and their bodies received Christian burial; the remaining eleven professed the Reformed faith, and their heads stuck on poles, and their bodies fastened to stakes, were left to moulder in the fields. [3] The next day four gentlemen suffered the same fate. Count Culemberg's house at Brussels was razed to the ground, and in the center of the desolated site a placard was set up, announcing that the ill-omened spot had been made an execration because the great "Beggar Confederacy" against king and Church had been concocted here. These minor tragedies but heralded a greater one.

The last hours of Counts Egmont and Horn were now come. They had lain nine months in the Castle of Ghent, and conscious of entire loyalty to the king, they had not for a moment apprehended a fatal issue to their cause; but both Philip and Alva had from the first determined that they should die. The secretary of Egmont, Bakkerzeel, was subjected to the torture, in the hope of extorting from him condemnatory matter against his master.

His tormentors, however, failed to extract anything from him which they could use against Egmont, whereat Alva was so enraged that he ordered the miserable man to be pulled in pieces by wild horses. The condemnation of the unfortunate noblemen was proceeded with all the same. They were brought from Ghent to Brussels under a strong escort. Alva, faking up one of the blank slips with Philip's signature, of which he had brought a chestful from Spain, drafted upon it the sentence of Egmont, condemning him to be beheaded as a traitor. The same formality was gone through against Count Horn. The main accusation against these noblemen was, that they had been privy to the Confederacy, which had been formed to oppose the introduction of the Inquisition and edicts; and that they had met with the Prince of Orange at Dendermonde, to deliberate about opposing the entrance of the king's army into the Netherlands. They knew indeed of the Confederacy, but they had not been members of it; and as regarded the conference at Dendermonde, they had been present at that meeting,

but they had, as our readers will remember, disapproved and opposed the proposition of Louis of Nassau to unite their endeavours against the entrance of the Spanish troops into Flanders. But innocence or guilt were really of no account to the Blood Council, when it had fixed on the victim to be sacrificed. The two counts were roused from sleep at midnight, to have the sentence of death intimated to them by the Bishop of Ypres.

At eleven o'clock of the following day (5th of May) they were led to execution. The scaffold had been erected in the center of the great square of Brussels, standing hard by if not on the identical spot where the stake of the first martyrs of the Reformation in the Netherlands had been set up. It was covered with black cloth; nineteen companies of soldiers kept guard around it; a vast assembly occupied the space beyond, and the windows of the houses were crowded with spectators, among whom was Alva himself, who had come to witness the tragedy of his own ordering. Count Egmont was the first to ascend the scaffold, accompanied by the Bishop of Ypres.

He had walked thither, reciting the 51st Psalm: "In the multitude of thy compassions, O God, blot out all mine iniquities," etc. He conducted himself with dignity upon the scaffold. It was vain to think of addressing the spectators; those he wished to reach were too far off to hear him, and his words would have fallen only on the ears of the Spanish soldiers. After a few minutes' conversation with the bishop, who presented him with a silver cross to kiss, and gave him his benediction, the count put off his black mantle and robe of red damask, and taking the Cross of the Golden Fleece from his neck, he knelt down and put his head on the block. Joining his hands as if in the act of supplication, he cried aloud, "O Lord, into thy hands I commit my spirit." Thereupon the executioner emerged from underneath the scaffold, where till that moment he had been concealed, and at one blow severed his head from his body.

Count Horn was next led upon the scaffold. He inquired whether Egmont were already dead. His eye was directed to a black cloth, which had been hastily thrown over the trunk and severed head of that nobleman, and he was told that the remains of Egmont were underneath. "We have not met each other," he observed, "since the day we were apprehended." The crucifix presented to him he did not kiss; but he kneeled on the scaffold to pray. His devotions ended, he rose up, laid his head on the block, and uttering in Latin the same exclamation which Egmont had used, he received the stroke of the sword. The heads of the two counts were stuck up on iron poles on the scaffold, between burning torches, and exhibited till late in the afternoon. This horrible deed very much deepened the detestation and abhorrence in which both Philip and Alva were held by the Netherlanders. [4]

The dismal tragedy ended, Alva was at liberty to turn his attention to the war. He set out from Brussels with an army of 12,000 foot and 3,000 horse to meet Louis of Nassau. He came up with him (14th of July, 1568) in the neighborhood of Groningen. On the approach of the duke, Count Louis retreated to the small town of Gemmingen on the Ems, where he encamped. His position was not unlike that in which he had joined battle with Aremberg, being strongly defended by morasses and swamps. The soldiers under him were somewhat inferior in numbers, but far more inferior in discipline, to the troops led by Alva. But Count Louis was more in want of money than men. The pay of his soldiers was greatly in arrear, and when they saw the Spaniards approach, and knew that a battle was imminent, they refused to fight till first their arrears had been paid.

Intelligence of this mutinous disposition was duly carried to Alva by spies, and he accordingly chose that moment to attack. Count Louis and the Flemish exiles fought bravely, but deserted by the German mutineers, they were compelled at last to retreat. The Spanish army rushed into the camp; most of the Germans who had refused to fight were put to the sword; Count Louis, with the remains of his routed host, escaped across the river Ems, and soon thereafter, in company with Count Hoogstraaten, he set out for Germany to join his brother, the Prince of Orange. [5]

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