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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 15 — Failure of William's first campaign

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Execution of Widow van Dieman – Herman Schinkel – Martyrdoms at Ghent – at Bois-le-Duc – Peter van Kulen and his Maid-servant – A New Gag Invented – William Approaches with his Army – His Manifesto – -His Avowal of his Faith – William Crosses the Rhine – Alva Declines Battle – William's Supplies Fail – Flanders Refuses to Rise – William Retires – Alva's Elation – Erects a Statue to himself – Its Inscription – The Pope sends him Congratulations, etc. – Synod of the Church of the Netherlands – Presbyterian Church Government Established.

From the battle-field of Gemmingen, Alva went on his way by Amsterdam and Utrecht and Bois-le-Duc to Brussels, instituting inquiries in every district through which he passed, touching those of the inhabitants who had been concerned in the late tumults, and leaving his track marked throughout by halters and stakes. At Bois-le-Duc he passed sentence on sixty refugees whom he found in that town, sending some to the gallows and others to the fire. Some noblemen and councillors of Utrecht were at the same time executed, and their estates confiscated. Many in those days perished for no other crime but that of being rich. A gentlewoman of eighty-four years, widow of Adam van Dieman, a former Burgomaster of Utrecht, and who had received under her roof for a single night the minister John Arentson, was sentenced to die. When the day came, the executioner made her sit in a chair till he should strike off her head. Being a Romanist she knew that her great wealth had as much to do with her death as the night's lodging she had given the Reformed pastor, for when brought upon the scaffold she asked if there was no room for pardon. The officer answered, "None." "I know what you mean," replied the brave old lady; "the calf is fat, and must therefore be killed." Then turning to the executioner, and jesting playfully on her great age, which ought to have procured her respect and favor, she said, "I hope your sword, is sharp, for you will find my neck somewhat tough." The executioner struck, and her head fell. [1]

A month after (25th of September) the widow of Egbert van Broekhuissen, a wine merchant at Utrecht, was beheaded. Her sentence set forth that she had been at a conventicle, but it was strongly rumoured that her real offense was one on which the judicial record was silent. One of the commissioners of the Council of Blood was a customer of her husband's, and was said to be deep in his debt. It would seem that the judge took this way of paying it, for when the effects of the widow were confiscated for the king's use, the ledger in which the debt was posted could not be found. [2] About the same time three persons were hanged at Haarlem. One of them had mutilated an image; another had been a soldier of Brederode's, the Confederate leader; the third had written a poem, styled the Eecho, satirising the Pope. This man was the father of eight children, whose mother was dead. His own mother, a woman of eighty years, earnestly interceded that he might be spared for his children's sake. But no compassion could be shown him. His two companions had already been strangled; his own foot was on the ladder, when a sudden tumult arose round the scaffold. But the persecutors were not to be defrauded of their prey.

They hurried off their victim to the burgomaster's chamber; there they tied him to a ladder, and having strangled him, they hung up his corpse on the public gallows beside the other two. At Delft, Herman Schinkel, one of the lettered printers of those days, was condemned to die for having printed the "Psalm-book, the Catechism, and the Confession of Faith," or short confession of the Christian doctrine from the Latin of Beza. He made a powerful defence before his judges, but of what avail was it for innocence and justice to plead before such a tribunal? He composed some verses in Latin on his death, which he sent to a friend. He wrote a letter to his infant son and daughters, breathing all the tenderness of a father; and then he yielded up his life. [3]

In Brabant and Flanders the persecution was still more severe. At Ghent, Giles de Meyer, the Reformed pastor, was condemned to the gallows. But the Spaniards who lay there in garrison, deeming this too good a death for the heretical preacher, changed it to one more befitting his demerits.

Putting a gag into his mouth, and throwing him in, bound hand and foot, among a stack of faggots, they set fire to the heap and burned him. Meyer was one of four ministers who all sealed their doctrine with their blood in the same diocese. In the towns and villages around Ghent, men and women were being every day hanged – some simply for having taught children to sing psalms; others for having two years before given the use of their barns for sermon. At Bois-le-Duc, on the 28th of August, 1568, 116 men and three women were cited by toll of bell. Every few days a little batch of prisoners were brought forth, and distributed between the gallows and the block, on no principle that one can see, save the caprice or whim of the executioners. Thus the altars of persecution continually smoked; and strangled bodies and headless trunks were perpetually before the eyes of the miserable inhabitants.

Peter van Kulen, a goldsmith by trade, and an elder of the congregation at Breda, was thrown into prison. He had a maid-servant, a fellow-disciple of the same Lord and Master, who ministered to him in his bonds. She brought him his daily meal in the prison; but other Bread, which the guards saw not, she also conveyed to him – namely, that destined for

the food of the soul; and many a sweet and refreshing repast did he enjoy in his dungeon. His faith and courage were thereby greatly strengthened. This went on for nine months. At last the guards suspected that they had a greater heretic in the servant than in the master, and threw her also into prison. After two months both of them were condemned, and brought out to be burned. As, with cheerful and constant aspect, they were being led to the scaffold, some of their townswomen forced their way through the guards to take their last farewell of them. Van Kulen had the commiseration shown him of being first strangled, and then committed to the fire; but for his pious maid-servant the more pitiless doom was reserved of being burned alive. This woman continued to encourage her master so long as he was capable of understanding her; when her words could no longer be useful to him, she was heard by the bystanders, with invincible courage, magnifying the name of God in the midst of the flames. [4]

It was now that a more dreadful instrument than any which the quick invention of the persecutor had yet devised, was brought into play to prevent the martyrs speaking in their last moments. It was seen how memorable were words spoken in circumstances so awful, and how deep they sank into the hearts of the hearers. It had been usual to put a wooden gag or ball into the mouth of the person to be burned, but the ball would roll out at times, and then the martyr would confess his faith and glorify God. To prevent this, the following dreadful contrivance was resorted to: two small bits of metal were screwed down upon the tongue; the tip of the tongue was then seared with a red-hot iron; instant swelling ensued, and the tongue could not again be drawn out of its enclosure. The pain of burning made it wriggle to and fro in the mouth, yielding "a hollow sound," says Brandt, "much like that of the brazen bull of the tyrant of Sicily."

"Arnold van Elp," continues the historian, "a man of known sincerity, relates that whilst he was a spectator of the martyrdom of some who were thus tongue-tied, he heard a friar among the crowd saying to his companion, 'Hark! how they sing: should they not dance too?'" [5]

From this horrible, though to Alva congenial, work, the viceroy was called away by intelligence that William of Orange was approaching at the head of an army to invade Brabant. To open the gates of the Netherlands to his soldiers, William issued a manifesto, setting forth the causes of the war. "There was," he said, "no resource but arms, unless the ancient charters were to be utterly extinguished, and the country itself brought to ruin by a tyranny exercised, not by the king" (so he still affected to believe), "but by Spanish councillors in the king's name, and to the destruction of the king's interest." To avert this catastrophe was he now in arms. The cause, he affirmed, was that of every man in the Low Countries, and no Netherlander "could remain neutral in this struggle without becoming a traitor to his country." In this manifesto the prince made the first public announcement of that great change which his own religious sentiments had undergone. All that is noble in human character, and heroic in human achievement, must spring from some great truth realised in the soul. William of Orange gave a forecast of his future career – his unselfish devotion, his unwearied toil, his inextinguishable hope of his country – when he avowed in this manifesto his conviction that the doctrines of the Reformed Church were more in accordance with the Word of God than were those of the Roman Church. This elevated the contest to a higher basis. Henceforward it was no longer for ancient Flemish charters alone, it was also for the rights of conscience; it allied itself with the great movement of the human soul for freedom.

The Prince of Orange, advancing from Germany, crossed the Rhine near Cologne, with an army, including horse and foot, not exceeding 20,000. The Spanish host was equal in numbers, but better furnished with military stores and provisions. William approached the banks of the Meuse, which he crossed, much to the dismay of Alva, by a bold expedient, to which Julius Caesar had had recourse in similar circumstances. He placed his cavalry in the river above the ford, and the force of the current being thus broken, the army was able to effect a passage. But Alva declined battle. He knew how slender were the finances of William, and that could he prolong the campaign till the approach of winter, the prince would be under the necessity of disbanding his army. His tactics were completely successful.

Whichever way William turned, Alva followed him; always straitening him, and making it impossible for him to enter any fortified town, or to find provisions for his army in the open country. The autumn wore away in marches and counter-marches, Alva skilfully avoiding battle, and engaging only in slight skirmishes, which, barren of result to William, were profitable to the Spanish general, inasmuch as they helped to consume time. William had expected that Brabant and Flanders would rise at the sight of his standards, and shake off the Spanish yoke. Not a city opened its gates to him, or hoisted on its walls the flag of defiance to the tyrant.

At last both money and provisions failed him. Of the 300,000 guilders which the Flemish Protestants at home and abroad had undertaken to furnish towards the deliverance of the country, barely 12,000 were forthcoming. His soldiers became mutinous, and the prince had no alternative but to lead back his army into Germany and there disband it. The Flemings lost far more than William did. The offer of freedom had come to their

gates with the banners of William, but they failed to perceive the hour of their opportunity. With the retreating standards of the Deliverer liberty also departed, and Belgium sank down under the yoke of Spain and Rome.

The Duke of Alva was not a little elated at his success, and he set about rearing a monument which should perpetuate its fame to after-ages. He caused the cannon taken in the battle of Gemmingen to be melted, and a colossal bronze statue of himself to be cast and set up in the citadel of Antwerp. It pleased Alva to be represented in complete armor, trampling on two prostrate figures, which were variously interpreted, but from the petitions and axes which they held in their hands, and the symbolical devices of the Beggars hung round their necks, they were probably meant to denote the image-breaking Protestants and the Confederates. On the pedestal was the following inscription in Latin: "To the most faithful minister of the best of kings, Ferdinand Alvarez, Duke of Alva, Governor of the Low Countries for Philip II., King of Spain, who, after having extinguished the tumults, expelled the rebels, restored religion, and executed justice, has established peace in the nation." A truly modest inscription! The duke, moreover, decreed himself a triumphal entry into Brussels, in the cathedral of which a Te Deum was sung for his victory.

Nor was this all. Pius V. sent a special ambassador from Rome to congratulate the conqueror, and to present him with a consecrated hat and sword, as the special champion of the Roman Catholic religion. The sword was richly set, being chased with gold and precious stones, and was presented to the duke by the hands of the Bishop of Mechlin, in church after the celebration of mass. The afternoon of the same day was devoted to a splendid tournament, the place selected for the spectacle being the same square in which the bloody tragedy of the execution of Counts Egmont and Horn had so recently been enacted. [6]

It was in the midst of these troubles that the persecuted disciples of the Gospel in the Netherlands met to perfect the organisation of their Church. A synod or assembly was at this time held at Embden, at which Jasper von Heiden, then minister at Franken-deal, presided. At this synod rules were made for the holding of consistories or kirk-sessions, of classes or presbyteries, and synods. The first article of the constitution ordained for the Netherland Church was as follows: – "No Church shall have or exercise dominion over another; no minister, elder, or deacon shall bear rule over another of the same degree; but every one shall beware of his attempting or giving the least cause of suspicion of his aiming at such dominion." "This article," says Brandt," was levelled chiefly at the prelatic order of Rome, as also at the episcopacy established in some of the countries of the Reformation." The ministers assembled signed the Confession of Faith of the Church of the Netherlands, "as an evidence of their uniformity in doctrine;" as also the Confession of the Churches of France, "to show their union and conformity with them." It was agreed that all the ministers then absent, and all who should thereafter be admitted to the office of the ministry, should be exhorted to subscribe these articles. It was also agreed that the Geneva catechism should be used in the French or Walloon congregations, and the Heidelberg catechism in those of the Dutch; but if it happened that any of the congregations made use of any other catechism agreeable to the Word of God, they were not to be required to change it. [7] While Alva was scattering and burning the Netherland Church, its members, regardless of the tyrant's fury, were linking themselves together in the bonds of a scriptural organisation. While his motto was "Raze, raze it," the foundations of that spiritual edifice were being laid deeper and its walls raised higher than before.


Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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