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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 17 — William's second campaign, and submission of Brabant and Flanders

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William's New Levies – He crosses the Rhine – Welcome from Flemish Cities – Sinews of War – Hopes in France – Disappointed by the St. Bartholomew Massacre – Reverses – Mutiny – William Disbands his Army – Alva takes Revenge on the Cities of Brabant – Cruelties in Mons – Mechlin Pillaged – Terrible Fate of Zutphen and Naarden – Submission of the Cities of Brabant – Holland Prepares for Defence – Meeting of Estates at Haarlem – Heroic Resolution – Civil and Ecclesiastical Reorganisation of Holland – Novel Battle on the Ice – Preparations for the Siege of Haarlem.

William, Prince of Orange, Stadtholder and virtual King of Holland, Zealand, and Friesland, if the prayers and suffrages of an entire people can avail to invest one with that august office, was approaching the Netherlands at the head of his newly-enrolled levies. He crossed the Rhine on the 7th of July, 1572, with an army of 17,000 foot and 7,000 horse. Advancing as far as Roermonde, he halted before that town to demand a supply of provisions for his soldiers. The government of the place was in the hands of zealous Roman Catholics, and the refusal of Roermonde to comply with the request of the Liberator was rendered still more ungracious by the haughtiness and insolence with which it was accompanied. William stormed the city and took it. Unhappily his soldiers here dishonored the cause for which the prince was in arms, by putting to death certain priests and monks under circumstances of great barbarity. Germany was at that time a magazine of mercenary soldiers, from which both the Prince of Orange and Alva drew supplies, and troops of this class were but little amenable to discipline when their pay fell into arrears, as was now the case. But William felt that such excesses must be checked at all hazards, otherwise his cause would be disgraced and ultimately ruined; and accordingly he issued an order forbidding all such barbarities in future under pain of death. [1]

For some time his march was a triumphal one. The standards of William shed a gleam through the darkness that shrouded Brabant, and the spirits of its terror-stricken inhabitants for a moment revived. On the first occasion when the Deliverer approached their cities, the Flemings abode within their gates, but now they seemed as if they would rise at his call, and redeem themselves from the yoke of Spain. The important city of Mechlin declared in his favor. Louvain refused to admit a garrison of his soldiers, but sent him a contribution of 16,000 ducats. Tirlemont, Termonde, Oudenarde, Nivelles, and many other towns and villages opened their gates to the prince; the most part spontaneously, in the eager hope of deliverance from a tyranny which threatened to cease its ravages only when nothing more should be left in the Netherlands to destroy. A successful beginning of the great struggle had been made, but now the prince began to be in straits. The friends of the cause had not yet realised its full grandeur or its immense difficulty, and their scale of giving was totally inadequate. If the tide of bigotry and tyranny now overflowing Christendom was to be stemmed, the friends of liberty, both at home and abroad, must not be sparing either of their blood or their gold. But as yet it was hardly understood that all must be parted with if the pearl of freedom was to be won.

But if the States of Holland, and the refugees in England and other countries, were sending supplies which were disproportionate to the enormous expense to which William had been put in levying, equipping, and maintaining his troops, he had the best hopes of succours from France. The net was being then woven for the Huguenots, and their great chief, Admiral Coligny, was being caressed at the court of the Louvre. "I will fight Philip of Spain on the soil of the Netherlands," said that consummate dissembler, Charles IX. "William of Orange shall not want for money and soldiers," continued he, with a frankness that seemed the guarantee of a perfect sincerity. Coligny suffered himself to be persuaded of the good faith of the king, and labored to produce the same conviction in the mind of the Prince of Orange, bidding him expect him soon at the head of 15,000 Huguenots. William, believing that France was at his back, thought that the campaign could have but one issue – namely, the expulsion of the Spaniards, and the liberation of the Netherlands from their unbearable yoke. But his hopes were destined to a cruel overthrow. Instead of an army of Huguenots to help him on to victory, there came tidings that felled him to the earth. Three weeks from the date of Coligny's letter, William received the terrible news of the St. Bartholomew Massacre. The men who were to have emancipated the Low Countries were watering with their blood and strewing with their corpses the plains of their native land! The Prince of Orange opened his eyes on blank desolation; he saw the campaign ending in inevitable failure, and the dark night of Spanish oppression again closing in around a country which he had believed to be as good as emancipated. The shock was terrible, but the lesson was salutary. Those instruments whom Providence selects to fight the holy battles of religion and freedom need a higher training than ordinary warriors. To genius and courage heroes of this class must add faith; but this quality they can acquire only in the school of repeated disappointment. They can never learn this virtue in the midst of numerous and victorious hosts, where success is won by mere numbers, and where victory is of that ordinary and vulgar sort which the worst as well as the best of causes can command.

The fate of his second campaign had been decided at Paris when the St. Bartholomew was struck,

but William still continued to prosecute the war. His attempts, however, to stem the swelling tide of Spanish tyranny were without success. First, he failed to relieve his brother, who was shut up in the city of Mons, besieged by Alva; next, he himself narrowly escaped being captured by the Spaniards in a night attack on his camp, in which 600 of his soldiers were slain. He owed his escape to a small spaniel which he kept in his bed-chamber, and which awoke him by scratching his face. [2] There followed a mutiny of his troops, provoked by the repeated disasters that had befallen them, and the arrears due to them, but which the prince was unable to discharge; they talked, indeed, of delivering him up to Alva. They soon became ashamed of having harboured so base a design, but the incident convinced William that he had no alternative but to disband his army and retire to Holland, and this course he now adopted.

The departure of the Prince of Orange was the signal for Alva to take a terrible revenge on those cities in Brabant which had hoisted the flag of the Deliverer. Mons surrendered, but the terms of the capitulation were most perfidiously violated by the Spaniards. The citizens were sent in hundreds to the gallows; murder and spoliation ran riot in its streets; the axe and the halter rested not for well-nigh a whole year, till the awful silence proclaimed that Mons was now little else than a charnel-house. Its commercial prosperity never recovered this terrible blow. Those of its merchants and artisans who had escaped the gibbet were driven away, and only beggars and idlers were left in their room – a meet population, surely, to wear the yoke of Spain.

In the eyes of Alva, the archiepiscopal city of Mechlin was a greater offender than even Mons, and he resolved to wreak upon it, if possible, a yet more terrible vengeance. Considering the strength of its Romanism, and the rank and influence of its clergy, one would have expected that it would be the last city in Brabant to open its gates to William; it was, as we have seen, the first. The conqueror resolved that it should suffer as pre-eminently as it had sinned. His regiments had recently received no pay, and Alva pointed to the rich city of the priests, and bade them seek their wages in it. The soldiers threw themselves upon the town, like a pack of hungry wolves upon their prey. Some swam the moat, others battered open the gates, while hundreds, by the help of scaling-ladders, climbed the walls, and swarmed down into the city. Along every street and lane poured a torrent of furious men, robbing, murdering, violating, without making the least distinction between friend and foe, Papist and Protestant.

No age, nor sex, nor rank, nor profession had exemption from the sword, or the worse brutality of the soldiery. Blood flowed in torrents. Churches, monasteries, private dwellings, and public establishments were broken into and pillaged to the last penny. Altars were pulled down, the chalices and other rich vessels used in the mass were carried off, the very Host itself was profaned and trodden under foot by men who professed to regard it as the body and soul of Christ, and who had come from a distant land to avenge the insults which had been offered to it by others. Their rage far exceeded that of the iconoclasts, who had vented their fury on idols alone. Three days this dreadful work went on, [3] and then the soldiers of Alva collected their booty, and carrying it on board ship, sent it off to Antwerp, to be converted into money. [4] The inhabitants of the other cities which had submitted to William were permitted to redeem their lives by the payment of an enormous ransom.

Not so, however, the cities of Zutphen and Naarden. Zutphen was subjected to the same shocking barbarities which had been inflicted on Mechlin. Here the spoil to be gathered was less, for the town was not so rich as Mechlin, but the licence given to the sword was on that account all the greater; and when the soldiers grew weary with slaughtering, they threw their victims into the Issel, and indulged themselves in the horrid pastime of pelting the drowning men and women with missiles as they rose to the surface before finally sinking. We record the fate of Naarden last, because its doom was the most appalling of the three; for it is a series of horrors which we are thus briefly tracing to its climax. Naarden opened its gates to Don Frederic de Toledo, the son of Alva, on a promise of immunity from sack for a slight equivalent. The promise of Toledo was violated with a shocking perfidy. First the male population were put to the sword; then their wives and daughters were brutally outraged, and afterwards nearly all were massacred. The dwellings, the convents, and the hospitals were ransacked for treasure and spoil; and when the fiends had satiated to the utmost their bloodthirstiness, lust, and greed, they drove out the few miserable inhabitants that remained into the open fields, and setting fire to Naarden they burned it to the ground. A blackened spot covered with charred ruins, ashes, and the remains of human carcases marked where the city had stood. It was amid these clouds and tempests that the year 1572 closed. What a contrast to the brilliant promise with which it had opened, when city after city was hanging out the banner of William upon its walls, and men were congratulating themselves float the black night of Spanish usurpation and oppression had come to an end, and the fair morning of independence had dawned! Smitten down by the mailed hand of Alva, the cities of Brabant and Flanders are again seen creeping back into their chains.

Occupied in the siege of Mons and the

reduction of the revolted towns in the Southern Netherlands, the Spanish army were compelled meanwhile to leave the Northern Provinces in peace. The leisure thus afforded them the Hollanders wisely turned to account by increasing the number of their ships, repairing the fortifications of their towns, and enrolling soldiers.

They saw the terrible legions of Alva coming nearer every day, their path marked in ruins and blood; but they were not without hope that the preparations they had made, joined to the natural defences of their country, here intersected by rivers, there by arms of the sea, would enable them to make a more successful resistance than Brabant and Flanders had done. When the tyrant should ask them to bow again their necks to the yoke, they trusted to be able to say, "No," without undergoing the terrible alternative with which Alva chastised refusal in the case of the Brabant cities – namely, halters for themselves, and horrible outrage for their families. Meanwhile they waited anxiously for the coming of William. He would breathe courage into their hearts, ready to faint at the dreaded prowess of the Spaniards.

At length William arrived in Holland; but he came alone; of the 24,000 troops which he had led into the Netherlands at the opening of his second campaign, only seventy horsemen now remained; nevertheless, his arrival was hailed with joy, for the Hollanders felt that the wisdom, patriotism, and bravery of the prince would be to them instead of an army. William met the Estates at Haarlem, and deliberated with them on the course to be taken. It was the darkest hour of the Netherlands. The outlook all round was not only discouraging, but appalling. The wealthy Flanders and Brabant were again under the heel of the haughty and cruel Spaniard. Of their populous cities, blackened ruins marked the site of some; those that existed were sitting in sullen silence with the chain around their neck; the battle for liberty of conscience had been forced back into the Northern Holland; here the last stand must be made; the result must be victory or utter extermination. The foe with whom the Hollanders were to do battle was no ordinary one; he was exasperated to the utmost degree; he neither respected an oath nor spared an enemy; if they should resist, they had in Naarden an awful monument before their eyes of what their own fate would be if their resistance were unsuccessful; and yet the alternative! Submission to the Spanish yoke! Rather ten deaths than endure a slavery so vile. The resolution of the Convention was prompt and decided: they would worship according to their consciences or die.

William now began to prepare for the great struggle. His sagacity taught him that Holland needed other defences besides ships and walls and soldiers, if it was to bear the immense strain to which it was about to be subjected. First of all, he settled the boundaries of his own power, by voluntarily agreeing to do nothing but with the consent of the States. By limiting he strengthened his influence. Next he consolidated the union of the nation by admitting twelve new cities into the Convention, and giving them the same voice in public affairs as the older towns. He next set about re-organising the civil service of the country, which had fallen into great disorder during these unsettled times. Many of the principal inhabitants had fled; numbers of the judges and officers of the revenue had abandoned their posts, to the great detriment of justice and the loss of the finances. William filled up these vacancies with Protestants, deeming them the only thoroughly trustworthy persons in a contest that was to determine which of the two faiths was to be the established religion of Holland.

Before opening the campaign, the Prince of Orange took a step toward the settlement of the religious question. It was resolved that both Papists and Protestants should enjoy the public exercise of their worship, and that no one should be molested on account of his religion, provided he lived quietly, and kept no correspondence with the Spaniards. [5] In this William obeyed the wishes of the great body of the people of Holland, who had now espoused the Reformed faith, and at the same time he laid a basis for unity of action by purging out, so far as he could, the anti-national element from the public service, and took reasonable precautions against surprise and treachery when Holland should be waging its great battle for existence.

At the moment that the Hollanders were not unnaturally oppressed with grave thoughts touching the issue of the struggle for which they were girding themselves, uncertain whether their country was to become the burial-place of their liberties and their persons, or the theater of a yet higher civilisation, an incident occurred that helped to enliven their spirits, and confirm them in their resolution to resist. The one city in Holland that remained on the side of Alva was Amsterdam, and thither Toledo, after the butchery at Naarden, marched with his army. In the shallow sea around Amsterdam, locked up in the ice, lay part of the Dutch fleet. The Spanish general sent a body of troops over the frozen waters to attack the ships.

Their advance was perceived, and the Dutch soldiers, fastening on their skates, and grasping their muskets, descended the ships' sides to give battle to the Spaniards. Sweeping with the rapidity of a cloud towards the enemy, they poured a deadly volley into his ranks, and then wheeling round, they retreated with the same celerity out of reach of his fire. In this fashion they kept advancing and retreating, each time doing murderous execution upon the Spanish lines, while their own ranks remained unbroken. Confounded by this novel method of battle, the Spaniards were compelled to quit the field, leaving some hundreds of their dead upon the ice. Next day a thaw set in, which lasted just long enough

to permit the Dutch fleet to escape, while the returning frost made pursuit impossible. The occurrence was construed by the Dutch as a favorable omen.

Established at Amsterdam, the Spanish sword had cut Holland in two, and from this central point it was resolved to carry that sword over North and South Holland, making its cities, should they resist, so many Naardens, and its inhabitants slaves of Alva or corpses. It was agreed to begin with Haarlem, which was some twelve English miles to the south-west of Amsterdam. Toledo essayed first of all to win over the citizens by mediation, thinking that the fate of Naarden had inspired them with a salutary terror of his arms, and that they only waited to open their gates to him. The tragic end of Naarden had just the opposite effect on the citizens of Haarlem. It showed them that those who submitted and those who resisted met the same fearful destruction. Notwithstanding, two of the magistrates, moved by terror and cowardice, secretly opened negotiations with Toledo for the surrender of Haarlem; but no sooner did this come to the ears of Ripperda, a Friesland gentleman, to whom William had committed the government of the town, than he assembled the citizens and garrison in the marketplace, and warned them against entertaining the idea of submission. What have those gained, he asked, who have trusted the promise of the Spaniards? Have not these men shown that they are as devoid of faith as they are of humanity? Their assurances are only a stratagem for snatching the arms from your hands, and then they will load you with chains or butcher you like sheep. From the blood-sprinkled graves of Mechlin, of Zutphen, and of Naarden the voices of our brethren call on you to resist. Let us remember our oath to the Prince of Orange, whom we have acknowledged the only lawful governor of the Province; let us think of the righteousness of our cause, and resolve, rather than live the slaves of the Spaniards, to die with arms in our hands, fighting for our religion and our laws. This appeal was responded to by the stout-hearted citizens with enthusiastic shouts. As one man they proclaimed their resolution to resist the Spaniard to the death.


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