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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 18 — The siege of Haarlem

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Haarlem – Its Situation – Its Defences – Army of Amazons – Haze on the Lake – Defeat of a Provisioning Party – Commencement of the Cannonade – A Breach – Assault – Repulse of the Foe – Haarlem Reinforced by William – Reciprocal Barbarities – The Siege Renewed – Mining and Countermining-Battles below the Earth – New Breach – Second Repulse of the Besiegers – Toledo contemplates Raising the Siege – Alva Forbids him to do so – The City more Closely Blockaded – Famine – Dreadful Misery in the City – Final Effort of William for its Deliverance – It Fails – Citizens offer to Capitulate – Toledo's Terms of Surrender – Accepted – The Surrender – Dismal Appearance of the City – Toledo's Treachery – Executions and Massacres – Moral Victory to the Protestant Cause – William's Inspiriting Address to the States.

Both sides began to prepare for the inevitable struggle. The Prince of Orange established himself at Leyden, the town nearest to Haarlem on the south, and only some ten English miles distant from it. He hoped from this point to be able to direct the defense, and forward provisions and reinforcements as the, bravo little town might need them. Alva and his son Toledo, on the other hand, when they learned that Haarlem, instead of opening its gates, had resolved to resist, were filled with rage, and immediately gave orders for the march of their troops on that presumptuous little city which had dared to throw down the gage of battle to the whole power of Spain.

Advancing along the causeway which traverses the narrow isthmus that separates the waters of the Haarlem Lake from the Zuyder Zee, the Spanish army, on the 11th of December, 1572, sat down before Haarlem. Regiment continued to arrive after regiment till the beleaguering army was swelled to 30,000, [1] and the city was now completely invested. This force was composed of Spaniards, Germans, and Walloons. The population of Haarlem did not exceed 30,000; that is, it was only equal in number to that of the host now encamped outside its walls. Its ramparts were far from strong; its garrison, even when at the highest, was not over 4,000 men [2] and it was clear that the defense of the town must lie mainly with the citizens, whom patriotism had converted into heroes. Nor did the war-spirit burn less ardently in the breasts of the wives and daughters of Haarlem than in those of their fathers and husbands. Three hundred women, all of them of unblemished character, and some of high birth, enrolled themselves in defense of the city, and donning armor, mounted the walls, or sallying from the gates, mingled with their husbands and brothers in the fierce conflicts waged with the enemy under the ramparts. This army of amazons was led by Kenau Hasselaer, a widow of forty-seven years of age, and a member of one of the first families of Haarlem. [3] "Under her command," says Strada, "her females were emboldened to do soldiers' duty at the bulwarks, and to sally out among the firelocks, to the no less encouragement of their own men than admiration of the enemy."

Toledo's preparations for the siege were favored by a thick mist which hung above the Lake of Haarlem, and concealed his operations. But if the haze favored the Spanish general, it befriended still more the besieged, inasmuch as it allowed provisions and reinforcements to be brought into the city before it was finally invested. Moving on skates, hundreds of soldiers and peasants sped rapidly past the Spanish lines unobserved in the darkness. One body of troops, however, which had been sent by William from Leyden, in the hope of being able to enter the town before its blockade, was attacked and routed, and the cannon and provisions destined for the besieged were made the booty of the Spaniards. About a thousand were slain, and numbers made prisoners and carried off to the gibbets which already bristled all round the walls, and from this time were never empty, relay after relay of unhappy captives being led to execution upon them.

Don Frederic de Toledo had fixed his headquarters at the Gate of the Cross. This was the strongest part of the fortifications, the gate being defended by a ravelin, but Toledo held the besieged in so great contempt that he deemed it a matter of not the least consequence where he should begin his assault, whether at the weakest or at the strongest point.

Haarlem, he believed, following the example of the Flemish cities, would capitulate at almost the first sound of his cannon. He allotted one week for the capture, and another for the massacring and ravishing. This would be ample time to finish at Haarlem; then, passing on in the same fashion from city to city, he would lay waste each in its turn, till nothing but ruins should remain in Holland. With this programme of triumph for himself, and of overthrow for the Dutch, he set vigorously to work. His cannon now began to thunder against the gate and ravelin. In three days a breach was made in the walls, and the soldiers were ordered to cross the ditch and deliver the assault. Greedy of plunder, they rushed eagerly into the breach, but the Spaniards met a resistance which they little anticipated. The alarm-bell in Haarlem was rung, and men, women, and children swarmed to the wall to repel the foe. They opened their cannon upon the assailants, the musketry poured in its fire, but still more deadly was the shower of miscellaneous yet most destructive missiles rained from the ramparts on the hostile masses below. Blocks of stone, boiling pitch, blazing iron hoops, which clung to the necks of those on whom they fell, live coals, and other projectiles equally dreadful, which even Spanish ferocity could not withstand, were hurled against the invaders. After contending some

time with a tempest of this sort, the attacking party had to retire, leaving 300 dead, and many officers killed or wounded.

This repulse undeceived Toledo. He saw that behind these feeble walls was a stout spirit, and that to make himself master of Haarlem would not be the easy achievement he had fancied it would prove. He now began to make his preparations on a scale more commensurate with the difficulty of the enterprise; but a whole month passed away before he was ready to renew the assault. Meanwhile, the Prince of Orange exerted himself, not unsuccessfully, to reinforce the city. The continuance of the frost kept the lake congealed, and he was able to introduce into Haarlem, over the ice, some 170 sledges, laden with munitions and provisions,. besides 400, veteran soldiers. A still larger body of 2,000 men sent by the prince were attacked and routed, having lost their way in the thick mist which, in these winter days, hung almost perpetually around the city, and covered the camp of the besiegers. Koning, the second in command of this expedition, being made prisoner, the Spaniards cut off his head and threw it over the walls into the city, with an inscription which bore that "this Koning or King was on his road, with two thousand auxiliaries, to raise the siege."

The rejoinder of the Haarlemers was in a vein of equal barbarity. They decapitated twelve of their prisoners, and, putting their heads into a cask, they rolled it down into the Spanish trenches, with this label affixed: – "The tax of the tenth penny, with the interest due thereon for delay of payment." The Spaniards retaliated by hanging up a group of Dutch prisoners by the feet in view of their countrymen on the walls; and the besieged cruelly responded by gibbeting a number of Spanish prisoners in sight of the camp. These horrible reciprocities, begun by Alva, were continued all the while that he and his son remained in the Netherlands.

By the end of January, 1573, Toledo was ready to resume the operations of the siege. He dug trenches to protect his men from the fire of the ramparts, a precaution which he had neglected at the beginning, owing to the contempt in which he held the foe. Three thousand sappers had been sent him from the mines of Liege. Thus reinforced he resumed the cannonade. But the vigilance and heroism of the citizens of Haarlem long rendered his efforts abortive. He found it hard by numbers, however great, and skill, however perfect, to batter down walls which a patriotism so lofty defended. The besieged would sally forth at unexpected moments upon the Spanish camp, slay hundreds of the foe, set fire to his tents, seize his cannon and provisions, and return in triumph into the city. When Toledo's artillery had made an opening in the walls, and the Spaniards crowded into the breach, instead of the instant massacre and plunder which their imaginations had pictured, and which they panted to begin, they would find themselves in presence of an inner battery that the citizens had run up, and that awaited the coming of the Spaniards to rain its murderous fire upon them. The sappers and miners would push their underground trenches below the ramparts, but when just about to emerge upon the streets of the city, as they thought, they would find their progress suddenly stopped by a counter-mine, which brought them face to face in the narrow tunnel with the citizens, and they had to wage a hand-to- hand battle with them. These underground combats were of frequent occurrence. At other times the Haarlemers would dig deeper than the Spaniards, and, undermining them, would fill the excavation with gunpowder and set fire to it. The ground would suddenly open, and vomit forth vast masses of earth, stones, mining implements, mixed horribly with the dissevered limbs of human beings.

After some days' cannonading, Toledo succeeded in battering down the wall that extended between the Gate of the Cross and that of St. John, and now he resolved to storm the breach with all his forces. Hoping to take the citizens by surprise, he assembled his troops over-night, and assigning to each his post, and particularly instructing all, he ordered them to advance. Before the sentinels on the walls were aware, several of the storming party had gained the summit of the breach, but here their progress was arrested.

The bells of Haarlem rang out the Mama, and the citizens, roused from sleep, hurried en masse to the ramparts, where a fierce struggle began with the Spaniards. Stones, clubs, fire-brands, every sort of weapon was employed to repel the foe, and the contest was still going on when the day broke. After morning mass in the Spanish camp, Toledo ordered the whole of his army to advance to the walls. By the sheer force of numbers the ravelin which defended the Gate of the Cross was carried – -a conquest that was to cost the enemy dear. The besiegers pressed tumultuously into the fortress, expecting to find a clear path into the city; but a most mortifying check awaited them. The inhabitants, labouring incessantly, had reared a half-moon battery behind the breached portion of the wall, [4] and instead of the various spoil of the city, for which the Spaniards were so greedily athirst, they beheld the cannon of the new erection frowning defiance upon them. The defenders opened fire upon the mass of their assailants pent up beneath, but a yet greater disaster hung over the enemy.

The ravelin had been previously undermined, the citizens foreseeing its ultimate capture, and now when they saw it crowded with the besiegers they knew that the moment was come for firing it. They lighted the match, and in a few moments came the peal of the explosion, and the huge mass, with the hundreds of soldiers and officers whom it enclosed, was seen to soar into

the air, and then descend in a mingled shower of stones and mangled and mutilated bodies. The Spaniards stood aghast at the occurrence. The trumpet sounded a retreat; and the patriots issuing forth, before the consternation had subsided, chased the besiegers to their encampments. [5]

Toledo saw the siege was making no progress. As fast as he battered down the old walls the citizens erected new defences; their constant sallies were taxing the vigilance and thinning the numbers of his troops; more of his men were perishing by cold and sickness than by battle; his supplies were often intercepted, and scarcity was beginning to be felt in his camp; in these circumstances he began to entertain the idea of raising the siege. Not a few of his officers concurred with him, deeming the possession of Haarlem not worth the labor and lives which it was costing. Others, however, were opposed to this course, and Toledo referred the matter to his father, the duke.

The stern Alva, not a little scandalised that his son should for a moment entertain such a thought, wrote commanding him to prosecute the siege, if he would not show himself unworthy of the stock from which he was sprung. He advised him, instead of storming, to blockade the city; but in whatever mode, he must prosecute the siege till Haarlem had fallen. If he was unwilling to go on, Alva said he would come himself, sick though he was; or if his illness should make this impossible, he would bring the duchess from Spain, and place her in command of the army. Stung by this sarcasm, Toledo, regardless of all difficulties, resumed the operations of the siege.

In the middle of February the frost went off, and the ice dissolving, the Lake of Haarlem became navigable. In anticipation of this occurrence, the Prince of Orange had constructed a number of vessels, and lading them with provisions, dispatched them from Leyden. Sailing along the lake, with a favorable wind, they entered Haarlem in safety. This was done oftener than once, and the spectre of famine was thus kept at a distance. The besieged were in good spirits; so long as they held the lake they would have bread to eat, and so long as bread did not fail them they would defend their city. Meanwhile they gave the besiegers no rest. The sallies from the town, sometimes from one quarter, sometimes from another, were of almost daily occurrence. On the 25th of March, 1,000 of the soldier-citizens threw themselves upon the outposts of Toledo's army, drove them in, burned 300 tents, and captured cannon, standards, and many waggon-loads of provisions, and returned with them to the city. The exploit was performed in the face of 30,000 men. This attacking party of 1,000 had slain each his man nearly, having left 800 dead in the Spanish camp, while only four of their own number had fallen. [6] The citizens were ever eager to provoke the Spaniards to battle; and with this view they erected altars upon the walls in sight of the camp, and tricked them out after the Romish fashion; they set up images, and walking in procession dressed in canonicals, they derided the Popish rites, in the hope of stinging the champions of that faith into fighting. They feared the approach of famine more than they did the Spanish sword. Alva was amazed, and evidently not a little mortified, to see such valor in rebels and heretics, and was unable to withhold the expression of his astonishment. "Never was a place defended with such skill and bravery as Haarlem," said he, writing to Philip; "it was a war such as never was seen or heard of in any land on earth." [7]

But now the tide began to turn against the heroic champions of Protestant liberty. Haarlem was more closely invested than ever, and a more terrible enemy than the Spaniards began to make its appearance, gaunt famine namely. Count Bossu, the lieutenant of Toledo, had mustered a fleet of armed vessels at Amsterdam, and entering the Lake of Haarlem, fought a series of naval battles with the ships of the Prince of Orange for the possession of that inland sea. Being a vital point, it was fiercely contested on both sides, and after much bloodshed, victory declared for the Spaniards. This stopped nearly all supplies to the city by water. On the land side Haarlem was as completely blockaded, for Alva had sent forward additional reinforcements; and although William was most assiduous in dispatching relief for the besieged, the city was so strictly watched by the enemy that neither men nor provisions could now enter it. In the end of May bread failed. The citizens sent to make William aware of their desperate straits. The prince employed a carrier pigeon as the bearer of his answer. [8] He bade them endure a little longer, and to encourage them to hold out he told them that he was assembling a force, and hoped soon to be able to throw provisions into their city. Meanwhile the scarcity became greater every day, and by the beginning of June the famine had risen to a most dreadful height. Ordinary food was no longer to be had, and the wretched inhabitants were reduced to the necessity of subsisting on the most loathsome and abominable substitutes. They devoured horses, dogs, cats, mice, and similar vermin. When these failed, they boiled the hides of animals and ate them; and when these too were exhausted, they searched the graveyards for nettles and rank grass. Groups of men, women, and children, smitten down by the famine, were seen dead in the streets. But though their numbers diminished, their courage did not abate. They still showed themselves on the walls, "the few performed the duties of many;" [9] and if a Spanish helmet ventured to appear above the earth-works, a bullet from the ramparts, shot with deadly aim, tumbled its

owner into the trenches.

They again made the prince aware of the misery to which they were reduced, adding that unless succours were sent within a very short time they would be compelled to surrender. William turned his eyes to the Protestant Queen of England, and the Lutheran princes of Germany, and implored them to intervene in behalf of the heroic little city. But Elizabeth feared to break with Philip; and the tide of Jesuit reaction in Germany was at that moment too powerful to permit of its Protestants undertaking any enterprise beyond their own borders; and so the sorely beleaguered city was left wholly in the hands of the prince. He did all which it was possible for one in his circumstances to do for its deliverance. He collected an army of 5,000, chiefly burghers of good condition in the cities of Holland, and sent them on to Haarlem, with 400 waggon-loads of provisions, having first given notice to the citizens by means of carrier pigeons of their approach. This expedition William wished to conduct in person, but the States, deeming his life of more value to Holland than many cities, would not suffer him to risk it, and the enterprise was committed to the charge of Count Battenburg. The expedition set out on the evening of the 8th of July, but the pigeons that carried the letters of Orange having been shot, the plan of relief became known to the Spaniards, and their whole army was put under arms to await the coming of Battenburg. He thought to have passed their slumbering camp at midnight, but suddenly the whole host surrounded him; his fresh troops were unable to withstand the onset of those veterans; 2,000 were slain, including their leader; the rest were dispersed, and the convoy of provisions fell into the hands of the victors. William could do no more – the last hope of Haarlem was gone. [10] The patriots now offered to Surrender on condition that the town were exempt from pillage, and the garrison permitted to march out. Toledo replied that the surrender must be unconditional. The men of Haarlem understood this to mean that Toledo had devoted them to destruction. They had before them death by starvation or death by the Spaniards. The latter they regarded as by much the more dreadful alternative. The fighting men, in their despair, resolved on cutting their way, sword in hand, through the Spanish camp, in the hope that the enemy would put a curb on his ferocity when he found only women and children, and these emaciated and woe-struck, in the city. But the latter, terror-stricken at the thought of being abandoned, threw themselves down before their husbands and brothers, and clinging to their knees, piteously implored them not to leave them, and so melted them that they could not carry out their purpose.

They next resolved to form themselves into a hollow square, and placing their wives and children in the centre, march out and conquer or die. Toledo learned the desperate attempts which the men of Haarlem were revolving; and knowing that there was nothing of which they were not capable, and that should it happen that only ruins were left him, the fruits and honors of his dearly-won victory would escape him, he straightway sent a trumpeter to say that on payment of 200,000 guilders the city would be spared and all in it pardoned, with the exception of fifty-seven persons whom he named. [11]

The exceptions were important, for those who had rendered the greatest service in the siege were precisely those who were most obnoxious to Toledo. It was with agony of mind that the citizens discussed the proposal, which would not have been accepted had not the German portion of the garrison insisted on surrender. A deputation was sent to Toledo on the 12th of July, to announce the submission of the city on the proposed terms. At the very moment that Toledo gave the solemn promise which led to this surrender, he had in his possession a letter from the Duke of Alva, commanding him to put the garrison to the sword, with the exception of the Germans, and to hang all the leading citizens of Haarlem. [12]

The first order issued to the Haarlemers after the surrender was to deposit their arms in the town-house; the second was to shut themselves up, the men in the Monastery of Zyl, and the women in the cathedral. Toledo now entered the city. Implacable, indeed, must that revenge have been which the sights of woe that now met his gaze could not extinguish. After an exposure for seven months to the Spanish cannon, the city was little better than a heap of burning ruins. The streets were blocked up with piles of rubbish, mingled with the skeletons of animals from which the flesh had been torn, and the unburied bodies of those who had fallen in the defense, or died by the famine. But of all the memorials of the siege the most affecting were the survivors. Their protruding bones, parchment skin, hollow cheeks, and sunken eyes made them seem corpses that still retained the power of moving about. If they had been guilty of a crime in defying the soldiers of Spain, surely they had sufficiently atoned for their presumption.

On the third day after the surrender the Duke of Alva visited Haarlem, rode round it, and then took his departure, leaving it to his son to carry out the sequel. The treachery and barbarity of Naarden were repeated here. We shall not shock our readers with details. The fifty-seven persons excepted from the amnesty were, of course, executed; but the murders were far from ending with these. The garrison, with the exception of the Germans, were massacred; 900 citizens were hanged as if they had been the vilest malefactors; the sick in the hospitals were carried out into the courtyard and dispatched; the eloquent Ripperda, whose

patriotic address, already recorded, had so largely contributed to excite the men of Haarlem to resist, was beheaded in company of several noted citizens. Several hundreds of French, English, and Scotch soldiers were butchered. Five executioners, each with a staff of assistants, were kept in constant employment several days. At last, tired of labors and sick with horrors, they took 300 victims that still remained, tied them back to back in couples, and threw them into the lake. [13] The number put to death in cold blood is estimated at about 2,300, in addition to the many thousands that perished in the siege.

So awful was the tragedy of Haarlem! It wore outwardly the guise of victory for the Spaniards and of defeat to the Hollanders; and yet, when closely examined, it is seen to be just the reverse. It had cost Alva 12,000 men; it had emptied his treasury; and, what was worse, it had broken the spell of invincibility, which lent such power to the Spanish arms. Europe had seen a little town defy the power of Philip for seven long months, and surrender at last only from pressure of famine. There was much here to encourage the other cities of Holland to stand for their liberties, and the renewed exhibition of perfidy and cruelty on the part of Toledo deepened their resolution to do so. It was clear that Spain could not accept of many such victories without eventually overthrowing her own power, and at the same time investing the cause of the adversary she was striving to crush with a moral prestige that would in the issue conduct it to triumph.

Such was the view taken by the Prince of Orange on a calm survey of all the circumstances attending the fall of Haarlem. He saw nothing in it that should cause him to think for one moment of abandoning the prosecution of his great design, or that should shake his confidence in the ultimate triumph of his cause; and without abating a jot of courage he wrote to his deputy, Sonoy, in North Holland, to inspirit the States to resist the power of Spain to the death. "Though God," he said, "had suffered Haarlem to fall, ought men therefore to forsake his Word? Was not their cause a righteous one? was not the Divine arm still able to uphold both it and them? Was the destruction of one city the ruin of the Church? The calamities and woes of Haarlem well deserved their commiseration, but the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the Church, and having now had a full disclosure made to them of the character and intentions of their enemy, and that in the war he was waging for the utter extirpation of truth, he shrunk from no perfidy and cruelty, and trampled on all laws, Divine and human, they ought the more courageously to resist him, convinced that the great Ruler would in the end appear for the vindication of the cause of righteousness, and the overthrow of wickedness. If Haarlem had fallen, other and stronger towns still stood, and they had been able to put themselves into a better posture of defense from the long detention of the Spaniards under the walls of Haarlem, which had been subdued at last, not by the power of the enemy, but by the force of famine." The prince wound up his address with a reply to a question the States had put to him touching his foreign alliances, and whether he had secured the friendship of any powerful potentate abroad, on whose aid they could rely in the war. The answer of the prince reveals the depth of his piety, and the strength of his faith. "He had made a strict alliance," he informed the States, "with the Prince of princes for the defense of the good Christians and others of this oppressed country, who never forsook those who trusted in him, and would assuredly, at the last, confound both his and their enemies. He was therefore resolved never to forsake his dear country, but by venturing both life and fortune, to make use of those means which the Lord of Hosts had supplied him with." [14]


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