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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 20 — Third campaign of William, and death of Count Louis of Nassau

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Middelburg – Its Siege – Capture by the Sea Beggars-Destruction of One-half of the Spanish Fleet – Sea-board of Zealand and Holland in the hands of the Dutch – William's Preparations for a Third Campaign – Funds – France gives Promises, but no Money – Louis's Army – Battle of Mook – Defeat and Death of Louis – William's Misfortunes – His Magnanimity and Devotion – His Greatness of the First Rank – He Retires into Holland – Mutiny in Avila's Army – The Mutineers Spoil Antwerp – Final Destruction of Spanish Fleet – Opening of the Siege of Leyden – Situation of that Town – Importance of the Siege – Stratagem of Philip – Spirit of the Citizens.

The only town in the important island of Walcheren that now held for the King of Spain was Middelburg. It had endured a siege of a year and a half at the hands of the soldiers of the Prince of Orange. Being the key of the whole of Zealand, the Spaniards struggled as hard to retain it as the patriots did to gain possession of it. The garrison of Middelburg, reduced to the last extremity of famine, were now feeding on horses, dogs, rats, and other revolting substitutes for food, and the Spanish commander Mondrogon, a brave and resolute man, had sent word to Requesens, that unless the town was succored ill a very few days it must necessarily surrender. Its fall would be a great blow to the interests of Philip, and his Governor of the Low Countries exerted himself to the utmost to throw supplies into it, and enable it to hold out. He collected, a fleet of seventy-five sail at Bergen-op-Zoom, another of thirty ships at Antwerp, and storing them with provisions and military equipments, he ordered them to steer for Middelburg and relieve it. But unhappily for Requesens, and the success of his project, the Dutch were masters at sea. Their ships were manned by the bravest and most skillful sailors in the world; nor were they only adventurous seamen, they were firm patriots, and ready to shed the last drop of their blood for their country and their religious liberties.

They served not for wages, as did many in the land armies of the prince, which being to a large extent made up of mercenaries, were apt to mutiny when ordered into battle, if it chanced that their pay was in arrears; the soldiers of the fleet were enthusiastic in the cause for which they fought, and accounted that to beat the enemy was sufficient reward for their valor and blood.

The numerous fleet of Requesens, in two squadrons, was sailing down the Scheldt (27th January, 1574), on its way to raise the siege of Middelburg, when it sighted near Romerswael, drawn up in battle array, the ships of the Sea Beggars. The two fleets closed in conflict. After the first broadside, ship grappled with ship, and the Dutch leaping on board the Spanish vessels, a hand-to-hand combat with battle-axes, daggers, and pistols, was commenced on the deck of each galley. The admiral's ship ran foul of a sand-bank, and was then set fire to by the Zealanders; the other commander, Romers, hastened to his relief, but only to have the flames communicated to his own ship. Seeing his galley about to sink, Romers jumped overboard and saved his life by swimming ashore. The other ships of the Spanish fleet fared no better The Zealanders burnt some, they sunk others, and the rest they seized. The victory was decisive. Twelve hundred Spaniards, including the Admiral De Glimes, perished in the flames of the burning vessels, or fell in the fierce struggles that raged on their decks. Requesens himself, from the dyke of Zacherlo, had witnessed, without being able to avert, the destruction of his fleet, which he had constructed at great expense, and on which he built such great hopes. When the second squadron learned that the ships of the first were at the bottom of the sea, or in the hands of the Dutch, its commander instantly put about and made haste to return to Antwerp. The surrender of Middelburg, which immediately followed, gave the Dutch the command of the whole sea-board of Zealand and Holland.

Success was lacking to the next expedition undertaken by William. The time was come, he thought, to rouse the Southern Netherlands, that had somewhat tamely let go their liberties, to make another attempt to recover them before the yoke of Spain should be irretrievably riveted upon their neck. Accordingly he instructed his brother, Count Louis, to raise a body of troops in Germany, where he was then residing, in order to make a third invasion of the Central Provinces of the Low Countries. There would have been no lack of recruits had Louis possessed the means of paying them; but his finances were at zero; his brother's fortune, as well as his own, was already swallowed up, and before enlisting a single soldier, Louis had first of all to provide funds to defray the expense of the projected expedition. He trusted to receive some help from the German princes, he negotiated loans from his own relations and friends, but his main hopes were rested on France. The court of Charles IX. was then occupied with the matter of the election of the Duke of Anjou to the throne of Poland, and that monarch was desirous of appearing friendly to a cause which, but two years before, he had endeavored to crush in the St. Bartholomew Massacre; and so Count Louis received from France as many promises as would, could he have coined them into gold, have enabled him to equip and keep in the field ten armies; but of sterling money he had scarce so much as to defray the expense of a single battalion. He succeeded, however, in levying a force of some 4,000 horse and 7,000 foot

[1] in the smaller German States, and with these he set out about the beginning of February, 1575, for Brabant. He crossed the Rhine, and advanced to the Meuse, opposite Maestricht, in the hope that his friends in that town would open its gates when they saw him approach. So great was their horror of the Spaniards that they feared to do so; and, deeming his little army too weak to besiege so strongly fortified a place, he continued his march down the right bank of the river till he came to Roeremonde. Here, too, the Protestants were overawed. Not a single person durst show himself on his side. He continued his course along the river-banks, in the hope of being joined by the troops of his brother, according to the plan of the campaign; the Spanish army, under Avila, following him all the while on a parallel line on the opposite side of the river. On the 13th of April, Louis encamped at the village of Mock, on the confines of Cleves; and here the Spaniards, having suddenly crossed the Meuse and sat down right in his path, offered him battle. He knew that his newly-levied recruits would fight at great disadvantage with the veteran soldiers of Spain, yet the count had no alternative but to accept the combat offered him. The result was disastrous in the extreme. After a long and fierce and bloody contest the patriot army was completely routed. Present on that fatal field, along with Count Louis, were his brother Henry, and Duke Christopher, son of the Elector of the Palatinate; and repeatedly, during that terrible day, they intrepidly rallied their soldiers and turned the tide of battle, but only to be overpowered in the end. When they saw that the day was lost, and that some 6,000 of their followers lay dead around them, they mustered a little band of the survivors, and once more, with fierce and desperate courage, charged the enemy. They were last seen fighting in the melee. From that conflict they never emerged, nor were their dead bodies ever discovered; but no doubt can be entertained of their fate. Falling in the general butchery, their corpses would be undistinguishable in the ghastly heap of the slain, and would receive a common burial with the rest of the dead.

So fell Count Louis of Nassau. He was a brilliant soldier, an able negotiator, and a firm patriot. In him the Protestant cause lost an enthusiastic and enlightened adherent, his country's liberty a most devoted champion, and his brother, the prince, one who was "his right hand" as regarded the prompt and able execution of his plans. To Orange the loss was irreparable, and was felt all the more at this moment, seeing that St. Aldegonde, upon whose sagacity and patriotism Orange placed such reliance, was a captive in the Spanish camp. This was the third brother whom William had lost in the struggle against Spain. The repeated deaths in the circle of those so dear to him, as well as the many other friends, also dear though not so closely related, who had fallen in the war, could not but afflict him with a deep sense of isolation and loneliness. To abstract his mind from his sorrows, to forget the graves of his kindred, the captivity and death of his friends, the many thousands of his followers now sleeping their last sleep on the battle-field, his own ruined fortune, the vanished splendor of his home, where a once princely affluence had been replaced by something like penury, his escutcheon blotted, and his name jeered at – to rise above all these accumulated losses and dire humiliations, and to prosecute with unflinching resolution his great cause, required indeed a stout heart, and a firm faith. Never did the prince appear greater than now.

The gloom of disaster but brought out the splendor of his virtues and the magnanimity of his soul. The burden of the great struggle now lay on him alone, lie had to provide funds, raise armies, arrange the plan of campaigns, and watch over their execution. From a sick-bed he was often called to direct battles, and the siege or defense of cities. Of the friends who had commenced the struggle with him many were now no more, and those who survived were counseling submission; the prince alone refused to despair of the deliverance of his country. Through armies foiled, and campaigns lost, through the world's pity or its scorn, he would march on to that triumph which he saw in the distance. When friends fell, he stayed his heart with a sublime confidence on the eternal Arm. Thus stripped of human defenses, he displayed a pure devotion to country and to religion. It was this that placed the Prince of Orange in the first rank of greatness.

There have been men who have been borne to greatness upon the steady current of continuous good fortune; they never lost a battle, and they never suffered check or repulse. Their labors have been done, and their achievements accomplished, at the head of victorious armies, and in the presence of admiring senates, and of applauding and grateful nations. These are great; but there is an order of men who are greater still. There have been a select few who have rendered the very highest services to mankind, not with the applause and succor of those they sought to benefit, but in spite of their opposition, amid the contempt and scorn of the world, and amid ever-blackening and ever-bursting disasters, and who lifting their eyes from armies and thrones have fixed them upon a great unseen Power, in whose righteousness and justice they confided, and so have been able to struggle on till they attained their, sublime object. These are the peers of the race, they are the first magnates of the world. In this order of great men stands William, Prince of Orange. On receiving the melancholy intelligence of

the death of his brother on the fatal field of Mook, William retreated northward into Holland. He expected that the Spaniards would follow him, and improve their victory while the terror it inspired was still recent; but Avila was prevented pursuing him by a mutiny that broke out in his army. The pay of his soldiers was three years in arrears, and instead of the barren pursuit of William, the Spanish host turned its steps in the direction of the rich city of Antwerp, resolved to be its own paymaster. The soldiers quartered themselves upon the wealthiest of the burghers. They took possession of the most sumptuous mansions, they feasted on the most luxurious dishes, and daily drank the most delicate wines. At the end of three weeks the citizens, wearied of seeing their substance thus devoured by the army, consented to pay 400,000 crowns, which the soldiers were willing to receive as part payment of the debt due to them. The mutineers celebrated their victory over the citizens by a great feast on the Mere, or principal street of Antwerp. They were busy carousing, gambling, and masquerading when the boom of cannon struck upon their ears. William's admiral had advanced up the Scheldt, and was now engaged with the Spanish fleet in the river. The revelers, leaving their cups and grasping their muskets, hurried to the scene of action, but only to be the witnesses of the destruction of their ships. Some were blazing in the flames, others were sinking with their crews, and the patriot admiral, having done his work, was sailing away in triumph. We have recorded the destruction of the other division of Philip's fleet; this second blow completed its ruin, and thus the King of Spain was as far as ever from the supremacy of the sea, without which, as Requesens assured him, he would not be able to make himself master of Holland.

Another act of the great drama now opened. We have already recorded the fall of Haarlem, after unexampled horrors. Though little else than a city of ruins and corpses when it fell to the Spaniards, its possession gave them great advantages. It was an encampment between North and South Holland, and cut the Country in two. They were desirous of strengthening their position by adding Leyden to Haarlem, the town next to it on the south, and a place of yet greater importance. Accordingly, it was first blockaded by the Spanish troops in the winter of 1574; but the besiegers were withdrawn in the spring to defend the frontier, attacked by Count Louis. After his defeat, and the extinction of the subsequent mutiny in the Spanish army, the soldiers returned to the siege, and Leyden was invested a second time on the 26th of May, 1574. The siege of Leyden is one of the most famous in history, and had a most important bearing on the establishment of Protestantism in Holland. Its devotion and heroism in the cause of liberty and religion have, like a mighty torch, illumined other lands besides Holland, and fired the soul of more peoples than the Dutch.

Leyden is situated on a low plain covered with rich pastures, smiling gardens, fruitful orchards, and elegant villas. It is washed by an arm of the Rhine, that, on approaching its walls, parts into an infinity of streamlets which, flowing languidly through the city, fill the canals that traverse the streets, making it a miniature of Venice. Its canals are spanned by 150 stone bridges, and lined by rows of limes and poplars, which soften and shade the architecture of its spacious streets, that present to the view public buildings and sumptuous private mansions, churches with tall steeples, and universities and halls with imposing facades. At the time of the siege the city had a numerous population, and was defended by a deep moat and a strong wall flanked with bastions. The city was a prize well worth all the ardor displayed both in its attack and defense. Its standing or falling would determine the fate of Holland.

When the citizens saw themselves a second time shut in by a beleaguering army of 8,000 men, and a bristling chain of sixty-four redoubts, they reflected with pain on their neglect to introduce provisions and reinforcements into their city during the two months the Spaniards had been withdrawn to defend the frontier. They must now atone for their lack of prevision by relying on their own stout arms and bold hearts. There were scarce any troops in the city besides the burghal guard. Orange told them plainly that three months must pass over them before it would be possible by any efforts of their friends outside to raise the siege; and he entreated them to bear in mind the vast consequences that must flow from the struggle on which they were entering, and that, according as they should bear themselves in it with a craven heart or with an heroic spirit, so would they transmit to their descendants the vile estate of slavery or the glorious heritage of liberty.

The defense of the town was entrusted to Jean van der Does, Lord of Nordwyck. Of noble birth and poetic genius, Does was also a brave soldier, and an illustrious patriot. He breathed his own heroic spirit into the citizens. The women as well as men worked day and night upon the walls, to strengthen them against the Spanish guns. They took stock of the provisions in the city, and arranged a plan for their economical distribution. They passed from one to another the terrible words, "Zutphen," "Naarden," names suggestive of horrors not to be mentioned, but which had so burned into the Dutch the detestation of the Spaniards, that they were resolved to die rather than surrender to an enemy whose instincts were those of tigers or fiends.

It was at this moment, when the struggle around Leyden was about to begin, that Philip attempted to filch by a stratagem the

victory which he found it so hard to win by the sword. Don Luis de Requesens now published at Brussels, in the king's name, a general pardon to the Netherlanders, on condition that they went to mass and received absolution from a priest, [2] Almost all the clergy and many of the leading citizens were excepted from this indemnity. "Pardon!" exclaimed the indignant Hollanders when they read the king's letter of grace; "before we can receive pardon we must first have committed offense. We have suffered the wrong, not done it; and now the wrongdoer comes, not to sue for, but to bestow forgiveness! How grateful ought we to be!" As regarded going to mass, Philip could not but know that this was the essence of the whole quarrel, and to ask them to submit on this point was simply to ask them to surrender to him the victory. Their own reiterated vows, the thousands of their brethren martyred, their own consciences – all forbade.

They would sooner go to the halter. There was now scarcely a native Hollander who was a Papist; and speaking in their name, the Prince of Orange declared, "As long as there is a living man left in the country, we will contend for our liberty and our religion." [3] The king's pardon had failed to open the gates of Leyden, and its siege now went forward.

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Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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