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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 30 —

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The One Source of Holland's Strength – Prince Maurice made Governor – His Character – Dutch Statesmen – Spanish Power Sinking – Philip's Many Projects – His Wars in France – Successes oŁ Maurice – Death of the Duke of Parma – Mighty Growth of Holland – Its 'Vast Commerce – Its Learning – Desolation of Brabant and Flanders – Cause of the Decline of Holland – The Stadtholder of Holland becomes King of England.

WE have narrated the ill success that attended the government of the Earl of Leicester in the Low Countries. These repeated disappointments rebuked the Provinces for looking abroad for defense, and despising the mightier source of strength which existed within themselves; and in due time they came to see that it was not by the arm of any foreign prince that they were to be holden up and made strong, but by the nurturing virtue of that great principle which, rooted in their land by the blood of their martyrs, had at last found for their nation a champion in William of Orange. This principle had laid the foundations of their free Commonwealth, and it alone could give it stability and conduct it to greatness.

Accordingly, after Leicester's departure, at a meeting at the Hague, the 6th of February, 1587, the States, after asserting their own supreme authority, unanimously chose Prince Maurice as their governor, though still with a reservation to Queen Elizabeth. It was not respect alone for the memory of his great father which induced the States to repose so great a trust, at so momentous a period of their existence, in one who was then only twenty-one years of age. From his earliest youth the prince had given proof of his superior prudence and capacity, and in the execution of his high command he made good the hopes entertained of him when he entered upon it. If he possessed in lower degree than his illustrious sire the faculty of governing men, he was nevertheless superior to him in the military art, and this was the science most needed at this moment by the States. Maurice became the greatest captain of his age: not only was he famous in the discipline of his armies, but his genius,: rising above the maxims then in vogue, enabled him to invent or to perfect a system of fortification much more complete, and which soon became common. [1] The marvellous political ability of William, now lost to the States, was supplied in some sort by a school of statesmen that arose after his death in Holland, and whose patriotic honesty, allied with an uncommon amount of native sagacity and shrewdness, made them a match for the Machiavellian diplomatists with which the age abounded.

Philip II. was at that time getting ready the Armada for the subjugation of England. The Duke of Parma was required to furnish his contingent of the mighty fleet., and while engaged in this labor he was unable to undertake any operation in the Netherlands. Holland had rest, and the military genius of Prince Maurice found as yet no opportunity of displaying itself. But no sooner had Philip's "invincible" Armada vanished in the North Sea, pursued by the English admiral and the tempests of heaven, than Parma made haste to renew the war. He made no acquisition of moment, however the gains of the campaign remained with Prince Maurice; and the power of Spain in the Low Countries began as visibly to sink as that of Holland to rise.

From this time forward blow after blow came upon that colossal fabric which for so long a. period had not only darkened the Netherlands, but had overshadowed all Christendom. The root of the Spanish Power was dried up, and its branch began to wither. Philip, aiming to be the master of the world, plunged into a multitude of schemes which drained his resources, and at length broke in pieces that mighty empire of which he was the monarch. As his years grew his projects multiplied, till at last he found himself warring with the Turks, the Morescoes, the Portuguese, the French, the English, and the Netherlanders. The latter little country he would most certainly have subdued, had his ambition permitted him to concentrate his power in the attempt to crush it. Happily for the Low Countries, Philip was never able to do this. And now another dream misled him – the hope of seizing the crown of France for himself or his daughter, [2] Clara Eugenia, during the troublous times that followed the accession of Henry of Navarre. In this hope he ordered Parma to withdraw the Spanish troops from the Netherlands, and help the League to conquer Henry IV. Parma remonstrated against the madness of the scheme, and the danger of taking away the army out of the country; but Philip, blinded by his ambition, refused to listen to the prudent counsels of his general. The folly of the King of Spain gave a breathing-space to the young Republic, and enabled its governor, Prince Maurice, to display that resource, prudence, and promptitude which gained him the confidence and esteem of his subjects, and which, shining forth yet more brilliantly in future campaigns, won for him the admiration of Europe.

When Parma returned from France (1590) he found Holland greatly stronger than he had left it: its frontier was now fortified; several towns beyond the boundary of the United Provinces had been seized by their army; and Parma, with a treasury drained by his campaign, and soldiers mutinous because ill-paid, had to undertake the work of recovering what had been lost. The campaign now opened was a disastrous one both for himself and for Spain. After many battles and sieges he found that the Spanish Power had been compelled to retreat before the arms of the infant Republic, and that his own prestige as a soldier had been eclipsed by the renown of his opponent, acquired by the prudence

with which his enterprises had been concerted, the celerity with which they had been executed, and the success with which they had been crowned. The Duke of Parma was a second time ordered into France to assist the League, and pave Philip's way for mounting the throne of that country; and foolish though he deemed the order, he had nevertheless to obey it. He returned broken in health, only to find that in his absence the Spanish Power had sustained new losses, that the United Provinces had acquired additional strength, and that Prince Maurice had surrounded his name with a brighter glory than ever. In short, the affairs of Spain in the Low Countries he perceived were becoming hopeless. Worn out with cares, eaten up with vexation and chagrin, and compelled the while to strain every nerve in the execution of projects which his judgment condemned as chimerical and ruinous, his sickness increased, and on the 3rd of December, 1592, he expired in the forty-seventh year of his age, and the fourteenth of his government of the Netherlands. "With the Duke of Parma," says Sir William Temple, "died all the discipline, and with that all the fortunes, of the Spanish arms in Flanders." [3]

There now opened to the United Provinces a career of prosperity that was as uniform and uninterrupted as their previous period of distress and calamity had been continuous and unbroken. The success that attended the arms of Prince Maurice, the vigour with which he extended the dominions of the Republic, the prudence and wisdom with which he administered affairs at home, the truce with Spain, the League with Henry IV. of France, and the various circumstances and methods by which the prince, and the upright and wise counsellors that surrounded him, advanced the credit and power of the United Provinces, belong to the civil history of the country, and hardly come within the scope of our special design. But the mighty growth of the United Provinces, which was the direct product of Protestantism, is one of the finest proofs which history furnishes of the spirit and power of the Reformation, and affords a lesson that the ages to come will not fail to study, and an example that they will take care to imitate.

On the face of all the earth there is not another such instance of a nation for whom nature had done literally nothing, and who had all to create from their soil upwards, attaining such a pitch of greatness. The Dutch received at the beginning but a sand-bank for a country. Their patience and laborious skill covered it with verdure, and adorned it with cities. Their trade was as truly their own creation as their soil. The narrow limits of their land did not furnish them with the materials of their manufactures; these they had to import from abroad, and having worked them up into beautiful fabrics, they carried them back to the countries whence they had obtained the raw materials. Thus their land became the magazine of the world. Notwithstanding that their country was washed:, and not unfrequently inundated, by the ocean, nature had not given them harbors; these, too, they had to create. Their scanty territory led them to make the sea their country; and their wars with Spain compelled them to make it still more their home. They had an infinity of ships and sailors. They sent their merchant fleet over every sea – to the fertile islands of the West, to the rich continents of the East. They erected forts on promontories and creeks, and their settlements were dispersed throughout the world. They formed commercial treaties and political alliances with the most powerful nations. The various wealth that was wafted to their shores was ever greater than that which had flowed in on Spain after the discovery of the mines of Mexico and Peru. Their land, which yielded little besides milk and butter, overflowed with the necessaries and luxuries of all the earth. The wheat, and wine, and oil of Southern Europe; the gold and silver of Mexico; the spices and diamonds of the East; the furs of Northern Europe; silk, cotton, precious woods, and marbles – everything, in short, which the earth produces, and which can contribute to clothe the person, adorn the dwelling, supply the table, and enhance the comfort of man, was gathered into Holland. And while every wind and tide were bringing to their shores the raw materials, the persecutions which raged in other countries were daily sending crowds of skillful and industrious men to work them up. And with every increase of their population came a new expansion of their trade, and by consequence a new access to the wealth that flowed from it.

With the rapid growth of material riches, their respect for learning, their taste for intellectual pursuits, and their love of independence still continued with them. They were plain and frugal in habit, although refined and generous in disposition. The sciences were cultivated, and their universities flourished. To be learned or eloquent inferred as great eminence in that country as to be rich or high-born did in others. All this had come out of their great struggle for the Protestant faith.

And, as if to make the lesson still plainer and more striking, by the side of this little State, so illustrious for its virtue, so rich in all good things, and so powerful among the nations of the world, were seen those unhappy Provinces which had retreated within the pale of Rome, and submitted to the yoke of Philip. They were fallen into a condition of poverty and slavery which was as complete as it was deplorable, and which, but a few years before, any one who had seen how populous, industrious, and opulent they were, would have deemed impossible. Commerce, trade, nay, even daily bread, had fled from that so recently prosperous land. Bankers, merchants, farmers, artisans – all were sunk in one great ruin. Antwerp, the

emporium of the commerce of Europe, with its river closed, and its harbor and wharves forsaken, was reduced to beggary. The looms and forges of Ghent, Bruges, and Namur were idle. The streets, trodden erewhile by armies of workmen, were covered with grass; fair mansions were occupied by paupers; the fields were falling out of cultivation; the farm-houses were sinking into ruins; and, in the absence of men, the beasts of the field were strangely multiplying. To these evils were added the scourge of a mutinous soldiery, and the incessant rapacious demands of Philip for money, not knowing, or not caring to know, into what a plight of misery and penury his tyranny had already sunk them. Spain itself, towards the close of the nineteenth century, is still as great a wreck; but it required three hundred years for despotism and Popery to ripen their fruits in the Iberian Peninsula, whereas in the Southern Netherlands their work was consummated in a very few years.

We turn once more to their northern sister. The era of the flourishing of the United Provinces was from 1579, when the Union of Utrecht was formed, till 1672 that is, ninety-three years. In the year 1666 we find Holland and her sister States at the acme of their prosperity. They are populous in men; they have a revenue of 40,000,000 florins; they possess a land army of 60,000 men, a fleet of above 100 men-of-war, a countless mercantile navy, a world-wide commerce, and, not content with being one of the great Powers of Europe, they are contesting with England the supremacy of the seas. [4] It is hardly possible not to ask what led to the decline and fall of so great a Power? Sir William Temple, who had studied with the breadth of a statesman, and the insight of a philosopher, both the rise and the fall of the United Provinces, lays their decay at the door of the Arminian controversy, which had parted the nation in two.

At least, this he makes the primary cause, and the one first led on to others. The Prince of Orange or Calvinist faction, he tells us, contended for the purity of the faith, and the Arminian faction for the liberties of the nation; and so far this was true, but the historian forgets to say that the contest for the purity of the faith covered the nation's liberties as well, and when the sacred fire which had kindled the conflict for liberty was permitted to go out, the flame of freedom sunk down, the nation's heart waxed cold, and its hands grew feeble in defense of its independence. The decay of Holland became marked from the time the Arminian party gained the ascendency. [5] But though the nation decayed, the line of William of Orange, the great founder of its liberties, continued to flourish. The motto of Prince Maurice, Tandem fit surculus arbor ("The twig will yet become a tree"), was made good in a higher sense than he had dreamed, for the epics of history are grander than those of fiction, and the Stadtholder of Holland, in due time, mounted the throne of Great Britain.


Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, September 20th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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