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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 5 — Philip arranges the government of the Netherlands, and departs for Spain

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Philip II. Renews the Edict of 1535 of his Father – Other Atrocious Edicts – Further Martyrdoms – Inquisition introduced into the Low Countries – Indignation and Alarm of the Netherlanders – Thirteen New Bishops – The Spanish Troops to be left in the Country – Violations of the Netherland Charters – Bishop of Arras – His Craft and Ambition – Popular Discontent – Margaret, Duchess of Parma, appointed Regent – Three Councils – Assembly of the States at Ghent – The States request the Suppression of the Edicts – Anger of Philip – He sets Sail from Flushing – Storm – Arrival in Spain.

Some few years of comparative tranquillity were to intervene between the accession of Philip II., and the commencement of those terrible events which made his reign one long dark tragedy. But even now, though but recently seated on the throne, one startling and ominous act gave warning to the Netherlands and to Europe of what was in store for them under the austere, bigoted, priest-ridden man, whom half a world had the misfortune to call master. In 1559, four years after his accession, Philip renewed that atrociously inhuman edict which his father had promulgated in 1540. This edict had imported into the civilised Netherlands the disgusting spectacles of savage lands; it kept the gallows and the stake in constant operation, and made such havoc in the ranks of the friends of freedom of conscience, that the more moderate historians have estimated the number of its victims, as we have already said, at 50,000.

The commencement of this work, as our readers know, was in 1521, when the emperor issued at Worms his famous edict against "Martin," who was "not a man, but a devil under the form of a man." That bolt passed harmlessly over Luther's head, not because being "not a man," but a spirit, even the imperial sword could not slay him, but simply because he lived on German soil, where the emperor might issue as many edicts as he pleased, but could not execute one of them without the consent of the princes. But the shaft that missed Luther struck deep into the unhappy subjects of Charles's Paternal Estates. "Death or forfeiture of goods" was the sentence decreed against all Lutherans in the Netherlands, and to effect the unsparing and vigorous execution of the decree, a new court was erected in Belgium, which bore a startling resemblance to the Inquisition of Spain. In Antwerp, in Brussels, and in other towns piles began straightway to blaze.

The fires once kindled, there followed similar edicts, which kept the flames from going out. These made it death to pray with a few friends in private; death to read a page of the Scriptures; death to discuss any article of the faith, not on the streets only, but in one's own house; death to mutilate an image; death to have in one's possession any of the writings of Luther, or Zwingle, or CEcolampadius; death to express doubt respecting the Sacraments of the Church, the authority of the Pope, or any similar dogma. After this, in 1535, came the edict of which we have just made mention, consigning to the horrors of a living grave even repentant heretics, and to the more dreadful horrors, as they were deemed, of the stake, obstinate ones. There was no danger of these cruel laws remaining inoperative, even had the emperor been less in earnest than he was. The Inquisition of Cologne, the canons of Louvain, and the monks of Mechlin saw to their execution; and the obsequiousness of Mary of Hungary, the regent of the kingdom, pushed on the bloody work, nor thought of pause till she should have reached the verge of "entire depopulation."

When Philip II. re-enacted the edict of 1540, he re-enacted the whole of that legislation which had disgraced the last thirty years of Charles's reign, and which, while it had not extinguished, nor even lessened the Lutheranism against which it was directed, had crippled the industry and commerce of the Low Countries. There had been a lull in the terrible work of beheading and burning men for conscience sake during the few last years of the emperor's reign; Charles's design, doubtless, being to smooth the way for his son. The fires were not extinguished, but they were lowered; the scaffolds were not taken down, but the blood that flooded them was less deep; and as during the last years of Charles, so also during the first years of Philip, the furies of persecution seemed to slumber. But now they awoke; and not only was the old condition of things brought back, but a new machinery, more sure, swift, and deadly than that in use under Charles, was constructed to carry out the edicts which Philip had published anew. The emperor had established a court in Flanders that sufficiently resembled the Inquisition; but Philip II. made a still nearer approach to that redoubtable institution, which has ever been the pet engine of the bigot and persecutor, and the execration of all free men. The court now established by Philip was, in fact, the Inquisition. It did not receive the name, it is true; but it was none the less the Inquisition, and lacked nothing which the "Holy Office" in Spain possessed. Like it, it had its dungeons and screws and racks. It had its apostolic inquisitors, its secretaries and sergeants. It had its familiars dispersed throughout the Provinces, and who acted as spies and informers. It apprehended men on suspicion, examined them by torture, and condemned them without confronting them with the witnesses, or permitting them to lead proof of their innocence. It permitted the civil judges to concern themselves with prosecutions for heresy no farther than merely to carry out the sentences the inquisitors had pronounced. The goods of the victims were confiscated, and denunciations were encouraged by the promise of rewards, and also

the assurance of impunity to informers who had been co-religionists of the accused.

Even among the submissive natives of Italy and Spain, the establishment of the Inquisition had encountered opposition; but among the spirited and wealthy citizens of the Netherlands, whose privileges had been expanding, and whose love of liberty had been growing, ever since the twelfth century, the introduction of a court like this was regarded with universal horror, and awakened no little indignation. One thing was certain, Papal Inquisition and Netherland freedom could not stand together. The citizens beheld, in long and terrible vista, calamity coming upon calamity; their dwellings entered at midnight by masked familiars, their parents and children dragged to secret prisons, their civic dignitaries led through the streets with halters round their necks, the foreign Protestant merchants fleeing from their country, their commerce dying, autos da fe blazing in all their cities, and liberty, in the end of the day, sinking under an odious and merciless tyranny.

There followed another measure which intensified the alarm and anger of the Netherlanders. The number of bishops was increased by Philip from four to seventeen. The existing sees were those of Arras, Cambray, Tournay, and Utrecht; to these thirteen new sees were added, making the number of bishoprics equal to that of the Provinces. The bull of Pius IV., ratified within a few months by that of Paul IV., stated that "the enemy of mankind being abroad, and the Netherlands, then under the sway of the beloved son of his Holiness, Philip the Catholic, being compassed about with heretic and schismatic nations, it was believed that the eternal welfare of the land was in great danger;" hence the new laborers sent forth into the harvest. The object of the measure was transparent; nor did its authors affect to conceal that it was meant to strengthen the Papacy in Flanders, and extend the range of its right arm, the Inquisition. These thirteen new bishops were viewed by the citizens but as thirteen additional inquisitors. These two tyrannical steps necessitated a third. Philip saw it advisable to retain a body of Spanish troops in the country to compel submission to the new arrangements. The number of Spanish soldiers at that moment in Flanders was not great: they amounted to only 4,000: but they were excellently disciplined: the citizens saw in them the sharp end of the wedge that was destined to introduce a Spanish army, and reduce their country under a despotism; and in truth such was Philip's design. Besides, these troops were insolent and rapacious to a degree. The inhabitants of Zealand refused to work on their dykes, saying they would rather that the ocean should swallow them up at once, than that they should be devoured piece-meal by the avarice and cruelty of the Spanish soldiers. [1]

The measures adopted by Philip caused the citizens the more irritation and discontent, from the fact that they were subversive of the fundamental laws of the Provinces. At his accession Philip had taken an oath to uphold all the chartered rights of the Netherlanders; but the new edicts traversed every one of these rights. He had sworn not to raise the clergy in the Provinces above the state in which he found them. In disregard of his solemn pledge, he had increased the ecclesiastical dioceses from four to seventeen. This was a formidable augmentation of the clerical force. The nobles looked askance on the new spiritual peers who had come to divide with them their influence; the middle classes regarded them as clogs on their industry, and the artisans detested them as spies on their freedom.

The violation of faith on the part of their monarch rankled in their bosoms, and inspired them with gloomy forebodings as regarded the future. Another fundamental law, ever esteemed by the Netherlanders among the most valuable of their privileges, and which Philip had sworn to respect, did these new arrangements contravene. It was unlawful to bring a foreign soldier into the country. Philip, despite his oath, refused to withdraw his Spanish troops. So long as they remained, the Netherlanders well knew that the door stood open for the entrance of a much larger force. It was also provided in the ancient charters that the citizens should be tried before the ordinary courts and by the ordinary judges. But Philip had virtually swept all these courts away, and substituted in their room a tribunal of most anomalous and terrific powers: a tribunal that sat in darkness, that permitted those it dragged to its bar to plead no law, to defend themselves by no counsel, and that compelled the prisoner by torture to become his own accuser. Nor was this court required to assign, either to the prisoner himself or to the public, any reasons for the dreadful and horrible sentences it was in the habit of pronouncing. It was allowed the most unrestrained indulgence in a capricious and murderous tyranny. The ancient charters had farther provided that only natives should serve in the public offices, and that foreigners should be ineligible. Philip paid as little respect to this as to the rest of their ancient usages and rights. Introducing a body of foreign ecclesiastics and monks, he placed the lives and properties of his subjects of the Netherlands at the disposal of these strangers.

The ferment was great: a storm was gathering in the Low Countries: nor does one wonder when one reflects on the extent of the revolution which had been accomplished, and which outraged all classes. The hierarchy had been suddenly and portentously expanded: the tribunals had been placed in the hands of foreigners: in the destruction of their charters, the precious acquisitions of centuries had been swept away, and the citadel of their freedom razed. A foreign army was on their soil. The Netherlanders saw in all this a complete machinery framed and set up on purpose to carry out the despotism of the edicts.

The blame of the new arrangements was

generally charged on the Bishop of Arras. He was a plausible, crafty, ambitious man, fertile in expedients, and even of temper. He was the ablest of the counsellors of Philip, who honored him with his entire confidence, and consulted him on all occasions. Arras was by no means anxious to be thought the contriver, or even prompter, of that scheme of despotism which had supplanted the liberties of his native land; but the more he protested, the more did the nation credit him with the plan. To him had been assigned the place of chief authority among the new bishops, the Archbishopric of Mechlin. He was coy at first of the proffered dignity, and Philip had to urge him before he would accept the archiepiscopal mitre. "I only accepted it," we find him afterwards writing to the king, "that I might not live in idleness, doing nothing for God and your Majesty." If his See of Mechlin brought him labor, which he professed to wish, it brought him what he feigned not to wish, but which nevertheless he greedily coveted, enormous wealth and vast influence; and when the people saw him taking kindly to his new post, and working his way to the management of all affairs, and the control of the whole kingdom, they were but the more confirmed in their belief that the edicts, the new bishops, the Inquisition, and the Spanish soldiers had all sprung from his fertile brain. The Netherlanders had undoubtedly to thank the Bishop of Arras; for the first, the edicts namely, and these were the primal fountains of that whole tyranny that was fated to devastate the Low Countries. As regards the three last, it is not so clear that he had counselled their adoption. Nevertheless the nation persisted in regarding him as the chief conspirator against its liberties; and the odium in which he was held increased from day to day. Discontent was ripening into revolt.

Philip II. was probably the less concerned at the storm, which he could not but see was gathering, inasmuch as he contemplated an early retreat before it. He was soon to depart for Spain, and leave others to contend with the great winds he had unchained.

Before taking his departure, Philip looked round him for one whom he might appoint regent of this important part of his dominions in his absence. His choice lay between Christina, Duchess of Lorraine (his cousin), and Margaret, Duchess of Parma, a natural daughter of Charles V. He fixed at last on the latter, the Duchess of Parma. The Duchess of Lorraine would have been the wiser ruler; the Duchess of Parma, Philip knew, would be the more obsequious one. Her duchy was surrounded by Philip's Italian dominions, and she was willing, moreover, to send her son – afterwards the celebrated Alexander Farnese – on pretense of being educated at the court of Spain, but in reality as a pledge that she would execute to the letter the injunctions of Philip in her government of the Provinces. Though far away, the king took care to retain a direct and firm grasp of the Netherlands. [2]

Under Margaret as regent, three Councils were organised – a Council of Finance, a Privy Council, and a Council of State, the last being the one of highest authority. These three Councils were appointed on the pretense of assisting the regent in her government of the Provinces, but in reality to mask her arbitrary administration by lending it the air of the popular will. It was meant that the government of the Provinces should possess all the simplicity of absolutism. Philip would order, Margaret would execute, and the Councils would consent; meanwhile the old charters of freedom would be sleeping their deep sleep in the tomb that Philip had dug for them; and woe to the man who should attempt to rouse them from their slumber! Before setting sail, Philip convoked an assembly of the States at Ghent, in order to deliver to them his parting instructions. Attended by a splendid retinue, Philip presided at their opening meeting, but as he could not speak the tongue of the Flemings, the king addressed the convention by the mouth of the Bishop of Arras. The orator set forth, with that rhetorical grace of which he was a master, that "intense affection" which Philip bore to the Provinces; he next craved earnest attention to the three millions of gold florins which the king had asked of them; and these preliminaries dispatched, the bishop entered upon the great topic of his harangue, with a fervor that showed how much this matter lay on the heart of his master.

The earnestness of the bishop, or rather of Philip, can be felt only by giving his words. "At this moment,", said he, "many countries, and particularly the lands in the immediate neighborhood, were greatly infested by various 'new, reprobate, and damnable sects;' as these sects, proceeding from the foul fiend, father of discord, had not failed to keep those kingdoms in perpetual dissension and misery, to the manifest displeasure of God Almighty; as his Majesty was desirous to avert such terrible evils from his own realms, according to his duty to the Lord God, who would demand reckoning from him hereafter for the well-being of the Provinces; as all experience proved that change of religion ever brought desolation and confusion to the commonweal; as low persons, beggars, and vagabonds, under color of religion, were accustomed to traverse the land for the purpose of plunder and disturbance; as his Majesty was most desirous of following in the footsteps of his lord and father; as it would be well remembered what the emperor had said to him on the memorable occasion of his abdication, therefore his Majesty had commanded the regent Margaret of Parma, for the sake of religion and the glory of God, accurately and exactly to cause to be enforced the edicts and decrees made by his Imperial Majesty, and renewed

by his present Majesty, for the extirpation of all sects and heresies." [3] The charge laid on the regent Margaret was extended to all governors, councillors and others in authority, who were enjoined to trample heresy and heretics out of existence.

The Estates listened with intense anxiety, expecting every moment to hear Philip say that he would withdraw the Spanish troops, that he would lighten their heavy taxation, and that he would respect their ancient charters, which indeed he had sworn to observe. These were the things that lay near the hearts of the Netherlanders, but upon these matters Philip was profoundly silent. The convention begged till tomorrow to return its answer touching the levy of three millions which the, king had asked for.

On the following day the Estates met in presence of the king, and each province made answer separately. The Estate of Artois was the first to read its address by its representative. They would cheerfully yield to the king, not only the remains of their property, but the last drop of their blood. At the hearing of these loyal words, a gleam of delight shot across the face of Philip. No ordinary satisfaction could have lighted up a face so habitually austere and morose. It was a burst of that "affection" which Philip boasted he bore the Netherlanders, and which showed them that it extended not only to them, but to theirs. But the deputy proceeded to append a condition to this apparently unbounded surrender; that condition was the withdrawal of the Spanish troops. Instantly Philip's countenance changed, and sinking into his chair of state, with gloomy and wrathful brow, the assembly saw how distasteful to Philip was the proposition to withdraw his soldiers from the Netherlands. The rest of the Estates followed; each, in its turn, making the same offer, but appending to it the same condition. Every florin of the three millions demanded would be forthcoming, but not a soldier must be left on the soil of the Provinces. The king's face grew darker still. Its rapid changes showed the tempest that was raging in his breast. To ask him to withdraw his soldiers was to ask him to give up the Netherlands. Without the soldiers how could he maintain the edicts and Inquisition? and these let go, the haughty and heretical Netherlanders would again be their own masters, and would fill the Provinces with that rampant heresy which he had just cursed. The very idea of such a thing threw the king into a rage which he was at no pains to conceal.

But a still greater mortification awaited him before the convention broke up. A formal remonstrance on the subject of the Spanish soldiers was presented to Philip in the name of the States-General, signed by the Prince of Orange, Count Egmont, and many other nobles. The king was at the same time asked to annul, or at least to moderate, the edicts; and when one of his ministers represented, in the most delicate terms possible, that to persist in their execution would be to sow the seeds of rebellion, and thereby lose the sovereignty of the Provinces, Philip replied that "he had much rather be no king at all than have heretics for his subjects." [4]

So irritated was the king by these requests that he flung out of the hall in a rage, remarking that as he was a Spaniard it was perhaps expected that he, too, should withdraw himself. A day or two, however, sufficed for his passion to cool, and then he saw that his true policy was dissimulation till he should have tamed the stubbornness and pride of these Netherland nobles. He now made a feint of concession; he would have been glad, he said, to carry his soldiers with him in his fleet, had he been earlier made acquainted with the wishes of the Estates; he promised, however, to withdraw them in a few months. On the matter of Lutheranism he was inexorable, and could not even bring himself to dissemble. His parting injunction to the States was to pursue heresy with the halter, the axe, the stake, and the other modes of death duly enacted and set forth in his own and his royal father's edicts.

On the 26th of August, Philip II., on the shore of Flushing, received the farewell salutations of the grandees of the Provinces, and then set sail for Spain, attended by a fleet of ninety vessels. He had quitted an angry land; around him was a yet angrier ocean. The skies blackened, the wind rose, and the tempest lay heavy upon the royal squadron. The ships were laden with the precious things of the Netherlands. Tapestries, silks, laces, paintings, marbles, and store of other articles which had been collected by his father, the emperor, in the course of thirty years, freighted the ships of Philip. He meant to fix his capital in Spain, and these products of the needles, the looms, and the pencils of his skillful and industrious subjects of the Low Countries were meant to adorn his palace. The greedy waves swallowed up nearly all that rich and various spoil. Some of the ships foundered outright; those that continued to float had to lighten themselves by casting their precious cargo into the sea. "Philip," as the historian Meteren remarks, "had robbed the land to enrich the ocean." The king's voyage, however, was safely ended, and on the 8th of September he disembarked at Loredo, on the Biscayan coast.

The gloomy and superstitious mind of Philip interpreted his deliverance from the storm that had burst over his fleet in accordance with his own fanatical notions. He saw in it an authentication of the grand mission with which he had been entrusted as the destroyer of heresy; [5] and in token of thankfulness to that Power which had rescued him from the waves and landed him safely on Spanish earth, he made a vow, which found its

fulfilment in the magnificent and colossal palace that rose in after-years on the savage and boulder strewn slopes of the Sierra Guadarrama – the Escorial.

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