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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 6 — storms in the council, and martyrs at the stake

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Three Councils – These Three but One – Margaret, Duchess of Parma – Cardinal Granvelle – Opposition to the New Bishops-Storms at the Council-board – Position of Prince of Orange, and Counts Egmont and Horn – Their joint Letter to the King – Smouldering Discontent – Persecution – Peter Titlemann – Severity of the Edicts – Father and Son at the Stake – Heroism of the Flemish Martyrs – Execution of a Schoolmaster – A Skeleton at a Feast – Burning of Three Refugees – Great Number of Flemish Martyrs – What their Country Owed them.

Three councils were organised, as we have said, to assist the Duchess of Parma in the government of the Provinces; the nobles selected to serve in these councils were those who were highest in rank, and who most fully enjoyed the confidence of their countrymen. This had very much the look of popular government. It did not seem exactly the machinery which a despot would set up. The administration of the Provinces appeared to be within the Provinces themselves, and the popular will, expressed through the members of the councils, must needs be an influential element in the decision of all affairs. And yet the administration which Philip had constructed was simply a despotism. He had so arranged it that the three councils were but one council; and the one council was but one man; and that one man was Philip's most obedient tool. Thus the government of the Netherlands was worked from Madrid, and the hand that directed it was that of the king.

A few words will enable us to explain in what way Philip contrived to convert this semblance of popular rule into a real autocracy. The affairs of the nation were managed neither by the Council of Finance, nor by the Privy Council, nor by the Council of State, but by a committee of the latter. That committee was formed of three members of the Council of State, namely, the Bishop of Arras, Viglius, and Berlaymont. These three men constituted a Consulta, or secret conclave, and it soon became apparent that in that secret committee was lodged the whole power of government. The three were in reality but one; for Viglius and Berlaymont were so thoroughly identified in sentiment and will with their chief, that in point of fact the Bishop of Arras was the Consulta. Arras was entirely devoted to Philip, and the regent, in turn, was instructed to take counsel with Arras, and to do as he should advise. Thus from the depths of the royal cabinet in Spain came the orders that ruled the Netherlands.

Margaret had been gifted by nature with great force of will. Her talents, like her person, were masculine. In happier circumstances she would have made a humane as well as a vigorous ruler, but placed as she was between an astute despot, whom she dared not disobey, and an unscrupulous and cunning minister, whose tact she could not overrule, she had nothing for it but to carry out the high-handed measures of others, and so draw down upon herself the odium which of right belonged to guiltier parties.

Educated in the school of Machiavelli, her statesmanship was expressed in a single word, dissimulation, and her religion taught her to regard thieves, robbers, and murderers as criminals less vile than Lutherans and Huguenots. Her spiritual guide had been Loyola.

Of Anthony Perrenot, Bishop of Arras, we have already spoken. He had been raised to the See of Mechlin, in the new scheme of the enlarged hierarchy; and was soon to be advanced to the purple, and to become known in history under the more celebrated title of Cardinal Granvelle. His learning was great, his wit was ready, his eloquence fluent, and his tact exquisite, his appreciation of men was so keen, penetrating, and perfect, that he clothed himself as it were with their feelings, and projects, and could be not so much himself as them. This rare power of sympathy, joined to his unscrupulousness, enabled him to inspire others with his own policy, in manner so natural and subtle that they never once suspected that it was his and not their own. By this masterly art more real than the necromancy in which that age believed – he seated himself in Philip's cabinet – in Philip's breast – and dictated when he appeared only to suggest, and governed when he appeared only to obey. It is the fate of such men to be credited at times with sinister projects which have arisen not in their own brain, but in those of others, and thus it came to pass that the Bishop of Arras was believed to be the real projector, not only of the edicts, which Philip had republished at his suggestion, but also of that whole machinery which had been constructed for carrying them out – the new bishops, the Inquisition, and the Spanish soldiers. The idea refused to quit the popular mind, and as grievance followed grievance, and the nation saw one after another of its libraries invaded, the storm of indignation and wrath which was daily growing fiercer took at first the direction of the bishop rather than of Philip.

The new changes began to take effect. The bishops created by the recent bull for the extension of the hierarchy, began to arrive in the country, and claim possession of their several sees. Noble, abbot, and commoner with one consent opposed the entrance of these new dignitaries; the commoners because they were foreigners, the abbots because their abbacies had been partially despoiled to provide livings for them, and the nobles because they regarded them as rivals in power and influence. The regent Margaret, however, knowing how unalterable was Philip's will in the matter, braved the storm, and installed the new bishops. In one case she was compelled to yield. The populous and wealthy city of Antwerp emphatically refused to receive its new spiritual ruler. With the bishop they knew would

come the Inquisition; and with secret denunciations, midnight apprehensions, and stakes blazing in their market-place they foresaw the flight of the foreign merchants from their country, and the ruin of their commerce. They sent deputies to Madrid, who put the matter in this light before Philip; and the king, having respect to the state of his treasury, and the sums with which these wealthy merchants were accustomed to replenish his coffers, was graciously pleased meanwhile to tolerate their opposition. [1]

At the State Council storms were of frequent occurrence. At that table sat men, some of whom were superior in rank to Arras, yet his equals in talent, and who moreover had claims on Philip's regard to which the bishop could make no pretensions, seeing they had laid him under great obligations by the brilliant services which they had rendered in the field. There were especially at that board the Prince of Orange and Counts Egmont and Horn, who in addition to great wealth and distinguished merit, held high position in the State as the Stadtholders of important Provinces. Yet they were not consulted in the public business, nor was their judgment ever asked in State affairs; on the contrary, all matters were determined in secret by Granvelle. They were but puppets at the Council-board, while an arrogant and haughty ecclesiastic ruled the country.

Meanwhile the popular discontent was growing; Protestantism, which the regent and her ministers were doing all that the axe and the halter enabled them to do to extirpate, was spreading every day wider among the people. Granvelle ascribed this portentous growth to the negligence of the magistrates in not executing the "edicts." Orange and Egmont, on the other hand, threw the blame on the cardinal, who was replacing old Netherland liberty with Spanish despotism, and they demanded that a convention of the States should be summoned to devise a remedy for the commotions and evils that were distracting the kingdom.

This proposal was in the highest degree distasteful to Granvelle. He could tell beforehand the remedy which the convention would prescribe for the popular discontent. The convention, he felt assured, would demand the cancelling of the edicts, the suppression of the Inquisition, and the revival of those charters under which civil liberty and commercial enterprise had reached that palmy state in which the Emperor Charles had found them when he entered the Netherlands. Granvelle accordingly wrote to his master counselling him not to call a meeting of the States. The advice of the cardinal but too well accorded with the views of Philip. Instead of summoning a convention the king sent orders to the regent to see that the edicts were more vigorously executed. It was not gentleness but rigour, he said, that was needed for these turbulent subjects.

Things were taking an ominous turn. The king's letter showed plainly to the Prince of Orange, and Counts Egmont and Horn, that Philip was resolved at all hazards to carry out his grand scheme against the independence of the Provinces. Not one of the edicts would he cancel; and so long as they continued in force Philip must have bishops to execute them, and Spanish soldiers to protect these bishops from the violence of an oppressed and indignant people. The regent, in obedience to the king's new missive, sent out fresh orders, urging upon the magistrates the yet hotter prosecution of heresy. The executions were multiplied. The scaffolds made many victims, but not one convert. On the contrary, the Protestants increased, and every day furnished new evidence that sufferers for conscience sake were commanding the admiration of many who did not share their faith, and that their cause was attracting attention in quarters where before it had received no notice. The regent, and especially Granvelle, were daily becoming more odious. The meetings at the Council-board were stormier than ever. The bland insolence and supercilious haughtiness of the cardinal were no longer endurable by Egmont and Horn. Bluff, out-spoken, and irascible, they had come to an open quarrel with him. Orange could parry the thrust of Granvelle with a weapon as polished as his own, and so was able still to keep on terms of apparent friendliness with him; but his position in the Council, where he was denied all share in the government, and yet held responsible for its tyrannical proceedings, was becoming unbearable, and he resolved to bring it to an end. On the 23rd of July, 1561, Orange and Egmont addressed a joint letter to the king, stating how matters stood in Flanders, and craving leave to retire from the Council, or to be allowed a voice in those measures for which they were held to be responsible. The answer, which was far from satisfactory, was brought to Flanders by Count Horn, who had been on a visit to Madrid, and had parted from the king in a fume at the impertinence of the two Flemish noblemen. His majesty expected them to give attendance at the Council-board as aforetime, without, however, holding out to them any hope that they would be allowed a larger share than heretofore in the business transacted there.

The gulf between Orange and Cardinal Granvelle was widening. The cardinal did not abate a jot of his tyranny. He knew that Philip would support him in the policy he was pursuing; indeed, that he could not retain the favor of his master unless he gave rigorous execution to the edicts, he must go forward, it mattered not at what amount of odium to himself, and of hanging, burning, and burying alive of Philip's subjects of the Netherlands. Granvelle sat alone in his "smithy " – for so was his country house, a little outside the walls of Brussels, denominated – writing daily letters to Philip, insinuating or directly advancing accusations against the nobles, especially Orange and Egmont, and craftily suggesting to Philip the policy he ought to pursue. In reply to these letters would come fresh orders to himself and the

regent, to adopt yet sterner measures toward the refractory and the heretical Netherlanders. He had suspended the glory of his reign on the trampling out of heresy in this deeply-infected portion of his dominions, and by what machinery could he do this unless by that which he had set up – the edicts, the bishops, and the Inquisition? – the triple wall within which he had enclosed the heretics of the Low Countries, so that not one of them should escape.

The Flemings are a patient and much-enduring people. Their patience has its limits, however, and these limits once passed, their determination and ire are in proportion to their former forbearance. As yet their submissiveness had not been exhausted; they permitted their houses to be entered at midnight, and themselves dragged from their beds and conducted to the Inquisition, with the meekness of a lamb that is being led to the slaughter; or if they opened their mouths it was only to sing one of Marot's psalms. The familiars of this abhorred tribunal, therefore, encountered hardly any resistance in executing their dreadful office. The nation as yet stood by in silence, and saw the agents of Granvelle and Philip hewing their victims in pieces with axes, or strangling them with halters, or drowning them in ponds, or digging graves for their living entombment, and gave no sign. But all the while these cruelties were writing on the nation's heart, in ineffaceable characters, an abhorrence of the Spanish tyrant, and a stern unconquerable resolve, when the hour came, to throw off his yoke. In the crowd of those monsters who were now revelling in the blood and lives of the Netherlanders, there stands out one conspicuous monster, Peter Titlemann by name; not that he was more cruel than the rest of the crew, but because his cruelty stands horridly out against a grim pleasantry that seems to have characterised the man. "Contemporary chroniclers," says Motley, "give a picture of him as of some grotesque yet terrible goblin, careering through the country by night or day, alone, on horseback, smiting the trembling peasants on the head with a great club, spreading dismay far and wide, dragging suspected persons from their firesides or their beds, and thrusting them into dungeons, arresting, torturing, strangling, burning, with hardly the shadow of warrant, information, or process." [2]

The whole face of the Low Countries during the years of which we write, (1560-65), was crossed and recrossed with lines of blood, traced by the cruel feet of monsters like this man. It was death to pray to God in one's own closet; it was death not to bow when an image was carried past one in the street; it was death to copy a hymn from a Genevese psalter, or sing a psalm; it was death not to deny the heresy of which one was suspected when one was questioned, although one had never uttered it. The monster of whom we have made mention above one day arrested Robert Ogier of Ryssel, with his wife and two sons. The crime of which they were accused was that of not going to mass, and of practising worship at home. The civil judges before whom Titlemann brought them examined them touching the rites they practiced in private. One of the sons answered, "We fall on our knees and pray that God may enlighten our minds and pardon our sins; we pray for our sovereign, that his reign may be prosperous, and his life happy; we pray for our magistrates, that God may preserve them." This artless answer, from a mere, boy, touched some of the judges, even to tears,. Nevertheless the father and the elder son were adjudged to the flames. "O God," prayed the youth at the stake, "Eternal Father, accept the sacrifice of our lives in the name of thy beloved Son!" "Thou liest, scoundrel!" fiercely interrupted a monk, who was lighting the fire. "God is not your father; ye are the devil's children." The flames rose; again the boy exclaimed, "Look, my father, all heaven is opening, and I see ten hundred thousand angels rejoicing over us. Let us be glad, for we are dying for the truth." "Thou liest, thou liest," again screamed the monk; "I see hell opening, and ten thousand devils waiting to thrust you into eternal fire." The father and son were heard talking with one another in the midst of the flames, even when they were at the fiercest; and so they continued till both expired. [3]

If the fury of the persecutor was great, not less was the heroism of these martyrs. They refused all communion with Rome, and worshipped in the Protestant forms, in the face of all the dreadful penalties with which they were menaced. Nor was it the men only who were thus courageous; women – nay, young girls – animated by an equal faith, displayed an equal fortitude. Some of them refused to flee when the means of escape from prison were offered to them. Wives would take their stand by their husband's stake, and while he was enduring the fire they would whisper words of solace, or sing psalms to cheer him; and so, in their own words, would they bear him company while "he was celebrating his last wedding feast." Young maidens would lie down in their living grave as if they were entering into their chamber of nightly sleep; or go forth to the scaffold and the fire, dressed in their best apparel, as if they were going to their marriage. [4] In April, 1554, Galein de Mulere, schoolmaster at Oudenard, was arrested by Inquisitor Titlemann. The poor man was in great straits, for he had a wife and five young children, but he feared to deny God and the truth. He endeavored to extricate himself from the dilemma by demanding to be tried before the magistrate and not by the Inquisition. "You are my prisoner," replied Titlemann; "I am

the Pope's and the emperor's plenipotentiary." The schoolmaster gave, at first, evasive answers to the questions put to him. "I adjure thee not to trifle with me," said Titlemann, and cited Scripture to enforce his adjuration; "St. Peter," said the terrible inquisitor, "commands us to be ready always to give to every man that asketh us, a reason of the hope that is in us." On these words the schoolmaster's tongue broke loose. "My God, my God, assist me now according to thy promise," prayed he. Then turning to the inquisitors he said, "Ask me now what you please, I shall plainly answer."

He then laid open to them his whole belief, concealing nothing of his abhorrence of Popery, and his love for the Savior. They used all imaginable arts to induce him to recant; and finding that no argument would prevail with him, "Do you not love your wife and children?" said they to him as the last appeal. "You know," replied he, "that I love them from my heart; and I tell you truly, if the whole world were turned into gold, and given to me, I would freely resign it, so that I might keep these dear pledges with me in my confinement, though I should live upon bread and water.'"

"Forsake then," said Titlemann, "your heretical opinions, and then you may live with your wife and children as formerly." "I shall never," he replied, "for the sake of wife and children renounce my religion, and sin against God and my conscience, as God shall strengthen me with his grace." He was pronounced a heretic; and being delivered to the secular arm, he was strangled and burned. [5]

The very idiots of the nation lifted up their voice in reproof of the tyrants, and in condemnation of the tyranny that was scourging the country. The following can hardly be read without horror. At Dixmuyde, in Flanders, lived one Walter Capel, who abounded in almsgiving, and was much beloved by the poor. Among others whom his bounty had fed was a poor simple creature, who hearing that his benefactor was being condemned to death (1553), forced his way into the presence of the judges, and cried out, "Ye are murderers, ye are murderers; ye spill innocent blood; the man has done no ill, but has given me bread." When Capel was burning at the stake, this man would have; thrown himself into the flames and died with his patron, had he not been restrained by force. Nor did his gratitude die with his benefactor. He went daily to the gallows-field where the half-burned carcase was fastened to a stake, and gently stroking the flesh of the dead man with his hand, he; said, "Ah, poor creature, you did no harm, and yet they have spilt your blood. You gave me my bellyful of victuals." When the flesh was all gone, and nothing but the bare skeleton remained, he took down the bones, and laying them upon his shoulders, he carried them to the house of one of the burgomasters, with whom it chanced that several of the magistrates were at that moment feasting. Throwing his ghastly burden at their feet, he cried out, "There, you murderers, first you have eaten his flesh, now eat his bones." [6]

The following three martyrdoms connect themselves with England. Christian de Queker, Jacob Dienssart, and Joan Konings, of Stienwerk, in Flanders, had found an asylum in England, under Queen Elizabeth. In 1559, having visited their native country on their private affairs, they fell into the hands of Peter Titlemann. Being brought before the inquisitors, they freely confessed their opinions. Meanwhile, the Dutch congregation in London procured letters from the Archbishop of Canterbury and other English prelates, which were forwarded to the magistrates of Furness, where they were confined in prison. The writers said that they had been informed of the apprehension of the three travelers; that they were the subjects of the Queen of England; that they had gone into the Low Countries for the dispatch of their private affairs, with intent to return to England; that they had avoided disputes and contest by the way, and therefore could not be charged with the breach of any law of the land; that none of the Flemings had been meddled with in England, but that if now those who had put themselves under English jurisdiction, and were members of the English Church, were to be thus treated in other countries, they should be likewise obliged, though much against their wills, to deal out the same measure to foreigners. Nevertheless, they expected the magistrates of Furness to show prudence and justice, and abstain from the spilling of innocent blood.

The magistrates, on receipt of this letter, deputed two of their number to proceed to Brussels, and lay it before the Council. It was read at the Board, but that was all the attention it received. The Council resolved to proceed with the prisoners according to the edicts. A few days thereafter they were conducted to the court to receive their sentence, their brethren in the faith lining the way, and encouraging and comforting them. They were condemned to die. They went cheerfully to the stake. A voice addressing them from the crowd was heard, saying, "Joan, behave valiantly; the crown of glory is prepared for you." It was that of John Bels, a Carmelite friar. While the executioner was fastening them to the stake, with chains put round their necks and feet, they sang the 130th Psalm, "Out of the depths have I cried to thee, O Lord; " whereupon a Dominican, John Campo, cried out, "Now we perceive you are no Christians, for Christ went weeping to his death; " to which one of the bystanders immediately made answer, "That's a lie, you false prophet." The martyrs were then strangled and scorched, and their bodies publicly hung in chains in the gallows-field. Their remains were soon after taken down by the

Protestants of Furness, and buried. [7]

These men, although in number amounting to many thousands, were only the first rank of that greater army of martyrs which was to come after them. With the exception of a very few, we do not know even the names of the men who so willingly offered their lives to plant the Gospel in their native land. They were known only in the town, or village, or district in which they resided, and did not receive, as they did not seek, wider fame. But what matters it? They themselves are safe, and so too are their names.

Not one of them but is inscribed in a record more lasting than the historian's page, and from which they can never be blotted out. They were mostly men in humble station – weavers, tapestry-workers, stone-cutters, tanners; for the nobles of the Netherlands, not even excepting the Prince of Orange, had not yet abjured the Popish faith, or embraced that of Protestantism. While the nobles were fuming at the pride of Granvelle, or humbly but uselessly petitioning Philip, or fighting wordy battles at the Council-board, they left it to the middle and lower classes to bear the brunt of the great war, and jeopardise their lives in the high places of the field. These humble men were the true nobles of the Netherlands. Their blood it was that broke the power of Spain, and redeemed their native land from vassalage. Their halters and stakes formed the basis of that glorious edifice of Dutch freedom which the next generation was to see rising proudly aloft, and which, but for them, would never have been raised.


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Saturday, June 23rd, 2018
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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