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The History of Protestantism

by 'James Aitken Wylie'

Book 18 — History of Protestantism in the Netherlands

Chapter 8 — The rising storm

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Speech of Prince of Orange at the Council-table – Egmont sent to Spain-Demand for the States-General, and the Abolition of the Edicts – Philip's Reply – More Martyrs – New and More Rigorous Instructions from Philip – The Nobles and Cities Remonstrate – Arrogance of the Inquisitors – New Mode of putting Protestants to Death – Rising Indignation in the Low Countries – Rumours of General Massacre – Dreadful Secret Imparted to Prince of Orange – Council of Trent – Programme of Massacre.

The cardinal had taken flight and was gone, but the Inquisition remained. So long as the edicts were in force, what could be expected but that the waves of popular tumult would continue to flow? Nevertheless, the three lords – Orange, Egmont, and Horn – came to the helm which Granvelle had been compelled to let go, and, along with the regent, worked hard, if haply the shipwreck that appeared to impend over the vessel of the State might be averted. The clear eye of Orange saw that there was a deeper evil at work in the country than the cardinal, and he demanded the removal of that evil. Two measures he deemed essential for the restoration of quiet, and he strenuously urged the instant adoption of these: – first, the assembling of the States-General; and secondly, the abolition of the edicts. The prince's proposition struck at the evil in both its roots. The States-General, if permitted to meet, would resume its government of the nation after the ancient Flemish fashion, and the abolition of the edicts would cut the ground from under the feet of the bishops and the inquisitors – in short, it would break in pieces that whole machinery by which the king was coercing the consciences and burning the bodies of his subjects. These two measures would have allayed all the ferment that was fast ripening into revolt. But what hope was there of their adoption? None whatever while Philip existed, or Spain had a single soldier at her service or a single ducat in her treasury. The Prince of Orange and his two fellow-councillors, however, let slip no opportunity at the Council-board of urging the expediency of these measures if the country was to be saved. "It was a thing altogether impracticable," they said, "to extirpate such a multitude of heretics by the methods of fire and sword. On the contrary, the more these means were employed, the faster would the heretics multiply." [1] Did not facts attest the truth and wisdom of their observation? Neither cords nor stakes had been spared, and yet on every hand the complaint was heard that heresy was spreading.

Waxing yet bolder, at a meeting of Council held towards the end of the year (1564), the Prince of Orange energetically pleaded that, extinguishing their fires, they should give liberty to the people to exercise their religion in their own houses, and that in public the Sacrament should be administered under both kinds. "With commotions and reformations on every side of them, "he said, "it was madness to think of maintaining the old state of matters by means of placards, inquisitions, and bishops. The king ought to be plainly informed what were the wishes of his subjects, and what a mistake it was to propose enforcing the decrees of the Council of Trent, while their neighbors in Germany, as well Roman Catholics as Protestants, had indignantly rejected them." "As for himself," he said, in conclusion, "although resolved to adhere to the Roman Catholic religion, he could not approve that princes should aim at any dominion over the souls of men, or deprive them of the freedom of their faith and religion."

The prince warmed as he spoke. His words flowed like a torrent. Hour passed after hour, and yet there were no signs of his oration drawing to a close. The councillors, who usually sat silent, or contented themselves with merely giving a decorous assent to the propositions of Granvelle, might well be astonished at the eloquence that now resounded through the Council-chamber. It was now seven o'clock of the evening, and the orator would not have ended even yet, had not the Duchess of Parma hinted that the dinner-hour had arrived, and that the debate must be adjourned for the day. Viglius, who had taken the place of the cardinal at the Council-table, went home to his house in a sort of stupefaction at what he had witnessed. He lay awake all night ruminating on the line of argument he should adopt in reply to Orange. He felt how necessary it was to efface the impression the prince's eloquence had made. The dawn found him still perturbed and perplexed. He got up, and was dressing himself, when a stroke of apoplexy laid him senseless upon the floor. The disease left him shattered in mind as in body, and his place at the Council-board had to be supplied by his friend Joachin Hopper, a professor of Louvain, but a man of very humble parts, and entirely subservient to the regent. [2]

It was resolved to dispatch Count Egmont to Madrid, to petition Philip for permission to the States-General to meet, as also for some mitigation of the edicts. But first the terms of Egmont's instructions had to be adjusted. The people must not cry too loudly, lest their tyrant should heat their furnace seven-fold. But it was no easy matter to find mild epithets to designate burning wrongs. Words that might appear sufficiently humble and loyal on the comparatively free soil of the Low Countries, might sound almost like treason when uttered in the Palace of Spain. This delicate matter arranged, Egmont set out. A most courteous reception awaited the deputy of the Netherlands on his arrival at Madrid. He was caressed by the monarch, feted and flattered by the nobles, loaded with rich gifts; and these blandishments and arts had the effect, which doubtless they were meant to produce, of cooling his

ardor as the advocate of his country. If the terms of the remonstrance which Egmont was to lay at the foot of the throne had been studiously selected so as not to grate on the royal ear, before the ambassador left Flanders, they were still further softened by Egmont now that he stood on Spanish soil. Philip frequently admitted him to a private audience, and consulted with him touching the matters respecting which he had been deputed to his court. The king professed to defer much to Egmont's opinion; he gave no promise, however, that he would change his policy as regarded religious matters, or soften in aught the rigour of the edicts. But to show Egmont, and the seigniors of the Netherlands through him, that in this he was impelled by no caprice of cruelty or bigotry, but on the contrary was acting from high and conscientious motives, Philip assembled a council of divines, at which Egmont assisted, and put to them the question, whether he was bound to grant that liberty of conscience which some of the Dutch towns so earnestly craved of him? The judgment of the majority was that, taking into account the present troubles in the Low Countries – which, unless means were found for allaying them, might result in the Provinces falling away from their obedience to the king's authority and to their duty to the one true Church – -his Majesty might accord them some freedom in matters of religion without sinning against God. On this judgment being intimated to Philip, he informed the Fathers that they had misapprehended the special point of conscience he wished to have resolved. What he desired to know was, whether he must, not whether he might grant the liberty his Flemish subjects desired. The ecclesiastics made answer plainly that they did not think that the king was bound in conscience so to do. Whereupon Philip, falling down before a crucifix, addressed it in these words: – "I beseech thee, O God and Lord of all things, that I may persevere all the days of my life in the same mind as I am now, never to be a king, nor called so of any country, where thou art not acknowledged for Lord." [3]

Egmont's embassy to the court of Spain being now ended, he set out on his return to the Low Countries. He was accompanied on his journey by the young Prince Alexander of Parma, the nephew of Philip, and son of Margaret, Regent of the Netherlands, and whose destiny it was in after-years to be fatally mixed up with the tragic woes of that land on which he now set foot for the first time. The results of Egmont's mission were already known at Brussels by letters from Spain, which, although written after his departure from Madrid, had arrived before him; nevertheless, he appeared in the Council on the 5th of May, 1565, and gave in a report of the measures which the king had in contemplation for the pacification of the Provinces. The Prince of Orange clearly saw that the "holy water" of the court had been sprinkled on Egmont, and that the man who had gone forth a patriot had come back a courtier and apologist. The deputy informed the Council that on the matter of the edicts no relaxation was to be expected. Heresy must be rooted out. Touching the meeting of the States-General, the king would send his decision to the regent. This was all. Verily Egmont had gone far and brought back little. But he had a little codicil or postscript in reserve for the Council, to the effect that Philip graciously granted leave for a synod of ecclesiastics, with a few civilians, to convene and concert measures for the instruction of the people, the reformation of the schools, and the purgation of heresy. And further, if the penal laws now in use did not serve their end, they had Philip's permission to substitute others "more efficacious." The Prince of Orange and others were willing to believe that by the "more efficacious" methods against heresy, milder methods only could be intended, seeing that it would be hard to invent measures more rigorous than those now in use; such, however, was not the, meaning of Philip. [4]

During the absence of Egmont, the persecution did not slacken. In February, Joost de Cruel was beheaded at Rosen. He had been first drawn to the Reformed faith by a sermon by Peter Titlemann, Dean of Rosen, who had since become the furious persecutor we have described above. In the same month, John Disreneaux, a man of seventy years, was burned at Lisle. At the same time, John de Graef was strangled and burned at Hulst, with the New Testament hung round his neck. His persecutors had subjected him while in prison to the extremities of hunger, and thirst, and cold, in the hope of subduing him. Mortification had set in, and he went halting to death, his frost-bitten toes and feet refusing their office. Tranquil and courageous, notwithstanding, he exhorted the by-standers, if they had attained a knowledge of the truth, not to be deterred by the fear of death from confessing it. In the following month, two youths were discovered outside the town of Tournay reading the Scriptures. An intimacy of the closest kind, hallowed by their love of the Gospel, had knit them together all their lives; nor were they parted now. They were strangled and burned at the same stake. [5] Considering the number and the barbarity of these executions, it does not surprise one that Orange and his associates believed that if the methods of extirpating heresy were to be changed, it could only be for milder inflictions. They had yet to learn the fertility of Philip's inventive genius.

Scarcely had Egmont given in his report of his mission, when new instructions arrived from Philip, to the effect that not only were the old placards to

be rigorously enforced, but, over and above, the canons of the Council of Trent were to be promulgated as law throughout the Netherlands. These canons gave the entire power of trying and punishing heretics to the clergy. In short, they delivered over the inhabitants of the Netherlands in all matters of opinion to the sole irresponsible and merciless jurisdiction of the Inquisition. Alarm, terror, and consternation overspread the Provinces. The nobles, states, and cities sent deputies to the governor to remonstrate against the outrage on their ancient rights about to be perpetrated, and the destruction into which such a policy was sure to drag the country. "There could be no viler slavery," they said, "than to lead a trembling life in the midst of spies and informers, who registered every word, action, look, and even every thought which they pretended to read from thence." The four chief cities of Brabant, Louvain, Brussels, Antwerp, and Bois le Duc sent deputies to the Chancellor and Council of that Province, to say plainly that the orders of Philip were sounding the death-knell of the Province; the foreign merchants were making haste to get away, the commerce of their States was hastening to extinction, and soon their now flourishing country would be a "mere wilderness." The Prince of Orange wrote to the Duchess of Parma to the effect that if this business of burning, beheading, and drowning was to go on, he begged that some other might be invested with the functions with which his sovereign had clothed him, for he would be no party to the ruin of his country, which he as clearly foresaw as he was powerless to avert. Other Stadtholders wrote to the Duchess of Parma, in reply to her earnest exhortations to assist in carrying out the edicts, saying that they were not inclined to be the lifeguards of the Inquisition. One of the chief magistrates of Amsterdam, a Roman Catholic, happening one day to meet a sheriff who was very zealous in the work of persecution, thus addressed him: "You would do well, when called to appear before the tribunal of God, to have the emperor's placards in your hand, and observe how far they will bear you out." Papers were being daily scattered in the streets, and posted on the gates of the palace of Orange, and of other nobles, calling on them to come to their country's help in its hour of need, to the end that, the axe and the halter being abolished in the affairs of religion, every one might be able to live and die according to his conscience.

On the other hand, the governor was besieged by remonstrances and outcries from the bishops and monks, who complained that they were withstood in carrying out their sovereign's wish in the matter of the execution of the edicts. The aid they had been encouraged to expect in the work of the extirpation of heresy was withheld from them. The tribunals, prisons, and scaffolds of the country had been made over to them, and all magistrates, constables, and gaolers had been constituted their servants; nevertheless, they were often denied the use of that machinery which was altogether indispensable if their work was to be done, not by halves, but effectually. They had to bear odium and calumny, nay, sometimes they were in danger of their lives, in their zeal for the king's service and the Church's glory. On all sides is heard the cry that heresy is increasing, continued these much-injured men; but how can it be that heretics should not multiply, they asked, when they were denied the use of prisons in which to shut them up, and fires in which to burn them? The position of the Duchess of Parma was anything but pleasant. On the one side she was assailed by the screams and hootings of this brood of Inquisitors; and on the other was heard the muttered thunder of a nation's wrath. [6]

Rocked thus on the great billows, the Duchess of Parma wrote to her brother, letting him know how difficult and dangerous her position had become, and craving his advice as to how she ought to steer amid tempests so fierce, and every hour growing fiercer. Philip replied that the edicts must ever be her beacon-lights. Philip's will was unalterably fixed on the extirpation of heresy in his kingdom of the Netherlands, and that will must be the duchess's pole-star. Nevertheless, the tyrant was pleased to set his wits to work, and to devise a method by which the flagrancy, but not the cruelty, of the persecution might be abated. Instead of bringing forth the heretic, and beheading or burning him at midday, he was to be put to death in his prison at midnight. The mode of execution was as simple as it was barbarous. The head of the prisoner was tied between his knees with a rope, and he was then thrown into a large tub full of water, kept in the prison for that use. This Christian invention is said to have been the original device of the "most Catholic king." The plea which Bishop Biro of Wesprim set up in defense of the clemency of the Church of Rome, would have been more appropriate in Philip's mouth, its terms slightly altered, than it was in the mouth of the bishop. "It is a calumny to say that the Church of Rome is bloodthirsty," said the worthy prelate, Biro; "that Church has always been content if heretics were burned."

A new and dreadful rumor which began to circulate through the Netherlands, added to the alarm and terrors of the nation. It was during this same summer that Catherine de Medici and the Duke of Alva held their celebrated conference at Bayonne. Soon thereafter, whispers which passed from land to land, and from mouth to mouth, reached the Low Countries, that a dark plot had been concocted between these two personages, having for its object the

utter extirpation of the new opinions. These rumors corresponded with what was said to have been agreed upon at one of the last sessions of the Council of Trent, which had closed its sittings the year before, and on that account greater stress was laid on these whispers. They appeared to receive still further authentication, at least in the eyes of William, Prince of Orange, from the circumstance that a plot precisely identical had been disclosed to him six years before, by Henry II., when the king and the prince were hunting together in the Wood of Vincennes. The rest of the hunting-party had left them, Henry and William were alone, and the mind of the French king being full of the project, and deeming the prince, then the intimate friend both of Philip II, and the Duke of Alva, a safe depositary of the great secret, he unhappily for himself, but most happily for humanity, communicated to the prince the details of the plan. [7] Henry II. told him how apprehensive he was of his throne being swept away in the flood of Protestantism, but he hoped, with the help of his son-in-law Philip II., soon to rid France of the last Huguenot. The monarch went on to explain to the prince how this was to be done, by entrapping the Protestants at the first convenient moment, destroying them at a single blow; and extending the same thorough purgation to all countries to which heresy had spread. William could not have been more astounded although the earth had suddenly yawned at his feet; however, he carried the secret in his breast from that dark wood, without permitting the French king to read, by word or look of his, the shock the disclosure had given him. And he retained it in his breast for years, without speaking of it to any one, although from the moment of his coming to the knowledge of it, it began to shape his conduct. It is from this circumstance that he received the significant name of "William the Silent."

All three – the rumors from Bayonne, the tidings from the Council of Trent, and the dark secret imparted to William in the Forest of Vincennes – -pointed to a storm now gathering, of more than usual severity, and which should burst over all Christendom, in which the Netherlands could not miss having their full share. But what had been plotted at Trent among the Fathers was nearly as little known as what had been agreed on at Bayonne, between Catherine and Alva. The full truth – -the definite plan – was locked up in the archives of the Vatican, whence it is probable its first suggestion had come, and in the breasts of the little coterie that met at the dosing sessions of the Council. But a paper by one of the secretaries of Cardinal Boromeo, since given to the world, has published on the housetops what was then spoken in whispers in the cabinets of kings or the conclaves of ecclesiastical synods. "First, in order that the business may be conducted with the greater authority, they" (the Fathers of the Council) "advise to commit the superintendence of the whole affair to Philip the Catholic king, who ought to be appointed with common consent the head and conductor of the whole enterprise." The Catholic king was to begin by preferring a complaint to his neighbour, Anthony Bourbon, King of Navarre, "that, contrary to the institutions of his predecessors, he entertains and nourishes a new religion." Should the King of Navarre turn a deaf ear to this remonstrance, Philip was to essay him "by fair promises to draw him off from his wicked and unhappy design." He was to hold out to him the hope of having that portion of his ancestral dominions of which he had been stripped, restored, or an equivalent given him in some other part of Europe. Should Philip succeed in soothing him, "the operations of the future war will then be rendered more easy, short, and expeditious." If he still continued obstinate, the King of Spain was to "intermix some threatenings with his promises and flatteries." Meanwhile Philip was to be collecting an army "as privily as possible;" and in the event of the King of Navarre continuing obdurate, the Spanish king was to fall upon him suddenly and unawares, and chase him from his kingdom, which the leaguers were to occupy.

From the mountains of Navarre the war was to be moved down to the plains. The Huguenots of France were to be extirpated root and branch. For the execution of this part of the programme, the main stress was rested on the zeal of the Duke of Guise, aided by reinforcements from Spain. While the sword was busy drowning the plains of that country in Protestant blood, such of the German princes as were Roman Catholic were to stop the passes into France, lest the Protestant princes should send succor to their brethren. Shut in, and left to contend unaided with two powerful armies, the fall of French Protestantism could not be doubtful. France, chastised and restored to obedience to the Roman See, would regain her pristine purity and glory.

Matters being thus "ordered in France," Germany was next to be undertaken. "Luther and his era" that hour of portentous eclipse which had thrust itself into Germany's golden day – -must be razed from the tablets and chronicles of the Fatherland, nor ever be once remembered or spoken of by the generations to come. "It will be necessary," says the document from which we quote, "with men collected from all quarters, to invade Germany, and with the aid of the emperor and the bishops, to render and restore it again to the Holy Apostolic See." It was arranged that this war of purgation should support itself. "The Duke of Guise shall lend to the emperor and the other princes of Germany, and the ecclesiastical lords, all the

money that shall be gathered from the spoils and confiscations of so many noble, powerful, and wealthy citizens as shall be killed in France on account of the new religion, which will amount to a very great sum; the said Lord of Guise taking sufficient caution and security, that so he may, after the conclusion of the war, be reimbursed of all the money employed for that purpose, from the spoils of the Lutherans and others who shall, on account of religion, be slain in Germany."

What of Helvetia while this great conflagration should be raging all round it? At the cry of their brethren the Reformed Swiss would rush from their mountains to aid their co-religionists. To prevent their doing so, work was to be found for them at home. "For fear," says the document, "that the cantons of Switzerland should lend aids, it is necessary that the cantons which continue still obedient to the Roman Church declare war against the rest, and that the Pope assist these cantons that are of his religion, to the utmost of his power."

The branches cut off in France and Germany, a last and finishing blow was to be dealt at the root of the tree in Geneva. "The Duke of Savoy, whilst the war thus embroils France and the Swiss, shall rush suddenly and unexpectedly with all his forces upon the city of Geneva, on the lake of Leman, assault it by force, and shall not abandon it nor withdraw his men until he become master and obtain full possession of the said city, putting to the point of the sword, or casting into the lake, every living soul who shall be found therein, without any distinction of age or sex, that all may be taught that the Divine Power in the end hath compensated for the delay of the punishment by the greatness and severity of it." [8]

The tempest seemed about to burst in the days of Henry II., but the fatal tournament which sent that monarch to a premature grave drew off the storm for a time. It continued, however, to lower in the sky of Europe; the dark cloud would at times approach as if about to break, and again it would roll away. At last it exploded in the St. Bartholomew Massacre, and its awful reverberations were reiterated again and again in the wars of Philip II. in the Low Countries, and in the campaigns and battles which for thirty years continued to devastate Germany.


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Wednesday, September 19th, 2018
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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