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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Revolt Of The Netherlands - Book 1. Earlier History Of The Netherlands Up To The 16th Century
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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Book 1. Earlier History Of The Netherlands Up To The 16th Century Post by :alvinphk Category :Nonfictions Author :Frederich Schiller Date :May 2012 Read :2180

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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Book 1. Earlier History Of The Netherlands Up To The 16th Century

BOOK I. EARLIER HISTORY OF THE NETHERLANDS UP TO THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY

Before we consider the immediate history of this great revolution, it will be advisable to go a few steps back into the ancient records of the country, and to trace the origin of that constitution which we find it possessed of at the time of this remarkable change.

The first appearance of this people in the history of the world is the moment of its fall; their conquerors first gave them a political existence. The extensive region which is bounded by Germany on the east, on the south by France, on the north and northwest by the North Sea, and which we comprehend under the general name of the Netherlands, was, at the time when the Romans invaded Gaul, divided amongst three principal nations, all originally of German descent, German institutions, and German spirit. The Rhine formed its boundaries. On the left of the river dwelt the Belgae, on its right the Frisii, and the Batavi on the island which its two arms then formed with the ocean. All these several nations were sooner or later reduced into subjection by the Romans, but the conquerors themselves give us the most glorious testimony to their valor. The Belgae, writes Caesar, were the only people amongst the Gauls who repulsed the invasion of the Teutones and Cimbri. The Batavi, Tacitus tells us, surpassed all the tribes on the Rhine in bravery. This fierce nation paid its tribute in soldiers, and was reserved by its conquerors, like arrow and sword, only for battle. The Romans themselves acknowledged the Batavian horsemen to be their best cavalry. Like the Swiss at this day, they formed for a long time the body-guard of the Roman Emperor; their wild courage terrified the Dacians, as they saw them, in full armor, swimming across the Danube. The Batavi accompanied Agricola in his expedition against Britain, and helped him to conquer that island. The Frieses were, of all, the last subdued, and the first to regain their liberty. The morasses among which they dwelt attracted the conquerors later, and enhanced the price of conquest. The Roman Drusus, who made war in these regions, had a canal cut from the Rhine into the Flevo, the present Zuyder Zee, through which the Roman fleet penetrated into the North Sea, and from thence, entering the mouths of the Ems and the Weser, found an easy passage into the interior of Germany.

Through four centuries we find Batavian troops in the Roman armies, but after the time of Honorius their name disappears from history. Presently we discover their island overrun by the Franks, who again lost themselves in the adjoining country of Belgium. The Frieses threw off the yoke of their distant and powerless rulers, and again appearad as a free, and even a conquering people, who governed themselves by their own customs and a remnant of Roman laws, and extended their limits beyond the left bank of the Rhine. Of all the provinces of the Netherlands, Friesland especially had suffered the least from the irruptions of strange tribes and foreign customs, and for centuries retained traces of its original institutions, of its national spirit and manners, which have not, even at the present day, entirely disappeared.

The epoch of the immigration of nations destroyed the original form of most of these tribes; other mixed races arose in their place, with other constitutions. In the general irruption the towns and encampments of the Romans disappeared, and with them the memorials of their wise government, which they had employed the natives to execute. The neglected dikes once more yielded to the violence of the streams and to the encroachments of the ocean. Those wonders of labor, and creations of human skill, the canals, dried up, the rivers changed their course, the continent and the sea confounded their olden limits, and the nature of the soil changed with its inhabitants. So, too, the connection of the two eras seems effaced, and with a new race a new history commences.

The monarchy of the Franks, which arose out of the ruins of Roman Gaul, had, in the sixth and seventh centuries, seized all the provinces of the Netherlands, and planted there the Christian faith. After an obstinate war Charles Martel subdued to the French crown Friesland, the last of all the free provinces, and by his victories paved a way for the gospel. Charlemagne united all these countries, and formed of them one division of the mighty empire which he had constructed out of Germany, France, and Lombardy. As under his descendants this vast dominion was again torn into fragments, so the Netherlands became at times German, at others French, or then again Lotheringian Provinces; and at last we find them under both the names of Friesland and Lower Lotheringia.

With the Franks the feudal system, the offspring of the North, also came into these lands, and here, too, as in all other countries, it degenerated. The more powerful vassals gradually made themselves independent of the crown, and the royal governors usurped the countries they were appointed to govern. But the rebellions vassals could not maintain their usurpations without the aid of their own dependants, whose assistance they were compelled to purchase by new concessions. At the same time the church became powerful through pious usurpations and donations, and its abbey lands and episcopal sees acquired an independent existence. Thus were the Netherlands in the tenth, eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries split up into several small sovereignties, whose possessors did homage at one time to the German Emperor, at another to the kings of France. By purchase, marriages, legacies, and also by conquest, several of these provinces were often united under one suzerain, and thus in the fifteenth century we see the house of Burgundy in possession of the chief part of the Netherlands. With more or less right Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, had united as many as eleven provinces under his authority, and to these his son, Charles the Bold, added two others, acquired by force of arms. Thus imperceptibly a new state arose in Europe, which wanted nothing but the name to be the most flourishing kingdom in this quarter of the globe. These extensive possessions made the Dukes of Burgundy formidable neighbors to France, and tempted the restless spirit of Charles the Bold to devise a scheme of conquest, embracing the whole line of country from the Zuyder Zee and the mouth of the Rhine down to Alsace. The almost inexhaustible resources of this prince justify in some measure this bold project. A formidable army threatened to carry it into execution. Already Switzerland trembled for her liberty; but deceitful fortune abandoned him in three terrible battles, and the infatuated hero was lost in the melee of the living and the dead.


(A page who had seen him fall a few days after the battle conducted the victors to the spot, and saved his remains from an ignominious oblivion. His body was dragged from out of a pool, in which it was fast frozen, naked, and so disfigured with wounds that with great difficulty he was recognized, by the well-known deficiency of some of his teeth, and by remarkably long finger-nails. But that, notwithstanding the marks, there were still incredulous people who doubted his death, and looked for his reappearance, is proved by the missive in which Louis XI. called upon the Burgundian States to return to their allegiance to the Crown of France. "If," the passage runs, "Duke Charles should still be living, you shall be released from your oath to me." Comines, t. iii., Preuves des Memoires, 495, 497.)


The sole heiress of Charles the Bold, Maria, at once the richest princess and the unhappy Helen of that time, whose wooing brought misery on her inheritance, was now the centre of attraction to the whole known world. Among her suitors appeared two great princes, King Louis XI. of France, for his son, the young Dauphin, and Maximilian of Austria, son of the Emperor Frederic III. The successful suitor was to become the most powerful prince in Europe; and now, for the first time, this quarter of the globe began to fear for its balance of power. Louis, the more powerful of the two, was ready to back his suit by force of arms; but the people of the Netherlands, who disposed of the hand of their princess, passed by this dreaded neighbor, and decided in favor of Maximilian, whose more remote territories and more limited power seemed less to threaten the liberty of their country. A deceitful, unfortunate policy, which, through a strange dispensation of heaven, only accelerated the melancholy fate which it was intended to prevent.

To Philip the Fair, the son of Maria and Maximilian, a Spanish bride brought as her portion that extensive kingmdom which Ferdinand and Isabella had recently founded; and Charles of Austria, his son, was born lord of the kingdoms of Spain, of the two Sicilies, of the New World, and of the Netherlands. In the latter country the commonalty emancipated themselves much earlier than in other; feudal states, and quickly attained to an independent political existence. The favorable situation of the country on the North Sea and on great navigable rivers early awakened the spirit of commerce, which rapidly peopled the towns, encouraged industry and the arts, attracted foreigners, and diffused prosperity and affluence among them. However contemptuously the warlike policy of those times looked down upon every peaceful and useful occupation, the rulers of the country could not fail altogether to perceive the essential advantages they derived from such pursuits. The increasing population of their territories, the different imposts which they extorted from natives and foreigners under the various titles of tolls, customs, highway rates, escort money, bridge tolls, market fees, escheats, and so forth, were too valuable considerations to allow them to remain indifferent to the sources from which they were derived.. Their own rapacity made them promoters of trade, and, as often happens, barbarism itself rudely nursed it, until at last a healthier policy assumed its place. In the course of time they invited the Lombard merchants to settle among them, and accorded to the towns some valuable privileges and an independent jurisdiction, by which the latter acquired uncommon extraordinary credit and influence. The numerous wars which the counts and dukes carried on with one another, or with their neighbors, made them in some measure dependent on the good-will of the towns, who by their wealth obtained weight and consideration, and for the subsidies which they afforded failed not to extort important privileges in return. These privileges of the commonalties increased as the crusades with their expensive equipment augumented the necessities of the nobles; as a new road to Europe was opened for the productions of the East, and as wide-spreading luxury created new wants to their princes. Thus as early as the eleventh and twelfth centuries we find in these lands a mixed form of governmeut, in which the prerogative of the sovereign is greatly limited by the privileges of the estates; that is to say, of the nobility, the clergy, and the municipalities.

These, under the name of States, assembled as often as the wants of the province required it. Without their consent no new laws were valid, no war could be carried on, and no taxes levied, no change made in the coinage, and no foreigner admitted to any office of government. All the provinces enjoyed these privileges in common; others were peculiar to the various districts. The supreme government was hereditary, but the son did not enter on the rights of his father before he had solemnly sworn to maintain the existing constitution.

Necessity is the first lawgiver; all the wants which had to be met by this constitution were originally of a commercial nature. Thus the whole constitution was founded on commerce, and the laws of the nation were adapted to its pursuits. The last clause, which excluded foreigners from all offices of trust, was a natural consequence of the preceding articles. So complicated and artificial a relation between the sovereign and his people, which in many provinces was further modified according to the peculiar wants of each, and frequently of some single city, required for its maintenance the liveliest zeal for the liberties of the country, combined with an intimate acquaintance with them. From a foreigner neither could well be expected. This law, besides, was enforced reciprocally in each particular province; so that in Brabant no Fleming, in Zealand no Hollander, could hold office; and it continued in force even after all these provinces were united under one government.

Above all others, Brabant enjoyed the highest degree of freedom. Its privileges were esteemed so valuable that many mothers from the adjacent provinces removed thither about the time of their accouchment, in order to entitle their children to participate, by birth, in all the immunities of that favored country; just as, says Strada, one improves the plants of a rude climate by removing them to the soil of a milder.

After the House of Burgundy had united several provinces under its dominion, the separate provincial assemblies which, up to that time, had been independent tribunals, were made subject to a supreme court at Malines, which incorporated the various judicatures into one body, and decided in the last resort all civil and criminal appeals. The separate independence of the provinces was thus abolished, and the supreme power vested in the senate at Malines.

After the death of Charles the Bold the states did not neglect to avail themselves of the embarassment of their duchess, who, threatened by France, was consequently in their power. Holland and Zealand compelled her to sign a great charter, which secured to them the most important sovereign rights. The people of Ghent carried their insolence to such a pitch that they arbitrarily dragged the favorites of Maria, who had the misfortune to displease them, before their own tribunals, and beheaded them before the eyes of that princess. During the short government of the Duchess Maria, from her father's death to her marriage, the commons obtained powers which few free states enjoyed. After her death her husband, Maximilian, illegally assumed the government as guardian of his son. Offended by this invasion of their rights, the estates refused to acknowledge his authority, and could only be brought to receive him as a viceroy for a stated period, and under conditions ratified by oath.

Maximilian, after he became Roman Emperor, fancied that he might safely venture to violate the constitution. He imposed extraordinary taxes on the provinces, gave official appointments to Burgundians and Germans, and introduced foreign troops into the provinces. But the jealousy of these republicans kept pace with the power of their regent. As he entered Bruges with a large retinue of foreigners, the people flew to arms, made themselves masters of his person, and placed him in confinement in the castle. In spite of the intercession of the Imperial and Roman courts, he did not again obtain his freedom until security had been given to the people on all the disputed points.

The security of life and property arising from mild laws, and, an equal administration of justice, had encouraged activity and industry. In continual contest with the ocean and rapid rivers, which poured their violence on the neighboring lowlands, and whose force it was requisite to break by embankments and canals, this people had early learned to observe the natural objects around them; by industry and perseverance to defy an element of superior power; and like the Egyptian, instructed by his Nile, to exercise their inventive genius and acuteness in self-defence. The natural fertility of their soil, which favored agriculture and the breeding of cattle, tended at the same time to increase the population. Their happy position on the sea and the great navigable rivers of Germany and France, many of which debouched on their coasts; the numerous artificial canals which intersected the land in all directions, imparted life to navigation; and the facility of internal communication between the provinces, soon created and fostered a commercial spirit among these people.

The neighboring coasts, Denmark and Britain, were the first visited by their vessels. The English wool which they brought back employed thousands of industrious hands in Bruges, Ghent, and Antwerp; and as early as the middle of the twelfth century cloths of Flanders were extensively worn in France and Germany. In the eleventh century we find ships of Friesland in the Belt, and even in the Levant. This enterprising people ventured, without a compass, to steer under the North Pole round to the most northerly point of Russia. From the Wendish towns the Netherlands received a share in the Levant trade, which, at that time, still passed from the Black Sea through the Russian territories to the Baltic. When, in the thirteenth century, this trade began to decline, the Crusades having opened a new road through the Mediterranean for Indian merchandise, and after the Italian towns had usurped this lucrative branch of commerce, and the great Hanseatic League had been formed in Germany, the Netherlands became the most important emporium between the north and south. As yet the use of the compass was not general, and the merchantmen sailed slowly and laboriously along the coasts. The ports on the Baltic were, during the winter months, for the most part frozen and inaccessible. Ships, therefore, which could not well accomplish within the year the long voyage from the Mediterranean to the Belt, gladly availed themselves of harbors which lay half-way between the two.

With an immense continent behind them with which navigable streams kept up their communication, and towards the west and north open to the ocean by commodious harbors, this country appeared to be expressly formed for a place of resort for different nations, and for a centre of commerce. The principal towns of the Netherlands were established marts. Portuguese, Spaniards, Italians, French, Britons, Germans, Danes, and Swedes thronged to them with the produce of every country in the world. Competition insured cheapness; industry was stimulated as it found a ready market for its productions. With the necessary exchange of money arose the commerce in bills, which opened a new and fruitful source of wealth. The princes of the country, acquainted at last with their true interest, encouraged the merchant by important immunities, and neglected not to protect their commerce by advantageous treaties with foreign powers. When, in the fifteenth century, several provinces were united under one rule, they discontinued their private wars, which had proved so injurious, and their separate interests were now more intimately connected by a common government. Their commerce and affluence prospered in the lap of a long peace, which the formidable power of their princes extorted from the neighboring monarchs. The Burgundian flag was feared in every sea, the dignity of their sovereign gave support to their undertakings, and the enterprise of a private individual became the affair of a powerful state. Such vigorous protection soon placed them in a position even to renounce the Hanseatic League, and to pursue this daring enemy through every sea. The Hanseatic merchants, against whom the coasts of Spain were closed, were compelled at last, however reluctantly, to visit the Flemish fairs, and purchase their Spanish goods in the markets of the Netherlands.

Bruges, in Flanders, was, in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the central point of the whole commerce of Europe, and the great market of all nations. In the year 1468 a hundred and fifty merchant vessels were counted entering the harbor of Sluys it one time. Besides the rich factories of the Hanseatic League, there were here fifteen trading companies, with their countinghouses, and many factories and merchants' families from every European country. Here was established the market of all northern products for the south, and of all southern and Levantine products for the north. These passed through the Sound, and up the Rhine, in Hanseatic vessels to Upper Germany, or were transported by landcarriage to Brunswick and Luneburg.

As in the common course of human affairs, so here also a licentious luxury followed prosperity. The seductive example of Philip the Good could not but accelerate its approach. The court of the Burgundian dukes was the most voluptuous and magnificent in Europe, Italy itself not excepted. The costly dress of the higher classes, which afterwards served as patterns to the Spaniards, and eventually, with other Burgundian customs, passed over to the court of Austria, soon descended to the lower orders, and the meanest citizen nursed his person in velvet and silk.


(Philip the Good was too profuse a prince to amass treasures; nevertheless Charles the Bold found accumulated among his effects, a greater store of table services, jewels, carpets, and linen than three rich princedoms of that time together possessed, and over and above all a treasure of three hundred thousand dollars in ready money. The riches of this prince, and of the Burgundian people, lay exposed on the battle-fields of Granson, Murten and Nancy. Here a Swiss soldier drew from the finger of Charles the Bold, that celebrated diamond which was long esteemed the largest in Europe, which even now sparkles in the crown of France as the second in size, but which the unwitting finder sold for a florin. The Swiss exchanged the silver they found for tin, and the gold for copper, and tore into pieces the costly tents of cloth of gold. The value of the spoil of silver, gold, and jewels which was taken has been estimated at three millions. Charles and his army had advanced to the combat, not like foes who purpose battle, but like conquerors who adorn themselves after victory.)


Comines, an author who travelled through the Netherlands about the middle of the fifteenth century, tells us that pride had already attended their prosperity. The pomp and vanity of dress was carried by both sexes to extravagance. The luxury of the table had never reached so great a height among any other people. The immoral assemblage of both sexes at bathing-places, and such other places of reunion for pleasure and enjoyment, had banished all shame--and we are not here speaking of the usual luxuriousness of the higher ranks; the females of the common class abandoned themselves to such extravagances without limit or measure.

But how much more cheering to the philanthropist is this extravagance than the miserable frugality of want, and the barbarous virtues of ignorance, which at that time oppressed nearly the whole of Europe! The Burgundian era shines pleasingly forth from those dark ages, like a lovely spring day amid the showers of February. But this flourishing condition tempted the Flemish towns at last to their ruin; Ghent and Bruges, giddy with liberty and success, declared war against Philip the Good, the ruler of eleven provinces, which ended as unfortunately as it was presumptuously commenced. Ghent alone lost many thousand men in an engagement near Havre, and was compelled to appease the wrath of the victor by a contribution of four hundred thousand gold florins. All the municipal functionaries, and two thousand of the principal citizens, went, stripped to their shirts, barefooted, and with heads uncovered, a mile out of the town to meet the duke, and on their knees supplicated for pardon. On this occasion they were deprived of several valuable privileges, all irreparable loss for their future commerce. In the year 1482 they engaged in a war, with no better success, against Maximilian of Austria, with a view to, deprive him of the guardianship of his son, which, in contravention of his charter, he had unjustly assumed. In 1487 the town of Bruges placed the archduke himself in confinement, and put some of his most eminent ministers to death. To avenge his son the Emperor Frederic III. entered their territory with an army, and, blockading for ten years the harbor of Sluys, put a stop to their entire trade. On this occasion Amsterdam and Antwerp, whose jealousy had long been roused by the flourishing condition of the Flemish towns, lent him the most important assistance. The Italians began to bring their own silk-stuffs to Antwerp for sale, and the Flemish cloth-workers likewise, who had settled in England, sent their goods thither; and thus the town of Bruges lost two important branches of trade. The Hanseatic League had long been offended at their overweening pride; and it now left them and removed its factory to Antwerp. In the year 1516 all the foreign merchants left the town except only a few Spaniards; but its prosperity faded as slowly as it had bloomed.

Antwerp received, in the sixteenth century, the trade which the luxuriousness of the Flemish towns had banished; and under the government of Charles V. Antwerp was the most stirring and splendid city in the Christian world. A stream like the Scheldt, whose broad mouth, in the immediate vicinity, shared with the North Sea the ebb and flow of the tide, and could carry vessels of the largest tonnage under the walls of Antwerp, made it the natural resort for all vessels which visited that coast. Its free fairs attracted men of business from all countries.


(Two such fairs lasted forty days, and all the goods sold there were duty free.)


The industry of the nation had, in the beginning of this century, reached its greatest height. The culture of grain, flax, the breeding of cattle, the chase, and fisheries, enriched the peasant; arts, manufactures, and trade gave wealth to the burghers. Flemish and Brabantine manufactures were long to be seen in Arabia, Persia, and India. Their ships covered the ocean, and in the Black Sea contended with the Genoese for supremacy. It was the distinctive characteristic of the seaman of the Netherlands that he made sail at all seasons of the year, and never laid up for the winter.

When the new route by the Cape of Good Hope was discovered, and the East India trade of Portugal undermined that of the Levant, the Netherlands did not feel the blow which was inflicted on the Italian republics. The Portuguese established their mart in Brabant, and the spices of Calicut were displayed for sale in the markets of Antwerp. Hither poured the West Indian merchandise, with which the indolent pride of Spain repaid the industry of the Netherlands. The East Indian market attracted the most celebrated commercial houses from Florence, Lucca, and Genoa; and the Fuggers and Welsers from Augsburg. Here the Hanse towns brought the wares of the north, and here the English company had a factory. Here art and nature seemed to expose to view all their riches; it was a splendid exhibition of the works of the Creator and of the creature.

Their renown soon diffused itself through the world. Even a company of Turkish merchants, towards the end of this century, solicited permission to settle here, and to supply the products of the East by way of Greece. With the trade in goods they held also the exchange of money. Their bills passed current in the farthest parts of the globe. Antwerp, it is asserted, then transacted more extensive and more important business in a single month than Venice, at its most flourishing period, in two whole years.

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