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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Revolt Of The Netherlands - Book 4. The Iconoclasts Continued
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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Book 4. The Iconoclasts Continued Post by :frenzy Category :Nonfictions Author :Frederich Schiller Date :May 2012 Read :2450

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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Book 4. The Iconoclasts Continued

BOOK IV. THE ICONOCLASTS CONTINUED

Philip lay sick at Segovia when the news of the outbreak of the Iconoclasts and the uncatholic agreement entered into with the Reformers reached him. At the same time the regent renewed her urgent entreaty for his personal visit, of which also all the letters treated, which the President Viglius exchanged with his friend Hopper. Many also of the Belgian nobles addressed special letters to the king, as, for instance, Egmont, Mansfeld, Megen, Aremberg, Noircarmes, and Barlaimont, in which they reported the state of their provinces, and at once explained and justified the arrangements they had made with the disaffected. Just at this period a letter arrived from the German Emperor, in which he recommended Philip to act with clemency towards his Belgian subjects, and offered his mediation in the matter. He had also written direct to the regent herself in Brussels, and added letters to the several leaders of the nobility, which, however, were never delivered. Having conquered the first anger which this hateful occurrence had excited, the king referred the whole matter to his council.

The party of Granvella, which had the preponderance in the council, was diligent in tracing a close connection between the behavior of the Flemish nobles and the excesses of the church desecrators, which showed itself in similarity of the demands of both parties, and especially the time which the latter chose for their outbreak. In the same month, they observed, in which the nobles had sent in their three articles of pacification, the Iconoclasts had commenced their work; on the evening of the very day that Orange quitted Antwerp the churches too were plundered. During the whole tumult not a finger was lifted to take up arms; all the expedients employed were invariably such as turned to the advantage of the sects, while, on the contrary, all others were neglected which tended to the maintenance of the pure faith. Many of the Iconoclasts, it was further said, had confessed that all that they had done was with the knowledge and consent of the princes; though surely nothing was more natural, than for such worthless wretches to seek to screen with great names a crime which they had undertaken solely on their own account. A writing also was produced in which the high nobility were made to promise their services to the "Gueux," to procure the assembly of the states general, the genuineness of which, however, the former strenuously denied. Four different seditious parties were, they said, to be noticed in the Netherlands, which were all more or less connected with one another, and all worked towards a common end. One of these was those bands of reprobates who desecrated the churches; a second consisted of the various sects who had hired the former to perform their infamous acts; the "Gueux," who had raised themselves to be the defenders of the sects were the third; and the leading nobles who were inclined to the "Gueux" by feudal connections, relationship, and friendship, composed the fourth. All, consequently, were alike fatally infected, and all equally guilty. The government had not merely to guard against a few isolated members; it had to contend with the whole body. Since, then, it was ascertained that the people were the seduced party, and the encouragement to rebellion came from higher quarters, it would be wise and expedient to alter the plan hitherto adopted, which now appeared defective in several respects. Inasmuch as all classes had been oppressed without distinction, and as much of severity shown to the lower orders as of contempt to the nobles, both had been compelled to lend support to one another; a party had been given to the latter and leaders to the former. Unequal treatment seemed an infallible expedient to separate them; the mob, always timid and indolent when not goaded by the extremity of distress, would very soon desert its adored protectors and quickly learn to see in their fate well-merited retribution if only it was not driven to share it with them. It was therefore proposed to the king to treat the great multitude for the future with more leniency, and to direct all measures of severity against the leaders of the faction. In order, however, to avoid the appearance of a disgraceful concession, it was considered advisable to accept the mediation of the Emperor, and to impute to it alone and not to the justice of their demands, that the king out of pure generosity had granted to his Belgian subjects as much as they asked.

The question of the king's personal visit to the provinces was now again mooted, and all the difficulties which had formerly been raised on this head appeared to vanish before the present emergency. "Now," said Tyssenacque and Hopper, "the juncture has really arrived at which the king, according to his own declaration formerly made to Count Egmont, will be ready to risk a thousand lives. To restore quiet to Ghent Charles V. had undertaken a troublesome and dangerous journey through an enemy's country. This was done for the sake of a single town; and now the peace, perhaps even the possession, of all the United Provinces was at stake." This was the opinion of the majority; and the journey of the king was looked upon as a matter from which he could not possibly any longer escape.

The question now was, whether he should enter upon it with a numerous body of attendants or with few; and here the Prince of Eboli and Count Figueroa were at issue with the Duke of Alva, as their private interests clashed. If the king journeyed at the head of an army the presence of the Duke of Alva would be indispensable, who, on the other hand, if matters were peaceably adjusted, would be less required, and must make room for his rivals. "An army," said Figueroa, who spoke first, "would alarm the princes through whose territories it must march, and perhaps even be opposed by them; it would, moreover, unnecessarily burden the provinces for whose tranquillization it was intended, and add a new grievance to the many which had already driven the people to such lengths. It would press indiscriminately upon all of the king's subjects, whereas a court of justice, peaceably administering its office, would observe a marked distinction between the innocent and the guilty. The unwonted violence of the former course would tempt the leaders of the faction to take a more alarming view of their behavior, in which wantonness and levity had the chief share, and consequently induce them to proceed with deliberation and union; the thought of having forced the king to such lengths would plunge them into despair, in which they would be ready to undertake anything. If the king placed himself in arms against the rebels he would forfeit the most important advantage which he possessed over them, namely, his authority as sovereign of the country, which would prove the more powerful in proportion as he showed his reliance upon that alone. He would place himself thereby, as it were, on a level with the rebels, who on their side would not be at a loss to raise an army, as the universal hatred of the Spanish forces would operate in their favor with the nation. By this procedure the king would exchange the certain advantage which his position as sovereign of the country conferred upon him for the uncertain result of military operations, which, result as they might, would of necessity destroy a portion of his own subjects. The rumor of his hostile approach would outrun him time enough to allow all who were conscious of a bad cause to place themselves in a posture of defence, and to combine and render availing both their foreign and domestic resources. Here again the general alarm would do them important service; the uncertainty who would be the first object of this warlike approach would drive even the less guilty to the general mass of the rebels, and force those to become enemies to the king who otherwise would never have been so. If, however, he was coming among them without such a formidable accompaniment; if his appearance was less that of a sanguinary judge than of an angry parent, the courage of all good men would rise, and the bad would perish in their own security. They would persuade themselves what had happened was unimportant; that it did not appear to the king of sufficient moment to call for strong measures. They wished if they could to avoid the chance of ruining, by acts of open violence, a cause which might perhaps yet be saved; consequently, by this quiet, peaceable method everything would be gained which by the other would be irretrievably lost; the loyal subject would in no degree be involved in the same punishment with the culpable rebel; on the latter alone would the whole weight of the royal indignation descend. Lastly, the enormous expenses would be avoided which the transport of a Spanish army to those distant regions would occasion.

"But," began the Duke of Alva, "ought the injury of some few citizens to be considered when danger impends over the whole? Because a few of the loyally-disposed may suffer wrong are the rebels therefore not to be chastised? The offence has been universal, why then should not the punishment be the same? What the rebels have incurred by their actions the rest have incurred equally by their supineness. Whose fault is it but theirs that the former have so far succeeded? Why did they not promptly oppose their first attempts? It is said that circumstances were not so desperate as to justify this violent remedy; but who will insure us that they will not be so by the time the king arrives, especially when, according to every fresh despatch of the regent, all is hastening with rapid strides to a-ruinous consummation? Is it a hazard we ought to run to leave the king to discover on his entrance into the provinces the necessity of his having brought with him a military force? It is a fact only too well-established that the rebels have secured foreign succors, which stand ready at their command on the first signal; will it then be time to think of preparing for war when the enemy pass the frontiers? Is it a wise risk to rely for aid upon the nearest Belgian troops when their loyalty is so little to be depended upon? And is not the regent perpetually reverting in her despatches to the fact that nothing but the want of a suitable military force has hitherto hindered her from enforcing the edicts, and stopping the progress of the rebels? A well-disciplined and formidable army alone will disappoint all their hopes of maintaining themselves in opposition to their lawful sovereign, and nothing but the certain prospect of destruction will make them lower their demands. Besides, without an adequate force, the king cannot venture his person in hostile countries; he cannot enter into any treaties with his rebellious subjects which would not be derogatory to his honor."

The authority of the speaker gave preponderance to his arguments, and the next question was, when the king should commence his journey and what road he should take. As the voyage by sea was on every account extremely hazardous, he had no other alternative but either to proceed thither through the passes near Trent across. Germany, or to penetrate from Savoy over the Apennine Alps. The first route would expose him to the danger of the attack of the German Protestants, who were not likely to view with indifference the objects of his journey, and a passage over the Apennines was at this late season of the year not to be attempted. Moreover, it would be necessary to send for the requisite galleys from Italy, and repair them, which would take several months. Finally, as the assembly of the Cortes of Castile, from which he could not well be absent, was already appointed for December, the journey could not be undertaken before the spring. Meanwhile the regent pressed for explicit instructions how she was to extricate herself from her present embarrassment, without compromising the royal dignity too far; and it was necessary to do something in the interval till the king could undertake to appease the troubles by his personal presence. Two separate letters were therefore despatched to the duchess; one public, which she could lay before the states and the council chambers, and one private, which was intended for herself alone. In the first, the king announced to her his restoration to health, and the fortunate birth of the Infanta Clara Isabella Eugenia, afterwards wife of the Archduke Albert of Austria and Princess of the Netherlands. He declared to her his present firm intention to visit the Netherlands in person, for which he was already making the necessary preparations. The assembling of the states he refused, as he had previously done. No mention was made in this letter of the agreement which she had entered into with the Protestants and with the league, because he did not deem it advisable at present absolutely to reject it, and he was still less disposed to acknowledge its validity. On the other hand, he ordered her to reinforce the army, to draw together new regiments from Germany, and to meet the refractory with force. For the rest, he concluded, he relied upon the loyalty of the leading nobility, among whom he knew many who were sincere in their attachment both to their religion and their king. In the secret letter she was again enjoined to do all in her power to prevent the assembling of the states; but if the general voice should become irresistible, and she was compelled to yield, she was at least to manage so cautiously that the royal dignity should not suffer, and no one learn the king's consent to their assembly.

While these consultations were held in Spain the Protestants in the Netherlands made the most extensive use of the privileges which had been compulsorily granted to them. The erection of churches wherever it was permitted was completed with incredible rapidity; young and old, gentle and simple, assisted in carrying stones; women sacrificed even their ornaments in order to accelerate the work. The two religious parties established in several towns consistories, and a church council of their own, the first move of the kind being made in Antwerp, and placed their form of worship on a well-regulated footing. It was also proposed to raise a common fund by subscription to meet any sudden emergency of the Protestant church in general. In Antwerp a memorial was presented by the Calvinists of that town to the Count of Hogstraten, in which they offered to pay three millions of dollars to secure the free exercise of their religion. Many copies of this writing were circulated in the Netherlands; and in order to stimulate others, many had ostentatiously subscribed their names to large sums. Various interpretations of this extravagant offer were made by the enemies of the Reformers, and all had some appearance of reason. For instance, it was urged that under the pretext of collecting the requisite sum for fulfilling this engagement they hoped, without suspicion, to raise funds for military purposes; for whether they should be called upon to contribute for or against they would, it was thought, be more ready to burden themselves with a view of preserving peace than for an oppressive and devasting war. Others saw in this offer nothing more than a temporary stratagem of the Protestants by which they hoped to bind the court and keep it irresolute until they should have gained sufficient strength to confront it. Others again declared it to be a downright bravado in order to alarm the regent, and to raise the courage of their own party by the display of such rich resources. But whatever was the true motive of this proposition, its originators gained little by it; the contributions flowed in scantily and slowly, and the court answered the proposal with silent contempt. The excesses, too, of the Iconoclasts, far from promoting the cause of the league and advancing the Protestants interests, had done irreparable injury to both. The sight of their ruined churches, which, in the language of Viglius, resembled stables more than houses of God, enraged the Roman Catholics, and above all the clergy. All of that religion, who had hitherto been members of the league, now forsook it, alleging that even if it had not intentionally excited and encouraged the excesses of the Iconoclasts it had beyond question remotely led to them. The intolerance of the Calvinists who, wherever they were the ruling party, cruelly oppressed the Roman Catholics, completely expelled the delusion in which the latter had long indulged, and they withdrew their support from a party from which, if they obtained the upper hand, their own religion had so much cause to fear. Thus the league lost many of its best members; the friends and patrons, too, which it had hitherto found amongst the well-disposed citizens now deserted it, and its character began perceptibly to decline. The severity with which some of its members had acted against the Iconoclasts in order to prove their good disposition towards the regent, and to remove the suspicion of any connection with the malcontents, had also injured them with the people who favored the latter, and thus the league was in danger of ruining itself with both parties at the same time. The regent had no sooner became acquainted with this change in the public mind than she devised a plan by which she hoped gradually to dissolve the whole league, or at least to enfeeble it through internal dissensions. For this end she availed herself of the private letters which the king had addressed to some of the nobles, and enclosed to her with full liberty to use them at her discretion. These letters, which overflowed with kind expressions were presented to those for whom they were intended, with an attempt at secrecy, which designedly miscarried, so that on each occasion some one or other of those who had received nothing of the sort got a hint of them. In order to spread suspicion the more widely numerous copies of the letters were circulated. This artifice attained its object. Many members of the league began to doubt the honesty of those to whom such brilliant promises were made; through fear of being deserted by their principal members and supporters, they eagerly accepted the conditions which were offered them by the regent, and evinced great anxiety for a speedy reconciliation with the court. The general rumor of the impending visit of the king, which the regent took care to have widely circulated, was also of great service to her in this matter; many who could not augur much good to themselves from the royal presence did not hesitate to accept a pardon, which, perhaps, for what they could tell, was offered them for the last time. Among those who thus received private letters were Egmont and Prince of Orange. Both had complained to the king of the evil reports with which designing persons in Spain had labored to brand their names, and to throw suspicion on their motives and intentions; Egmont, in particular, with the honest simplicity which was peculiar to his character, had asked the monarch only to point out to him what he most desired, to determine the particular action by which his favor could be best obtained and zeal in his service evinced, and it should, he assured him, be done. The king in reply caused the president, Von Tyssenacque, to tell him that he could do nothing better to refute his traducers than to show perfect submission to the royal orders, which were so clearly and precisely drawn up, that no further exposition of them was required, nor any particular instruction. It was the sovereign's part to deliberate, to examine, and to decide; unconditionally to obey was the duty of the subject; the honor of the latter consisted in his obedence. It did not become a member to hold itself wiser than the head. He was assuredly to be blamed for not having done his utmost to curb the unruliness of his sectarians; but it was even yet in his power to make up for past negligence by at least maintaining peace and order until the actual arrival of the king. In thus punishing Count Egmont with reproofs like a disobedient child, the king treated him in accordance with what he knew of his character; with his friend he found it necessary to call in the aid of artifice and deceit. Orange, too, in his letter, had alluded to the suspicions which the king entertained of his loyalty and attachment, but not, like Egmont, in the vain hope of removing them; for this, he had long given up; but in order to pass from these complaints to a request for permission to resign his offices. He had already frequently made this request to the regent, but had always received from her a refusal, accompanied with the strongest assurance of her regard. The king also, to whom he now at last addressed a direct application, returned him the same answer, graced with similar strong assurances of his satisfaction and gratitude. In particular he expressed the high satisfaction he entertained of his services, which he had lately rendered the crown in Antwerp, and lamented deeply that the private affairs of the prince (which the latter had made his chief plea for demanding his dismissal) should have fallen into such disorder; but ended with the declaration that it was impossible for him to dispense with his valuable services at a crisis which demanded the increase, rather than diminution, of his good and honest servants. He had thought, he added, that the prince entertained a better opinion of him than to suppose him capable of giving credit to the idle talk of certain persons, who were friends neither to the prince nor to himself. But, at the same time, to give him a proof of his sincerity, he complained to him in confidence of his brother, the Count of Nassau, pretended to ask his advice in the matter, and finally expressed a wish to have the count removed for a period from the Netherlands.

But Philip had here to do with a head which in cunning was superior to his own. The Prince of Orange had for a long time held watch over him and his privy council in Madrid and Segovia, through a host of spies, who reported to him everything of importance that was transacted there. The court of this most secret of all despots had become accessible to his intriguing spirit and his money; in this manner he had gained possession of several autograph letters of the regent, which she had secretly written to Madrid, and had caused copies to be circulated in triumph in Brussels, and in a measure under her own eyes, insomuch that she saw with astonishment in everybody's hands what she thought was preserved with so much care, and entreated the king for the future to destroy her despatches immediately they were read. William's vigilance did not confine itself simply to the court of Spain; he had spies in France, and even at more distant courts. He is also charged with not being over scrupulous as to the means by which he acquired his intelligence. But the most important disclosure was made by an intercepted letter of the Spanish ambassador in France, Francis Von Alava, to the duchess, in which the former descanted on the fair opportunity which was now afforded to the king, through the guilt of the Netherlandish people, of establishing an arbitrary power in that country. He therefore advised her to deceive the nobles by the very arts which they had hitherto employed against herself, and to secure them through smooth words and an obliging behavior. The king, he concluded, who knew the nobles to be the hidden springs of all the previous troubles, would take good care to lay hands upon them at the first favorable opportunity, as well as the two whom he had already in Spain; and did not mean to let them go again, having sworn to make an example in them which should horrify the whole of Christendom, even if it should cost him his hereditary dominions. This piece of evil news was strongly corroborated by the letters which Bergen and Montigny wrote from Spain, and in which they bitterly complained of the contemptuous behavior of the grandees and the altered deportment of the monarch towards them; and the Prince of Orange was now fully sensible what he had to expect from the fair promises of the king.

The letter of the minister, Alava, together with some others from Spain, which gave a circumstantial account of the approaching warlike visit of the king, and of his evil intentions against the nobles, was laid by the prince before his brother, Count Louis of Nassau, Counts Egmont, Horn, and Hogstraten, at a meeting at Dendermonde in Flanders, whither these five knights had repaired to confer on the measures necessary for their security. Count Louis, who listened only to his feelings of indignation, foolhardily maintained that they ought, without loss of time, to take up arms and seize some strongholds. That they ought at all risks to prevent the king's armed entrance into the provinces. That they should endeavor to prevail on the Swiss, the Protestant princes of Germany, and the Huguenots to arm and obstruct his passage through their territories; and if, notwithstanding, he should force his way through these impediments, that the Flemings should meet him with an army on the frontiers. He would take upon himself to negotiate a defensive alliance in France, in Switzerland, and in Germany, and to raise in the latter empire four thousand horse, together with a proportionate body of infantry. Pretexts would not be wanting for collecting the requisite supplies of money, and the merchants of the reformed sect would, he felt assured, not fail them. But William, more cautious and more wise, declared himself against this proposal, which, in the execution, would be exposed to numberless difficulties, and had as yet nothing to justify it. The Inquisition, he represented, was in fact abolished, the edicts were nearly sunk into oblivion, and a fair degree of religious liberty accorded. Hitherto, therefore, there existed no valid or adequate excuse for adopting this hostile method; he did not doubt, however, that one would be presented to them before long, and in good time for preparation. His own opinion consequently was that they should await this opportunity with patience, and in the meanwhile still keep a watchful eye upon everything, and contrive to give the people a hint of the threatened danger, that they might be ready to act if circumstances should call for their co-operation. If all present had assented to the opinion of the Prince of Orange, there is no doubt but so powerful a league, formidable both by the influence and the high character of its members, would have opposed obstacles to the designs of the king which would have compelled him to abandon them entirely. But the determination of the assembled knights was much shaken by the declaration with which Count Egmont surprised them. "Rather," said he, "may all that is evil befall me than that I should tempt fortune so rashly. The idle talk of the Spaniard, Alava, does not move me; how should such a person be able to read the mind of a sovereign so reserved as Philip, and to decipher his secrets? The intelligence which Montigny gives us goes to prove nothing more than that the king has a very doubtful opinion of our zeal for his service, and believes he has cause to distrust our loyalty; and for this I for my part must confess that we have given him only too much cause. And it is my serious purpose, by redoubling my zeal, to regain his good opinion, and by my future behavior to remove, if possible, the distrust which my actions have hitherto excited. How could I tear myself from the arms of my numerous and dependent family to wander as an exile at foreign courts, a burden to every one who received me, the slave of every one who condescended to assist me, a servant of foreigners, in order to escape a slight degree of constraint at home? Never can the monarch act unkindly towards a servant who was once beloved and dear to him, and who has established a well-grounded claim to his gratitude. Never shall I be persuaded that he who has expressed such favorable, such gracious sentiments towards his Belgian subjects, and with his own mouth gave me such emphatic, such solemn assurances, can be now devising, as it is pretended, such tyrannical schemes against them. If we do but restore to the country its former repose, chastise the rebels, and re-establish the Roman Catholic form of worship wherever it has been violently suppressed, then, believe me, we shall hear no more of Spanish troops. This is the course to which I now invite you all by my counsel and my example, and to which also most of our brethren already incline. I, for my part, fear nothing from the anger of the king. My conscience acquits me. I trust my fate and fortunes to his justice and clemency." In vain did Nassau, Horn, and Orange labor to shake his resolution, and to open his eyes to the near and inevitable danger. Egmont was really attached to the king; the royal favors, and the condescension with which they were conferred, were still fresh in his remembrance. The attentions with which the monarch had distinguished him above all his friends had not failed of their effect. It was more from false shame than from party spirit that he had defended the cause of his countrymen against him; more from temperament and natural kindness of heart than from tried principles that he had opposed the severe measures of the government. The love of the nation, which worshipped him as its idol, carried him away. Too vain to renounce a title which sounded so agreeable, he had been compelled to do something to deserve it; but a single look at his family, a harsher designation applied to his conduct, a dangerous inference drawn from it, the mere sound of crime, terrified him from his self-delusion, and scared him back in haste and alarm to his duty.

Orange's whole plan was frustrated by Egmont's withdrawal. The latter possessed the hearts of the people and the confidence of the army, without which it was utterly impossible to undertake anything effective. The rest had reckoned with so much certainty upon him that his unexpected defection rendered the whole meeting nugatory. They therefore separated without coming to a determination. All who had met in Dendermonde were expected in the council of state in Brussels; but Egmont alone repaired thither. The regent wished to sift him on the subject of this conference, but she could extract nothing further from him than the production of the letter of Alava, of which he had purposely taken a copy, and which, with the bitterest reproofs, he laid before her. At first she changed color at sight of it, but quickly recovering herself, she boldly declared that it was a forgery. "How can this letter," she said, "really come from Alava, when I miss none? And would he who pretends to have intercepted it have spared the other letters? Nay, how can it be true, when not a single packet has miscarried, nor a single despatch failed to come to hand? How, too, can it be thought likely that the king would have made Alava master of a secret which he has not communicated even to me?"

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