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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Revolt Of The Netherlands - Count Egmont In Spain
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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Count Egmont In Spain Post by :frenzy Category :Nonfictions Author :Frederich Schiller Date :May 2012 Read :2801

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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Count Egmont In Spain

Count Egmont was despatched to Spain to make a forcible representation to the king on the subject of these decrees; to persuade him, if possible, to adopt a milder policy towards his Protestant subjects, and to propose to him the incorporation of the three councils, was the commission he received from the malcontents. By the regent he was charged to apprise the monarch of the refractory spirit of the people; to convince him of the impossibility of enforcing these edicts of religion in their full severity; and lastly to acquaint him with the bad state of the military defences and the exhausted condition of the exchequer.

The count's public instructions were drawn up by the President Viglius. They contained heavy complaints of the decay of justice, the growth of heresy, and the exhaustion of the treasury. He was also to press urgently a personal visit from the king to the Netherlands. The rest was left to the eloquence of the envoy, who received a hint from the regent not to let so fair an opportunity escape of establishing himself in the favor of his sovereign.

The terms in which the count's instructions and the representations which he was to make to the king were drawn up appeared to the Prince of Orange far too vague and general. "The president's statement," he said, "of our grievances comes very far short of the truth. How can the king apply the suitable remedies if we conceal from him the full extent of the evil? Let us not represent the numbers of the heretics inferior to what it is in reality. Let us candidly acknowledge that they swarm in every province and in every hamlet, however small. Neither let us disguise from him the truth that they despise the penal statutes and entertain but little reverence for the government. What good can come of this concealment? Let us rather openly avow to the king that the republic cannot long continue in its present condition. The privy council indeed will perhaps pronounce differently, for to them the existing disorders are welcome. For what else is the source of the abuse of justice and the universal corruption of the courts of law but its insatiable rapacity? How otherwise can the pomp and scandalous luxury of its members, whom we have seen rise from the dust, be supported if not by bribery? Do not the people daily complain that no other key but gold can open an access to them; and do not even their quarrels prove how little they are swayed by a care for the common weal? Are they likely to consult the public good who are the slaves of their private passions? Do they think forsooth that we, the governors of the provinces are, with our soldiers, to stand ready at the beck and call of an infamous lictor? Let them set bounds to their indulgences and free pardons which they so lavishly bestow on the very persons to whom we think it just and expedient to deny them. No one can remit the punishment of a crime without sinning against the society and contributing to the increase of the general evil. To my mind, and I have no hesitation to avow it, the distribution amongst so many councils of the state secrets and the affairs of government has always appeared highly objectionable. The council of state is sufficient for all the duties of the administration; several patriots have already felt this in silence, and I now openly declare it. It is my decided conviction that the only sufficient remedy for all the evils complained of is to merge the other two chambers in the council of state. This is the point which we must endeavor to obtain from the king, or the present embassy, like all others, will be entirely useless and ineffectual." The prince now laid before the assembled senate the plan which we have already described. Viglius, against whom this new proposition was individually and mainly directed, and whose eyes were now suddenly opened, was overcome by the violence of his vexation. The agitation of his feelings was too much for his feeble body, and he was found, on the following morning, paralyzed by apoplexy, and in danger of his life.

His place was supplied by Jaachim Hopper, a member of the privy council at Brussels, a man of old-fashioned morals and unblemished integrity, the president's most trusted and worthiest friend.


(Vita Vigl. 89. The person from whose memoirs I have already drawn so many illustrations of the times of this epoch. His subsequent journey to Spain gave rise to the correspondence between him and the president, which is one of the most valuable documents for our history.)

To meet the wishes of the Orange party he made some additions to the instructions of the ambassador, relating chiefly to the abolition of the Inquisition and the incorporation of the three councils, not so much with the consent of the regent as in the absence of her prohibition. Upon Count Egmont taking leave of the president, who had recovered from his attack, the latter requested him to procure in Spain permission to resign his appointment. His day, he declared, was past; like the example of his friend and predecessor, Granvella, he wished to retire into the quiet of private life, and to anticipate the uncertainty of fortune. His genius warned him of impending storm, by which he could have no desire to be overtaken.

Count Egmont embarked on his journey to Spain in January, 1565, and was received there with a kindness and respect which none of his rank had ever before experienced. The nobles of Castile, taught by the king's example to conquer their feelings, or rather, true to his policy, seemed to have laid aside their ancient grudge against the Flemish nobility, and vied with one another in winning his heart by their affability. All his private matters were immediately settled to his wishes by the king, nay, even his expectations exceeded; and during the whole period of his stay he had ample cause to boast of the hospitality of the monarch. The latter assured him in the strongest terms of his love for his Belgian subjects, and held out hopes of his acceding eventually to the general wish, and remitting somewhat of the severity of the religious edicts. At the same time, however, he appointed in Madrid a commission of theologians to whom he propounded the question, "Is it necessary to grant to the provinces the religious toleration they demand?" As the majority of them were of opinion that the peculiar constitution of the Netherlands, and the fear of a rebellion might well excuse a degree of forbearance in their case, the question was repeated more pointedly. "He did not seek to know," he said, "if he might do so, but if he must." When the latter question was answered in the negative, he rose from his seat, and kneeling down before a crucifix prayed in these words: "Almighty Majesty, suffer me not at any time to fall so low as to consent to reign over those who reject thee!" In perfect accordance with the spirit of this prayer were the measures which he resolved to adopt in the Netherlands. On the article of religion this monarch had taken his resolution once forever; urgent necessity might, perhaps, have constrained him temporarily to suspend the execution of the penal statutes, but never, formally, to repeal them entirely, or even to modify them. In vain did Egmont represent to him that the public execution of the heretics daily augmented the number of their followers, while the courage and even joy with which they met their death filled the spectators with the deepest admiration, and awakened in them high opinions of a doctrine which could make such heroes of its disciples. This representation was not indeed lost upon the king, but it had a very different effect from what it was intended to produce. In order to prevent these seductive scenes, without, however, compromising the severity of the edicts, he fell upon an expedient, and ordered that in future the executions should take place in private. The answer of the king on the subject of the embassy was given to the count in writing, and addressed to the regent. The king, when he granted him an audience to take leave, did not omit to call him to account for his behavior to Granvella, and alluded particularly to the livery invented in derision of the cardinal. Egmont protested that the whole affair had originated in a convivial joke, and nothing was further from their meaning than to derogate in the least from the respect that was due to royalty. "If he knew," he said, "that any individual among them had entertained such disloyal thoughts be himself would challenge him to answer for it with his life."

At his departure the monarch made him a present of fifty thousand florins, and engaged, moreover, to furnish a portion for his daughter on her marriage. He also consigned to his care the young Farnese of Parma, whom, to gratify the regent, his mother, he was sending to Brussels. The king's pretended mildness, and his professions of regard for the Belgian nation, deceived the open-hearted Fleming. Happy in the idea of being the bearer of so much felicity to his native country, when in fact it was more remote than ever, he quitted Madrid satisfied beyond measure to think of the joy with which the provinces would welcome the message of their good king; but the opening of the royal answer in the council of state at Brussels disappointed all these pleasing hopes. "Although in regard to the religious edicts," this was its tenor, "his resolve was firm and immovable, and he would rather lose a thousand lives than consent to alter a single letter of it, still, moved by the representations of Count Egmont, he was, on the other hand, equally determined not to leave any gentle means untried to guard the people against the delusions of heresy, and so to avert from them that punishment which must otherwise infallibly overtake them. As he had now learned from the count that the principal source of the existing errors in the faith was in the moral depravity of the clergy, the bad instruction and the neglected education of the young, he hereby empowered the regent to appoint a special commission of three bishops, and a convenient number of learned theologians, whose business it should be to consult about the necessary reforms, in order that the people might no longer be led astray through scandal, nor plunge into error through ignorance. As, moreover, he had been informed that the public executions of the heretics did but afford them an opportunity of boastfully displaying a foolhardy courage, and of deluding the common herd by an affectation of the glory of martyrdom, the commission was to devise means for putting in force the final sentence of the Inquisition with greater privacy, and thereby depriving condemned heretics of the honor of their obduracy." In order, however, to provide against the commission going beyond its prescribed limits Philip expressly required that the Bishop of Ypres, a man whom he could rely on as a determined zealot for the Romish faith, should be one of the body. Their deliberaations were to be conducted, if possible, in secrecy, while the object publicly assigned to them should be the introduction of the Tridentine decrees. For this his motive seems to have been twofold; on the one hand, not to alarm the court of Rome by the assembling of a private council; nor, on the other, to afford any encouragement to the spirit of rebellion in the provinces. At its sessions the duchess was to preside, assisted by some of the more loyally disposed of her counsellors, and regularly transmit to Philip a written account of its transactions. To meet her most pressing wants he sent her a small supply in money. He also gave her hopes of a visit from himself; first, however, it was necessary that the war with the Turks, who were then expected in hostile force before Malta, should be terminated. As to the proposed augmentation of the council of state, and its union with the privy council and chamber of finance, it was passed over in perfect silence. The Duke of Arschot, however, who is already known to us as a zealous royalist, obtained a voice and seat in the latter. Viglius, indeed, was allowed to retire from the presidency of the privy council, but he was obliged, nevertheless, to continue to discharge its duties for four more years, because his successor, Carl Tyssenaque, of the council for Netherlandish affairs in Madrid, could not sooner be spared.

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By such measures, did Philip usher in his government of the Netherlands, and such were the grievances of the nation when he was preparing to leave them. He had long been impatient to quit a country where he was a stranger there was so much that opposed his secret wishes, and where his despotic mind found such undaunted monitors to remind him of the laws of freedom. The peace with France at last rendered a longer stay unnecessary; the armaments of Soliman required his presence in the south, and the Spaniards also began to miss their long-absent king. The choice
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