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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Revolt Of The Netherlands - Philip II., Ruler Of The Netherlands
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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Philip II., Ruler Of The Netherlands Post by :alvinphk Category :Nonfictions Author :Frederich Schiller Date :May 2012 Read :3013

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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Philip II., Ruler Of The Netherlands

Philip II. received the lordship of the Netherlands in the brightest period of their prosperity. He was the first of their princes who united them all under his authority. They now consisted of seventeen provinces; the duchies of Brabant, Limburg, Luxembourg, and Gueldres, the seven counties of Artois, Hainault, Flanders, Namur, Zutphen, Holland, and Zealand, the margravate of Antwerp, and the five lordships of Friesland, Mechlin (Malines), Utrecht, Overyssel, and Groningen, which, collectively, formed a great and powerful state able to contend with monarchies. Higher than it then stood their commerce could not rise. The sources of their wealth were above the earth's surface, but they were more valuable and inexhaustible and richer than all the mines in America. These seventeen provinces which, taken together, scarcely comprised the fifth part of Italy, and do not extend beyond three hundred Flemish miles, yielded an annual revenue to their lord, not much inferior to that which Britain formerly paid to its kings before the latter had annexed so many of the ecclesiastical domains to their crown. Three hundred and fifty cities, alive with industry and pleasure, many of them fortified by their natural position and secure without bulwarks or walls; six thousand three hundred market towns of a larger size; smaller villages, farms, and castles innumerable, imparted to this territory the aspect of one unbroken flourishing landscape. The nation had now reached the meridian of its splendor; industry and abundance had exalted the genius of the citizen, enlightened his ideas, ennobled his affections; every flower of the intellect had opened with the flourishing condition of the country. A happy temperament under a severe climate cooled the ardor of their blood, and moderated the rage of their passions; equanimity, moderation, and enduring patience, the gifts of a northern clime; integrity, justice, and faith, the necessary virtues of their profession; and the delightful fruits of liberty, truth, benevolence, and a patriotic pride were blended in their character, with a slight admixture of human frailties. No people on earth was more easily governed by a prudent prince, and none with more difficulty by a charlatan or a tyrant. Nowhere was the popular voice so infallible a test of good government as here. True statesmanship could be tried in no nobler school, and a sickly artificial policy had none worse to fear.

A state constituted like this could act and endure with gigantic energy whenever pressing emergencies called forth its powers and a skilful and provident administration elicited its resources. Charles V. bequeathed to his successor an authority in these provinces little inferior to that of a limited monarchy. The prerogative of the crown had gained a visible ascendancy over the republican spirit, and that complicated machine could now be set in motion, almost as certainly and rapidly as the most absolutely governed nation. The numerous nobility, formerly so powerful, cheerfully accompanied their sovereign in his wars, or, on the civil changes of the state, courted the approving smile of royality. The crafty policy of the crown had created a new and imaginary good, of which it was the exclusive dispenser. New passions and new ideas of happiness supplanted at last the rude simplicity of republican virtue. Pride gave place to vanity, true liberty to titles of Honor, a needy independence to a luxurious servitude. To oppress or to plunder their native land as the absolute satraps of an absolute lord was a more powerful allurement for the avarice and ambition of the great, than in the general assembly of the state to share with the monarch a hundredth part of the supreme power. A large portion, moreover, of the nobility were deeply sunk in poverty and debt. Charles V. had crippled all the most dangerous vassals of the crown by expensive embassies to foreign courts, under the specious pretext of honorary distinctions. Thus, William of Orange was despatched to Germany with the imperial crown, and Count Egmont to conclude the marriage contract between Philip and Queen Mary. Both also afterwards accompanied the Duke of Alva to France to negotiate the peace between the two crowns, and the new alliance of their sovereign with Madame Elizabeth. The expenses of these journeys amounted to three hundred thousand florins, towards which the king did not contribute a single penny. When the Prince of Orange was appointed generalissimo in the place of the Duke of Savoy he was obliged to defray all the necessary expenses of his office. When foreign ambassadors or princes came to Brussels it was made incumbent on the nobles to maintain the honor of their king, who himself always dined alone, and never kept open table. Spanish policy had devised a still more ingenious contrivance gradually to impoverish the richest families of the land. Every year one of the Castilian nobles made his appearance in Brussels, where he displayed a lavish magnificence. In Brussels it was accounted an indelible disgrace to be distanced by a stranger in such munificence. All vied to surpass him, and exhausted their fortunes in this costly emulation, while the Spaniard made a timely retreat to his native country, and by the frugality of four years repaired the extravagance of one year. It was the foible of the Netherlandish nobility to contest with every stranger the credit of superior wealth, and of this weakness the government studiously availed itself. Certainly these arts did not in the sequel produce the exact result that had been calculated on; for these pecuniary burdens only made the nobility the more disposed for innovation, since he who has lost all can only be a gainer in the general ruin.

The Roman Church had ever been a main support of the royal power, and it was only natural that it should be so. Its golden time was the bondage of the human intellect, and, like royalty, it had gained by the ignorance and weakness of men. Civil oppression made religion more necessary and more dear; submission to tyrannical power prepares the mind for a blind, convenient faith, and the hierarchy repaid with usury the services of despotism. In the provinces the bishops and prelates were zealous supporters of royalty, and ever ready to sacrifice the welfare of the citizen to the temporal advancement of the church and the political interests of the sovereign.

Numerous and brave garrisons also held the cities in awe, which were at the same time divided by religious squabbles and factions, and consequently deprived of their strongest support--union among themselves. How little, therefore, did it require to insure this preponderance of Philip's power, and how fatal must have been the folly by which it was lost.

But Philip's authority in these provinces, however great, did not surpass the influence which the Spanish monarchy at that time enjoyed throughout Europe. No state ventured to enter the arena of contest with it. France, its most dangerous neighbor, weakened by a destructive war, and still more by internal factions, which boldly raised their heads during the feeble government of a child, was advancing rapidly to that unhappy condition which, for nearly half a century, made it a theatre of the most enormous crimes and the most fearful calamities. In England Elizabeth could with difficulty protect her still tottering throne against the furious storms of faction, and her new church establishment against the insidious arts of the Romanists. That country still awaited her mighty call before it could emerge from a humble obscurity, and had not yet been awakened by the faulty policy of her rival to that vigor and energy with which it finally overthrew him. The imperial family of Germany was united with that of Spain by the double ties of blood and political interest; and the victorious progress of Soliman drew its attention more to the east than to the west of Europe. Gratitude and fear secured to Philip the Italian princes, and his creatures ruled the Conclave. The monarchies of the North still lay in barbarous darkness and obscurity, or only just began to acquire form and strength, and were as yet unrecognized in the political system of Europe. The most skilful generals, numerous armies accustomed to victory, a formidable marine, and the golden tribute from the West Indies, which now first began to come in regularly and certainly--what terrible instruments were these in the firm and steady hand of a talented prince Under such auspicious stars did King Philip commence his reign.

Before we see him act we must first look hastily into the deep recesses of his soul, and we shall there find a key to his political life. Joy and benevolence were wholly wanting in the composition of his character. His temperament, and the gloomy years of his early childhood, denied him the former; the latter could not be imparted to him by men who had renounced the sweetest and most powerful of the social ties. Two ideas, his own self and what was above that self, engrossed his narrow and contracted mind. Egotism and religion were the contents and the title-page of the history of his whole life. He was a king and a Christian, and was bad in both characters; he never was a man among men, because he never condescended but only ascended. His belief was dark and cruel; for his divinity was a being of terror, from whom he had nothing to hope but everything to fear. To the ordinary man the divinity appears as a comforter, as a Saviour; before his mind it was set up as an image of fear, a painful, humiliating check to his human omnipotence. His veneration for this being was so much the more profound and deeply rooted the less it extended to other objects. He trembled servilely before God because God was the only being before whom he had to tremble. Charles V. was zealous for religion because religion promoted his objects. Philip was so because he had real faith in it. The former let loose the fire and the sword upon thousands for the sake of a dogma, while he himself, in the person of the pope, his captive, derided the very doctrine for which he had sacrificed so much human blood. It was only with repugnance and scruples of conscience that Philip resolved on the most just war against the pope, and resigned all the fruits of his victory as a penitent malefactor surrenders his booty. The Emperor was cruel from calculation, his son from impulse. The first possessed a strong and enlightened spirit, and was, perhaps, so much the worse as a man; the second was narrow-minded and weak, but the more upright.

Both, however, as it appears to me, might have been better men than they actually were, and still, on the whole, have acted on the very same principles. What we lay to the charge of personal character of an individual is very often the infirmity, the necessary imperfection of universal human nature. A monarchy so great and so powerful was too great a trial for human pride, and too mighty a charge for human power. To combine universal happiness with the highest liberty of the individual is the sole prerogative of infinite intelligence, which diffuses itself omnipresently over all. But what resource has man when placed in the position of omnipotence? Man can only aid his circumscribed powers by classification; like the naturalist, he establishes certain marks and rules by which to facilitate his own feeble survey of the whole, to which all individualities must conform. All this is accomplished for him by religion. She finds hope and fear planted in every human breast; by making herself mistress of these emotions, and directing their affections to a single object, she virtually transforms millions of independent beings into one uniform abstract. The endless diversity of the human will no longer embarrasses its ruler--now there exists one universal good, one universal evil, which he can bring forward or withdraw at pleasure, and which works in unison with himself even when absent. Now a boundary is established before which liberty must halt; a venerable, hallowed line, towards which all the various conflicting inclinations of the will must finally converge. The common aim of despotism and of priestcraft is uniformity, and uniformity is a necessary expedient of human poverty and imperfection. Philip became a greater despot than his father because his mind was more contracted, or, in other words, he was forced to adhere the more scrupulously to general rules the less capable he was of descending to special and individual exceptions. What conclusion could we draw from these principles but that Philip II. could not possibly have any higher object of his solicitude than uniformity, both in religion and in laws, because without these he could not reign?

And yet he would have shown more mildness and forbearance in his government if he had entered upon it earlier. In the judgment which is usually formed of this prince one circumstance does not appear to be sufficiently considered in the history of his mind and heart, which, however, in all fairness, ought to be duly weighed. Philip counted nearly thirty years when he ascended the Spanish throne, and the early maturity of his understanding had anticipated the period of his majority. A mind like his, conscious of its powers, and only too early acquainted with his high expectations, could not brook the yoke of childish subjection in which he stood; the superior genius of the father, and the absolute authority of the autocrat, must have weighed heavily on the self-satisfied pride of such a son. The share which the former allowed him in the government of the empire was just important enough to disengage his mind from petty passions and to confirm the austere gravity of his character, but also meagre enough to kindle a fiercer longing for unlimited power. When he actually became possessed of uncontrolled authority it had lost the charm of novelty. The sweet intoxication of a young monarch in the sudden and early possession of supreme power; that joyous tumult of emotions which opens the soul to every softer sentiment, and to which humanity has owed so many of the most valuable and the most prized of its institutions; this pleasing moment had for him long passed by, or had never existed. His character was already hardened when fortune put him to this severe test, and his settled principles withstood the collision of occasional emotion. He had had time, during fifteen years, to prepare himself for the change; and instead of youthful dallying with the external symbols of his new station, or of losing the morning of his government in the intoxication of an idle vanity, he remained composed and serious enough to enter at once on the full possession of his power so as to revenge himself through the most extensive employment of it for its having been so long withheld from him.

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