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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Revolt Of The Netherlands - The Gueux
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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - The Gueux Post by :frenzy Category :Nonfictions Author :Frederich Schiller Date :May 2012 Read :3722

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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - The Gueux

The members of the senate had not yet dispersed, when all Brussels resounded with the report that the confederates were approaching the town. They consisted of no more than two hundred horse, but rumor greatly exaggerated their numbers. Filled with consternation, the regent consulted with her ministers whether it was best to close the gates on the approaching party or to seek safety in flight? Both suggestions were rejected as dishonorable; and the peaceable entry of the nobles soon allayed all fears of violence. The first morning after their arrival they assembled at Kuilemberg house, where Brederode administered to them a second oath, binding them before all other duties to stand by one another, and even with arms if necessary. At this meeting a letter from Spain was produced, in which it was stated that a certain Protestant, whom, they all knew and valued, had been burned alive in that country by a slow fire. After these and similar preliminaries he called on them one after another by name to take the new oath and renew the old one in their own names and in those of the absent. The next day, the 5th of April, 1556, was fixed for the presentation of the petition. Their numbers now amounted to between three and four hundred. Amongst them were many retainers of the high nobility, as also several servants of the king himself and of the duchess.

With the Counts of Nassau and Brederode at their head, and formed in ranks of four by four, they advanced in procession to the palace; all Brussels attended the unwonted spectacle in silent astonishment. Here were to be seen a body of men advancing with too much boldness and confidence to look like supplicants, and led by two men who were not wont to be petitioners; and, on the other hand, with so much order and stillness as do not usually accompany rebellion. The regent received the procession surrounded by all her counsellors and the Knights of the Fleece. "These noble Netherlanders," thus Brederode respectfully addressed her, "who here present themselves before your highness, wish in their own name, and of many others besides who are shortly to arrive, to present to you a petition of whose importance as well as of their own humility this solemn procession must convince you. I, as speaker of this body, entreat you to receive our petition, which contains nothing but what is in unison with the laws of our country and the honor of the king."

"If this petition," replied Margaret, "really contains nothing which is at variance either with the good of the country, or with the authority of the king, there is no doubt that it will be favorably considered." "They had learnt," continued the spokesman, "with indignation and regret that suspicious objects had been imputed to their association, and that interested parties had endeavored to prejudice her highness against him; they therefore craved that she would name the authors of so grave an accusation, and compel them to bring their charges publicly, and in due form, in order that he who should be found guilty might suffer the punishment of his demerits." "Undoubtedly," replied the regent, "she had received unfavorable rumors of their designs and alliance. She could not be blamed, if in consequence she had thought it requisite to call the attention of the governors of the provinces to the matter; but, as to giving up the names of her informants to betray state secrets," she added, with an appearance of displeasure, "that could not in justice be required of her." She then appointed the next day for answering their petition; and in the meantime she proceeded to consult the members of her council upon it.

"Never" (so ran the petition which, according to some, was drawn up by the celebrated Balduin), "never had they failed in their loyalty to their king, and nothing now could be farther from their hearts; but they would rather run the risk of incurring the displeasure of their sovereign than allow him to remain longer in ignorance of the evils with which their native country was menaced, by the forcible introduction of the Inquisition and the continued enforcement of the edicts. They had long remained consoling themselves with the expectation that a general assembly of the states would be summoned to remedy these grievances; but now that even this hope was extinguished, they held it to be their duty to give timely warning to the regent. They, therefore, entreated her highness to send to Madrid an envoy, well disposed, and fully acquainted with the state and temper of the times, who should endeavor to persuade the king to comply with the demands of the whole nation, and abolish the Inquisition, to revoke the edicts, and in their stead cause new and more humane ones to be drawn up at a general assembly of the states. But, in the meanwhile, until they could learn the king's decision, they prayed that the edicts and the operations of the Inquisition be suspended." "If," they concluded, "no attention should be paid to their humble request, they took God, the king, the regent, and all her counsellors to witness that they had done their part, and were not responsible for any unfortunate result that might happen."

The following day the confederates, marching in the same order of procession, but in still greater numbers (Counts Bergen and Kuilemberg having, in the interim, joined them with their adherents), appeared before the regent in order to receive her answer. It was written on the margin of the petition, and was to the effect, "that entirely to suspend the Inquisition and the edicts, even temporarily, was beyond her powers; but in compliance with the wishes of the confederates she was ready to despatch one of the nobles to the king in Spain, and also to support their petition with all her influence. In the meantime, she would recommend the inquisitors to administer their office with moderation; but in return she should expect on the part of the league that they should abstain from all acts of violence, and undertake nothing to the prejudice of the Catholic faith." Little as these vague and general promises satisfied the confederates, they were, nevertheless, as much as they could have reasonably expected to gain at first. The granting or refusing of the petition had nothing to do with the primary object of the league. Enough for them at present that it was once recognized, enough that it was now, as it were, an established body, which by its power and threats might, if necessary, overawe the government. The confederates, therefore, acted quite consistently with their designs, in contenting themselves with this answer, and referring the rest to the good pleasure of the king. As, indeed, the whole pantomime of petitioning had only been invented to cover the more daring plan of the league, until it should have strength enough to show itself in its true light, they felt that much more depended on their being able to continue this mask, and on the favorable reception of their petition, than on its speedily being granted. In a new memorial, which they delivered three days after, they pressed for an express testimonial from the regent that they had done no more than their duty, and been guided simply by their zeal for the service of the king. When the duchess evaded a declaration, they even sent a person to repeat this request in a private interview. "Time alone and their future behavior," she replied to this person, "would enable her to judge of their designs."

The league had its origin in banquets, and a banquet gave it form and perfection. On the very day that the second petition was presented Brederode entertained the confederates in Kuilemberg house. About three hundred guests assembled; intoxication gave them courage, and their audacity rose with their numbers. During the conversation one of their number happened to remark that he had overheard the Count of Barlaimont whisper in French to the regent, who was seen to turn pale on the delivery of the petitions, that "she need not be afraid of a band of beggars (gueux);" (in fact, the majority of them had by their bad management of their incomes only too well deserved this appellation.) Now, as the very name for their fraternity was the very thing which had most perplexed them, an expression was eagerly caught up, which, while it cloaked the presumption of their enterprise in humility, was at the same time appropriate to them as petitioners. Immediately they drank to one another under this name, and the cry "long live the Gueux!" was accompanied with a general shout of applause. After the cloth had been removed Brederode appeared with a wallet over his shoulder similar to that which the vagrant pilgrims and mendicant monks of the time used to carry, and after returning thanks to all for their accession to the league, and boldly assuring them that he was ready to venture life and limb for every individual present, he drank to the health of the whole company out of a wooden beaker. The cup went round and every one uttered the same vow as be set it to his lips. Then one after the other they received the beggar's purse, and each hung it on a nail which he had appropriated to himself. The shouts and uproar attending this buffoonery attracted the Prince of Orange and Counts Egmont and Horn, who by chance were passing the spot at the very moment, and on entering the house were boisterously pressed by Brederode, as host, to remain and drink a glass with them.


("But," Egmont asserted in his written defence "we drank only one single small glass, and thereupon they cried 'long live the king and the Gueux!' This was the first time that I heard that appellation, and it certainly did not please me. But the times were so bad that one was often compelled to share in much that was against one's inclination, and I knew not but I was doing an innocent thing." Proces criminels des Comtes d'Egmont, etc.. 7. 1. Egmont's defence, Hopper, 94. Strada, 127-130. Burgund., 185, 187.)


The entrance of three such influential personages renewed the mirth of the guests, and their festivities soon passed the bounds of moderation. Many were intoxicated; guests and attendants mingled together without distinction; the serious and the ludicrous, drunken fancies and affairs of state were blended one with another in a burlesque medley; and the discussions on the general distress of the country ended in the wild uproar of a bacchanalian revel. But it did not stop here; what they had resolved on in the moment of intoxication they attempted when sober to carry into execution. It was necessary to manifest to the people in some striking shape the existence of their protectors, and likewise to fan the zeal of the faction by a visible emblem; for this end nothing could be better than to adopt publicly this name of Gueux, and to borrow from it the tokens of the association. In a few days the town of Brussels swarmed with ash-gray garments such as were usually worn by mendicant friars and penitents. Every confederate put his whole family and domestics in this dress. Some carried wooden bowls thinly overlaid with plates of silver, cups of the same kind, and wooden knives; in short the whole paraphernalia of the beggar tribe, which they either fixed around their hats or suspended from their girdles: Round the neck they wore a golden or silver coin, afterwards called the Geusen penny, of which one side bore the effigy of the king, with the inscription, "True to the king;" on the other side were seen two hands folded together holding a wallet, with the words "as far as the beggar's scrip." Hence the origin of the name "Gueux," which was subsequently borne in the Netherlands by all who seceded from popery and took up arms against the king.

Before the confederates separated and dispersed among the provinces they presented themselves once more before the duchess, in order to remind her of the necessity of leniency towards the heretics until the arrival of the king's answer from Spain, if she did not wish to drive the people to extremities. "If, however," they added, "a contrary behavior should give rise to any evils they at least must be regarded as having done their duty."

To this the regent replied, "she hoped to be able to adopt such measures as would render it impossible for disorders to ensue; but if, nevertheless, they did occur, she could ascribe them to no one but the confederates. She therefore earnestly admonished them on their part to fulfil their engagements, but especially to receive no new members into the league, to hold no more private assemblies, and generally not to attempt any novel and unconstitutional measures." And in order to tranquillize their minds she commanded her private secretary, Berti, to show them the letters to the inquisitors and secular judges, wherein they were enjoined to observe moderation towards all those who had not aggravated their heretical offences by any civil crime. Before their departure from Brussels they named four presidents from among their number who were to take care of the affairs of the league, and also particular administrators for each province. A few were left behind in Brussels to keep a watchful eye on all the movements of the court. Brederode, Kuilemberg, and Bergen at last quitted the town, attended by five hundred and fifty horsemen, saluted it once more beyond the walls with a discharge of musketry, and then the three leaders parted, Brederode taking the road to Antwerp, and the two others to Guelders. The regent had sent off an express to Antwerp to warn the magistrate of that town against him. On his arrival more than a thousand persons thronged to the hotel where he had taken up his abode. Showing himself at a window, with a full wineglass in his hand, he thus addressed them: "Citizens of Antwerp! I am here at the hazard of my life and my property to relieve you from the oppressive burden of the Inquisition. If you are ready to share this enterprise with me, and to acknowledge me as your leader, accept the health which I here drink to you, and hold up your hands in testimony of your approbation." Hereupon he drank to their health, and all hands were raised amidst clamorous shouts of exultation. After this heroic deed he quitted Antwerp.

Immediately after the delivery of the "petition of the nobles," the regent had caused a new form of the edicts to be drawn up in the privy council, which should keep the mean between the commands of the king and the demands of the confederates. But the next question that arose was to determine whether it would be advisable immediately to promulgate this mitigated form, or moderation, as it was commonly called, or to submit it first to the king for his ratification. The privy council who maintained that it would be presumptuous to take a step so important and so contrary to the declared sentiments of the monarch without having first obtained his sanction, opposed the vote of the Prince of Orange who supported the former proposition. Besides, they urged, there was cause to fear that it would not even content the nation.

A "moderation" devised with the assent of the states was what they particularly insisted on. In order, therefore, to gain the consent of the states, or rather to obtain it from them by stealth, the regent artfully propounded the question to the provinces singly, and first of all to those which possessed the least freedom, such as Artois, Namur, and Luxemburg. Thus she not only prevented one province encouraging another in opposition, but also gained this advantage by it, that the freer provinces, such as Flanders and Brabant, which were prudently reserved to the last, allowed themselves to be carried away by the example of the others. By a very illegal procedure the representatives of the towns were taken by surprise, and their consent exacted before they could confer with their constituents, while complete silence was imposed upon them with regard to the whole transaction. By these means the regent obtained the unconditional consent of some of the provinces to the "moderation," and, with a few slight changes, that of other provinces. Luxemburg and Namur subscribed it without scruple. The states of Artois simply added the condition that false informers should be subjected to a retributive penalty; those of Hainault demanded that instead of confiscation of the estates, which directly militated against their privileges, another discretionary punishment should be introduced. Flanders called for the entire abolition of the Inquisition, and desired that the accused might be secured in right of appeal to their own province. The states of Brabant were outwitted by the intrigues of the court. Zealand, Holland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Friesland as being provinces which enjoyed the most important privileges, and which, moreover, watched over them with the greatest jealousy, were never asked for their opinion. The provincial courts of judicature had also been required to make a report on the projected amendment of the law, but we may well suppose that it was unfavorable, as it never reached Spain. From the principal cause of this "moderation," which, however, really deserved its name, we may form a judgment of the general character of the edicts themselves. "Sectarian writers," it ran, "the heads and teachers of sects, as also those who conceal heretical meetings, or cause any other public scandal, shall be punished with the gallows, and their estates, where the law of the province permit it, confiscated; but if they abjure their errors, their punishment shall be commuted into decapitation with the sword, and their effects shall be preserved to their families." A cruel snare for parental affection! Less grievous heretics, it was further enacted, shall, if penitent, be pardoned; and if impenitent shall be compelled to leave the country, without, however, forfeiting their estates, unless by continuing to lead others astray they deprive themselves of the benefit of this provision. The Anabaptists, however, were expressly excluded from benefiting by this clause; these, if they did not clear themselves by the most thorough repentance, were to forfeit their possessions; and if, on the other hand, they relapsed after penitence, that is, were backsliding heretics, they were to be put to death without mercy. The greater regard for life and property which is observable in this ordinance as compared with the edicts, and which we might be tempted to ascribe to a change of intention in the Spanish ministry, was nothing more than a compulsory step extorted by the determined opposition of the nobles. So little, too, were the people in the Netherlands satisfied by this "moderation," which fundamentally did not remove a single abuse, that instead of "moderation" (mitigation), they indignantly called it "moorderation," that is, murdering.

After the consent of the states had in this manner been extorted from them, the "moderation" was submitted to the council of the state, and, after receiving their signatures, forwarded to the king in Spain in order to receive from his ratification the force of law.

The embassy to Madrid, which had been agreed upon with the confederates, was at the outset entrusted to the Marquis of Bergen, who, however, from a distrust of the present disposition of the king, which was only too well grounded, and from reluctance to engage alone in so delicate a business, begged for a coadjutor.


(This Marquis of Bergen is to be distinguished from Count William of Bergen, who was among the first who subscribed the covenant. Vigi. ad Hopper, Letter VII.)


He obtained one in the Baron of Montigny, who had previously been employed in a similar duty, and had discharged it with high credit. As, however, circumstances had since altered so much that he had just anxiety as to his present reception in Madrid for his greater safety, he stipulated with the duchess that she should write to the monarch previously; and that he, with his companion, should, in the meanwhile, travel slowly enough to give time for the king's answer reaching him en route. His good genius wished, as it appeared, to save him from the terrible fate which awaited him in Madrid, for his departure was delayed by an unexpected obstacle, the Marquis of Bergen being disabled from setting out immediately through a wound which he received from the blow of a tennis-ball. At last, however, yielding to the pressing importunities of the regent, who was anxious to expedite the business, he set out alone, not, as he hoped, to carry the cause of his nation, but to die for it.

In the meantime the posture of affairs had changed so greatly in the Netherlands, the step which the nobles had recently taken had so nearly brought on a complete rupture with the government, that it seemed impossible for the Prince of Orange and his friends to maintain any longer the intermediate and delicate position which they had hitherto held between the country and the court, or to reconcile the contradictory duties to which it gave rise. Great must have been the restraint which, with their mode of thinking, they had to put on themselves not to take part in this contest; much, too, must their natural love of liberty, their patriotism, and their principles of toleration have suffered from the constraint which their official station imposed upon them. On the other hand, Philip's distrust, the little regard which now for a long time had been paid to their advice, and the marked slights which the duchess publicly put upon them, had greatly contributed to cool their zeal for the service, and to render irksome the longer continuance of a part which they played with so much repugnance and with so little thanks. This feeling was strengthened by several intimations they received from Spain which placed beyond doubt the great displeasure of the king at the petition of the nobles, and his little satisfaction with their own behavior on that occasion, while they were also led to expect that he was about to enter upon measures, to which, as favorable to the liberties of their country, and for the most part friends or blood relations of the confederates; they could never lend their countenance or support. On the name which should be applied in Spain to the confederacy of the nobles it principally depended what course they should follow for the future. If the petition should be called rebellion no alternative would be left them but either to come prematurely to a dangerous explanation with the court, or to aid it in treating as enemies those with whom they had both a fellow-feeling and a common interest. This perilous alternative could only be avoided by withdrawing entirely from public affairs; this plan they had once before practically adopted, and under present circumstances it was something more than a simple expedient. The whole nation had their eyes upon them. An unlimited confidence in their integrity, and the universal veneration for their persons, which closely bordered on idolatry, would ennoble the cause which they might make their own and ruin that which they should abandon. Their share in the administration of the state, though it were nothing more than nominal, kept the opposite party in check; while they attended the senate violent measures were avoided because their continued presence still favored some expectations of succeeding by gentle means. The withholding of their approbation, even if it did not proceed from their hearts, dispirited the faction, which, on the contrary, would exert its full strength so soon as it could reckon even distantly on obtaining so weighty a sanction. The very measures of the government which, if they came through their hands, were certain of a favorable reception and issue, would without them prove suspected and futile; even the royal concessions, if they were not obtained by the mediation of these friends of the people, would fail of the chief part of their efficacy. Besides, their retirement from public affairs would deprive the regent of the benefit of their advice at a time when counsel was most indispensable to her; it would, moreover, leave the preponderance with a party which, blindly dependent on the court, and ignorant of the peculiarities of republican character, would neglect nothing to aggravate the evil, and to drive to extremity the already exasperated mind of the public.

All these motives (and it is open to every one, according to his good or bad opinion of the prince, to say which was the most influential) tended alike to move him to desert the regent, and to divest himself of all share in public affairs. An opportunity for putting this resolve into execution soon presented itself. The prince had voted for the immediate promulgation of the newly-revised edicts; but the regent, following the suggestion of her privy council, had determined to transmit them first to the king. "I now see clearly," he broke out with well-acted vehemence, "that all the advice which I give is distrusted. The king requires no servants whose loyalty he is determined to doubt; and far be it from me to thrust my services upon a sovereign who is unwilling to receive them. Better, therefore, for him and me that I withdraw from public affairs." Count Horn expressed himself nearly to the same effect. Egmont requested permission to visit the baths of Aix-la-Chapelle, the use of which had been prescribed to him by his physician, although (as it is stated in his accusation) he appeared health itself. The regent, terrified at the consequences which must inevitably follow this step, spoke sharply to the prince. "If neither my representations, nor the general welfare can prevail upon you, so far as to induce you to relinquish this intention, let me advise you to be more careful, at least, of your own reputation. Louis of Nassau is your brother; he and Count Brederode, the heads of the confederacy, have publicly been your guests. The petition is in substance identical with your own representations in the council of state. If you now suddenly desert the cause of your king will it not be universally said that you favor the conspiracy?" We do not find it anywhere stated whether the prince really withdrew at this time from the council of state; at all events, if he did, he must soon have altered his mind, for shortly after he appears again in public transactions. Egmont allowed himself to be overcome by the remonstrances of the regent; Horn alone actually withdrew himself to one of his estates,--(Where he remained three months inactive.)--with the resolution of never more serving either emperor or king. Meanwhile the Gueux had dispersed themselves through the provinces, and spread everywhere the most favorable reports of their success. According to their assertions, religious freedom was finally assured; and in order to confirm their statements they helped themselves, where the truth failed, with falsehood. For example, they produced a forged letter of the Knights of the Fleece, in which the latter were made solemnly to declare that for the future no one need fear imprisonment, or banishment, or death on account of religion, unless he also committed a political crime; and even in that case the confederates alone were to be his judges; and this regulation was to be in force until the king, with the consent and advice of the states of the realm, should otherwise dispose. Earnestly as the knights applied themselves upon the first information of the fraud to rescue the nation from their delusion, still it had already in this short interval done good service to the faction. If there are truths whose effect is limited to a single instant, then inventions which last so long can easily assume their place. Besides, the report, however false, was calculated both to awaken distrust between the regent and the knights, and to support the courage of the Protestants by fresh hopes, while it also furnished those who were meditating innovation an appearance of right, which, however unsubstantial they themselves knew it to be, served as a colorable pretext for their proceedings. Quickly as this delusion was dispelled, still, in the short space of time that it obtained belief, it had occasioned so many extravagances, had introduced so much irregularity and license, that a return to the former state of things became impossible, and continuance in the course already commenced was rendered necessary as well by habit as by despair. On the very first news of this happy result the fugitive Protestants had returned to their homes, which they had so unwillingly abandoned; those who had been in concealment came forth from their hiding-places; those who had hitherto paid homage to the new religion in their hearts alone, emboldened by these pretended acts of toleration, now gave in their adhesion to it publicly and decidedly. The name of the "Gueux" was extolled in all the provinces; they were called the pillars of religion and liberty; their party increased daily, and many of the merchants began to wear their insignia. The latter made an alteration in the "Gueux" penny, by introducing two travellers' staffs, laid crosswise, to intimate that they stood prepared and ready at any instant to forsake house and hearth for the sake of religion. The Gueux league, in short, had now given to things an entirely different form. The murmurs of the people, hitherto impotent and despised, as being the cries of individuals, had, now that they were concentrated, become formidable; and had gained power, direction, and firmness through union. Every one who was rebelliously disposed now looked on himself as the member of a venerable and powerful body, and believed that by carrying his own complaints to the general stock of discontent he secured the free expression of them. To be called an important acquisition to the league flattered the vain; to be lost, unnoticed, and irresponsible in the crowd was an inducement to the timid. The face which the confederacy showed to the nation was very unlike that which it had turned to the court. But had its objects been the purest, had it really been as well disposed towards the throne as it wished to appear, still the multitude would have regarded only what was illegal in its proceedings, and upon them its better intentions would have been entirely lost.

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