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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Revolt Of The Netherlands - Trial And Execution Of Counts Egmont And Horn
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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Trial And Execution Of Counts Egmont And Horn Post by :frenzy Category :Nonfictions Author :Frederich Schiller Date :May 2012 Read :1199

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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - Trial And Execution Of Counts Egmont And Horn

The two counts were a few weeks after their arrest conveyed to Ghent under an escort of three thousand Spaniards, where they were confined in the citadel for more than eight months. Their trial commenced in due form before the council of twelve, and the solicitor-general, John Du Bois, conducted the proceedings. The indictment against Egmont consisted of ninety counts, and that against Horn of sixty. It would occupy too much space to introduce them here. Every action, however innocent, every omission of duty, was interpreted on the principle which had been laid down in the opening of the indictment, "that the two counts, in conjunction with the Prince of Orange, had planned the overthrow of the royal authority in the Netherlands, and the usurpation of the government of the country;" the expulsion of Granvella; the embassy of Egmont to Madrid; the confederacy of the Gueux; the concessions which they made to the Protestants in the provinces under their government--all were made to have a connection with, and reference to, this deliberate design. Thus importance was attached to the most insignificant occurrences, and one action made to darken and discolor another. By taking care to treat each of the charges as in itself a treasonable offence it was the more easy to justify a sentence of high treason by the whole.

The accusations were sent to each of the prisoners, who were required to reply to them within five days. After doing so they were allowed to employ solicitors and advocates, who were permitted free access to them; but as they were accused of treason their friends were prohibited from visiting them. Count Egmont employed for his solicitor Von Landas, and made choice of a few eminent advocates from Brussels.

The first step was to demur against the tribunal which was to try them, since by the privilege of their order they, as Knights of the Golden Fleece, were amenable only to the king himself, the grand master. But this demurrer was overruled, and they were required to produce their witnesses, in default of which they were to be proceeded against _in contumaciam. Egmont had satisfactorily answered to eighty-two counts, while Count Horn had refuted the charges against him, article by article. The accusation and the defence are still extant; on that defence every impartial tribunal would have acquitted them both. The Procurator Fiscal pressed for the production of their evidence, and the Duke of Alva issued his repeated commands to use despatch. They delayed, however, from week to week, while they renewed their protests against the illegality of the court. At last the duke assigned them nine days to produce their proofs; on the lapse of that period they were to be declared guilty, and as having forfeited all right of defence.

During the progress of the trial the relations and friends of the two counts were not idle. Egmont's wife, by birth a duchess of Bavaria, addressed petitions to the princes of the German empire, to the Emperor, and to the King of Spain. The Countess Horn, mother of the imprisoned count, who was connected by the ties of friendship or of blood with the principal royal families of Germany, did the same. All alike protested loudly against this illegal proceeding, and appealed to the liberty of the German empire, on which Horn, as a count of the empire, had special claims; the liberty of the Netherlands and the privileges of the Order of the Golden Fleece were likewise insisted upon. The Countess Egmont succeeded in obtaining the intercession of almost every German court in behalf of her husband. The King of Spain and his viceroy were besieged by applications in behalf of the accused, which were referred from one to the other, and made light of by both. Countess Horn collected certificates from all the Knights of the Golden Fleece in Spain, Germany, and Italy to prove the privileges of the order. Alva rejected them with a declaration that they had no force in such a case as the present. "The crimes of which the counts are accused relate to the affairs of the Belgian provinces, and he, the duke, was appointed by the king sole judge of all matters connected with those countries."

Four months had been allowed to the solicitor-general to draw up the indictment, and five were granted to the two counts to prepare for their defence. But instead of losing their time and trouble in adducing their evidence, which, perhaps, would have profited then but little, they preferred wasting it in protests against the judges, which availed them still less. By the former course they would probably have delayed the final sentence, and in the time thus gained the powerful intercession of their friends might perhaps have not been ineffectual. By obstinately persisting in denying the competency of the tribunal which was to try them, they furnished the duke with an excuse for cutting short the proceedings. After the last assigned period had expired, on the 1st of June, 1658, the council of twelve declared them guilty, and on the 4th of that month sentence of death was pronounced against them.

The execution of twenty-five noble Netherlanders, who were beheaded in three successive days in the marketplace at Brussels, was the terrible prelude to the fate of the two counts. John Casembrot von Beckerzeel, secretary to Count Egmont, was one of the unfortunates, who was thus rewarded for his fidelity to his master, which he steadfastly maintained even upon the rack, and for his zeal in the service of the king, which he had manifested against the Iconoclasts. The others had either been taken prisoners, with arms in their hands, in the insurrection of the "Gueux," or apprehended and condemned as traitors on account of having taken a part in the petition of the nobles.

The duke had reason to hasten the execution of the sentence. Count Louis of Nassau had given battle to the Count of Aremberg, near the monastery of Heiligerlee, in Groningen, and had the good fortune to defeat him. Immediately after his victory he had advanced against Groningen, and laid siege to it. The success of his arms had raised the courage of his faction; and the Prince of Orange, his brother, was close at hand with an army to support him. These circumstances made the duke's presence necessary in those distant provinces; but he could not venture to leave Brussels before the fate of two such important prisoners was decided. The whole nation loved them, which was not a little increased by their unhappy fate. Even the strict papists disapproved of the execution of these eminent nobles. The slightest advantage which the arms of the rebels might gain over the duke, or even the report of a defeat, would cause a revolution in Brussels, which would immediately set the two counts at liberty. Moreover, the petitions and intercessions which came to the viceroy, as well as to the King of Spain, from the German princes, increased daily; nay, the Emperor, Maximilian II., himself caused the countess to be assured "that she had nothing to fear for the life of her spouse." These powerful applications might at last turn the king's heart in favor of the prisoners. The king might, perhaps, in reliance on his viceroy's usual dispatch, put on the appearance of yielding to the representations of so many sovereigns, and rescind the sentence of death under the conviction that his mercy would come too late. These considerations moved the duke not to delay the execution of the sentence as soon as it was pronounced.

On the day after the sentence was passed the two counts were brought, under an escort of three thousand Spaniards, from Ghent to Brussels, and placed in confinement in the Brodhause, in the great market-place. The next morning the council of twelve were assembled; the duke, contrary to his custom, attended in person, and both the sentences, in sealed envelopes, were opened and publicly read by Secretary Pranz. The two counts were declared guilty of treason, as having favored and promoted the abominable conspiracy of the Prince of Orange, protected the confederated nobles, and been convicted of various misdemeanors against their king and the church in their governments and other appointments. Both were sentenced to be publicly beheaded, and their heads were to be fixed upon pikes and not taken down without the duke's express command. All their possessions, fiefs, and rights escheated to the royal treasury. The sentence was signed only by the duke and the secretary, Pranz, without asking or caring for the consent of the other members of the council.

During the night between the 4th and 5th of June the sentences were brought to the prisoners, after they had already gone to rest. The duke gave them to the Bishop of Ypres, Martin Rithov, whom he had expressly summoned to Brussels to prepare the prisoners for death. When the bishop received this commission he threw himself at the feet of the duke, and supplicated him with tears in his eyes for mercy, at least for respite for the prisoners; but he was answered in a rough and angry voice that he had been sent for from Ypres, not to oppose the sentence, but by his spiritual consolation to reconcile the unhappy noblemen to it.

Egmont was the first to whom the bishop communicated the sentence of death. "That is indeed a severe sentence," exclaimed the count, turning pale, and with a faltering voice. "I did not think that I had offended his majesty so deeply as to deserve such treatment. If, however, it must be so I submit to my fate with resignation. May this death atone for my offence, and save my wife and children from suffering. This at least I think I may claim for my past services. As for death, I will meet it with composure, since it so pleases God and my king." He then pressed the bishop to tell him seriously and candidly if there was no hope of pardon. Being answered in the negative, he confessed and received the sacrament from the priest, repeating after him the mass with great devoutness. He asked what prayer was the best and most effective to recommend him to God in his last hour. On being told that no prayer could be more effectual than the one which Christ himself had taught, he prepared immediately to repeat the Lord's prayer. The thoughts of his family interrupted him; he called for pen and ink, and wrote two letters, one to his wife, the other to the king. The latter was as follows:


"Sire,--This morning I have heard the sentence which your majesty has been pleased to pass upon me. Far as I have ever been from attempting anything against the person or service of your majesty, or against the true, old, and Catholic religion, I yet submit myself with patience to the fate which it has pleased God to ordain should suffer. If, during the past disturbances, I have omitted, advised, or done anything that seems at variance with my duty, it was most assuredly performed with the best intentions, or was forced upon me by the pressure of circumstances. I therefore pray your majesty to forgive me, and, in consideration of my past services, show mercy to my unhappy wife, my poor children, and servants. In a firm hope of this, I commend myself--to the infinite mercy of God.

"Your majesty's most faithful vassal and servant,

"LAMORAL COUNT EGMONT.

"BRUSSELS, June 5, 1568, near my last moments."

 

This letter he placed in the hands of the bishop, with the strongest injunctions for its safe delivery; and for greater security he sent a duplicate in his own handwriting to State Counsellor Viglius, the most upright man in the senate, by whom, there is no doubt, it was actually delivered to the king. The family of the count were subsequently reinstated in all his property, fiefs, and rights, which, by virtue of the sentence, had escheated to the royal treasury.

Meanwhile a scaffold had been erected in the marketplace, before the town hall, on which two poles were fixed with iron spikes, and the whole covered with black cloth. Two-and-twenty companies of the Spanish garrison surrounded the scaffold, a precaution which was by no means superfluous. Between ten and eleven o'clock the Spanish guard appeared in the apartment of the count; they were provided with cords to tie his hands according to custom. He begged that this might be spared him, and declared that he was willing and ready to die. He himself cut off the collar from his doublet to facilitate the executioner's duty. He wore a robe of red damask, and over that a black Spanish cloak trimmed with gold lace. In this dress he appeared on the scaffold, and was attended by Don Julian Romero, maitre-de-camp; Salinas, a Spanish captain; and the Bishop of Ypres. The grand provost of the court, with a red wand in his hand, sat on horseback at the foot of the scaffold; the executioner was concealed beneath.

Egmont had at first shown a desire to address the people from the scaffold. He desisted, however, on the bishop's representing to him that either he would not be heard, or that if he were, he might--such at present was the dangerous disposition of the people--excite them to acts of violence, which would only plunge his friends into destruction. For a few moments he paced the scaffold with noble dignity, and lamented that it had not been permitted him to die a more honorable death for his king and his country. Up to the last he seemed unable to persuade himself that the king was in earnest, and that his severity would be carried any further than the mere terror of execution. When the decisive period approached, and he was to receive the extreme unction, he looked wistfully round, and when there still appeared no prospect of a reprieve, he turned to Julian Romero, and asked him once more if there was no hope of pardon for him. Julian Romero shrugged his shoulders, looked on the ground, and was silent.

He then closely clenched his teeth, threw off his mantle and robe, knelt upon the cushion, and prepared himself for the last prayer. The bishop presented him the crucifix to kiss, and administered to him extreme unction, upon which the count made him a sign to leave him. He drew a silk cap over his eyes, and awaited the stroke. Over the corpse and the streaming blood a black cloth was immediately thrown.

All Brussels thronged around the scaffold, and the fatal blow seemed to fall on every heart. Loud sobs alone broke the appalling silence. The duke himself, who watched the execution from a window of the townhouse, wiped his eyes as his victim died.

Shortly afterwards Count Horn advanced on the scaffold. Of a more violent temperament than his friend, and stimulated by stronger reasons for hatred against the king, he had received the sentence with less composure, although in his case, perhaps, it was less unjust. He burst forth in bitter reproaches against the king, and the bishop with difficulty prevailed upon him to make a better use of his last moments than to abuse them in imprecations on his enemies. At last, however, he became more collected, and made his confession to the bishop, which at first he was disposed to refuse.

He mounted the scaffold with the same attendants as his friend. In passing he saluted many of his acquaintances; his hands were, like Egmont's, free, and he was dressed in a black doublet and cloak, with a Milan cap of the same color upon his head. When he had ascended, he cast his eyes upon the corpse, which lay under the cloth, and asked one of the bystanders if it was the body of his friend. On being answered in the affirmative, he said some words in Spanish, threw his cloak from him, and knelt upon the cushion. All shrieked aloud as he received the fatal blow.

The heads of both were fixed upon the poles which were set up on the scaffold, where they remained until past three in the afternoon, when they were taken down, and, with the two bodies, placed in leaden coffins and deposited in a vault.

In spite of the number of spies and executioners who surrounded the scaffold, the citizens of Brussels would not be prevented from dipping their handkerchiefs in the streaming blood, and carrying home with them these precious memorials.

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