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Full Online Book HomeNonfictionsThe Revolt Of The Netherlands - William Of Orange And Count Egmont
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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - William Of Orange And Count Egmont Post by :frenzy Category :Nonfictions Author :Frederich Schiller Date :May 2012 Read :1194

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The Revolt Of The Netherlands - William Of Orange And Count Egmont

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, where 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 of a supreme Stadtholder for the Netherlands was the principal matter which still detained him. Emanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy, had filled this place since the resignation of Mary, Queen of Hungary, which, however, so long as the king himself was present, conferred more honor than real influence. His absence would make it the most important office in the monarchy, and the most splendid aim for the ambition of a subject. It had now become vacant through the departure of the duke, whom the peace of Chateau-Cambray had restored to his dominions. The almost unlimited power with which the supreme Statholder would be entrusted, the capacity and experience which so extensive and delicate an appointment required, but, especially, the daring designs which the government had in contemplation against the freedom of the country, the execution of which would devolve on him, necessarily embarrassed the choice. The law, which excluded all foreigners from office, made an exception in the case of the supreme Stadtholder. As he could not be at the same time a native of all the provinces, it was allowable for him not to belong to any one of them; for the jealousy of the man of Brabant would concede no greater right to a Fleming, whose home was half a mile from his frontier, than to a Sicilian, who lived in another soil and under a different sky. But here the interests of the crown itself seemed to favor the appointment of a native. A Brabanter, for instance, who enjoyed the full confidence of his countrymen if he were a traitor would have half accomplished his treason before a foreign governor could have overcome the mistrust with which his most insignificant measures would be watched. If the government should succeed in carrying through its designs in one province, the opposition of the rest would then be a temerity, which it would be justified in punishing in the severest manner. In the common whole which the provinces now formed their individual constitutions were, in a measure, destroyed; the obedience of one would be a law for all, and the privilege, which one knew not how to preserve, was lost for the rest.

Among the Flemish nobles who could lay claim to the Chief Stadtholdership, the expectations and wishes of the nation were divided between Count Egmont and the Prince of Orange, who were alike qualified for this high dignity by illustrious birth and personal merits, and by an equal share in the affections of the people. Their high rank placed them both near to the throne, and if the choice of the monarch was to rest on the worthiest it must necessarily fall upon one of these two. As, in the course of our history, we shall often have occasion to mention both names, the reader cannot be too early made acquainted with their characters.

William I., Prince of Orange, was descended from the princely German house of Nassau, which had already flourished eight centuries, had long disputed the preeminence with Austria, and had given one Emperor to Germany. Besides several extensive domains in the Netherlands, which made him a citizen of this republic and a vassal of the Spanish monarchy, he possessed also in France the independent princedom of Orange. William was born in the year 1533, at Dillenburg, in the country of Nassau, of a Countess Stolberg. His father, the Count of Nassau, of the same name, had embraced the Protestant religion, and caused his son also to be educated in it; but Charles V., who early formed an attachment for the boy, took him when quite young to his court, and had him brought up in the Romish church. This monarch, who already in the child discovered the future greatness of the man, kept him nine years about his person, thought him worthy of his personal instruction in the affairs of government, and honored him with a confidence beyond his years. He alone was permitted to remain in the Emperor's presence when he gave audience to foreign ambassadors--a proof that, even as a boy, he had already begun to merit the surname of the Silent. The Emperor was not ashamed even to confess openly, on one occasion, that this young man had often made suggestions which would have escaped his own sagacity. What expectations might not be formed of the intellect of a man who was disciplined in such a school.

William was twenty-three years old when Charles abdicated the government, and had already received from the latter two public marks of the highest esteem. The Emperor had entrusted to him, in preference to all the nobles of his court, the honorable office of conveying to his brother Ferdinand the imperial crown. When the Duke of Savoy, who commanded the imperial army in the Netherlands, was called away to Italy by the exigency of his domestic affairs, the Emperor appointed him commander-in-chief against the united representations of his military council, who declared it altogether hazardous to oppose so young a tyro in arms to the experienced generals of France. Absent, and unrecommended by any, he was preferred by the monarch to the laurel-crowned band of his heroes, and the result gave him no cause to repent of his choice.

The marked favor which the prince had enjoyed with the father was in itself a sufficient ground for his exclusion from the confidence of the son. Philip, it appears, had laid it down for himself as a rule to avenge the wrongs of the Spanish nobility for the preference which Charles V. had on all important occasions shown to his Flemish nobles. Still stronger, however, were the secret motives which alienated him from the prince. William of Orange was one of those lean and pale men who, according to Caesar's words, "sleep not at night, and think too much," and before whom the most fearless spirits quail.

The calm tranquillity of a never-varying countenance concealed a busy, ardent soul, which never ruffled even the veil behind which it worked, and was alike inaccessible to artifice and love; a versatile, formidable, indefatigable mind, soft, and ductile enough to be instantaneously moulded into all forms; guarded enough to lose itself in none; and strong enough to endure every vicissitude of fortune. A greater master in reading and in winning men's hearts never existed than William. Not that, after the fashion of courts, his lips avowed a servility to which his proud heart gave the lie; but because he was neither too sparing nor too lavish of the marks of his esteem, and through a skilful economy of the favors which mostly bind men, he increased his real stock in them. The fruits of his meditation were as perfect as they were slowly formed; his resolves were as steadily and indomitably accomplished as they were long in maturing. No obstacles could defeat the plan which he had once adopted as the best; no accidents frustrated it, for they all had been foreseen before they actually occurred. High as his feelings were raised above terror and joy, they were, nevertheless, subject in the same degree to fear; but his fear was earlier than the danger, and he was calm in tumult because he had trembled in repose. William lavished his gold with a profuse hand, but he was a niggard of his movements. The hours of repast were the sole hours of relaxation, but these were exclusively devoted to his heart, his family, and his friends; this the modest deduction he allowed himself from the cares of his country. Here his brow was cleared with wine, seasoned by temperance and a cheerful disposition; and no serious cares were permitted to enter this recess of enjoyment. His household was magnificent; the splendor of a numerous retinue, the number and respectability of those who surrounded his person, made his habitation resemble the court of a sovereign prince. A sumptuous hospitality, that master-spell of demagogues, was the goddess of his palace. Foreign princes and ambassadors found here a fitting reception and entertainment, which surpassed all that luxurious Belgium could elsewhere offer. A humble submissiveness to the government bought off the blame and suspicion which this munificence might have thrown on his intentions. But this liberality secured for him the affections of the people, whom nothing gratified so much as to see the riches of their country displayed before admiring foreigners, and the high pinnacle of fortune on which he stood enhanced the value of the courtesy to which he condescended. No one, probably, was better fitted by nature for the leader of a conspiracy than William the Silent. A comprehensive and intuitive glance into the past, the present, and the future; the talent for improving every favorable opportunity; a commanding influence over the minds of men, vast schemes which only when viewed from a distance show form and symmetry; and bold calculations which were wound up in the long chain of futurity; all these faculties he possessed, and kept, moreover, under the control of that free and enlightened virtue which moves with firm step even on the very edge of the abyss.

A man like this might at other times have remained unfathomed by his whole generation; but not so by the distrustful spirit of the age in which he lived. Philip II. saw quickly and deeply into a character which, among good ones, most resembled his own. If he had not seen through him so clearly his distrust of a man, in whom were united nearly all the qualities which he prized highest and could best appreciate, would be quite inexplicable. But William had another and still more important point of contact with Philip II. He had learned his policy from the same master, and had become, it was to be feared, a more apt scholar. Not by making Machiavelli's 'Prince' his study, but by having enjoyed the living instruction of a monarch who reduced the book to practice, had he become versed in the perilous arts by which thrones rise and fall. In him Philip had to deal with an antagonist who was armed against his policy, and who in a good cause could also command the resources of a bad one. And it was exactly this last circumstance which accounts for his having hated this man so implacably above all others of his day, and his having had so supernatural a dread of him.

The suspicion which already attached to the prince was increased by the doubts which were entertained of his religious bias. So long as the Emperor, his benefactor, lived, William believed in the pope; but it was feared, with good ground, that the predilection for the reformed religion, which had been imparted into his young heart, had never entirely left it. Whatever church he may at certain periods of his life have preferred each might console itself with the reflection that none other possessed him more entirely. In later years he went over to Calvinism with almost as little scruple as in his early childhood he deserted the Lutheran profession for the Romish. He defended the rights of the Protestants rather than their opinions against Spanish oppression; not their faith, but their wrongs, had made him their brother.

These general grounds for suspicion appeared to be justified by a discovery of his real intentions which accident had made. William had remained in France as hostage for the peace of Chateau-Cambray, in concluding which he had borne a part; and here, through the imprudence of Henry II., who imagined he spoke with a confidant of the King of Spain, he became acquainted with a secret plot which the French and Spanish courts had formed against Protestants of both kingdoms. The prince hastened to communicate this important discovery to his friends in Brussels, whom it so nearly concerned, and the letters which he exchanged on the subject fell, unfortunately, into the hands of the King of Spain. Philip was less surprised at this decisive disclosure of William's sentiments than incensed at the disappointment of his scheme; and the Spanish nobles, who had never forgiven the prince that moment, when in the last act of his life the greatest of Emperors leaned upon his shoulders, did not neglect this favorable opportunity of finally ruining, in the good opinion of their king, the betrayer of a state secret.

Of a lineage no less noble than that of William was Lamoral, Count Egmont and Prince of Gavre, a descendant of the Dukes of Gueldres, whose martial courage had wearied out the arms of Austria. His family was highly distinguished in the annals of the country; one of his ancestors, had, under Maximilian, already filled the office of Stadtholder over Holland. Egmont's marriage with the Duchess Sabina of Bavaria reflected additional lustre on the splendor of his birth, and made him powerful through the greatness of this alliance. Charles V. had, in the year 1516, conferred on him at Utrecht the order of the Golden Fleece; the wars of this Emperor were the school of his military genius, and the battle of St. Quentin and Gravelines made him the hero of his age. Every blessing of peace, for which a commercial people feel most grateful, brought to mind the remembrance of the victory by which it was accelerated, and Flemish pride, like a fond mother, exulted over the illustrious son of their country, who had filled all Europe with admiration. Nine children who grew up under the eyes of their fellow-citizens, multiplied and drew closer the ties between him and his fatherland, and the people's grateful affection for the father was kept alive by the sight of those who were dearest to him. Every appearance of Egmont in public was a triumphal procession; every eye which was fastened upon him recounted his history; his deeds lived in the plaudits of his companions-in-arms; at the games of chivalry mothers pointed him out to their children. Affability, a noble and courteous demeanor, the amiable virtues of chivalry, adorned and graced his merits. His liberal soul shone forth on his open brow; his frank-heartedness managed his secrets no better than his benevolence did his estate, and a thought was no sooner his than it was the property of all. His religion was gentle and humane, but not very enlightened, because it derived its light from the heart and not from, his understanding. Egmont possessed more of conscience than of fixed principles; his head had not given him a code of its own, but had merely learnt it by rote; the mere name of any action, therefore, was often with him sufficient for its condemnation. In his judgment men were wholly bad or wholly good, and had not something bad or something good; in this system of morals there was no middle term between vice and virtue; and consequently a single good trait often decided his opinion of men. Egmont united all the eminent qualities which form the hero; he was a better soldier than the Prince of Orange, but far inferior to him as a statesman; the latter saw the world as it really was; Egmont viewed it in the magic mirror of an imagination that embellished all that it reflected. Men, whom fortune has surprised with a reward for which they can find no adequate ground in their actions, are, for the most part, very apt to forget the necessary connection between cause and effect, and to insert in the natural consequences of things a higher miraculous power to which, as Caesar to his fortune, they at last insanely trust. Such a character was Egmont. Intoxicated with the idea of his own merits, which the love and gratitude of his fellow-citizens had exaggerated, he staggered on in this sweet reverie as in a delightful world of dreams. He feared not, because he trusted to the deceitful pledge which destiny had given him of her favor, in the general love of the people; and he believed in its justice because he himself was prosperous. Even the most terrible experience of Spanish perfidy could not afterwards eradicate this confidence from his soul, and on the scaffold itself his latest feeling was hope. A tender fear for his family kept his patriotic courage fettered by lower duties. Because he trembled for property and life he could not venture much for the republic. William of Orange broke with the throne because its arbitrary power was offensive to his pride; Egmont was vain, and therefore valued the favors of the monarch. The former was a citizen of the world; Egmont had never been more than a Fleming.

Philip II. still stood indebted to the hero of St. Quentin, and the supreme stadtholdership of the Netherlands appeared the only appropriate reward for such great services. Birth and high station, the voice of the nation and personal abilities, spoke as loudly for Egmont as for Orange; and if the latter was to be passed by it seemed that the former alone could supplant him.

Two such competitors, so equal in merit, might have embarrassed Philip in his choice if he had ever seriously thought of selecting either of them for the appointment. But the pre-eminent qualities by which they supported their claim to this office were the very cause of their rejection; and it was precisely the ardent desire of the nation for their election to it that irrevocably annulled their title to the appointment. Philip's purpose would not be answered by a stadtholder in the Netherlands who could command the good-will and the energies of the people. Egmont's descent from the Duke of Gueldres made him an hereditary foe of the house of Spain, and it seemed impolitic to place the supreme power in the hands of a man to whom the idea might occur of revenging on the son of the oppressor the oppression of his ancestor. The slight put on their favorites could give no just offence either to the nation or to themselves, for it might be pretended that the king passed over both because he would not show a preference to either.

The disappointment of his hopes of gaining the regency did not deprive the Prince of Orange of all expectation of establishing more firmly his influence in the Netherlands. Among the other candidates for this office was also Christina, Duchess of Lorraine, and aunt of the king, who, as mediatrix of the peace of Chateau-Cambray, had rendered important service to the crown. William aimed at the hand of her daughter, and he hoped to promote his suit by actively interposing his good offices for the mother; but he did not reflect that through this very intercession he ruined her cause. The Duchess Christina was rejected, not so much for the reason alleged, namely, the dependence of her territories on France made her an object of suspicion to the Spanish court, as because she was acceptable to the people of the Netherlands and the Prince of Orange.

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