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- History of the United Netherlands, 1584 - 1/11 -
The indulgence with which the History of the Rise of the Dutch Republic was received has encouraged me to prosecute my task with renewed industry.
A single word seems necessary to explain the somewhat increased proportions which the present work has assumed over the original design. The intimate connection which was formed between the Kingdom of England and the Republic of Holland, immediately after the death of William the Silent, rendered the history and the fate of the two commonwealths for a season almost identical. The years of anxiety and suspense during which the great Spanish project for subjugating England and reconquering the Netherlands, by the same invasion, was slowly matured, were of deepest import for the future destiny of those two countries, and for the cause of national liberty. The deep-laid conspiracy of Spain and Rome against human rights deserves to be patiently examined, for it is one of the great lessons of history. The crisis was long and doubtful, and the health--perhaps the existence--of England and Holland, and, with them, of a great part of Christendom, was on the issue.
History has few so fruitful examples of the dangers which come from superstition and despotism, and the blessings which flow from the maintenance of religious and political freedom, as those afforded by the struggle between England and Holland on the one side, and Spain and Rome on the other, during the epoch which I have attempted to describe. It is for this reason that I have thought it necessary to reveal, as minutely as possible, the secret details of this conspiracy of king and priest against the people, and to show how it was baffled at last by the strong self-helping energy of two free nations combined.
The period occupied by these two volumes is therefore a short one, when counted by years, for it begins in 1584 and ends with the commencement of 1590. When estimated by the significance of events and their results for future ages, it will perhaps be deemed worthy of the close examination which it has received. With the year 1588 the crisis was past; England was safe, and the new Dutch commonwealth was thoroughly organized. It is my design, in two additional volumes, which, with the two now published, will complete the present work, to carry the history of the Republic down to the Synod of Dort. After this epoch the Thirty Years' War broke out in Germany; and it is my wish, at a future day, to retrace the history of that eventful struggle, and to combine with it the civil and military events in Holland, down to the epoch when the Thirty Years' War and the Eighty Years' War of the Netherlands were both brought to a close by the Peace of Westphalia.
The materials for the volumes now offered to the public were so abundant that it was almost impossible to condense them into smaller compass without doing injustice to the subject. It was desirable to throw full light on these prominent points of the history, while the law of historical perspective will allow long stretches of shadow in the succeeding portions, in which less important objects may be more slightly indicated. That I may not be thought capable of abusing the reader's confidence by inventing conversations, speeches, or letters, I would take this opportunity of stating--although I have repeated the remark in the foot-notes--that no personage in these pages is made to write or speak any words save those which, on the best historical evidence, he is known to have written or spoken.
A brief allusion to my sources of information will not seem superfluous: I have carefully studied all the leading contemporary chronicles and pamphlets of Holland, Flanders, Spain, France, Germany, and England; but, as the authorities are always indicated in the notes, it is unnecessary to give a list of them here. But by far my most valuable materials are entirely unpublished ones.
The archives of England are especially rich for the history of the sixteenth century; and it will be seen, in the course of the narrative, how largely I have drawn from those mines of historical wealth, the State Paper Office and the MS. department of the British Museum. Although both these great national depositories are in admirable order, it is to be regretted that they are not all embraced in one collection, as much trouble might then be spared to the historical student, who is now obliged to pass frequently from the one place to the other, in order to, find different portions of the same correspondence.
From the royal archives of Holland I have obtained many most important, entirely unpublished documents, by the aid of which I have endeavoured to verify, to illustrate, or sometimes to correct, the recitals of the elder national chroniclers; and I have derived the greatest profit from the invaluable series of Archives and Correspondence of the Orange-Nassau Family, given to the world by M. Groen van Prinsterer. I desire to renew to that distinguished gentleman, and to that eminent scholar M. Bakhuyzen van den Brink, the expression of my gratitude for their constant kindness and advice during my residence at the Hague. Nothing can exceed the courtesy which has been extended to me in Holland, and I am deeply grateful for the indulgence with which my efforts to illustrate the history of the country have been received where that history is best known.
I have also been much aided by the study of a portion of the Archives of Simancas, the originals of which are in the Archives de l'Empire in Paris, and which were most liberally laid before me through the kindness of M. le Comte de La Borde.
I have, further; enjoyed an inestimable advantage in the perusal of the whole correspondence between Philip II., his ministers, and governors, relating to the affairs of the Netherlands, from the epoch at which this work commences down to that monarch's death. Copies of this correspondence have been carefully made from the originals at Simancas by order of the Belgian Government, under the superintendence of the eminent archivist M. Gachard, who has already published a synopsis or abridgment of a portion of it in a French translation. The translation and abridgment of so large a mass of papers, however, must necessarily occupy many years, and it may be long, therefore, before the whole of the correspondence--and particularly that portion of it relating to the epoch occupied by these volumes sees the light. It was, therefore, of the greatest importance for me to see the documents themselves unabridged and untranslated. This privilege has been accorded me, and I desire to express my thanks to his Excellency M. van de Weyer, the distinguished representative of Belgium at the English Court, to whose friendly offices I am mainly indebted for the satisfaction of my wishes in this respect. A letter from him to his Excellency M. Rogier, Minister of the Interior in Belgium--who likewise took the most courteous interest in promoting my views--obtained for me the permission thoroughly to study this correspondence; and I passed several months in Brussels, occupied with reading the whole of it from the year 1584 to the end of the reign of Philip II.
I was thus saved a long visit to the Archives of Simancas, for it would be impossible conscientiously to write the history of the epoch without a thorough examination of the correspondence of the King and his ministers. I venture to hope, therefore--whatever judgment may be passed upon my own labours--that this work may be thought to possess an intrinsic value; for the various materials of which it is composed are original, and--so far as I am aware--have not been made use of by any historical writer.
I would take this opportunity to repeat my thanks to M. Gachard, Archivist of the kingdom of Belgium, for the uniform courtesy and kindness which I have received at his-hands, and to bear my testimony to the skill and critical accuracy with which he has illustrated so many passages of Belgian and Spanish history.
31, HERTFORD-STREET, MAY-FAIR, November llth 1860.
THE UNITED NETHERLANDS.
Murder of Orange--Extension of Protestantism--Vast Power of Spain-- Religious Origin of the Revolt--Disposal of the Sovereignty--Courage of the Estates of Holland--Children of William the Silent-- Provisional Council of State--Firm attitude of Holland and Zeeland-- Weakness of Flanders--Fall of Ghent--Adroitness of Alexander Farnese.
WILLIAM THE SILENT, Prince of Orange, had been murdered on the 10th of July, 1534. It is difficult to imagine a more universal disaster than the one thus brought about by the hand of a single obscure fanatic. For nearly twenty years the character of the Prince had been expanding steadily as the difficulties of his situation increased. Habit, necessity, and the natural gifts of the man, had combined to invest him at last with an authority which seemed more than human. There was such general confidence in his sagacity, courage, and purity, that the nation had come to think with his brain and to act with his hand. It was natural that, for an instant, there should be a feeling as of absolute and helpless paralysis.
Whatever his technical attributes in the polity of the Netherlands--and it would be difficult to define them with perfect accuracy--there is no doubt that he stood there, the head of a commonwealth, in an attitude such as had been maintained by but few of the kings, or chiefs, or high priests of history. Assassination, a regular and almost indispensable portion of the working machinery of Philip's government, had produced, in this instance, after repeated disappointments, the result at last which had been so anxiously desired. The ban of the Pope and the offered gold of the King had accomplished a victory greater than any yet achieved by the armies of Spain, brilliant as had been their triumphs on the blood- stained soil of the Netherlands.
Had that "exceeding proud, neat, and spruce" Doctor of Laws, William Parry, who had been busying himself at about the same time with his memorable project against the Queen of England, proved as successful as Balthazar Gerard, the fate of Christendom would have been still darker. Fortunately, that member of Parliament had made the discovery in time-- not for himself, but for Elizabeth--that the "Lord was better pleased with adverbs than nouns;" the well-known result being that the traitor was hanged and the Sovereign saved.
Yet such was the condition of Europe at that day. A small, dull, elderly, imperfectly-educated, patient, plodding invalid, with white hair and protruding under jaw, and dreary visage, was sitting day after day; seldom speaking, never smiling, seven or eight hours out of every twenty- four, at a writing table covered with heaps of interminable despatches, in a cabinet far away beyond the seas and mountains, in the very heart of Spain. A clerk or two, noiselessly opening and shutting the door, from time to time, fetching fresh bundles of letters and taking away others-- all written and composed by secretaries or high functionaries--and all to be scrawled over in the margin by the diligent old man in a big schoolboy's hand and style--if ever schoolboy, even in the sixteenth century, could write so illegibly or express himself so awkwardly; couriers in the court-yard arriving from or departing for the uttermost parts of earth-Asia, Africa America, Europe-to fetch and carry these interminable epistles which contained the irresponsible commands of this one individual, and were freighted with the doom and destiny of countless
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