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- History of the United Netherlands, 1584-85 - 1/12 -
Policy of England--Schemes of the Pretender of Portugal--Hesitation of the French Court--Secret Wishes of France--Contradictory Views as to the Opinions of Netherlanders--Their Love for England and Elizabeth--Prominent Statesmen of the Provinces--Roger Williams the Welshman Views of Walsingham, Burghley, and the Queen--An Embassy to Holland decided upon--Davison at the Hague--Cautious and Secret Measures of Burghley--Consequent Dissatisfaction of Walsingham-- English and Dutch Suspicion of France--Increasing Affection of Holland for England.
The policy of England towards the Provinces had been somewhat hesitating, but it had not been disloyal. It was almost inevitable that there should be timidity in the councils of Elizabeth, when so grave a question as that of confronting the vast power of Spain was forcing itself day by day more distinctly upon the consideration of herself and her statesmen. It was very clear, now that Orange was dead, that some new and decided step would be taken. Elizabeth was in favour of combined action by the French and English governments, in behalf of the Netherlands--a joint protectorate of the Provinces, until such time as adequate concessions on the religious question could be obtained from Spain. She was unwilling to plunge into the peril and expense of a war with the strongest power in the world. She disliked the necessity under which she should be placed of making repeated applications to her parliament, and of thus fostering the political importance of the Commons; she was reluctant to encourage rebellious subjects in another land, however just the cause of their revolt. She felt herself vulnerable in Ireland and on the Scottish border. Nevertheless, the Spanish power was becoming so preponderant, that if the Netherlands were conquered, she could never feel a moment's security within her own territory. If the Provinces were annexed to France, on the other hand, she could not contemplate with complacency the increased power thus placed in the hands of the treacherous and jesuitical house of Valois.
The path of the Queen was thickly strewed with peril: her advisers were shrewd, far-seeing, patriotic, but some of them were perhaps over cautious. The time had, however, arrived when the danger was to be faced, if the whole balance of power in Europe were not to come to an end, and weak states, like England and the Netherlands, to submit to the tyranny of an overwhelming absolutism. The instinct of the English sovereign, of English statesmen, of the English nation, taught them that the cause of the Netherlands was their own. Nevertheless, they were inclined to look on yet a little longer, although the part of spectator had become an impossible one. The policy of the English government was not treacherous, although it was timid. That of the French court was both the one and the other, and it would have been better both for England and the Provinces, had they more justly appreciated the character of Catharine de' Medici and her son.
The first covert negotiations between Henry and the States had caused much anxiety among the foreign envoys in France. Don Bernardino de Mendoza, who had recently returned from Spain after his compulsory retreat from his post of English ambassador, was now established in Paris, as representative of Philip. He succeeded Tasais--a Netherlander by birth, and one of the ablest diplomatists in the Spanish service--and his house soon became the focus of intrigue against the government to which he was accredited--the very head-quarters of the League. His salary was large, his way of living magnificent, his insolence intolerable.
"Tassis is gone to the Netherlands," wrote envoy Busbecq to the Emperor, "and thence is to proceed to Spain. Don Bernardino has arrived in his place. If it be the duty of a good ambassador to expend largely, it would be difficult to find a better one than he; for they say 'tis his intention to spend sixteen thousand dollars yearly in his embassy. I would that all things were in correspondence; and that he were not in other respects so inferior to Tassis."
It is, however, very certain that Mendoza was not only a brave soldier, but a man of very considerable capacity in civil affairs, although his inordinate arrogance interfered most seriously with his skill as a negotiator. He was, of course, watching with much fierceness the progress of these underhand proceedings between the French court and the rebellious subjects of his master, and using threats and expostulations in great profusion. "Mucio," too, the great stipendiary of Philip, was becoming daily more dangerous, and the adherents of the League were multiplying with great celerity.
The pretender of Portugal, Don Antonio, prior of Crato, was also in Paris; and it was the policy of both the French and the English governments to protect his person, and to make use of him as a rod over the head of Philip. Having escaped, after the most severe sufferings, in the mountains of Spain, where he had been tracked like a wild beast, with a price of thirty thousand crowns placed upon his head, he was now most anxious to stir the governments of Europe into espousing his cause, and into attacking Spain through the recently acquired kingdom of Portugal. Meantime, he was very desirous of some active employment, to keep himself from starving, and conceived the notion, that it would be an excellent thing for the Netherlands and himself, were he to make good to them the loss of William the Silent.
"Don Antonio," wrote Stafford, "made a motion to me yesterday, to move her Majesty, that now upon the Prince of Orange's death, as it is a necessary thing for them to have a governor and head, and him to be at her Majesty's devotion, if her Majesty would be at the means to work it for him, she should be assured nobody should be more faithfully tied in devotion to her than he. Truly you would pity the poor man's case, who is almost next door to starving in effect."
A starving condition being, however, not the only requisite in a governor and head to replace the Prince of Orange, nothing came of this motion. Don Antonio remained in Paris, in a pitiable plight, and very much environed by dangers; for the Duke of Guise and his brother had undertaken to deliver him into the hands of Philip the Second, or those of his ministers, before the feast of St. John of the coming year. Fifty thousand dollars were to be the reward of this piece of work, combined with other services; "and the sooner they set about it the better," said Philip, writing a few months later, "for the longer they delay it, the less easy will they find it."'
The money was never earned, however, and meantime Don Antonio made himself as useful as he could, in picking up information for Sir Edward Stafford and the other opponents of Spanish policy in Paris.
The English envoy was much embarrassed by the position of affairs. He felt sure that the French monarch would never dare to enter the lists against the king of Spain, yet he was accurately informed of the secret negotiations with the Netherlands, while in the dark as to the ultimate intentions of his own government.
"I was never set to school so much," he wrote to Walsingham (27th July, 1584), "as I have been to decipher the cause of the deputies of the Low Countries coming hither, the offers that they made the King here, and the King's manner of dealing with them!"
He expressed great jealousy at the mystery which enveloped the whole transaction; and much annoyance with Noel de Caron, who "kept very secret, and was angry at the motion," when he endeavoured to discover the business in which they were engaged. Yet he had the magnanimity to request Walsingham not to mention the fact to the Queen, lest she should be thereby prejudiced against the States.
"For my part," said he, "I would be glad in any thing to further them, rather than to hinder them--though they do not deserve it--yet for the good the helping them at this time may bring ourselves."
Meantime, the deputies went away from France, and the King went to Lyons, where he had hoped to meet both the Duke of Savoy and the King of Navarre. But Joyeuse, who had been received at Chambery with "great triumphs and tourneys," brought back only a broken wrist, without bringing the Duke of Savoy; that potentate sending word that the "King of Spain had done him the honour to give him his daughter, and that it was not fit for him to do any thing that might bring jealousy."
Henry of Navarre also, as we have seen, declined the invitation sent him, M. de Segur not feeling disposed for the sudden flight out of window suggested by Agrippa D' Aubigne; so that, on the whole, the King and his mother, with all the court, returned from Lyons in marvellous ill humour.
"The King storms greatly," said Stafford, "and is in a great dump." It was less practicable than ever to discover the intentions of the government; for although it was now very certain that active exertions were making by Des Pruneaux in the Provinces, it was not believed by the most sagacious that a serious resolution against Spain had been taken in France. There was even a talk of a double matrimonial alliance, at that very moment, between the two courts.
"It is for certain here said," wrote Stafford, "that the King of Spain doth presently marry the dowager of France, and 'tis thought that if the King of Spain marry, he will not live a year. Whensoever the marriage be," added the envoy, "I would to God the effect were true, for if it be not by some such handy work of God, I am afraid things will not go so well as I could wish."
There was a lull on the surface of affairs, and it was not easy to sound the depths of unseen combinations and intrigues.
There was also considerable delay in the appointment and the arrival of the new deputies from the Netherlands; and Stafford was as doubtful as ever as to the intentions of his own government.
"They look daily here for the States," he wrote to Walsingham (29th Dec. 1584), "and I pray that I may hear from you as soon as you may, what course I shall take when they be here, either hot or cold or lukewarm in the matter, and in what sort I shall behave myself. Some badly affected have gone about to put into the King's head, that they never meant to offer the sovereignty, which, though the King be not thoroughly persuaded of, yet so much is won by this means that the King hearkeneth to see the end, and then to believe as he seeth cause, and in the meantime to speak no more of any such matter than if it had never been moved."
While his Majesty was thus hearkening in order to see more, according to Sir Edward's somewhat Hibernian mode of expressing himself, and keeping silent that he might see the better, it was more difficult than ever for the envoy to know what course to pursue. Some persons went so far as to suggest that the whole negotiation was a mere phantasmagoria devised by Queen Elizabeth--her purpose being to breed a quarrel between Henry and Philip for her own benefit; and "then, seeing them together by the ears, as her accustomed manner was, to let them go alone, and sit still to look on."
The King did not appear to be much affected by these insinuations against Elizabeth; but the doubt and the delay were very harrassing. "I would to God," wrote the English envoy, "that if the States mean to do anything here with the King, and if her. Majesty and the council think it fit, they would delay no time, but go roundly either to an agreement or to a breach with the King. Otherwise, as the matter now sleepeth, so it will
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