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- History of the United Netherlands, 1586 - 1/6 -


Drake in the Netherlands--Good Results of his Visit--The Babington Conspiracy--Leicester decides to visit England--Exchange of parting Compliments.

Late in the autumn of the same year an Englishman arrived in the Netherlands, bearer of despatches from the Queen. He had been entrusted by her Majesty with a special mission to the States-General, and he had soon an interview with that assembly at the Hague.

He was a small man, apparently forty-five years of age, of a fair but somewhat weather-stained complexion, with light-brown, closely-curling hair, an expansive forehead, a clear blue eye, rather commonplace features, a thin, brown, pointed beard, and a slight moustache. Though low of stature, he was broad-chested, with well-knit limbs. His hands, which were small and nervous, were brown and callous with the marks of toil. There was something in his brow and glance not to be mistaken, and which men willingly call master; yet he did not seem, to have sprung of the born magnates of the earth. He wore a heavy gold chain about his neck, and it might be observed that upon the light full sleeves of his slashed doublet the image of a small ship on a terrestrial globe was curiously and many times embroidered.

It was not the first time that he had visited the Netherlands. Thirty years before the man had been apprentice on board a small lugger, which traded between the English coast and the ports of Zeeland. Emerging in early boyhood from his parental mansion--an old boat, turned bottom upwards on a sandy down he had naturally taken to the sea, and his master, dying childless not long afterwards, bequeathed to him the lugger. But in time his spirit, too much confined by coasting in the narrow seas, had taken a bolder flight. He had risked his hard-earned savings in a voyage with the old slave-trader, John Hawkins--whose exertions, in what was then considered an honourable and useful vocation, had been rewarded by Queen Elizabeth with her special favour, and with a coat of arms, the crest whereof was a negro's head, proper, chained--but the lad's first and last enterprise in this field was unfortunate. Captured by Spaniards, and only escaping with life, he determined to revenge himself on the whole Spanish nation; and this was considered a most legitimate proceeding according to the "sea divinity" in which he, had been schooled. His subsequent expeditions against the Spanish possessions in the West Indies were eminently successful, and soon the name of Francis Drake rang through the world, and startled Philip in the depths of his Escorial. The first Englishman, and the second of any nation, he then ploughed his memorable "furrow round the earth," carrying amazement and, destruction to the Spaniards as he sailed, and after three years brought to the Queen treasure enough, as it was asserted, to maintain a war with the Spanish King for seven years, and to pay himself and companions, and the merchant-adventurers who had participated in his enterprise, forty-seven pounds sterling for every pound invested in the voyage. The speculation had been a fortunate one both, for himself and for the kingdom.

The terrible Sea-King was one of the great types of the sixteenth century. The self-helping private adventurer, in his little vessel the 'Golden Hind,' one hundred tons burthen, had waged successful war against a mighty empire, and had shown England how to humble Philip. When he again set foot on his native soil he was followed by admiring crowds, and became the favourite hero of romance and ballad; for it was not the ignoble pursuit of gold alone, through toil and peril, which had endeared his name to the nation. The popular instinct recognized that the true means had been found at last for rescuing England and Protestantism from the overshadowing empire of Spain. The Queen visited him in his 'Golden Hind,' and gave him the honour of knighthood.

The treaty between the United Netherlands and England had been followed by an embargo upon English vessels, persons, and property, in the ports of Spain; and after five years of unwonted repose, the privateersman again set forth with twenty-five small vessels--of which five or six only were armed--under his command, conjoined with that of General Carlisle. This time the voyage was undertaken with full permission and assistance of the Queen who, however, intended to disavow him, if she should find such a step convenient. This was the expedition in which Philip Sidney had desired to take part. The Queen watched its result with intense anxiety, for the fate of her Netherland adventure was thought to be hanging on the issue. "Upon Drake's voyage, in very truth, dependeth the life and death of the cause, according to man's judgment," said Walsingham.

The issue was encouraging, even, if the voyage--as a mercantile speculation--proved not so brilliant as the previous enterprises of Sir Francis had been. He returned in the midsummer of 1586, having captured and brandschatzed St. Domingo and Carthagena; and burned St. Augustine. "A fearful man to the King of Spain is Sir Francis Drake," said Lord Burghley. Nevertheless, the Queen and the Lord-Treasurer--as we have shown by the secret conferences at Greenwich--had, notwithstanding these successes, expressed a more earnest desire for peace than ever.

A simple, sea-faring Englishman, with half-a-dozen miserable little vessels, had carried terror, into the Spanish possessions all over the earth: but even then the great Queen had not learned to rely on the valour of her volunteers against her most formidable enemy.

Drake was, however, bent on another enterprise. The preparations for Philip's great fleet had been going steadily forward in Lisbon, Cadiz, and other ports of Spain and Portugal, and, despite assurances to the contrary, there was a growing belief that England was to be invaded. To destroy those ships before the monarch's face, would be, indeed, to "singe his beard." But whose arm was daring enough for such a stroke? Whose but that of the Devonshire skipper who had already accomplished so much?

And so Sir Francis, "a man true to his word, merciful to those under him, and hating nothing so much as idleness," had come to the Netherlands to talk over his project with the States-General, and with the Dutch merchants and sea-captains. His visit was not unfruitful. As a body the assembly did nothing; but they recommended that in every maritime city of Holland and Zeeland one or two ships should be got ready, to participate in all the future enterprises of Sir Francis and his comrades.

The martial spirit of volunteer sailors, and the keen instinct of mercantile speculation, were relied upon--exactly as in England-- to furnish men, ships, and money, for these daring and profitable adventures. The foundation of a still more intimate connection between England and Holland was laid, and thenceforth Dutchmen and Englishmen fought side by side, on land and sea, wherever a blow was to be struck in the cause of human freedom against despotic Spain.

The famous Babington conspiracy, discovered by Walsingham's "travail and cost," had come to convince the Queen and her counsellors--if further proof were not superfluous--that her throne and life were both incompatible with Philip's deep designs, and that to keep that monarch out of the Netherlands, was as vital to her as to keep him out of England. "She is forced by this discovery to countenance the cause by all outward means she may," said Walsingham, "for it appeareth unto her most plain, that unless she had entered into the action, she had been utterly undone, and that if she do not prosecute the same she cannot continue." The Secretary had sent Leicester information at an early day of the great secret, begging his friend to "make the letter a heretic after be had read the same," and expressing the opinion that "the matter, if well handled, would break the neck of all dangerous practices during her Majesty's reign."

The tragedy of Mary Stuart--a sad but inevitable portion of the vast drama in which the emancipation of England and Holland, and, through them, of half Christendom, was accomplished--approached its catastrophe; and Leicester could not restrain his anxiety for her immediate execution. He reminded Walsingham that the great seal had been put upon a warrant for her execution for a less crime seventeen years before, on the occasion of the Northumberland and Westmorland rebellion. "For who can warrant these villains from her," he said, "if that person live, or shall live any time? God forbid! And be you all stout and resolute in this speedy execution, or be condemned of all the world for ever. It is most. certain, if you will have your Majesty safe, it must be done, for justice doth crave it beside policy." His own personal safety was deeply compromised. "Your Lordship and I," wrote Burghley, "were very great motes in the traitors' eyes; for your Lordship there and I here should first, about one time, have been killed. Of your Lordship they thought rather of poisoning than slaying. After us two gone, they purposed her Majesty's death."

But on this great affair of state the Earl was not swayed by such personal considerations. He honestly thought--as did all the statesmen who governed England--that English liberty, the very existence of the English commonwealth, was impossible so long as Mary Stuart lived. Under these circumstances he was not impatient, for a time at least, to leave the Netherlands. His administration had not been very successful. He had been led away by his own vanity, and by the flattery of artful demagogues, but the immense obstacles with which he had to contend in the Queen's wavering policy, and in the rivalry of both English and Dutch politicians have been amply exhibited. That he had been generous, courageous, and zealous, could not be denied; and, on the whole, he had accomplished as much in the field as could have been expected of him with such meagre forces, and so barren an exchequer.

It must be confessed, however, that his leaving the Netherlands at that moment was a most unfortunate step, both for his own reputation and for the security of the Provinces. Party-spirit was running high, and a political revolution was much to be dreaded in so grave a position of affairs, both in England and Holland. The arrangements--and particularly the secret arrangements which he made at his departure--were the most fatal measures of all; but these will be described in the following chapter.

On the 31st October; the Earl announced to the state-council his intention of returning to England, stating, as the cause of this sudden determination, that he had been summoned to attend the parliament then sitting in Westminster. Wilkes, who was of course present, having now succeeded Killigrew as one of the two English members, observed that "the States and council used but slender entreaty to his Excellency for his stay and countenance there among them, whereat his Excellency and we that were of the council for her Majesty did not a little marvel."

Some weeks later, however, upon the 21st November, Leicester summoned Barneveld, and five other of the States General, to discuss the necessary measures for his departure, when those gentlemen remonstrated very earnestly upon the step, pleading the danger and confusion of affairs which must necessarily ensue. The Earl declared that he was not retiring from the country because he was offended, although he had many causes for offence: and he then alluded to the, Navigation Act, to the establishment council, and spoke of the finance of Burgrave and Reingault, for his employment of which individuals so much obloquy had been heaped upon his, head. Burgrave he pronounced, as usual, a substantial, wise, faithful, religious personage, entitled to fullest confidence; while Reingault-- who had been thrown into prison by the States on charges of fraud, peculation, and sedition--he declared to be a great financier, who had promised, on penalty of his head, to bring "great sums into the treasury

History of the United Netherlands, 1586 - 1/6

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