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- History of the United Netherlands, 1587 - 1/10 -


CHAPTER XVII.

Secret Treaty between Queen and Parma--Excitement and Alarm in the States--Religious Persecution in England--Queen's Sincerity toward Spain--Language and Letters of Parma--Negotiations of De Loo-- English Commissioners appointed--Parma's affectionate Letter to the Queen--Philip at his Writing-Table--His Plots with Parma against England--Parma's secret Letters to the King--Philip's Letters to Parma Wonderful Duplicity of Philip--His sanguine Views as to England--He is reluctant to hear of the Obstacles--and imagines Parma in England--But Alexander's Difficulties are great--He denounces Philip's wild Schemes--Walsingham aware of the Spanish Plot--which the States well understand--Leicester's great Unpopularity--The Queen warned against Treating--Leicester's Schemes against Barneveld--Leicestrian Conspiracy at Leyden--The Plot to seize the City discovered--Three Ringleaders sentenced to Death-- Civil War in France--Victory gained by Navarre, and one by Guise-- Queen recalls Leicester--Who retires on ill Terms with the States-- Queen warned as to Spanish Designs--Result's of Leicester's Administration.

The course of Elizabeth towards the Provinces, in the matter of the peace, was certainly not ingenuous, but it was not absolutely deceitful. She concealed and denied the negotiations, when the Netherland statesmen were perfectly aware of their existence, if not of their tenour; but she was not prepared, as they suspected, to sacrifice their liberties and their religion, as the price of her own reconciliation with Spain. Her attitude towards the States was imperious, over-bearing, and abusive. She had allowed the Earl of Leicester to return, she said, because of her love for the poor and oppressed people, but in many of her official and in all her private communications, she denounced the men who governed that people as ungrateful wretches and impudent liars!

These were the corrosives and vinegar which she thought suitable for the case; and the Earl was never weary in depicting the same statesmen as seditious, pestilent, self-seeking, mischief-making traitors. These secret, informal negotiations, had been carried on during most of the year 1587. It was the "comptroller's peace;", as Walsingham contemptuously designated the attempted treaty; for it will be recollected that Sir James Croft, a personage of very mediocre abilities, had always been more busy than any other English politician in these transactions. He acted; however, on the inspiration of Burghley, who drew his own from the fountainhead.

But it was in vain for the Queen to affect concealment. The States knew everything which was passing, before Leicester knew. His own secret instructions reached the Netherlands before he did. His secretary, Junius, was thrown into prison, and his master's letter taken from him, before there had been any time to act upon its treacherous suggestions. When the Earl wrote letters with, his own hand to his sovereign, of so secret a nature that he did not even retain a single copy for himself, for fear of discovery, he found, to his infinite disgust, that the States were at once provided with an authentic transcript of every line that he had written. It was therefore useless, almost puerile, to deny facts which were quite as much within the knowledge of the Netherlanders as of himself. The worst consequence of the concealment was, that a deeper treachery was thought possible than actually existed. "The fellow they call Barneveld," as Leicester was in the habit of designating one of the first statesmen in Europe, was perhaps justified, knowing what he did, in suspecting more. Being furnished with a list of commissioners, already secretly agreed upon between the English and Spanish governments, to treat for peace, while at the same time the Earl was beating his breast, and flatly denying that there was any intention of treating with Parma at all, it was not unnatural that he should imagine a still wider and deeper scheme than really existed, against the best interests of his country. He may have expressed, in private conversation, some suspicions of this nature, but there is direct evidence that he never stated in public anything which was not afterwards proved to be matter of fact, or of legitimate inference from the secret document which had come into his hands. The Queen exhausted herself in opprobious language against those who dared to impute to her a design to obtain possession of the cities and strong places of the Netherlands, in order to secure a position in which to compel the Provinces into obedience to her policy. She urged, with much logic, that as she had refused the sovereignty of the whole country when offered to her, she was not likely to form surreptitious schemes to make herself mistress of a portion of it. On the other hand, it was very obvious, that to accept the sovereignty of Philip's rebellious Provinces, was to declare war upon Philip; whereas, had she been pacifically inclined towards that sovereign, and treacherously disposed towards the Netherlands, it would be a decided advantage to her to have those strong places in her power. But the suspicions as to her good faith were exaggerated. As to the intentions of Leicester, the States were justified in their almost unlimited distrust. It is very certain that both in 1586, and again, at this very moment, when Elizabeth was most vehement in denouncing such aspersions on her government, he had unequivocally declared to her his intention of getting possession, if possible, of several cities, and of the whole Island of Walcheren, which, together with the cautionary towns already in his power, would enable the Queen to make good terms for herself with Spain, "if the worst came to the, worst." It will also soon be shown that he did his best to carry these schemes into execution. There is no evidence, however, and no probability, that he had received the royal commands to perpetrate such a crime.

The States believed also, that in those secret negotiations with Parma the Queen was disposed to sacrifice the religious interests of the Netherlands. In this they were mistaken. But they had reason for their mistake, because the negotiator De Loo, had expressly said, that, in her overtures to Farnese, she had abandoned that point altogether. If this had been so, it would have simply been a consent on the part of Elizabeth, that the Catholic religion and the inquisition should be re-established in the Provinces, to the exclusion of every other form of worship or polity. In truth, however, the position taken by her Majesty on the subject was as fair as could be reasonably expected. Certainly she was no advocate for religious liberty. She chose that her own subjects should be Protestants, because she had chosen to be a Protestant herself, and because it was an incident of her supremacy, to dictate uniformity of creed to all beneath her sceptre. No more than her father, who sent to the stake or gallows heretics to transubstantiation as well as believers in the Pope, had Elizabeth the faintest idea of religious freedom. Heretics to the English Church were persecuted, fined, imprisoned, mutilated, and murdered, by sword, rope, and fire. In some respects, the practice towards those who dissented from Elizabeth was more immoral and illogical, even if less cruel, than that to which those were subjected who rebelled against Sixtus. The Act of Uniformity required Papists to assist at the Protestant worship, but wealthy Papists could obtain immunity by an enormous fine. The Roman excuse to destroy bodies in order to save souls, could scarcely be alleged by a Church which might be bribed into connivance at heresy, and which derived a revenue from the very nonconformity for which humbler victims were sent to the gallows. It would, however, be unjust in the extreme to overlook the enormous difference in the amount of persecution, exercised respectively by the Protestant and the Roman Church. It is probable that not many more than two hundred Catholics were executed as such, in Elizabeth's reign, and this was ten score too many. But what was this against eight hundred heretics burned, hanged, and drowned, in one Easter week by Alva, against the eighteen thousand two hundred went to stake and scaffold, as he boasted during his administration, against the vast numbers of Protestants, whether they be counted by tens or by hundreds of thousands, who perished by the edicts of Charles V., in the Netherlands, or in the single Saint Bartholomew Massacre in France? Moreover, it should never be forgotten--from undue anxiety for impartiality--that most of the Catholics who were executed in England, suffered as conspirators rather than as heretics. No foreign potentate, claiming to be vicegerent of Christ, had denounced Philip as a bastard and, usurper, or had, by means of a blasphemous fiction, which then was a terrible reality, severed the bonds of allegiance by which his subjects were held, cut him off from all communion with his fellow-creatures, and promised temporal rewards and a crown of glory in heaven to those who should succeed in depriving him of throne and life. Yet this was the position of Elizabeth. It was war to the knife between her and Rome, declared by Rome itself; nor was there any doubt whatever that the Seminary Priests --seedlings transplanted from foreign nurseries, which were as watered gardens for the growth of treason--were a perpetually organized band of conspirators and assassins, with whom it was hardly an act of excessive barbarity to deal in somewhat summary fashion. Doubtless it would have been a more lofty policy, and a far more intelligent one, to extend towards the Catholics of England, who as a body were loyal to their country, an ample toleration. But it could scarcely be expected that Elizabeth Tudor, as imperious and absolute by temperament as her father had ever been, would be capable of embodying that great principle.

When, in the preliminaries to the negotiations of 1587, therefore, it was urged on the part of Spain, that the Queen was demanding a concession of religious liberty from Philip to the Netherlanders which she refused to English heretics, and that he only claimed the same right of dictating a creed to his subjects which she exercised in regard to her own, Lord Burghley replied that the statement was correct. The Queen permitted-- it was true--no man to profess any religion but the one which she professed. At the same time it was declared to be unjust, that those persons in the Netherlands who had been for years in the habit of practising Protestant rites, should be suddenly compelled, without instruction, to abandon that form of worship. It was well known that many would rather die than submit to such oppression, and it was affirmed that the exercise of this cruelty would be resisted by her to the uttermost. There was no hint of the propriety--on any logical basis-- of leaving the question of creed as a matter between man and his Maker, with which any dictation on the part of crown or state was an act of odious tyranny. There was not even a suggestion that the Protestant doctrines were true, and the Catholic doctrines false. The matter was merely taken up on the 'uti possidetis' principle, that they who had acquired the fact of Protestant worship had a right to retain it, and could not justly be deprived of it, except by instruction and persuasion. It was also affirmed that it was not the English practice to inquire into men's consciences. It would have been difficult, however, to make that very clear to Philip's comprehension, because, if men, women, and children, were scourged with rods, imprisoned and hanged, if they refused to conform publicly to a ceremony at which their consciences revolted- unless they had money enough to purchase non-conformity--it seemed to be the practice to inquire very effectively into their consciences.

But if there was a certain degree of disingenuousness on the part of Elizabeth towards the States, her attitude towards Parma was one of perfect sincerity. A perusal of the secret correspondence leaves no doubt whatever on that point. She was seriously and fervently desirous of peace with Spain. On the part of Farnese and his master, there was the most unscrupulous mendacity, while the confiding simplicity and truthfulness of the Queen in these negotiations was almost pathetic. Especially she declared her trust in the loyal and upright character of Parma, in which she was sure of never being disappointed. It is only doing justice to Alexander to say that he was as much deceived by her frankness as she by his falsehood. It never entered his head that a royal personage and the trusted counsellors of a great kingdom could be telling the truth in a secret international transaction, and he justified the industry with which his master and himself piled fiction upon fiction, by their utter disbelief in every word which came to them from England.


History of the United Netherlands, 1587 - 1/10

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