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- History of the United Netherlands, 1588-89 - 1/4 -
Alexander besieges Bergen-op-Zoom--Pallavicini's Attempt to seduce Parma--Alexander's Fury--He is forced to raise the Siege, of Bergen --Gertruydenberg betrayed to Parma--Indignation of the States-- Exploits, of Schenk--His Attack on Nymegen--He is defeated and drowned--English-Dutch Expedition to Spain--Its meagre Results-- Death of Guise and of the Queen--Mother--Combinations after the Murder of Henry III.--Tandem fit Surculus Arbor.
The fever of the past two years was followed by comparative languor. The deadly crisis was past, the freedom of Europe was saved, Holland and England breathed again; but tension now gave place to exhaustion. The events in the remainder of the year 1588, with those of 1589--although important in themselves--were the immediate results of that history which has been so minutely detailed in these volumes, and can be indicated in a very few pages.
The Duke of Parma, melancholy, disappointed, angry stung to the soul by calumnies as stupid as they were venomous, and already afflicted with a painful and lingering disease, which his friends attributed to poison administered by command of the master whom he had so faithfully served-- determined, if possible, to afford the consolation which that master was so plaintively demanding at his hands.
So Alexander led the splendid army which had been packed in, and unpacked from, the flat boats of Newport and Dunkerk, against Bergen-op-Zoom, and besieged that city in form. Once of great commercial importance, although somewhat fallen away from its original prosperity, Bergen was well situate on a little stream which connected it with the tide-waters of the Scheldt, and was the only place in Brabant, except Willemstad, still remaining to the States. Opposite lay the Isle of Tholen from which it was easily to be supplied and reinforced. The Vosmeer, a branch of the Scheldt, separated the island from the main, and there was a path along the bed of that estuary, which, at dead low-water, was practicable for wading. Alexander, accordingly, sent a party of eight hundred pikemen, under Montigny, Marquis of Renty, and Ottavio Mansfeld, supported on the dyke by three thousand musketeers, across; the dangerous ford, at ebb-tide, in order to seize this important island. It was an adventure similar to those, which, in the days of the grand commander, and under the guidance of Mondragon; had been on two occasions so brilliantly successful. But the Isle of Tholen was now defended by Count Solms and a garrison of fierce amphibious Zeelanders--of those determined bands which had just been holding Farnese and his fleet in prison, and daring him to the issue--and the invading party, after fortunately accomplishing their night journey along the bottom of the Vosmeer, were unable to effect a landing, were driven with considerable loss into the waves again, and compelled to find their way back as best they could, along their dangerous path, and with a rapidly rising tide. It was a blind and desperate venture, and the Vosmeer soon swallowed four hundred of the Spaniards. The rest, half-drowned or smothered, succeeded in reaching the shore--the chiefs of the expedition, Renty and Mansfeld, having been with difficulty rescued by their followers, when nearly sinking in the tide.
The Duke continued the siege, but the place was well defended by an English and Dutch garrison, to the number of five thousand, and commanded by Colonel Morgan, that bold and much experienced Welshman, so well known in the Netherland wars. Willoughby and Maurice of Nassau, and Olden- Barneveld were, at different times, within the walls; for the Duke had been unable to invest the place so closely as to prevent all communications from without; and, while Maurice was present, there were almost daily sorties from the town, with many a spirited skirmish, to give pleasure to the martial young Prince. The English, officers, Vere and Baskerville, and two Netherland colonels, the brothers Bax, most distinguished themselves on these occasions. The siege was not going on with the good fortune which had usually attended the Spanish leaguer. of Dutch cities, while, on the 29th September, a personal incident came to increase Alexander's dissatisfaction and melancholy.
On that day the Duke was sitting in his tent, brooding, as he was apt to do, over the unjust accusations which had been heaped upon him in regard to the failure of the Armada, when a stranger was announced. His name, he said, was Giacomo Morone, and he was the bearer of a letter from Sir Horace Pallavicini, a Genoese gentleman long established in London; and known to be on confidential terms with the English government. Alexander took the letter, and glancing at the bottom of the last page, saw that it was not signed.
"How dare you bring me a dispatch without a signature?" he exclaimed. The messenger, who was himself a Genoese, assured the Duke that the letter was most certainly written by Pallavicini--who had himself placed it, sealed, in his hands--and that he had supposed it signed, although he had of course, not seen the inside.
Alexander began to read the note, which was not a very long one, and his brow instantly darkened. He read a line or two more, when, with an exclamation of fury, he drew his dagger, and, seizing the astonished Genoese by the throat, was about to strike him dead. Suddenly mastering his rage, however, by a strong effort, and remembering that the man might be a useful witness; he flung Morone from him.
"If I had Pallavicini here," he said, "I would treat, him as I have just refrained from using you. And if I had any suspicion that you were aware of the contents of this letter, I would send you this instant to be hanged."
The unlucky despatch-bearer protested his innocence of all complicity with Pallavicini, and his ignorance of the tenor of the communication by which the Duke's wrath had been so much excited. He was then searched and cross-examined most carefully by Richardot and other counsellors, and his innocence being made apparent-he was ultimately discharged.
The letter of Pallavicini was simply an attempt to sound Farnese as to his sentiments in regard to a secret scheme, which could afterwards be arranged in form, and according, to which he was to assume the sovereignty of the Netherlands himself, to the exclusion of his King, to guarantee to England the possession of the cautionary towns, until her advances to the States should be refunded, and to receive the support and perpetual alliance of the Queen in his new and rebellious position.
Here was additional evidence, if any were wanting, of the universal belief in his disloyalty; and Alexander, faithful, if man ever were to his master--was cut to the heart, and irritated almost to madness, by such insolent propositions. There is neither proof nor probability that the Queen's government was implicated in this intrigue of Pallavicini, who appears to have been inspired by the ambition of achieving a bit of Machiavellian policy, quite on his own account. Nothing came of the proposition, and the Duke; having transmitted to the King a minute narrative of, the affair, together with indignant protestations of the fidelity, which all the world seemed determined to dispute, received most affectionate replies from that monarch, breathing nothing but unbounded confidence in his nephew's innocence and devotion.
Such assurances from any other man in the world might have disarmed suspicion, but Alexander knew his master too well to repose upon his word, and remembered too bitterly the last hours of Don John of Austria --whose dying pillow he had soothed, and whose death had been hastened, as he knew, either by actual poison or by the hardly less fatal venom of slander--to regain tranquillity as to his own position.
The King was desirous that Pallavicini should be invited over to Flanders, in order that Alexander, under pretence of listening to his propositions, might draw from the Genoese all the particulars of his scheme, and then, at leisure, inflict the punishment which he had deserved. But insuperable obstacles presented themselves, nor was Alexander desirous of affording still further pretexts for his slanderers.
Very soon after this incident--most important as showing the real situation of various parties, although without any immediate result-- Alexander received a visit in his tent from another stranger. This time the visitor was an Englishman, one Lieutenant Grimstone, and the object of his interview with the Duke was not political, but had, a direct reference to the siege of Bergen. He was accompanied by a countryman of his own, Redhead by name, a camp-suttler by profession. The two represented themselves as deserters from the besieged city, and offered, for a handsome reward, to conduct a force of Spaniards, by a secret path, into one of the gates. The Duke questioned them narrowly, and being satisfied with their intelligence and coolness, caused them to take an oath on the Evangelists, that they were not playing him false. He then selected a band of one hundred musketeers, partly Spaniards, partly Walloons--to be followed at a distance by a much, more considerable force; two thousand in number, under Sancho de Leyva: and the Marquis of Renti--and appointed the following night for an enterprise against the city, under the guidance of Grimstone.
It was a wild autumnal night, moonless, pitch-dark, with a storm of wind and rain. The waters were out--for the dykes had been cut in all 'directions by the defenders of the city--and, with exception of some elevated points occupied by Parma's forces, the whole country was overflowed. Before the party set forth on their daring expedition, the two Englishmen were tightly bound with cords, and led, each by two soldiers, instructed to put them to instant death if their conduct should give cause for suspicion. But both Grimstone and Redhead preserved a cheerful countenance, and inspired a strong confidence in their honest intention to betray their countrymen. And thus the band of bold adventurers plunged at once into the darkness, and soon found themselves contending with the tempest, and wading breast high in the black waters of the Scheldt.
After a long and perilous struggle, they at length reached the appointed gate, The external portcullis was raised and the fifteen foremost of the band rushed into tho town. At the next moment, Lord Willoughby, who had been privy to the whole scheme, cut with his own hand the cords which, held the portcullis, and entrapped the leaders of the expedition, who were all, at once put to the sword, while their followers were thundering at the gate. The lieutenant and suttler who had thus overreached that great master of dissimulation; Alexander Farnese; were at the same time unbound by their comrades, and rescued from the fate intended for them.
Notwithstanding the probability--when the portcullis fell--that the whole party, had been deceived by an artifice of war the adventurers, who had come so far, refused to abandon the enterprise, and continued an impatient battery upon the gate. At last it was swung wide open, and a furious onslaught was made by the garrison upon the Spaniards. There was--a fierce brief struggle, and then the assailants were utterly routed. Some were killed under the walls, while the rest were hunted into the waves. Nearly every one of the, expedition (a thousand in number) perished.
It had now become obvious to the Duke that his siege must be raised. The days were gone when the walls of Dutch towns seemed to melt before the first scornful glance of the Spanish invader; and when a summons meant a surrender, and a surrender a massacre. Now, strong in the feeling of independence, and supported by the courage and endurance of their English allies, the Hollanders had learned to humble the pride of Spain as it had never been humbled before. The hero of a hundred battle-
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