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- History of the United Netherlands, 1590(b) - 1/8 -


CHAPTER XXIII.

Philip's scheme of aggrandizement--Projected invasion of France-- Internal condition of France--Character of Henry of Navarre-- Preparation for action--Battle of Ivry--Victory of the French king over the League--Reluctance of the King to attack the French capital--Siege of Paris--The pope indisposed towards the League-- Extraordinary demonstration of ecclesiastics--Influence of the priests--Extremities of the siege--Attempted negotiation--State of Philip's army--Difficult position of Farnese--March of the allies to the relief of Paris--Lagny taken and the city relieved--Desertion of the king's army--Siege of Corbeil--Death of Pope Sixtus V.-- Re-capture of Lagny and Corbeil--Return of Parma to the Netherlands --Result of the expedition.

The scene of the narrative shifts to France. The history of the United Netherlands at this epoch is a world-history. Were it not so, it would have far less of moral and instruction for all time than it is really capable of affording. The battle of liberty against despotism was now fought in the hop-fields of Brabant or the polders of Friesland, now in the: narrow seas which encircle England, and now on the sunny plains of Dauphiny, among the craggy inlets of Brittany, or along the high roads and rivers which lead to the gates of Paris. But everywhere a noiseless, secret, but ubiquitous negotiation was speeding with never an instant's pause to accomplish the work which lansquenettes and riders, pikemen and carabineers were contending for on a hundred battle-fields and amid a din of arms which for a quarter of a century had been the regular hum of human industry. For nearly a generation of mankind, Germans and Hollanders, Englishmen, Frenchmen, Scotchmen, Irishmen, Spaniards and Italians seemed to be born into the world mainly to fight for or against a system of universal monarchy, conceived for his own benefit by a quiet old man who passed his days at a writing desk in a remote corner of Europe. It must be confessed that Philip II. gave the world work enough. Whether--had the peoples governed themselves--their energies might not have been exerted in a different direction, and on the whole have produced more of good to the human race than came of all this blood and awoke, may be questioned.

But the divine right of kings, associating itself with the power supreme of the Church, was struggling to maintain that old mastery of mankind which awakening reason was inclined to dispute. Countries and nations being regarded as private property to be inherited or bequeathed by a few favoured individuals--provided always that those individuals were obedient to the chief-priest--it had now become right and proper for the Spanish monarch to annex Scotland, England, and France to the very considerable possessions which were already his own. Scotland he claimed by virtue of the expressed wish of Mary to the exclusion of her heretic son.

France, which had been unjustly usurped by another family in times past to his detriment, and which only a mere human invention--a "pleasantry" as Alva had happily termed it, called the "Salic law"--prevented from passing quietly to his daughter, as heiress to her mother, daughter of Henry II., he was now fully bent upon making his own without further loss of time. England, in consequence of the mishap of the year eighty-eight, he was inclined to defer appropriating until the possession of the French coasts, together with those of the Netherlands, should enable him to risk the adventure with assured chances of success.

The Netherlands were fast slipping beyond his control, to be sure, as he engaged in these endless schemes; and ill-disposed people of the day said that the king was like Aesop's dog, lapping the river dry in order to get at the skins floating on the surface. The Duke of Parma was driven to his wits' ends for expedients, and beside himself with vexation, when commanded to withdraw his ill-paid and mutinous army from the Provinces for the purpose of invading France. Most importunate were the appeals and potent the arguments by which he attempted to turn Philip from his purpose. It was in vain. Spain was the great, aggressive, overshadowing power at that day, before whose plots and whose violence the nations alternately trembled, and it was France that now stood in danger of being conquered or dismembered by the common enemy of all. That unhappy kingdom, torn by intestine conflict, naturally invited the ambition and the greediness of foreign powers. Civil war had been its condition, with brief intervals, for a whole generation of mankind. During the last few years, the sword had been never sheathed, while "the holy Confederacy" and the Bearnese struggled together for the mastery. Religion was the mantle under which the chiefs on both sides concealed their real designs as they led on their followers year after year to the desperate conflict. And their followers, the masses, were doubtless in earnest. A great principle--the relation of man to his Maker and his condition in a future world as laid down by rival priesthoods--has in almost every stage of history had power to influence the multitude to fury and to deluge the world in blood. And so long as the superstitious element of human nature enables individuals or combinations of them to dictate to their fellow- creatures those relations, or to dogmatize concerning those conditions-- to take possession of their consciences in short, and to interpose their mummeries between man and his Creator--it is, probable that such scenes as caused the nations to shudder, throughout so large a portion of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries will continue to repeat themselves at intervals in various parts of the earth. Nothing can be more sublime than the self-sacrifice, nothing more demoniac than the crimes, which human creatures have seemed always ready to exhibit under the name of religion.

It was and had been really civil war in France. In the Netherlands it had become essentially a struggle for independence against a foreign monarch; although the germ out of which both conflicts had grown to their enormous proportions was an effort of the multitude to check the growth of papacy. In France, accordingly, civil war, attended by that gaunt sisterhood, murder, pestilence, and famine, had swept from the soil almost everything that makes life valuable. It had not brought in its train that extraordinary material prosperity and intellectual development at which men wondered in the Netherlands, and to which allusion has just been made. But a fortunate conjunction of circumstances had now placed Henry of Navarre in a position of vantage. He represented the principle of nationality, of French unity. It was impossible to deny that he was in the regular line of succession, now that luckless Henry of Valois slept with his fathers, and the principle of nationality might perhaps prove as vital a force as attachment to the Roman Church. Moreover, the adroit and unscrupulous Bearnese knew well how to shift the mantle of religion from one shoulder to the other, to serve his purposes or the humours of those whom he addressed.

"The King of Spain would exclude me from the kingdom and heritage of my father because of my religion," he said to the Duke of Saxony; "but in that religion I am determined to persist so long as I shall live." The hand was the hand of Henry, but it was the voice of Duplessis Mornay.

"Were there thirty crowns to win," said he, at about the same time to the States of France, "I would not change my religion on compulsion, the dagger at my throat. Instruct me, instruct me, I am not obstinate." There spoke the wily freethinker, determined not to be juggled out of what he considered his property by fanatics or priests of either church. Had Henry been a real devotee, the fate of Christendom might have been different. The world has long known how much misery it is in the power of crowned bigots to inflict.

On the other hand, the Holy League, the sacred Confederacy, was catholic or nothing. Already it was more papist than the pope, and loudly denounced Sixtus V. as a Huguenot because he was thought to entertain a weak admiration both for Henry the heretic and for the Jezebel of England.

But the holy confederacy was bent on destroying the national government of France, and dismembering the national domain. To do this the pretext of trampling out heresy and indefinitely extending the power of Rome, was most influential with the multitude, and entitled the leaders to enjoy immense power for the time being, while maturing their schemes for acquiring permanent possession of large fragments of the national territory. Mayenne, Nemours, Aumale, Mercoeur longed to convert temporary governments into independent principalities. The Duke of Lorraine looked with longing eyes on Verdun, Sedan, and, the other fair cities within the territories contiguous--to his own domains. The reckless house of Savoy; with whom freebooting and landrobbery seemed geographical, and hereditary necessities, was busy on the southern borders, while it seemed easy enough for Philip, II., in right of his daughter, to secure at least the duchy of Brittany before entering on the sovereignty of the whole kingdom.

To the eyes of the world at large: France might well seem in a condition of hopeless disintegration; the restoration of its unity and former position among the nations, under the government of a single chief, a weak and wicked dream. Furious and incessant were the anathemas hurled on the head of the Bearnese for his persistence in drowning the land in blood in the hope of recovering a national capital which never could be his, and of wresting from the control of the confederacy that power. which, whether usurped or rightful, was considered, at least by the peaceably inclined, to have become a solid fact.

The poor puppet locked in the tower of Fontenay, and entitled Charles X.; deceived and scared no one. Such money as there was might be coined, in its name, but Madam League reigned supreme in Paris. The confederates, inspired by the eloquence of a cardinal legate, and supplied with funds by the faithful, were ready to dare a thousand deaths rather than submit to the rule of a tyrant and heretic.

What was an authority derived from the laws of the land and the history of the race compared with the dogmas of Rome and the trained veterans of Spain? It remained to be seen whether nationality or bigotry would triumph. But in the early days of 1590 the prospects of nationality were not encouraging.

Francois de Luxembourg, due de Pincey, was in Rome at that moment, deputed by such catholic nobles of France as were friendly to Henry of Navarre. Sixtus might perhaps be influenced as to the degree of respect to be accorded to the envoy's representations by the events of the campaign about to open. Meantime the legate Gaetano, young, rich, eloquent, unscrupulous, distinguished alike for the splendour of his house and the brilliancy of his intellect, had arrived in Paris.

Followed by a great train of adherents he had gone down to the House of Parliament, and was about to seat himself under the dais reserved for the king, when Brisson, first President of Parliament, plucked him back by the arm, and caused him to take a seat immediately below his own.

Deeply was the bold president to expiate this defence of king and law against the Holy League. For the moment however the legate contented himself with a long harangue, setting forth the power of Rome, while Brisson replied by an oration magnifying the grandeur of France.

Soon afterwards the cardinal addressed himself to the counteraction of Henry's projects of conversion. For, well did the subtle priest understand that in purging himself of heresy, the Bearnese was about to cut the ground from beneath his enemies' feet. In a letter to the archbishops and bishops of France, he argued the matter at length. Especially he denied the necessity or the legality of an assembly of all the prelates of France, such as Henry desired to afford him the requisite "instruction" as to the respective merits of the Roman and the reformed


History of the United Netherlands, 1590(b) - 1/8

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