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- History of the United Netherlands, 1592-94 - 1/12 -
Influence of the rule and character of Philip II.--Heroism of the sixteenth century--Contest for the French throne--Character and policy of the Duke of Mayenne--Escape of the Duke of Guise from Castle Tours--Propositions for the marriage of the Infanta--Plotting of the Catholic party--Grounds of Philip's pretensions to the crown of France--Motives of the Duke of Parma maligned by Commander Moreo --He justifies himself to the king--View of the private relations between Philip and the Duke of Mayenne and their sentiments towards each other--Disposition of the French politicians and soldiers towards Philip--Peculiar commercial pursuits of Philip--Confused state of affairs in France--Treachery of Philip towards the Duke of Parma--Recall of the duke to Spain--His sufferings and death.
The People--which has been generally regarded as something naturally below its rulers, and as born to be protected and governed, paternally or otherwise, by an accidental selection from its own species, which by some mysterious process has shot up much nearer to heaven than itself--is often described as brutal, depraved, self-seeking, ignorant, passionate, licentious, and greedy.
It is fitting, therefore, that its protectors should be distinguished, at great epochs of the world's history, by an absence of such objectionable qualities.
It must be confessed, however, that if the world had waited for heroes-- during the dreary period which followed the expulsion of something that was called Henry III. of France from the gates of his capital, and especially during the time that followed hard upon the decease of that embodiment of royalty--its axis must have ceased to turn for a long succession of years. The Bearnese was at least alive, and a man. He played his part with consummate audacity and skill; but alas for an epoch or a country in which such a shape--notwithstanding all its engaging and even commanding qualities--looked upon as an incarnation of human greatness!
But the chief mover of all things--so far as one man can be prime mover-- was still the diligent scribe who lived in the Escorial. It was he whose high mission it was to blow the bellows of civil war, and to scatter curses over what had once been the smiling abodes of human creatures, throughout the leading countries of Christendom. The throne of France was vacant, nominally as well as actually, since--the year 1589. During two-and-twenty years preceding that epoch he had scourged the provinces, once constituting the richest and most enlightened portions of his hereditary domains, upon the theory that without the Spanish Inquisition no material prosperity was possible on earth, nor any entrance permitted to the realms of bliss beyond the grave. Had every Netherlander consented to burn his Bible, and to be burned himself should he be found listening to its holy precepts if read to him in shop, cottage, farm- house, or castle; and had he furthermore consented to renounce all the liberal institutions which his ancestors had earned, in the struggle of centuries, by the sweat of their brows and the blood of, their hearts; his benignant proprietor and master, who lived at the ends of the earth, would have consented at almost any moment to peace. His arms were ever open. Let it not be supposed that this is the language of sarcasm or epigram. Stripped of the decorous sophistication by which human beings are so fond of concealing their naked thoughts from each other, this was the one simple dogma always propounded by Philip. Grimace had done its worst, however, and it was long since it had exercised any power in the Netherlands. The king and the Dutchmen understood each other; and the plain truths with which those republicans answered the imperial proffers of mediation, so frequently renewed, were something new, and perhaps not entirely unwholesome in diplomacy.
It is not an inviting task to abandon the comparatively healthy atmosphere of the battle-field, the blood-stained swamp, the murderous trench--where human beings, even if communing only by bullets and push of pike, were at least dealing truthfully with each other--and to descend into those subterranean regions where the effluvia of falsehood becomes almost too foul for ordinary human organisation.
Heroes in those days, in any country, there were few. William the Silent was dead. De la Noue was dead. Duplessis-Mornay was living, but his influence over his royal master was rapidly diminishing. Cecil, Hatton, Essex, Howard, Raleigh, James Croft, Valentine Dale, John Norris, Roger Williams, the "Virgin Queen" herself--does one of these chief agents in public affairs, or do all of them together, furnish a thousandth part of that heroic whole which the England of the sixteenth century presents to every imagination? Maurice of Nassau-excellent soldier and engineer as he had already proved himself--had certainly not developed much of the heroic element, although thus far he was walking straightforward like a man, in the path of duty, with the pithy and substantial Lewis William ever at his side. Olden-Barneveld--tough burgher-statesman, hard-headed, indomitable man of granite--was doing more work, and doing it more thoroughly, than any living politician, but he was certainly not of the mythological brotherhood who inhabit the serene regions of space beyond the moon. He was not the son of god or goddess, destined, after removal from this sphere, to shine with planetary lustre, among other constellations, upon the scenes of mortal action. Those of us who are willing to rise-or to descend if the phrase seems wiser--to the idea of a self-governing people must content ourselves, for this epoch, with the fancy of a hero-people and a people-king.
A plain little republic, thrusting itself uninvited into the great political family-party of heaven-anointed sovereigns and long-descended nobles, seemed a somewhat repulsive phenomenon. It became odious and dangerous when by the blows it could deal in battle, the logic it could chop in council, it indicated a remote future for the world, in which right divine and regal paraphernalia might cease to be as effective stage-properties as they had always been considered.
Yet it will be difficult for us to find the heroic individualised very perceptibly at this period, look where we may. Already there seemed ground for questioning the comfortable fiction that the accidentally dominant families and castes were by nature wiser, better, braver than that much-contemned entity, the People. What if the fearful heresy should gain ground that the People was at least as wise, honest, and brave as its masters? What if it should become a recognised fact that the great individuals and castes, whose wealth and station furnished them with ample time and means for perfecting themselves in the science of government, were rather devoting their leisure to the systematic filling of their own pockets than to the hiving up of knowledge for the good of their fellow creatures? What if the whole theory of hereditary superiority should suddenly exhale? What if it were found out that we were all fellow-worms together, and that those which had crawled highest were not necessarily the least slimy?
Meantime it will be well for us, in order to understand what is called the Past, to scrutinise somewhat closely that which was never meant to be revealed. To know the springs which once controlled the world's movements, one must ponder the secret thoughts, purposes, aspirations, and baffled attempts of the few dozen individuals who once claimed that world in fee-simple. Such researches are not in a cheerful field; for the sources of history are rarely fountains of crystal, bubbling through meadows of asphodel. Vast and noisome are the many sewers which have ever run beneath decorous Christendom.
Some of the leading military events in France and Flanders, patent to all the world, which grouped themselves about the contest for the French throne, as the central point in the history of Philip's proposed world- empire, have already been indicated.
It was a species of triangular contest--so far as the chief actors were concerned--for that vacant throne. Philip, Mayenne, Henry of Navarre, with all the adroitness which each possessed, were playing for the splendid prize.
Of Philip it is not necessary to speak. The preceding volumes of this work have been written in vain, if the reader has not obtained from irrefragable testimony--the monarch's own especially--a sufficient knowledge of that human fetish before which so much of contemporary humanity grovelled.
The figure of Navarre is also one of the most familiar shapes in history.
As for the Duke of Mayenne, he had been, since the death of his brother the Balafre, ostensible leader of the League, and was playing, not without skill, a triple game.
Firstly, he hoped for the throne for himself.
Secondly, he was assisting the King of Spain to obtain that dignity.
Thirdly, he was manoeuvring in dull, dumb, but not ineffective manner, in favour of Navarre.
So comprehensive and self-contradictory a scheme would seem to indicate an elasticity of principle and a fertility of resource not often vouchsafed to man.
Certainly one of the most pregnant lessons of history is furnished in the development of these cabals, nor is it, in this regard, of great importance whether the issue was to prove them futile or judicious. It is sufficient for us now, that when those vanished days constituted the Present--the vital atmosphere of Christendom--the world's affairs were controlled by those plotters and their subordinates, and it is therefore desirable for us to know what manner of men they were, and how they played their parts.
Nor should it ever be forgotten that the leading motive with all was supposed to be religion. It was to maintain the supremacy of the Roman Church, or to vindicate, to a certain extent, liberty of conscience, through the establishment of a heterodox organisation, that all these human beings of various lineage and language throughout Christendom had been cutting each other's throats for a quarter of a century.
Mayenne was not without courage in the field when he found himself there, but it was observed of him that he spent more time at table than the Bearnese in sleep, and that he was so fat as to require the assistance of twelve men to put him in the saddle again whenever he fell from his horse. Yet slow fighter as he was, he was a most nimble intriguer. As for his private character, it was notoriously stained with every vice, nor was there enough of natural intelligence or superior acquirement to atone for his, crapulous; licentious, shameless life. His military efficiency at important emergencies was impaired and his life endangered by vile diseases. He was covetous and greedy beyond what was considered decent even in that cynical age. He received subsidies and alms with both hands from those who distrusted and despised him, but who could not eject him from his advantageous position.
He wished to arrive at the throne of France. As son of Francis of Guise, as brother of the great Balafre, he considered himself entitled to the homage of the fishwomen and the butchers' halls. The constitution of the country in that age making a People impossible, the subtle connection
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