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- History of the United Netherlands, 1594 - 1/10 -


Prince Maurice lays siege to Gertruydenberg--Advantages of the new system of warfare--Progress of the besieging operations--Superiority of Maurice's manoeuvres--Adventure of Count Philip of Nassau-- Capitulation of Gertruydenberg--Mutiny among the Spanish troops-- Attempt of Verdugo to retake Coeworden--Suspicions of treason in the English garrison at Ostend--Letter of Queen Elizabeth to Sir Edward Norris on the subject--Second attempt on Coeworden--Assault on Groningen by Maurice--Second adventure of Philip of Nassau--Narrow escape of Prince Maurice--Surrender of Groningen--Particulars of the siege--Question of religious toleration--Progress of the United Netherlands--Condition of the "obedient" Netherlands--Incompetency of Peter Mansfeld as Governor--Archduke Ernest, the successor of Farnese--Difficulties of his position--His unpopularity--Great achievements of the republicans--Triumphal entry of Ernest into Brussels and Antwerp--Magnificence of the spectacle--Disaffection of the Spanish troops--Great military rebellion--Philip's proposal to destroy the English fleet--His assassination plans--Plot to poison Queen Elizabeth--Conspiracies against Prince Maurice--Futile attempts at negotiation--Proposal of a marriage between Henry and the Infanta--Secret mission from Henry to the King of Spain--Special dispatch to England and the Staten--Henry obtains further aid from Queen Elizabeth and the States--Council--Anxiety of the Protestant countries to bring about a war with Spain--Aspect of affairs at the close of the year 1594.

While Philip's world-empire seemed in one direction to be so rapidly fading into cloudland there were substantial possessions of the Spanish crown which had been neglected in Brabant and Friesland.

Two very important cities still held for the King of Spain within the territories of what could now be fairly considered the United Dutch Republic--St. Gertruydenberg and Groningen.

Early in the spring of 1593, Maurice had completed his preparations for a siege, and on the 24th March appeared before Gertruydenberg.

It was a stately, ancient city, important for its wealth, its strength, and especially for its position. For without its possession even the province of Holland could hardly consider itself mistress of its own little domains. It was seated on the ancient Meuse, swollen as it approached the sea almost to the dimension of a gulf, while from the south another stream, called the Donge, very brief in its course, but with considerable depth of water, came to mingle itself with the Meuse, exactly under the walls of the city.

The site of the place was so low that it was almost hidden and protected by its surrounding dykes. These afforded means of fortification, which had been well improved. Both by nature and art the city was one of the strongholds of the Netherlands.

Maurice had given the world a lesson in the beleaguering science at the siege of Steenwyk, such as had never before been dreamt of; but he was resolved that the operations before Gertruydenberg should constitute a masterpiece.

Nothing could be more beautiful as a production of military art, nothing, to the general reader, more insipid than its details.

On the land side, Hohenlo's headquarters were at Ramsdonck, a village about a German mile to the east of Gertruydenberg. Maurice himself was established on the west side of the city. Two bridges constructed across the Donge facilitated the communications between the two camps, while great quantities of planks and brush were laid down across the swampy roads to make them passable for waggon-trains and artillery. The first care of the young general, whose force was not more than twenty thousand men, was to protect himself rather than to assail the town.

His lines extended many miles in a circuit around the place, and his forts, breastworks, and trenches were very numerous.

The river was made use of as a natural and almost impassable ditch of defence, and windmills were freely employed to pump water into the shallows in one direction, while in others the outer fields, in quarters whence a relieving force might be expected, were turned into lakes by the same machinery. Farther outside, a system of palisade work of caltrops and man-traps--sometimes in the slang of the day called Turkish ambassadors--made the country for miles around impenetrable or very disagreeable to cavally. In a shorter interval than would have seemed possible, the battlements and fortifications of the besieging army had risen like an exhalation out of the morass. The city of Gertruydenberg was encompassed by another city as extensive and apparently as impregnable as itself. Then, for the first time in that age, men thoroughly learned the meaning of that potent implement the spade.

Three thousand pioneers worked night and day with pickaxe and shovel. The soldiers liked the business; for every man so employed received his ten stivers a day additional wages, punctually paid, and felt moreover that every stioke was bringing the work nearer to its conclusion.

The Spaniards no longer railed at Maurice as a hedger and ditcher. When he had succeeded in bringing a hundred great guns to bear upon the beleaguered city they likewise ceased to sneer at heavy artillery.

The Kartowen and half Kartowen were no longer considered "espanta vellacos."

Meantime, from all the country round, the peasants flocked within the lines. Nowhere in Europe were provisions so plentiful and cheap as in the Dutch camp. Nowhere was a readier market for agricultural products, prompter payment, or more perfect security for the life and property of non-combatants. Not so much as a hen's egg was taken unlawfully. The country people found themselves more at ease within Maurice's lines than within any other part of the provinces, obedient or revolted. They ploughed and sowed and reaped at their pleasure, and no more striking example was ever afforded of the humanizing effect of science upon the barbarism of war, than in this siege of Gertruydenberg.

Certainly it was the intention of the prince to take his city, and when he fought the enemy it was his object to kill; but, as compared with the bloody work which Alva, and Romero, and Requesens, and so many others had done in those doomed provinces, such war-making as this seemed almost like an institution for beneficent and charitable purposes.

Visitors from the neighbourhood, from other provinces, from foreign countries, came to witness the extraordinary spectacle, and foreign generals repaired to the camp of Maurice to take practical lessons in the new art of war.

Old Peter Ernest Mansfeld, who was nominal governor of the Spanish Netherlands since the death of Farnese, rubbed his eyes and stared aghast when the completeness of the preparations for reducing the city at last broke in upon his mind. Count Fuentes was the true and confidential regent however until the destined successor to Parma should arrive; but Fuentes, although he had considerable genius for assassination, as will hereafter appear, and was an experienced and able commander of the old- fashioned school, was no match for Maurice in the scientific combinations on which the new system was founded.

In vain did the superannuated Peter call aloud upon his sofa and governor, Count Charles, to assist him in this dire dilemma. That artillery general had gone with a handful of Germans, Walloons; and other obedient Netherlanders--too few to accomplish anything abroad, too many to be spared from the provinces--to besiege Noyon in France. But what signified the winning or losing of such a place as Noyon at exactly the moment when the Prince of Bearne, assisted by the able generalship of the Archbishop of Bourges, had just executed those famous flanking movements in the churches of St. Denis and Chartres, by which the world-empire had been effectually shattered, and Philip and the Pope completely out- manoeuvred.

Better that the five thousand fighters under Charles Mansfeld had been around Gertruydenberg. His aged father did what he could. As many men as could be spared from the garrison of Antwerp and its neighbourhood were collected; but the Spaniards were reluctant to march, except under old Mondragon. That hero, who had done much of the hardest work, and had fought in most of the battles of the century, was nearly as old as the century. Being now turned of ninety, he thought best to keep house in Antwerp Castle: Accordingly twelve thousand foot and three thousand horse took the field under the more youthful Peter Ernest? But Peter Ernest, when his son was not there to superintend his operations, was nothing but a testy octogenarian, while the two together were not equal to the little finger of Farnese, whom Philip would have displaced, had he not fortunately died.

"Nothing is to be expected out of this place but toads and poison," wrote Ybarra in infinite disgust to the two secretaries of state at Madrid. "I have done my best to induce Fuentes to accept that which the patent secured him, and Count Peter is complaining that Fuentes showed him the patent so late only to play him a trick. There is a rascally pack of meddlers here, and the worst of them all are the women, whom I particularly give to the devil. There is no end to the squabbles as to who shall take the lead in relieving Gertruydenberg."

Mansfeld at last came ponderously up in the neighbourhood of Turnhout. There was a brilliant little skirmish, in the, neighbourhood of this place, in which a hundred and fifty Dutch cavalry under the famous brothers Bax defeated four hundred picked lancers of Spain and Italy. But Mansfeld could get nothing but skirmishes. In vain he plunged about among the caltrops and man-traps. In vain he knocked at the fortifications of Hohenlo on the east and of Maurice on the west. He found them impracticable, impregnable, obdurate. It was Maurice's intention to take his town at as small sacrifice of life as possible. A trumpet was sent on some trifling business to Mansfeld, in reply to a communication made by the general to Maurice.

"Why does your master," said the choleric veteran to the trumpeter, "why does Prince Maurice, being a lusty young commander as he is, not come out of his trenches into the open field and fight me like a man, where honour and fame await him?"

"Because my master," answered the trumpeter, "means to live to be a lusty old commander like your excellency, and sees no reason to-day to give you an advantage."

At this the bystanders laughed, rather at the expense of the veteran.

Meantime there were not many incidents within the lines or within the city to vary the monotony of the scientific siege.

On the land side, as has been seen, the city was enclosed and built out of human sight by another Gertruydenberg. On the wide estuary of the Meuse, a chain of war ships encircled the sea-front, in shape of a half moon, lying so close to each other that it was scarcely possible even for a messenger to swim out of a dark night.

History of the United Netherlands, 1594 - 1/10

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