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- History of the United Netherlands, 1597-98 - 1/9 -


CHAPTER XXXIII.

Straggle of the Netherlands against Spain--March to Turnhout-- Retreat of the Spanish commander--Pursuit and attack--Demolition of the Spanish army--Surrender of the garrison of Turnhout--Improved military science--Moral effect of the battle--The campaign in France--Attack on Amiens by the Spaniards--Sack and burning of the city--De Rosny's plan for reorganization of the finances--Jobbery and speculation--Philip's repudiation of his debts--Effects of the measure--Renewal of persecution by the Jesuits--Contention between Turk and Christian--Envoy from the King of Poland to the Hague to plead for reconciliation with Philip--His subsequent presentation to Queen Elizabeth--Military events Recovery of Amiens--Feeble operations of the confederate powers against Spain--Marriage of the Princess Emilia, sister of Maurice--Reduction of the castle and town of Alphen--Surrender of Rheinberg--Capitulation of Meurs--Surrender of Grol--Storming and taking of Brevoort Capitulation of Enschede, Ootmaxsum, Oldenzaal, and Lingen--Rebellion of the Spanish garrisons in Antwerp and Ghent--Progress of the peace movement between Henry and Philip--Relations of the three confederate powers--Henry's scheme for reconciliation with Spain--His acceptance of Philip's offer of peace announced to Elizabeth--Endeavours for a general peace.

The old year had closed with an abortive attempt of Philip to fulfil his favourite dream--the conquest of England. The new year opened with a spirited effort of Prince Maurice to measure himself in the open field with the veteran legions of Spain.

Turnhout, in Brabant, was an open village--the largest in all the Netherlands lying about twenty-five English miles in almost a direct line south from Gertruydenburg. It was nearly as far distant in an easterly direction from Antwerp, and was about five miles nearer Breda than it was to Gertruydenberg.

At this place the cardinal-archduke had gathered a considerable force, numbering at least four thousand of his best infantry, with several squadrons of cavalry, the whole under-command of the general-in-chief of artillery, Count Varax. People in the neighbourhood were growing uneasy, for it was uncertain in what direction it might be intended to use this formidable force. It was perhaps the cardinal's intention to make a sudden assault upon Breda, the governor of which seemed not inclined to carry out his proposition to transfer that important city to the king, or it was thought that he might take advantage of a hard frost and cross the frozen morasses and estuaries into the land of Ter Tholen, where he might overmaster some of the important strongholds of Zeeland.

Marcellus Bax, that boldest and most brilliant of Holland's cavalry officers, had come to Maurice early in January with an urgent suggestion that no time might be lost in making an attack upon the force of Turnhout, before they should succeed in doing any mischief. The prince pondered the proposition, for a little time, by himself, and then conferred very privately upon the subject with the state-council. On the 14th January it was agreed with that body that the enterprise should be attempted, but with the utmost secrecy. A week later the council sent an express messenger to Maurice urging him not to expose his own life to peril, but to apprise them as soon as possible as to the results of the adventure.

Meantime, patents had been sent to the various garrisons for fifty companies of foot and sixteen squadrons of horse. On the 22nd January Maurice came to Gertruydenberg, the place of rendezvous, attended by Sir Francis Vere and Count Solms. Colonel Kloetingen was already there with the transports of ammunition and a few pieces of artillery from Zeeland, and in the course of the day the whole infantry force had assembled. Nothing could have been managed with greater promptness or secrecy.

Next day, before dawn, the march began. The battalia was led by Van der Noot, with six companies of Hollanders. Then came Vere, with eight companies of the reserve, Dockray with eight companies of Englishmen, Murray with eight companies of Scotch, and Kloetingen and La Corde with twelve companies of Dutch and Zeelanders. In front of the last troop under La Corde marched the commander of the artillery, with two demi-cannon and two field-pieces, followed by the ammunition and, baggage trains. Hohenlo arrived just as the march was beginning, to whom the stadholder, notwithstanding their frequent differences, communicated his plans, and entrusted the general command of the cavalry. That force met the expedition at Osterhout, a league's distance from Gertruydenberg, and consisted of the best mounted companies, English and Dutch, from the garrisons of Breda, Bergen, Nymegen, and the Zutphen districts.

It was a dismal, drizzly, foggy morning; the weather changing to steady rain as the expedition advanced. There had been alternate frost and thaw for the few previous weeks, and had that condition of the atmosphere continued the adventure could not have been attempted. It had now turned completely to thaw. The roads were all under water, and the march was sufficiently difficult. Nevertheless, it was possible; so the stout Hollanders, Zeelanders, and Englishmen struggled on manfully, shoulder to shoulder, through the mist and the mire. By nightfall the expedition had reached Ravels, at less than a league's distance from Turnhout, having accomplished, under the circumstances, a very remarkable march of over twenty miles. A stream of water, the Neethe, one of the tributaries of the Scheld, separated Ravels from Turnhout, and was crossed by a stone bridge. It was an anxious moment. Maurice discovered by his scouts that he was almost within cannon-shot of several of the most famous regiments in the Spanish army lying fresh, securely posted, and capable of making an attack at any moment. He instantly threw forward Marcellus Bax with four squadrons of Bergen cavalry, who, jaded as they were by their day's work, were to watch the bridge that night, and to hold it against all comers and at every hazard.

The Spanish commander, on his part, had reconnoitred the advancing, foe, for it was impossible for the movement to have been so secret or so swift over those inundated roads as to be shrouded to the last moment in complete mystery. It was naturally to be expected therefore that those splendid legions--the famous Neapolitan tercio of Trevico, the veteran troops of Sultz and Hachicourt, the picked Epirote and Spanish cavalry of Nicolas Basta and Guzman--would be hurled upon the wearied, benumbed, bemired soldiers of the republic, as they came slowly along after their long march through the cold winter's rain.

Varax took no such heroic resolution. Had he done so that January afternoon, the career of Maurice of Nassau might have been brought to a sudden close, despite the affectionate warning of the state-council. Certainly it was difficult for any commander to be placed in a more perilous position than that in which the stadholder found himself. He remained awake and afoot the whole night, perfecting his arrangements for the morning, and watching every indication of a possible advance on the part of the enemy. Marcellus Bax and his troopers remained at the bridge till morning, and were so near the Spaniards that they heard the voices of their pickets, and could even distinguish in the distance the various movements in their camp.

But no attack was made, and the little army of Maurice was allowed to sleep off its fatigue. With the dawn of the 24th January, a reconnoitring party, sent out from the republican camp, discovered that Varax, having no stomach for an encounter, had given his enemies the slip. Long before daylight his baggage and ammunition trains had been sent off in a southerly direction, and his whole force had already left the village of Turnhout. It was the intention of the commander to take refuge in the fortified city of Herenthals, and there await the attack of Maurice. Accordingly, when the stadholder arrived on the fields beyond the immediate precincts of the village, he saw the last of the enemy's rearguard just disappearing from view. The situation was a very peculiar one.

The rain and thaw, following upon frosty weather, had converted the fenny country in many directions into a shallow lake. The little river which flowed by the village had risen above its almost level banks, and could with difficulty be traversed at any point, while there was no permanent bridge, such as there was at Ravels. The retreating Spaniards had made their way through a narrow passage, where a roughly-constructed causeway of planks had enabled the infantry to cross the waters almost in single file, while the cavalry had floundered through as best they might. Those who were acquainted with the country reported that beyond this defile there was an upland heath, a league in extent, full of furze and thickets, where it would be easy enough for Varax to draw up his army in battle array, and conceal it from view. Maurice's scouts, too, brought information that the Spanish commander had left a force of musketeers to guard the passage at the farther end.

This looked very like an ambush. In the opinion of Hohenlo, of Solms, and of Sidney, an advance was not to be thought of; and if the adventure seemed perilous to such hardy and experienced campaigners as these three, the stadholder might well hesitate. Nevertheless, Maurice had made up his mind. Sir Francis Vere and Marcellus Bax confirmed him in his determination, and spoke fiercely of the disgrace which would come upon the arms of the republic if now, after having made a day's march to meet the enemy, they should turn their backs upon him just as he was doing his best to escape.

On leave obtained from the prince, these two champions, the Englishman and the Hollander, spurred their horses through the narrow pass, with the waters up to the saddle-bow, at the head of a mere handful of troopers, not more than a dozen men in all. Two hundred musketeers followed, picking their way across the planks. As they emerged into the open country beyond, the Spanish soldiers guarding the passage fled without firing a shot. Such was already the discouraging effect produced upon veterans by the unexpected order given that morning to retreat. Vere and Bax sent word for all the cavalry to advance at once, and meantime hovered about the rearguard of the retreating enemy, ready to charge upon him so soon as they should be strong enough.

Maurice lost no time in plunging with his whole mounted force through the watery defile; directing the infantry to follow as fast as practicable. When the commander-in-chief with his eight hundred horsemen, Englishmen, Zeelanders, Hollanders, and Germans, came upon the heath, the position and purpose of the enemy were plainly visible. He was not drawn up in battle order, waiting to sweep down upon his rash assailants so soon as, after struggling through the difficult pass, they should be delivered into his hands. On the contrary, it was obvious at a glance that his object was still to escape. The heath of Tiel, on which Spaniards, Italians, Walloons, Germans, Dutchmen, English; Scotch, and Irishmen now all found themselves together, was a ridgy, spongy expanse of country, bordered on one side by the swollen river, here flowing again through steeper banks which were overgrown with alders and pollard willows. Along the left of the Spanish army, as they moved in the direction of Herenthals, was a continuous fringe of scrub-oaks, intermixed with tall beeches, skirting the heath, and forming a leafless but almost impervious screen for the movements of small detachments of troops. Quite at the termination of the open apace, these thickets becoming closely crowded, overhung another extremely narrow passage, which formed the only outlet from the plain. Thus the heath of Tiel, upon that winter's morning, had but a single entrance and a single exit, each very dangerous or very fortunate for those capable of taking or neglecting the advantages offered by the position.


History of the United Netherlands, 1597-98 - 1/9

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