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- History of the United Netherlands, 1600-02 - 1/7 -


CHAPTER XXXIX.

Effects of the Nieuport campaign--The general and the statesman-- The Roman empire and the Turk--Disgraceful proceedings of the mutinous soldiers in Hungary--The Dunkirk pirates--Siege of Ostend by the Archduke--Attack on Rheinberg by Prince Maurice--Siege and capitulation of Meura--Attempt on Bois-le-Duc--Concentration of the war at Ostend--Account of the belligerents--Details of the siege-- Feigned offer of Sir Francis Vere to capitulate--Arrival of reinforcements from the States--Attack and overthrow of the besiegers.

The Nieuport campaign had exhausted for the time both belligerents. The victor had saved the republic from impending annihilation, but was incapable of further efforts during the summer. The conquered cardinal- archduke, remaining essentially in the same position as before, consoled himself with the agreeable fiction that the States, notwithstanding their triumph, had in reality suffered the most in the great battle. Meantime both parties did their best to repair damages and to recruit their armies.

The States--or in other words Barneveld, who was the States--had learned a lesson. Time was to show whether it would be a profitable one, or whether Maurice, who was the preceptor of Europe in the art of war, would continue to be a docile pupil of the great Advocate even in military affairs. It is probable that the alienation between the statesman and the general, which was to widen as time advanced, may be dated from the day of Nieuport.

Fables have even been told which indicated the popular belief in an intensity of resentment on the part of the prince, which certainly did not exist till long afterwards.

"Ah, scoundrel!" the stadholder was said to have exclaimed, giving the Advocate a box on the ear as he came to wish him joy of his great victory, "you sold us, but God prevented your making the transfer."

History would disdain even an allusion to such figments--quite as disgraceful, certainly to Maurice as to Barneveld--did they not point the moral and foreshadow some of the vast but distant results of events which had already taken place, and had they not been so generally repeated that it is a duty for the lover of truth to put his foot upon the calumny, even at the risk for a passing moment of reviving it.

The condition of the war in Flanders had established a temporary equilibrium among the western powers--France and England discussing, intriguing, and combining in secret with each other, against each other, and in spite of each other, in regard to the great conflict--while Spain and the cardinal-archduke on the one side, and the republic on the other, prepared themselves for another encounter in the blood-stained arena.

Meantime, on the opposite verge of what was called European civilization, the perpetual war between the Roman Empire and the Grand Turk had for the moment been brought into a nearly similar equation. Notwithstanding the vast amount of gunpowder exploded during so many wearisome years, the problem of the Crescent and the Cross was not much nearer a solution in the East than was that of mass and conventicle in the West. War was the normal and natural condition of mankind. This fact, at least, seemed to have been acquired and added to the mass of human knowledge.

From the prolific womb of Germany came forth, to swell impartially the Protestant and Catholic hosts, vast swarms of human creatures. Sold by their masters at as high prices as could be agreed upon beforehand, and receiving for themselves five stivers a day, irregularly paid, until the carrion-crow rendered them the last service, they found at times more demand for their labor in the great European market than they could fully supply. There were not Germans enough every year for the consumption of the Turk, and the pope, and the emperor, and the republic, and the Catholic king, and the Christian king, with both ends of Europe ablaze at once. So it happened that the Duke of Mercoeur and other heroes of the League, having effected their reconciliation with the Bearnese, and for a handsome price paid down on the nail having acknowledged him to be their legitimate and Catholic sovereign, now turned their temporary attention to the Turk. The sweepings of the League--Frenchmen, Walloons, Germans, Italians, Spaniards--were tossed into Hungary, because for a season the war had become languid in Flanders. And the warriors grown grey in the religious wars of France astonished the pagans on the Danube by a variety of crimes and cruelties such as Christians only could imagine. Thus, while the forces of the Sultan were besieging Buda, a detachment of these ancient Leaguers lay in Pappa, a fortified town not far from Raab, which Archduke Maximilian had taken by storm two years before. Finding their existence monotonous and payments unpunctual, they rose upon the governor; Michael Maroti, and then entered into a treaty with the Turkish commander outside the walls. Bringing all the principal citizens of the town, their wives and children, and all their moveable property into the market-place, they offered to sell the lot, including the governor, for a hundred thousand rix dollars. The bargain was struck, and the Turk, paying him all his cash on hand and giving hostages for the remainder, carried off six hundred of the men and women, promising soon to return and complete the transaction. Meantime the imperial general, Schwartzenberg, came before the place, urging the mutineers with promises of speedy payment, and with appeals to their sense of shame, to abstain from the disgraceful work. He might as well have preached to the wild swine swarming in the adjacent forests. Siege thereupon was laid to the place. In a sortie the brave Schwartzenberg was killed, but Colonitz coming up in force the mutineers were locked up in the town which they had seized, and the Turk never came to their relief. Famine drove them at last to choose between surrender and a desperate attempt to cut their way out. They took the bolder course, and were all either killed or captured. And now--the mutineers having given the Turk this lesson in Christian honour towards captives--their comrades and the rest of the imperial forces showed them the latest and most approved Christian method of treating mutineers. Several hundred of the prisoners were distributed among the different nationalities composing the army to be dealt with at pleasure. The honest Germans were the most straightforward of all towards their portion of the prisoners, for they shot them down at once, without an instant's hesitation. But the Lorrainers, the remainder of the French troops, the Walloons, and especially the Hungarians--whose countrymen and women had been sold into captivity--all vied with each other in the invention of cruelties at which the soul sickens, and which the pen almost refuses to depict.

These operations and diversions had no sensible effect upon the progress of the war, which crept on with the same monotonous and sluggish cruelty as ever; but the incidents narrated paint the course of civilization more vividly than the detailed accounts of siege and battle; mining and countermining, assaults and ambuscades can do, of which the history books are full. The leaguers of Buda and of other cities and fortresses in Hungary went their course; and it was destined to remain for a still longer season doubtful whether Cross or Crescent should ultimately wave over the whole territory of Eastern Europe, and whether the vigorous Moslem, believing in himself, his mission, his discipline, and his resources, should ultimately absorb what was left of the ancient Roman Empire.

Meantime, such of the Walloons, Lorrainers, Germans, and Frenchmen as had grown wearied of the fighting on the Danube and the Theiss--might have recourse for variety to the perpetual carnage on the Meuse, the Rhine, and the Scheld. If there was not bloodshed enough for all, it was surely not the fault of Mahomet, nor Clement, nor Philip.

During the remainder of the year not much was done in of the stadholder or the cardinal, but there was immense damage done to the Dutch shipping by the famous privateersman, Van der Waecken, with his squadron of twelve or fourteen armed cruisers. In vain had the States exerted themselves to destroy the robbers cave, Dunkirk. Shiploads of granite had been brought from Norway, and stone fleets had been sunk in the channel, but the insatiable quicksands had swallowed them as fast as they could be deposited, the tide rolled as freely as before, and the bold pirates sailed forth as gaily as ever to prey upon the defenceless trading vessels and herring-smacks of the States. For it was only upon non- combatants that Admiral Van der Waecken made war, and the fishermen especially, who mainly belonged to the Memnonite religion, with its doctrines of non-resistance--not a very comfortable practice in that sanguinary age--were his constant victims. And his cruelties might have almost served as a model to the Christian warriors on the Turkish frontier. After each vessel had been rifled of everything worth possessing, and then scuttled, the admiral would order the crews to be, thrown overboard at once, or, if he chanced to be in a merry mood, would cause them to be fastened to the cabin floor, or nailed crossways on the deck and then would sail away leaving ship and sailors to sink at leisure. The States gave chase as well as they could to the miscreant-- a Dutchman born, and with a crew mainly composed of renegade Netherlanders and other outcasts, preying for base lucre on their defenceless countryman--and their cruisers were occasionally fortunate enough to capture and bring in one of the pirate ships. In such cases, short shrift was granted, and the buccaneers were hanged without mercy, thirty-eight having been executed in one morning at Rotterdam. The admiral with most of his vessels escaped, however, to the coast of Spain, where his crews during the autumn mainly contrived to desert, and where he himself died in the winter, whether from malady, remorse, or disappointment at not being rewarded by a high position in the Spanish navy.

The war was in its old age. The leaf of a new century had been turned, and men in middle life had never known what the word Peace meant. Perhaps they could hardly imagine such a condition. This is easily said, but it is difficult really to picture to ourselves the moral constitution of a race of mankind which had been born and had grown up, marrying and giving in marriage, dying and burying their dead, and so passing on from the cradle towards the grave, accepting the eternal clang of arms, and the constant participation by themselves and those nearest to them in the dangers, privations, and horrors of siege and battle-field as the commonplaces of life. At least, those Netherlanders knew what fighting for independence of a foreign tyrant meant. They must have hated Spain very thoroughly, and believed in the right of man to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience, and to govern himself upon his own soil, however meagre, very earnestly, or they would hardly have spent their blood and treasure, year after year; with such mercantile regularity when it was always in their power to make peace by giving up the object for which they had been fighting.

Yet the war, although in its old age, was not fallen into decrepitude. The most considerable and most sanguinary pitched battle of what then were modern times had just been fought, and the combatants were preparing themselves for a fresh wrestle, as if the conflict had only begun. And now--although the great leaguers of Harlem, Leyden, and Antwerp, as well as the more recent masterpieces of Prince Maurice in Gelderland and Friesland were still fresh in men's memory--there was to be a siege, which for endurance, pertinacity, valour, and bloodshed on both sides, had not yet been foreshadowed, far less equalled, upon the fatal Netherland soil.

That place of fashionable resort, where the fine folk of Europe now bathe, and flirt, and prattle politics or scandal so cheerfully during the summer solstice--cool and comfortable Ostend--was throughout the sixteenth century as obscure a fishing village as could be found in


History of the United Netherlands, 1600-02 - 1/7

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