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- The Life of John of Barneveld, 1613-15 - 1/5 -


CHAPTER IX.

Aerssens remains Two Years longer in France--Derives many Personal Advantages from his Post--He visits the States-General--Aubery du Maurier appointed French Ambassador--He demands the Recall of Aerssens--Peace of Sainte-Menehould--Asperen de Langerac appointed in Aerssens' Place.

Francis Aerssens had remained longer at his post than had been intended by the resolution of the States of Holland, passed in May 1611.

It is an exemplification of the very loose constitutional framework of the United Provinces that the nomination of the ambassador to France belonged to the States of Holland, by whom his salary was paid, although, of course, he was the servant of the States-General, to whom his public and official correspondence was addressed. His most important despatches were however written directly to Barneveld so long as he remained in power, who had also the charge of the whole correspondence, public or private, with all the envoys of the States.

Aerssens had, it will be remembered, been authorized to stay one year longer in France if he thought he could be useful there. He stayed two years, and on the whole was not useful. He had too many eyes and too many ears. He had become mischievous by the very activity of his intelligence. He was too zealous. There were occasions in France at that moment in which it was as well to be blind and deaf. It was impossible for the Republic, unless driven to it by dire necessity, to quarrel with its great ally. It had been calculated by Duplessis-Mornay that France had paid subsidies to the Provinces amounting from first to last to 200 millions of livres. This was an enormous exaggeration. It was Barneveld's estimate that before the truce the States had received from France eleven millions of florins in cash, and during the truce up to the year 1613, 3,600,000 in addition, besides a million still due, making a total of about fifteen millions. During the truce France kept two regiments of foot amounting to 4200 soldiers and two companies of cavalry in Holland at the service of the States, for which she was bound to pay yearly 600,000 livres. And the Queen-Regent had continued all the treaties by which these arrangements were secured, and professed sincere and continuous friendship for the States. While the French-Spanish marriages gave cause for suspicion, uneasiness, and constant watchfulness in the States, still the neutrality of France was possible in the coming storm. So long as that existed, particularly when the relations of England with Holland through the unfortunate character of King James were perpetually strained to a point of imminent rupture, it was necessary to hold as long as it vas possible to the slippery embrace of France.

But Aerssens was almost aggressive in his attitude. He rebuked the vacillations, the shortcomings, the imbecility, of the Queen's government in offensive terms. He consorted openly with the princes who were on the point of making war upon the Queen-Regent. He made a boast to the Secretary of State Villeroy that he had unravelled all his secret plots against the Netherlands. He declared it to be understood in France, since the King's death, by the dominant and Jesuitical party that the crown depended temporally as well as spiritually on the good pleasure of the Pope.

No doubt he was perfectly right in many of his opinions. No ruler or statesman in France worthy of the name would hesitate, in the impending religious conflict throughout Europe and especially in Germany, to maintain for the kingdom that all controlling position which was its splendid privilege. But to preach this to Mary de' Medici was waste of breath. She was governed by the Concini's, and the Concini's were governed by Spain. The woman who was believed to have known beforehand of the plot to murder her great husband, who had driven the one powerful statesman on whom the King relied, Maximilian de Bethune, into retirement, and whose foreign affairs were now completely in the hands of the ancient Leaguer Villeroy--who had served every government in the kingdom for forty years--was not likely to be accessible to high views of public policy.

Two years had now elapsed since the first private complaints against the Ambassador, and the French government were becoming impatient at his presence. Aerssens had been supported by Prince Maurice, to whom he had long paid his court. He was likewise loyally protected by Barneveld, whom he publicly flattered and secretly maligned. But it was now necessary that he should be gone if peaceful relations with France were to be preserved.

After all, the Ambassador had not made a bad business of his embassy from his own point of view. A stranger in the Republic, for his father the Greffier was a refugee from Brabant, he had achieved through his own industry and remarkable talents, sustained by the favour of Barneveld-- to whom he owed all his diplomatic appointments--an eminent position in Europe. Secretary to the legation to France in 1594, he had been successively advanced to the post of resident agent, and when the Republic had been acknowledged by the great powers, to that of ambassador. The highest possible functions that representatives of emperors and kings could enjoy had been formally recognized in the person of the minister of a new-born republic. And this was at a moment when, with exception of the brave but insignificant cantons of Switzerland, the Republic had long been an obsolete idea.

In a pecuniary point of view, too, he had not fared badly during his twenty years of diplomatic office. He had made much money in various ways. The King not long before his death sent him one day 20,000 florins as a present, with a promise soon to do much more for him.

Having been placed in so eminent a post, he considered it as due to himself to derive all possible advantage from it. "Those who serve at the altar," he said a little while after his return, "must learn to live by it. I served their High Mightinesses at the court of a great king, and his Majesty's liberal and gracious favours were showered upon me. My upright conscience and steady obsequiousness greatly aided me. I did not look upon opportunity with folded arms, but seized it and made my profit by it. Had I not met with such fortunate accidents, my office would not have given me dry bread."

Nothing could exceed the frankness and indeed the cynicism with which the Ambassador avowed his practice of converting his high and sacred office into merchandise. And these statements of his should be scanned closely, because at this very moment a cry was distantly rising, which at a later day was to swell into a roar, that the great Advocate had been bribed and pensioned. Nothing had occurred to justify such charges, save that at the period of the truce he had accepted from the King of France a fee of 20,000 florins for extra official and legal services rendered him a dozen years before, and had permitted his younger son to hold the office of gentleman-in-waiting at the French court with the usual salary attached to it. The post, certainly not dishonourable in itself, had been intended by the King as a kindly compliment to the leading statesman of his great and good ally the Republic. It would be difficult to say why such a favour conferred on the young man should be held more discreditable to the receiver than the Order of the Garter recently bestowed upon the great soldier of the Republic by another friendly sovereign. It is instructive however to note the language in which Francis Aerssens spoke of favours and money bestowed by a foreign monarch upon himself, for Aerssens had come back from his embassy full of gall and bitterness against Barneveld. Thenceforth he was to be his evil demon.

"I didn't inherit property," said this diplomatist. "My father and mother, thank God, are yet living. I have enjoyed the King's liberality. It was from an ally, not an enemy, of our country. Were every man obliged to give a reckoning of everything he possesses over and above his hereditary estates, who in the government would pass muster? Those who declare that they have served their country in her greatest trouble, and lived in splendid houses and in service of princes and great companies and the like on a yearly salary of 4000 florins, may not approve these maxims."

It should be remembered that Barneveld, if this was a fling at the Advocate, had acquired a large fortune by marriage, and, although certainly not averse from gathering gear, had, as will be seen on a subsequent page, easily explained the manner in which his property had increased. No proof was ever offered or attempted of the anonymous calumnies levelled at him in this regard.

"I never had the management of finances," continued Aerssens. "My profits I have gained in foreign parts. My condition of life is without excess, and in my opinion every means are good so long as they are honourable and legal. They say my post was given me by the Advocate. Ergo, all my fortune comes from the Advocate. Strenuously to have striven to make myself agreeable to the King and his counsellors, while fulfilling my office with fidelity and honour, these are the arts by which I have prospered, so that my splendour dazzles the eyes of the envious. The greediness of those who believe that the sun should shine for them alone was excited, and so I was obliged to resign the embassy."

So long as Henry lived, the Dutch ambassador saw him daily, and at all hours, privately, publicly, when he would. Rarely has a foreign envoy at any court, at any period of history, enjoyed such privileges of being useful to his government. And there is no doubt that the services of Aerssens had been most valuable to his country, notwithstanding his constant care to increase his private fortune through his public opportunities. He was always ready to be useful to Henry likewise. When that monarch same time before the truce, and occasionally during the preliminary negotiations for it, had formed a design to make himself sovereign of the Provinces, it was Aerssens who charged himself with the scheme, and would have furthered it with all his might, had the project not met with opposition both from the Advocate and the Stadholder. Subsequently it appeared probable that Maurice would not object to the sovereignty himself, and the Ambassador in Paris, with the King's consent, was not likely to prove himself hostile to the Prince's ambition.

"There is but this means alone," wrote Jeannini to Villeroy, "that can content him, although hitherto he has done like the rowers, who never look toward the place whither they wish to go." The attempt of the Prince to sound Barneveld on this subject through the Princess-Dowager has already been mentioned, and has much intrinsic probability. Thenceforward, the republican form of government, the municipal oligarchies, began to consolidate their power. Yet although the people as such were not sovereigns, but subjects, and rarely spoken of by the aristocratic magistrates save with a gentle and patronizing disdain, they enjoyed a larger liberty than was known anywhere else in the world. Buzenval was astonished at the "infinite and almost unbridled freedom" which he witnessed there during his embassy, and which seemed to him however "without peril to the state."

The extraordinary means possessed by Aerssens to be important and useful vanished with the King's death. His secret despatches, painting in sombre and sarcastic colours the actual condition of affairs at the French court, were sent back in copy to the French court itself. It was not known who had played the Ambassador this vilest of tricks, but it was done during an illness of Barneveld, and without his knowledge. Early in the year 1613 Aerssens resolved, not to take his final departure, but to go home on leave of absence. His private intention was to look for some substantial office of honour and profit at home. Failing of this, he meant to return to Paris. But with an eye to the main chance as usual,


The Life of John of Barneveld, 1613-15 - 1/5

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