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- The Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1569-70 - 1/7 -

[NOTE: There is a short list of bookmarks, or pointers, at the end of the file for those who may wish to sample the author's ideas before making an entire meal of them. D.W.]



By John Lothrop Motley


1569-70 [CHAPTER V.]

Quarrel between Alva and Queen Elizabeth of England--Spanish funds seized by the English government--Non-intercourse between England and the Netherlands--Stringent measures against heresy--Continued persecution--Individual cases--Present of hat and sword to Alva from the Pope--Determination of the Governor--general to establish a system of arbitrary taxation in the provinces--Assembly of estates at Brussels--Alva's decrees laid before them--The hundredth, tenth, and fifth pence--Opposition of Viglius to the project--Estates of various provinces give a reluctant consent--Determined resistance of Utrecht--The city and province cited before the Blood Council-- Sentence of confiscation and disfranchisement against both--Appeal to the King--Difficulty of collecting the new tax--Commutation for two years--Projects for a pardon-general--Growing disfavour of the Duke--His desire to resign his post--Secret hostility between the Governor and Viglius--Altered sentiments of the President--Opinions expressed by Granvelle--The pardon pompously proclaimed by the Duke at Antwerp--Character of the amnesty--Dissatisfaction of the people with the act--Complaints of Alva to the King--Fortunes and fate of Baron Montigny in Spain--His confinement at Segovia--His attempt to escape--Its failure--His mock trial--His wife's appeal to Philip-- His condemnation--His secret assassination determined upon--Its details, as carefully prescribed and superintended by the King-- Terrible inundation throughout the Netherlands--Immense destruction of life and property in Friesland--Lowestein Castle taken by De Ruyter, by stratagem--Recapture of the place by the Spaniards-- Desperate resistance and death of De Ruyter.

It was very soon after the Duke's return to Brussels that a quarrel between himself and the Queen of England took place. It happened thus. Certain vessels, bearing roving commissions from the Prince of Conde, had chased into the ports of England some merchantmen coming from Spain with supplies in specie for the Spanish army in the Netherlands. The trading ships remained in harbor, not daring to leave for their destination, while the privateers remained in a neighbouring port ready to pounce upon them should they put to sea. The commanders of the merchant fleet complained to the Spanish ambassador in London. The envoy laid the case before the Queen. The Queen promised redress, and, almost as soon as the promise had been made, seized upon all the specie in the vessels, amounting to about eight hundred thousand dollars--[1885 exchange rate]-- and appropriated the whole to her own benefit. The pretext for this proceeding was twofold. In the first place, she assured the ambassador that she had taken the money into her possession in order that it might be kept safe for her royal brother of Spain. In the second place, she affirmed that the money did not belong to the Spanish government at all, but that it was the property of certain Genoese merchants, from whom, as she had a right to do, she had borrowed it for a short period. Both these positions could hardly be correct, but either furnished an excellent reason for appropriating the funds to her own use.

The Duke of Alva being very much in want of money, was furious when informed of the circumstance. He immediately despatched Councillor d'Assonleville with other commissioners on a special embassy to the Queen of England. His envoys were refused an audience, and the Duke was taxed with presumption in venturing, as if be had been a sovereign, to send a legation to a crowned head. No satisfaction was given to Alva, but a secret commissioner was despatched to Spain to discuss the subject there. The wrath of Alva was not appeased by this contemptuous treatment. Chagrined at the loss of his funds, and stung to the quick by a rebuke which his arrogance had merited, he resorted to a high-handed measure. He issued a proclamation commanding the personal arrest of every Englishman within the territory of the Netherlands, and the seizure of every article of property which could be found belonging to individuals of that nation. The Queen retaliated by measures of the same severity against Netherlanders in England. The Duke followed up his blow by a proclamation (of March 31st, 1569), in which the grievance was detailed, and strict non-intercourse with England enjoined. While the Queen and the Viceroy were thus exchanging blows, the real sufferers were, of course, the unfortunate Netherlanders. Between the upper and nether millstones of Elizabeth's rapacity and Alva's arrogance, the poor remains of Flemish prosperity were well nigh crushed out of existence. Proclamations and commissions followed hard upon each other, but it was not till April 1573, that the matter was definitely arranged. Before that day arrived, the commerce of the Netherlands had suffered, at the lowest computation, a dead loss of two million florins, not a stiver of which was ever reimbursed to the sufferers by the Spanish government.

Meantime, neither in the complacency of his triumph over William of Orange, nor in the torrent of his wrath against the English Queen, did the Duke for a moment lose sight of the chief end of his existence in the Netherlands. The gibbet and the stake were loaded with their daily victims. The records of the period are foul with the perpetually renewed barbarities exercised against the new religion. To the magistrates of the different cities were issued fresh instructions, by which all municipal officers were to be guided in the discharge of their great duty. They were especially enjoined by the Duke to take heed that Catholic midwives, and none other, should be provided for every parish, duly sworn to give notice within twenty-four hours of every birth which occurred, in order that the curate might instantly proceed to baptism. They were also ordered to appoint certain spies who should keep watch at every administration of the sacraments, whether public or private, whether at the altar or at death-beds, and who should report for exemplary punishment (that is to say, death by fire) all persons who made derisive or irreverential gestures, or who did not pay suitable honor to the said Sacraments. Furthermore, in order that not even death itself should cheat the tyrant of his prey, the same spies were to keep watch at the couch of the dying, and to give immediate notice to government of all persons who should dare to depart this life without previously receiving extreme unction and the holy wafer. The estates of such culprits, it was ordained, should be confiscated, and their bodies dragged to the public place of execution.

An affecting case occurred in the north of Holland, early in this year, which, for its peculiarity, deserves brief mention. A poor Anabaptist, guilty of no crime but his fellowship with a persecuted sect, had been condemned to death. He had made his escape, closely pursued by an officer of justice, across a frozen lake. It was late in the winter, and the ice had become unsound. It trembled and cracked beneath his footsteps, but he reached the shore in safety. The officer was not so fortunate. The ice gave way beneath him, and he sank into the lake, uttering a cry for succor. There were none to hear him, except the fugitive whom he had been hunting. Dirk Willemzoon, for so was the Anabaptist called, instinctively obeying the dictates of a generous nature, returned, crossed the quaking and dangerous ice, at the peril of his life, extended his hand to his enemy, and saved him from certain death. Unfortunately for human nature, it cannot be added that the generosity, of, the action was met by a corresponding heroism. The officer was desirous, it is true, of avoiding the responsibility of sacrificing the preserver of his life, but the burgomaster of Asperen sternly reminded him to remember his oath. He accordingly arrested the fugitive, who, on the 16th of May following, was burned to death under the most lingering tortures.

Almost at the same time four clergymen, the eldest seventy years of age, were executed at the Hague, after an imprisonment of three years. All were of blameless lives, having committed no crime save that of having favored the Reformation. As they were men of some local eminence, it was determined that they should be executed with solemnity. They were condemned to the flames, and as they were of the ecclesiastical profession, it was necessary before execution that their personal sanctity should be removed. Accordingly, on the 27th May, attired in the gorgeous robes of high mass, they were brought before the Bishop of Bois le Duc. The prelate; with a pair of scissors, cut a lock of hair from each of their heads. He then scraped their crowns and the tips of their fingers with a little silver knife very gently, and without inflicting the least injury. The mystic oil of consecration was thus supposed to be sufficiently removed. The prelate then proceeded to disrobe the victims, saying to each one as he did so, "Eximo tibi vestem justitiae, quem volens abjecisti;" to which the oldest pastor, Arent Dirkzoon, stoutly replied, "imo vestem injustitiae." The bishop having thus completed the solemn farce of desecration, delivered the prisoners to the Blood Council, begging that they might be handled very gently. Three days afterwards they were all executed at the stake, having, however, received the indulgence of being strangled before being thrown into the flames.

It was precisely at this moment, while the agents of the Duke's government were thus zealously enforcing his decrees, that a special messenger arrived from the Pope, bringing as a present to Alva a jewelled hat and sword. It was a gift rarely conferred by the Church, and never save upon the highest dignitaries, or upon those who had merited her most signal rewards by the most shining exploits in her defence. The Duke was requested, in the autograph letter from his Holiness which accompanied the presents, "to remember, when he put the hat upon his head, that he was guarded with it as with a helmet of righteousness, and with the shield of God's help, indicating the heavenly crown which was ready for all princes who support the Holy Church and the Roman Catholic faith." The motto on the sword ran as follows, "Accipe sanctum gladium, menus a Deo in quo dejicies adversarios populi mei Israel."

The Viceroy of Philip, thus stimulated to persevere in his master's precepts by the Vicegerent of Christ, was not likely to swerve from his path, nor to flinch from his work. It was beyond the power of man's ingenuity to add any fresh features of horror to the religious persecution under which the provinces were groaning, but a new attack could be made upon the poor remains of their wealth.

The Duke had been dissatisfied with the results of his financial arrangements. The confiscation of banished and murdered heretics had not proved the inexhaustible mine he had boasted. The stream of gold which was to flow perennially into the Spanish coffers, soon ceased to flow at all. This was inevitable. Confiscations must, of necessity, offer but a precarious supply to any treasury. It was only the frenzy of an Alva which could imagine it possible to derive a permanent revenue from such a source. It was, however, not to be expected that this man, whose tyranny amounted to insanity, could comprehend the intimate connection between the interests of a people and those of its rulers, and he was determined to exhibit; by still more fierce and ludicrous experiments, how easily a great soldier may become a very paltry financier.

He had already informed his royal master that, after a very short time,

The Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1569-70 - 1/7

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