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- The Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1572-73 - 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


1572-73 [CHAPTER VIII.]

Affairs in Holland and Zealand--Siege of Tergoes by the patriots-- Importance of the place--Difficulty of relieving it--Its position-- Audacious plan for sending succor across the "Drowned Land"-- Brilliant and successful expedition of Mondragon--The siege raised-- Horrible sack of Zutphen--Base conduct of Count Van den Berg-- Refusal of Naarden to surrender--Subsequent unsuccessful deputation to make terms with Don Frederic--Don Frederic before Naarden-- Treachery of Romero--The Spaniards admitted--General massacre of the garrison and burghers--The city burned to the ground--Warm reception of Orange in Holland--Secret negotiations with the Estates-- Desperate character of the struggle between Spain and the provinces --Don Frederic in Amsterdam--Plans for reducing Holland--Skirmish on the ice at Amsterdam--Preparation in Harlem for the expected siege-- Description of the city--Early operations--Complete investment-- Numbers of besiegers and besieged--Mutual barbarities--Determined repulse of the first assault--Failure of Batenburg's expedition-- Cruelties in city and camp--Mining and countermining--Second assault victoriously repelled--Suffering and disease in Harlem--Disposition of Don Frederic to retire--Memorable rebuke by Alva--Efforts of Orange to relieve the place--Sonoy's expedition--Exploit of John Haring--Cruel execution of prisoners on both sides--Quiryn Dirkzoon and his family put to death in the city--Fleets upon the lake-- Defeat of the patriot armada--Dreadful suffering and starvation in the city--Parley with the besiegers--Despair of the city--Appeal to Orange--Expedition under Batenburg to relieve the city--His defeat and death--Desperate condition of Harlem--Its surrender at discretion--Sanguinary executions--General massacre--Expense of the victory in blood and money--Joy of Philip at the news.

While thus Brabant and Flanders were scourged back to the chains which they had so recently broken, the affairs of the Prince of Orange were not improving in Zealand. Never was a twelvemonth so marked by contradictory fortune, never were the promises of a spring followed by such blight and disappointment in autumn than in the memorable year 1572. On the island of Walcheren, Middelburg and Arnemuyde still held for the King--Campveer and Flushing for the Prince of Orange. On the island of South Bevelaad, the city of Goes or Tergoes was still stoutly defended by a small garrison of Spanish troops. As long as the place held out, the city of Middelburg could be maintained. Should that important city fall, the Spaniards would lose all hold upon Walcheren and the province of Zealand.

Jerome de 't Zeraerts, a brave, faithful, but singularly unlucky officer, commanded for the Prince in Walcheren. He had attempted by various hastily planned expeditions to give employment to his turbulent soldiery, but fortune had refused to smile upon his efforts. He had laid siege to Middelburg and failed. He had attempted Tergoes and had been compelled ingloriously to retreat. The citizens of Flushing, on his return, had shut the gates of the town in his face, and far several days refused to admit him or his troops. To retrieve this disgrace, which had sprung rather from the insubordination of his followers and the dislike which they bore his person than from any want of courage or conduct on his part, he now assembled a force of seven thousand men, marched again to Tergoes, and upon the 26th of August laid siege to the place in forma. The garrison was very insufficient, and although they conducted themselves with great bravery, it was soon evident that unless reinforced they must yield. With their overthrow it was obvious that the Spaniards would lose the important maritime province of Zealand, and the Duke accordingly ordered D'Avila, who commanded in Antwerp, to throw succor into Tergoes without delay. Attempts were made, by sea and by land, to this effect, but were all unsuccessful. The Zealanders commanded the waters with their fleet,--and were too much at home among those gulfs and shallows not to be more than a match for their enemies. Baffled in their attempt to relieve the town by water or by land, the Spaniards conceived an amphibious scheme. Their plan led to one of the most brilliant feats of arms which distinguishes the history of this war.

The Scheld, flowing past the city of Antwerp and separating the provinces of Flanders and Brabant, opens wide its two arms in nearly opposite directions, before it joins the sea. Between these two arms lie the isles of Zealand, half floating upon, half submerged by the waves. The town of Tergoes was the chief city of South Beveland, the most important part of this archipelago, but South Beveland had not always been an island. Fifty years before, a tempest, one of the most violent recorded in the stormy annals of that exposed country, had overthrown all barriers, the waters of the German Ocean, lashed by a succession of north winds, having been driven upon the low coast of Zealand more rapidly than they could be carried off through the narrow straits of Dover. The dykes of the island had burst, the ocean had swept over the land, hundreds of villages had been overwhelmed, and a tract of country torn from the province and buried for ever beneath the sea. This "Drowned Land," as it is called, now separated the island from the main. At low tide it was, however, possible for experienced pilots to ford the estuary, which had usurped the place of the land. The average depth was between four and five feet at low water, while the tide rose and fell at least ten feet; the bottom was muddy and treacherous, and it was moreover traversed by three living streams or channels; always much too deep to be fordable.

Captain Plomaert, a Fleming of great experience and bravery, warmly attached to the King's cause, conceived the plan of sending reinforcements across this drowned district to the city of Tergoes. Accompanied by two peasants of the country, well acquainted with the track, he twice accomplished the dangerous and difficult passage; which, from dry land to dry land, was nearly ten English miles in length. Having thus satisfied himself as to the possibility of the enterprise, he laid his plan before the Spanish colonel, Mondragon. That courageous veteran eagerly embraced the proposal, examined the ground, and after consultation with Sancho Avila, resolved in person to lead an expedition along the path suggested by Plomaert. Three thousand picked men, a thousand from each nation,--Spaniards, Walloons, and Germans, were speedily and secretly assembled at Bergen op Zoom, from the neighbourhood of which city, at a place called Aggier, it was necessary that the expedition should set forth. A quantity of sacks were provided, in which a supply of, biscuit and of powder was placed, one to be carried by each soldier upon his head. Although it was already late in the autumn, the weather was propitious; the troops, not yet informed: as to the secret enterprise for which they had been selected, were all ready assembled at the edge of the water, and Mondragon, who, notwithstanding his age, had resolved upon heading the hazardous expedition, now briefly, on the evening of the 20th October, explained to them the nature of the service. His statement of the dangers which they were about to encounter, rather inflamed than diminished their ardor. Their enthusiasm became unbounded, as he described the importance of the city which they were about to save, and alluded to the glory which would be won by those who thus courageously came forward to its rescue. The time of about half ebb-tide having arrived, the veteran,--preceded only by the guides and Plomaert, plunged gaily into the waves, followed by his army, almost in single file. The water was never lowed khan the breast, often higher than the shoulder. The distance to the island, three and a half leagues at least, was to be accomplished within at most, six hours, or the rising tide would overwhelm them for ever. And thus, across the quaking and uncertain slime, which often refused them a footing, that adventurous band, five hours long, pursued their midnight march, sometimes swimming for their lives, and always struggling with the waves which every instant threatened to engulph them.

Before the tide had risen to more than half-flood, before the day had dawned, the army set foot on dry land again, at the village of Irseken. Of the whole three thousand, only nine unlucky individuals had been drowned; so much had courage and discipline availed in that dark and perilous passage through the very bottom of the sea. The Duke of Alva might well pronounce it one of the most brilliant and original achievements in the annals of war. The beacon fires were immediately lighted upon the shore; as agreed upon, to inform Sancho d'Avila, who was anxiously awaiting the result at Bergen op Zoom, of the safe arrival of the troops. A brief repose was then allowed. At the approach of daylight, they set forth from Irseken, which lay about four leagues from Tergoes. The news that a Spanish army had thus arisen from the depths of the sea, flew before them as they marched. The besieging force commanded the water with their fleet, the land with their army; yet had these indomitable Spaniards found a path which was neither land nor water, and had thus stolen upon them in the silence of night. A panic preceded them as they fell upon a foe much superior in number to their own force. It was impossible for 't Zeraerts to induce his soldiers to offer resistance. The patriot army fled precipitately and ignominiously to their ships, hotly pursued by the Spaniards, who overtook and destroyed the whole of their rearguard before they could embark. This done, the gallant little garrison which had so successfully held the city, was reinforced with the courageous veterans who had come to their relief. his audacious project thus brilliantly accomplished, the "good old Mondragon," as his soldiers called him, returned to the province of Brabant.

After the capture of Mons and the sack of Mechlin, the Duke of Alva had taken his way to Nimwegen, having despatched his son, Don Frederic, to reduce the northern and eastern country, which was only too ready to submit to the conqueror. Very little resistance was made by any of the cities which had so recently, and--with such enthusiasm, embraced the cause of Orange. Zutphen attempted a feeble opposition to the entrance of the King's troops, and received a dreadful chastisement in consequence. Alva sent orders to his son to leave not a single man alive in the city, and to burn every house to the ground. The Duke's command was almost literally obeyed. Don Frederic entered Zutphen, and without a moment's warning put the whole garrison to the sword. The citizens next fell a defenceless, prey; some being, stabbed in the streets, some hanged on the trees which decorated the city, some stripped stark naked; and turned out into the fields to freeze to death in the wintry night. As the work of death became too fatiguing for the butchers, five hundred innocent burghers were tied two and two, back to back, and drowned like dogs in the river Yssel. A few stragglers who had contrived to elude pursuit at first, were afterwards taken from their hiding places and hung upon the gallows by the feet, some of which victims suffered four days and nights of agony before death came to their relief. It is superfluous to add that the outrages upon women were no less universal in Zutphen than they had been in every city captured or occupied by the Spanish troops. These horrors continued till scarcely chastity or life remained, throughout the miserable city.

This attack and massacre had been so suddenly executed, that assistance

The Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1572-73 - 1/7

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