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- The Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1576 - 1/11 -

By John Lothop Motley



Assumption of affairs by the state council at Brussels--Hesitation at Madrid--Joachim Hopper--Mal-administration--Vigilance of Orange-- The provinces drawn more closely together--Inequality of the conflict--Physical condition of Holland--New act of Union between Holland and Zealand--Authority of the Prince defined and enlarged-- Provincial polity characterized--Generous sentiments of the Prince-- His tolerant spirit--Letters from the King--Attitude of the great powers towards the Netherlands--Correspondence and policy of Elizabeth--Secret negotiations with France and Alencon--Confused and menacing aspect of Germany--Responsible, and laborious position of Orange--Attempt to relieve Zierickzee--Death of Admiral Boisot-- Capitulation of the city upon honourable terms--Mutiny of the Spanish troops in Schouwen--General causes of discontent--Alarming increase of the mutiny--The rebel regiments enter Brabant--Fruitless attempts to pacify them--They take possession of Alost--Edicts, denouncing them, from the state council--Intense excitement in Brussels and Antwerp--Letters from Philip brought by Marquis Havre-- The King's continued procrastination--Ruinous royal confirmation of the authority assumed by the state council--United and general resistance to foreign military oppression--The German troops and the Antwerp garrison, under Avila, join the revolt--Letter of Verdugo-- A crisis approaching--Jerome de Roda in the citadel--The mutiny universal.

The death of Requesens, notwithstanding his four days' illness, occurred so suddenly, that he had not had time to appoint his successor. Had he exercised this privilege, which his patent conferred upon him, it was supposed that he would have nominated Count Mansfeld to exercise the functions of Governor-General, until the King should otherwise ordain.

In the absence of any definite arrangement, the Council of State, according to a right which that body claimed from custom, assumed the reins of government. Of the old board, there were none left but the Duke of Aerschot, Count Berlaymont, and Viglins. To these were soon added, however, by royal diploma, the Spaniard, Jerome de Roda, and the Netherlanders, Assonleville, Baron Rassenghiem and Arnold Sasbout. Thus, all the members, save one, of what had now become the executive body, were natives of the country. Roda was accordingly looked askance upon by his colleagues. He was regarded by Viglius as a man who desired to repeat the part which had been played by Juan Vargas in the Blood Council, while the other members, although stanch Catholics, were all of them well-disposed to vindicate the claim of Netherland nobles to a share in the government of the Netherlands.

For a time, therefore, the transfer of authority seemed to have been smoothly accomplished. The Council of State conducted the administration of the country. Peter Ernest Mansfeld was entrusted with the supreme military command, including the government of Brussels; and the Spanish commanders; although dissatisfied that any but a Spaniard should be thus honored, were for a time quiescent. When the news reached Madrid, Philip was extremely disconcerted. The death of Requesens excited his indignation. He was angry with him, not for dying, but for dying at so very inconvenient a moment. He had not yet fully decided either upon his successor, or upon the policy to be enforced by his successor. There were several candidates for the vacant post; there was a variety of opinions in the cabinet as to the course of conduct to be adopted. In the impossibility of instantly making up his mind upon this unexpected emergency, Philip fell, as it were, into a long reverie, than which nothing could be more inopportune. With a country in a state of revolution and exasperation, the trance, which now seemed to come over the government, was like to be followed by deadly effects. The stationary policy, which the death of Requesens had occasioned, was allowed to prolong itself indefinitely, and almost for the first time in his life, Joachim Hopper was really consulted about the affairs of that department over which he imagined himself, and was generally supposed by others, to preside at Madrid. The creature of Viglius, having all the subserviency, with none of the acuteness of his patron, he had been long employed as chief of the Netherland bureau, while kept in profound ignorance of the affairs which were transacted in his office. He was a privy councillor, whose counsels were never heeded, a confidential servant in whom the King reposed confidence, only on the ground that no man could reveal secrets which he did not know. This deportment of the King's showed that he had accurately measured the man, for Hopper was hardly competent for the place of a chief clerk. He was unable to write clearly in any language, because incapable of a fully developed thought upon any subject. It may be supposed that nothing but an abortive policy, therefore, would be produced upon the occasion thus suddenly offered. "'Tis a devout man, that poor Master Hopper," said Granvelle, "but rather fitted for platonic researches than for affairs of state."

It was a proof of this incompetency, that now, when really called upon for advice in an emergency, he should recommend a continuance of the interim. Certainly nothing worse could be devised. Granvelle recommended a reappointment of the Duchess Margaret. Others suggested Duke Eric of Brunswick, or an Archduke of the Austrian house; although the opinion held by most of the influential councillors was in favor of Don John of Austria. In the interests of Philip and his despotism, nothing, at any rate, could be more fatal than delay. In the condition of affairs which then existed, the worst or feeblest governor would have been better than none at all. To leave a vacancy was to play directly into the hands of Orange, for it was impossible that so skilful an adversary should not at once perceive the fault, and profit by it to the utmost. It was strange that Philip did not see the danger of inactivity at such a crisis. Assuredly, indolence was never his vice, but on this occasion indecision did the work of indolence. Unwittingly, the despot was assisting the efforts of the liberator. Viglius saw the position of matters with his customary keenness, and wondered at the blindness of Hopper and Philip. At the last gasp of a life, which neither learning nor the accumulation of worldly prizes and worldly pelf could redeem from intrinsic baseness, the sagacious but not venerable old man saw that a chasm was daily widening; in which the religion and the despotism which he loved might soon be hopelessly swallowed. "The Prince of Orange and his Beggars do not sleep," he cried, almost in anguish; "nor will they be quiet till they have made use of this interregnum to do us some immense grievance." Certainly the Prince of Orange did not sleep upon this nor any other great occasion of his life. In his own vigorous language, used to stimulate his friends in various parts of the country, he seized the swift occasion by the forelock. He opened a fresh correspondence with many leading gentlemen in Brussels and other places in the Netherlands; persons of influence, who now, for the first time, showed a disposition to side with their country against its tyrants. Hitherto the land had been divided into two very unequal portions. Holland and Zealand were devoted to the Prince; their whole population, with hardly an individual exception, converted to the Reformed religion. The other fifteen provinces were, on the whole, loyal to the King; while the old religion had, of late years, taken root so rapidly again, that perhaps a moiety of their population might be considered as Catholic. At the same time, the reign of terror under Alva, the paler, but not less distinct tyranny of Requesens, and the intolerable excesses of the foreign soldiery, by which the government of foreigners was supported, had at last maddened all the inhabitants of the seventeen provinces. Notwithstanding, therefore, the fatal difference of religious opinion, they were all drawn into closer relations with each other; to regain their ancient privileges, and to expel the detested foreigners from the soil, being objects common to all. The provinces were united in one great hatred and one great hope.

The Hollanders and Zealanders, under their heroic leader, had well nigh accomplished both tasks, so far as those little provinces were concerned. Never had a contest, however, seemed more hopeless at its commencement. Cast a glance at the map. Look at Holland--not the Republic, with its sister provinces beyond the Zuyder Zee--but Holland only, with the Zealand archipelago. Look at that narrow tongue of half-submerged earth. Who could suppose that upon that slender sand-bank, one hundred and twenty miles in length, and varying in breadth from four miles to forty, one man, backed by the population of a handful of cities, could do battle nine years long with the master of two worlds, the "Dominator Of Asia, Africa, and America"--the despot of the fairest realms of Europe--and conquer him at last. Nor was William even entirely master of that narrow shoal where clung the survivors of a great national shipwreck. North and South Holland were cut in two by the loss of Harlem, while the enemy was in possession of the natural capital of the little country, Amsterdam. The Prince affirmed that the cause had suffered more from the disloyalty of Amsterdam than from all the efforts of the enemy.

Moreover, the country was in a most desolate condition. It was almost literally a sinking ship. The destruction of the bulwarks against the ocean had been so extensive, in consequence of the voluntary inundations which have been described in previous pages, and by reason of the general neglect which more vital occupations had necessitated, that an enormous outlay, both of labor and money, was now indispensable to save the physical existence of the country. The labor and the money, notwithstanding the crippled and impoverished condition of the nation, were, however, freely contributed; a wonderful example of energy and patient heroism was again exhibited. The dykes which had been swept away in every direction were renewed at a vast expense. Moreover, the country, in the course of recent events, had become almost swept bare of its cattle, and it was necessary to pass a law forbidding, for a considerable period, the slaughter of any animals, "oxen, cows, calves, sheep, or poultry." It was, unfortunately, not possible to provide by law against that extermination of the human population which had been decreed by Philip and the Pope.

Such was the physical and moral condition of the provinces of Holland and Zealand. The political constitution of both assumed, at this epoch, a somewhat altered aspect. The union between the two states; effected in June, 1575, required improvement. The administration of justice, the conflicts of laws, and more particularly the levying of monies and troops in equitable proportions, had not been adjusted with perfect smoothness. The estates of the two provinces, assembled in congress at Delft, concluded, therefore, a new act of union, which was duly signed upon the 25th of April, 1576. Those estates, consisting of the knights and nobles of Holland, with the deputies from the cities and countships of Holland and Zealand, had been duly summoned by the Prince of Orange. They as fairly included all the political capacities, and furnished as copious a representation of the national will, as could be expected, for it is apparent upon every page of his history, that the Prince, upon all occasions, chose to refer his policy to the approval and confirmation of as large a portion of the people as any man in those days considered capable or desirous of exercising political functions.

The new, union consisted of eighteen articles. It was established that deputies from all the estates should meet, when summoned by the Prince of Orange or otherwise, on penalty of fine, and at the risk of measures binding upon them being passed by the rest of the Congress. Freshly arising causes of litigation were to be referred to the Prince. Free intercourse and traffic through the united provinces was guaranteed. The confederates were mutually to assist each other in preventing all injustice, wrong, or violence, even towards an enemy. The authority of law and the pure administration of justice were mutually promised by the contracting states. The common expenses were to be apportioned among the

The Rise of the Dutch Republic, 1576 - 1/11

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