Schiller. Revolt of Netherlands, V3

This etext was produced by David Widger


1565. Up to this point the general peace had it appears been the sincere wish of the Prince of Orange, the Counts Egmont and Horn, and their friends. They had pursued the true interests of their sovereign as much as the general weal; at least their exertions and their actions had been as little at variance with the former as with the latter. Nothing bad as yet occurred to make their motives suspected, or to manifest in them a rebellious spirit. What they had done they had done in discharge of their bounden duty as members of a free state, as the representatives of the nation, as advisers of the king, as men of integrity and honor. The only weapons they had used to oppose the encroachments of the court had been remonstrances, modest complaints, petitions. They had never allowed themselves to be so far carried away by a just zeal for their good cause as to transgress the limits of prudence and moderation which on many occasions are so easily overstepped by party spirit. But all the nobles of the republic did not now listen to the voice of that prudence; all did not abide within the bounds of moderation.

While in the council of state the great question was discussed whether the nation was to be miserable or not, while its sworn deputies summoned to their assistance all the arguments of reason and of equity, and while the middle-classes and the people contented themselves with empty complaints, menaces, and curses, that part of the nation which of all seemed least called upon, and on whose support least reliance had been placed, began to take more active measures. We have already described a class of the nobility whose services and wants Philip at his accession had not considered it necessary to remember. Of these by far the greater number had asked for promotion from a much more urgent reason than a love of the mere honor. Many of them were deeply sunk in debt, from which by their own resources they could not hope to emancipate themselves. When then, in filling up appointments, Philip passed them over he wounded them in a point far more sensitive than their pride. In these suitors he had by his neglect raised up so many idle spies and merciless judges of his actions, so many collectors and propagators of malicious rumor. As their pride did not quit them with their prosperity, so now, driven by necessity, they trafficked with the sole capital which they could not alienate-their nobility and the political influence of their names; and brought into circulation a coin which only in such a period could have found currency-their protection. With a self-pride to which they gave the more scope as it was all they could now call their own, they looked upon themselves as a strong intermediate power between the sovereign and the citizen, and believed themselves called upon to hasten to the rescue of the oppressed state, which looked imploringly to them for succor. This idea was ludicrous only so far as their self-conceit was concerned in it; the advantages which they contrived to draw from it were substantial enough. The Protestant merchants, who held in their hands the chief part of the wealth of the Netherlands, and who believed they could not at any price purchase too dearly the undisturbed exercise of their religion, did not fail to make use of this class of people who stood idle in the market and ready to be hired. These very men whom at any other time the merchants, in the pride of riches, would most probably have looked down upon, now appeared likely to do them good service through their numbers, their courage, their credit with the populace, their enmity to the government, nay, through their beggarly pride itself and their despair. On these grounds they zealously endeavored to form a close union with them, and diligently fostered the disposition for rebellion, while they also used every means to keep alive their high opinions of themselves, and, what was most important, lured their poverty by well-applied pecuniary assistance and glittering promises. Few of them were so utterly insignificant as not to possess some influence, if not personally, yet at least by their relationship with higher and more powerful nobles; and if united they would be able to raise a formidable voice against the crown. Many of them had either already joined the new sect or were secretly inclined to it; and even those who were zealous Roman Catholics had political or private grounds enough to set them against the decrees of Trent and the Inquisition. All, in fine, felt the call of vanity sufficiently powerful not to allow the only moment to escape them in which they might possibly make some figure in the republic.

But much as might be expected from the co-operation of these men in a body it would have been futile and ridiculous to build any hopes on any one of them singly; and the great difficulty was to effect a union among them. Even to bring them together some unusual occurrence was necessary, and fortunately such an incident presented itself. The nuptials of Baron Montigny, one of the Belgian nobles, as also those of the Prince Alexander of Parma, which took place about this time in Brussels, assembled in that town a great number of the Belgian nobles. On this occasion relations met relations; new friendships were formed and old renewed; and while the distress of the country was the topic of conversation wine and mirth unlocked lips and hearts, hints were dropped of union among themselves, and of an alliance with foreign powers. These accidental meetings soon led to concealed ones, and public discussions gave rise to secret consultations. Two German barons, moreover, a Count of Holle and a Count of Schwarzenberg, who at this time were on a visit to the Netherlands, omitted nothing to awaken expectations of assistance from their neighbors. Count Louis of Nassau, too, had also a short time before visited several German courts to ascertain their sentiments.

[It was not without cause that the Prince of Orange suddenly

disappeared from Brussels in order to be present at the election of

a king of Rome in Frankfort. An assembly of so many German princes

must have greatly favored a negotiation.]

It has even been asserted that secret emissaries of the Admiral Coligny were seen at this time in Brabant, but this, however, may be reasonably doubted.

If ever a political crisis was favorable to an attempt at revolution it was the present. A woman at the helm of government; the governors of provinces disaffected themselves and disposed to wink at insubordination in others; most of the state counsellors quite inefficient; no army to fall back upon; the few troops there were long since discontented on account of the outstanding arrears of pay, and already too often deceived by false promises to be enticed by new; commanded, moreover, by officers who despised the Inquisition from their hearts, and would have blushed to draw a sword in its behalf; and, lastly, no money in the treasury to enlist new troops or to hire foreigners. The court at Brussels, as well as the three councils, not only divided by internal dissensions, but in the highest degree-venal and corrupt; the regent without full powers to act on the spot, and the king at a distance; his adherents in the provinces few, uncertain, and dispirited; the faction numerous and powerful; two-thirds of the people irritated against popery and desirous of a change-such was the unfortunate weakness of the government, and the more unfortunate still that this weakness was so well known to its enemies!

In order to unite so many minds in the prosecution of a common object a leader was still wanting, and a few influential names to give political weight to their enterprise. The two were supplied by Count Louis of Nassau and Henry Count Brederode, both members of the most illustrious houses of the Belgian nobility, who voluntarily placed themselves at the head of the undertaking. Louis of Nassau, brother of the Prince of Orange, united many splendid qualities which made him worthy of appearing on so noble and important a stage. In Geneva, where he studied, he had imbibed at once a hatred to the hierarchy and a love to the new religion, and on his return to his native country had not failed to enlist proselytes to his opinions. The republican bias which his mind had received in that school kindled in him a bitter hatred of the Spanish name, which animated his whole conduct and only left him with his latest breath. Popery and Spanish rule were in his mind identical- as indeed they were in reality-and the abhorrence which he entertained for the one helped to strengthen his dislike for the other. Closely as the brothers agreed in their inclinations and aversions the ways by which each sought to gratify them were widely dissimilar. Youth and an ardent temperament did not allow the younger brother to follow the tortuous course through which the elder wound himself to his object. A cold, calm circumspection carried the latter slowly but surely to his aim, and with a pliable subtilty he made all things subserve his purpose; with a foolhardy impetuosity which overthrew all obstacles, the other at times compelled success, but oftener accelerated disaster. For this reason William was a general and Louis never more than an adventurer; a sure and powerful arm if only it were directed by a wise head. Louis' pledge once given was good forever; his alliances survived every vicissitude, for they were mostly formed in the pressing moment of necessity, and misfortune binds more firmly than thoughtless joy. He loved his brother as dearly as he did his cause, and for the latter he died.

Henry of Brederode, Baron of Viane and Burgrave of Utrecht, was descended from the old Dutch counts who formerly ruled that province as sovereign princes. So ancient a title endeared him to the people, among whom the

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