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The Netherlands by  Mary Macgregor

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ORANGE LEAVES THE NETHERLANDS. ALVA ARRIVES

[126] THE crisis in Antwerp over, the Prince of Orange wrote to Margaret of Parma on the 19th March 1567 repeating his resolution not to take the new oath of allegiance, and stating that he now considered himself suspended from all his offices, although she had refused to accept his formal resignation on her own authority. Advised by her Council, the Regent sent her secretary to try to induce the Prince to yield to her wishes and take the oath. "It were not right," he was to urge, "to resign responsible posts when trouble threatened the country."

But in the presence of the Prince the secretary's courage shrivelled up, before his fine words of scorn the secretary's arguments lost their flavour. Was he, William of Orange, to take an oath binding him to obey, without restriction, any order issued to him in his Majesty's name? The King's representative might be one whom it would ill become him or any of his race to acknowledge. Was he, William of Orange, to receive absolute commands from the Duke of Alva?

Before such unanswerable arguments the secretary [127] retired, having, however, first prevailed on the Prince to have an interview with the Duke of Aerschot, Count Mansfeld, and Egmont. The meeting took place in the first week in April, at a little village midway between Antwerp and Brussels. Aerschot was unable to attend, and with Count Mansfeld Orange had never felt much sympathy. But between himself and Egmont there had always been a close and constant friendship, which in William's own touching language "struck its roots too deeply into his heart" to allow him in this, their parting interview, to neglect a last effort to save Egmont from Philip's treachery.

Through information that had reached him from Spain, William knew that the secret condemnation extended to Egmont also. Eagerly he urged his friend to choose exile and the chance to become the champion of his struggling country, rather than rush upon the miserable fate towards which his blind trust in the King would surely lead him. But William entreated in vain. Egmont, always sanguine, was confident now of the royal clemency.

"Alas, Egmont," said the Prince, "the King's clemency of which you boast will destroy you. Would that I might be deceived, but I foresee too clearly that you are to be the bridge which the Spaniards will destroy as soon as they have passed over it to invade our country." Then, persuaded that he would see his friend no more, William of Orange threw his arms round Egmont, and as he embraced him tears fell from the eyes of both. It was their last farewell.

[128] A few days later William wrote to the King, once more resigning all his offices, and announcing his intention of leaving the Netherlands. On the 11th April 1567 he said farewell to Antwerp, and a few days later left the country for Dillenburg, the ancestral seat of his family.

Nor had William moved too soon, for not long after his arrival at Dillenburg, Philip's private secretary, who was also the secret agent of the Prince, wrote that he had read letters from the King to Alva, in which the Duke was instructed to arrest the Prince as soon as he could lay hands on him, and not to let his trial last more than twenty-four hours.

With the departure of Orange a great fear fell on the Netherlands. To whom could they turn for aid? Orange, to whom already the country turned as to a deliverer, was gone. The confederates were scattered. Brederode had had to leave the country, and Louis of Nassau, "the good chevalier and good Christian," as the Prince affectionately called him, was in Germany. To whom could they turn for aid? In their despair those who were able left the country to escape persecution which was intolerable. Many who were left behind sought again their old hiding-places, while some who loved their possessions more than their creed were suddenly transformed into most zealous Catholics. These were now seen regularly at Mass, and neither day nor night did they omit to attend the services of the Church. The new religion was banished from every city, conventicles were broken up by armed men, preachers and leading members were hanged, their disciples beaten with [129] rods and reduced to beggary, or imprisoned if they occasionally escaped the scaffold.

Resistance was apparently at an end, yet on the 24th May the Regent issued a fresh edict, more harsh than any former one. A sneer against a priest? It became a capital crime. Had a house been used for religious meetings? Those who owned it were sentenced to the gallows. Was a hymn sung at the burial of a relation? Those who took part in the melody had to pay for doing so with their lives.

The publication of this edict drove the country into even greater desperation. The people left the country in crowds, till they were paralysed by yet another proclamation. For the Regent now found it necessary to forbid all persons, whether foreigners or natives, to leave the country or to send away their property. She at the same time prohibited all ship-masters and wagoners from assisting in the flight of any such fugitives, upon the pain of death. It seemed that no escape was possible, it seemed that the doom of the people was sealed. But Philip was determined to make assurance doubly sure. The Regent indeed wrote with considerable satisfaction that the country was pacified, but the King had determined that it should be crushed. He was even now sending to the Netherlands a Spanish army, at whose head was the ferocious Duke of Alva, bringing with him well-nigh royal powers.

On the 15th April the Duke, with his army, left Madrid. By the middle of August they had reached the territory of the Netherlands, having accomplished a dangerous journey in safety and under perfect [130] discipline. The Regent was furious at Alva's arrival. She had quelled the disturbances unaided, and she had no desire to share her laurels with the Duke. That the King had sent him without consulting her added to her bitterness. She could have told Philip that the very name of Alva was hateful enough to make the whole Spanish nation detested in the Netherlands. In spite of her rage the Regent knew that an official welcome must be given to the Duke, and accordingly Berlaymont and Noircarmes were despatched to greet him on his arrival. Deputations from various cities also accorded a grudging welcome to the Duke. The most cordial greeting that met him came from Count Egmont, who, accompanied by other noblemen, rode forth from Brussels to show the Duke the respect due to him as Philip's representative. Egmont even presented Alva with several beautiful horses. For reasons of his own the Duke had intended to receive Egmont with respect and courtesy, but he found it impossible at the first moment to conceal his dislike. "Behold the greatest of all heretics," he said to his attendants as Egmont was announced, and his voice was not so low but that Egmont might have heard the accusation. Even as he coldly greeted the Count, Alva spoke in bitter and resentful tones which might well have aroused suspicion. Egmont, however, seemed unconscious of any slight, and Alva speedily became master of his feelings. He passed his arm affectionately round the Count. He rode side by side with him, in apparently friendly conversation, and together they entered the gate of Brussels. Here they separated, the Duke, [131] without alighting, proceeding to the palace to announce his arrival to the Regent.

For three days Margaret had been debating with her Council as to the possibility of refusing to see the Duke. That he had been sent to supersede her she was convinced, and it was hard to brook the insult. Alva's submissive language had, however, slightly appeased her wrath. With Spanish courtesy he had offered to place his guards, his army, even himself at her feet, and though she was aware that these were but empty words, she resolved to receive his visit. His reception was, however, of the coldest. The Duchess remained standing motionless in the centre of the room, attended by Berlaymont, Aerschot, and Egmont, none of whom advanced to meet the Duke. A formal conversation followed, which lasted about half an hour.

The Duke, though respectful, found it difficult to conceal the chagrin he felt at this reception, nor did he try to conceal his sense of approaching triumph. It was accordingly with entire satisfaction that he next day received a request from the Council of State to show the powers with which he had been instructed by the King. That the extent of his powers would surprise them he was confident. The Duchess with her Council was made to understand that to her was left the bare title of Regent, while all real authority, civil as well as military, was placed in the hands of the Captain, General Alva. To accept the nominal position left to her was not to be thought of for a moment. Margaret wrote to Philip, not attempting to conceal her anger at the insult he had [132] offered her, and demanding that her resignation should at once be accepted.

Meanwhile Alva proceeded to introduce his Spanish soldiers into many of the principal cities. Ghent, Antwerp, Brussels, were forced to accept the indignity, while the Duke, to add if possible to their humiliation, insisted that the magistrates should transfer their keys to his keeping. Ghent humbly begged to protest against this last indignity, and Egmont was rash enough to voice the petition of the city, which, needless to say, was useless. Against the quartering of foreign troops in Brussels the Duchess herself protested, but the Duke was inflexible. Brussels was the royal residence, and its quiet could only be secured by a garrison. "If people murmur," he concluded, "you can tell them I am a headstrong man bent on having my own way. I am willing to take all the odium of the measure on myself." Thus was Margaret thwarted, and made to feel her helplessness, when any question of real power was involved. And now over Brussels, once the gayest city in the Netherlands, lay a deep gloom. Business was suspended, places of entertainment were unfrequented, the streets were silent and deserted. Many of the nobles had gone to their estates, from whence they could watch the trend of events. Those of the courtiers who remained had forsaken the Regent's palace and gone to pay their homage to her rival at Culemberg House. There at least merriment prevailed, for the Duke strove by fêtes and entertainments to amuse the nobles and lighten the gloom that hung heavy over the capital.

[133] That Alva even now was but carrying out a deep laid scheme, on which Philip and he had agreed, was suspected by few. Yet the one aim of his costly entertainments was to draw round him the great nobles, especially those mixed up with the late rebellious movement.

In Spain the envoys Berghen and Montigny were already secured, for Berghen had drooped and died, perhaps with longing for his own country, and Montigny was closely watched and would never leave his prison-house alive. Egmont was still in Brussels, and Alva believed that he would not leave the city, but Hoorn had withdrawn to his estates, and Hoogstraaten was in Germany with the Prince of Orange, and of the latter's return the Duke had little hope. Hoorn, when urged by Alva to return to Brussels, at first held aloof, but gradually his reluctance yielded to the pressure put on him by the Duke, and to Egmont's assurances of belief in the royal clemency. Hoogstraaten, warned by his good genius or by the counsel of Orange, was not to be entrapped.

Meanwhile Egmont received daily warnings to leave the capital, but to these he paid but little heed. He was determined to believe in the King's promises and in his gratitude for the services rendered, not only at Gravelines and St. Quentin, but more recently against the heretics of Flanders. Yet, in spite of his lightheartedness, the Count was greatly changed. It might be that he realised the gravity of his position more than his friends imagined. Lines were engraven on his face and his hair had grown white. Though but forty-six years of age, he looked old and [134] worn, and his hidden fears caused him to sleep always with pistols under his pillows.

On the night of September 8 Egmont received yet another warning, delivered stealthily by a mysterious personage, apparently an officer of rank, who solemnly urged him to escape from the city ere the morning dawned. Yet still the Count refused to believe danger was imminent.

The following day, September 9, Egmont and Hoorn, with many other noblemen, were invited by the grand prior, Ferdinando, the Duke's son, to a magnificent dinner. The Duke himself sent his military band to the festival that it might be enlivened by martial music.

At three in the afternoon Alva requested the noblemen to adjourn to his house when their dinner should be ended. He wished to consult them concerning the plan of a citadel which he proposed to erect at Antwerp. Egmont, who was seated next to the grand prior, heard at this moment a whisper in his ear. It was Ferdinando who breathlessly murmured, "Leave this place, Signor Count, instantly, take the fleetest horse in your stable and make your escape without a moment's delay." Listening, the Count recalled the warnings that had come so repeatedly of late, and for an instant he was troubled. Half resolved to follow the Spaniard's advice, he rose and passed unnoticed into the next room. Still hesitating, he was met by Noircarmes, to whom he repeated the warning he had that moment received. "Ha, Count," said Noircarmes, "do not put lightly such implicit confidence in this stranger, who is [135] counselling you to your destruction. What will the Duke of Alva and all the Spaniards say of such a precipitate flight? Will not your escape be construed into a confession of high treason?"

At these words all thought of flight fled from Egmont's vacillating mind, and he returned to the banquet. An hour later (it was now four o'clock), Hoorn, Egmont, and the other nobles retired to the house of the Duke, who welcomed them courteously, and, spreading out the plans of the citadel for Antwerp, retired while the nobles discussed the plans with Alva's engineers. It was seven o'clock before the discussion ended. As the nobles separated, the Captain of the Duke's Guard requested Egmont to remain for a moment, as he had an important communication to make to him. As soon as they were left alone the Spanish officer asked Egmont to surrender his sword. Surprised, in spite of all the warnings that he had received, the Count did not answer. Again the officer demanded Egmont's sword, saying that he had been ordered to arrest him. At the same moment the door opened and the Count saw that he was surrounded by a company of Spanish musketeers and halberdmen. Finding himself thus entrapped he gave up his sword, saying bitterly, as he did so, that in times which were past it had at least rendered some service to the King.

Egmont was then taken to a room in the upper part of the Duke's house, a room already prepared for its guest. The windows were barricaded, the daylight carefully shut out, and the whole apartment [136] hung with black. Here the Count remained for fourteen days, being allowed neither to see nor to write to his friends. His room was lighted day and night by candles. He was served in strict silence by Spanish servants and guarded by Spanish soldiers.

Count Hoorn had been arrested on the same evening as Egmont. He was confined in another room in the Duke's mansion, and met with exactly the same treatment as was meted out to Egmont. On September 23 both the prisoners were removed, under a strong escort, to the castle of Ghent.

The two nobles had not been the only victims on the fateful day of the 9th September, for Bakkerzeel, Egmont's private secretary, had been adroitly captured, and the rich and influential burgomaster of Antwerp had been taken on the same day. The latter had been invited by the Regent, at Alva's request, to repair to Brussels on business. He obeyed the invitation, which was in reality a command, but, fearing some danger, he set out on his journey disguised so that it was impossible to recognise him. The coach in which he travelled had, however, no sooner reached the open country than it was fallen upon by a band of forty soldiers, commanded by a Spanish officer, and the burgomaster, in spite of his disguise, was seized and taken prisoner.

The whole plot for the different arrests had been Alva's, and he now wrote an exultant letter to the King explaining the masterly way in which they had been carried out.

In the Provinces, when the arrests became known, universal consternation reigned. Egmont, the victor [137] of Saint Quentin and Gravelines, Egmont, whose services ranked him high above the masses, and whose devotion to the Catholic religion had been but lately made evident—if he were prisoner, who then was safe? The Regent, when Alva sent to inform her of what he had done, made no effort to release the nobles, who had assuredly done her good service in troublous times. But her indignation was great that they had been arrested without her knowledge or permission, and she wrote once more to the King demanding that her dismissal should be no longer delayed.

On hearing of the arrests Philip at once wrote to congratulate Alva. Rome also applauded the deed, for only by such means could heresy be stamped out.

Yet there was one who saw more clearly than either Philip or the Pope. The old statesman, Cardinal Granvelle, when informed that Egmont and Hoorn had been captured, asked if the Duke had also drawn into his net the "Silent One," as he always called the Prince of Orange. He was told that Orange had left the Netherlands and was still free. "Then," said the Cardinal, "if he has not caught him he has caught nothing."


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