|by Mary Macgregor|
|Story of the struggle for religious liberty in the Netherlands. By the middle of the sixteenth century the little country of the Netherlands was standing at bay, defying those who, with the aid of inquisitions and edicts, were trying to stamp out all who would not subscribe to the Roman Catholic faith. The fight was long and desperate, but it was fought to the death by the Provinces, under the leadership of the hero and liberator of the Netherlands, William of Orange. Admirable retelling of the narratives given in Motley's Dutch Republic and Prescott's Philip II, with numerous full-page illustrations complementing the text. Ages 13-18 |
THE PRINCE OF ORANGE IS INVITED TO BRUSSELS
 ELEVEN years had passed since the Prince, to save his life, had fled from Brussels. They had been years of hardship and
struggle, with many defeats and few victories. Yet his influence had slowly grown, until now he was the acknowledged
leader of the nation. And the people clamored for his presence in their capital.
It was with reluctance that the Estates of Holland and Zeeland gave their consent to his visit to Brussels, for they
feared the city, where so many of the great and powerful had met their death. His wife shared their fears, and saw him
depart with a heavy heart. Daily during his absence prayers were offered in all the churches of Holland and Zeeland for
the safety of their beloved "Father William."
He arrived at Antwerp September 17, 1577, and was received with great enthusiasm. For five days he remained in the city,
and then, attended by a vast crowd of citizens, he walked to the new canal, which led to Brussels, where three barges
awaited him and his suite. In one a magnificent banquet was spread, while the others were draped with the banners
 of the seventeen provinces. Before the gates of the city were reached, half the inhabitants had poured forth to meet the
Prince, and, thus escorted, he entered Brussels on September 23. The Prince of Orange knew no greater moment than this,
as, surrounded by the representatives of all the provinces, and greeted by the unbounded fervour of the people, he heard
their confident and joyous cries, "Father William is come, Father William, Father William!"
It is true that even amid the rejoicings the Prince was aware of the jealousy and suspicion of the Catholic nobility, at
whose head was the ever fickle Duke of Aerschot, but his tact was able to avert all outward signs of hostility on this
great occasion. The public welcome being ended, William's first act was to stop the negotiations which were still being
carried on with Don John. This he did by adding more stringent conditions to those already offered to the youthful
commander. That the terms were in reality a declaration of war William was well aware, and the soldier in Don John
scented battle and leaped to the haughty challenge thus flung down to him. A suspension of hostilities for three days
was forthwith agreed upon between the Estates and Don John.
THE PRINCE OF ORANGE KNEW NO GREATER MOMENT THAN THIS.
Meanwhile the nobles, their jealousy growing with the growth of the Prince's power, sought to check his influence by
entering into secret negotiations with the Archduke Matthias, brother of the Emperor Rudolph. An envoy was even sent by
the nobles to Vienna to invite to Brussels the mild and easy-tempered Matthias, who was but a lad, twenty years of age.
Only when the step had been taken
 did the nobles refer the matter to Orange and craftily ask for his advice. It was useless to offer it under the
circumstances, but, should Matthias appear, Orange resolved to use him for the sake of the country, and thus thwart the
plans of the nobles, which had obviously been made with a view to his own downfall. But when the populace heard of the
invitation to Archduke Matthias they were furious, believing it to be a plot to get rid of the Prince whom they
idolised. Henceforth if Orange had but little faith in the fidelity of the Catholic nobles, he had abundant proof of the
care with which the burghers watched over his safety. Being on one occasion delayed at the State Council till a late
hour, the Prince was informed that a large number of citizens had armed themselves and surrounded the palace, fearing
that he was in danger. He immediately threw open a window, thanking them for their friendship and assuring them of his
safety. They refused, however, to leave him alone, and remained under arms below the window till the Council broke up,
when they escorted him with great devotion to his own home.
The secret envoy had now reached Vienna, and little was needed to excite the ambition of the foolish Archduke Matthias.
He determined to accept the invitation of the Netherland nobles to go to Brussels. On October 3, 1577, he went to his
room at an early hour, and, waiting till his brother fell asleep, Matthias slipped from the room in his sleeping suit,
not waiting even to put on his slippers, for the lad was excited at the greatness of his enterprise. His companions
 provided him with the disguise of a servant, and thus at midnight he made his escape from Vienna, arriving at Cologne
shortly afterwards, attended by only two gentlemen and a few servants.
Don John, as might be expected, lost his temper at this new insult to himself and the King, but the Prince of Orange, in
nowise discomposed on hearing of his arrival, proceeded to Antwerp to receive the young Archduke at the head of 2000
cavalry and attended by a great number of citizens. The nobles looked on helpless and confused. They had felt sure that
William would either ignore Matthias, and thus rouse the anger of the Emperor, and all Germany as well, or that he would
allow himself to be driven from his post and supplanted by the aimless Archduke. But thus checkmated by the wisdom of
the Prince, they found it impossible for the present to make a further move against him.
During this same month of October Orange was appointed Governor of Brabant, to the boundless delight of the people, and
to the entire dissatisfaction of the Duke of Aerschot, who had himself straightway made Governor of Flanders by the
States of that province. But in Ghent the townsfolk were not slow to show their dislike of the Duke. He had promised
that their ancient charters should be restored. Then let him see to it that it were done, and done without delay, or it
would go hard with him, they muttered sullenly, these rugged burghers of Ghent.
Disturbances arose in the streets, led by two nobles named Ryhove and Imbize, both of broken
 fortunes and rough and passionate ways. The haughty Duke, riding through the streets, encountered the fiery Imbize, who
rudely demanded if he were yet ready to restore the ancient charters to the good city of Ghent. Nor could Aerschot shake
off his determined questioner, who followed him, taunting him with increasing boldness to delay no longer to redeem his
promise. "Charters, charters!" cried the Duke at last, losing his temper, "you shall learn soon, you that are thus
howling for charters, that we have still the old means of making you dumb, with a rope on your throats. I tell you this,
were you ever so much hounded on by the Prince of Orange." Imbize, furious at the public insult, only waited to find his
colleague Ryhove, before rousing the burghers.
At midnight the conspirators met in the public square, whence, under the command of Ryhove, they swept to the Palace of
Aerschot. The guards, seeing the approach of the furious mob, closed the gates. Brandishing their spears and waving
their torches, they drew near and demanded that the gates should be opened. But when this was refused Ryhove cried, "Let
us burn the birds in their nests," and the conspirators, at his command, brought pitch and wood, and the palace would
soon have been in a blaze, had not Aerschot, seeing that they were in earnest, surrendered himself. As soon as he
appeared the mob rushed upon him, and would have torn him to pieces, had not Ryhove resolutely interfered and twice
protected his life at the risk of his own. The Duke was then made prisoner, and, under a strong guard,
 taken to the mansion of Ryhove, where his fate was shared by other Catholic nobles.
William, who had known of the plot, disowned any share in the act of violence, and sent an envoy to demand that the
prisoners should be set free, a demand which was complied with only in the case of Aerschot.
Meanwhile on December 7, 1577, the States-General proceeded, as a preliminary to war, to disown Don John as Governor,
while any showing favour to him or rendering him assistance were declared rebels and traitors. And though the war thus
let loose on the land was due to the policy of the Prince of Orange, yet he did not regret it, ever being assured "that
war was preferable to a doubtful peace." He had even prepared for it by an alliance with England, Queen Elizabeth
lending the States money and agreeing to send troops to the Provinces under the command of an officer of rank.
Matthias, the Archduke, through the influence of Orange with the States-General, was now accepted as Governor, but
without a vestige of power being conceded to him. His duties were well-nigh limited to the signing of documents, which
were counter-signed by Orange. Thus the reins of government were in reality in the strong hands of William the Silent.
On January 18, 1578, Matthias made his public entry into Brussels, where he was received with every demonstration of
delight. It was winter, yet the streets were strewn with flowers; it was mid-day, yet flaming torches were flashed from
 hand. The houses, as on all great occasions, were festooned with garlands, and draped with silks and velvets, while
triumphal arches adorned the streets.
Matthias at length began to enjoy the fruits of his midnight expedition as he stood, feasted and fêted, before the
townsfolk and listened to long speeches and stared at stiff tableaux. Matthias the meek was too full of the glory of his
position to feel weary! In the streets, when evening fell, the citizens feasted before blazing bonfires, roasting geese,
pigs, partridges and chickens in abundance, while the youths and maidens danced their merriest. In the midst of the
gaiety a rocket was sent off from the Square, and burst with a tremendous explosion. So frightened were the crowds at
this new plaything that they all "took to their heels as if a thousand soldiers had assaulted them," and thus dispersed
to their homes.
The following day Matthias took the oaths as Governor-General, the Prince of Orange being sworn in as Lieutenant-General
and Governor of Brabant.
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics