|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 CAPTURE AND SURRENDER OF MONS
 FROM the towns of Brill and Flushing the flag of the Prince of Orange was now waving. The capture of these towns proved to be
but the beginning of a series of triumphs for the patriot cause, which lasted during the first half of the year 1572.
The Island of Walcheren was equally divided between the two parties. Enkhuizen, the key to the Zuyder Zee, the principal
arsenal, and a great commercial town, rose against the Spanish Admiral; nor was it long until the banner of Orange was
seen flying from the ramparts. Nearly all the important cities of Holland and Zeeland, in one great spontaneous
movement, raised the standard of him whom they at last recognised as the deliverer of their country. Henceforth they
swore allegiance to Orange, as lawful Stadtholder to the King.
Nor was the movement limited to Holland and Zeeland. City after city in Gelderland, Overyssel, and Utrecht, as well as
all the important towns of Friesland, threw off the yoke of the tyrant; and of these, some without a struggle, others
after a short siege, accepted the garrisons of the Prince, and formally recognised his authority.
 During the outburst of enthusiasm in Holland and Zeeland the Prince was in Germany, working on behalf of the oppressed
Provinces, Sonoy being sent to act as Lieutenant-General in the north of Holland.
Louis of Nassau meanwhile was in France, negotiating with the leaders of the Huguenot party, and secretly with the
French Court. From France he now made a startling, and to Alva an entirely unexpected descent upon the town of Mons.
Mons was the capital of Hainault, and an important town, protected by lofty walls, a triple moat, and a strong citadel.
Situated close to the frontiers of France, it was specially suited to the needs of the patriot party. A native of the
city, Antony Oliver, had won the confidence of Alva while preparing for him at different times some well-executed maps
of the country. Oliver was on his way to France at this time, and had been employed by the Duke to keep a watch over the
movements of Louis of Nassau, and to report on the progress of his intrigues with the French Court. But Oliver had made
a dupe of the great Duke, for he was no spy, but a friend and correspondent of Orange. What he had to say to Count Louis
in Paris was not, therefore, quite what Alva had expected. Oliver was indeed telling Louis that there were already many
adherents of the Prince in Mons, who were waiting and eager to co-operate with him and the Huguenot leaders—Genlis, De
la Noue, and others—would they but attempt to secure the city.
On May 22, 1572, Oliver was at the gates of
 Mons with three wagons, supposed to be carrying merchandise, but in reality laden with arquebuses, which he distributed
among his confederates in the city. That same day Count Louis, believed by Alva to be still safely in Paris, also
arrived in the neighbourhood of Mons. He had with him 500 horsemen and 1000 foot soldiers, which force he concealed in a
thick forest close to the city.
Towards evening twenty men, dressed as wine merchants, might have been seen entering the city gates. Nor were there any
to say, "Beware of the wine merchants, they are followers of the daring Count, Count Louis of Nassau." The wine merchants went
boldly to a wine shop, ordered supper, and as they chatted with the landlord carelessly asked at what hour next morning
the city gates would be opened. About four was the usual hour, they were told, but a "drink-penny" given to the porter
would ensure them being opened earlier. "Ah! in that case we will bring some casks of wine into the city before
sunrise," said the merchants, and, bidding their host a friendly good-night, they wended their way out of the city.
Early the next morning the wine merchants were at the city gates, and the porter, receiving a handsome "drink-penny,"
agreed to unlock them. But no sooner were the bolts withdrawn than he was struck dead, while about fifty dragoons rode
through the gates. Close on their heels followed the Count and his attendants, and soon they were galloping over the
city in the early dawn, shouting, "Liberty! Liberty! the Prince is coming! Down with the tenth-penny
 tax! Down with the tyrant Alva!" In spite of the cries, not one of the secret confederates joined them. The streets were
quiet and empty, and daylight was spreading. Count Louis began to fear a trap, and looked anxiously for his army, which
should have followed hard upon his footsteps.
Inaction was impossible, and Louis galloped out of the town in search of his troops, whom he found wandering in the
woods, where they had completely lost their way. Sharply rang out his orders to each horseman to take a foot soldier on
the crupper behind him, then, turning, he led them speedily towards the city. Nor were they a moment too soon, for the
citizens, having at last been roused to their danger, had closed all the gates but one, where the porter was quarrelling
with a French soldier over an arquebus. The drawbridge across the moat had even begun to rise, when a French officer
riding with Count Louis urged his charger forward and sprang upon it, causing the bridge to sink again under his weight.
The troops seized the opportunity and thundered across, forcing the gate on the other side, and riding triumphantly into
Louis then ordered the bell to be rung, and in answer to its summons the burghers, with their magistrates and clergy,
assembled in the market square. "I protest that I am no rebel to the King," cried the impetuous Count when silence had
fallen upon the crowd. I prove it by asking no new oaths from any man. Remain bound by your old oaths of allegiance.
Against Alva alone have I taken up arms; 'tis to protect you against his fury that I am
 here. I demand, then, that you declare Alva de Toledo a traitor to the King, an enemy to the country, and thereby
deprived of authority." " 'Tis a bold demand," whispered the timid magistrates anxiously the one to the other, and they
But the burghers would not be guided by their craven leaders. They would hold their city against the Duke. Volunteer
troops were speedily organised and drilled, and the fortifications of the city strengthened, the expenses being borne by
the owners of the great cloth and silk manufactories for which Mons was famous. No attempt was made to force the
Reformed religion on the citizens, nor did the Catholics suffer personal injury, though plate, jewelery, money, and
other valuables which had been sent to the city from the churches and convents of the province were seized. Thus, with
little bloodshed and no violence, Mons was secured for the patriots.
Three days later Louis received 2000 French infantry into the city, and early in June he was still further strengthened
by the arrival of 1300 foot and 1200 horsemen.
The Duke of Alva found himself in the very midst of a revolution; Brill and Flushing were lost, and Middleburg was
closely besieged. The news of the revolt of Enkhuizen was followed, two hours later, by that of the rebellion of
Valenciennes, while the following day brought the incredible information of the capture of Mons.
Louis of Nassau master of Mons! Alva refused to believe it. It was but the other day that Count Louis had been seen
playing in the tennis court at
 Paris! It was impossible that he should have already reached the province of Hainault.
When at length he was convinced that the disastrous tidings were true, Alva in a fury dashed his hat to the ground, and
vowed vengeance against the house of Nassau. Don Frederic, his son, was ordered at once to undertake the siege of Mons,
while Alva himself began to raise large reinforcements. Without much opposition Don Frederic proceeded to take
possession of the Bethlehem cloister, in the neighbourhood of Mons, and with 4000 troops began to besiege the city,
Count Louis meanwhile despatching Genlis to France for the further reinforcements which had been promised by the royal
lips of the French King. Sharp combats before the walls were constantly taking place, and it was obvious to Louis that
he would be unable to hold the town unless help reached him from without.
Genlis had, however, speedily accomplished his mission, and was already returning to Hainault with a force of Huguenots,
whose numbers, being unknown, were greatly magnified. The Spanish enemy held its breath at the report of an approaching
army of 10,000 veterans.
It would be necessary for Genlis to approach Mons with great caution. Louis sent an earnest message to him, urging that
he should join Orange who had already crossed the Rhine with a new army before he attempted to throw reinforcements into
the city. Unfortunately, Genlis disregarded Count Louis' advice. It would, he believed, be a more glorious adventure to
relieve the city alone, unaided
 by the Prince. Accordingly, towards the middle of July he advanced to within two leagues of Mons, and on the 19th of the
month he encamped in a circular plain, surrounded with forests, and dotted here and there with farmhouses. A detachment
was sent to reconnoitre, but they were soon to be seen hastening back to the camp. "Don Frederic of Toledo is coming
instantly upon us," they cried; "Don Frederic, with 10,000 men." In reality the Spanish force was not so great, but 3000
half-armed boors had been engaged by Don Frederic to add to the apparent number of his troops. The panic this caused
among the French Huguenots was not easily allayed, and before they were aware, Noircarmes was charging upon them at the
head of his cavalry, and the infantry arriving directly after, the army of Genlis was entirely routed.
The slaughter of the Huguenots was great, and among the many officers taken prisoners was the Commander-in-Chief Genlis
himself, who was imprisoned in the castle of Antwerp. Sixteen months later he was secretly strangled by the command of
Alva, who, however, took care that it should be reported that he had died a natural death. One hundred foot soldiers
alone succeeded in making their way into Mons, and this was the only help Count Louis was destined to receive from
On August 27, 1572, the Prince of Orange with his new army crossed the Meuse, many cities and villages accepting his
authority as he passed along. With Mechlin, the most important of these, Alva was specially angry, as it had but lately
 own troops. To the very gates of Brussels the Prince of Orange marched, but the city being too fearful to open its
gates, and too strongly defended to be attacked, the Prince passed on his way. He was looking hopefully for the promised
aid of the French Admiral Coligny, at the head of a large army, for with such reinforcements William believed the
Netherlands would soon be free and Alva in his power.
On August 11, 1572, Coligny had written to the Prince that, sanctioned and aided by his King, he expected soon to begin
his march towards the Netherlands.
But an awful catastrophe was on its way, a catastrophe that caused the whole world to pause in its wonted course, and
that petrified all those who put their trust in kings. Saint Bartholomew's day dawned, and before its close Admiral
Coligny and thousands of the Huguenot party who had been deliberately lulled into security by royal promises were
butchered in the streets of Paris.
To Orange the awful tidings from France meant that the fate of his campaign was sealed. Without the French
reinforcements on which he had relied, it would be impossible to relieve Mons. But the news which, in the Prince's own
words, "had struck him to the earth with the blow of a sledge-hammer," brought only delight to the Spanish camp. They
celebrated the massacre of Saint Bartholomew with bonfires and illuminations; they even sang anthems in the church of
Saint Gudule in honour of the stupendous murder achieved by the most Christian
 King of France; they rejoiced, for they knew that the fate of Mons was sealed.
The Prince with his army now turned towards Hainault. On September 11 he reached the village of Harmignies, about a
league from Mons, and that same night his camp was attacked by the Spaniards. Creeping through the darkness of the
night, 600 men, each wearing a white shirt over his armour, that he might at once see a comrade, and led by their
captain, Julian de Romero, made their way towards the camp of the Prince. The sentinels were surprised and cut down.
Then the small band of Spaniards dashed in among the enemy, who, suddenly aroused from sleep, were little able to defend
themselves. For an hour the slaughter continued, but Romero and a few of the boldest had gone in search of William of
Orange. They saw his tent before them. They would capture a prize indeed should they capture the Prince. Yet more
stealthily they drew near. His guards slept. William himself was in a profound slumber. All at once a small spaniel who
slept on the Prince's bed began to bark furiously and to rub his master's face with his paws. He had heard strange
footsteps, this faithful hound. There was but just time for the Prince to spring from his bed, mount a horse which was
ready saddled, and gallop into the darkness, before his enemies sprang into his tent. William's servants were killed,
and his master of the horse, who gained his saddle but a moment later than the Prince, lost his life. Had it not been
for the faithful spaniel it would seem that the bold Romero would have captured his prize. In their fury at his escape
 Spaniards set fire to the tents, and in the blaze the Orangists saw that the force that had attacked them was but small.
Before they could rally, however, Romero had led off his men.
Six hundred of the Prince's troop had been killed with the sword, while many others were burned in their beds, or
drowned in the little river which flowed past the camp, while only sixty Spaniards had lost their lives. The remainder
of the Prince's troops were now on the verge of mutiny and furious at his inability to pay them. Indeed, but for the
exertions of the officers, who loved and respected their General, his life would not have been safe from the rough
With a heavy heart William wrote to Louis of his forlorn condition and inability to relieve Mons, at the same time
advising him to capitulate on the best terms he could make. He then took his way across the Meuse, and, marching to the
Rhine, crossed it also and disbanded his troops. Thereafter he made his way almost alone to Holland, the only province
which still remained true to him. Here warm hearts were beating, and no conqueror could have been greeted with more love
and respect than was William after his disastrous campaign. Here in the North, where the spirit of resistance to Spanish
tyranny was still vigorous, the Prince resolved to stay. From henceforth his interests were absolutely identified with
those of the heroic Hollanders and Zeelanders, who were struggling, at tremendous odds, for freedom.
Meanwhile in Mons the position of Count Louis became daily more difficult. He himself lay in bed
 with a high fever. His soldiers, knowing that no further help could be expected from the French King, Charles IX., and
hearing that Orange had withdrawn his forces, refused to hold the city longer.
Accordingly, when Alva offered honourable conditions, Louis felt that to capitulate was the only course left open to
him, and on September 19, 1572, the capitulation was signed, it being expressly agreed that all the soldiers, as well as
the inhabitants who had borne arms, should be allowed to leave the city with their property, while those who remained
should be safe from injury to either their persons or their goods.
On September 21, Count Louis, still prostrate with fever, was carried out of the city on a litter, being greeted by Alva
with perfect courtesy. By easy stages he was conveyed to Dillenburg, where, under the care of his mother, he slowly
regained his strength.
Alva entered the city on September 24, 1572. Most of the volunteers had withdrawn with the garrison, but those who had
tarried were instantly thrown into prison, notwithstanding the terms of the capitulation.
Soon after Noircarmes arrived at Mons, having been appointed grand bailiff of Hainault He at once began to pillage and
massacre the inhabitants, and, not content with this, he proceeded to institute a Commission of Troubles, in imitation
of the Blood Council at Brussels. Day after day, month after month its cruel work went on, nor was it abolished until
August 27 in the following year. And when Requesens, Alva's successor, caused the prison of
 Mons to be opened, there were found seventy-five condemned creatures still awaiting their terrible fate.
Mons regained, the revolution in the southern Netherlands was at an end. The keys of that city unlocked the gates of all
others in Brabant and Flanders. Towns which had but lately accepted the authority of Orange now hastened to disown the
Prince and to return to their cowardly allegiance to Alva. The new oaths of fidelity were for the most part accepted by
Alva, but the beautiful city of Mechlin, which had excited his special wrath, he reserved for signal punishment.
As was usually the case, heavy arrears were due to the Spanish troops. To satisfy their demands Alva resolved that
Mechlin should be looted. Don Frederic was sent to the town to command its surrender. In answer a few defiant shots were
fired from the ramparts. It was a brave answer, but during the following nights the troops proved faithless and marched
away, leaving the town defenceless.
Early in the morning a solemn procession of priests with banners and crozier issued from the city gates, closely
followed by a suppliant throng of citizens. Slowly as the priests moved they sang their psalms of penitence. Did they
dream that thus they might avert the tyrant's wrath? If it were so, they were soon roughly awakened. Before the chant
was ended, thousands of Spanish soldiers had rushed through the gates or climbed the walls and entered the city in hope
of booty. The sack had begun.
Don Frederic and General Noircarmes were in the city while the soldiers did their cruel deeds, but
 it was in vain that petitions were brought to them, entreating them to save the city from destruction. "They were seen
whispering to each other in the ear on their arrival," wrote an eye-witness of the scene, "and it is well known the
affair had been resolved upon the preceding day."
When the three-days' raid was over "hardly a nail was left standing on the walls," and Alva applauded his soldiers for
the energy with which they had carried out his desire for vengeance on the beautiful city of Mechlin.
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