|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 PLOT AGAINST ORANGE AND ITS SUCCESS
 WITHIN two years there had been five different attempts to assassinate the Prince of Orange, all of them encouraged by the
Spanish Government. It was inevitable that a sixth should soon follow.
The Prince had withdrawn to Delft, a quiet and drowsy little city not far from Rotterdam. Here he watched with regret
the growing numbers of Catholic nobles and men of note who were being drawn again under the power of Spain by the subtle
fascination of the Prince of Parma. Even his own brother-in-law had gone over to Spain, while his brother John, though
true to his country, had left the land some years before.
The Prince of Orange felt the growing isolation of his position. Yet while he lived quietly apart in the house on the
banks of the quiet tree-fringed canal of Delft, he toiled ceaselessly for the cause which was so dear to his heart. It
was here, in the quiet little village, that a special messenger from the French Court came with despatches telling of
the death of Anjou. On Sunday, July 8, 1584, the Prince of Orange, while still in bed, sent for the
 bearer of the despatches, that he might hear from him further particulars of the Duke's last illness. The courier was
admitted to his presence, and proved to be a youth who, in the early spring, had claimed the protection of the Prince,
his plea being that he was the son of a Protestant who had suffered death for the sake of his religion. In reality,
however, Francis Guion, for so he called himself, was Balthazar Gerard, a Catholic and a fanatic.
Balthazar, who was twenty-seven years of age, was usually to be seen with a Bible or hymn-book under his arm, as he
modestly walked along the streets of the city. A pious psalm-singing fellow he seemed, of whom little was thought, so
incapable was he deemed of taking any important share in the business of life. But Balthazar was not what he appeared in
character any more than in religion, for in his retiring manner was wrapped a desperate and daring spirit. From
childhood he had been trained to hate the Prince of Orange, and he was taught that he would secure the safety both of
the Catholic religion and of his most Catholic Majesty Philip II., should he rid the world of one who was an enemy to
each. When but twenty years of age he had stuck his dagger into a door with all his might, exclaiming, as he did so,
"Would that the blow had been in the heart of Orange."
No sooner had the ban against Orange been published, than Balthazar became more than ever anxious to carry out his
long-cherished design against the life of the Prince. He offered his services to Parma, asking for a small sum of money
that he might
 purchase a pistol with which to do his cruel deed. But Parma had already advanced sums to many a would-be assassin, who
had spent the money indeed, but never attempted to do the deed for which it had been given, and he at first refused to
have anything to do with the shabby-looking individual who now applied to him. Persuaded, however, by his counsellors,
Parma eventually promised that Balthazar should receive the promised reward should he indeed succeed in ridding Spain of
her great enemy, and should he die as the result of his crime, the reward should be given to his heirs. And now
Balthazar, with his despatches, stood in the bedroom of the man who had befriended him, but against whom he had a long
and carefully cherished hatred. The interview was entirely unexpected, and the traitor, unarmed, with no plan of escape
yet formed, could do nothing save answer the questions of the Prince with what calmness he could call to his aid. As he
was dismissed from the bed-chamber the church bells began to ring. But Balthazar did not seem to hear them, as, with his
Bible tucked under his arm, he lingered in the passages of the Prince's house. Before long a halberdier noticed him, and
demanded what he was waiting for. Balthazar meekly answered that he wished to attend service in the church, which was
opposite, but that without at least a new pair of shoes and stockings, he was unfit to join the congregation. The
good-natured soldier told the needs of the courier to an officer, and the Prince, happening to hear of his poverty,
himself ordered a sum of money to be given to Balthazar. With the sum thus provided by the bounty of the
 Prince, Balthazar the following day bought a pair of pistols, bargaining long before he would give the soldier from whom
he bought them the price he asked. Before many hours had passed, the soldier, hearing to what use the pistols he had
sold had been put, was broken-hearted. Life could never again mean aught but grief to him, and in his despair he stabbed
himself to death.
On Tuesday, July 10, 1584, about half-past twelve, the Prince, with his wife leaning on his arm, went towards the
dining-room. Balthazar was at the door waiting, and, pushing himself in front of the Prince, he demanded a passport. His
excitement and pallor attracted the attention of the Princess Louisa, and she asked anxiously who he was. "Merely a
person come for a passport," carelessly replied the Prince. But the Princess was dissatisfied: "I have never seen so
villainous a countenance before," she murmured. At two o'clock, dinner being over, the Prince rose from the table and
led the way, intending to go to his private apartments alone. He reached the staircase, which was completely lighted by
a large window, and began slowly to ascend. He had only reached the second step, when, from a sunken archway, Balthazar
crept forth, and, standing within a foot or two of the Prince, discharged a pistol full at his heart. As he fell, the
Prince cried out in French: "O my God, have mercy upon my soul! O my God, have mercy upon this people!" These were his
last words, save that when his sister asked him if he commended his soul to Jesus Christ, he faintly murmured "Yes," and
shortly after he breathed his last.
AS HE FELL THE PRINCE CRIED OUT, 'O MY GOD, HAVE MERCY UPON MY SOUL!'
 The murderer had laid his plans well, and succeeded in escaping through a side door. Quickly he sped up a narrow lane,
at the end of which a horse awaited him. But pursuers were following hard on his steps. In his desperate haste Balthazar
stumbled, and before he could recover himself he was seized upon by several pages and halberdiers and dragged back to
the Prince's house. There was no merciful voice now to cry, "Do not kill him, I forgive him my death," and after a
strict trial, Balthazar was condemned to be executed. The sentence, accompanied by untold horrors, was carried out on
July 14, 1584, the people, by torturing the criminal, vainly trying to stay the grief into which he had plunged them.
Stricken and forlorn, the nation mourned the loss of the Prince of Orange, while little children wept when they were
told that never more would "Father William" be seen in their streets. As a grateful token of their love, the nation
voted an ample provision for the widow and children of the Prince who had given his possessions, as well as his life, in
their service, while Maurice of Nassau, who in the future was to lead his country to the peace which his father had
desired for it, was given a position of influence in the Government of the land.
Did it seem that Spain had triumphed, that William the Silent was slain, his work being yet undone? But he had struck a
great blow for freedom, with results that reached far out beyond his dreams. He had laid the foundations of the Dutch
 Republic, laid them so deep and strong that on them was reared, by those who worthily bore his name, a great and
Spain had indeed not triumphed, save in the seeming, for verily, as the wise man said, "The righteous and his works are
in the hand of God."
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