|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 |
REVENGE TAKEN ON THE IMAGE-BREAKERS
 CHURCHES pillaged! Images broken! When the news reached Madrid Philip found it impossible to hide his real feelings. "It shall
cost them dear," he cried, "it shall cost them dear. I swear it by the soul of my father."
But more was to follow. The Duchess, almost a prisoner in her own palace, wrote to him piteously, complaining that her
hand had been forced. She had had no choice but to sign the Agreement or Accord, promising pardon to the confederates
and liberty to heretics to hold their assemblies in those places where already the Reformed doctrines had been preached.
The promises had, however, she treacherously added, been made only in her own name. She had been careful not to
compromise the King. He would, she hoped, ignore the Accord, and speedily arrive himself in the country to avenge the
wrong done to the ancient Church.
It was soon evident to the Netherlanders themselves that they had gained nothing by the signature wrung from the
Regent's fears on the 24th August. The Accord had been signed only to be broken as
 soon as Margaret felt her position less dangerous. And now, with Philip's permission to levy arms at last in her
possession, her tone began to assume a boldness for which the nation was unprepared. Ere long troops levied in Germany
were at the disposal of the Regent, and these, as also her Walloon regiments, she placed under the command of Aremberg
and Meghem and other leaders, on whose loyalty she could depend.
Government, having troops, was competent once more to rule, to rule if necessary by force. Accordingly little or no
pretext was used in breaking the Accord which had given such joy to the nation on August 24. It was enough, having arms
on their side, for Government to assert that the preaching now prohibited had certainly never been established in the
place before the date of the Accord. It was enough for Government to make the permission to preach when persistently
claimed of but little or no avail, since now, so it was asserted, preachers might perform no rite in connection with
their services. The permission to preach had certainly never been intended to include the right to baptize, to marry, or
even to bury the dead. And Government, thus playing the nation false, had no fear, since there were troops to maintain
authority should it become necessary.
Count Egmont was now directed by the Regent to go to Flanders, where disorder still reigned, and reduce the province to
obedience. Nothing loth, the Count obeyed, for, always a fervent Catholic, the image-breaking and pillaging of the
 revolted him, and alienated his sympathies from the cause of the people. He was determined to show his loyalty by
upholding Government, even should Government have recourse to force. "We must take up arms," he said, "sooner or later
to bring these Reformers to reason or they will end by laying down the law for us."
And indeed there was the ring of truth in his words. For the men of whom he spoke were those who, to the number of sixty
thousand, had already assembled armed at the different field-preachings in Flanders; men these who needed but an
intrepid leader to march to victory and become masters of the whole country. They had even dared to dream, these armed
men, that the hero of the people, the victor of Saint Quentin, even Egmont himself, might become their leader. But the
Count had entered Flanders for but a few days before their dream was rudely broken. For Egmont came not as a deliverer
of the people, nor even as a wise ambassador, but as a determined upholder of the Regent's policy, ready to punish those
who were even suspected of having taken any share in the late disturbances. Image-breakers were executed, heretics were
burned. The Count's zeal had no chance to cool, for it was skilfully fanned by his secretary, Bakkerzeel, who himself on
one occasion "hanged twenty heretics, including a minister, at a single heat." Such treatment soon reduced Flanders to
submission; such treatment made even the most hopeful realise that the Accord had wrought no deliverance in the land.
Egmont and his secretary had surely given striking proof of their devotion to
 the King's service, while the Count had even won a passing tribute of praise from the Regent.
Meanwhile William of Orange had returned to Antwerp, and succeeded in restoring peace to the disturbed city, as he had
done also in Utrecht, Amsterdam, and the other principal towns under his care. Knowing that the Accord was being set
aside on all hands, he yet arranged peace on the basis of its conditions.
But Orange looked forward to the future with but little confidence. He knew that the Accord meant nothing to the Regent.
He believed it would be ignored by Philip, who would never allow himself to be defrauded of the vengeance he was already
planning on all those who had dared to share, or even to countenance, the destruction of the sacred buildings of the
Roman Catholic Church. This belief was confirmed by the report of his well-paid spies, who assured the Prince that
Philip was secretly gathering large bodies of troops together with which he intended to invade the provinces of the
Netherlands. The King's scheme of vengeance included the death of the leading nobles of the land.
Acting on his knowledge of Philip's plans, William, on October 3, held a conference with his brother Louis, Egmont,
Hoorn and Hoogstraaten. They discussed the possibility of forcible resistance to a Spanish army. Count Louis was in
favour of this, believing that troops might be raised in Germany with which to resist the foe. But Egmont and Hoorn
absolutely refused to compromise themselves by taking up arms against the King.
 William left the conference sadly. Though assured of the sympathy of Hoogstraaten, he knew that henceforth he could
count on no aid from those who had been his closest friends, and to add to his sorrow was his conviction that Egmont and
Hoorn were walking straight into a trap prepared for them by the King.
And now William redoubled his watchfulness. Philip in his distant Cabinet was, unknown to himself, subjected to yet
closer espionage. Even his private secretary was in the pay of the Prince. The Regent, growing uneasy, complained to
Philip that his private letters were tampered with. But Philip in his wisdom had no apprehension. Apprehension! Philip
always locked up his letters. He carried the key with him. It never left his pocket. Of what should he be apprehensive?
He wrote to the Regent chiding her for her foolishness, and telling her how futile were her fears. His correspondence
was secure from all eyes save those for whom it was intended. Nevertheless while Philip slept, the key was taken from
his pocket, and while he dreamed, his private papers were read, and their contents faithfully conveyed to the Prince of
With the aid of his brothers Louis and John, William now formed a league in Germany in defence of the Reformers of the
Netherlands, and slowly but unceasingly preparations were made to meet force with force. At this time, too, Orange gave
up all connection with the Roman Catholic Church, and became one with the Reformers in faith as well as in sympathy.
 The year of 1566 was drawing to a close, and Government, weak when the year had dawned, had become powerful once more.
The confederates were scattered, the Accord had brought but transitory relief to the nation. Egmont, completely obedient
to the King, was imposing garrisons on all the cities of Flanders and Artois. These garrisons were ordered to maintain
implicit obedience to the orders of Government, and to crush out any sign of enthusiasm on the part of the heretics.
Accordingly the Regent now felt herself at leisure to effect the reduction of Valenciennes, a town in the province of
Hainault, strongly tainted with heresy.
Noircarmes, the Governor of the province, was ordered to secure the obedience of the town by throwing into it a garrison
of three companies of horse and as many of foot. The citizens might have yielded to the Governor's commands had their
courage not been inflamed by a Frenchman named La Grange. He was a preacher of the Reformed doctrines, whose eloquence
gave him unbounded influence over the masses. La Grange warned his hearers that should a garrison be allowed to enter
the town, their liberty would be for ever lost, and the first to become victims of the soldiers' cruelties would be
those who belonged to the Reformed faith. The citizens listened to the eloquent voice of their preacher, and unanimously
refused to admit the garrison.
Noircarmes angrily told the magistrates to exert their authority, but they were powerless in their efforts to weaken the
effect of La Grange's eloquence. Accordingly on the 17th December 1566 a
proclama-  tion was issued by the Regent, declaring Valenciennes to be in a state of siege and all the inhabitants rebels. Nor was
this all. Noircarmes' orders were stringent. Any city, village, or province holding communication with Valenciennes,
buying or selling with its inhabitants, or aiding them with counsel, arms, or money, would be considered rebel, and as
such be executed with the halter!
The inhabitants of Valenciennes were in no wise intimidated. Not even the formidable numbers of troops assembling under
their walls could daunt their courage, while they were sustained by the presence of La Grange in their midst. From
outside, too, there was hope of succour, notwithstanding the strictness of Noircarmes' siege. For the confederates were
once again uniting, and sent promises of help to the beleaguered citizens. Orange also privately encouraged them to
refuse admittance to a garrison, while from the country came hopes of a general rising.
The burghers were proud of their town and confident in its defences. Starvation was not even dreaded, for the city was
well supplied with food. The hopes of the doughty burghers were high. They indulged in frequent sallies. They tempted
their enemy to engage in frequent skirmishes. They even laughed at the fiery Noircarmes and his six officers, and
thought it a brave joke to christen them the "Seven Sleepers." Their leisurely methods deserved the title. Nor did their
joke end there. The papists of Arras were reported to be sending artillery to aid in the siege. The besieged must mock
at the enemy
 by placing on the ramparts of their city huge spectacles, three feet in diameter. Perchance without such aid the
approaching help would reach the enemy unnoticed. From the pulpits of the city the voices of the Reformed preachers rang
out, eloquent over the deeds of heroes of old. Among the inhabitants of Valenciennes might there not also dwell a Joshua
or a Judas Maccabeus, as among the Israelites of old?
In the meantime the general rising throughout the country had not taken place. There were, however, large gatherings at
two separate points.
Pierre Cornaille, once a locksmith, thereafter a Calvinist preacher, had now determined to try his fortune as a general.
He collected at Lannoy an untrained band of nearly three thousand. Countrymen armed with pitchforks gathered around his
standard, students too and old soldiers armed with rusty matchlocks, pikes and halberds helped to swell his force.
Another band, as strange and motley as these, was collecting at Watrelots, in the hope of joining Cornaille's force, and
together marching to the relief of Valenciennes.
But the "Seven Sleepers" were awake. Indeed Noircarmes was never known to have been caught napping, despite the joke of
the inhabitants of the besieged city. Early in January 1567 he fell upon the locksmith's army at Lannoy, while on the
same day the Seigneur de Rassinghem attacked the force at Watrelots.
Noircarmes found no difficulty in dispersing the
 untrained rabble under Cornaille. They fled indeed at the sight of the enemy, many of them in their fright throwing away
their weapons before they had
struck a single blow. Of those who fled many were hunted into the river, while a thousand soon lay stretched on the
field destroyed by Noircarmes' first charge.
Rassinghem meanwhile attacked the troops at Watrelots under Teriel. Although he was far out numbered, he had the
advantage of being at the head of six hundred disciplined troops, and these soon put flight or cut in pieces half the
rebel force. Some, however, took refuge in a cemetery. Here, behind the stone wall, they entrenched themselves, and made
desperate stand against the attack of Noircarmes' men. They were, however, soon forced to abandon their position, when
they retreated into the church. As they struggled through the narrow doorway a sharp arquebusade was poured in upon
them. Escape was impossible, and hundreds perished, while those who managed to effect an entrance into the church were
hunted up the narrow steps that led to the belfry. The triumphant army then lighted a fire at the foot of the steeple
and fed its flames without intermission until the miserable fugitives were all roasted or suffocated.
Thus in dire defeat ended the first struggle in the great fight now beginning for religious liberty in the Netherlands.
Government was elated with its success, but into the hearts of those shut up in Valenciennes there crept a chilling
fear. Help from outside would be slow to reach them now that the
 forces under Cornaille and Teriel had been slain and scattered, while the spectacles on the ramparts seemed but a sorry
joke now that the enemies were seen but too plainly crowding around the city walls.
Noircarmes resolved to press the siege more closely. He pillaged all the villages in the neighbourhood and laid waste
all the surrounding fields. The citizens of Valenciennes, with a failing supply of food, knew that the supply from
without was threatened by Noircarmes' actions, knew too that any, were they men, women or children, found attempting to
communicate with them would be slain without mercy. At length a day came when Noircarmes from a battery of twenty heavy
guns opened a heavy fire on the city. Shot and shell penetrated into every corner of the town, and the terrified
inhabitants, after enduring four hours of disastrous fire, so far humbled their pride as to beg for a parley. To this
the general agreed, without, however, allowing his guns to cease firing for a moment. Deputies from the city informed
Noircarmes that the citizens were now prepared to capitulate on the terms originally proposed by the Government. To this
Noircarmes replied with scorn that it was not his wont to make terms with a fallen enemy. With heavy hearts the deputies
returned to the city to report the failure of their mission. And still the storm of shell and shot continued.
Palm Sunday dawned. It was the 23rd of March. Women and children with branches of palm-trees in their hands wandered
restlessly along the streets. Here and there, seized with sudden fear, little groups
 were kneeling to pray for deliverance. And still the canonade continued, creating such terror and despair, that before a
breach had been effected an almost unconditional surrender was offered. That the city should not be sacked or the
inhabitants slaughtered was agreed to by Noircarmes.
On the 2nd April 1567, four months from the commencement of the siege, the victorious army marched into the city of
Valenciennes. Noircarmes' first act was to go to the town house, where he found the assembled magistrates. These he at
once turned out of office, himself assuming control of the city. He then proceeded to seize the leaders of the
rebellion, and they, along with La Grange, were loaded with chains and thrown into a dungeon, thereafter suffering death
on the scaffold. The preacher lost neither his courage nor his eloquence as he was led to death, but loudly proclaimed
that he was willing to suffer for having preached the pure Word of God to a Christian people. The executioner threw him
from the ladder while he was still speaking. Thus, amid the sobs of the terrified citizens, perished the preacher who
had encouraged the city to resist the Regent's demand. "May I grow mute as a fish," he had cried ere the siege was
proclaimed, "before I persuade my people to accept a garrison of cruel soldiers, by whom their rights of conscience are
to be trampled upon.
The Regent was victorious. The Reformed religion was abolished in the city. Not only so, but Valenciennes having fallen,
other rebellious towns had no courage left, and sullenly admitted the garrisons
 Margaret now imposed upon them. Maestricht, Tornhut, Ghent, Ypres, and Oudenarde, these all bowed their necks to the
hated terms. Antwerp and a few towns in Holland were alone found steadfast in their resistance to the tyranny of the
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