THE STORY OF HOLLAND.
CHARLES THE HEADSTRONG.
misnamed the Good, that crafty, splendid, thrifty duke, died in 1467,
and was succeeded by his son, well named Charles the Headstrong (le Téméraire).
The father began to destroy the liberties of the Netherlands; the son
completed the workthe one with caution, the other with ferocious
brutality. Philip had practically held the balance between England and
France. His alliance had almost secured the conquest of France by the
English, his defection had secured France to the French. But he had done
too much harm to France to be really trusted by the French king, and too
much service to be ever adequately compensated. In the later years of
his life he had given an asylum to the Dauphin, afterwards Louis XI.,
between whom and his father the deepest and most natural distrust existed.
Louis XI., who became king of France in 1461, played with matchless cunning
against the violence of his quondam friend, Charles, as soon as he succeeded
to his dukedom, baffled all his projects, enticed him to his ruin, and
appropriated the French provinces of his only daughter and heir.
The principal object
which Charles had before him was to make himself a king, the monarch of
a long tract of country which stretched from the German Ocean to the Mediterranean.
To this object he clung with a tenacity of purpose which characterized
no other of his projects. But he held his dominions under two overlords.
The Emperor of Germany had nominal rights over the Netherlands, and according
to the law of Europe of that time, and for a long time after, was the
sole manufacturer of new kings. Perhaps he might have succeeded in negotiating
the matter with Frederic the Third, called the Lazy, who ruled over the
German Empire for fifty-three years, only he thought the emperors
son not good enough for his daughter, to whom indeed she was married after
the death of Charles.
But he had another
sort of person to deal with in Louis the Crafty. For three centuries the
French kings had been engaged persistently in securing their dominion
over the whole of France, and in putting down the arrogance of their nobles.
Philip Augustus had deprived John of half his continental possessions,
and would have expelled him from the whole, only Johns mother being
still alive, he could not deprive her of her inheritance. Charles V.,
called the Wise, had completed the conquest. Two generations afterwards,
and the English kings had not only regained their ancient possessions,
but had even been called to the French throne. Again had they been expelled,
just before Louis the Crafty had come to the throne. He was not likely
to allow the fundamental principle of the French monarchy, viz., to assimilate
and unite to France all that was or had been French territory, to be set
There was nothing
which Louis would not promise or swear. His promises cost him nothing
to break as soon as he could break them with safety. His oath was as good
as his word, and both were worth nothing. Curious inquirers speculated
on what oath would bind his conscience, and professed to have discovered
it in a particular title of the Virgin Mary. But there is grave doubt
on this subject. Now what could a wild headstrong duke, who took counsel
with nothing but his own passions, and turned everything to the objects
of his personal ambition, do against this cool, crafty, perfidious monarch,
on whom no law, human or divine, had any binding force, who saw so clearly
through his rivals designs and could turn even his successes against
him? The French nobles stirred up the war of the Public good, and Charles
took their part. He vanquished Louis at the battle of Montlhéry (1465)
and Louis gained all the advantages of victory. In 1468, Louis took the
unaccountable step of throwing himself into the power of his enemy. As
he was at Peronne news came of the rising of Liége and he was imprisoned.
He had to make terms with his foe; he seemed to be vanquished, but he
came out in the end victorious.
The ambition, the
wars, the prodigality of Charles left him no resource but to pillage the
Netherlands. His pride, his insolence, his ferocity, displayed in childhood
before Bruges, led him to oppress them. He could not endure the appearance
of resistance to his will, or even the possibility of it. He centralized
a despotism in Holland, governed the country by his deputies, and taxed
it at his pleasure. He removed its supreme court from the Hague to Mechlin,
where the Court would be under his control, and he maintained a standing
army against the liberties of the states.
The unfortunate constitution
of the Netherlanders destined through the war of independence, and for
centuries afterwards to induce weakness in their counsels, and disunion
among themselves, aided theprojects of Charles, as it did that of Margaret,
of Alva, of Requesens, of Parma.
The Flemish towns
were practically little republics, though not so in form. They were busy,
energetic, populous. But except in the fact that they were eager to vindicate
their privileges, they had no other common purpose. Flanders had no national
unity; on the contrary, the several cities were isolated, suspicious,
and jealous of each other. It even seems that their commercial rivalry
was so keen from time to time, as to make one city such as Ghent or Bruges
contented or even pleased at the depression or even ruin of the other.
A shrewd and active despot could therefore destroy the liberties of the
Netherlands, by attacking the cities in detail, being pretty sure that
the imperilled liberties, say of Bruges, would not seriously awaken the
sympathies or secure the active assistance of Ghent.
Again, though this
mischief was not developed till a later day, the Netherlanders suffered
from the misfortune of a titled and powerful aristocracy, which though
often turbulent, was extravagant, violent, and treacherous. We shall see
when we part company with the ten obedient provinces, and confine ourselves
entirely to the history of Holland, that the folly, the extravagance,
and the treachery of the Flemish nobles was a principal factor in the
imperfect success of William of Orange and his energetic son. In the struggle
which the Italian republics made for liberty it was soon discovered that
the nobles could not be trusted. They were therefore excluded from all
share in the government. In course of time the Florentines went further,
and got rid of a turbulent, treacherous, or dangerous citizen, by putting
him into the ranks of the nobility and thereby effacing him. It would
have been well for the Netherlands had such a policy been adopted in their
At first, Charles
the Headstrong treated his Flemish subjects with greater kindness than
any of their previous overlords. His father, as has been stated above,
declared himself free from the obligations of his predecessors, and from
the conditions under which he had entered into their inheritance. There
is little doubt that the emissaries of Louis the Crafty stirred up the
Netherlanders to demand the restoration of their privileges. He wished
to find his most dangerous enemy employment, and to prevent him from meddling
again in the affairs of France. But at first Charles disappointed him.
He was, to be sure, secretly indignant with the people of Ghent, on account
of the danger they had put him in, and the promises they constrained him
to make. However, he confirmed the privileges of the towns to Ghent, to
Brussels, to Brabant, to Antwerp, to Malines, and to a host of others.
This moderation did
not last long. The people of Liége rebelled and were subdued. Charles
deprived them of their municipal rights, and forced the other Flemish
cities to surrender theirs. He superseded their magistrates, and exacted
taxes from them without waiting for their consent, or respecting their
refusal. The burghers of Liége broke out with a new rebellion, and that
at the moment when Louis the Crafty, who was charged, perhaps justly,
with having roused this revolt, was in the power of Charles at Peronne,
a place where Charles the Simple, a former king of France, had been imprisoned
and murdered 560 years before. For a time it was feared that Charles would
follow the ancient precedent. But he took counsel, compelled Louis to
accept humiliating conditions, and, among other particulars, to renounce
all sovereignty over the French provinces of the duchy of Burgundy, and
all interference in the affairs of the Netherlands. Louis was forced to
comply, and even to take part in the punishment of Liége. From henceforth
the Duke of Burgundy found no obstacle to his projects against the liberties
of the Netherlanders, and in particular he established a complete military
despotism in Holland.
At last Charles the
Headstrong quarrelled with the Swiss. He had appointed one Hagembach as
his deputy in a district of Alsace which was frequented by Swiss merchants.
The deputy plundered them, and Charles paid no attention to the complaints
of the Swiss envoys. In 1474, the inhabitants of Brisach captured Hagembach,
tried him, and executed him. On November 13th, they first came into collision
with the Burgundians, near Hericourt, and routed them decisively.
Charles did not attack
them in person till the beginning of the year 1476. On March 3rd, he met
them at Granson, near the Lake of Neufchâtel. When the battle had
raged near six hours, when no impression had been made on the mountaineers,
and some of the best of the Burgundian captains had fallen, the mist which
hung over the battle rose, and the astonished army of Charles saw the
second division of the Swiss peasants descending upon them, fresh and
eager for the fight. A panic seized the Burgundian army; Charles himself
was hurried away in the rout, and all his treasure fell into the hands
of the Swiss. His diamonds, we are told, were sold by the captors for
trifling sums. They imagined that his vessels of gold and silver were
copper and tin. Of these diamonds the three largest came ultimately into
the possession of the Pope, the Emperor of Germany, and the King of France,
and are still in the tiara and crowns of these potentates.
The soldiers of Charles,
whom he summoned to his standard by the threat of punishing them as deserters,
reassembled at Lausanne, and marched to Morat, near Berne. Thither the
Swiss confederates also marched. On June 22nd, the battle was joined,
and the Swiss again defeated Charles, with immense slaughter. Charles
again had to fly, and did not draw bridle till he reached the Lake of
He was beside himself
with rage, and henceforth his actions were those of a madman. He had been
twice beaten by peasants whom he despised, and had lost his treasures
and artillery. The rich cities of the Netherlands could make good his
losses, and he resolved on a third attempt. On October 22nd, he undertook
the siege of Nancy. On Christmas Day the Swiss marched to relieve it.
On January 5th, he met his enemies and perished. Two days afterwards his
body was discovered, or was thought to be discovered, amid a heap of slain,
and frozen into a muddy stream. The end of no person in that age was more
tragic. He seemed at one time to be the foremost man in Europe.
Louis the Crafty
at once despoiled his daughter of her French possessions, and wished to
get the guardianship of her and her patrimony in the Netherlands. But
the Netherlanders knew the old fox too well by this time. They thought
that they might recover their liberties from her; they knew that his rule
would be even worse than that of Charles.