THE STORY OF HOLLAND.
DON JOHN OF AUSTRIA.
Philip was engaged in selecting his viceroy, trouble befel his government
in the Netherlands. Immediately after the fall of Zierikzee the Spanish
troops mutinied. They had been unpaid for years, and no money was forthcoming
from Spain. The Netherlands had been nearly drained, and it is probable
that neither Philip nor his lieutenants desired to utterly impoverish
the obedient provinces. The practice of these mutineers was to depose
their own officers, or, at least, to disobey them, and to elect a temporary
chief, to whom they gave, under the name of Eletto, full powers as long
as they pleased to continue them. It was a dangerous pre-eminence, for
a deposed or distrusted Eletto was pretty sure to forfeit his life with
The mutineers demanded
a city, and succeeded in capturing Alost. Thence they threatened Brussels.
They could make no impression on it; so, having exhausted Alost, they
resolved on attacking Antwerp. The mutineers had been outlawed by the
Government, but were in communication with the governor of the citadel
of Antwerp. The Spaniards burst into the city, overpowered its defences,
and the Spanish fury took place on November 4th. It surpassed in horror
and atrocity anything which happened during the war. The soldiers paid
themselves handsomely, for it is said that they divided among themselves
five millions of crowns.
The sack of Antwerp
hastened the pacification of Ghent, which William had been negotiating.
It provided, though unfortunately it was short lived, for the union of
all the provinces of the Netherlands, for complete amity among them, and
for the restoration of all the old liberties. It was signed on November
8, 1576, by the deputies of Holland and Zeland, on the one hand, and by
those of thirteen other states or cities, on the other. The Spanish soldiery
was to be expelled, and the Inquisition was to be abolished. At the same
time, Zierikzee and the island of Schouwen were abandoned and recovered.
Four days before the pacification of Ghent was signed, a cavalier, attended
by a Moorish slave, rode into Luxembourg. The slave was in reality Don
John of Austria, the new governor, who entered on his office in this strange
Don John of Austria
was an illegitimate son of Charles V. His mother is said to have been
a washerwoman of Ratisbon, who lived, during Alvas administration
and to his exceeding discomfort, at Ghent. She lived there till her son
arrived as governor, when she was persuaded or forced to retire into Spain.
When an infant John was put under the care of a Spanish grandee and carefully
educated. When he was fourteen years of age, the secret of his birth was
made known to him by Philip. He was educated in the company of his two
nephews, Don Carlos, the heir-apparent of Spain, and Alexander of Parma.
It appears that Philip designed him for the Church, but Don John was nothing
but a soldier, and, after a struggle, he had his way.
The battle of Lepanto,
in which John defeated the Turks, was fought in October, 1571, and the
fame of the commander was on every ones tongue. But the victory
was barren. The allies might have taken Constantinople, but they began
to quarrel with each other. John strove to create for himself a kingdom
in Tunis. But Philip interfered. Then Don John, with the goodwill of the
Pope, determined to invade England, to dethrone Elizabeth, to liberate
and marry the imprisoned Mary Stewart, and make himself king of England
and Scotland. As he was gaining the Popes assent, news came to him
that he had been appointed Governor-General of the Netherlands. It seemed
as though his dream was almost accomplished. There were ten thousand Spanish
troops there, the bravest veterans in the world. He would soon, he imagined,
quiet the discontents of the Flemings, and then win his kingdom. It was
true that the news from the provinces was daily more unsatisfactory, as
he was waiting for the last instructions of the dilatory Philip. Freed
at last, he hurried, as I have said, in disguise through France.
WINDOW OF AN OLD HOUSE AT GRONINGEN.
this knight-errant, William was to exert all his energies and all his
abilities. He implored the States not to treat with John, but to resist
him, unless he immediately sent away the Spanish and other foreign troops.
For a time the States-General were firm, for they insisted on the Ghent
Pacification. Don John affected to listen to them, and agreed to send
away his troops, only stipulating that they should go by sea. He intended
to make a descent on England. The States began to suspect his determination
in the manner of their removal. The Ghent treaty was followed by the Brussels
Union, the main point of which was the expulsion of the Spaniards. Meanwhile
Friesland and Groningen had been gained by the Dutch. At last Don John,
after much fencing, agreed to accept virtually the Pacification of Ghent.
He held firmly however to his demand that the troops should leave the
Netherlands by sea. In a short time this was conceded also by Don John,
and on February 17, 1577, the treaty between Philip and the Netherlands
was signed at Brussels. By this treaty Don John and subsequently Philip
agreed that all foreign troops should be withdrawn, never to return except
in case of foreign war, that all prisoners should be released, except
the eldest son of Orange, who had been kidnapped nearly twenty years before,
though he should be set free as soon as his father came into the treaty.
It promised to maintain all the privileges, charters, and free institutions
of the Netherlands and confirmed the peace of Ghent.
It now seemed that
the Netherlands had gained all they asked for, and that everything for
which they had contended had been conceded. The Blood Council of Alva
had almost extirpated the Reformers, and an overwhelming majority of the
inhabitants of the Low Countries with the exception of the Hollanders
and Zelanders, belonged to the old Church, provided the Inquisition was
done away with, and a religious peace was accorded.
But Don John had
to reckon with the Prince of Orange. In him William had no confidence.
He could not forget the past. He believed that the signatures and concessions
of the governor and Philip were only expedients to gain time, and that
they would be revoked or set aside as soon as it was convenient or possible
to do so. Apart from his knowledge of the men with whom he had to deal,
he had intercepted letters from the leading Spaniards in Don Johns
employment, in which, when the treaty was in course of signature, designs
were disclosed of keeping possession of all the strong places in the country,
with the object of reducing, the patriots in detail. He saw that the citadels
which had been built were still to be in the hands of the King of Spain,
and he well knew what this meant.
Above all, William
distrusted the Flemish nobles. He knew them to be greedy, fickle, treacherous,
ready to betray their country for personal advantage, and to ally themselves
blindly with their natural enemies. The Perpetual Edict, the name given
to the new treaty, was not, he saw, the same as the Pacification of Ghent,
though it purported to recognize that accord. The very fact that the Flemish
nobles trusted the concessions of Philip, made him the more distrust it
and them. And as events proved, Orange was in the right.
Hence he refused
to recognize the treaty in his own states of Holland and Zeland. As soon
as it was published and sent to him, William after conference with these
states, published a severe criticism on its provisions. He knew perfectly
well that Philip and his deputy would do all in their power to win him
over, even to a seeming consent. They on their part, as their discovered
correspondence shows, knew that the success or failure of their machinations
depended on their success in hoodwinking Orange. The name of your
Majesty, says Don John, is as much abhorred and despised in
the Netherlands, as that of the Prince of Orange is loved and feared.
But the governor did not and could not conceive that there was one thing
which William valued above all offers and all bribes, and that was the
security and freedom of the country whose affairs he was administering.
In all seeming however
Don John was prepared to carry out his engagements. He got together with
difficulty the funds for paying the arrears due to the troops, and sent
them off by the end of April. He caressed the people and he bribed the
nobles. He handed over the citadels to Flemish governors, and entered
Brussels on May 1st. Everything pointed to success and mutual good will.
But we have Don Johns letters, in which he speaks most unreservedly
and most unflatteringly of his new friends, and of his designs on the
liberties of the Netherlands. And all the while that Philip was soothing
and flattering his brother, he had determined on ruining him, and on murdering
the man whom that brother loved and trusted. About this time, too, we
find that Philip and his deputy were casting about for the means by which
they might assassinate the Prince of Orange, who had bewitched the
whole people! Meanwhile they continued to negotiate with him.
HOTEL DE VILLE, BRUSSELS.
attempt of Don John to get possession of the citadel of Antwerp for himself
failed, and the patriots gained it. The merchants of Antwerp agreed to
find the pay still owing to the soldiers, on condition of their quitting
the city. But while they were discussing the terms, a fleet of Zeland
vessels came sailing up the Scheldt. Immediately a cry was raised, The
Beggars are coming, and the soldiers fled in dismay. Then the Antwerpers
demolished the citadel, and turned the statue of Alva again into cannon.
After these events,
William of Orange put an end to negotiations with Don John. Prince William
was in the ascendant. But the Catholic nobles conspired against him, and
induced the Archduke Matthias, brother of the German Emperor Rodolph,
to accept the place of governor of the Netherlands in lieu of Don John.
He came, but Orange was made the Ruwaard of Brabant, with full military
power. It was the highest office which could be bestowed on him. The Union
of Brussels followed and was a confederation of all the Netherlands.
But the battle of Gemblours was fought in February, 1573, and the patriots
were defeated. Many small towns were captured, and it seemed that in course
of time the governor would recover at least a part of his lost authority.
But in the month of September, Don John was seized with a burning fever,
and died on October 1st. His heart was buried at Namur, but his body was
carried to Spain.