THE STORY OF HOLLAND.
ALEXANDER OF PARMA.
new governor of the Netherlands, son of Ottavio Farnese, Prince of Parma,
and of Margaret of Parma, sister of Philip of Spain, was a very different
person from any of the regents who had hitherto controlled the Netherlands.
He was, or soon proved himself to be, the greatest general of the age,
and he was equally, according to the statesmanship of the age, the most
accomplished and versatile statesman. He had no designs beyond those of
Philip, and during his long career in the Netherlands, from October, 1578,
to December, 1592, he served the King of Spain as faithfully and with
as few scruples as Philip could have desired. The king survived the prince
for nearly six years. But he survived nearly all those who took part in
the prolonged struggle in the Netherlands. Bad as his constitution was,
his methodical life and his entire freedom from any passion whatever but
selfishness allowed him to grow old.
Parma was religious,
but he had no morality whatever. He was not bigoted like Alva, for he
was politic, and knew that unwise severity might baffle a commander and
ruin a campaign. But he had no scruple in deceiving, lying, assassinating,
and even less scruple in saying or swearing that he had done none of these
things. Men whose creed is that they have an indefeasible right to the
lives and fortunes, and even the consciences of their subjects, as they
call them, are seldom scrupulous. Now such men, if they possess military
genius in time of war, and diplomatic skill in times of peace, are and
always will be (for the type exists, though the manner is changed) the
worst enemies of the human race. To complete the picture of Parmas
character, it should be added that he was entirely disinterested. He impoverished
himself, wore himself out, was lavish in bribing others, but was temperate,
plain in his habits, unsparing of his own life, and entirely disinterested.
He had an excellent judgment of men, and indeed he had experience of the
two extremes, of the exceeding baseness of the Flemish nobles, and of
the lofty and pure patriotism of the Dutch patriots. Nothing indeed was
more unfortunate for the Dutch, than the belief which they entertained,
that the Flemings who had been dragooned into uniformity, could be possibly
stirred to patriotism. Alva had done his work thoroughly. It is possible
to extirpate a reformation. But the success of the process is the moral
ruin of those who are the subjects of the experiment.
Parma, there was a suitor for the Netherland sovereignty, in the person
of the very worst prince of the very worst royal family that ever existed
in Europe, i.e., the Duke of Anjou, of the house of Valois. This
person was favoured by Orange, probably because he had detected Philips
designs on France, and thought that national jealousy would induce the
French Government, which was Catherine of Medici, to favour the Low Countries.
Besides, Parma had a faction in every Flemish town, who were known as
the Malcontents, who were the party of the greedy and unscrupulous nobles.
And, besides Anjou, there was the party of another pretender, John Casimir,
of Poland. He, however, soon left them. Parma quickly found in such dissensions
plenty of men whom he could usefully bribe. He made his first purchases
in the Walloon district, and secured them. The provinces here were Artois,
Hainault, Lille, Douay, and Orchies. They were soon permanently reunited
On January 29, 1579,
the Union of Utrecht, which was virtually the Constitution of the Dutch
Republic, was agreed to. It was greater in extent on the Flemish side
than the Dutch Republic finally remained, less on that of Friesland. Orange
still had hopes of including most of the Netherland seaboard, and he still
kept up the form of allegiance to Philip. The principal event of the year
was the siege and capture of Maestricht. The Hollanders could not make
up their mind to the sacrifice which was necessary in order to save it.
Mechlin also was betrayed by its commander, De Bours, who reconciled himself
to Romanism, and received the pay for his treason from Parma at the same
time. In March, 1580, a similar act of treason was committed by Count
Renneberg, the governor of Friesland, who betrayed its chief city, Groningen.
He had assured the burgomaster of the city the night before, that such
guilt was far from his thoughts, and murdered the burgomaster next day.
The honest men of this age were the burghers. With few exceptions, the
nobles were corrupt, and when they were not corrupt, often disgraced the
cause they served by violence and cruelty, by drunkenness and recklessness.
In this year, Philip
became also King of Portugal. He not only now had the whole of the Spanish
peninsula under his sway, but he succeeded to that estate in the East
Indies which Alexander the Sixth, of pious memory, had conferred on the
Portuguese king nearly a century before. The event was important, because
the quarrel of the Low Countries with Spain led to the creation of the
Dutch East India trade, and to the foundation of the Dutch Empire in the
Moluccas. We shall see in the course of this narrative how the Dutch had
their opportunities, and insisted on the rights which they had acquired.
In the same year,
June, 1580, was published the ban of Philip. This instrument, drawn up
by Cardinal Granvelle, declared Orange to be traitor and miscreant, made
him an outlaw, put a heavy price on his head (25,000 gold crowns), offered
the assassin the pardon of any crime, however heinous, and nobility, whatever
be his rank. Philip had tried to cajole him. He had tried, by enormous
offers, to bribe him. He was now determined, if possible, to murder him;
and at last, after four years anxious strivings, he succeeded. William
answered the ban by a vigorous appeal to the civilized world. He had,
indeed, but a limited, perhaps a powerless audience, for the doctrine
of political assassination had been taught for some time by the Jesuits.
They had conspired against Elizabeth, but the Queen was well informed.
Walsingham had a quick scent for these vermin, baffled them while he lived,
and had his successors or disciples in the craft. But William, while he
sent his Apology to all the potentates in Europe, was certain
of the sympathy and affection of the Dutch States then assembled at Delft.
Renneberg, the traitor,
laid siege to Steenwyk, the principal fortress of Drenthe, at the beginning
of 1581. There were Malcontents in the place, and foremost among them
was a butcher, who wanted to know what the population was to eat when
the meat was gone. We will eat you, villain, the commander
answered, first of all, so you may be sure you will not die of starvation.
In February, John Norris, the English general, one of Elizabeths
chickens of Mars, relieved the town. Renneberg raised the siege, was defeated
in July by the same Norris, and died, full of remorse, a few days afterwards.
But the most important
event in 1581 was the declaration of Dutch Independence, formally issued
at the Hague on the 26th of July. By this instrument, Orange, though most
unwillingly, felt himself obliged to accept the sovereignty over Holland
and Zeland, and whatever else of the seven provinces was in the hands
of the patriots. The Netherlands were now divided into three portions.
The Walloon Provinces in the south were reconciled to Philip and Parma.
The middle provinces were under the almost nominal sovereignty of Anjou,
the northern were under William. The Prince of Orange really desired that
the sovereignty of Holland should also be conferred on Anjou, but the
Estates would not have him, and would have none but William, Father William
as they affectionately called him.
name was now discarded from public documents, his authority was formally,
as it long had been effectively, disowned; his seal was broken, and William
was thereafter to conduct the government in his own name. The instrument
was styled an Act of Abjuration. At this time, it seems surprising
that so much delay was made in performing an act, which had virtually
been in operation for almost a generation. But just as the value of history
consists in extracting wisdom for the future from the experience of the
past, because the record of social life to have value must be continuous,
and because even the remote past has its bearing on the present, so it
is quite necessary, if we are to have any reality in our interpretation
of the past, to project ourselves into it, and strive with all our powers,
original or borrowed, to realize what the past was. An English historian,
when he was asked when modern history began, instantly answered with,
The call of Abraham, and, indeed, the historical student cannot
neglect without serious injury to his study of what is after all the scanty
fragments of human action which survive, anything whose influence is still
The fact is, the
action of the Dutch Republic was the first appeal which the world has
read on the duties of rulers to their people. Men have revolted a thousand
times against tyranny and misgovernment, sometimes successfully, more
frequently to be crushed into more hopeless servitude. The Dutch were
the first to justify their action by an appeal to the first principles
of justice. They were the first to assert at human institutions, and human
allegiance to governments are to be interpreted and maintained by their
manifest utility. They were the first to assert and prove that men and
women are not the private estate of princes, to be disposed of in their
industry, their property, their consciences, by the discretion of those
who were fortunate enough to be able to live by the labours of others.
They were the first to affirm that there is, and must be, a contract between
the ruler and the people, even though that contract has not been reduced
to writing, or debated on, or fought for; and strangely enough, the idea
which lay under this doctrine was derived from that which had now become
the principal instrument of oppression and wrong doing. The feudal system
from which the Dutch broke away, was the origin of the tenet that the
duties of the ruler and the subject are reciprocal.
But this doctrine
had been buried and forgotten. In modern times constitutional antiquaries
have exhumed it and wrangled over it. The other doctrine, sedulously taught
by venal lawyers and ambitious priests, that every right which man has
is held at the discretion of the prince, and that every opinion he entertains
is to be guided, controlled, or abandoned at the bidding of the priest,
had smothered the more ancient theory of reciprocal obligation. The two
rulers, king and priest, had entered into a compact. The latter was to
teach the doctrine of passive obedience, the former was to support the
creed which the latter thought proper to promulgate, with the secular
arm. During the whole of the seventeenth century, the English clergy were
teaching the doctrine of passive obedience from the ten thousand pulpits.
A century after the declaration of Dutch Independence, Hobbes, who believed
nothing, laid down the doctrine that a subject ought to take that creed
which the discretion of the king supplied him with.
It is impossible
to over-estimate the timeliness, the significance, the value of the Act
of Abjuration. The sturdy Hollanders, at a time when public liberty seemed
entirely lost, and despotism had become a religious creed, began the political
reformation. The teachers of Europe in everything, they are the first
to argue that governments exist for nations, not nations for governments.
And as precedents, especially successful ones, govern the world, the Dutch
gave the cue for the English Parliamentary war, and the English Revolution,
to the American Declaration of Independence, to the better side of the
French Revolution, and to the public spirit which has slowly and imperfectly
recovered liberty from despotism.