IV. REQUESÉNS AND DON JUAN: 1573–78

To replace him Philip sent Don Luis de Requeséns, lately Spanish Viceroy of Milan. The new governor was surprised by the number and the spirit of the rebels. “Before my arrival,” he wrote to the King, “I did not understand how they could maintain such considerable fleets, while your Majesty could not support a single one. It appears, however, that men who are fighting for their lives, their firesides, their property, and their false religion—for their own cause, in short—are contented to receive rations only, without receiving pay.”37 He begged Philip to allow him to grant a general amnesty to all but persisting heretics, to allow these to emigrate, and to abolish the 10 per cent tax on sales. William of Orange saw in these proposals merely a play for time and a new device for extirpating Protestantism from the Netherlands; he would accept peace only on full freedom of worship, the restoration of provincial privileges, and the withdrawal of all Spaniards from civil and military posts. The war continued. In the battle of Mook (April 13, 1574) William’s brothers Louis, aged thirty-six, and Henry, aged twenty-four, lost their lives.

Two events helped the revolt at this point: Philip went bankrupt (1575), and Requeséns died while besieging Zierikzee (March 5, 1576). The King appointed his half-brother, Don Juan of Austria, to the ungrateful post, but Juan did not reach Luxembourg till November. During this interval the representatives of Holland and Zeeland signed at Delft (April 25) an Act of Pacification, which gave William supreme command on land and sea, the power of appointment to all political posts, and even, in emergency, the right to confer the protectorate of the confederation upon a foreign prince. Speaking with his new authority, he appealed to the other provinces to join in expelling the Spaniards from the Netherlands. He promised liberty of conscience and worship to Catholics and Protestants alike.

His appeal would probably have met with little response in the southern provinces had not the Spanish soldiery, cheated of pillage at Zierikzee, mutinied (July) and begun a campaign of indiscriminate plunder and violence that terrorized Flanders and Brabant. The Council of State at Brussels reprimanded them; they defied it; the Council declared them outlaws, but had no force to oppose them. William offered to send military protection, and renewed his pledge of religious freedom. The Council hesitated; the people of Brussels overthrew it and set up another Council under Philippe de Croy, who opened negotiations with the Prince. On September 26 Ghent welcomed a body of troops sent by William to protect it from the Spanish mutineers. On October 19 delegates from Brabant,Flanders, and Hainaut met at Ghent; they were reluctant to ally their states with the outlawed Prince; but on the twentieth the mutineers sacked Maastricht; on the twenty-eighth the conferees, to secure the protection of William’s troops, signed the “Pacification of Ghent,” which recognized him as governor of Holland and Zeeland, suspended all persecution for heresy, and agreed to co-operate in expelling all Spanish soldiers from their provinces. The States-General of the southern provinces, meeting at Brussels, refused to sign the Pacification, considering it a declaration of war against the King.

Once more the mutineers reinforced William’s arguments. On November 4, 1576, they seized Antwerp and subjected it to the worst pillage in Netherland history. The citizens resisted, but were overcome; seven thousand of them were killed; a thousand buildings, some of them masterpieces of architecture, were set on fire; men, women, and children were slaughtered in a delirium of blood by soldiers crying, “Santiago! España! A sangre, a carne, a fuego, a sacco!” (Saint James! Spain! To blood, to flesh, to fire, to sack!) All through that night the soldiers plundered the rich city; nearly every house was robbed. To extort confessions of hidden hoards, real or imaginary, parents were tortured in their children’s presence, infants were slain in their mother’s arms, wives were flogged to death before their husbands’ eyes. For two days more this “Spanish Fury” raged on, until the soldiers were sated with gold and jewelry and costly clothing, and began to gamble their gains with one another in streets still littered with the dead. On November 28 the States-General ratified the Pacification of Ghent.

It was a timely victory for the Prince. When Don Juan sent word from Luxembourg that he was about to enter Brussels, the States-General replied that it would not receive him as governor unless he accepted the Pacification, restored the charters of the provinces, and dismissed all Spanish troops from the Netherlands. The Don, brave in battle, muddled in diplomacy, soldierless and penniless, fretted the winter through in Luxembourg, then (February 12, 1577) signed the “Perpetual Edict,” which committed him to the Pacification and the provincial liberties. On March 1 Juan made a ceremonial entry into Brussels, and the city was delighted to have so handsome and powerless a governor. The Spanish troops departed, and peace smiled for a moment upon the ravaged land.

Juan’s dreams were larger than his purse. After his exploits at Lepanto and Tunis this helpless majesty chilled his romantic blood. Nearby, in England, the lovely Mary Stuart was a prisoner of that ogress Elizabeth. Why not collect an army and some ships, cross the water, depose one queen, marry the other, be king of England and Scotland, and bring those benighted regions back to Mother Church? Philip, who feared the gap between ducats and dreams, set his brother down as a fool. Juan proved it by suddenly leaving Brussels (June 11), putting himself at the head of a Catholic Walloon regiment, and repudiating the Pacification. After fruitless negotiations with Juan, the States-General invited William to the capital. On his arrival (September 23) he was welcomed by a large part of the Catholic citizenry as the only man who could lead the Netherlands to freedom. On October 8 the States-General notified Don Juan that it no longer recognized him as governor, but would accept, in his place, a prince of the blood. On December 10, 1577, all the provinces except Namur bound themselves together in the “Union of Brussels.” The Catholic members of the States-General, fearing William’s Calvinism, asked Matthias, Archduke of Austria, to accept the government of the Netherlands. The youth of twenty came and was installed (January 18, 1578), but William’s supporters persuaded the new governor to appoint him as his lieutenant—actually the master of administration and policy.

Only mutual toleration of religious diversity could have preserved this association, and intolerance shattered it. The Calvinists of Holland, like the Catholics of Spain, held that only unbelievers could practice toleration. Many of them openly called William of Orange an atheist.38 The Calvinist preacher Peter Dathenus charged him with making the state his god and changing his religion as others changed their clothes.39 The Calvinists were (and till 1587 remained) only a tenth of the population in the province of Holland, but they were active and ambitious, and they were armed. They won control of the political assemblies; they replaced Catholic with Protestant magistrates; in 1573 the Estates, or provincial council, forbade all Catholic worship in Holland,40 on the ground that every Catholic was a potential servant of Spain. By 1578 Calvinism was almost universal in Zeeland, and was politically—not numerically—dominant in Friesland. Waves of image-breaking swept over Holland and Zeeland in 1572, and after 1576 in other provinces, even in Flanders and Brabant. All association of religion with art was repudiated as idolatrous or profane. Churches were stripped of pictures, statues, crucifixes, and decoration; gold and silver vessels were melted down; bare walls remained. The Beggars tortured Catholic priests and put some to death.41

William condemned these procedures, but connived42 at the seizure of political power by armed Calvinist minorities in Brussels, Ypres, Bruges, and all northern Flanders.43 At Ghent the victorious Calvinists imprisoned the councilors, sacked and gutted churches and monasteries, confiscated ecclesiastical property, prohibited all Catholic services, burned monks in the market place,44 and set up a revolutionary republic (1577). At Amsterdam (May 24, 1578) armed Calvinists entered the town hall, banished the magistrates, replaced them with Calvinists, and gave the denuded churches to the Reformed worship. On the following day a similar uprising transformed Haarlem. At Antwerp, which was now William’s headquarters, the Protestants drove priests and monks from the city (May 28); the Prince berated his followers for their violence and persuaded them to let Catholic services be resumed, but in 1581 all Catholic worship was forbidden in Antwerp and Utrecht. The Calvinists charged that the priests had deceived the people with bogus relics and manipulated miracles—exhibiting fragments of the “true cross,” holding up old bones for adoration as those of saints, and secreting oil in the heads of statues to make them opportunely sweat.45

William mourned to see his years of labor for unity ending in division, chaos, and hate. The Calvinist democracy that had captured several cities was falling into such anarchy that men of property, Protestant as well as Catholic, began to wonder whether the new dispensation was not, for them, worse than the old, placards and all. William met this rising demand for order by negotiating with François, Duke of Anjou, to take over the governorship from the incompetent and negligible Matthias, but Anjou proved treacherous and worthless. As a culminating misfortune for the Prince, a new Spanish army of twenty thousand well-trained men was marching north under the ablest general of the age. In December 1577 Alessandro Farnese, Duke of Parma, brought his army to Don Juan in Luxembourg. On January 31, 1578, they defeated the undisciplined forces of the States-General at Gembloux. Louvain and a dozen minor towns opened their gates to the new conqueror. The States-General of the Netherlands fled from Brussels to Antwerp. Don Juan, smelling new glory, caught a malignant fever, and died at Namur October 1, 1578, aged thirty-three. Philip appointed Farnese governor general, and a new chapter began.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!