Story of Liberty - Charles Coffin

The Man Who Filled the World with Woe

Never before was there an assembly in Brussels like that which gathers in the great audience-chamber of the king's palace on October 25th, 1555. Princes, nobles, dukes, lords, ladies, archbishops, and a crowd of church prelates are there. The clock strikes three, and those for whom they are waiting enter the hall. Who are they? There comes a broad-shouldered man, with an ugly face, shaggy beard, white hair, crooked nose, and large under-lip. He has lost all his teeth, except a few stubs. Once he was straight as an arrow; but now he walks with a crutch, and has to lean upon another's arm. He looks to be seventy, yet is only fifty-five. It is Charles, Emperor of Germany, King of Spain, Naples, and the Netherlands—the man before whom Doctor Luther made his plea for liberty at Worms. For more than a third of a century Charles has been at war—Iris armies marching through Spain, Germany, France, and Italy. He has an empire in the New World larger than all his domains in Europe, for, since he carne to the throne, Hernando Cortez has overturned the throne of Montezuma. They have discovered the Pacific Ocean, have found mountains of silver and gold in Peru. They have been in the Floridas, and marched under De Soto to the Mississippi. His empire is greater than that ruled by Caesar. Although he is so great a potentate, the gout has got hold of him. He is an enormous eater. At five o'clock in the morning the eats a chicken fricasseed in sweetened milk; then he has a long nap. At twelve o'clock he has a superb dinner of twenty dishes, and drinks a, bottle of wine. At four o'clock he eats his first supper, a heartier meal than his dinner, with pastry and sweetmeats, and drinks goblets of beer. At midnight he eats his second supper, and drinks more beer. He is always hungry, yet everything tastes alike; for, abusing his stomach, he has lost the sense of taste.

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


The man upon whose arm he leans is only twenty-two, tall, handsome, with dark-brown hair, broad forehead, and clearly cut features. He has brown eyes, and wears a mustache and beard. Although he is so young, he has been appointed commander-in-chief of the army which has been fighting against Admiral Coligny, general of the French armies. People call him William the Silent and Prince of Orange. He is the son of William called the "Rich." He came to Brussels, when he was only eleven years old, to be educated. Charles V. was here, and took a liking to the boy, making him a page at court. He was so fond of William that he wanted him always by his side. He revealed to ]rim all the secrets of State. There are but few men in the throng that know more of state-craft than this young man. He is quick to hear; he understands the intrigues that are all the time going on among kings and princes, to build up and to tear down; but he has the faculty of keeping his thoughts to himself, or of letting them be known at the right time. Let us keep him in remembrance, for, of all the men that walk the earth, few will do more for liberty than he.

Behind the emperor comes Philip, with spindle-legs, a face like his father's (large mouth, heavy under-jaw), twenty-eight years old, proud, gross, eater of bacon-fat. Little regard has he for justice. What cares he for the rights and liberties of men? Nothing.

One of the bishops is Anthony Perrenot, of Arras, who can speak seven languages. He has been Charles's chief adviser. He detests the people, and hates heretics. The year after Charles was elected emperor he persuaded him to issue all edict against heretics. These were some of the provisions:

No one shall print, write, copy, keep, conceal, sell, buy, or give in the churches, streets, or other places, any book written by Martin Luther or any other heretic.

"Any person who teaches or reads the Bible, any person who says anything against the Church or its teachings, shall be executed.

"Any person who gives food or shelter to a heretic shall be burned to death. Any person who is suspected, although it may not appear that he has violated the command, after being once admonished, shall be put to death.

If any one has knowledge of a heretic, and does not make it known to the court, he shall be put to death.

"An informer against a heretic shall recover one-half of the estates of the accused. If any one be present at a meeting of heretics, and shall inform against them, he shall have full pardon."

The Jesuits establish their torture-chamber. Thousands are put to death. The prisons are filled with accused heretics. Other thousands flee the country, seeking a refuge where no priest shall find them, or where they may be free from persecution. Their estates are confiscated, the property being divided between the men who ask questions, the king, and those who inform against the heretics.

Charles has wrenched money from the people of Holland to enable him to carry on his wars in Germany and Italy. He has trampled on their ancient rights and privileges, making himself a despot. But he is weary of life, and is about to resign his crown to Philip. This is the day selected for his abdication. Since he came to the throne he has burned, or hanged, or otherwise put to death, more than one hundred thousand men and women for reading the Bible. He began to burn them in 1523.

The first victims were two monks, who were burned in Brussels. The priests incited the people to hunt the heretics out of the land. Not a week passed, scarcely a day, that there was not a burning of heretics; but though so many were disposed of, they seemed to multiply faster than ever. In 1535, Charles issued another edict. Thus it ran:

"All heretics shall be put to death.

"If a man who has been a heretic recants, he may be killed by the sword, instead of being burned to death.

"If a woman who has been a heretic repents, she may be buried alive, instead of being burned."

[Illustration] from The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin


For twenty years this has been the law of the land, and the smoke of the burning has been going up to heaven all the time.

Through all these years the emperor has been plundering the Netherlanders, wrenching from them more than two million dollars per annum. Through all these years he has been crushing out the liberties of the State and trampling upon the rights of the people. While heretics are burning, he gives thanks to God for permitting him to carry out such a glorious work. He is very religions—will not eat meat on Friday, goes regularly to mass, counts his beads, says his prayers, and yet looks on with glee while men and women are smouldering in the flames.

The scene is over. Philip wears the crown, and Charles sails to Spain. He goes to Valladolid; and the bishops and priests of the Inquisition get up a jubilee in his honor—the burning of forty men, women, and children, who have dared to think for themselves. So this man—whom we first saw counseling with Henry VIII. and Wolsey, just before the Field of the Cloth of Gold, and just after it; before whom Martin Luther stood at Worms; whose army has sacked the city of Rome; who took Francis prisoner, and treated him inhumanly; who has filled the world with woe —retires to spend the remainder of his life in seclusion, not fasting and praying, but eating like a glutton, reading despatches, counseling Philip—requiring him to hang and burn till there shall not be a heretic remaining in all his dominions. Even in his retirement he fills the world with woe.