Netherlands - Mary Macgregor

The Duke of Anjou's Reception and Subsequent Treachery

It was in the autumn of 1581 that the report reached the Netherlands that the Duke of Anjou, their future Sovereign, was betrothed to Elizabeth, Queen of England. The tidings were celebrated with the blaze of bonfires and illuminations, for it pleased the Provinces that their future lord should be favoured by so great a Queen. But by the end of January 1582 the Duke of Anjou saw that there was little prospect that the wedding would ever take place, and he accordingly agreed to set sail for the Netherlands, where the States, urged by Orange, were now preparing for his reception as Duke of Brabant and Sovereign of the United Provinces.

On February 10 fifteen large vessels were to be seen approaching the coast of Flushing. They had been looked for eagerly by the Prince of Orange and a large deputation of the States-General, for on board the fleet was the Duke of Anjou, accompanied by many English nobles.

Francis, Duke of Anjou, as he stepped on to the pier of Flushing, looked the insignificant and vacillating prince he was. Below the middle height, puny and badly formed, his features swollen and distorted, there was neither dignity nor beauty in the appearance of the new master of the Netherlands. He had led both Huguenots and Catholics to the wars. With no religious convictions, it was a matter of indifference to the Duke which party he served, save for the reward to be earned, and thereby he had gained the contempt of the sincere in both religious parties. Yet his intelligence and wit were such that he to a large extent deceived so wise a reader of men as the Prince of Orange. It was this flippant, insincere, and ambitious schemer who was now to be welcomed to the Netherlands, welcomed to a country whose inhabitants were themselves grave and earnest, and who, above all other virtues, looked for truth in their new-found protector.

From Flushing, on February 17, the Duke set sail for Antwerp, attended by a fleet of fifty-four vessels covered with flags and streamers. He stepped on shore at Kiel, which was but a bowshot from the city, for here, as the custom was, the oaths of the constitution would first be administered before he entered the city itself. On a large platform a throne covered with velvet and gold had been erected, and here the Duke took his seat, while in the frosty winter morning the sun shone on the bright uniforms of the burgher troops and on the magnificent costumes of the leading members of the Brabant estates. Amid the silence of the vast multitude assembled at Kiel the Duke of Anjou took the solemn oaths which bound him to protect the people over whom he ruled. And now the ducal hat and the velvet mantle, lined with ermine, were brought, and the Prince of Orange, flinging around Anjou the mantle of the Brabant dukes, fastened the button at the throat, saying, "I must secure this robe so firmly, my lord, that no man may ever tear it from your shoulders." Thus arrayed, Anjou listened to a long oration from a magistrate of Antwerp, from whom he then received the keys of the city, returning them thereafter for safe keeping to the burgomaster of the town. The ceremony was complete. Trumpets sounded, gold and silver coins were scattered to the people, and the heralds cried aloud, "Long live the Duke of Brabant!"

A procession was then formed to escort the Duke into Antwerp. He was seated on a white Barbary horse, covered with cloth of gold, and surrounded by English, French, and Netherland nobles. Among them rode the stately Earl of Leicester and Sir Philip Sidney, the knight of chivalry; while not to be hidden was the tall, gaunt figure of William the Silent, at whose side rode his son, Count Maurice of Nassau, a dark-eyed lad of fifteen, and members of many another noble house followed in the train. The crossbow men and archers of Brabant formed the bodyguard of the Duke, while after them came the French cavaliers, the lifeguardsmen of the Prince of Orange, and a long concourse of troops. The procession ended in a dismal group of 300 malefactors, whose irons clanked as they marched mechanically along. But hope was theirs, for they had come to implore pardon of the new Sovereign, and they knew that the boon would be granted them ere the day was over. Torches were burning along the road although it was noon. Endless chariots delayed the progress of the procession. It was night ere the sights and speeches ended and Anjou reached the palace of Saint Michael, which had been fitted up for his reception.

The following day the terms of the treaty made with the new Sovereign by the Estates were made public, and deputations crowded to congratulate the Duke.

A little more than a month later—it was on March 18, 1582—the first result of the ban pronounced against the Prince appeared. A foreign merchant at Antwerp, whose fortune was in great straits, bethought himself that the price set on William's head would save him from ruin. Not having, however, courage himself to do the deed that would gain the prize, he spoke to a bookkeeper, only to find him unwilling to soil his hands by so dastardly a deed as his master suggested. In a clerk, also a foreigner, the merchant at length found his tool. Juan Jaureguy was easily persuaded that the Prince of Orange was a tyrant, and that to kill him was to do God service. Moreover, he was told that immediately after the deed was done he would become invisible, and therefore would himself be in no danger. Jaureguy, with many fervent prayers to the saints, undertook to do the deed. He even promised, the poor duped lad, should he be successful, to give to Christ "a new coat of costly pattern," and to the shrine of the Virgin a gown, a crown, and a lamp.

Invited in the evening to a festival to celebrate the birthday of Anjou, the Prince of Orange dined in the early part of the day in his own house. Count Hohenlo, two French noblemen, and Maurice of Nassau were with him at table. Dinner being over, the Prince was leading his guests to his own apartments when a small, shabbily dressed youth suddenly appeared before him. It was Jaureguy, who was holding out a petition and pleading that Father William would receive it. The lowliest had access to the Prince at all times, and the appearance of the shabbily dressed clerk had attracted no attention. "Father William" reached out his hand and took the petition. As he did so Jaureguy drew a pistol and discharged it at his head. The ball entered the neck under the right ear, passed through the roof of the mouth, and came out under the left jawbone. So close had the pistol been held that the hair and beard of the Prince were set on fire. For a moment William was stunned, then, recovering himself, he called out quickly, "Do not kill him, I forgive him my death." But his words were too late to save the assassin, for his deed was no sooner done than two noblemen thrust him through with their rapiers, while immediately afterwards the halberdiers rushed upon him, till he fell, pierced in thirty-two places.

For many weeks the Prince lay between life and death. In the city the anxiety was extreme. A suspicion was aroused that the plot had been devised by the French, and had such been the case well might the Duke of Anjou and his followers have feared for their lives. Papers, however, found on the body of the assassin proved that the deed had been done for the sake of Spanish gold, and Antwerp forgot its anger in its grief.

On Wednesday, March 21, a solemn fast was held in the city, work and amusements were laid aside, and the citizens crowded into the churches and with tears prayed for the recovery of their Prince. As a slow improvement was announced, thanksgiving mingled with the entreaties that were still offered daily in the churches. But again on April 5 hope was changed to gravest fear. The wound had burst, and it was found impossible to bandage it sufficiently to stop the loss of blood. A simple plan was then resorted to. A succession of attendants, relieving each other day and night, checked the flow of blood by keeping the wound slightly compressed with the thumb. The anxiety slowly lessened as once again the wound closed, and it was known that the life of the Prince was saved. By the end of April he was convalescent, and on the 2nd of May 1582 he went to offer thanks for his recovery in the great Cathedral, surrounded by a vast throng of glad and grateful citizens. But his wife, Charlotte of Bourbon, worn out by the nights of watching and the tension of her hopes and fears, was seized by a violent fever, under which she sank on the 5th of May, but three days after the public thanksgiving for her husband's recovery.

Soon after the Prince's recovery, the offer of the sovereign Countship of Holland was again pressed upon him. This honour, which he had accepted in July 1581, but only during the term of war, he now accepted, August 14, 1582, without limitation. But before the arrangements for conferring the new honour upon him were completed, the price set on the Prince's head had been gained, and he no longer lived to serve the country he loved so well. Thus it was that the Northern Provinces remained a republic, not only in fact, as would have been the case with William as Count, but also in name.

The exertions of the Prince on behalf of the Duke of Anjou, interrupted by his illness, were now resumed. By his influence Anjou found himself accepted as Lord of Friesland and Duke of Gelderland, and publicly proclaimed at Bruges as the Count of Flanders. But the Duke was dissatisfied. Nobles from France were insulting his dignity and inflaming his jealousy. They whispered that he was governed by the States, he, a son of France. They hinted that he was ruled by the Prince of Orange, and that if he were not already he would soon be but a cipher in the country. And they sneered as they muttered the name of the mild and harmless Matthias.

Always false and fickle, the base nature of the Duke began to bestir itself. Already he hated the Prince, by whose intellect he was overawed and by whose pure life his own was put to shame. He resolved to seize by force of arms the principal cities in his new dominions, and thus at all costs compel submission to his rule. To do this would be to break his solemn oaths, but that counted for nothing to the treacherous Anjou, nor did he scruple to deceive the man from whose hands he had received so many benefits. With the troops at his disposal he made arrangements to surprise eight or ten cities, Antwerp itself being the Duke's special prey.

But in some way alarm had been aroused. On January 16, 1583, a man, masked, had mysteriously entered the main-guard house in Antwerp, and giving warning that a great crime was to be committed, vanished before he could be seized. That the stranger had been a Frenchman was all the guards could tell. It was not difficult for suspicion to gather round the Duke of Anjou, for he was no favourite of the burghers of Antwerp. The captain of the city guard went to the Prince, as men did in difficulty. He asserted his entire confidence in the Duke, but suggested that the lanterns should be hung out and the drawbridge raised an hour before the usual time. He also sent the burgomaster to Anjou to tell him of the suspicions which were being circulated in the city. But the Duke of Anjou assured the burgomaster that he was willing rather "to shed every drop of blood in the defence of the city than to attack her secretly." So solemn were his assurances, and so indifferently did he seem to regard the precautions taken to protect the city, that the burgomaster felt that for that night at least the city was secure.

On the following morning a deputation, accompanied by Orange, called on the Duke. Again Anjou asserted his loyalty to his oaths as well as his affection for the Netherlands, for Brabant, and most of all for Antwerp. So guileless was the Prince that he withdrew, believing he had deeply wronged the Duke by even questioning his fidelity. Anjou had, however, promised not to leave the city that day, yet shortly after the Prince had left him he wrote begging William to accompany him to a review of his troops, which was to take place at Bergenhout, outside the city gates. In this way the Duke hoped to secure the Prince and take him prisoner. But Orange declined the invitation, reminding the Duke of his promise to remain within the walls of the city.

After dining at noon, the Duke, at the head of his bodyguard and about 300 mounted men, rode out of the Palace yard towards the Kip-dorp gate. This gate opened into the road towards Bergenhout, where Anjou's troops were stationed. Antwerp was quiet, the streets deserted, for it was one o'clock, when all the inhabitants would be dining. The guard at the Kip-dorp gate saw the Duke approaching, listlessly, with his troops. They crossed the first drawbridge, still in a leisurely manner, then, on a sudden, Anjou had risen in his stirrups and was waving his hand. "There is your city, my lads," cried he to the troops behind him; "go, take possession of it." Then, putting spurs to his horse, he galloped off towards his camp at Bergenhout.

No sooner had the Duke left than one of his bodyguard pretended to have broken his leg, and the commanding officer at the Kip-dorp gate stepped forward to his help, only, however, to receive a desperate thrust from the Frenchman's rapier. "Broken leg! Broken leg!" the cry was shouted as Anjou's watchword, and as soon as it was heard the band of troopers attacked the burgher watch at the gate, and butchered every man. Then, leaving a force to protect the gate so easily secured, the rest of the Frenchmen entered the town at full gallop, shouting, "Long live the Duke! Long live the Duke!" The troopers were soon followed by the soldiers from the camp at Bergenhout. They poured into the town, 600 cavalry, 3000 musketeers. From the Kip-dorp gate the soldiers rushed along the two main streets towards the town-house, shouting as they rushed, "The town is ours, the town is ours! Kill, kill, kill!"

The burghers, their suspicions verified, flew to arms. Chains and barricades were thrown across the streets. Trumpets shrilly called to the city guards, who swarmed to the rescue. Catholic and Protestant grasped each other by the hand and swore to die side by side in defence of the city against the treacherous Duke of Anjou and his Frenchmen. In the market-place the invaders met each moment with a fiercer resistance. Women and children mounted to the roofs and windows and hurled down, not only chimneys and tiles, but tables and chairs, upon the heads of the assailants. Citizens who had exhausted their bullets, wrenched the silver buttons from their coats, or twisted gold and silver coins with their teeth and used them as bullets. The Frenchmen, blinded by the missiles that descended on them and beaten by the wild fury of the burghers, attempted to retreat. Many threw themselves into the moat, while others struggled through the streets back towards the Kip-dorp gate. Here a ghastly sight met their eyes, the slain being piled in the narrow passage ten feet high. Outside the gate some of Anjou's officers were attempting to force their way over the awful mass of bodies into the city, while from within the city the fugitive soldiers were trying to force their way out through the same terrible barrier, many dropping on the heap of slain under the blows of the unrelenting burghers. The Count to whom Anjou had entrusted the expedition stood directly in the path of the runaway soldiers, upbraiding them with cowardice, and actually slaying ten or twelve of them with his own hands to stay their flight. But there were many of the French officers—high-minded men these and true—who had known nothing of the treacherous plans of their chief, and who now bitterly reproached him for his ignoble deed, while one cursed him to his face. Anjou could stand no more—the reproaches ringing in his ears, his treachery fully revealed, he mounted his horse and fled from the scene of his defeat.

Duke of Anjou


The Prince of Orange, in a distant part of the town, knew nothing of what had happened till the burghers had gained the victory. He then hastened to the ramparts and persuaded the citizens to cease firing at the still retreating foe. And the citizens, remembering the Spanish Fury of 1576, of which they could not yet think without a shudder, thanked God that the French Fury had been frustrated and their city saved.

From this time the French were more entirely distrusted, and the Prince of Orange, in attempting to effect a reconciliation between the States and Anjou, brought on himself many reproaches. His marriage, shortly after, to Louisa, daughter of the well-known Admiral Coligny, still further embittered those who dreaded the French alliance.

In June 1583 the Duke of Anjou returned to Paris, writing farewell letters to the Prince and the States. It was understood that arrangements would be made for restoring to him the sovereignty which he had so soon and so basely forfeited. But the negotiations, which were carried on languidly between the Duke and the Estates, were finally ended by his death on June 10, 1584.

To Parma the French Fury had been of advantage, for while the Netherlanders were engrossed in their dealings with the Duke of Anjou, he moved from town to town, making himself master of Zutphen and all the district of Waes. Bruges was gained in the spring of 1584, and shortly afterwards Ypres, which had long been besieged by the Spanish, was forced to surrender. The military skill of Parma, combined with his mastery over the minds of men, was slowly re-establishing Philip's foothold in the Netherlands.