Netherlands - Mary Macgregor

The Struggle Between Spain and the Provinces Grows Desperate

For a long time Alva had been impatient to leave the Provinces. Even he had begun to weary of the never-ceasing curses which assailed his ears. "The hatred which the people bear me," he wrote to Philip, "because of the chastisement which it had been necessary for me to inflict, although with all the moderation in the world, makes all my efforts vain. A successor will meet more sympathy and prove more useful." Accordingly, in the beginning of the year 1572, the Duke of Medina Coeli had been sent from Spain to inquire into the state of the country, and eventually to take Alva's place as Governor-General of the Netherlands. But Medina Coeli, after having narrowly escaped being taken prisoner by the Sea-Beggars, found that the country was threatened by so many dangers, that the strong hand of a military chief was still necessary, and Alva was requested by Philip to retain his post of Governor-General, while in the following year Medina Coeli returned to Spain.

The Duke could not easily brook his position. Where he had formerly been able to enforce his will he now found himself compelled to yield. The attempt to enforce the tenth-penny tax had proved his undoing.

In July 1572 deputies sent to Philip by the Estates returned in safety with the public assurance that the tax was suspended, and a private hint that it was only to save the Duke's dignity that it was not entirely abolished. Alva, before the return of the deputies, had professed himself ready to abolish the whole tax, on condition that the States-General of the Netherlands would provide him with a yearly supply of two millions of florins.

Both concessions came too late. The Estates of Holland, goaded by the thought of Alva's attempted exactions, had already resolved to formally renounce his authority. They met, in answer to a summons from William of Orange, at Dort on July 15, 1572. Sainte Aldegonde, as the Prince's representative, spoke eloquently of the sacrifices Orange had in former years made for his country, and urged the States to come to his help in the larger struggle that lay before him. The meeting was roused to a wild enthusiasm, men crying that their lives and their gold were at the service of their Prince. They straightway resolved to recognise him as lawful Stadtholder over Holland, Zeeland, and Friesland, and to use their influence with the other provinces to procure his recognition there also. The surrender of Mons, and with its fall the subjection of the Southern Netherlands to Alva's yoke, made their influence in this direction of no avail.

But while Brabant and Flanders were again submissive to Alva, in Zeeland the conflict between the power of Orange and the Duke was still waging, for on the Island of Walcheren Middleburg still held for the King; and from Middleburg Zeeland lay open to attack, and might yet find itself subjugated once more by the Duke, whose authority the province had dared to disown. Alva resolved, if possible, to strengthen the garrison at Tergoes, which fortress defended the important town of Middleburg, for it was weak, and unless reinforced would be compelled to yield.

Meanwhile Zeraerts, who commanded for the Prince in the Island of Walcheren, though both brave and faithful, was unfortunate. He laid siege to Middleburg and had to retreat. He laid siege to the little city whose downfall would inevitably cause Middleburg to surrender, and again he had to retreat. Flushing had shut her gates on Zeraerts and his troops for several days, so angry was she with his failures.

Determined to retrieve his disgrace, Zeraerts now assembled a force of 7000 men, and, marching against Tergoes on August 26, 1572, again laid siege to the city. D'Avila, who had been ordered by Alva to throw reinforcements into the besieged city, had attempted to do so both by land and sea, but in vain. Baffled but not beaten, the Spaniards had recourse to a daring scheme. Between Tergoes and the mainland there was a track of "drowned land," as it was called, which at low tide it was possible to ford. The average depth was between four and five feet, while the tide rose and fell at least ten feet. The track was muddy and treacherous, while the passage across was about ten miles. Mondragon, a veteran colonel in the Spanish army, saw his opportunity. He would march his men across the channel at ebb-tide. Secretly he assembled 3000 picked men. Each soldier carried on his head a sack, in which was a supply of biscuits and powder. When the ebb-tide had flowed half out, Mondragon, preceded only by his guides, plunged into the waves, followed by his army almost in single file. Never lower than the breast, the water often rose higher than the shoulder. Steadily the little band followed their determined leader, and indeed they dared not linger. Should they not have crossed the passage within six hours, the tide, rising again, would have engulfed them. Before day dawned the deed was done, while of the 3000 troops only nine had been drowned. D'Avila, watching anxiously from the starting-point, was strangely elated as he saw the beacons lighted on the farther shore, assuring him of the safety of the troops. A brief rest, and then Mondragon marched his veteran band to Tergoes.

Zeraerts commanded the land with his army, the sea with his fleet. Whence then had these Spaniards stolen upon him through the darkness and through the silence of the night? A panic fell upon the patriot army, and Zeraerts found it impossible to induce his men to fight. They turned and fled to their ships, pursued by the Spaniards, who overtook and destroyed the whole of the rear-guard before it could embark.

Thereafter Tergoes was reinforced by the courageous veterans, and Middleburg continued to wave the Spanish flag from its ramparts.

Alva was indeed vindicating the power of the Spanish arms. Mons was taken, Mechlin sacked, and now Don Frederic was ordered to reduce the northern and eastern provinces. The dread of Alva was on the cities, and Don Frederic met with little resistance from those which but lately had received the Prince of Orange with acclamations. Zutphen in her hardihood attempted to resist the entrance of the King's troops, and terribly did she suffer for her daring. Alva ordered his son to kill every man and to burn every house to the ground. Without a moment's warning Don Frederic ordered the garrison to be massacred. The citizens were stabbed in the streets, or hanged on the trees of the city, or stripped naked and turned out into the fields to freeze to death in the wintry night. Five hundred burghers were tied, two and two back to back, and drowned in the river Yssel, while a few who escaped were afterwards dragged from their hiding-places and hanged by their feet upon the gallows, some of them suffering days and nights of agony before they died.

What the fate of Zutphen had been was for days unknown, no one daring to go near the city. "A wail of agony was heard above Zutphen last Sunday," wrote a count to his friend, "a sound as of a mighty massacre, but we know not what has taken place."

In Holland, Amsterdam alone held for Alva. From Zutphen, therefore, Don Frederic was ordered to go to that city and from thence undertake the conquest of Holland. But the little city of Naarden, on the coast of the Zuyder Zee, lay on his way, and had not yet formally submitted to the King. Don Frederic would not overlook even this insignificant city.

On November 22, 1572, a company of 100 troopers arrived at the gate of Naarden and demanded it to surrender. The small garrison left by the Prince had little will to resist, but the doughty burghers were made of sterner stuff. They held the city for the King and the Prince of Orange, they cried, and with God's help would continue to do so. After their defiance the town, having neither arms nor ammunition enough to withstand a siege, despatched messengers to Sonoy and other patriot generals in the neighbourhood, entreating them to send reinforcements. But the little town received neither encouragement nor the more practical aid for which it had asked. The messengers returned empty-handed, and Naarden was advised by the patriots to make what terms were still possible. Reluctantly the proud burghers despatched their burgomaster and a senator to make terms with Don Frederic. But the army was already moving towards Naarden, and the envoys were ordered to go with it and receive their answer at the gates. But the burgomaster foresaw an unpleasant end to his mission and determined not to return to Naarden. Accordingly he slid quietly from the sledge in which he was travelling with the senator, and whispering, "Adieu; I think I will not venture back to Naarden at present," he disappeared from sight, leaving the senator to discharge his duties. About half a league from the city the army halted and Naarden was invested. Senator Gerrit was then ordered to return to the town, and next morning to bring to the camp a deputation prepared to surrender.

The following day the envoy returned with a number of citizens. They were met by Romero, who had been deputed by Don Frederic to treat with them. Romero demanded the keys of the city, and receiving a solemn pledge that the lives and the property of the inhabitants should be sacredly guarded, the keys were surrendered and Romero rode into the city, followed by 600 musketeers.

Relief was in the hearts of the inhabitants—they were safe, despite their defiance. They hastened to feast the soldiers, while Romero and the other officers were entertained by Senator Gerrit in his own house. The feasting ended, the great bell was rung and the people assembled in the church that was at that time used as a town-house to listen to what Romero had to say to them. Suddenly a priest entered the church and hurriedly bade the people prepare for death. But time for preparation there was none. The door of the church was flung open and a band of Spanish soldiers dashed in among the defenceless citizens, firing one volley and then slaying them with sword and dagger. When the awful butchery was over, the church was set on fire, and all, dead and dying, were consumed together.

Thereafter the soldiers rushed into the streets, killing all whom they met. Some they pierced with rapiers, some they chopped to pieces with axes, some were tossed by groups of laughing soldiers to and fro on their lances and mocked at in their agony. So lost to humanity were the soldiers that they even opened the veins of some of the victims and drank the blood as though it had been wine. And truly the Spanish fiends were intoxicated. Neither man nor woman could escape their fury. The chief burgomaster, who was known to be wealthy, was tortured by having the soles of his feet exposed to a fire till they were almost consumed. In his agony he gladly promised to pay a heavy ransom, but scarcely had he done so when, by the express orders of Don Frederic, he was hanged in his own doorway, his limbs being afterwards nailed to the gates of the city. Shortly afterwards the fortifications of the city were razed to the ground, and all trace of the little town of Naarden was destroyed.

Don Frederic, his dastardly deed accomplished, hastened to Amsterdam, where his father, well pleased with his son's latest achievement, awaited him.