Netherlands - Mary Macgregor

Granville and Orange

Margaret, Duchess of Parma, entered on her duties as Regent with enthusiasm, but from the outset she was beset with difficulties. She had indeed little more than the show of power, the Bishop of Arras, Vigilius, and Berlaymont, her chief advisers, having been imposed on her by the King, with secret instructions that she was to be guided by them on all important occasions. In reality this inner Cabinet of three was composed of only one, for it was the Bishop whose mind conceived and whose will carried out all the serious projects of the State. William, Prince of Orange, and Count Egmont were also members of the Council, having been elected by Philip on account of their great influence with the people. Yet so seldom were they consulted by the inner Cabinet, that their presence on the Council of State was of but little service to the country.

Anthony Perrenot was made Bishop of Arras when only twenty-three years of age. He had been the favourite confidant of the Emperor, and had determined to gain the trust of the Emperor's son. He had succeeded in making himself indispensable to Philip during the four years that the Prince had spent in Brussels, and he never after lost the influence he had then gained. The Bishop had learned the great art of managing men. While appearing to obey he governed them, while giving advice he seemed only to be receiving it. Thus it was that Philip, unconsciously to himself, was ruled and guided by the Bishop of Arras. A firm opponent of the national rights of the Netherlanders, he had opposed the assembling of the States-General before Philip left the country, and had his advice been followed his master would have been spared the remonstrances of that body. Throughout Philip's reign he never ceased to decry any attempt of the State to interfere with the subsidies which were demanded.

It was by this Churchman's advice that the cruel edict of 1550, edict of blood and fire, was re-enacted as the first measure of Philip's reign. That the people should suffer did not trouble him, for his contempt for them was complete. Grasping at riches, he was never easily satisfied, and as early as 1552 the Emperor had rebuked his greediness. But of indolence the Bishop could never be accused by his worst enemies. He wrote with his own hand fifty letters a day. He corresponded with Philip on all matters of State, and all despatches and letters passed through his hands before they reached the Regent, or were discussed by his colleagues on the Council. Supporting with his influence the King's decision to increase the number of bishoprics in the Netherlands, he was rewarded by receiving the see of Mechlin, and shortly afterwards became Cardinal Granvelle. So great was the opposition to the new bishoprics, and so bitter the hatred incurred by Granvelle because he supported their introduction into the country, that while willing to give his life and fortune to ensure the success of the measure, he was yet forced to cry in the bitterness of his spirit, "Would to God that the erection of these new sees had never been thought of!"

It was not surprising that many of the nobles should resent Granvelle's usurpation of power, and should determine to thwart the ambitions of the priest who well-nigh controlled the springs of government. In the forefront of the dissatisfied nobles stood Egmont and William of Orange. Egmont, the popular hero of Saint Quentin, was known and beloved throughout the country, where his vanity and the weakness of his nature were but imperfectly known. William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, was a man of stronger fibre, a man whose influence from this time told with daily increasing power on his countrymen.

William was born in 1533, and when he was but eleven years of age had come into the possession of a large domain in Holland, and a still larger property in Brabant. The splendid inheritance of Chalons and of the principality of Orange were also his. He was educated in Brussels, under the care of the Emperor's sister, Mary of Hungary. When only fifteen he became a page in the royal household. The Emperor, with his usual insight into character, quickly recognising the remarkable intelligence of the lad, treated him as an intimate and almost as a confidential friend; nor was the young Prince allowed to withdraw, even during interviews upon the gravest matters of State. Here, during his early days at court, William had time to study men, and ponder over their actions and motives.

The Emperor's regard for the Prince increased as the years passed. His appointment, when only twenty-one years of age, as General-in-Chief of an army of 20,000 on the French frontier was, while surprising to many, justified by the way he acquitted himself while in command. On the occasion of his abdication Charles commended his favourite to Philip, who, after the French war, sent him as one of the four commissioners to negotiate in the treaty of Cateau-Cambresis. He remained in France as hostage, along with the Duke of Alva, for the carrying out of the conditions of the treaty, and it was during that time that he made the astounding discovery which affected all his future life.

While hunting with King Henry in the forest of Vincennes, the Prince found himself alone with the monarch. Henry's thoughts were not with the hunt, but with the great scheme which he and Philip had secretly planned, by which heresy was to be crushed out of the realms of France and of the Netherlands. The Duke of Alva knew of the scheme, was indeed to conduct the necessary arrangements for its furtherance, and King Henry, thoughtlessly concluding that the Prince of Orange was also privy to the plot, spoke to him without reserve of the whole subject. Horror-stricken, but outwardly composed, the Prince listened while the King told him that his conscience would never rest till his realm should be delivered from the "accursed vermin," for such to him were all heretics; listened while the King piously told how, by the favour of Heaven and the aid of the Spanish king, he hoped soon to wipe the rebels off the face of the earth. Then before his still silent companion, King Henry proceeded to lay the details of the royal plot, in which all heretics, whether high or humble, were to be hunted out and massacred at the earliest opportunity. It was to aid in this scheme that Philip was desirous to keep the Spanish regiments in the Netherlands.

The Prince, gaining thus his well-known name of William the Silent, betrayed neither by word nor gesture aught of the horror and indignation that were burning fiercely in his heart.

But from that hour his purpose was immovably fixed: he would deliver his country from the doom overhanging it. And to this end he was no sooner back in the Netherlands than he used all his influence to excite opposition to the presence of the Spanish troops, of which forces he, along with Count Egmont, had been appointed to take command. It was not at this time sympathy with the faith of the Reformers that caused his action, rather it was, as he himself said, "compassion for so many virtuous men and women thus devoted to massacre," that stirred him to do all in his power to save them.

On Philip's departure from the Netherlands William had received instructions to execute the edicts with absolute rigour. The King had even supplied him with the names of several "excellent persons suspected of the new religion," and commanded him to have them put to death. This, however, the Prince of Orange not only omitted to do, but gave them warning so that they might escape, "thinking it more necessary to obey God than man."

While the King was in the Netherlands, William had been living in Brussels in princely style. He entertained for the monarch, who thought himself too poor to perform his own duties of hospitality. Guests crowded to the hospitable mansion of the Prince, and were welcomed with so charming a grace that even those of less exalted rank were immediately at ease. Both parties, indeed, united in admiration of William's courtesy. "Never," says a Catholic historian, "did an arrogant or indiscreet word fall from his lips. Even to his servants he was gracious, and however much they might have been in fault, he reproved them always without menace or insult." But his lavish hospitality and his indulgence in the chase, particularly in the knightly sport of falconry, were a drain on even his princely fortune, and he was already deep in debt. He wrote thus carelessly of the fact to his brother, Louis of Nassau: "We come of a race who are somewhat bad managers in our young days, but when we grow older we do better."

And William the Silent was indeed to do better as the years rolled by. The struggle in which he was now engaged was but in its infancy, yet as it grew to vast proportions the Prince braced his manhood for the tremendous contest, and stood alone, erect, a leader, head and shoulders above all others, in his country's struggle for religious freedom. Never capable of the dashing exploits which had made the name of Egmont famous, perhaps one of the chief sources of his greatness was his caution; indeed, "the counsel of Orange, the execution of Egmont," had already become a proverb among the people. The genius of the Prince was denied by none, not even by his most persistent enemies, who were forced to bow before the keenness of his intellect and his marvellous insight into human nature. In spite of his surname, "The Silent," William in years to come proved himself eloquent beyond others on many great public occasions, and in private his conversation made him a delightful companion.

Such was the Prince of Orange, who now, with Egmont and other of the Flemish nobles, stood opposed to the growing authority and control exercised by the Bishop of Arras in the government of the Netherlands.