Netherlands - Mary Macgregor

Philip Leaves the Netherlands

There was much to be done ere Philip could leave the Netherlands. Early in 1559 he began the necessary preparations.

The Duke of Savoy, who by the treaty of Cateau-Cambresis had regained his duchy, was no longer able to act as Regent of the Provinces, and it was necessary for Philip to find a successor. Passing over both Egmont and William of Orange, either of whose appointment would have pleased the country, Philip's choice alighted on the Duchess Margaret of Parma. Perhaps one reason for his choice was that the Duchess was known to Philip as a loyal Catholic, and one who felt a greater horror of heretics than of any other evil-doer. She looked upon the edicts or placards which ordained that all who were convicted of heresy should suffer death "by fire, by the pit, or by the sword," as divinely inspired, and there would be little doubt that she would enforce these terrible edicts according to Philip's zealous decrees. Her accomplishments, save in the art of horsemanship, were not remarkable, her appearance was masculine, her manner not devoid of fascination. The appointment of the Duchess was not distasteful to the people of the Netherlands, for by birth she was their countrywoman, and her early years had been lived among them.

To assist the new Regent there was a Council of State, a Privy Council, and one of Finance. The Council of State was the most important of these, and among its members were the Bishop of Arras, the Prince of Orange, and Count Egmont. In reality there was one man who possessed at that time more power than either the Regent or any of the three councils, and he was Anthony Perrenot, Bishop of Arras.

Meanwhile peace had not brought entire satisfaction to the Provinces; indeed, there was a growing murmur of dissatisfaction against Philip, caused by the presence of a foreign force of about four thousand men, which was still detained in the country and placed in garrisons throughout the frontier, where the treaty had rendered their presence unnecessary. Not only were these soldiers fed on the substance of the country, and their wages drawn from her treasury, but their rough and boorish manners made them a terror to the people among whose homes they were quartered. Yet it was perhaps the fear that Philip's purpose in detaining them was that he might one day use these foreign troops in the battle which they knew was before them, the battle for religious and political freedom, perhaps it was this growing fear that made the whispers against the retention of the troops ever louder and more ominous.

The Provinces, convoked by the King, met at Ghent in August 1559 to receive his parting instructions and farewell. The sturdy burghers who came thither met in a temper but little favourable to the King. When Philip, followed by Margaret of Parma, the new Regent, and a stately retinue, had entered the council chamber, the Bishop of Arras, the King's interpreter, arose and addressed the States-General. In his easy, eloquent manner he told them that Philip had called them together to bid them farewell before he left the Netherlands, the country so dearly loved by him; that he would gladly have remained in it had it been possible to do so. The silence of the assembly left the specious untruth without comment. The Bishop, then proceeding to business, reminded the Provinces that all the money that had been taken from their coffers had been spent for their protection. For this reason Philip earnestly hoped that the States would grant the "request" which was now laid before them.

Margaret of Parma was then introduced, the Bishop adding that he believed the States would find her faithful both to the interests of the King and to those of the country. But for Philip the point of his speech lay in what was to follow, for it dealt with what he believed to be his mission in life. There were many in the country, Arras reminded them, called heretics, and every new sect of these, following in the footsteps of his father, Charles V., Philip was determined to destroy. He had therefore commanded the Regent, Margaret of Parma, for the sake of religion and for the glory of God, "accurately and exactly to cause to be enforced the edicts and placards first proclaimed by the Emperor, and renewed by his present Majesty, for the extirpation of all sects and heresies." All holding office in the land were ordered also to do their utmost to help to accomplish this, the great mission of Philip's life. The address ended, the deputies adjourned to consider the "request."

The next day the chairman of the province of Artois spoke, referring to the extreme affection the province had for his Majesty. It was willing, so said the eloquent deputy, to expend not only its property, but to give its lives in his service.

Philip, standing with his arm on Egmont's shoulder, looked well pleased as he listened to these expressions of loyalty. But the deputy chairman was still speaking. As compensation for its devotion to the royal service the province of Artois earnestly entreated Philip forthwith to order the departure of all foreign troops, the treaty of Cateau-Cambresis having fortunately made their presence unnecessary. Deputy after deputy of the different provinces had voted their share to the "request," but each one had made the withdrawal of the troops a condition prior to payment. But at the mention of the foreign troops Philip threw himself violently into his chair of state, deeply offended with the language addressed to him, nor did he attempt to conceal his rage. Already angry, he entirely lost control of his temper when a formal remonstrance on the same subject, which had been signed by the Prince of Orange, Count Egmont, and many other leading nobles in the Netherlands, was presented to him. Casting aside his usual mask of reserve, he arose and rushed from the assembly, shouting to the members as he went. Was he, too, being a Spaniard, expected immediately to leave the land and to give up his authority over it?

But the burst of ill-humour over, Philip regained his usual reserve, and skilfully dissembled his displeasure in a letter written to the expectant States-General. If they thought from the tenor of the letter that they had gained their request, that the King was indeed yielding to their wishes, they had yet to learn more of the character of their King. He promised the speedy departure of the troops, and even said that had he known the wishes of the States-General he would have been glad to carry the foreign troops to Spain in his own fleet. As it was, he would pay for their support himself, and remove them in the course of three or four months at the latest, and in the meanwhile he had chosen the Prince of Orange and Count Egmont to take command of them—a paltry trick this to reconcile the nation to the presence of the hated troops in the land.

Determined to be gracious, Philip, in spite of the violent scene that occurred, took leave of the assembly with apparent cordiality. His displeasure, which he could not altogether conceal, and which in the end once again caused him to betray his resentment, was directed against the nobles, especially against the Prince of Orange.

William the Silent


The arrangements at length completed, the King proceeded to Zeeland, where, in the Port of Flushing, a gallant fleet awaited him. A large body of Flemish nobles escorted him to the royal ship, among them William of Orange. As Philip stepped on to the ship which was to carry him for ever from the Netherlands, his eye lighted upon the Prince. With angry face he turned to him and bluntly accused him of being the true source of all the opposition he had met with in the recent meeting of the States. William quietly answered that what had been done had been done through no individual act, but by the united act of the States. "No," rejoined the incensed monarch, seizing him by the wrist and shaking him violently, "No, not the Estates, but you, you, you!"

After this public insult the Prince of Orange did not venture on board the King's vessel along with the other Flemish nobles, but awaited the departure of the fleet from the wharf. The voyage was a stormy one, but Philip landed in safety on the 8th September 1559.

The following year, 1560, amid all the splendour and stateliness of a royal wedding, Philip was married for the third time, his young bride, Elizabeth of France, daughter of Catherine de Medici, becoming more popular in the country than any queen of Castile.

In 1563 Philip finally established his capital at Madrid, which, according to the Castilian boast, was "the only court in the world."