Netherlands - Mary Macgregor

The Plot Against Orange and its Success

Within two years there had been five different attempts to assassinate the Prince of Orange, all of them encouraged by the Spanish Government. It was inevitable that a sixth should soon follow.

The Prince had withdrawn to Delft, a quiet and drowsy little city not far from Rotterdam. Here he watched with regret the growing numbers of Catholic nobles and men of note who were being drawn again under the power of Spain by the subtle fascination of the Prince of Parma. Even his own brother-in-law had gone over to Spain, while his brother John, though true to his country, had left the land some years before.

The Prince of Orange felt the growing isolation of his position. Yet while he lived quietly apart in the house on the banks of the quiet tree-fringed canal of Delft, he toiled ceaselessly for the cause which was so dear to his heart. It was here, in the quiet little village, that a special messenger from the French Court came with despatches telling of the death of Anjou. On Sunday, July 8, 1584, the Prince of Orange, while still in bed, sent for the bearer of the despatches, that he might hear from him further particulars of the Duke's last illness. The courier was admitted to his presence, and proved to be a youth who, in the early spring, had claimed the protection of the Prince, his plea being that he was the son of a Protestant who had suffered death for the sake of his religion. In reality, however, Francis Guion, for so he called himself, was Balthazar Gerard, a Catholic and a fanatic.

Balthazar, who was twenty-seven years of age, was usually to be seen with a Bible or hymn-book under his arm, as he modestly walked along the streets of the city. A pious psalm-singing fellow he seemed, of whom little was thought, so incapable was he deemed of taking any important share in the business of life. But Balthazar was not what he appeared in character any more than in religion, for in his retiring manner was wrapped a desperate and daring spirit. From childhood he had been trained to hate the Prince of Orange, and he was taught that he would secure the safety both of the Catholic religion and of his most Catholic Majesty Philip II., should he rid the world of one who was an enemy to each. When but twenty years of age he had stuck his dagger into a door with all his might, exclaiming, as he did so, "Would that the blow had been in the heart of Orange."

No sooner had the ban against Orange been published, than Balthazar became more than ever anxious to carry out his long-cherished design against the life of the Prince. He offered his services to Parma, asking for a small sum of money that he might purchase a pistol with which to do his cruel deed. But Parma had already advanced sums to many a would-be assassin, who had spent the money indeed, but never attempted to do the deed for which it had been given, and he at first refused to have anything to do with the shabby-looking individual who now applied to him. Persuaded, however, by his counsellors, Parma eventually promised that Balthazar should receive the promised reward should he indeed succeed in ridding Spain of her great enemy, and should he die as the result of his crime, the reward should be given to his heirs. And now Balthazar, with his despatches, stood in the bedroom of the man who had befriended him, but against whom he had a long and carefully cherished hatred. The interview was entirely unexpected, and the traitor, unarmed, with no plan of escape yet formed, could do nothing save answer the questions of the Prince with what calmness he could call to his aid. As he was dismissed from the bed-chamber the church bells began to ring. But Balthazar did not seem to hear them, as, with his Bible tucked under his arm, he lingered in the passages of the Prince's house. Before long a halberdier noticed him, and demanded what he was waiting for. Balthazar meekly answered that he wished to attend service in the church, which was opposite, but that without at least a new pair of shoes and stockings, he was unfit to join the congregation. The good-natured soldier told the needs of the courier to an officer, and the Prince, happening to hear of his poverty, himself ordered a sum of money to be given to Balthazar. With the sum thus provided by the bounty of the Prince, Balthazar the following day bought a pair of pistols, bargaining long before he would give the soldier from whom he bought them the price he asked. Before many hours had passed, the soldier, hearing to what use the pistols he had sold had been put, was broken-hearted. Life could never again mean aught but grief to him, and in his despair he stabbed himself to death.

On Tuesday, July 10, 1584, about half-past twelve, the Prince, with his wife leaning on his arm, went towards the dining-room. Balthazar was at the door waiting, and, pushing himself in front of the Prince, he demanded a passport. His excitement and pallor attracted the attention of the Princess Louisa, and she asked anxiously who he was. "Merely a person come for a passport," carelessly replied the Prince. But the Princess was dissatisfied: "I have never seen so villainous a countenance before," she murmured. At two o'clock, dinner being over, the Prince rose from the table and led the way, intending to go to his private apartments alone. He reached the staircase, which was completely lighted by a large window, and began slowly to ascend. He had only reached the second step, when, from a sunken archway, Balthazar crept forth, and, standing within a foot or two of the Prince, discharged a pistol full at his heart. As he fell, the Prince cried out in French: "O my God, have mercy upon my soul! O my God, have mercy upon this people!" These were his last words, save that when his sister asked him if he commended his soul to Jesus Christ, he faintly murmured "Yes," and shortly after he breathed his last.

William the Silent


The murderer had laid his plans well, and succeeded in escaping through a side door. Quickly he sped up a narrow lane, at the end of which a horse awaited him. But pursuers were following hard on his steps. In his desperate haste Balthazar stumbled, and before he could recover himself he was seized upon by several pages and halberdiers and dragged back to the Prince's house. There was no merciful voice now to cry, "Do not kill him, I forgive him my death," and after a strict trial, Balthazar was condemned to be executed. The sentence, accompanied by untold horrors, was carried out on July 14, 1584, the people, by torturing the criminal, vainly trying to stay the grief into which he had plunged them.

Stricken and forlorn, the nation mourned the loss of the Prince of Orange, while little children wept when they were told that never more would "Father William" be seen in their streets. As a grateful token of their love, the nation voted an ample provision for the widow and children of the Prince who had given his possessions, as well as his life, in their service, while Maurice of Nassau, who in the future was to lead his country to the peace which his father had desired for it, was given a position of influence in the Government of the land.

Did it seem that Spain had triumphed, that William the Silent was slain, his work being yet undone? But he had struck a great blow for freedom, with results that reached far out beyond his dreams. He had laid the foundations of the Dutch Republic, laid them so deep and strong that on them was reared, by those who worthily bore his name, a great and world-wide empire.

Spain had indeed not triumphed, save in the seeming, for verily, as the wise man said, "The righteous and his works are in the hand of God."