Netherlands - Mary Macgregor

The Inquisition Resisted

Granvelle had fallen, and with his fall oppression and tyranny would come to an end! So thought the people as they exulted over the absence of the Cardinal. The nobles returned to their seats in the Council of State, and Orange and Hoorn again wrote to the King expressing their desire to serve him.

But to serve the King faithfully was no easy task, for Granvelle had left behind him a corrupt Government. Justice there was none, bribery was rampant in the land. For gold, crimes were pardoned, passports given, offices of trust sold. For gold there was immunity from law, while those who had no money awaited its terror helplessly, unable to avert stripes, imprisonments, or the sterner sentences of the faggot and the sword.

Amid the corruption and bribery stood William the Silent, his honour untarnished. It was true that the Cardinal had accused him of being in difficulties on account of his enormous debts, but he had never been able to suggest that the Prince had eased his load of debt by helping himself from the public treasury. The cares of his country were already pressing on William heavily, and causing him more anxiety than could his own private affairs. Though but thirty years of age his face was already lined with care. "They say the Prince is very sad," wrote a courtier to Granvelle, "and 'tis easy to read as much in his face. They say he cannot sleep." And the King in his distant capital feared Orange, but yet for a little while was content to watch and to use him.

Meantime the people in the Provinces were learning that the removal of Granvelle meant no cessation of the horrors of the Inquisition. In Flanders unheard of barbarities were inflicted, not upon evildoers, but usually upon those whose lives were spotless and whose conduct none could condemn. Petitions were showered upon the Regent. The burgomasters, senators and council of the city of Bruges did not, however, stop to petition; they protested, in language none too smooth, for Peter Titelmann was daily in their midst, dragging people from their houses, and even from the sacred shelter of their churches, to torture and to death. And this, though always done under the pretext of heresy, was often but the inquisitor's revenge for some fancied slight or injury committed against himself. At the same time the four Estates of Flanders sent to the King an account of Titelmann's cruelties, and demanded that they should be suppressed. The enormities were committed, indeed, in direct violation of their ancient charters, which he had sworn to support.

The appeal to Philip was vain, save as it supplied his heretic-hunting mind with pleasure. Verily Peter Titelmann was doing work to the King's liking. As for the Duchess, who in truth was herself in mortal fear of the terrible inquisitor, and never dared to refuse the interviews he demanded, her reply to the city of Bruges was of little comfort. She could do nothing without the King's permission, though meanwhile she had charged Titelmann to be both "discreet and modest" in his duty, which charge had no effect in checking the infamous course of the inquisitor.

The King, as the Regent very well knew, was more than ever determined to destroy all heretics in his dominions. He had written that the Council of Trent, which would establish yet more firmly the power of the Pope, was to be proclaimed and received as law throughout the Netherlands, and at the same time the edicts were to be more thoroughly enforced. The Regent, feeling that the King had not realised the fierceness of the opposition that now existed against the religious persecution, determined once again to send a special envoy to Spain, and Count Egmont was selected for the difficult task. Vigilius prepared the Count's instructions and laid the rough copy before the Council, but it lacked the directness necessary in dealing with the King, and thereby roused the Prince of Orange. Egmont was being sent to the King that he might learn the truth. Then let him be told that the edicts, scaffolds, new bishoprics, hangmen and inquisitors must be at once and for ever abolished, for the Netherlands were free provinces, and were determined to assert their ancient privileges. Thus spoke William the Silent with an eloquence and vehemence never before heard from his lips.

And his words carried conviction. The instructions for Egmont were again drawn up, this time in plainer terms, and the Count set off for Madrid early in January 1565. He was received graciously by Philip, who not only feasted and flattered the ambassador, but loaded him with gifts, sparing no pains to win the esteem of the weak and vacillating Count. And Egmont was deceived. Philip was the most generous and clement of princes, and having eight daughters and many debts, the Count accepted the royal bounty of one hundred thousand pounds in all good faith. But flattery had turned the vain Count's head, and he had little inclination for the public matters which had brought him to Madrid. The negotiations between the monarch and the ambassador were of the slightest. The King professed his readiness to yield on other questions, but on the subject of religion he stood firm. And if Egmont was deceived as to Philip's intentions, as he afterwards complained, it seems but too evident that the deception was self-imposed. As for the affair of the livery, designed by Egmont to ridicule the Cardinal, the King was given to understand it was but a foolish jest, and with a gentle rebuke for the past, and an order to discontinue the livery henceforth, the subject was apparently dropped and forgotten.

By the end of April Egmont was again in Brussels, and early in May he met the Council, conveying to them his impression of the clemency and goodwill of the King towards the nation. But letters which arrived from Spain not long after showed that Egmont had either mistaken the King's meaning, or had been himself deceived by his words; for, as regarded the Inquisition at least, no concession was to be expected from Philip.

The indignation of Orange and his followers was extreme. The royal word could not be trusted, they asserted, since so soon after Egmont's departure the King was able to write despatches in a tone very different to the one he had used in his conversations with the envoy. In vain the Duchess attempted to soothe the nobles, while Egmont was furious that he had allowed himself to be duped. But his rage was merged in grief when Orange reproached him to his face with having forgotten while in Spain the best interests of his country. So real was his distress that for a long time he forsook the gaieties of the court, which were pleasant to his sunny nature, and lived in gloom and seclusion.

In the autumn of 1565 the country was full of apprehension, which was but slightly relieved by the wedding festivities of Baron Montigny, and the more brilliant celebration of the marriage of Alexander, son of Margaret of Parma. The wedding was solemnised on the 11th November. A week earlier the Regent had received despatches from Spain, which she felt were of such evil import that she decided to keep them private till the ceremony was over. On the 14th she dared delay no longer, and laid the fatal missive before the Council. It was the King's final and authoritative answer to the reiterated demand of the nobles. The apprehensions of the country were about to be fulfilled. The strict execution of the edicts by all governors and magistrates was commanded. The power of the Council of State could not be extended, while the request that the States-General might be summoned was sternly denied. Proclamation of the Inquisition and of the Decrees of Trent was to be made in every town and village in the Netherlands. As they listened the nobles felt that there was now no choice but between obedience and rebellion. "We shall see the beginning of a fine tragedy," the Prince of Orange is said to have whispered to his neighbour.

The Regent, terrified at the probable consequences, yet feeling it was impossible to disobey the deliberate decree of the monarch, ordered the proclamation to be made in every town and village of the Provinces at once, and every six months for ever after. But the decree carried out, curses, low-murmured yet, but ere long to burst into a howl of execration, filled the land. Many of those in authority openly refused to enforce the edicts in their provinces, the Marquis Berghen, Mansfeld, and Baron Montigny being conspicuous among these. Brabant, after a fierce and conclusive appeal to her ancient charters, was declared free from the Inquisition, but no other province could claim her peculiar privileges. They did not, however, accept their humiliation without protest. Petitions were nailed on all the great houses in Brussels, especially on the mansions of Orange and Egmont. Earnest remonstrances and passionate pleas were thrust into the hands of the Duchess, but she, utterly bewildered by the passions that had been roused and let loose on the land, was helpless.

To add to her discomfiture a league was formed among the lesser nobles for the purpose of fomenting the spirit of resistance. Foremost among these were Louis of Nassau, William's brother, Sainte Aldegonde, and Brederode. At secret meetings these and other nobles drew up a document, known as the Compromise, which they scattered broadcast throughout the land. Since the document stated the evils of the Inquisition and the determination of the league to banish it from the land, signatures to the number of over a thousand were speedily affixed to it, and a ray of hope spread through the country.

The Compromise, though thus popular in the country, met at first with but little encouragement from the great nobles. Its methods were too rash to commend it to the cautious spirit of Orange, though of his own position he had written plainly to Margaret. "I should prefer," he said, writing on January 24, 1566, "in case his Majesty insists without delay on the Inquisition and the execution of the edicts, that he place some other person in my place, who understands better the humours of the people, and that has more skill than I have in keeping them in peace and quietness, rather than run the risk of staining the reputation of my family, should any harm accrue to the country, through my government and during my tenure of it."

The Leagues meanwhile had decided that a petition should be drawn up by Louis of Nassau, to be presented to the Regent, and to this Orange consented, though reluctantly, and only on condition that the language of the petition was less overbearing than had been at first intended. On April 3, 1566, therefore, about two hundred of the confederates entered the gates of Brussels. They were all on horseback, with pistols in their holsters, while at their head rode the noisy and audacious Brederode. The procession, greeted with loud applause by the citizens, slowly wended its way to the mansion of William of Orange, where Brederode and Count Louis alighted, while the other confederates dispersed to seek quarters in the town. Two days later the members of the League marched to the palace, and entered the Council Chamber, where the Regent sat on the chair of State, surrounded by the highest nobles in the land. Their martial array filled her with an alarm which, as she graciously received them, she did her utmost to conceal.

Brederode, who had been chosen to present the request, advanced, and begged the Duchess to despatch an envoy to the King on their behalf, who should humbly implore his Majesty to abolish the edicts. In the meantime the request entreated Margaret to stay the power of the Inquisition until his Majesty's further pleasure was known, and until new decrees made by his Majesty, with the advice and consent of the States-General, which it was demanded he should at once convoke, should be made known. The request concluded with expressions of great respect and loyalty.

Margaret, still alarmed, and fully aware of the seriousness of the crisis, turned to her councillors for aid. It was in vain that the Prince of Orange tried to calm her fears, reminding her that the confederates were no rebellious subjects, but loyal gentlemen who desired to help their country. It was then that Berlaymont uttered his gibe, "What, madam," he cried, "is it possible that your Highness can entertain fears of these beggars?" From that day the confederates were known as "Beggars," and "Long live the Beggars" became their well-known party cry.

The Regent, had she dared, would have followed Aremberg's advice, which was to order the confederates to leave Brussels without delay, but not venturing to do this, she met them the following day, April 6, to answer their request. She had no power, so she said, to suspend the Inquisition or the edicts, but she promised that the severities of the persecutions should be mitigated until the King himself sent an answer to their demands.

Serious business being now at an end, Brederode resolved that the confederates should end their visit to Brussels by a great banquet at the Hôtel Culemberg. Hoogstraaten, who had come on a commission from the Regent, was persuaded to stay to the carousal, and Brederode seized the opportunity to speak to him of the request and of the offensive term flung at him and his companions by Berlaymont. "Indeed," he added loudly, "we would gladly become 'Beggars,' if need were, for the sake of King and country." The excited assembly took up the words, and the vast hall resounded with shouts of "Long live the Beggars! Long live the Beggars!" Brederode, who had slipped from the room, now suddenly appeared at the head of the table with a beggar's wallet suspended from his neck and a wooden bowl in his hand. Filling the bowl, he drank to the good cause and to the health of all present. Then, as the bowl was passed from hand to hand, each guest drank, pledging himself to be loyal to his friends and to the League.

That night, as Orange, Egmont and Hoorn were passing the Hôtel Culemberg, on their way to attend the Council, they heard the revelry of the noisy banqueters, and determined to enter and, if possible, persuade them to disperse quietly. As they entered, the company surrounded them, urging them to remain, but Orange was firm in his refusal, while Hoorn, who disliked Brederode, was but a few moments in the banqueting-room. They left the hotel, having failed to hasten the departure of the confederates, who still drank the health of the great nobles, and sent after them deafening shouts of "Long live the Beggars!" This short and well-meant visit of the leading nobles was in days to come made into a ground of accusation against them.

On April 8 the confederates left Brussels, many of them adopting a costume of coarse grey material, and carrying the emblems of their beggarhood, the wallet and the bowl, at their girdles or in their hats.

Meanwhile the Regent, supported by the Council, decided to send envoys to Philip, fully exposing to him the dangerous state of the country, and begging him either to visit the Provinces himself, or to allow the envoys to return with such concessions as would avert the impending storm. The Marquis of Berghen and the Baron Montigny were the chosen ambassadors. Montigny left Brussels on May 29; Berghen, owing to a slight accident, some time after.

Through Granvelle's false representations and through the report of Philip's spies in the Netherlands, neither Montigny nor Berghen was in favour with the King. When he reached Paris, Montigny was warned of the King's wrath, and entreated to feign illness or to invent an excuse for avoiding his mission. The Marquis, however, paid little heed to the warnings he received, and proceeded to Madrid, which he reached on June 17, 1566. Berghen was unable to leave Brussels till July 1.

Philip received Montigny with apparent cordiality, and assured the ambassador that, whatever reports had reached him, he felt no dissatisfaction with the actions of the nobles. But Montigny's mission was eventually of no avail. He had been sent to procure the abolition of the Inquisition, at the very time that Philip was writing to the Regent that he was determined to maintain both the Inquisition and the edicts in all their rigour.

The early summer of 1566 was marked in the Netherlands by a temporary lull in the persecutions. Encouraged by this, and by the apparent success of the confederates at Brussels, the Reformers came boldly out of their hiding-places, and, meeting together, sang their hymns and listened to their preachers in the open air. These conventicles, or meetings, were at first held in the woods, or in some inaccessible spot, but, gradually growing bolder, the Reformers ventured into the open country by day, then into the villages, and at last into the environs of the great towns. At Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, and above all at Antwerp, thousands came out to hear the new preachers, arms in hand. The meetings over, bands of men paraded the streets, chanting psalms and shouting lustily, "Long live the Beggars!" Proclamation after proclamation was sent forth by the Duchess. She forbade the armed assemblies, she demanded the arrest of the preachers. It was of no avail.

Of what avail indeed to order even the trained bands of the city, the crossbow men, the archers or the sword-players to suppress the preachings? They would themselves be present at the very meetings which they were ordered to prevent.

Margaret wrote to Philip, "Everything is in such disorder that in the greater part of the country is neither law, faith, nor king." The majority of the members of the Council of State wrote demanding that the States-General should be summoned immediately, and still Philip delayed to answer, and dallied with the fears of the Regent and her advisers, who saw nothing but ruin staring them in the face.

The great commercial city of Antwerp was the scene of the chief disturbance. Business was at a standstill, while bands of armed men, in defiance of the magistrates, thronged to hear the doctrines of the new faith from the lips of some popular preacher. The arrival of Meghem and Brederode within the city only added to the confusion, the royalists looking to Meghem, the revolutionary party to Brederode, the leader of the "Beggars," as their champion. In despair, the magistrates appealed to Margaret to save the city from destruction by sending thither their burgrave William. It was he alone who could help them.

The Prince, urgently entreated by the magistrates and people of Antwerp, and by the Regent herself, consented to make the visit so earnestly desired. On the 18th July he arrived at the gate of the city, where thousands of the inhabitants were assembled to greet him. Wild shouts of welcome were mingled with cries of "Long live the Beggars!" these party cries being at once sharply rebuked by the Prince. For weeks William remained in the town, skilfully managing the turbulent citizens, till at last they were persuaded to lay down their arms, on condition that their worship, though excluded from the city, should be permitted in the suburbs.

Margaret in her relief wrote letters full of gratitude to the Prince, while Philip also sent to him messages of confidence and respect. He at the same time distinctly refused to grant the request William had again made to be allowed to resign his offices. But the Prince was not deceived by these assurances of gratitude. He knew that in their hearts neither Philip nor Margaret wished to believe in his loyalty.

Meanwhile the confederates were holding enthusiastic meetings, of which Louis of Nassau was the leader. They resolved again to approach the Regent, this time by a deputation of twelve, with Louis at their head. In their grey costumes and with the beggar's emblems suspended from their necks, they presented themselves before her on June 26. The attitude of the deputation was far from humble. They did not ask forgiveness for anything they had done. How should they crave forgiveness for seeking the good of their country? They even hinted that were their demands that Orange and Hoorn should be nominated to safeguard their interests refused, they would call in foreign aid.

The Duchess was furious. I understand perfectly well," she said bitterly, "you wish to take justice into your own hands and to be king yourself." It was evident that the deputation had accomplished little, and had given rise in the mind of the Regent to suspicions that would not be easily allayed.

At Madrid, meantime, Montigny and Berghen were still treated with the outward signs of courtesy; they even seemed to have wrung some concessions from the King, though, as was only too soon to be proved, he was but playing them false till he was in a position to maintain his intentions by force. In a letter addressed to the Regent on July 81, Philip, incredible as it may seem, consented to abolish the Inquisition, and promised toleration as far as that was consistent with the Catholic faith. He also promised to grant a general pardon to all whom the Regent should deem deserving. He wrote almost affectionately to Orange and Egmont. On one point only he was still inflexible. The States-General should not be summoned with his consent.

Was it any wonder that the ambassadors congratulated themselves and their country? That they could do so was but a proof of their guilelessness. Even while they rejoiced, Philip, in the presence of the Duke of Alva and ten notaries, was signing a fateful and disastrous deed. It declared that the promise of a general pardon had been wrung from him, and that therefore he did not feel bound to keep it; while but three days later he wrote to his ambassador at Rome to inform the Pope that his abolition of the Inquisition was a mere form of words, as he well knew it was useless without the sanction of the Pope. This sanction, Philip concluded, he had no wish to obtain. And still the ambassadors in their guilelessness rejoiced.

And now the Regent, who was growing more and more dependent on the one strong man in the country, wrote to Antwerp to recall the Prince. His presence in Brussels, she averred, was imperatively needed. William warned her that the city was still in so unstable a condition that it would be imprudent for him to leave, but Margaret would not be denied. He must come to Brussels, and that immediately.

The day of his departure happened to be the day dedicated to the great festival of the Assumption of the Virgin. The procession of priests, carrying the image of Mary, was unmolested, owing largely to the fact that the Prince was still in the city. The procession over, the image was placed in the small chapel, rather than conspicuously in the cathedral, there to receive during the week the adoration of the faithful. And in the chapel they deemed her safe. But on the evening following, some boys found their way into the chapel, and, mocking at the Virgin, asked, "Art terrified so soon? Hast flown to thy nest so early? Dost think thyself beyond the reach of mischief? Beware, little Mary, thy hour is fast approaching."

One of the lads then mounted the pulpit, and began mimicking the tones and gestures of the Catholic preacher. A young sailor, zealous for his faith, sprang upon the lad and flung him headlong down the steps of the pulpit. His comrades rushing to the rescue, a struggle ensued, the crowd which had gathered also for the most part attacking the sailor, while those who tried to protect him were bruised and beaten before they could carry him out of the chapel. It was with difficulty the keepers expelled the crowd and closed the doors for the night.

The magistrates of the town, having lost the Prince, were hopelessly bewildered. They wrangled late into the night as to whether it was necessary to take precautions against further disturbances, and finally they took none.

The scene in the chapel had roused the people, and the following morning a body of men, women and children remained in the cathedral after vespers. They began to sing the Psalms of David, and then, obeying a common impulse, rushed to the chapel and dragged forth the image of the Virgin. Some tore off her embroidered robes, some rolled her in the dust amid the shouts of those who looked on. Was she not, after all, but a dumb idol? The passions of the mob were roused. Nothing was too sacred to escape their fury. High above the great altar in the cathedral was an image of the Saviour, curiously carved in wood. Throwing a rope round the statue, the Christ was dragged to the ground, and with hatchets and hammers soon broken into a hundred pieces.

When at last the great cathedral, the pride of Antwerp, was utterly despoiled, the rioters made their way to the other churches and treated them after the same fashion. Ere another morning dawned thirty churches within the city walls had been sacked. 'Nuns and monks hurried hither and thither thinking to escape the fury of the rabble. But their terror was needless; for throughout the riot the fury of the mob was directed only against images, nor was any of the immense amount of property that was destroyed appropriated as plunder.

Antwerp was not alone in her revolt. From city to city the movement spread, until in the province of Flanders alone four hundred churches were sacked. In Tournay a "guard of terror" was set, and the magistrates hoped their churches might escape destruction. But their hope was vain, for the mob swept through the city, stripping the sacred buildings to the very walls.

When the news of the riot reached Brussels, the Regent was wild with fear. She made preparations to leave the capital, and neither the threats nor entreaties of the Council would have kept her had not the magistrates, hearing of her intention, ordered the gates of the town to be closed and guarded. Being left no choice, Margaret appeared to yield to the wishes of the nobles, but henceforth she counted them her enemies, and denounced Orange, Egmont and Hoorn as secret traitors to the King.

On the 25th August 1566, the Regent was forced to sign a document named the Accord or Agreement. In this document she declared that the Inquisition was abolished, that his Majesty would issue a general edict protecting the nobles from punishment for their past deeds, and stating that public preaching of the new doctrines was to be permitted in places where it was already established. Letters were immediately sent throughout the country proclaiming the good news. And the people of the Provinces lifted up their heads once more and looked at one another in the face, no man daring to make them afraid. Was not the Inquisition abolished, and had they not gained freedom once more to worship God?