Netherlands - Mary Macgregor

Revenge Taken on the Image-Breakers

Churches pillaged! Images broken! When the news reached Madrid Philip found it impossible to hide his real feelings. "It shall cost them dear," he cried, "it shall cost them dear. I swear it by the soul of my father."

But more was to follow. The Duchess, almost a prisoner in her own palace, wrote to him piteously, complaining that her hand had been forced. She had had no choice but to sign the Agreement or Accord, promising pardon to the confederates and liberty to heretics to hold their assemblies in those places where already the Reformed doctrines had been preached. The promises had, however, she treacherously added, been made only in her own name. She had been careful not to compromise the King. He would, she hoped, ignore the Accord, and speedily arrive himself in the country to avenge the wrong done to the ancient Church.

It was soon evident to the Netherlanders themselves that they had gained nothing by the signature wrung from the Regent's fears on the 24th August. The Accord had been signed only to be broken as soon as Margaret felt her position less dangerous. And now, with Philip's permission to levy arms at last in her possession, her tone began to assume a boldness for which the nation was unprepared. Ere long troops levied in Germany were at the disposal of the Regent, and these, as also her Walloon regiments, she placed under the command of Aremberg and Meghem and other leaders, on whose loyalty she could depend.

Government, having troops, was competent once more to rule, to rule if necessary by force. Accordingly little or no pretext was used in breaking the Accord which had given such joy to the nation on August 24. It was enough, having arms on their side, for Government to assert that the preaching now prohibited had certainly never been established in the place before the date of the Accord. It was enough for Government to make the permission to preach when persistently claimed of but little or no avail, since now, so it was asserted, preachers might perform no rite in connection with their services. The permission to preach had certainly never been intended to include the right to baptize, to marry, or even to bury the dead. And Government, thus playing the nation false, had no fear, since there were troops to maintain authority should it become necessary.

Count Egmont was now directed by the Regent to go to Flanders, where disorder still reigned, and reduce the province to obedience. Nothing loth, the Count obeyed, for, always a fervent Catholic, the image-breaking and pillaging of the churches had revolted him, and alienated his sympathies from the cause of the people. He was determined to show his loyalty by upholding Government, even should Government have recourse to force. "We must take up arms," he said, "sooner or later to bring these Reformers to reason or they will end by laying down the law for us."

And indeed there was the ring of truth in his words. For the men of whom he spoke were those who, to the number of sixty thousand, had already assembled armed at the different field-preachings in Flanders; men these who needed but an intrepid leader to march to victory and become masters of the whole country. They had even dared to dream, these armed men, that the hero of the people, the victor of Saint Quentin, even Egmont himself, might become their leader. But the Count had entered Flanders for but a few days before their dream was rudely broken. For Egmont came not as a deliverer of the people, nor even as a wise ambassador, but as a determined upholder of the Regent's policy, ready to punish those who were even suspected of having taken any share in the late disturbances. Image-breakers were executed, heretics were burned. The Count's zeal had no chance to cool, for it was skilfully fanned by his secretary, Bakkerzeel, who himself on one occasion "hanged twenty heretics, including a minister, at a single heat." Such treatment soon reduced Flanders to submission; such treatment made even the most hopeful realise that the Accord had wrought no deliverance in the land. Egmont and his secretary had surely given striking proof of their devotion to the King's service, while the Count had even won a passing tribute of praise from the Regent.

Meanwhile William of Orange had returned to Antwerp, and succeeded in restoring peace to the disturbed city, as he had done also in Utrecht, Amsterdam, and the other principal towns under his care. Knowing that the Accord was being set aside on all hands, he yet arranged peace on the basis of its conditions.

But Orange looked forward to the future with but little confidence. He knew that the Accord meant nothing to the Regent. He believed it would be ignored by Philip, who would never allow himself to be defrauded of the vengeance he was already planning on all those who had dared to share, or even to countenance, the destruction of the sacred buildings of the Roman Catholic Church. This belief was confirmed by the report of his well-paid spies, who assured the Prince that Philip was secretly gathering large bodies of troops together with which he intended to invade the provinces of the Netherlands. The King's scheme of vengeance included the death of the leading nobles of the land.

Acting on his knowledge of Philip's plans, William, on October 3, held a conference with his brother Louis, Egmont, Hoorn and Hoogstraaten. They discussed the possibility of forcible resistance to a Spanish army. Count Louis was in favour of this, believing that troops might be raised in Germany with which to resist the foe. But Egmont and Hoorn absolutely refused to compromise themselves by taking up arms against the King.

William left the conference sadly. Though assured of the sympathy of Hoogstraaten, he knew that henceforth he could count on no aid from those who had been his closest friends, and to add to his sorrow was his conviction that Egmont and Hoorn were walking straight into a trap prepared for them by the King.

And now William redoubled his watchfulness. Philip in his distant Cabinet was, unknown to himself, subjected to yet closer espionage. Even his private secretary was in the pay of the Prince. The Regent, growing uneasy, complained to Philip that his private letters were tampered with. But Philip in his wisdom had no apprehension. Apprehension! Philip always locked up his letters. He carried the key with him. It never left his pocket. Of what should he be apprehensive?

He wrote to the Regent chiding her for her foolishness, and telling her how futile were her fears. His correspondence was secure from all eyes save those for whom it was intended. Nevertheless while Philip slept, the key was taken from his pocket, and while he dreamed, his private papers were read, and their contents faithfully conveyed to the Prince of Orange.

With the aid of his brothers Louis and John, William now formed a league in Germany in defence of the Reformers of the Netherlands, and slowly but unceasingly preparations were made to meet force with force. At this time, too, Orange gave up all connection with the Roman Catholic Church, and became one with the Reformers in faith as well as in sympathy.

The year of 1566 was drawing to a close, and Government, weak when the year had dawned, had become powerful once more. The confederates were scattered, the Accord had brought but transitory relief to the nation. Egmont, completely obedient to the King, was imposing garrisons on all the cities of Flanders and Artois. These garrisons were ordered to maintain implicit obedience to the orders of Government, and to crush out any sign of enthusiasm on the part of the heretics. Accordingly the Regent now felt herself at leisure to effect the reduction of Valenciennes, a town in the province of Hainault, strongly tainted with heresy.

Noircarmes, the Governor of the province, was ordered to secure the obedience of the town by throwing into it a garrison of three companies of horse and as many of foot. The citizens might have yielded to the Governor's commands had their courage not been inflamed by a Frenchman named La Grange. He was a preacher of the Reformed doctrines, whose eloquence gave him unbounded influence over the masses. La Grange warned his hearers that should a garrison be allowed to enter the town, their liberty would be for ever lost, and the first to become victims of the soldiers' cruelties would be those who belonged to the Reformed faith. The citizens listened to the eloquent voice of their preacher, and unanimously refused to admit the garrison.

Noircarmes angrily told the magistrates to exert their authority, but they were powerless in their efforts to weaken the effect of La Grange's eloquence. Accordingly on the 17th December 1566 a proclamation was issued by the Regent, declaring Valenciennes to be in a state of siege and all the inhabitants rebels. Nor was this all. Noircarmes' orders were stringent. Any city, village, or province holding communication with Valenciennes, buying or selling with its inhabitants, or aiding them with counsel, arms, or money, would be considered rebel, and as such be executed with the halter!

The inhabitants of Valenciennes were in no wise intimidated. Not even the formidable numbers of troops assembling under their walls could daunt their courage, while they were sustained by the presence of La Grange in their midst. From outside, too, there was hope of succour, notwithstanding the strictness of Noircarmes' siege. For the confederates were once again uniting, and sent promises of help to the beleaguered citizens. Orange also privately encouraged them to refuse admittance to a garrison, while from the country came hopes of a general rising.

The burghers were proud of their town and confident in its defences. Starvation was not even dreaded, for the city was well supplied with food. The hopes of the doughty burghers were high. They indulged in frequent sallies. They tempted their enemy to engage in frequent skirmishes. They even laughed at the fiery Noircarmes and his six officers, and thought it a brave joke to christen them the "Seven Sleepers." Their leisurely methods deserved the title. Nor did their joke end there. The papists of Arras were reported to be sending artillery to aid in the siege. The besieged must mock at the enemy by placing on the ramparts of their city huge spectacles, three feet in diameter. Perchance without such aid the approaching help would reach the enemy unnoticed. From the pulpits of the city the voices of the Reformed preachers rang out, eloquent over the deeds of heroes of old. Among the inhabitants of Valenciennes might there not also dwell a Joshua or a Judas Maccabeus, as among the Israelites of old?

In the meantime the general rising throughout the country had not taken place. There were, however, large gatherings at two separate points.

Pierre Cornaille, once a locksmith, thereafter a Calvinist preacher, had now determined to try his fortune as a general. He collected at Lannoy an untrained band of nearly three thousand. Countrymen armed with pitchforks gathered around his standard, students too and old soldiers armed with rusty matchlocks, pikes and halberds helped to swell his force.

Another band, as strange and motley as these, was collecting at Watrelots, in the hope of joining Cornaille's force, and together marching to the relief of Valenciennes.

But the "Seven Sleepers" were awake. Indeed Noircarmes was never known to have been caught napping, despite the joke of the inhabitants of the besieged city. Early in January 1567 he fell upon the locksmith's army at Lannoy, while on the same day the Seigneur de Rassinghem attacked the force at Watrelots.

Noircarmes found no difficulty in dispersing the untrained rabble under Cornaille. They fled indeed at the sight of the enemy, many of them in their fright throwing away their weapons before they had struck a single blow. Of those who fled many were hunted into the river, while a thousand soon lay stretched on the field destroyed by Noircarmes' first charge.

Rassinghem meanwhile attacked the troops at Watrelots under Teriel. Although he was far out numbered, he had the advantage of being at the head of six hundred disciplined troops, and these soon put flight or cut in pieces half the rebel force. Some, however, took refuge in a cemetery. Here, behind the stone wall, they entrenched themselves, and made desperate stand against the attack of Noircarmes' men. They were, however, soon forced to abandon their position, when they retreated into the church. As they struggled through the narrow doorway a sharp arquebusade was poured in upon them. Escape was impossible, and hundreds perished, while those who managed to effect an entrance into the church were hunted up the narrow steps that led to the belfry. The triumphant army then lighted a fire at the foot of the steeple and fed its flames without intermission until the miserable fugitives were all roasted or suffocated.

Thus in dire defeat ended the first struggle in the great fight now beginning for religious liberty in the Netherlands. Government was elated with its success, but into the hearts of those shut up in Valenciennes there crept a chilling fear. Help from outside would be slow to reach them now that the forces under Cornaille and Teriel had been slain and scattered, while the spectacles on the ramparts seemed but a sorry joke now that the enemies were seen but too plainly crowding around the city walls.

Noircarmes resolved to press the siege more closely. He pillaged all the villages in the neighbourhood and laid waste all the surrounding fields. The citizens of Valenciennes, with a failing supply of food, knew that the supply from without was threatened by Noircarmes' actions, knew too that any, were they men, women or children, found attempting to communicate with them would be slain without mercy. At length a day came when Noircarmes from a battery of twenty heavy guns opened a heavy fire on the city. Shot and shell penetrated into every corner of the town, and the terrified inhabitants, after enduring four hours of disastrous fire, so far humbled their pride as to beg for a parley. To this the general agreed, without, however, allowing his guns to cease firing for a moment. Deputies from the city informed Noircarmes that the citizens were now prepared to capitulate on the terms originally proposed by the Government. To this Noircarmes replied with scorn that it was not his wont to make terms with a fallen enemy. With heavy hearts the deputies returned to the city to report the failure of their mission. And still the storm of shell and shot continued.

Palm Sunday dawned. It was the 23rd of March. Women and children with branches of palm-trees in their hands wandered restlessly along the streets. Here and there, seized with sudden fear, little groups were kneeling to pray for deliverance. And still the canonade continued, creating such terror and despair, that before a breach had been effected an almost unconditional surrender was offered. That the city should not be sacked or the inhabitants slaughtered was agreed to by Noircarmes.

On the 2nd April 1567, four months from the commencement of the siege, the victorious army marched into the city of Valenciennes. Noircarmes' first act was to go to the town house, where he found the assembled magistrates. These he at once turned out of office, himself assuming control of the city. He then proceeded to seize the leaders of the rebellion, and they, along with La Grange, were loaded with chains and thrown into a dungeon, thereafter suffering death on the scaffold. The preacher lost neither his courage nor his eloquence as he was led to death, but loudly proclaimed that he was willing to suffer for having preached the pure Word of God to a Christian people. The executioner threw him from the ladder while he was still speaking. Thus, amid the sobs of the terrified citizens, perished the preacher who had encouraged the city to resist the Regent's demand. "May I grow mute as a fish," he had cried ere the siege was proclaimed, "before I persuade my people to accept a garrison of cruel soldiers, by whom their rights of conscience are to be trampled upon.

The Regent was victorious. The Reformed religion was abolished in the city. Not only so, but Valenciennes having fallen, other rebellious towns had no courage left, and sullenly admitted the garrisons Margaret now imposed upon them. Maestricht, Tornhut, Ghent, Ypres, and Oudenarde, these all bowed their necks to the hated terms. Antwerp and a few towns in Holland were alone found steadfast in their resistance to the tyranny of the Regent.