Netherlands - Mary Macgregor

Don John's Treachery

The Spanish troops having left the Netherlands towards the end of April, Don John's entry into the capital was no longer deferred.

On the 1st of May 1577 a gay procession escorted the young Governor along the streets. Six thousand troops led the way, followed by archers and musketeers in picturesque array, while Don John rode in their midst, wrapped in a long green cloak. Services were then held in the great churches of Brussels, after which the day was given over to festivities, and when the happy May day came to an end, Don John found himself the acknowledged head of the Provinces.

Yet he was far from satisfied, for though he had gained the goodwill of the burghers, he himself had no love for either the Netherlands or its inhabitants, having regarded his position as Governor-General only as a stepping-stone to the English throne. With the withdrawal of the Spanish troops his position failed to aid him to carry out his desperate scheme.

Moreover, strange as it may seem, Don John had little confidence in his safety in a country where the partisans of Orange abounded. He complained that his life was in danger, he suspected a trap in every street and an ambush in every wood. He found himself longing once again to buckle on his sword and face the resolute Prince of Orange on the battlefield. The gay cavalier was already weary of this land of stern Calvinists and burghers, who, save for the national sports in which they indulged, led a hard and strenuous life, and already he was entreating Philip to grant him his dismissal. Yet as long as he remained in the country he resolved to assert his independence, and the Provinces were soon bewildered and dismayed by an edict issued by the Governor in direct defiance of the Pacification of Ghent, which he had promised to support. The edict commanded all bishops and provincial councils to renew without delay the persecutions against those of the Reformed faith. His orders were obeyed, and the Southern Provinces saw that the Prince of Orange had not slandered Philip's representative. Don John was indeed beginning to frown where he had formerly smiled, to menace where he had but lately indulged in pleasantries.

But either Don John's conscience betrayed him, or there were in reality designs, if not upon his life, at least upon his liberty. It was impossible to renew the religious persecutions and feel secure in this land of heretics. Accordingly the Governor, when solemnly warned that his life was not safe in the capital, fled hurriedly to Mechlin, and when the same warnings followed him to that city, he resolved to shake himself free from the control of the States-General. He therefore, since war was forbidden by Philip and peace had been rendered impossible by his recent treacherous act, resolved at least to secure his own safety. Placing himself at the head of a body of Walloon soldiers, he suddenly marched to Namur and took possession of the city. That Don John was able thus easily to secure Namur was due to the fact that the States had neglected to follow the advice of the Prince of Orange in regard to it. "You know," he had written in the preceding December, "the evil and dismay the loss of the city and fortress of Namur would occasion us. Let me beseech you that all possible care be taken to preserve them." But the city and citadel had been left to the care of a feeble old castellan and a handful of troops, and had therefore been secured without difficulty by the Governor.

Meanwhile in the north of Holland and Zeeland the work of repairing the dykes had been accomplished, and, at the request of the people, the Prince made a tour through the little provinces, honouring every city with a visit. And as he passed along the streets men, women and children crowded round, joyously shouting, "Father William has come," "Father William has come." None were forbidden to approach him, and even little children drew near to touch the hand which had delivered them from the power of the tyrant.

The enthusiasm spread. Utrecht sent an urgent invitation to the Prince. His presence only was needed to make the citizens unanimous in their desire to recognise his authority. Accompanied by his wife, the Princess Charlotte, the Prince journeyed to the city. But Charlotte trembled for the safety of her husband, knowing that in Utrecht were many of his enemies. As they drove through the gates of the city, a shot passed through the carriage window and struck the Prince on the breast, and the Princess believed her fears were realised. But William quickly calmed her. It was only a wad that had struck him, shot from the cannon which was still roaring its noisy welcome. From Utrecht the Prince passed through the other cities of the province, and in the autumn of 1577 he was formally acknowledged as Stadtholder of Utrecht, while a treaty was drawn up, in which he promised to support both the Reformed and the Catholic faiths.

Meanwhile the States-General, feeling that their agreement with Don John had been a mistake, were relying more than ever on the capable guidance of Orange, who did his utmost to open their eyes yet more clearly to the deceptions practised by the new Governor. For Don John, not satisfied with the capture of Namur, was making a brave attempt to capture the important city of Antwerp. He had carefully planned the absence of the new Governor of the city, the Duke of Aerschot, on whom few were willing to depend, and had ordered the keys of the citadel to be left in the hands of Treslong, a devoted royalist. Treslong, however, was unable to secure Antwerp, and when Don John heard of his failure his chagrin was great. "These rebels think," he wrote to Spain, "that fortune is all smiles for them now, and that all is ruin for me. The wretches are growing proud enough, and forget that their chastisement some fine morning will yet arrive."

To the Estates Don John wrote a haughty letter, ignoring the attempt he had made to secure Antwerp, and demanding, as though his authority was supreme, that it should be restored to him, and that all the forces of the country should be placed at once under his own control. Nor was this all. He ordered likewise that the people of Brabant and Flanders should instantly "set themselves to hunt, catch, and chastise all heretics and preachers," while the Prince of Orange was called upon to withdraw his armed vessels, and, should he refuse, the Estates were summoned to take up arms against him. Don John knew neither how futile nor how ludicrous was his attack upon the Prince.

This letter, written on the 7th of August 1577, was followed by another on August 13, written in more modest strain. The Estates were assured that Don John abhorred war more than anything else in the world, and that, as he seemed to be disliked by them, he was willing to leave the land as soon as the King should appoint a successor. The States protested that his recent movements had made it difficult for them to believe in his desire for peace, while his renewal of the persecutions against heretics justified them in taking means for their self-defence.

Again Don John wrote from Namur, protesting that he had removed the Spanish troops, and that more they could not expect from him, but, should the King be willing, he would gladly resign the appointment which seemed so displeasing to the Estates.

On August 26 the Estates wrote offering to yield him their confidence, should he, on his side, disband all the soldiers in his service, sending the Germans instantly out of the country, dismiss every foreigner from office, whether civil or military, and renounce his design on the English throne, which design, they took care to assure him, was no longer secret. Henceforth, if he agreed to these conditions, he should govern, but only with the advice and consent of the State Council. Should he, however, resign, the country would not complain, and would, till a successor arrived, be governed by its own representatives. The tone of the letter startled Don John, and he protested that it was still possible to make an arrangement on more friendly terms; and thus the weary correspondence dragged along.

But the correspondence of the Estates-General was not confined to Don John. On August 24, and again on September 8, they wrote to the King, telling him of the unfortunate troubles in their country, and requesting that as the double-dealing and insolence of the present Governor made a sincere reconciliation difficult, another prince might be appointed in his place.

In Antwerp, meanwhile, the citizens were at length obeying the counsel of the Prince, and razing to the ground the citadel erected in their midst by Alva. Morning, noon and night the work went on, more than ten thousand persons helping to destroy the hateful sign of a past bondage. Nobles brought fair dames, and grave magistrates their wives, citizens came with their children, and even beggars took their share in the glad work of destruction. And when, as the work went on, an old statue of Alva was found in a forgotten crypt, the people fell upon it with a howl of rage. The bronze image was dragged through the streets by an excited crowd, then, seizing sledge-hammers, they dashed it to pieces, as they would fain have done to the hated tyrant himself had he been within their reach.

The example set by Antwerp was followed by city after city, until Alva's strongholds no longer existed in the land.