Awakening of Europe - M. B. Synge

An Historic Scene

"Europe's eye is fixed on mighty things,

The fall of empires and the fate of kings."


The great movement known as the Reformation now swept through Europe. Gradually the conflict, begun in Germany between Luther and the Pope, passed into England, Scotland, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands. Throughout the long vexed reign of the Emperor Charles V. this war of religion raged fiercely, intolerantly. Those who followed Luther were known as the Protestants, or those who protested against the power of the Pope, while those who acknowledged the supreme power of Rome were Roman Catholics.

In the year 1530 a religious peace was made at Augsburg. Though Martin Luther was not allowed to appear, he helped to draw up twenty-eight articles of the faith professed by the Protestants.

Luther passed to his rest, but his followers carried on the conflict. Twenty-six years after the Diet of Worms Charles the emperor was at Wittenberg. He asked to see the tomb of Martin Luther. As he stood gazing at it, full of many thoughts, some one suggested that the body should be taken up, tied to a stake, and burned in the market-place of the town. There was nothing unusual in the suggestion. Most heretics were burned in those days. They thought to please the emperor, but Charles was "one of nature's gentlemen."

"I war not with the dead," he answered quietly.

But the troubles and toils of a long reign had already begun to tell on the emperor, and he determined to lay down a burden which he was no longer fitted to bear. The 25th of October 1555 was fixed for the great abdication of this mighty emperor. It was to take place in the palace at Brussels, the Court residence of the emperor in the Netherlands. His beloved son Philip was to succeed him.

Long before the appointed hour crowds had filled the historic palace. The wealth of the Netherlands was there. There were the knights of the famous Order of the Golden Fleece; there was the flower of Flemish chivalry—bishops, counts, barons, representatives from all the emperor's vast empire. As the clock struck three the hero of the whole scene arrived. "Cæsar," as he was more often called, in the classic language of the day, came in leaning heavily on the shoulder of William of Orange, the man who was to play such a large part in the story of the Netherlands. They were followed by Philip, and accompanied by an immense throng of glittering Spanish warriors. Here stood Count Egmont, the idol of the people, whose victories were to resound through Europe, tall, gallant, ill-fated. Here, too, was Count Horn, sullen and gloomy, though as yet ignorant of his coming tragedy.

The whole company rose to their feet as the emperor entered, and all eyes were directed towards him and his young son. Charles himself, though not yet fifty-six, was bent with old age, crippled with gout, worn with anxiety. It was with some difficulty that he supported himself even with the aid of a crutch. Philip, his son, had the same broad forehead and blue eyes of his father; but he was very small, with thin legs, a narrow chest, and the timid air of an invalid. He had been married but a year since to Mary of England, a valuable alliance to this great empire which was now passing into his weak hands.

Presently the emperor rose, supporting himself upon the shoulder of a handsome young man of two-and-twenty. Then he spoke to the vast throng before him. He sketched shortly his wars, his nine expeditions into Germany, six to Spain, seven to Italy, four to France, two to England, ten to the Netherlands, two to Africa, and eleven voyages by sea. He assured his subjects that he had striven to uphold the Roman Catholic religion. They knew of his lifelong opposition to Martin Luther. Now he told them life was ebbing away. Instead of an old man whose strength was past, they should have a young man in the prime of his youthful manhood to rule over them. Turning to the fair-haired son at his side, he bequeathed to him the magnificent empire, begging him to prove himself worthy of so great an inheritance. He entreated the nations under him to help in the colossal task of putting down the Protestants in the empire; then, beseeching them to pardon his own shortcomings, he ceased.

Sobs were heard in every part of the hall, and tears flowed from many eyes, as the old emperor sank back, pale and fainting, into his golden chair. The tears poured freely down his furrowed cheeks as Philip dropped on his knees and kissed his hand with reverence. Raising his son, he kissed him tenderly.

So the curtain fell for ever upon the mightiest emperor since the days of Charlemagne, and when it rose again Philip had begun the long and tremendous tragedy which lasted till his death.