William of Orange - George Upton

The Horrors of Haarlem

As already stated, many of the principal cities, and at last the entire provinces of Holland, Zealand, Utrecht, and Friesland, followed the example of Brill by renouncing allegiance to Alva and declaring for Orange. This act did not imply absolute revolt against Spanish authority, for they had not yet seceded from Spain. They merely declared against Alva and recognized the Prince of Orange, who had previously been the deputy-governor of these provinces, as well as the lawful stadtholder under the king.

To legalize their acts the dignitaries of the provinces and magistrates of cities—among them, Dordrecht, Haarlem, Leyden, Delft, Amsterdam, Gouda, Rotterdam, Gorkum, Schiedam, Schoonhoven, Brill, Alkmaar, Hoorn, Enkhuizen, Edam, Monnikendam, Medemblik, and Purmerend—assembled at Dordrecht on July 15, 1572. The absolute authority of the Prince (who was represented by Marnix of Saint Aldegonde) as royal stadtholder was again acknowledged, and Count de la Marcke, the captor of Brill, was appointed Admiral of the fleet. The assembly also declared freedom of worship to the three Christian communions,—the Lutheran, Reformed, and Roman Catholic,—and decided to advise the other Netherlands provinces to elect the Prince as Protector of the United Netherlands during the King's absence; for the remaining eleven southern provinces—among them, Brabant, the richest and most powerful of them all—had not yet abandoned their submission to Alva's despotic sway.

The step thus taken by these four northern provinces involved great hazard. They had provoked the wrath of Alva, and unless they were speedily prepared to protect themselves, he might visit terrible retribution upon them. But these people were courageous,—much more courageous, fierce, and aggressive than their brethren in the rich, luxurious South. They were the men who had fought with the sea for mastery of the land. Protestantism had made a deeper impression upon them, and they had greater confidence in Orange, whom they almost idolized, and with whose administration of government they were already acquainted.

Orange was not the man to betray this confidence, or to hold back when his people cried, "Come over and help us." Although it entailed the sacrifice of his own and his family's fortunes and overwhelmed him in debt to raise an army, he succeeded in organizing one, and marched to the Netherlands with eleven thousand infantry and six thousand cavalry. Though the expedition was undertaken with every prospect of success, it was as unfortunate as the previous one.

He was received this time with open arms by the cities, and with the aid of the fleet he was enabled to attack by sea and land, but it was a difficult task, with mercenaries such as he had raked together, to make any headway against Alva's thoroughly experienced army. They fought bravely enough in battle, but their principal occupation was pillaging and reveling in every form of dissipation. As they were almost constantly engaged in these excesses, and as their pay was both scanty and irregular, it was impossible to maintain order or discipline among them. Orange went into Flanders with this army to relieve his brother Louis, who was besieged by Alva at Mons, which the latter had captured by sudden assault. Alva, however, pursued his old tactics, and avoided battle with Orange, though the latter bombarded his well-protected encampment.

Retreat was Orange's only alternative, for his troops, enraged by his failure to pay them, spent their time mainly in plundering the people. He had also narrowly escaped personal capture in a midnight surprise. His worst discouragement, however, was the treachery of France. The French king, only a short time before this, had promised to do everything in his power to save the Netherlands from Spanish despotism; but, exemplifying a common saying of the time, "No one keeps faith with a heretic," he suddenly changed his intentions. Instead of the help which Orange had expected, he received the tidings of the horrors of Saint Bartholomew's Eve in Paris, which Charles IX precipitated, and which in a few days cost the lives of thirty thousand of the best citizens of France.

Philip of Spain was so overjoyed at this horrible deed that he celebrated a Te Deum, and Alva commended Charles for his decision and courage. There was great rejoicing in the Spanish camp at Mons; hut Orange was so overcome by the awful news that Ile declared he felt as if he had been felled to the ground by the blow of a sledge hammer. It was at this time he wrote:

"It has pleased God to take from us every human hope which we had placed upon man."

It may have been due to the effect of this news upon Orange that he so far neglected his usual wariness as to expose himself to a night attack by the crafty Alva. It was so successful that Orange was saved from capture only by his faithful dog, who did not cease from barking and pulling at him until he had aroused him from sleep. He was exposed to still another danger, from which his escape was even more narrow. He was so deeply in debt to his mercenaries that some of their officers conspired to seize him and deliver him to the Spaniards for the large reward they would be sure to pay—a fate from which he was saved only by the determined exertions of those who still remained loyal to him. He reached Holland with only seventy troopers, determined, as he said, "to remain in Holland and Zealand by God's grace, and there await whatever it was God's pleasure for him to do."

The war now took on a different aspect. For the time being, armies did not meet in the field; as Orange could not collect troops able to meet Alva's force, he was compelled to act upon the defensive. The cities and provinces which had renounced Alva now had to protect themselves as best they could from his revenge. Fortunately they were strongly fortified, and the courage of their people was unbroken. It was still more fortunate that Orange was now in their midst and ready to assume the responsibility for their welfare.

In the brief respite from Alva's wrath Orange had so far restored the old order of things and re-established the reign of law, that the people who had been the victims of continuous lawlessness and despotic tyranny breathed more freely again. The cities once more enjoyed their old rights and liberties. Their revenues, instead of falling into the rapacious clutches of the Spaniards, were administered for their own advantage, by a chamber of accounts which first sat in Haarlem, and later in Delft. The entire direction of the governing power was in safe, loyal, and experienced hands. Before long, indications of the old prosperity were visible, when suddenly Alva and his cruel son, Don Frederick or Frederick of Toledo, were seen approaching like the dark shadows of fate.

The fortress of Mons where Orange, it will he remembered, made his last effort, had already been stoutly defended by Count Louis for three months against Alva. The people of other cities had to pay dearly for it. Cities in Guelderland, Flanders, and Brabant, which were friendly to Orange, were the victims of Alva's fury. Mechlin was so despoiled that Alva sent four millions of plunder to Antwerp.

This, however, was but the prelude to the full chapter of calamity awaiting the provinces; and yet these outrages only served to strengthen them in their heroic resistance. Zutphen was burned, and Naarden on the Zuyder Zee was levelled to the ground, and its people robbed and massacred. The most terrible atrocities were perpetrated at Haarlem, but at the same time the loftiest deeds of heroism were also witnessed there during its seven months' siege—deeds which hardly have their equal in the world's history.

Haarlem, situated upon the now dried up Haarlem Lake, was built in the Dutch style, and was one of the richest and most beautiful cities in Holland. Its houses were elegant, its streets spacious and regular, its canals deep and navigable. Don Frederick invested this comparatively unprotected city with thirty thousand men and a large artillery force. The siege created great alarm. The burgomaster and magistrates were inclined to surrender, but the people were of a different mind, and decided to make a vigorous resistance; in this they were encouraged by the brave commandant, Friese Wybond von Ripperda.

Aided by the dense autumnal fog, the people were able to lay in supplies of provisions and strengthen the defences, after which they confidently expected that Orange would come to their assistance. The Spaniards were repulsed in two assaults with heavy losses. The women participated in the defence. Widow Kenau Hasselaer commanded a troop of amazons, who rivaled the men in activity and heroic courage. Huge stones, live coals, boiling oil, and burning hoops smeared with pitch were rained upon the heads of the assailants in such quantities that their ardor was considerably abated. The Spanish losses were so heavy, eight hundred having been killed at one time in a sally made by the Haarlemers, that the latter inscribed upon their standards "Haarlem is the graveyard of the Spaniards."

But the Haarlemers could not maintain such courage forever. All of Orange's efforts to succor the beleaguered city were frustrated by the vigilance of the Spaniards. Count de la Marcke, famous for his capture of Brill, who came to the defence of the city with a body of troops raised by Orange, met with a crushing defeat at Hillegom, between Haarlem and Leyden. The people were now compelled to rely upon subsistence brought across the lake on sledges built by Orange for that purpose; but even this relief, scanty as it was, was soon cut off by the Spanish fleet, which controlled the lake and prevented their return.

Meanwhile, another force was sent to their assistance by Orange, under command of Batenburg. It was planned that he should make a dash through the Spanish camp, during a sally of the garrison, and take four hundred wagons loaded with provisions and powder into the city. The news of this expedition was sent to the Haarlemers by carrier pigeons, but the birds were shot by the Spaniards. This put the latter in possession of the secret and enabled them easily to frustrate the scheme.

Orange was wellnigh in despair. He wrote a most pressing letter to his brothers, particularly to Count Louis, urging them to send help, as subsistence in the city was almost gone; but it was all in vain. The citizens still made a desperate resistance. Both besieged and besiegers displayed such fury and vindictiveness that even Alva was amazed and wrote to the King: "Such a war as this was never heard of before." A famous historian of our own time says:

"There is scarcely an instance in history of fearful suffering, of exalted patriotism, of unconquerable valor, of terrible cruelty, to be compared with what Haarlem endured and displayed in that awful time."

Meanwhile hunger laid its cruel hands upon the city. The people devoured most loathsome things to satisfy their craving for food. Many died of starvation in the streets. It was only when the last hope of relief had disappeared that surrender was decided upon. The most savage of soldiers might well have honored such heroism as the city had shown, but the inhuman son of Alva knew not the meaning of the word pity. The garrison and most of the burghers were sent to the scaffold. Five hangmen and their helpers worked day and night, and when hanging became too slow a mode of death for Don Frederick, the victims were tied together, two and two, and thrown into the Haarlem Lake.

Orange was terribly disheartened by these outrages, which cried to the very heavens. He wrote at once to his brother Louis: "Since it has pleased the good God, we must submit to the divine will. I call upon God to witness that I have done everything in my power to help the city." These unnatural cruelties, instead of discouraging the Netherlanders, only aroused still greater indignation and resentment. If Alva really believed that he could break down any further resistance by the terror which reports of these outrages would arouse, he soon discovered his mistake. The courage of the people was all the more inflexible; their determination to continue the struggle all the more steadfast.

The Spaniards now met with some reverses, which roused Orange's activity anew. The "Beggar Fleet," four-and-twenty sail, defeated six Spanish vessels which were much larger and more heavily armed, upon the Zuyder Zee, and Count Bossu, the Spanish admiral, was captured. Alva's son, also, was forced to raise the siege of Alkmaar, because Orange's decision to flood the country rather than give up the city. Several castles and cities, Gertruidenberg among them, were also retaken by the Netherlanders.

This blow to the unspeakable arrogance of Alva was quickly followed by many others. The second came soon after, when Alva and his son were recalled from the Netherlands. Alva quit the county followed by the execrations of the people, to end his miserable career in obscurity and disgrace.