William of Orange - George Upton

The Inquisition

The character and the designs of Philip lay before the keen eyes of Orange as clearly as an open book, but he did not yet know all that Philip was contemplating. In a chance moment, however, he discovered it.

Orange tarried in Paris a little while after the conclusion of the treaty with France, and was invited to a hunt by the King. Supposing that Orange was on the same friendly terms with Philip that he had been with his father, Charles V, the King confided to him that he had made a long-wished-for agreement with Philip to root out the Protestant heresy in the two kingdoms. Orange listened attentively. France and Spain in league for the extirpation of Protestantism! Here was a real danger. He was much disturbed by the information, but showed no outward signs of alarm. He had not imagined that the storm threatening his new fatherland was so near or so portentous. It behooved him to be on his guard.

It was plain enough now to Orange that Philip would be an open enemy ere long. It would be wrong to assume that Orange up to this time had meditated wresting the Netherlands from the dominion of his king. He had played the thankless and difficult role of intermediary between the two for more than a year, and he continued to act as such until he was compelled to take another course. I le was too honorable and conscientious to break with his liege lord, whose father had been so kind to him, but at the same time his sense of duty would not permit him to be other than a friend and helper of the people among whom he had spent his youth, whom he greatly loved, and who were now threatened with merciless persecution. Another person, under such circumstances, might have hesitated to interpose between King and people, for, with a monarch on the one hand so suspicious that he distrusted every step they took and every word they uttered, and with a people on the other hand who had grown impatient and rebellious under the continued provocation of injustice and cruelty what hope was there of successful results? And yet, by his courage and tact, the Prince had thus far saved his unfortunate country from the sword already drawn, and averted the storm now so rapidly approaching.

Orange's first step was to gather about him the real friends of the fatherland and open their eyes to the dangers which menaced it, for they could render him faithful assistance in all his undertakings, by their influence as well as by their courageous and self-sacrificing spirit. These friends, of course, were among the distinguished personages of the Kingdom and had unshaken confidence in him. A part of the Netherlands nobility, but a small and rapidly diminishing part, including such men as the Count de Vorlaimont and the Duke of Aerschot, had unconditionally given their adherence to the King. They were as fanatical as the King himself, and for that reason were distrusted by all who had the rights of the country and the liberties of the people at heart. The people until now had lacked a leader like Orange, who could embody their ideas in practical form and direct their efforts after some fixed plan. Thus it was that he came to the people, and they to him.

The most prominent men among these distinguished personages were Admiral Count Van Hoorn and Count Egmont, Prince of Gavre. The latter was so greatly beloved that he could confidently enter into a contest with Orange for the affection and esteem of the people. Their names were nearly always coupled together.

Count Egmont was the soul of chivalry, a great soldier, the victor of Saint Quentin and Gravelines, and the hero of the popular songs. He was descended direct from the dukes of Gavre, and married a princess of Bavaria who was the mother of his nine children. He was greeted upon the streets with popular ovations and overshadowed Orange himself in his soldierly bearing, smartness of appearance, affability, courtliness, and almost prodigal generosity. In quiet, peaceful times he would have been the observed of all observers, a gay butterfly in the sunshine; but for the rough time in which he lived he was too gay, capricious, thoughtless— too much flesh and blood. That period required strong, steadfast natures like that of Orange. Orange alone could lead to victory. Egmont without Orange could not achieve victory for the cause in which they were both engaged. Ludwig of Nassau, brother of Orange, and the Lord of Saint Aldegonde, of whom we shall speak later, were of much more consequence than Egmont, who stood so high in popular favor, and Orange was in constant communication with them as well as with Hoorn and Egmont. Back of these were the entire people, the cities, the body of merchants, and the provinces. They looked upon these leaders as their natural representatives and protectors, and confided the welfare of the fatherland to them absolutely.

The first and most important matter for consideration by the Prince and his associates was the army which the King had left behind in the provinces. This army, poorly paid and undisciplined, conducted itself in the Netherlands like a band of outlaws. Frontier towns, especially in Zealand, were pillaged and the people maltreated. But shocking as the outrages and cruelties of the army were, Orange had other and more urgent reasons for its removal. He feared, and with good reason, that Philip intended to employ it against the defenseless Netherlands, and thus make his plans for the persecution and subjugation of the country more effective. The continued presence of the army made the people more and more anxious about their rights, and as this anxiety increased, their demands for its removal became more insistent. But Orange proceeded with the utmost judgment and caution, lest in their efforts to secure its withdrawal the King might find a pretext for keeping it there.

The next greatest danger to the country was Cardinal Granvella, the malicious, scheming prelate, who subsequently became the instigator of the attempts upon the life of Orange. At this time, as we have already said, he ruled the Netherlands, but at present he only employed cunning and chicanery as the agencies for depriving the people of their rights.

Orange realized the necessity of baffling this man and destroying his power, but he did not underestimate the difficulty of the achievement. Granvella was perhaps the only person in whom the ever suspicious Philip reposed absolute confidence, and for this reason Orange knew he would not leave him without ample protection against his enemies. He not only stood high in the King's favor, but he was one of the most astute men of the time. He knew how to take care of himself, and was a past master in the cabals and intrigues which characterized the political life of the day. But Orange did not hesitate on that account. This man was too dangerous to the liberty of the Netherlands; more dangerous, in fact, than the army, and in some way he must be removed.

Orange now began to display that masterly efficiency which we shall often observe in his career. His struggle with Granvella was peculiar, because it was secret rather than open. It would have been useless for him to engage so cunning an adversary in the ordinary way; he must be met upon his own ground and fought with his own weapons. The fortress could be taken only by mining. Work upon the surface would be useless. There was no way of capturing it except by mining and counter-mining, and he who mined the most skilfully would have the advantage. This was the nature of the contest between Granvella and Orange. It has never been known just how he accomplished it, but it is certain that Orange was kept informed of all the secret proceedings at the Spanish court and at he court of Margaret of Parma, that he knew the substance of the King's letters and instructions relative to the Netherlands, and that neither the King nor Granvella took a step without his knowing all about it. All this time he was organizing the friends of the fatherland more closely, and he made a strong union with the German imperial princes by his second marriage with Anne of Saxony, and also by attending and taking an active interest in t he election of the German emperor, at Frankfort-on-the-Main.

Granvella's position was at last so far undermined that Orange began an open attack by sending to the King two letters, signed by Egmont, Count Hoorn, and himself, informing him, in the most direct manner, that the failure to remove Granvella was endangering the royal authority in the Netherlands, and that a man so cordially detested after a year's experience ought to be recalled. The hatred which the Netherlanders felt for Granvella was principally due to his persistent persecution of the Protestants, though he was only carrying out the instructions of the King. The Reformation movement, in spite of the unfavorable situation, was spreading in the Netherlands as it was in Germany, Switzerland, and France. Next to France, where the persecutions of the Protestants culminated in the horrible massacre of St. Bartholomew's Eve, the Netherlands had suffered most. During the reign of Charles V, about fifty thousand persons fell victims, and this was all the more indefensible because the Emperor had granted religious liberty to the German Protestants, and had permitted the evangelical doctrines to be preached freely and openly to the German army which accompanied him to the Netherlands; while Netherlands Protestants at the same time and in the same localities were hanged and burned. And this, too, when Charles V was held in high regard because he cared for the interests of the people and was, body and soul, a Netherlander!

In the case of his son Philip, it was different. Nothing escaped his notice, and all appeals to him were fruitless. His hatred of the Protestants, and his cruel fanaticism, exceeded all bounds. At an auto-da-fe  in Valladolid, when many victims expiated their desertion from the Catholic faith by death at the stake, the King, who was present, declared that if his own son should lapse into heresy he would consent to his death by fire, nay, he would even light the fagots with his own hand; and no one who knew him doubted his statement. If parental love had no influence upon him in such a case, what could the Netherlanders, whom he hated, expect?

The Netherlanders already knew what to expect, for the King had issued an edict that persecution should continue until every soul had submitted to the Roman Church; but they paid little attention to the edict until Granvella began to enforce its provisions. He began in deadly earnest to extirpate the Protestant faith before it should spread farther. In place of the three existing bishoprics, fourteen were constituted at once, and the Spanish Inquisition was placed under their special supervision. The Netherlanders dreaded nothing so much as the Inquisition, and with good reason.

This Inquisition had been active in Spain for many generations. It was first employed to obliterate the last vestige of the Moors, who were once masters of the country and who belonged to the Mohammedan faith. About the same time its power was used to destroy the Jews in Spain, and when no trace of Moor or Jew was left, the so-called "heresy" was its next victim.

Torquemada was the first Inquisitor-general. He administered his office with such untiring industry that he could boast of having burned ten thousand persons in eighteen years and of having sent ninety thousand more into banishment. Reports of the operations of the Inquisition soon spread through all countries. People were appalled by its merciless cruelty, its unprecedented injustice, and its arbitrary power. They looked with genuine horror upon a country which tolerated such an infamous institution. Its penalties were enforced not merely for open confession of heresy, but for expressions and acts which looked that way, and which were detected by its spies. The lightest suspicion was sufficient to bring a victim before the Inquisition, and once in its clutches no one escaped. The unfortunate victim never failed to meet torture and death.

It is no wonder the Netherlanders were dismayed by the introduction of such a tribunal. They had had a kind of Inquisition during the time of Charles V, but had not greatly heeded it. One inquisitor was assigned to each bishopric, but he could not always deal severely with those of another faith. Simple execution had been the extreme penalty up to this time. Death by fire had not been practised.

Under Granvella, however, all this was changed. There were fourteen inquisitors in the new bishoprics instead of three, and they were merciless in their activity.

Public security disappeared. The inquisitors arbitrarily invaded peaceful households and tore husbands from wives, children from parents, and parents from children. They were pronounced guilty upon the slightest evidence, and consigned to the fire. A schoolmaster had to leave wife and child and go to the stake because he had read from the Bible. Another was burned for copying something from a Geneva book. A whole family was burned for praying at home and not going to mass. The terror and the anger of the people grew from day to day.

At last, Granvella was removed. Orange had relieved the Netherlands of its most dangerous enemy. The people breathed more freely. Persecution ceased. Happier times seemed in prospect. Egmont and others rejoiced, but Orange took a different view of the matter. He knew that Philip's plans would not be abandoned because his tool had been removed. He knew that Philip would rather give up his life than cease persecution, for the fanatical King believed he was zealously serving God. Philip knew so little of the real meaning of the evangelical faith that he once exclaimed, kneeling before a crucifix:

"O God, keep me always strong in my purpose never to call myself master of those who deny thee, Lord."

The King looked upon all Protestants as atheists. Orange entertained exactly the opposite view in matters of faith. He disapproved of such horrible cruelties; and although at this time he was still a Roman Catholic, he forbade the persecution of Protestants in his principality of Orange as well as in the provinces of Zealand and Holland, of which he was stadtholder. In this, as in so many other ways, he was in advance of his gloomy, narrow-minded century. He considered any violation of the conscience, in matters of religious belief, as the greatest sin against God. As, a century later, the great Elector of Prussia was the champion of religious liberty in the extreme east of Germany, so Orange fought its hard battles in the west of the Empire. His noble heart bled every time he heard of or witnessed the suffering of the people, and he would willingly have given his own life could he have purchased their liberty with it. He put forth all his efforts to avert the approaching danger, and accomplished much, but he could not entirely prevent suffering. In the States Council, of which he was a member as a Knight of the Golden Fleece, he made vigorous but useless protests. He asked in vain for a convocation of the States General for t he protection of the liberties of the people. Philip refused to order it. He sent his friend Egmont to the court at Madrid to inform the King of the wretched condition of the country; but this, too, was in vain. Every appeal was met with absolute contempt. The capricious and easily impressed Egmont was sent away with a royal gift of twelve thousand ducats instead of the relief of the Protestants, which was the object of his mission. Indeed, he unknowingly brought back with him in his own pocket sealed instructions for still more rigorous measures.

The King wrote to the Regent that the edicts and the Inquisition should be enforced to the letter and posted in every town and village. When Orange heard of this he exclaimed:

"We shall soon witness the beginning of an extraordinary tragedy."