William of Orange - George Upton

The Assassination of William of Orange

Philip replied to this union of the Netherlands under Orange by despatching an army of twenty thousand men there, and by an open declaration of war against the rebels. Alexander Farnese, Prince of Parma, nephew of Philip, and son of Margaret, ex-Regent of the Netherlands, was assigned to the command of these picked, experienced troops. This prince was not such a weakling as the handsome and crafty John of Austria, for young as he was, he had shown conspicuous ability, and was an enemy not to be despised even by Orange. A soldier from his childhood, and reared in camps, he manifested in addition to his native energy and coolness really extraordinary military skill, combined with unusual political ability. His dignity of bearing also lent peculiar force to everything he said and did. In every way he seemed to be a man who, backed by a powerful and as yet unconquered army, and the royal authority of his uncle, might be relied upon to destroy the influence of Orange in the Netherlands. And yet the most that he accomplished was a dastardly assassination!

Farnese began his career in the Netherlands at the battle of Gembloux, where the military power of the country was almost annihilated in a crushing defeat. The victory, however, only gave him possession of the cities of Louvain, Todrique, and Tirlemont, while at that very time in the North the great and flourishing city of Amsterdam joined the party of Orange. Farnese, however, was more fortunate in his diplomacy, for he succeeded in arousing a feeling of distrust in the southern provinces toward the northern, and inducing the Walloon States, Hainaut and Artois, to desert Orange and reunite with Spain.

The attitude of the southern provinces caused Orange great anxiety, the more so because Farnese was achieving continuous successes by his military skill. He realized now that his scheme of uniting the southern and northern provinces in a compact whole was only a beautiful dream, and that the religious prejudices of the two halves might prove a perpetual obstacle to the union. He deemed it all the more necessary therefore to effect some form of confederation which would prove absolutely reliable. The outcome of his plans was the "Utrecht Union," the most important provision in the agreement being the following:

"The provinces of Guelderland, Zutphen, Holland, Zealand, Utrecht, and that part of Friesland between Ems and Buwers, herewith unite in perpetuity, as if they were a single province. No other agreement or act of any kind shall separate them in future. The members of this Union will assist each other in every time of need and danger, with life and goods and blood, against any force brought against them in whatever name or for whatever purpose, be it in the name of the King, or be it for the purpose of introducing the Catholic religion by force.

"With reference to divine worship, this principle is established: Every one shall be free and untrammeled in his enjoyment of his faith and form of worship; there shall be no restriction of belief or of freedom of conscience.

"Furthermore, the exclusively Catholic provinces will be gladly welcomed in this Union if they shall accept the other articles and prove themselves patriotic. No member of the Union shall be allowed to interfere with the religious rights of another, at any time or in any manner."

The significance of this "Utrecht Union" was soon apparent to Farnese, who found his victorious progress arrested; and Philip, who fondly believed that his nephew's activity would reestablish his authority in the North found the door literally shut in his face. The defeat of his plans by Orange at the moment when success seemed absolutely certain, threw Philip into a terrible rage. He had never been so angry before. He hated no one in the world more intensely than this man, who continually blocked his way. He charged him alone with the responsibility of frustrating his plans.

Fully determined to destroy Orange, he summoned Cardinal Granvella, the Prince's mortal enemy, from Rome to Madrid, that he might counsel with him. The notorious prelate, who would gladly have seen Orange killed long ago, had no doubt as to the most effective means of securing that result. He discountenanced his removal by an armed force or by intrigue, and plainly declared that Orange should be proclaimed an outlaw and that a price should be set upon his head. The King eagerly assented to the Cardinal's suggestion. Little time was wasted. Farnese was taken into their confidence, for, as Governor-general of the Netherlands and Commander of the army, he would have the amplest opportunities for quick, decisive action, or what was still better, he might fill the role of executioner himself.

The principal reasons assigned for issuing the ban against Orange were faithlessness to the King,, heresy, and conspiracies to frustrate the King's efforts to reestablish peace in the country. The preamble of the ban was filled with insulting epithets stigmatizing Orange as "tyrant," "pest of Christendom," "enemy of the human race," "Cain," and "Judas Iscariot." After these and similar explosions of rage, followed the ban:

"Orange is declared a traitor. His possessions are forfeited. It shall be the highest disgrace, and shall involve extreme penalties, for any one to trade with him, have communication with him, speak with him, visit or harbor him, give him food or drink, or assist him even in his direst need. Within a month his honors and rights as a noble, his goods, and his life, shall be forfeited. Every friend and associate shall forsake him. He is proscribed, and every one shall treat him as an outlaw, upon whose head a price has been set. Whoever shall deliver him living or dead, be he stranger or native, and whoever shall slay him will receive, when the deed is accomplished, the sum of twenty-five thousand crowns in gold for himself or for his family, in ready money, or its equivalent in land, as he may choose. If he has committed even the most heinous of crimes at any previous time he shall be pardoned, and if he is not of noble rank, he shall be ennobled as a reward for his courage."

A cry of indignation rang through the Netherlands when this infamous ban was made public. The provinces openly expressed their detestation of this latest outrage by the King, and provided Orange with a bodyguard.

Orange defended himself in a detailed reply, called the "Apology," for which he was somewhat criticised at the time in certain quarters. A careful examination of the document, however, which was translated into various languages and widely circulated, will show that there was no ground for these criticisms. It places the conduct of Philip in a most disgraceful light. Among other things Orange says:

"Must Philip be told once more what has caused the unrest in the Netherlands? Does he not know already? It is not Orange, but Philip. It is the insolent and cruel denial of Netherlands nationality by the perverse government of Spain that has kept the country inimical to him.

"True, I have warmly espoused the cause of the oppressed evangelical faith and Protestantism; true, I and those sympathizing with me have striven to expel the Spaniards; true, I approved the compromise. But this should not be attributed as disloyalty on my part, bud should be counted as honorable, for I only acted for the welfare of the fatherland. You may call me henceforth a heretic. Christ was once denounced as a Samaritan.

"I care not for your ban. I place my fate in God's hands. So long as it pleases Him I will live among my friends. You have set a price upon my head. This is no new thing. You have secretly had designs upon my life before, as I know from the best sources.

"And the assassin shall be ennobled! Oh, the horrible shamelessness which will compel a genuine nobleman, who feels his nobility in himself, to recognize a despicable villain as of equal rank. But if only at the price of my life and by my absence can quiet be restored; if my blood can bring peace and prosperity to the Netherlands, I freely proffer my head, over which no prince on earth but yourself has any power, as a propitiatory sacrifice. But if my life can yet be of service to the fatherland, with God's help and grace, I will consecrate it anew to the country."

The King's infamous treatment of Orange, who had only contended for the rights of the country and made great sacrifices for it, resulted disastrously to Spain. Tired with continual extortions, oppression, and cruelty, the people accepted the help from France which was tendered them by the Prince of Anjou, and by this act severed the last tie binding them to Spain. A public proclamation signed by delegates from Brabant, Guelderland, Zutphen, Flanders, Holland, Zealand, Friesland, Overyssel, and Mechlin, contained the following announcement:

"The United Provinces declare the King of Spain deposed from all authority in the Netherlands. They no longer recognize his sovereignty. They hereby release all officials and magistrates and their dependents, as well as all the people, from the oath of allegiance and obedience to Philip the Second of Spain."

This was the crushing answer to the murderous ban issued by Philip against Orange, and a fitting penalty also for his execrable tyranny. Spain had now lost the Netherlands forever. As it eventuated, France did not secure ascendency in the beautiful land; for the Prince of Anjou, after making a secret assault upon the freedom of the people by trickery, was forced to leave the country in disgrace. The noble house of Orange thereafter rose to still greater power, until at last the family virtually became hereditary sovereigns and exercised kingly authority. William's brave sons successively became stadtholders and protected the Netherlands in many a victorious and heroic resistance to the repeated attacks of Spain. The provinces tried hard to induce the Prince to take the office of governor-general, but he declined. He replied that he did not wish to give Philip any reason to say that he had taken his country from him. He was satisfied with the glory of being the founder of Netherlands liberty. On the other hand it gave him extreme pleasure when Zealand and Holland, the two faithful provinces which had endured and outlived the hardest blows of tyranny, named him hereditary Count of Holland. The festivities celebrated by the two provinces upon this occasion restrained for the time the murderous hand of Philip.

Shortly after this, however, while the Prince was visiting in Antwerp, an assault upon his life was planned by one Caspar Anastro, a local merchant who was on the verge of bankruptcy. Anastro had made a contract with Philip, by the terms of which he was to receive eight thousand ducats and the cross of Santiago for the assassination. He was too cowardly to commit the murder himself; and after vainly trying to induce his bookkeeper, Antonio di Venero, to do it, they found an easy tool for the accomplishment of the dastardly work in one John Jauregui, a fanatical Biscayan servant of his. The matter of compensation was arranged without any difficulty, for Jauregui's fanaticism was a sufficient motive of itself to urge him to commit the murder. Besides this, Anton Zimmerman, a Dominican friar, to whom the young man confided his purpose, approved of it. It was with an easy conscience, therefore, that Jauregui made his preparations. As Orange one day entered the antechamber after dinner with his guests, Jauregui advanced with a petition in his hand, which he offered the Prince, and as he did so drew a pistol and fired. The ball pierced the Prince's neck under the right ear, and passing through the roof of his mouth, came out through his left cheek.

Orange staggered, but did not fall. It seemed to him, as he afterwards said, as if a part of the house had fallen upon him. He exclaimed, "Do no harm to him; I forgive him my death." His entreaty, however, was of no avail; a halberdier, in his fury, cleft the assassin's head. Orange had little hope of living, but he recovered, though very slowly. The provinces appointed a solemn fast-day, and implored Heaven to save him. A severe hemorrhage, which occurred before the wound was scarred over, caused great anxiety for a time, and delayed the healing. It was several months, indeed, before he was able to go to church and participate in the thanksgiving.

The assassin's deed involved yet another victim. While Orange was recovering, his noble spouse, Charlotte of Bourbon, undoubtedly best beloved of the three women he had married, died. The shock occasioned by the deed, the long, terrible weeks of anxiety through which she had passed, and the weary night-watches threw her into a raging fever, which terminated fatally only a few days after Orange's recovery.

One would naturally have supposed that the fearful punishment inflicted upon the would-be murderer might have appalled others of his kind; for his body was quartered. His accomplices (Anastro fled at once), Venero and the friar Zimmerman, were first strangled, for Orange entreated that they should not be quartered alive. And yet, hardly a month after his recovery, three conspirators—Nicholas Salfado, a Spaniard; Hugot, a Walloon; and Basa, an Italian—attempted to poison him. They were hired by Farnese, and paid four thousand thalers in advance; but their plot was discovered in time.

In the following year, Dordogno, a Spaniard, was arrested, and confessed he had intended to murder the Prince. A French captain, who had fallen into the hands of the Spaniards, was released upon his promise to assassinate the Prince; but he was honorable enough to inform Orange of Farnese's design. Shortly after this, another plot was discovered and frustrated,—that of Hans Hanszoon, a merchant of Flushing, to blow him up by placing powder under his pew in church. The Prince about that time went to Delft. There it was discovered that five assassins were seeking at one time to kill him. He was literally beset with murderers hired by Philip and his agents. The very air which he breathed seemed to be full of danger, and yet no one was more self-composed or unconcerned than he. He went out in public even more frequently than usual. His courage was unshaken and his composure undisturbed by the plots of the royal assassin and his tools. He was watched over by the loving eyes of his people and his wife—for he had married again, and for the fourth time. He had chosen as his partner this time the daughter of Admiral Coligny, who was one of the victims on Saint Bartholomew's Eve, in Paris. This lady was doubly anxious, for her father and first husband had been the victims of assassins. But wickedness is often stronger than love.

The notorious Balthazar Gerard at last took the precious life of the Prince. It was one of the blackest deeds in the calendar of crime. Small and ill-favored in person, and comparatively young, for he committed the murder in his twenty-sixth year, he had contemplated but one object for six long years—the assassination of Orange. Living in an obscure little village in Burgundy, he had never seen or known Orange, but his wild fanaticism led him to consider him the most dangerous of heretics, by murdering whom he might merit a place in heaven. He was confirmed in this belief by a Jesuit in Treves, to whom he confided his purpose, and who promised he should wear a martyr's crown if he lost his life in the attempt. The guardian of a cloister in Tournay also encouraged him and sent him to Farnese, who was the general director of all these murderous plots. Gerard now worked in cooperation with the Prince of Parma, and was in the King's service. Jauregui's death did not intimidate him in the least; on the contrary, it seemed to embolden him.

William of Orange, Death


This shameless miscreant passed himself off in Delft as a Reformer, under the name of Francis Guion of Lyons, and pretended that his father had been a martyr to his faith in Besancon. He also imitated the manner of a most zealous Reformer, attended the Reformed service twice a day, and was rarely seen without his Bible and psalm-book. He soon became a conspicuous object in church circles, was mentioned at court, and gradually found his way there. Indeed, Orange at last had so much confidence in him that he sent him upon a mission to France, whence he returned with news of the death of the Prince of Anjou. He carried the message directly to the bedside of the Prince and was vexed with himself, as he afterwards confessed, that he had not taken a weapon with him when there was such an excellent opportunity to use it. He annoyed the Prince over and over again by his importunities, and at last Orange gave him money with which to leave Delft; but the villain used the money in the purchase of a pair of pistols, and then began his fiendish work.

During his stay in Delft Orange lived in a mansion which had formerly been the Saint Agatha Cloister. One day, as he was entering the dining-room with his wife, Gerard presented himself in the doorway and asked for a passport, so that he could leave Delft. It was the last opportunity for the Prince to save himself; for the Princess had noticed the wild, agitated appearance of the man and anxiously asked her husband who he was. Had the Prince had the slightest suspicion of danger, the murderer would have been unmasked, and his life would have been spared. With the utmost unconcern he replied, "The man has asked for a passport. Let it be made out," and went into the dining-room without the least thought of harm.

When dinner was over, Orange came out, and as he mounted the first step of the staircase, Gerard advanced as if to take his passport. His cloak thrown about him concealed a pistol loaded with three bullets. When face to face with Orange he suddenly drew the pistol and fired. The Prince was mortally wounded. As he fell he murmured, "My God! my God! have mercy upon these poor people, mine and thine "; and when his sister Catherine asked him whether he commended his soul to Jesus Christ, he faintly answered with dying lips, "Yes."

The Prince died almost immediately in the arms of his wife. It was the second time she had lost a husband by murder. She supplicated Heaven for strength and courage to bear her terrible sorrow. The murderer in the meantime tried to escape. Throwing away his hat and pistols, he ran through the stables to the wall and was about to jump into the moat when he was seized by a servant and a halberdier. Notwithstanding the fate in store for him, the fanatic displayed not a trace of fear or anxiety, and through his preliminary examination retained the same composure he had shown when arrested. Buoyed up by his delusion that Heaven would reward him for his bloody deed, he bore calmly all the terrible tortures which preceded his death.

Philip II kept his promise and paid Gerard's family twenty-five thousand gulden in gold, and ennobled them. Had William of Orange lived, Gerard would have been spared his fearful tortures and would have been executed at once; but his eloquent voice, which had so often pleaded for mercy was forever silent. He was now truly "The Silent One," as Granvella once called him. But though his voice was silenced, his deeds spoke and will speak for ever and ever.

His funeral ceremony was royal in every sense of the word. In order to give expression to their love and reverence the provinces arranged a pageant more impressive than any ever seen before. His funeral sermon was delivered by Arent Corneille, and the text was from the Revelation of Saint John:

"Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth. Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labors; and their works do follow them."

The whole people mourned. There was no place in Northern Netherlands where the day of Orange's funeral was not a day of tears and tolling bells. It was, however, not a tragedy for the Netherlands alone, but a world-tragedy; for Orange was the greatest man of his time. He was one of the noblest sons of Germany, whose memory all Germans are proud to honor; for while he saved the Netherlands, he saved Germany also. He was the mighty champion of the spiritual freedom of man, and its glorious martyr. To him the Netherlands owes its liberty and rights. His life will be a shining example in every struggle for freedom of conscience, freedom of worship, and the sanctity of human rights.