William of Orange - George Upton

Accession of Philip

It was one of the most striking characteristics of Prince William of Orange that he never retraced a step once taken. In this he was unlike most men, who imitate the famous dance-procession at Echternach, by taking two steps forward and then one backward. Young as he was, his clear vision and steadfastness of purpose saved him from such vacillation.

Immediately after the abdication of Charles V, the Prince took one of the most decisive steps of his life by consecrating himself to the service of the fatherland. Though this step eventually entailed upon him a burden of anxiety, struggle, and sacrifice almost too heavy for human strength, he never regretted it, for he entered upon his career with his whole heart and with the thorough knowledge of all it involved. He knew better than any of the other dignitaries what storms were impending over the Netherlands. He did not leave the country, but chose to remain a Netherlander and to perform his official duties, but he no longer maintained a position near the throne. He took his place by the side of the threatened people.

The Netherlanders themselves would not have recognized the sovereignty of the new king of Spain, and would have selected another ruler, probably Maximilian II, at a later period Emperor of Germany, had they not feared it might grieve their favorite old ruler, Charles V. Had he died at this time, instead of abdicating, the fate of the Netherlanders might have been entirely different. They had entertained suspicions of the new king for a long time; and these suspicions were well grounded, for they soon had ample opportunity to know him.

In compliance with the wishes of his father, who would have been only too glad to see amicable relations between his son and the Netherlanders, Philip resided at the Brussels court for a long time, but his stay there was not productive of any important results, and ended in general dislike of him. The open-hearted, free, and joyous people of the Netherlands had nothing in common with the gloomy, unfriendly Philip, so young but already so fanatical. His father was an entirely different man. He had lived in the Netherlands, had discarded the stiff, pompous Spanish court etiquette, and had been a Netherlander among the Netherlanders. He had spoken their language, which Philip never learned. He had adopted their mode of dress, taken part in heir sports, and invariably manifested his preference for Netherlands ways. For these reasons he could afford to be somewhat exacting with his subjects, especially in religious matters, and in the imposition of taxes. His friendliness compensated for everything else, and also enabled him to develop trade and commerce to an extent never reached before. The Netherlanders had never before encountered such a morose and malign personality as Philip had shown himself to be, but they did not yet thoroughly know him. If they had known him as they did later, they would have sacrificed everything rather than have accepted him as their ruler.

Philip was actuated by two overmastering passions, which he manifested throughout his reign,—an unbounded lust of power, and an indescribable fanaticism. It is difficult to say which was the stronger of the two. He was a tyrant in the full meaning of the word. His career was one of blood, and his way was thickly strewn with the dead. The Inquisition was at the height of its cruel activity during his reign; and, incredible as it seems, when doing his worst he believed he was doing God's will, and that the work was pleasing to Him. Even when atrocities were committed that cried aloud to Heaven, his conscience was undisturbed.

These passions, however, were not so openly manifest at the beginning of his reign, though even then a close observer could not have helped seeing the new ruler's aversion, indeed hatred, of the proud, free Netherlanders, nor could they have helped suspecting the deep designs he was meditating against them.

His disposition showed itself at the very outset in the appointment which he made for the extremely important position of regent. If he had consulted the wishes of the people he would have selected the young William of Orange or the Count of Egmont;

but he did not even consider them, nor did it occur to him to select a prince of the Austrian house for the position. All of these were too independent to suit him. He selected Margaret of Parma, who was absolutely subservient to him, and then assigned three persons, who were also his tools, as her advisers,—chief among them Granvella, Bishop of Arras, who controlled the other two. Granvella, a man of great political ability, very ambitious, and absolutely devoted to the King, really had the power in his own hands and directed all the affairs of state, for Margaret of Parma was regent only in name. A still further proof that Philip II was meditating secret designs against the country was shown by the fact that when he left for Spain, never to set foot again on Netherlands soil, he left a Spanish force there in defiance of the rights of the people, and that these troops remained there notwithstanding the people's appeals and protests. Still stronger evidence was furnished in his outspoken dislike of William of Orange, who was greatly beloved by the Netherlanders. These people had been intrusted to Philip by his father as a precious legacy. Charles V had confidence in Orange, and he had trained him to be a pillar upon which his son could lean while engaged in the difficult task of ruling the country from a foreign land. But Philip scorned any such support.

William of Orange already had performed important service for the young king, for he had conducted the war with France to a successful issue, and negotiated a very advantageous treaty for Spain, but Philip only gave him the honors which belonged to him and which he was obliged to give him. He appointed him State Councillor and Knight, but did it with such manifest unwillingness that it caused the Prince more irritation than joy. The gloomy, fanatical sovereign had a natural aversion to the noble and magnanimous Orange, who was the champion of everything which he hated, and was also displeased with him because he protected the rights and liberties of the Netherlanders against his designs. His hostility to him was apparent to everyone when he departed from the Netherlands. Orange went with other eminent personages to Blissingen, where the King embarked. When Philip saw him he could no longer contain himself. With a malignant expression upon his face he turned toward him and in a voice trembling with unsuppressed rage, exclaimed: "Not the Estates, but you, you, you!" Philip meant by this that the Estates would not have dared to question his policy if Orange had not suggested it to them and taken the lead himself. He had sense enough to know that this sharp-sighted, resolute young man would become the very heart and soul of Netherlands' opposition to him and his policy, if indeed he was not so already. This is why he exclaimed, "not the Estates, but you, you, you!"

Philip hated Orange, but he likewise feared him. They had known each other from boyhood. Perhaps the ill-favored and somewhat deformed king still retained some of that envy with which as a boy he had regarded the shapely and active Orange, who was a general favorite. There could be no greater contrast than that between these two, who had grown up under the care of the same emperor.

Philip was not wanting in sagacity and understanding, but he was cold-hearted, calculating, malicious, and egotistic; while Orange, on the contrary, was intellectually gifted, alert of mind, full of noble and lofty aspirations, and of a natural inclination to everything that is good and true. Philip was full of suspicions and secret malignity, and was constantly planning cunning artifices, while Orange was prudent, discriminating, and cautious, and yet full of faith in humanity and of love for it.

Both men were able, but there was a difference in their ability. While Orange worked out his high ideas and plans to a successful conclusion, by steadfast perseverance and unwearied activity, combined with undisturbed tranquillity of spirit, Philip, notwithstanding all his arbitrariness and lofty contempt for dangers and obstacles, failed to accomplish his purposes. He never could have made a country prosperous, but he could turn a prosperous country into a graveyard.

William of Orange is incorrectly called "the Silent." He knew when to speak and when to keep silent. With him, "Speech was silvern, but silence was golden." He often kept silent under Spanish despotism because it was unsafe to speak one's thoughts; but in reality he was a ready speaker, and won more victories by his speech than by his sword. He was exceedingly fond of social intercourse and witty conversation among friends and at banquets. No one who saw him entertaining his guests would ever have thought of calling him silent. His strongest characteristic was the wonderful calmness of his strong spirit. There was not an event in his checkered life that disturbed his composure. He was never found unprepared. He neither knew fear nor felt uncertainty. He depended as little upon good fortune as he bowed to misfortune. Always untroubled by circumstances, he carried out his well-laid plans with indomitable energy.

He knew himself better than the world, which called him "the Silent," did. He chose for his emblem the halcyon, which floats along in her nest, undisturbed by the furious waters around her, and for his motto "Saevis tranquillus in undis" ("Tranquil amid raging billows"). Such he was, and such he ever proved himself. No one could read his thoughts in his dark face, nor could any one divine what he wished to conceal. This repose of spirit gave to his personality a loftiness and dignity, to his words a deliberation and discretion, and to his actions a clearness and precision which were indispensable to one born to be the leader of the great movements yet to come in his career.

The people looked up to him as if he were their idol. Their love for him and trust in him were boundless. The gentleness of his heart, which was manifested to the lowest as well as the highest, the elegant style of living which he was enabled to keep up by his regal wealth, his princely generosity, his liberality to the poor, and his open-handed hospitality—all contributed to win him the people's love. That love was not misplaced. He never deceived their expectations. He sacrificed everything for the people—property and life.

Philip II of Spain had good reason, while planning the persecution of that country, to hate and to fear this man, who stood solid as a rock in defence of the rights and liberties of the people.