"The Prince is a rare man, of great authoritie, universally beloved, verie wyse in resolution in all things, and voyd of pretences, and that which is worthie of special prayse in hym, he is not dismayed with any losse or adversitie." Dr. WILSON to Lord BURLEIGH, 3RD December 1576.
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Copyright © 2016 by Frederic Harrison
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Distribution by Pronoun
FAMILY—BIRTH—EDUCATION—EARLY LIFE 1533-1556
GENERAL AND MINISTER—SECOND MARRIAGE—IN LOYAL OPPOSITION 1656-1564
THE PROTESTANT REVOLUTION 1564-1567
IN EXILE AND AFFLICTION—THE NASSAU FAMILY 1567-1580
BEGGARS OF THE SEA—BRILL—ST. BARTHOLOMEW— DEFEAT 1569-1572
THE DEATH GRAPPLE—NEGOTIATIONS—ABANDONMENT 1572-1574
REQUESENS—LEYDEN—CHARLOTTE DE BOURBON 1573-1576
DON JOHN—GENERAL UNION—APOGEE 1576-1578
UNITED STATES—ANJOU—ASSASSINS 1581-1583
LOUISE DE COLOGNY—DEATH—CONCLUSION 1583-1584
“WHEN WE STUDY THE foundation of the United Provinces,” says a great French writer, “we learn how a State, from an origin almost unnoticed, rapidly rose into greatness, was formed without design, and in the end belied all human forecast. Those large and wealthy provinces of the mainland which began the revolution —Brabant, Flanders, and Hainault—failed to achieve their freedom. In the meantime, a small corner of Europe, which had been won from the sea by infinite labour, and had maintained itself by its herring-fishery, rose suddenly to be a formidable power, held its own against Philip II., despoiled his successors of almost all their possessions in the East Indies, and ended by taking under its protection the monarchy of Spain” (Voltaire, Essai sur les Mœurs, cap. 164).
The man who inspired, founded, and made possible this marvellous development was William, Count of Nassau, titular Prince of Orange, surnamed the Silent.
The eloquent epigram of Voltaire records the result of his achievement. His career, like his nature and his circumstances, was made up of anomalies and filled with complex elements. The man who organised the national rebellion of Holland, by birth a German count, became by inheritance a Flemish magnate and a sovereign prince. A Lutheran by family, he was brought up a Catholic, and died a Calvinist. His early years were passed as a soldier and minister of the Empire, as ambassador and lieutenant of the King of Spain, and as a grandee of boundless magnificence. Himself the mainspring of a national and religious insurrection, his best energies were spent in moderating the political and religious passions which were at once the cause and the result of the struggle. Personally a devout man, he professed in succession all the three great forms of Christian belief, whilst steadily opposing all that was extreme and all that was violent in each. His memory is still passionately cherished in his adopted fatherland: first as the founder of an illustrious Commonwealth, then as the father of a long line of able statesmen and ruling princes, and finally as a martyr to the cause of national independence and liberty of conscience.
William, the eldest son of William, Count of Nassau, and of Juliana of Stolberg, was born in the hereditary castle of Dillenburg, in Nassau, on the 25th of April 1533, the eldest of five sons and seven daughters. By birth he was, through many generations, of pure German race, the heir of one of the smaller ruling houses of the Empire, a House which had produced many chiefs illustrious in war and in council, and which by a series of splendid alliances had amassed titles, offices, and vast possessions in Germany, in the Netherlands, and in France. By a singular fortune the boy William, then aged eleven, was named by the will of his cousin René, dying on the field young and childless, as heir to the immense fiefs of the Nassau race in the Netherlands, together with the puny State of Orange on the Rhone, and the barren title of sovereign Prince of Orange. From his twelfth year William of Nassau bore the style of the petty princedom which he never visited, and he transmitted the titular sovereignty to his descendants down to our own times. At the age of twenty-six, William became, by the death of his father, head of the House of Nassau-Dillenburg, the possession and revenues of which he transferred to his brother John. Thus, whilst his birth was as noble as any in Europe, fortune concentrated on him a singular array of honours and of estates. By his four marriages with princely and royal houses, Flemish, German, or French, he left a family of twelve children, whose descendants filled an even larger part in the annals of Europe than did the ancestors of William himself. The singular complications of this family history must be reserved for a separate appendix (see Appendix A); but it may be well to note the prominent figures of his House who preceded William as men famous in policy and war.
The courtly historian of the House of Nassau does not pretend to find in the local legends anything trustworthy before the eleventh century; but we need not trouble ourselves about the fierce and ambitious chieftains who held the beautiful, wooded hill country along the Lahn, on the eastern side of the Rhine, one of whom was the Emperor Adolphus in the thirteenth century. Otto I., about the close of that century, is taken as the stem of the House of Nassau-Dillenburg; and William himself in his famous Apology opens the history of his House with Otto II., 1311. “It is known to all men,” he replies proudly to Philip, “that I am no foreigner in the Netherlands. Count Otto, from whom I descend in the seventh degree, married the heiress of Vianden; his grandson, Engelbert I., married the heiress of Leck and Breda; and my ancestors have for centuries held baronies and lordships in Brabant, Flanders, Holland, and Luxemburg.”
Engelbert I. (1404), marrying Joanna, only child of the Lord of Polanen and Leck, brought into the House estates in Brabant; and made Breda the home of this branch of the family. He became a leading noble in the court of Burgundy. His grandson, Engelbert II., in the second half of the fifteenth century, played a still larger part, both as soldier and diplomatist, in the service of the Dukes of Burgundy and the Empire. He decided the victory of Guinegates, 1479, and was Governor of Flanders. By a family arrangement, maintained for centuries, one branch of the House held the estates in the Netherlands, and the other branch held those in the Empire, with cross successions on failure of sons,—when a fresh settlement was made.
On the death of Engelbert II., without sons, and of his brother John, who had married a daughter of the Landgrave of Hesse, the vast Netherlands’ possessions of the Nassaus passed (in 1516) to John’s elder son Henry; whilst the Nassau estates in Germany passed to a younger son, William. This William, by Juliana of Stolberg, was the father of William the Silent.
Henry, nephew, adopted son and heir of Engelbert II., surpassed both his uncle and his great grandfather in magnificence and power. “It was he,” says the Apology, “who placed the Imperial crown on the head of Charles V."—a service that the Emperor never forgot, which he rewarded by loading Henry with offices, honours, and great charges of State. And, by the favour of Francis I. of France, Henry obtained the hand of Claudia, sister of Philibert, Prince of Orange-Châlons. Philibert, dying without children, left his principality to René, the son of Claudia and Henry. Thus for the first time, in 1530, a Count of Nassau became Prince of Orange, a petty sovereignty now included in the French department of Vaucluse.
Orange, a territory of less than 40,000 acres, measuring eight leagues by four, with a population of 12,000, engulfed in the papal dominion of Avignon, had given the title to a nominal county or princedom, as is pretended, from the time of Charles the Great; but, in fact, it was in later years alternately occupied by the Emperor or a King of France. In the meantime the titular Prince of Orange, who only enjoyed his dominions at brief intervals, claimed to be a free sovereign, not a feudatory either of the Empire or the French kingdom. The barren honour was in later times contested in the Nassau family for centuries, and the puny state was finally ceded to Louis XIV. in 1713—the title of Prince continuing to be held by descendants of the Nassaus.
René of Nassau, inheriting the princedom of Orange- Châlons, followed the Emperor in arms and at court, as his father Henry and his uncle Philibert had done. He was a special favourite of Charles V., who made himstadtholder in Holland; and, in 1544, gave him high command in the attack on France. In this war, at St. Dizier, René was killed, to the intense grief of the Emperor, who received his last breath. By special permission of the Emperor, René had been empowered to name his heir, and he gave all his possessions and his princedom to young William, his first cousin, then a boy of eleven.
It was thus that, from boyhood, this scion of the princely House of Nassau became entitled to a rank and to estates far greater than those of his own father or his immediate ancestors. He united in himself the inheritance and the titles of the long line of Nassau- Dillenburg, his direct forefathers. His father, who was still alive, acquiesced in his succession, at the age of eleven, to the vast and varied possessions of the House of Nassau-Breda that had belonged to his uncles and his cousins. And, by the testament of his cousin René he also obtained the titular rank and shadowy rights of a Prince of Orange. Thus it came to pass that fortune, by a singular conjunction of circumstances, showered upon the lad an accumulation of traditions, titles, and possessions derived from a long line of warriors, statesmen, and diplomatists, who had absorbed a constant succession of offices, wealthy alliances, and ancestral honours granted by Dukes of Burgundy, Emperors, and Kings of France. The man who founded the Republic of Holland, in the teeth of such powerful kings and princes, was by birth, by tradition, and even in barren honour, their equal and their mate.
William, the father of the Prince of Orange, lived entirely as a German count, administering his Nassau dominions for forty-three years during the stormy period of the Reformation and the religious wars under Charles V. His position was one of great difficulty; pressed alternately by his more powerful neighbours of Hesse and of Saxony, between Lutheran reformers and Catholic reaction, between the Emperor and the rebel League, with a large family of fourteen children by two wives, with an inheritance burdened by counter-claims, lawsuits, and family settlements. He is called “the Rich”; but he was usually quite poor, and was seldom out of difficult situations. On the whole, he steered between the rocks with great prudence, moderation, justice, and good sense. He avoided war, and never shone as a soldier; but his civil rule was fair, generous, and popular. Slowly, very gradually, he adopted the Reformation; and about the time of young William’s birth, he formally accepted for Nassau the Lutheran communion. But he did not make it a means of personal aggrandisement, as did other princes, and he never permitted it to pass into persecution. He may be counted a pale, dull, local type and forerunner of his illustrious son.
It was from his mother that William, like Cromwell and so many great men, inherited some of his noblest gifts. Juliana of Stolberg had been married at fifteen to Count Philip of Hainault, the ward of this elder William of Nassau. On the premature death of Philip, William, her guardian, who had been left a widower by the death of a daughter of Count John of Egmont, married Juliana, and took charge of all his ward’s children. By her he had twelve children, of whom William the Silent was the eldest, all born in the castle of Dillenburg. She was a woman of strong character, of devout spirit, and affectionate nature, a Protestant of deep sincerity, but temperate judgment, an exemplary wife, mother, and mistress. Her castle was the training home of the noble youths of Nassau, and she bore a long life of calamity and bereavement with heroic serenity and courage. She died at the age of seventy- seven, having had, by her two husbands, no less than seventeen children, and leaving, says Meursius, more than one hundred and sixty descendants. She died only four years before the assassination of her eldest born of the Nassaus. Of her five Nassau sons, four fell victims in the great struggle, the three younger sons dying in battle in her own lifetime.
The castle of Dillenburg, said to have been built about 1240, was a vast and lofty pile rising on a rocky bend of the river Dill, a tributary of the Lahn. A contemporary print of the sixteenth century shows it as a princely fortress of the first rank, with frowning battlements, towers, barbicans, gateways, and outworks, and vast ranges of halls, stores, offices, and barracks, capable of holding at least a thousand persons. It constantly had to receive visitors of rank claiming its hospitality, with a retinue of many hundreds of horses, guards, and attendants. Here for some fifty years lived Juliana of Stolberg, renowned as a capable châtelaine. Here all her children were born. After undergoing a series of vicissitudes and attacks, the castle was burnt down in the last century, and remained a ruin until, in 1872, the Wilhelmsthurm, a memorial tower, was built on the foundations of the keep, rising from the historic rock to a height of about 130 feet.
The first eleven years of young William’s life were passed with his father and mother at Dillenburg. In 1544, upon the death of René of Orange, Count William took his young son to Brussels, where he was formally admitted to his great inheritances, the father ceding any rights to the Netherlands’ honours and estates that he might have claimed under the family compact. He also consented, avowed Protestant as he then was, that his son should be educated at the Brussels court of the Emperor, presided over by Mary, Queen of Hungary, sister of Charles V., and his Regent of the Netherlands. Here for nine years, he himself tells us, young William was carefully brought up as a Catholic prince, being trained for high office, as a peculiar favourite of Charles V., who took the strongest interest in him, and gave him as tutor Jerome Perrenot, a brother of the famous Cardinal Granvelle, destined to be the Prince’s bitter enemy. Under this tuition William acquired a very wide education; he wrote and spoke with equal ease, French, German, Flemish, Spanish, and Latin. Charles made him first his page, then gentleman of his chamber, kept him near his person, and suffered him to be present at audiences and councils about affairs of State. The earliest fragment of William’s that we possess is a letter to the Bishop Granvelle. It is in French, dated from Breda, 30th September 1550, when the writer was seventeen, and shows the young Prince as already full of public business, dutiful and affectionate towards the wily prelate with whom he was to wage so deadly a combat, and full of devout expressions. It is an autograph, but curiously enough unsigned. Perhaps what we have is the rough draft of this judicious missive.
William was just eighteen when Charles gave him as a wife Anne of Egmont, only daughter and heiress of Maximilian, Count of Buren, one of the magnates of the Netherlands and a trusted general of the Emperor. Anne was of his own age and of as noble birth; their union lasted little more than six years, much of which was spent by the Prince in the field or on public service. The forty-eight of his letters to Anne which remain, all written in French, are simple, kindly, and confidential, mainly filled with details of his military life, his anxieties for his troops, his desire to return to his home, his plans, and his hopes. The union, which on both sides had been an affair of policy and ambition, seems to have been happy on the whole; but the records of it are slight, and it had no remarkable character.
In the same month as his marriage, July 1551, the Prince was appointed captain of two hundred horse, raised in the following December to two hundred and fifty, and in April 1552 (œtat.9) he was named colonel of ten companies of foot. In that year the League against the Emperor was formed between the German princes, headed by Maurice of Saxony, and Henry II. of France. Henry invaded Luxemburg and took many strong places. The Prince was sent with his command to defend the frontier. And from this year he was occupied during the summer and autumn months in campaigns against the French king, which continued in a desultory warfare, and with alternate success until the peace of Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559.
The young soldier of nineteen was first employed, under the orders of the Queen-Regent, in raising a force in his ancestral Holland provinces, and in May 1552 we find him organising a force at Thorn on the Lower Meuse in Limburg. The numerous letters and despatches that pass between himself and the Queen, and his letters to his wife at home, exhibit him hard at work, and in continual movement on the Upper Meuse and the Sambre, but not engaged in any important action. King Henry’s campaign was at first a brilliant success; he burst into Lorraine, and took Metz, Toul, Verdun, which remained part of France. The Imperial army may have sufficed to protect Luxemburg; but Henry passed southwards into Alsace. William was not permitted to lead his troops to join the Emperor in his disastrous siege of Metz, but was ordered to invade Artois, and after taking part in that successful campaign, his force was disbanded (November 1552), after he had received from the Queen - Regent a letter of warm acknowledgment of his services and his zeal. In spite of his natural anxiety to see his wife at home, William did not return, but went on to join the Emperor at Thionville, as he was about to raise the disastrous siege of Metz, the Prince apparently being bent on affairs of his own rather than those of the Empire.
In the following year (1553) Charles, rousing himself from the prostration caused by his diseases and his collapse before Metz, and putting his troops under Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy, made a successful and savage attack on the French in Artois. The Prince of Orange was invested with an important command, but we do not know what part he had in the cruel storm and destruction of Thérouanne and Hesdin and the wasting of the country around. He there saw war in its most pitiless form, and he was continually receiving, at the hands of the Regent and the Emperor, new and superior commands.
All through the winter the Prince was engaged in organising fresh levies in his own fiefs. In May 1554 he was appointed first Commissioner at Antwerp, and was summoned to Brussels to consult with the Regent; and in June he received a commission as commander of four squadrons of cavalry beside his own troop. The campaign of 1554 was short, sharp, and somewhat indecisive. The Prince took part in the campaign of Renti and Béthune, which resulted in some successes to the Emperor, under the command of Emmanuel Philibert, now Duke of Savoy.
The winter and spring of 1555 were, as usual, spent in organising fresh levies, and in July of that year the Prince received the signal honour of being named by the Emperor Commander-in-Chief of the army round Givet, numbering 20,000 men. If we can trust the rhetorical and somewhat eulogistic Apology, the Prince had held such command more than a year before, in the temporary absence of the Duke of Savoy. In 1555 he was but little over twenty-two years of age, and he was preferred to the command at a critical moment of the Emperor’s career, over the heads of veteran soldiers much senior to himself.
The French had captured Mariemburg on the border of Namur, and were threatening Namur and Brussels. The task of the Prince was to protect Brabant, and to recover Mariemburg. He did not succeed in the latter, but he effected the former object by founding the new fort of Philippeville, on a site selected by him and named after the Emperor’s son. In the Apology we are told how the youthful captain was pitted against such veterans as Nevers and Coligny, yet he succeeded in building Philippeville and Charlemont under their very eyes (à leur barbe). The campaign was rendered very arduous by heavy rains and by the ravages of the plague, by the difficulty of obtaining supplies, by shortness of money, and the ill-humour and mutinous temper of his mercenaries. The archives record an immense amount of discussion by letter as to the wants of the army, as to the site of the new forts, and retaliatory raids upon the enemy in France. Though continually urged to undertake a forward movement, the Prince referred the matter to a council of war, with the proverbial result. He held chief command of the army round Philippeville for six months from 22nd July 1555 to 27th January 1556, during which time he had constructed and garrisoned the new fort of Philippeville, of which the site and armament was left to his sole discretion. He prevented any further invasion into Hainault, but otherwise accomplished little worthy of note. The one hundred and fifty letters that during this period passed between himself and the Government at Brussels (at times almost daily), exhibit him as labouring with inexhaustible energy and adroitness to organise and hold together a turbulent army of ill-paid and ill-supplied mercenary troops of different nationalities. The striking note of his command is prudence; he exhibits much more the wariness and patience of a diplomatist in a negotiation than the dash and enthusiasm of a warrior in a campaign. His letters are those of Secretary of State rather than of a Commander-in-Chief. At times he is absorbed in questions of finance. He is at twenty-two already more the statesman than the soldier.
In the October of 1555 the Prince was summoned from his camp to be present at the formal abdication by the Emperor of his hereditary dominions in favour of his son Philip II. This magnificent and elaborate ceremonial fills many a brilliant page in the histories of that age. In the great hall of the palace of Brussels, crowded with Knights of the Golden Fleece, nobles, prelates, courtiers, and delegates from the States, the Emperor appeared, leaning for support on the shoulder of the youthful Prince of Orange—Charles being, at the age of fifty-five, an old man broken by disease and toil. The paternal interest that the Emperor had shown to the Prince, and the confidence he had placed in him now for eleven years, thus found a striking expression. And when Charles finally resolved to surrender the Imperial crown, he charged the Prince with the mission to Germany. These marks of favour are duly recounted in the Apology, wherein the Emperor is uniformly mentioned in terms of profound respect. It would seem that Charles looked forward to his pupil and favourite being the mainstay of his son Philip on his new thrones. How many things would have gone otherwise had this expectation been fulfilled! For a time, Philip seemed willing to bestow on the Prince the confidence that had been given by his father. Within a few weeks he was named by Philip one of his councillors of State, and in the following January, at the first chapter of the Order of the Fleece held by Philip at Antwerp, William was admitted a Knight, a distinction which his father, the Count of Nassau, had refused on the ground of his Protestant faith.
The Prince returned to his command the day after the abdication, and the despatches which he sent to Philip contain appeals for money, supplies, and munitions, even more urgent than those which he had sent to the Emperor and the Regent; and, if possible, they met with an even scantier attention. On the 29th December he writes to his wife: “Our camp is in a state of heart- rending destitution; we have not a denier left, and the soldiers are dying of hunger and cold, but they give no more heed to us at court than if we were all dead. You can imagine what a stock of patience I need to have.” Nothing was done on either side during that indecisive campaign, except that the Prince had effectually prevented Coligny, his future father-in-law, from advancing into the Netherlands, and by his new forts had guaranteed the defence of Brabant. In January the armies on both sides were disbanded, and in February 1556 a hollow and almost nominal truce for five years was signed at Vaucelles.
With the departure of Charles V. to Spain, and the installation of Philip II. as king, the career of the Prince enters on a new phase. He had hitherto been the pupil and the favourite of one of the greatest soldiers and most astute statesmen of that astute and warlike age. He was in full possession of vast estates, and had the right to be addressed by sovereigns as “My cousin.” He kept a regal state in the splendid Nassau palace at Brussels, and had palaces at Breda and elsewhere. He was attended by nobles and pages of gentle birth, who lived at his expense. Besides that, he kept open house, and gave magnificent entertainment to envoys and foreigners of rank. His civil and military offices involved him in enormous charges. As General- in-Chief, his nominal allowance had been 500 florins a month, whilst he had to spend (he tells his wife) 2500 florins per month. In his Apology he declares that his missions and military services had cost him more than 1,500,000 florins, that he had never received as pay more than 300 florins a month, “which was not enough to pay the wages of the servants of his tents.” This royal munificence, both public and private, had seriously encumbered even his enormous revenues — a matter which he took with a light heart, for he writes to his brother Louis: “As in the beginning, so now, and it will be for ever after, we come of a race who are very bad managers in youth, though we improve as we get older. I have cut down the cost of my falconers to 1200 florins, and I hope soon to be out of debt.” Everything was on the same scale. The twenty-four nobles and the eighteen pages who formed his suite, the tables loaded day and night with choice dishes and wines, required an army of cooks and servants. As a measure of economy he in one day discharged twenty-eight cooks, who bore a high reputation as having served in his palace; and, later on, Philip wrote from Spain begging the Prince to let him have a certain eminent cordon bleu from the household at Breda.
The Prince himself was devoted to the chase, to falconry and tournaments, to dancing, masquerades, and courtly entertainments. His costume and retinue was on the scale befitting that age and his own youth and rank. His personal graciousness and courtesy were on a par with his lavish hospitality. Even his bitter enemies celebrated his winning manners and gentle dignity. His character is thus drawn by Pontus Payen, a sincere Catholic and opponent:—
Never did arrogant or indiscreet word issue from his mouth, under the impulse of anger or other passion; if any of his servants committed a fault, he was satisfied to admonish them gently without resorting to menace or to abusive language. He was master of a sweet and winning power of persuasion, by means of which he gave form to the great ideas within him, and thus he succeeded in bending to his will the other lords about the court as he chose; beloved and in high favour above all men with the people, by reason of a gracious manner that he had of saluting, and addressing in a fascinating and familiar way all whom he met.
The same writer goes on to accuse the Prince of want of courage in the field. William of Orange proved his real courage in a thousand ways, and is beyond the sneering depreciation of a catholic scribe. But his indomitable spirit of caution and his genius for political finesse unfitted him for supreme command in presence of an enemy whose forces he recognised to be greatly superior to his own. His caution naturally seemed timorous beside the dashing chivalry of Egmont and the wild recklessness of Louis of Nassau. The same charge of cowardice used to be made against Alva; and it is continually brought by the sabreurs against the strategists. It is, however, plain that William of Orange never was, and with his growing habits of intense caution never could have made, a great soldier. His successes were won on the field of indomitable constancy, sagacity, faith, and enthusiasm — not on the field of battle. Our own Cromwell is one of the very rare examples in history of fiery courage in war, combined with inexhaustible caution in policy.
William, in his youth, as we see him in the fine picture of the Museum of Cassel, was a man somewhat above the medium height, spare, well-proportioned, and fairly strong. His complexion was rather brown, his auburn hair rose from his brow in thick curls, his brown eyes were large, bright, and penetrating. His head is well set upon his shoulders, the forehead open and domed; the nose was long, powerfully formed, and wide at the base. The chin is fine, round, and massive, and in early youth shaded with a light down of auburn hair. The mouth is full, closely set, and rather severe and melancholy. The general aspect of the man, even at the age of twenty-five, was that of power, self- control, intensity, and profound thoughtfulness. Such was the young hero who was destined to measure his genius against the master of the Old and New Spain.
THE THREE YEARS OF war which Philip II. waged with Henry II. of France, and which closed with such splendid success, opened with small promise, and exhibited some of the worst features of bad military organisation. The confusion of mercenaries of different race and language, enlisted in small bodies by soldiers of fortune, on special terms for limited periods, and allowed to pillage in lieu of pay, was combined with the minute and jealous interference of a pedantic tyrant. He, like some feeble Byzantine Emperor, would keep the conduct of the campaign in his own hands, whilst seeking to foment rather than to remove the sources of separation in the heterogeneous elements of his own armies. The ultimate success of Philip was due to the magnificent qualities of his Spanish veterans, and the military genius of one or two amongst his generals. To the Prince of Orange fell the thankless task of allaying discontents, consulting the King on details of the campaign, and importuning him for the needed money and supplies.
No more dreary record of mismanagement can be read than the letters that passed between William and Philip whilst the Prince was in command of the forces round Philippeville. “Sire,” writes the Prince (5th January 1556), “have pity on the Spanish infantry, which, for lack of pay and out of sheer starvation, is scouring the low country round, plundering the peasantry in mere need of food. These disorders I cannot repress, much less can I punish them, for necessity has no law.” The exasperation (7th January 1556) is such that the country people are talking of taking up arms at the sound of their tocsins to defend their homes, such tumultuous assemblies being likely to prove most dangerous. The whole story reads like a page from the secret history of the Sublime Porte and its starved regiments.
During the year 1556, following upon the hollow truce of Vaucelles, the Prince was employed in negotiations partly to induce the Estates to grant supplies, partly to raise new mercenary forces, partly on missions to the German princes. It was a strange task to be imposed on a young soldier of twenty-three, but the Prince was from boyhood more politician than warrior, and for two years he exerted the whole force of his tact and adroitness in obtaining grants for the King, and in bringing the German Rittmeisters to accept his niggardly offers. In the brilliant campaign of 1557, the Prince seems to have had only a subordinate part. Philip took the field in May with a splendid army of Spanish, German, Netherland, and English troops, under Emmanuel Philibert, Duke of Savoy. It was Count Egmont whose impetuous valour decided the great victory of St. Quentin (10th August), followed within the month by the storming of the fortress, the capture of the Constable Montmorency, the Admiral Coligny, and a crowd of French nobles. It is clear from three letters of the Prince to his wife that he took part in the siege of St. Quentin, and the other forte on the Oise,—a campaign which carried the arms of Philip in triumph to within sixty miles of Paris. But there is no evidence whatever of the particular services that William rendered; and accident or the jealousy of the King may have deprived him of filling any conspicuous place in the campaign.
Nor had the Prince any leading part in the brilliant campaign of 1558, which destroyed the military power of France. He is ordered on service to Namur, to meet the assaults of the Duke of Guise in the Luxemburg, but we have no record of his operations; whilst, again, the fiery valour of Egmont won the splendid victory of Gravelines, near Calais, and left Henry of France prostrate and disarmed. The moment had arrived for negotiations, which had already been begun by the crafty Bishop of Arras on the one side, and the intriguing Cardinal of Lorraine on the other. Within a month of the victory of Gravelines, Philip had ordered the Prince to open informal pourparlers with Marshal St. André and the Constable Montmorency, both prisoners of St. Quentin, the Marshal having been lodged on parole at the Prince’s palace of Breda. These overtures led to a formal negotiation between the two French chiefs on the part of Henry,—the Prince, Ruy Gomez de Silva, and the Bishop of Arras on the part of Philip. The treaty of Cateau-Cambrésis was eventually concluded (3rd April 1559).
There is little doubt that the chief hand in this masterly negotiation, and in composing the despatches which still remain, was that of the astute Bishop. But the Prince, though yet but twenty-five, had no small part in the work, and we need not treat as exaggerated the claim he makes in his Apology.
“As to this Treaty, which was as disastrous to France as it was honourable and profitable to Spain, if I may be allowed to speak of my own part, the King could not deny (had he a trace of gratitude left) that I was one of the principal instruments and agents to secure him so advantageous a peace; for it was at the instance of the King himself that I opened the first secret negotiations with the Constable and Marshal St. André. The King assured me that the greatest service in the world that I could render him would be to conclude this treaty of peace, which he desired to obtain at all cost, in order that he might return to Spain.” And this is borne out by several authorities and by the admission of his Catholic enemy, Pontus Payen who says that the Prince “held the first rank amongst the envoys of the King, and won high esteem on both sides in this affair.”
The Prince was selected as one of the State hostages to reside with Henry, in order to guarantee the execution of the Treaty, the other hostages being Egmont, the Duke of Alva, and the Duke of Aerschot; and, accordingly, William went to Paris in June 1559, and it was there that took place the famous incident which won him the name of The Silent. The story has been admirably told by the Catholic, Pontus Payen, and it is precisely confirmed by the Apology itself, and other authorities. Pontus thus relates:—
One day, during a stag-hunt in the Bois de Vincennes, Henry, finding himself alone with the Prince, began to speak of the great number of Protestant sectaries who, during the late war, had increased so much in his kingdom to his great sorrow. His conscience, said the King, would not be easy nor his realm secure until he could see it purged of the “accursed vermin,” who would one day overthrow his government, under pretence of religion, if they were allowed to get the upper hand. This was the more to be feared since some of the chief men in the kingdom, and even some princes of the blood, were on their side. But he hoped by the grace of God and the good understanding that he had with his new son, the King of Spain, that he would soon master them. The King talked on thus to Orange in the full conviction that he was cognisant of the secret agreement recently made with the Duke of Alva for the extirpation of heresy. But the Prince, subtle and adroit as he was, answered the good King in such a way as to leave him still under the impression that he, the Prince, was in full possession of the scheme propounded by Alva; and under this belief the King revealed all the details of the plan arranged between the King of Spain and himself for the rooting out and rigorous punishment of the heretics, from the lowest to the highest rank, and in this service the Spanish troops were to be mainly employed.
All this the Prince heard without a word and without moving a muscle.
This incident not only gave the eloquent Prince his paradoxical name, but it proved a great epoch in his life,—it is hardly too much to say an epoch in the history of his age. Writing more than twenty years afterwards in his Apology, he says:—
I confess that I was deeply moved with pity for all the worthy people who were thus devoted to slaughter, and for the country, to which I owed so much, wherein they designed to introduce an Inquisition worse and more cruel than that of Spain. I saw, as it were, nets spread to entrap the lords of the land as well as the people, so that those whom the Spaniards and their creatures could not supplant in any other way, might by this device fall into their hands. It was enough for a man to look askance at an image to be condemned to the stake. Seeing all this (he continues in his impetuous way) I confess that from that hour I resolved with my whole soul to do my best to drive this Spanish vermin from the land; and of this resolve I have never repented, but believe that I, my comrades, and all who have stood with us, have done a worthy deed, fit to be held in perpetual honour.
It is possible that the desperate struggle of twenty years may have somewhat coloured the Prince’s memory, and that his conversion from being a magnificent prince and a trusty servant of the King of Spain into an ardent champion of liberty of conscience and national independence, may not have been quite so sudden as he had come to think it. And, as we shall see, the Apology was not at all throughout the work of his own pen. But, again Pontus Payen tells the story almost exactly as does Orange himself.
The Prince, having thus wrung his secret from the King, maintained his composure for two or three days, and then obtained leave to make a journey to the Netherlands on private business of importance. No sooner had he reached Brussels than he explained to his intimate friends what he had heard in the Bois de Vincennes, giving a sinister meaning to the excellent purposes of the two Kings, who (he said) designed to exterminate the great chiefs so as to fill their own treasuries by confiscations, and ultimately to set up an absolute tyranny under pretence of extirpating heresy. And when he left the city, he counselled them to make the withdrawal of the Spanish troops a formal demand in the States- General about to be held at Ghent.
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