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Reign of George III. (Continued.) page 11


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The emperor Joseph of Austria had returned from the campaign of 1788 against Turkey greatly chagrined, and with fast-failing health. Had he been wise, he would have accepted the overtures for peace made to him by the sultan, and have spent the few remaining days of his existence in tranquillity. But his ambitious and persuasive ally, Catherine, prevailed upon him to make another effort. He mustered fresh troops. A hundred and fifty thousand men were marched against the Turkish frontier, early in the year of 1789, in different divisions. The chief command was confided to marshal Haddick, a very old man, with the witty prince de Ligne as second under him. The duke of Saxe Coburg, the prince of Hohenlohe, and marshal Laudohn, also now very old, took each their separate directions. It was a circumstance very much in their favour that the able sultan, Abdul Hamet, died suddenly in April, and was succeeded by his nephew, Selim, a young, rash, and unprincipled man. The acts of Selim, in murdering and dismissing his father's best ministers and commanders, and the unruly condition of the janissaries, rendered Turkey especially open to the attacks of its enemies. Marshal Laudohn, supporting his earlier fame, took the fortress of Gradiska, and stormed Belgrade. But this was not accomplished till the 8th of October, and an attempt was then made to reduce Orsova, but this failed. Coburg and Suvaroff having joined, won a great victory over the new vizier, Martinitzi, in Wallachia, on the 22nd of September, and the remains of the Turkish army retired to the pass of Shumla, on the Balkan mountains. Potemkin, on his part, had greatly increased his forces after the reduction of Oczakoff, and after a desperate resistance took Bender, famous for the abode of Charles XII. of Sweden, after the battle of Pultawa. Before winter, the Russians had made a decided progress in their inroads into the Turkish dominions on the Red Sea. They had gained possession of Bialogrod, or Ackermann, at the mouth of the Dniester; of Keglia Nova, on the northern banks of the Danube, and of other places on the Black Sea. They had also extended their frontier to the left bank of the Danube, and they had actually reduced every important place between the Bug and Dniester and that river. Had Catherine had a sufficient fleet in the Black Sea, Constantinople might have trembled for its safety.

But Catherine's ally, Joseph, was fast sinking, and his mortal sun was going down amid storm clouds, all collected by his reckless disregard to the rights of his subjects, great reformer as he desired to be. He had wantonly invaded the ancient constitution of Hungary, just as his successors have done later; and on this the high-spirited and martial Hungarians had expressed their determination not to submit to it. They insisted that he should restore the regalia of their ancient kingdom, which he had carried off from Buda, the old capital, and where the Austrian emperors, as kings of Hungary, were always expected to be crowned, and to take the oath to observe the constitution. The Turks, already in possession of the Banat of Temeswar, invited their alliance, offering to assist them in driving out the Austrians, and establishing their independence. Joseph, alarmed at this prospect, made haste to avert the danger by conceding the restoration of the Hungarian constitution, and of the regalia; and the generous Hungarians were at once appeased.

But far different was the issue of the troubles with his Flemish subjects, which, with an unaccountable folly and absence of good faith, he had again excited, though he had appeared to concede the question of the rights of the university of Louvaine, and the privileges of the Netherlands in general. He recalled count Murray as too lenient, and sent into the Netherlands count Trautmansdorff as governor, and general Dalton, a hot and brutal Irishman, as commander. He ordered the professors of theology at Louvaine to give way to the emperor's reforms, and, as they refused, Dalton turned them out by force, shut up the colleges, and Joseph sent back again the German professors, who had been before recalled, to appease the popular indignation. But the colleges remained empty; not a student would attend the classes of the Germans. As the volunteer corps had disbanded themselves, in reliance on the emperor's wish, Trautmansdorff calculated on an easy compulsion of the people, and he called on the grand council at Brussels to enforce the decrees of the emperor. The council paid no regard to the order.

The people having collected in great crowds in the neighbourhood of the council-house, Dalton ordered out a company of soldiers, under a young ensign, to patrol the streets, and overawe any attempts at demonstrations in support of the council. The young ensign, having a stone flung at him, without further ceremony ordered his men to fire into the crowd, and six persons were killed, and numbers of others wounded. No sooner did Joseph hear of this rash and cruel act, than he wrote highly approving of it, and promoting the ensign. The people, greatly enraged, rose in the different towns, and were attacked by the imperial troops, and blood was shed in various places. With his usual disregard to consequences, Joseph was at this moment endeavouring to raise a loan in the Netherlands, to enable him to carry on the war against Turkey. But this conduct completely quashed all hope of it; not a man of capital would advance a stiver. Trautmansdorff continued to threaten the people, and Dalton was ready to execute his most harsh orders. It was determined to break up the university of Antwerp as that of Louvaine had been broken up; and on the 4th of August, 1788, troops were drawn up, and cannon planted in the public square, to keep down the populace, whilst the professors were turned into the streets, and the college doors locked. Here there occurred an attack on the unarmed people, as wanton as that which took place at Brussels, and no less than thirty or forty persons were killed on the spot, and great numbers wounded. This massacre of Antwerp, as it was called, roused the indignation of the whole Netherlands, and was heard with horror by all Europe. The monks and professors who had been turned out became objects of sympathy, even to those who regarded with wonder and contempt their bigotry and superstition. But Joseph, engaged in his miserable and disgraceful war against the Turks, sent to Dalton his warmest approval of what he called these vigorous measures. He appeared as forgetful of the past history of these Netherlanders as he was unmindful of what was passing in France, where the masses were up in the wildest revolution, and scores of enthusiastic apostles of the new principles of liberty, fraternity, and equality, were flying about in all directions, and spreading a ferment that threatened destruction to all the ancient conditions of things.

These propagandists most gladly observed the state of affairs in the Netherlands, and spread themselves through its cities, preaching up equality of human rights, but keeping a prudent silence about the principles of atheism and materialism, which formed as essential a part of their philosophy.

Joseph, in the face of these things, passed an edict sequestrating all the abbeys in Brabant. The states of Brabant therefore refused the voting of any subsidies, and Joseph, irritated to deeper blindness, determined to abolish the great charter entitled the Joyeuse Entree, so called because granted on the entry of Philip the Good into Brussels, and on which nearly all their privileges rested. To compel them to vote a permanent subsidy, the military surrounded the states of Hainault, forcibly dissolved their sitting, and then calling an extraordinary meeting of the states of Brabant, Trautmansdorff ordered them to pass an act sanctioning such a subsidy. But the deputies remained firm, and thereupon the Joyeuse Entree was annulled by proclamation, and the house of assembly dissolved. Joseph vowed that he would extinguish the rebellion in blood, and reduce the Netherlands to the same despotism which ruled all his other states, except Hungary and the Tyrol.

Trautmansdorff declared that, if necessary, forty thousand troops should be marched into the country; but this was an empty boast, for Joseph had so completely engaged his army against Turkey, that he could only send a thousand men into the Netherlands. On the contrary, the French revolutionists offered the oppressed Netherlands speedy aid, and the duke d'Aremberg, the archbishop of Malines, and other nobles and dignitaries of the church, met at Breda, on the 14th of September, and proclaimed themselves the legitimate assembly of the states of Brabant. They sent the plainest remonstrances to the emperor, declaring that unless he immediately repealed his arbitrary edicts, and restored their great charter, they would assert their rights by the sword. In proof of these being no empty vaunts, the militia and volunteers again flew to arms. Scarcely a month had passed after the repeal of the Joyeuse Entree before a number of collisions had taken place betwixt these citizen soldiers and the imperial troops. In Tirlemont, Louvaine, Antwerp, and Möns, blood was shed; at Diest, the patriots, led on by the monks, drove out the troops and the magistrates. Dalton and Trautmansdorff, instead of fulfilling their menace, appeared paralysed.

Numbers of persons fled from the different towns to the frontiers of Holland; trade became stagnant, manufactories stood empty; the whole country began to assume a melancholy and ruinous aspect. Many of the refugees formed into revolutionary clubs by French emissaries, were prepared not merely to oppose Joseph's despotism, but all monarchical government whatever. A powerful body of these placed themselves under the leadership of Vander Noot, a lawyer, who assumed the title of plenipotentiary agent of the people of Brabant; and of Vander Mersch, an officer who had served in the seven years' war, who was made their commander-in-chief. These two men were in league with the new assembly of Breda, and issued their proclamations. These Trautmansdorff caused to be burnt by the executioner. The patriots in Brussels who sympathised with those in arms were, many of them, arrested; the citizens were disarmed, the fortifications strengthened by palisades, and every means of defence resorted to.

But in October the patriots of Breda surprised the forts of Lillo and Liefenskoeck, on the Scheldt. Dalton dispatched general Schröder with a strong force, who re-took the forts; but on Schroder's venturing to enter Turnhout, after the insurgents, a body of three thousand of them, under Vander Mersch, armed with pitchforks, bludgeons, and staves, attacked and drove him out. General Bender, who had been dispatched against the insurgents at Tirlemont, was driven out in the same manner. General Arberg was compelled to retreat behind the Scheldt, and the people were victorious in Louvaine, Ghent, Bruges, Ostend, and most towns of the district. Both Joseph and his governor and commander in the Netherlands now fell into the utmost alarm. The news which Marie Antoinette sent from Paris to her imperial brother, only rendered this consternation the greater. Joseph, with that sudden revulsion which he had manifested on other occasions, after equally astonishing rashness, now issued a conciliatory proclamation, offering to redress all grievances on the condition of their laying down their arms. But the Netherlanders were not likely after former experience to trust any such promises of Joseph. On the 20th of November the states of Flanders assumed the title of the High and Mighty States; they declared the emperor to have forfeited the crown by tyranny and injustice; they proclaimed their entire independence, and ordered a levy of twenty thousand men.

Trautmansdorff now hastened to conciliate in earnest. He issued two-and-twenty separate proclamations, made all kinds of fair promises, restored the arms of the citizens, and liberated the imprisoned patriots. But it was too late. The insurgents, under Vander Mersch, were fast advancing towards Brussels, and Dalton marched out to meet them; but he was confounded by the appearance of their numbers, and entered into an armistice of ten days. But this did not stop the progress of insurrection in Brussels. There the people rose, and resolved to open the gates to their compatriots without. The women and children tore up the palisades, and leveled the entrenchments. The population assumed the national cockade, and the streets resounded with the cries of " Long live the patriots!" " Long live Vander Noot!" Dalton retreated into Brussels, but found no security there. The soldiers began to desert. The people attacked those who stood to their colours, and Dalton was glad to secure his retreat by a capitulation. In a few days the insurgents from Breda entered, Trautmansdorff having withdrawn at their approach, and the new federal union of the Netherlands was completely established. The state of Luxemburg was the only one yet remaining to Joseph, and thither Dalton retired with his forces, five thousand in number.

But Joseph did not live to see the full extent of the alienation of the Netherlands. He had dispatched count Cobenzel to Brussels on the failure of Trautmansdorff's efforts. Cobenzel was an able diplomatist, but all his offers were treated with indifference. On the last day of 1789 the states of Brabant, in presence of the citizens of Brussels, swore to stand by their new freedom - an act which was received by the acclamations of the assembled crowds. They soon after ratified their league with the other states, and were in active negotiation with the revolutionists of France for mutual defence. On the 20th of February Joseph expired, leaving a prospect full of troubles to his brother Leopold, the new emperor.

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