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Spain and the Netherlands; the Armada.

Modern History. (a.d. 1492-1898). The Discovery of America to the Peace of Westphalia (1492-1648).
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We turn to a brief narrative of the rise of the noble, great little republic, the Seven United Provinces which formed Holland. Nothing less than great - heroically, morally, intellectually great - can that state be called which, having as her only basis, apart from the indomitable spirit and energy of her people, the precarious tenure of a land maintained only at vast expense, by barriers of timber and stone, against the destructive inroads of the raging sea - a mere reclaimed delta of mud, sand, and marsh - won her freedom, in a contest of 80 years' duration, from the most powerful empire in the world; which founded a great commerce and colonial dominion; which produced a succession of citizens eminent as soldiers, diplomatists, statesmen, scholars, philosophers, and artists; and still, among the minor kingdoms of Europe, after the lapse: of three-centuries, commands the esteem of the civilised world as the model of a well-ordered and prosperous community. Holland was gained by her people, field by field, town by town, in a struggle against the best European troops of the time, commanded by the most skilful generals, and backed by what seemed to be boundless resources. Their implacable foe, the king of Spain, represented the despotism of his age in claiming entire authority over the lives and fortunes of his subjects, and absolute control over their consciences. The tenacity and resolution of the Hollanders resisted and defeated the maintainer of pretensions so monstrous, and thus gave the first precedent for civil and religious liberty. Their example was never forgotten. The prosperity of free Holland was a spur to the efforts of other parties and nations striving for freedom. It stirred the Huguenots, who finally failed. It animated the Protestant states of Germany in a contest of 30 years, the result of which was freedom for many of the new faith. It encouraged Englishmen in their successful struggle against the Stuarts, and the success of the Dutch revolt was assuredly in the minds of those who headed the cause of Britain's American colonies. The victory of Holland over tyranny was, in a sense, the beginning of modern political science and civilisation, in its demolition of the claims of divine right for kings, and of divine authority for an Italian priest, the two worst enemies of human progress. The Dutch first established the two great principles of civil government in free countries: that the sovereign is the servant of the state, and that the priest has no control except over those who yield to him a voluntary obedience. The little state which had, in a desperate and successful struggle, to the full as heroic as that of Athens against Persia in ancient days, vindicated once and for ever the true principles of liberty, was also a pioneer or aider of civilisation in improved agriculture; in discovery and navigation; in commerce; in international jurisprudence; in the extensive use of the art of printing; in scholarship, physical research, rational medicine, finance, and philosophy.

In 1494 Philip, son of Maximilian I. (emperor) and Mary of Burgundy, became sovereign, at 17 years of age, of the 17 provinces making up the Netherlands, now Belgium and Holland. From him the rule of this prosperous territory passed, through Charles V., to Philip II. of Spain. Antwerp, in succession to Bruges, was the richest town in the north of Europe, trading with all commercial countries, her river, the Scheldt, being often crowded with vessels so that successive fleets had long to wait before they could approach the busy quays for discharge. The mariners of Zealand, in Scottish waters, carried on a very profitable herring-fishery. The people of the northern provinces had supplied the boldest and most skilful sailors in the world for the naval warfare of Charles the emperor. Literature and the arts had made great progress, architecture being specially prominent in the cathedrals and town-halls which still delight the tourist with their beauty of design and execution. The craftsmen of the Netherlands were expert in the woven work of wool and flax, in painting on glass, polishing diamonds, the making of tapestry and lace. To the inventive genius of Netherlanders was due the highest skill in the playing of bells in belfries, the carillons which still, from the fair aerial towers of Bruges and Antwerp, charm the ear as with a song of angels singing carols in the sky. Such were the people over whom Philip II. of Spain, in 1555, was called to reign. His father Charles, born in Flanders, and always far more of a Fleming than a Spaniard, had not been sparing in exactions of money from his subjects in the Netherlands. When the doctrines of the Reformation, in the Calvinistic, democratic form, hostile to the theory of the divine right of kings, made way in the country, he severely persecuted the heretics. When the men of Ghent, in support of the privilege by which grants of money could only be made with the unanimous consent of the Estates, broke into revolt against the ruler's arbitrary demand for a large sum, Charles annulled all the charters, privileges, and laws of the city, and confiscated the whole property of the guilds and corporations. A still larger subsidy was exacted than that which had been demanded and refused; an annual fine of 6,000 florins was imposed; and the famous "Bell Roland," whose tolling summoned the burghers to meet in council, was taken down. After destroying the constitution, heavily fining all the citizens, and executing many, the emperor had graciously forgiven rebellious Ghent, because he was born there. Such were the doings of the father in the Netherlands, when resistance was made to tyranny. The whips with which he had chastised opponents were now to be exchanged for the scorpions of his son.

The territorial dominion of Philip II., in Spain, Italy, America, and the Eastern seas, has been already indicated. His resources included the products of India and the Spice Islands, and the gold and silver of the Western world. His revenue has been fairly estimated at ten times that yielded by England to Elizabeth. His army was the best in the world for discipline and training; his navy was large and efficient. No modern sovereign, except Philip, has been at once supreme both on land and on sea. In character Philip II of Spain enjoys the distinction of being, to all men and women who are lovers of goodness and freedom, one of the most detestable human beings that ever existed. This slight, lean, somewhat short, weak-legged, narrow-chested man was a strong contrast, in person and attainments, to his energetic and accomplished father, an excellent linguist, skilled both in military and political affairs. Charles was talkative; Philip was silent. Charles could laugh right heartily on occasion; the sullen Philip, shy of the public gaze, could scarcely smile. If his eye ever lighted up with a gleam of satisfaction, it was when he sat on his chair of state, surrounded by his courtiers, and saw heretics, in their horribly grotesque garb of yellow frieze, painted with flames and figures of devils, and with pointed caps, burnt to death at an auto da fe. This monster was a thorough Spaniard, knowing little of Italian or French; finding pleasure in Spain and Spaniards only; having no manners, tastes, or ideas that were not Spanish. His character is, in some aspects, not less mysterious than repulsive. He was possessed by a spirit of conscientious duplicity. His morality was utterly false and perverted. Sincere in his religious faith, and utterly devoted to the interests of his Church, he forgot every other duty. His public and private life abounded in cruelty, deceit, forgeries, assassinations, adulteries, ingratitude, selfishness, vindictiveness, and other kinds of atrocity and vice. Throughout all, he showed a frightful serenity of mind, under the conviction, as it seems, that his religion permitted and pardoned everything, provided everything were sacrificed to his religion. As a ruler of his vast dominions, it must be admitted that Philip possessed some important qualifications for a very difficult task. Laborious, persevering, firm, sagacious, skilful in the use of men, and in dispensing with those who had served him best, he was free from the ardour, impetuosity, and intemperate activity and ambition, which draw men into dangerous enterprises. Devoted to work, he could not bear movement. He sat in his closet, weaving webs of policy, slow and secret; he lived at once in pomp and in silence, in business and in repose, in government and in solitude. It is supremely satisfactory to the British historian who is a lover of the freedom won by our forefathers to record the utter failure of all the schemes of this sinister personage. As the husband of Mary Tudor, as the suitor and then the assailant of Elizabeth, he failed to win England. After 40 years of sway which, in Spain at least, was without contention and without control, he lost the Netherlands. In France, after fomenting the two curses of religious persecution and of civil war, after supporting the Guises and the League in their most factious plots, he was forced to see Henry of Navarre put forth the Edict of Nantes, the stamp and seal of his defeat, the repudiation of his maxims, the ruin of his pretensions. His plots with Mary Stuart ended in her death upon a scaffold. His coasts in Spain were ravaged by English cruisers, and Cadiz was taken and pillaged by English troops. A few days after signing the peace of Vervins with Henry IV. and Elizabeth, Philip of Spain died, with his inherited possessions diminished, his political and religious aims frustrated, his pride humbled, and the Spanish monarchy enfeebled and depressed.

The great antagonist of Philip in the Netherlands was William, prince of Orange, one of the noblest characters in history. His title came from a small territory in the south-east of France, near Avignon, where his family had once been vassals of the Pope. After migrating to the Netherlands, members of the House of Orange had filled high offices under the Burgundian rulers. In 1555, when Philip became ruler of the Netherlands, the prince was 22 years of age, head of a very wealthy house, still a Catholic in religion, and commanding in chief, on the French frontier, against Coligny and other Huguenot nobles. Styled "William the Silent" from his caution and prudence in diplomacy, he was to win in Holland the glorious and lasting title of "Father William," as the political creator of a free country. He soon embraced the Protestant religion, and showed himself far in advance of the ideas of his time, even among men of the most enlightened views then known, in desiring to tolerate all forms of worship. Philip, during his four years' stay in the Netherlands, clearly showed the intention of violating his oath to maintain all the privileges and liberties of the country. Spaniards were employed to carry on the government, contrary to the advice of his father, who had recommended the use of Netherlanders. An army of Spaniards and Germans was held in readiness on the frontier. With his usual cunning, when he desired to obtain large subsidies from the States, he revoked some of the edicts against heretics. He had, meanwhile, obtained from the Pope the right of appointing all clergy, knowing that the bishops were mostly men of moderate character, unfitted for his tyrannical purposes. The national militia was broken up into small parties and scattered over the country. When he was about to leave the Netherlands for Spain in 1559, he caused his creature, Granvella, bishop of Arras, to make a specious address to the assembly of the States, assuring them of his attachment to the people of the Netherlands, and appointing as their ruler Margaret, duchess of Parma, a natural daughter of Charles V., aided by a council which included Granvella and William of Orange. The deputies, secretly prompted by William, who had divined Philip's plans, made a reply requesting a diminution of taxes, and the withdrawal of foreign troops and foreign officials. Philip was startled into a brief show of anger, but soon resumed his mask and promised compliance. The king had already seen who was to be his chief opponent in the coming struggle, and when he was embarking at Flushing for Spain, attended to the shore by William, as governor of Zealand, he took him aside and accused him of thwarting his plans. The prince declared that the States had acted for themselves, but Philip, for once natural, and not a hypocrite, grasped his wrist in a rage, and shaking it, cried, "No los Estados, ma vos, vos, vos!" ("Not the Estates, but you, you, you!"), employing the pronoun addressed in Spanish to menials. The two men thus parted to meet no more.

The details of the struggle which ensued should be read in Motley's admirable Rise of the Dutch Republic. The conduct of the prince of Orange throughout was that of a man who placed his wealth, his life, his time at the service of his country. Ever vigilant, never despairing in the darkest hour; thwarted at times, and even calumniated, by those whom he was striving to save; he presents a spectacle of patient heroism, of calm resolution, of skill in diplomacy and statecraft, never surpassed in history. He gave Philip good reason for the hatred which could only be appeased by the shedding of blood. He had paid spies in the royal cabinet at Madrid, and was thus enabled, at many a crisis, to anticipate his adversary's moves, and to checkmate him in his country's interest. Margaret of Parma was regent from 1560 to 1567, chiefly aided by the proud, envious, insolent, immoral, supple, eloquent Cardinal Granvella, until his recall in 1564; by Viglius, a pedantic, narrow-minded lawyer; and by the Count de Berlaimont, a stern, intolerant courtier, the enemy of his country's liberties. The persecution of heretics was carried on under the new king-named bishops, and Philip ordered the full execution of the edicts against heresy, and the proclamation of the decrees of the Council of Trent. On the popular side, at this time, Counts Egmont and Horn were William's chief allies; but they were far from being his equals in understanding, for their own safety, the character of the tyrant at work in Spain. The persecution drove thousands of Flemings to England, taking with them their weaving skill and industry, the foundation of flourishing manufactures in the eastern counties.

In 1565 the prince of Orange, Egmont, Horn, and other patriotic noblemen virtually withdrew from all share in the government. A hotter persecution began, conducted by inquisitors, and frightful scenes of cruelty and disorder occurred. The hour of revolt was now at hand. In April, 1566, after the formation of a confederacy among the patriot nobles, now including, as prominent men, William's brother, Louis of Nassau, a brave, impetuous man, and a strong Protestant; De Brederode, marquis of Utrecht; and Philip van Marnix, lord of St. Aldegonde, a deputation of some hundreds of the chief men of the country walked in procession to the palace, and had an interview with Margaret on the subject of the persecution. Many of the nobles were at this time greatly impoverished by extravagant living, and De Berlaimont, standing at the regent's side, was overheard to say that "she had nothing to fear from such a band of beggars" (fas de gueux). On the next day this sneer had results. De Brederode gave a grand banquet to his associates at the Hotel de Culemburg, a mansion in Brussels, and the remark was referred to. The confederates then adopted, for the patriots, the name of "Gueux," drank a toast to cries of "Long live the Beggars!" and the host, sending for a beggar's wallet, slung it round his shoulders and passed it on. William of Orange, Egmont, and Horn came in, on hearing the noise, and were forced, by friendly urgency, to join in the demonstration. The banded patriots then took to wearing grey cloaks like those of mendicants, and the name "Gueux" was henceforth applied, in the Netherlands, to all those who supported the Reformation and were the foes of tyranny. The reformed religion was now making rapid progress, the Calvinists being prominent in the eastern provinces, and the Lutherans, who were by far the most numerous and wealthy, in the south. All were united in hatred to Popery, the Inquisition, and Spain, and the rallying-point of all the Protestants was Antwerp.

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