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17: Chapter XVII

<< 16: Chapter XVI (1618) || 18: Chapter XVIII >>

The eventful midsummer had arrived. The lime-tree blossoms were fragrant in the leafy bowers overshadowing the beautiful little rural capital of the Commonwealth. The anniversary of the Nieuwpoort victory, July 2, had come and gone, and the Stadholder was known to be resolved that his political campaign this year should be as victorious as that memorable military one of eighteen years before.

Before the dog-days should begin to rage, the fierce heats of theological and political passion were to wax daily more and more intense.

The party at Utrecht in favour of a compromise and in awe of the Stadholder sent a deputation to the Hague with the express but secret purpose of conferring with Maurice. They were eight in number, three of whom, including Gillis van Ledenberg, lodged at the house of Daniel Tressel, first clerk of the States-General.

The leaders of the Barneveld party, aware of the purport of this mission and determined to frustrate it, contrived a meeting between the Utrecht commissioners and Grotius, Hoogerbeets, de Haan, and de Lange at Tressel's house.

Grotius was spokesman. Maurice had accused the States of Holland of mutiny and rebellion, and the distinguished Pensionary of Rotterdam now retorted the charges of mutiny, disobedience, and mischief-making upon those who, under the mask of religion, were attempting to violate the sovereignty of the States, the privileges and laws of the province, the authority of the, magistrates, and to subject them to the power of others. To prevent such a catastrophe many cities had enlisted Waartgelders. By this means they had held such mutineers to their duty, as had been seen at Leyden, Haarlem, and other places. The States of Utrecht had secured themselves in the same way. But the mischiefmakers and the ill-disposed had been seeking everywhere to counteract these wholesome measures and to bring about a general disbanding of these troops. This it was necessary to resist with spirit. It was the very foundation of the provinces' sovereignty, to maintain which the public means must be employed. It was in vain to drive the foe out of the country if one could not remain in safety within one's own doors. They had heard with sorrow that Utrecht was thinking of cashiering its troops, and the speaker proceeded therefore to urge with all the eloquence he was master of the necessity of pausing before taking so fatal a step.

The deputies of Utrecht answered by pleading the great pecuniary burthen which the maintenance of the mercenaries imposed upon that province, and complained that there was no one to come to their assistance, exposed as they were to a sudden and overwhelming attack from many quarters. The States-General had not only written but sent commissioners to Utrecht insisting on the disbandment. They could plainly see the displeasure of the Prince. It was a very different affair in Holland, but the States of Utrecht found it necessary of two evils to choose the least.

They had therefore instructed their commissioners to request the Prince to remove the foreign garrison from their capital and to send the old companies of native militia in their place, to be in the pay of the episcopate. In this case the States would agree to disband the new levies.

Grotius in reply again warned the commissioners against communicating with Maurice according to their instructions, intimated that the native militia on which they were proposing to rely might have been debauched, and he held out hopes that perhaps the States of Utrecht might derive some relief from certain financial measures now contemplated in Holland.

The Utrechters resolved to wait at least several days before opening the subject of their mission to the Prince. Meantime Ledenberg made a rough draft of a report of what had occurred between them and Grotius and his colleagues which it was resolved to lay secretly before the States of Utrecht. The Hollanders hoped that they had at last persuaded the commissioners to maintain the Waartgelders.

The States of Holland now passed a solemn resolution to the effect that these new levies had been made to secure municipal order and maintain the laws from subversion by civil tumults. If this object could be obtained by other means, if the Stadholder were willing to remove garrisons of foreign mercenaries on whom there could be no reliance, and supply their place with native troops both in Holland and Utrecht, an arrangement could be made for disbanding the Waartgelders.

Barneveld, at the head of thirty deputies from the nobles and cities, waited upon Maurice and verbally communicated to him this resolution. He made a cold and unsatisfactory reply, although it seems to have been understood that by according twenty companies of native troops he might have contented both Holland and Utrecht.

Ledenberg and his colleagues took their departure from the Hague without communicating their message to Maurice. Soon afterwards the States- General appointed a commission to Utrecht with the Stadholder at the head of it.

The States of Holland appointed another with Grotius as its chairman.

On the 25th July Grotius and Pensionary Hoogerbeets with two colleagues arrived in Utrecht.

Gillis van Ledenberg was there to receive them. A tall, handsome, bald- headed, well-featured, mild, gentlemanlike man was this secretary of the Utrecht assembly, and certainly not aware, while passing to and fro on such half diplomatic missions between two sovereign assemblies, that he was committing high-treason. He might well imagine however, should Maurice discover that it was he who had prevented the commissioners from conferring with him as instructed, that it would go hard with him.

Ledenberg forthwith introduced Grotius and his committee to the Assembly at Utrecht.

While these great personages were thus holding solemn and secret council, another and still greater personage came upon the scene.

The Stadholder with the deputation from the States-General arrived at Utrecht.

Evidently the threads of this political drama were converging to a catastrophe, and it might prove a tragical one.

Meantime all looked merry enough in the old episcopal city. There were few towns in Lower or in Upper Germany more elegant and imposing than Utrecht. Situate on the slender and feeble channel of the ancient Rhine as it falters languidly to the sea, surrounded by trim gardens and orchards, and embowered in groves of beeches and limetrees, with busy canals fringed with poplars, lined with solid quays, and crossed by innumerable bridges; with the stately brick tower of St. Martin's rising to a daring height above one of the most magnificent Gothic cathedrals in the Netherlands; this seat of the Anglo-Saxon Willebrord, who eight hundred years before had preached Christianity to the Frisians, and had founded that long line of hard-fighting, indomitable bishops, obstinately contesting for centuries the possession of the swamps and pastures about them with counts, kings, and emperors, was still worthy of its history and its position.

It was here too that sixty-one years before the famous Articles of Union were signed. By that fundamental treaty of the Confederacy, the Provinces agreed to remain eternally united as if they were but one province, to make no war nor peace save by unanimous consent, while on lesser matters a majority should rule; to admit both Catholics and Protestants to the Union provided they obeyed its Articles and conducted themselves as good patriots, and expressly declared that no province or city should interfere with another in the matter of divine worship.

From this memorable compact, so enduring a landmark in the history of human freedom, and distinguished by such breadth of view for the times both in religion and politics, the city had gained the title of cradle of liberty: 'Cunabula libertatis'.

Was it still to deserve the name? At that particular moment the mass of the population was comparatively indifferent to the terrible questions pending. It was the kermis or annual fair, and all the world was keeping holiday in Utrecht. The pedlars and itinerant merchants from all the cities and provinces had brought their wares jewellery and crockery, ribbons and laces, ploughs and harrows, carriages and horses, cows and sheep, cheeses and butter firkins, doublets and petticoats, guns and pistols, everything that could serve the city and country-side for months to come--and displayed them in temporary booths or on the ground, in every street and along every canal. The town was one vast bazaar. The peasant-women from the country, with their gold and silver tiaras and the year's rent of a comfortable farm in their earrings and necklaces, and the sturdy Frisian peasants, many of whom had borne their matchlocks in the great wars which had lasted through their own and their fathers' lifetime, trudged through the city, enjoying the blessings of peace. Bands of music and merry-go-rounds in all the open places and squares; open-air bakeries of pancakes and waffles; theatrical exhibitions, raree- shows, jugglers, and mountebanks at every corner--all these phenomena which had been at every kermis for centuries, and were to repeat themselves for centuries afterwards, now enlivened the atmosphere of the grey, episcopal city. Pasted against the walls of public edifices were the most recent placards and counter-placards of the States-General and the States of Utrecht on the great subject of religious schisms and popular tumults. In the shop-windows and on the bookstalls of Contra- Remonstrant tradesmen, now becoming more and more defiant as the last allies of Holland, the States of Utrecht, were gradually losing courage, were seen the freshest ballads and caricatures against the Advocate. Here an engraving represented him seated at table with Grotius, Hoogerbeets, and others, discussing the National Synod, while a flap of the picture being lifted put the head of the Duke of Alva on the legs of Barneveld, his companions being transformed in similar manner into Spanish priests and cardinals assembled at the terrible Council of Blood- with rows of Protestant martyrs burning and hanging in the distance. Another print showed Prince Maurice and the States-General shaking the leading statesmen of the Commonwealth in a mighty sieve through which came tumbling head foremost to perdition the hated Advocate and his abettors. Another showed the Arminians as a row of crest-fallen cocks rained upon by the wrath of the Stadholder--Arminians by a detestable pun being converted into "Arme haenen" or "Poor cocks." One represented the Pope and King of Spain blowing thousands of ducats out of a golden bellows into the lap of the Advocate, who was holding up his official robes to receive them, or whole carriage-loads of Arminians starting off bag and baggage on the road to Rome, with Lucifer in the perspective waiting to give them a warm welcome in his own dominions; and so on, and so on. Moving through the throng, with iron calque on their heads and halberd in hand, were groups of Waartgelders scowling fiercely at many popular demonstrations such as they had been enlisted to suppress, but while off duty concealing outward symptoms of wrath which in many instances perhaps would have been far from genuine.

For although these mercenaries knew that the States of Holland, who were responsible for the pay of the regular troops then in Utrecht, authorized them to obey no orders save from the local authorities, yet it was becoming a grave question for the Waartgelders whether their own wages were perfectly safe, a circumstance which made them susceptible to the atmosphere of Contra-Remonstrantism which was steadily enwrapping the whole country. A still graver question was whether such resistance as they could offer to the renowned Stadholder, whose name was magic to every soldier's heart not only in his own land but throughout Christendom, would not be like parrying a lance's thrust with a bulrush. In truth the senior captain of the Waartgelders, Harteveld by name, had privately informed the leaders of the Barneveld party in Utrecht that he would not draw his sword against Prince Maurice and the States-General. "Who asks you to do so?" said some of the deputies, while Ledenberg on the other hand flatly accused him of cowardice. For this affront the Captain had vowed revenge.

And in the midst of this scene of jollity and confusion, that midsummer night, entered the stern Stadholder with his fellow commissioners; the feeble plans for shutting the gates upon him not having been carried into effect.

"You hardly expected such a guest at your fair," said he to the magistrates, with a grim smile on his face as who should say, "And what do you think of me now I have came?"

Meantime the secret conference of Grotius and colleagues with the States of Utrecht proceeded. As a provisional measure, Sir John Ogle, commander of the forces paid by Holland, had been warned as to where his obedience was due. It had likewise been intimated that the guard should be doubled at the Amersfoort gate, and a watch set on the river Lek above and below the city in order to prevent fresh troops of the States-General from being introduced by surprise.

These precautions had been suggested a year before, as we have seen, in a private autograph letter from Barneveld to Secretary Ledenberg.

Sir John Ogle had flatly refused to act in opposition to the Stadholder and the States-General, whom he recognized as his lawful superiors and masters, and he warned Ledenberg and his companions as to the perilous nature of the course which they were pursuing. Great was the indignation of the Utrechters and the Holland commissioners in consequence.

Grotius in his speech enlarged on the possibility of violence being used by the Stadholder, while some of the members of the Assembly likewise thought it likely that he would smite the gates open by force. Grotius, when reproved afterwards for such strong language towards Prince Maurice, said that true Hollanders were no courtiers, but were wont to call everything by its right name.

He stated in strong language the regret felt by Holland that a majority of the States of Utrecht had determined to disband the Waartgelders which had been constitutionally enlisted according to the right of each province under the 1st Article of the Union of Utrecht to protect itself and its laws.

Next day there were conferences between Maurice and the States of Utrecht and between him and the Holland deputies. The Stadholder calmly demanded the disbandment and the Synod. The Hollanders spoke of securing first the persons and rights of the magistracy.

"The magistrates are to be protected," said Maurice, "but we must first know how they are going to govern. People have tried to introduce five false points into the Divine worship. People have tried to turn me out of the stadholdership and to drive me from the country. But I have taken my measures. I know well what I am about. I have got five provinces on my side, and six cities of Holland will send deputies to Utrecht to sustain me here."

The Hollanders protested that there was no design whatever, so far as they knew, against his princely dignity or person. All were ready to recognize his rank and services by every means in their power. But it was desirable by conciliation and compromise, not by stern decree, to arrange these religious and political differences.

The Stadholder replied by again insisting on the Synod. "As for the Waartgelders," he continued, "they are worse than Spanish fortresses. They must away."

After a little further conversation in this vein the Prince grew more excited.

"Everything is the fault of the Advocate," he cried.

"If Barneveld were dead," replied Grotius, "all the rest of us would still deem ourselves bound to maintain the laws. People seem to despise Holland and to wish to subject it to the other provinces."

"On the contrary," cried the Prince, "it is the Advocate who wishes to make Holland the States-General."

Maurice was tired of argument. There had been much ale-house talk some three months before by a certain blusterous gentleman called van Ostrum about the necessity of keeping the Stadholder in check. "If the Prince should undertake," said this pot-valiant hero, "to attack any of the cities of Utrecht or Holland with the hard hand, it is settled to station 8000 or 10,000 soldiers in convenient places. Then we shall say to the Prince, if you don't leave us alone, we shall make an arrangement with the Archduke of Austria and resume obedience to him. We can make such a treaty with him as will give us religious freedom and save us from tyranny of any kind. I don't say this for myself, but have heard it on good authority from very eminent persons."

This talk had floated through the air to the Stadholder.

What evidence could be more conclusive of a deep design on the part of Barneveld to sell the Republic to the Archduke and drive Maurice into exile? Had not Esquire van Ostrum solemnly declared it at a tavern table? And although he had mentioned no names, could the "eminent personages" thus cited at second hand be anybody but the Advocate?

Three nights after his last conference with the Hollanders, Maurice quietly ordered a force of regular troops in Utrecht to be under arms at half past three o'clock next morning. About 1000 infantry, including companies of Ernest of Nassau's command at Arnhem and of Brederode's from Vianen, besides a portion of the regular garrison of the place, had accordingly been assembled without beat of drum, before half past three in the morning, and were now drawn up on the market-place or Neu. At break of day the Prince himself appeared on horseback surrounded by his staff on the Neu or Neude, a large, long, irregular square into which the seven or eight principal streets and thoroughfares of the town emptied themselves. It was adorned by public buildings and other handsome edifices, and the tall steeple of St. Martin's with its beautiful open- work spire, lighted with the first rays of the midsummer sun, looked tranquilly down upon the scene.

Each of the entrances to the square had been securely guarded by Maurice's orders, and cannon planted to command all the streets. A single company of the famous Waartgelders was stationed in the Neu or near it. The Prince rode calmly towards them and ordered them to lay down their arms. They obeyed without a murmur. He then sent through the city to summon all the other companies of Waartgelders to the Neu. This was done with perfect promptness, and in a short space of time the whole body of mercenaries, nearly 1000 in number, had laid down their arms at the feet of the Prince.

The snaphances and halberds being then neatly stacked in the square, the Stadholder went home to his early breakfast. There was an end to those mercenaries thenceforth and for ever. The faint and sickly resistance to the authority of Maurice offered at Utrecht was attempted nowhere else.

For days there had been vague but fearful expectations of a "blood bath," of street battles, rioting, and plunder. Yet the Stadholder with the consummate art which characterized all his military manoeuvres had so admirably carried out his measure that not a shot was fired, not a blow given, not a single burgher disturbed in his peaceful slumbers. When the population had taken off their nightcaps, they woke to find the awful bugbear removed which had so long been appalling them. The Waartgelders were numbered with the terrors of the past, and not a cat had mewed at their disappearance.

Charter-books, parchments, 13th Articles, Barneveld's teeth, Arminian forts, flowery orations of Grotius, tavern talk of van Ostrum, city immunities, States' rights, provincial laws, Waartgelders and all--the martial Stadholder, with the orange plume in his hat and the sword of Nieuwpoort on his thigh, strode through them as easily as through the whirligigs and mountebanks, the wades and fritters, encumbering the streets of Utrecht on the night of his arrival.

Secretary Ledenberg and other leading members of the States had escaped the night before. Grotius and his colleagues also took a precipitate departure. As they drove out of town in the twilight, they met the deputies of the six opposition cities of Holland just arriving in their coach from the Hague. Had they tarried an hour longer, they would have found themselves safely in prison.

Four days afterwards the Stadholder at the head of his body-guard appeared at the town-house. His halberdmen tramped up the broad staircase, heralding his arrival to the assembled magistracy. He announced his intention of changing the whole board then and there. The process was summary. The forty members were required to supply forty other names, and the Prince added twenty more. From the hundred candidates thus furnished the Prince appointed forty magistrates such as suited himself. It is needless to say that but few of the old bench remained, and that those few were devoted to the Synod, the States- General, and the Stadholder. He furthermore announced that these new magistrates were to hold office for life, whereas the board had previously been changed every year. The cathedral church was at once assigned for the use of the Contra-Remonstrants.

This process was soon to be repeated throughout the two insubordinate provinces Utrecht and Holland.

The Prince was accused of aiming at the sovereignty of the whole country, and one of his grief's against the Advocate was that he had begged the Princess-Widow, Louise de Coligny, to warn her son-in-law of the dangers of such ambition. But so long as an individual, sword in hand, could exercise such unlimited sway over the whole municipal, and provincial organization of the Commonwealth, it mattered but little whether he was called King or Kaiser, Doge or Stadholder. Sovereign he was for the time being at least, while courteously acknowledging the States-General as his sovereign.

Less than three weeks afterwards the States-General issued a decree formally disbanding the Waartgelders; an almost superfluous edict, as they had almost ceased to exist, and there were none to resist the measure. Grotius recommended complete acquiescence. Barneveld's soul could no longer animate with courage a whole people.

The invitations which had already in the month of June been prepared for the Synod to meet in the city of Dortor Dordtrecht-were now issued. The States of Holland sent back the notification unopened, deeming it an unwarrantable invasion of their rights that an assembly resisted by a large majority of their body should be convoked in a city on their own territory. But this was before the disbandment of the Waartgelders and the general change of magistracies had been effected.

Earnest consultations were now held as to the possibility of devising some means of compromise; of providing that the decisions of the Synod should not be considered binding until after having been ratified by the separate states. In the opinion of Barneveld they were within a few hours' work of a favourable result when their deliberations were interrupted by a startling event.

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