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21: Chapter XXI (1619-23)

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In the beautiful village capital of the "Count's Park," commonly called the Hague, the most striking and picturesque spot then as now was that where the transformed remains of the old moated castle of those feudal sovereigns were still to be seen. A three-storied range of simple, substantial buildings in brown brickwork, picked out with white stone in a style since made familiar both in England and America, and associated with a somewhat later epoch in the history of the House of Orange, surrounded three sides of a spacious inner paved quadrangle called the Inner Court, the fourth or eastern side being overshadowed by a beechen grove. A square tower flanked each angle, and on both sides of the south-western turret extended the commodious apartments of the Stadholder. The great gateway on the south-west opened into a wide open space called the Outer Courtyard. Along the north-west side a broad and beautiful sheet of water, in which the walls, turrets, and chapel-spires of the enclosed castle mirrored themselves, was spread between the mass of buildings and an umbrageous promenade called the Vyverberg, consisting of a sextuple alley of lime-trees and embowering here and there a stately villa. A small island, fringed with weeping willows and tufted all over with lilacs, laburnums, and other shrubs then in full flower, lay in the centre of the miniature lake, and the tall solid tower of the Great Church, surmounted by a light openwork spire, looked down from a little distance over the scene.

It was a bright morning in May. The white swans were sailing tranquilly to and fro over the silver basin, and the mavis, blackbird, and nightingale, which haunted the groves surrounding the castle and the town, were singing as if the daybreak were ushering in a summer festival.

But it was not to a merry-making that the soldiers were marching and the citizens. thronging so eagerly from every street and alley towards the castle. By four o'clock the Outer and Inner Courts had been lined with detachments of the Prince's guard and companies of other regiments to the number of 1200 men. Occupying the north-eastern side of the court rose the grim, time-worn front of the ancient hall, consisting of one tall pyramidal gable of ancient grey brickwork flanked with two tall slender towers, the whole with the lancet-shaped windows and severe style of the twelfth century, excepting a rose-window in the centre with the decorated mullions of a somewhat later period.

In front of the lower window, with its Gothic archway hastily converted into a door, a shapeless platform of rough, unhewn planks had that night been rudely patched together. This was the scaffold. A slight railing around it served to protect it from the crowd, and a heap of coarse sand had been thrown upon it. A squalid, unclean box of unplaned boards, originally prepared as a coffin for a Frenchman who some time before had been condemned to death for murdering the son of Goswyn Meurskens, a Hague tavern-keeper, but pardoned by the Stadholder--lay on the scaffold. It was recognized from having been left for a long time, half forgotten, at the public execution-place of the Hague.

Upon this coffin now sat two common soldiers of ruffianly aspect playing at dice, betting whether the Lord or the Devil would get the soul of Barneveld. Many a foul and ribald jest at the expense of the prisoner was exchanged between these gamblers, some of their comrades, and a few townsmen, who were grouped about at that early hour. The horrible libels, caricatures, and calumnies which had been circulated, exhibited, and sung in all the streets for so many months had at last thoroughly poisoned the minds of the vulgar against the fallen statesman.

The great mass of the spectators had forced their way by daybreak into the hall itself to hear the sentence, so that the Inner Courtyard had remained comparatively empty.

At last, at half past nine o'clock, a shout arose, "There he comes! there he comes!" and the populace flowed out from the hall of judgment into the courtyard like a tidal wave.

In an instant the Binnenhof was filled with more than three thousand spectators.

The old statesman, leaning on his staff, walked out upon the scaffold and calmly surveyed the scene. Lifting his eyes to Heaven, he was heard to murmur, "O God! what does man come to!" Then he said bitterly once more: "This, then, is the reward of forty years' service to the State!"

La Motte, who attended him, said fervently: "It is no longer time to think of this. Let us prepare your coming before God."

"Is there no cushion or stool to kneel upon?" said Barneveld, looking around him.

The provost said he would send for one, but the old man knelt at once on the bare planks. His servant, who waited upon him as calmly and composedly as if he had been serving him at dinner, held him by the arm. It was remarked that neither master nor man, true stoics and Hollanders both, shed a single tear upon the scaffold.

La Motte prayed for a quarter of an hour, the Advocate remaining on his knees.

He then rose and said to John Franken, "See that he does not come near me," pointing to the executioner who stood in the background grasping his long double-handed sword. Barneveld then rapidly unbuttoned his doublet with his own hands and the valet helped him off with it. "Make haste! make haste!" said his master.

The statesman then came forward and said in a loud, firm voice to the people:

"Men, do not believe that I am a traitor to the country. I have ever acted uprightly and loyally as a good patriot, and as such I shall die."

The crowd was perfectly silent.

He then took his cap from John Franken, drew it over his eyes, and went forward towards the sand, saying:

"Christ shall be my guide. O Lord, my heavenly Father, receive my spirit."

As he was about to kneel with his face to the south, the provost said:

"My lord will be pleased to move to the other side, not where the sun is in his face."

He knelt accordingly with his face towards his own house. The servant took farewell of him, and Barneveld said to the executioner:

"Be quick about it. Be quick."

The executioner then struck his head off at a single blow.

Many persons from the crowd now sprang, in spite of all opposition, upon the scaffold and dipped their handkerchiefs in his blood, cut wet splinters from the boards, or grubbed up the sand that was steeped in it; driving many bargains afterwards for these relics to be treasured, with various feelings of sorrow, joy, glutted or expiated vengeance.

It has been recorded, and has been constantly repeated to this day, that the Stadholder, whose windows exactly faced the scaffold, looked out upon the execution with a spy-glass; saying as he did so:

"See the old scoundrel, how he trembles! He is afraid of the stroke."

But this is calumny. Colonel Hauterive declared that he was with Maurice in his cabinet during the whole period of the execution, that by order of the Prince all the windows and shutters were kept closed, that no person wearing his livery was allowed to be abroad, that he anxiously received messages as to the proceedings, and heard of the final catastrophe with sorrowful emotion.

It must be admitted, however, that the letter which Maurice wrote on the same morning to his cousin William Lewis does not show much pathos.

"After the judges," he said, "have been busy here with the sentence against the Advocate Barneveld for several days, at last it has been pronounced, and this morning, between nine o'clock and half past, carried into execution with the sword, in the Binnenhof before the great hall.

"The reasons they had for this you will see from the sentence, which will doubtless be printed, and which I will send you.

"The wife of the aforesaid Barneveld and also some of his sons and sons- in-law or other friends have never presented any supplication for his pardon, but till now have vehemently demanded that law and justice should be done to him, and have daily let the report run through the people that he would soon come out. They also planted a may-pole before their house adorned with garlands and ribbands, and practised other jollities and impertinences, while they ought to have conducted themselves in a humble and lowly fashion. This is no proper manner of behaving, and moreover not a practical one to move the judges to any favour even if they had been thereto inclined."

The sentence was printed and sent to the separate provinces. It was accompanied by a declaration of the States-General that they had received information from the judges of various points, not mentioned in the sentence, which had been laid to the charge of the late Advocate, and which gave much reason to doubt whether he had not perhaps turned his eyes toward the enemy. They could not however legally give judgment to that effect without a sharper investigation, which on account of his great age and for other reasons it was thought best to spare him.

A meaner or more malignant postscript to a state paper recounting the issue of a great trial it would be difficult to imagine. The first statesman of the country had just been condemned and executed on a narrative, without indictment of any specified crime. And now, by a kind of apologetic after-thought, six or eight individuals calling themselves the States-General insinuated that he had been looking towards the enemy, and that, had they not mercifully spared him the rack, which is all that could be meant by their sharper investigation, he would probably have confessed the charge.

And thus the dead man's fame was blackened by those who had not hesitated to kill him, but had shrunk from enquiring into his alleged crime.

Not entirely without semblance of truth did Grotius subsequently say that the men who had taken his life would hardly have abstained from torturing him if they had really hoped by so doing to extract from him a confession of treason.

The sentence was sent likewise to France, accompanied with a statement that Barneveld had been guilty of unpardonable crimes which had not been set down in the act of condemnation. Complaints were also made of the conduct of du Maurier in thrusting himself into the internal affairs of the States and taking sides so ostentatiously against the government. The King and his ministers were indignant with these rebukes, and sustained the Ambassador. Jeannin and de Boississe expressed the opinion that he had died innocent of any crime, and only by reason of his strong political opposition to the Prince.

The judges had been unanimous in finding him guilty of the acts recorded in their narrative, but three of them had held out for some time in favour of a sentence of perpetual imprisonment rather than decapitation.

They withdrew at last their opposition to the death penalty for the wonderful reason that reports had been circulated of attempts likely to be made to assassinate Prince Maurice. The Stadholder himself treated these rumours and the consequent admonition of the States-General that he would take more than usual precautions for his safety with perfect indifference, but they were conclusive with the judges of Barneveld.

"Republica poscit exemplum," said Commissioner Junius, one of the three, as he sided with the death-warrant party.

The same Doctor Junius a year afterwards happened to dine, in company of one of his fellow-commissioners, with Attorney-General Sylla at Utrecht, and took occasion to ask them why it was supposed that Barneveld had been hanging his head towards Spain, as not one word of that stood in the sentence.

The question was ingenuous on the part of one learned judge to his colleagues in one of the most famous state trials of history, propounded as a bit of after-dinner casuistry, when the victim had been more than a year in his grave.

But perhaps the answer was still more artless. His brother lawyers replied that the charge was easily to be deduced from the sentence, because a man who breaks up the foundation of the State makes the country indefensible, and therefore invites the enemy to invade it. And this Barneveld had done, who had turned the Union, religion, alliances, and finances upside down by his proceedings.

Certainly if every constitutional minister, accused by the opposition party of turning things upside down by his proceedings, were assumed to be guilty of deliberately inviting a hostile invasion of his country, there would have been few from that day to this to escape hanging.

Constructive treason could scarcely go farther than it was made to do in these attempts to prove, after his death, that the Advocate had, as it was euphuistically expressed, been looking towards the enemy.

And no better demonstrations than these have ever been discovered.

He died at the age of seventy-one years seven months and eighteen days.

His body and head were huddled into the box upon which the soldiers had been shaking the dice, and was placed that night in the vault of the chapel in the Inner Court.

It was subsequently granted as a boon to the widow and children that it might be taken thence and decently buried in the family vault at Amersfoort.

On the day of the execution a formal entry was made in the register of the States of Holland.

"Monday, 13th May 1619. To-day was executed with the sword here in the Hague, on a scaffold thereto erected in the Binnenhof before the steps of the great hall, Mr. John of Barneveld, in his life Knight, Lord of Berkel, Rodenrys, &c., Advocate of Holland and West Friesland, for reasons expressed in the sentence and otherwise, with confiscation of his property, after he had served the State thirty-three years two months and five days since 8th March 1586.; a man of great activity, business, memory, and wisdom--yes, extraordinary in every respect. He that stands let him see that he does not fall, and may God be merciful to his soul. Amen?"

A year later-on application made by the widow and children of the deceased to compound for the confiscation of his property by payment of a certain sum, eighty florins or a similar trifle, according to an ancient privilege of the order of nobility--the question was raised whether he had been guilty of high-treason, as he had not been sentenced for such a crime, and as it was only in case of sentence for lese-majesty that this composition was disallowed. It was deemed proper therefore to ask the court for what crime the prisoner had been condemned. Certainly a more sarcastic question could not have been asked. But the court had ceased to exist. The commission had done its work and was dissolved. Some of its members were dead. Letters however were addressed by the States- General to the individual commissioners requesting them to assemble at the Hague for the purpose of stating whether it was because the prisoners had committed lese-majesty that their property had been confiscated. They never assembled. Some of them were perhaps ignorant of the exact nature of that crime. Several of them did not understand the words. Twelve of them, among whom were a few jurists, sent written answers to the questions proposed. The question was, "Did you confiscate the property because the crime was lese-majesty?" The reply was, "The crime was lese-majesty, although not so stated in the sentence, because we confiscated the property." In one of these remarkable documents this was stated to be "the unanimous opinion of almost all the judges."

The point was referred to the commissioners, some of whom attended the court of the Hague in person, while others sent written opinions. All agreed that the criminal had committed high-treason because otherwise his property would not have been confiscated.

A more wonderful example of the argument in a circle was never heard of. Moreover it is difficult to understand by what right the high commission, which had been dissolved a year before, after having completed its work, could be deemed competent to emit afterwards a judicial decision. But the fact is curious as giving one more proof of the irregular, unphilosophical, and inequitable nature of these famous proceedings.

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