The Historical Text Archive: Electronic History Resources, online since 1990 Bringing you digitized history, primary and secondary sources
HTA Home Page | E-books | Europe | Chapter XXIII

23: Chapter XXIII

<< 22: Chapter XXII || TOC

The widow of Barneveld had remained, since the last scene of the fatal tragedy on the Binnenhof, in hopeless desolation. The wife of the man who during a whole generation of mankind had stood foremost among the foremost of the world, and had been one of those chief actors and directors in human affairs to whom men's eyes turned instinctively from near and from afar, had led a life of unbroken prosperity. An heiress in her own right, Maria van Utrecht had laid the foundation of her husband's wealth by her union with the rising young lawyer and statesman. Her two sons and two daughters had grown up around her, all four being married into the leading families of the land, and with apparently long lives of prosperity and usefulness before them. And now the headsman's sword had shivered all this grandeur and happiness at a blow. The name of the dead statesman had become a word of scoffing and reproach; vagabond mountebanks enacted ribald scenes to his dishonour in the public squares and streets; ballad-mongers yelled blasphemous libels upon him in the very ears of his widow and children. For party hatred was not yet glutted with the blood it had drunk.

It would be idle to paint the misery of this brokenhearted woman.

The great painters of the epoch have preserved her face to posterity; the grief-stricken face of a hard-featured but commanding and not uncomely woman, the fountains of whose tears seem exhausted; a face of austere and noble despair. A decorous veil should be thrown over the form of that aged matron, for whose long life and prosperity Fate took such merciless vengeance at last.

For the woes of Maria of Barneveld had scarcely begun. Desolation had become her portion, but dishonour had not yet crossed her threshold. There were sterner strokes in store for her than that which smote her husband on the scaffold.

She had two sons, both in the prime of life. The eldest, Reinier, Lord of Groeneveld, who had married a widow of rank and wealth, Madame de Brandwyk, was living since the death of his father in comparative ease, but entire obscurity. An easy-tempered, genial, kindly gentleman, he had been always much beloved by his friends and, until the great family catastrophe, was popular with the public, but of an infirm and vacillating character, easily impressed by others, and apt to be led by stronger natures than his own. He had held the lucrative office of head forester of Delfland of which he had now been deprived.

The younger son William, called, from an estate conferred on him by his father, Lord of Stoutenburg, was of a far different mould. We have seen him at an earlier period of this narrative attached to the embassy of Francis Aerssens in Paris, bearing then from another estate the unmusical title of Craimgepolder, and giving his subtle and dangerous chief great cause of complaint by his irregular, expensive habits. He had been however rather a favourite with Henry IV., who had so profound a respect for the father as to consult him, and him only of all foreign statesmen, in the gravest affairs of his reign, and he had even held an office of honour and emolument at his court. Subsequently he had embraced the military career, and was esteemed a soldier of courage and promise. As captain of cavalry and governor of the fortress of Bergen op Zoom, he occupied a distinguished and lucrative position, and was likely, so soon as the Truce ran to its close, to make a name for himself in that gigantic political and religious war which had already opened in Bohemia, and in which it was evident the Republic would soon be desperately involved. His wife, Walburg de Marnix, was daughter to one of the noblest characters in the history of the Netherlands, or of any history, the illustrious Sainte-Aldegonde. Two thousand florins a year from his father's estate had been settled on him at his marriage, which, in addition to his official and military income, placed him in a position of affluence.

After the death of his father the family estates were confiscated, and he was likewise deprived of his captaincy and his governorship. He was reduced at a blow from luxury and high station to beggary and obscurity. At the renewal of the war he found himself, for no fault of his own, excluded from the service of his country. Yet the Advocate almost in his last breath had recommended his sons to the Stadholder, and Maurice had sent a message in response that so long as the sons conducted themselves well they might rely upon his support.

Hitherto they had not conducted themselves otherwise than well. Stoutenburg, who now dwelt in his house with his mother, was of a dark, revengeful, turbulent disposition. In the career of arms he had a right to look forward to success, but thus condemned to brood in idleness on the cruel wrongs to himself and his house it was not improbable that he might become dangerous.

Years long he fed on projects of vengeance as his daily bread. He was convinced that his personal grievances were closely entwined with the welfare of the Commonwealth, and he had sworn to avenge the death of his father, the misery of his mother, and the wrongs which he was himself suffering, upon the Stadholder, whom he considered the author of all their woe. To effect a revolution in the government, and to bring back to power all the municipal regents whom Maurice had displaced so summarily, in order, as the son believed, to effect the downfall of the hated Advocate, this was the determination of Stoutenburg.

He did not pause to reflect whether the arm which had been strong enough to smite to nothingness the venerable statesman in the plenitude of his power would be too weak to repel the attack of an obscure and disarmed partisan. He saw only a hated tyrant, murderer, and oppressor, as he considered him, and he meant to have his life.

He had around him a set of daring and desperate men to whom he had from time to time half confided his designs. A certain unfrocked preacher of the Remonstrant persuasion, who, according to the fashion of the learned of that day, had translated his name out of Hendrik Sleet into Henricus Slatius, was one of his most unscrupulous instruments. Slatius, a big, swarthy, shag-eared, beetle-browed Hollander, possessed learning of no ordinary degree, a tempestuous kind of eloquence, and a habit of dealing with men; especially those of the humbler classes. He was passionate, greedy, overbearing, violent, and loose of life. He had sworn vengeance upon the Remonstrants in consequence of a private quarrel, but this did not prevent him from breathing fire and fury against the Contra- Remonstrants also, and especially against the Stadholder, whom he affected to consider the arch-enemy of the whole Commonwealth.

Another twelvemonth went by. The Advocate had been nearly four years in his grave. The terrible German war was in full blaze. The Twelve Years' Truce had expired, the Republic was once more at war, and Stoutenburg, forbidden at the head of his troop to campaign with the Stadholder against the Archdukes, nourished more fiercely than ever his plan against the Stadholder's life.

Besides the ferocious Slatius he had other associates. There was his cousin by marriage, van der Dussen, a Catholic gentleman, who had married a daughter of Elias Barneveld, and who shared all Stoutenburg's feelings of resentment towards Maurice. There was Korenwinder, another Catholic, formerly occupying an official position of responsibility as secretary of the town of Berkel, a man of immense corpulence, but none the less an active and dangerous conspirator.

There was van Dyk, a secretary of Bleiswyk, equally active and dangerous, and as lean and hungry as Korenwinder was fat. Stoutenburg, besides other rewards, had promised him a cornetcy of cavalry, should their plans be successful. And there was the brother-in-law of Slatius, one Cornelis Gerritaen, a joiner by trade, living at Rotterdam, who made himself very useful in all the details of the conspiracy.

For the plot was now arranged, the men just mentioned being its active agents and in constant communication with Stoutenburg.

Korenwinder and van Dyk in the last days of December 1622 drew up a scheme on paper, which was submitted to their chief and met with his approval. The document began with a violent invective against the crimes and tyranny of the Stadholder, demonstrated the necessity of a general change in the government, and of getting rid of Maurice as an indispensable preliminary, and laid down the means and method of doing this deed.

The Prince was in the daily habit of driving, unattended by his body- guard, to Ryswyk, about two miles from the Hague. It would not be difficult for a determined band of men divided into two parties to set upon him between the stables and his coach, either when alighting from or about to enter it--the one party to kill him while the other protected the retreat of the assassins, and beat down such defence as the few lackeys of the Stadholder could offer.

The scheme, thus mapped out, was submitted to Stoutenburg, who gave it his approval after suggesting a few amendments. The document was then burnt. It was estimated that twenty men would be needed for the job, and that to pay them handsomely would require about 6000 guilders.

The expenses and other details of the infamous plot were discussed as calmly as if it had been an industrial or commercial speculation. But 6000 guilders was an immense sum to raise, and the Seigneur de Stoutenburg was a beggar. His associates were as forlorn as himself, but his brother-in-law, the ex-Ambassador van der Myle, was living at Beverwyk under the supervision of the police, his property not having been confiscated. Stoutenburg paid him a visit, accompanied by the Reverend Slatius, in hopes of getting funds from him, but at the first obscure hint of the infamous design van der Myle faced them with such looks, gestures, and words of disgust and indignation that the murderous couple recoiled, the son of Barneveld saying to the expreacher: "Let us be off, Slaet,'tis a mere cur. Nothing is to be made of him."

The other son of Barneveld, the Seigneur de Groeneveld, had means and credit. His brother had darkly hinted to him the necessity of getting rid of Maurice, and tried to draw him into the plot. Groeneveld, more unstable than water, neither repelled nor encouraged these advances. He joined in many conversations with Stoutenburg, van Dyk, and Korenwinder, but always weakly affected not to know what they were driving at. "When we talk of business," said van Dyk to him one day, "you are always turning off from us and from the subject. You had better remain." Many anonymous letters were sent to him, calling on him to strike for vengeance on the murderer of his father, and for the redemption of his native land and the Remonstrant religion from foul oppression.

At last yielding to the persuasions and threats of his fierce younger brother, who assured him that the plot would succeed, the government be revolutionized, and that then all property would be at the mercy of the victors, he agreed to endorse certain bills which Korenwinder undertook to negotiate. Nothing could be meaner, more cowardly, and more murderous than the proceedings of the Seigneur de Groeneveld. He seems to have felt no intense desire of vengeance upon Maurice, which certainly would not have been unnatural, but he was willing to supply money for his assassination. At the same time he was careful to insist that this pecuniary advance was by no means a free gift, but only a loan to be repaid by his more bloodthirsty brother upon demand with interest. With a businesslike caution, in ghastly contrast with the foulness of the contract, he exacted a note of hand from Stoutenburg covering the whole amount of his disbursements. There might come a time, he thought, when his brother's paper would be more negotiable than it was at that moment.

Korenwinder found no difficulty in discounting Groeneveld's bills, and the necessary capital was thus raised for the vile enterprise. Van Dyk, the lean and hungry conspirator, now occupied himself vigorously in engaging the assassins, while his corpulent colleague remained as treasurer of the company. Two brothers Blansaerts, woollen manufacturers at Leyden--one of whom had been a student of theology in the Remonstrant Church and had occasionally preached--and a certain William Party, a Walloon by birth, but likewise a woollen worker at Leyden, agreed to the secretary's propositions. He had at first told, them that their services would be merely required for the forcible liberation of two Remonstrant clergymen, Niellius and Poppius, from the prison at Haarlem. Entertaining his new companions at dinner, however, towards the end of January, van Dyk, getting very drunk, informed them that the object of the enterprise was to kill the Stadholder; that arrangements had been made for effecting an immediate change in the magistracies in all the chief cities of Holland so soon as the deed was done; that all the recently deposed regents would enter the Hague at once, supported by a train of armed peasants from the country; and that better times for the oppressed religion, for the Fatherland, and especially for everyone engaged in the great undertaking, would begin with the death of the tyrant. Each man taking direct part in the assassination would receive at least 300 guilders, besides being advanced to offices of honour and profit according to his capacity.

The Blansaerts assured their superior that entire reliance might be placed on their fidelity, and that they knew of three or four other men in Leyden "as firm as trees and fierce as lions," whom they would engage --a fustian worker, a tailor, a chimney-sweeper, and one or two other mechanics. The looseness and utter recklessness with which this hideous conspiracy was arranged excites amazement. Van Dyk gave the two brothers 100 pistoles in gold--a coin about equal to a guinea--for their immediate reward as well as for that of the comrades to be engaged. Yet it seems almost certain from subsequent revelations that they were intending all the time to deceive him, to take as much money as they could get from him, "to milk, the cow as long as she would give milk," as William Party expressed it, and then to turn round upon and betray him. It was a dangerous game however, which might not prove entirely successful.

Van Dyk duly communicated with Stoutenburg, who grew more and more feverish with hatred and impatience as the time for gratifying those passions drew nigh, and frequently said that he would like to tear the Stadholder to pieces with his own hands. He preferred however to act as controlling director over the band of murderers now enrolled.

For in addition to the Leyden party, the Reverend Slatius, supplied with funds by van Dyk, had engaged at Rotterdam his brother-in-law Gerritsen, a joiner, living in that city, together with three sailors named respectively Dirk, John, and Herman.

The ex-clergyman's house was also the arsenal of the conspiracy, and here were stored away a stock of pistols, snaphances, and sledge-hammers-- together with that other death-dealing machinery, the whole edition of the 'Clearshining Torch', an inflammatory, pamphlet by Slatius--all to be used on the fatal day fast approaching.

On the 1st February van Dyk visited Slatius at Rotterdam. He found Gerritsen hard at work.

There in a dark back kitchen, by the lurid light of the fire in a dim wintry afternoon, stood the burly Slatius, with his swarthy face and heavy eyebrows, accompanied by his brother-in-law the joiner, both in workman's dress, melting lead, running bullets, drying powder, and burnishing and arranging the fire-arms and other tools to be used in the great crime now so rapidly maturing. The lean, busy, restless van Dyk, with his adust and sinister visage, came peering in upon the couple thus engaged, and observed their preparations with warm approval.

He recommended that in addition to Dirk, John, and Herman, a few more hardy seafaring men should be engaged, and Slatius accordingly secured next day the services of one Jerome Ewouts and three other sailors. They were not informed of the exact nature of the enterprise, but were told that it was a dangerous although not a desperate one, and sure to be of great service to the Fatherland. They received, as all the rest had done, between 200 and 300 guilders in gold, that they would all be promoted to be captains and first mates.

It was agreed that all the conspirators should assemble four days later at the Hague on Sunday, the 5th February, at the inn of the "Golden Helmet." The next day, Monday the 6th, had been fixed by Stoutenburg for doing the deed. Van Dyk, who had great confidence in the eloquence of William Party, the Walloon wool manufacturer, had arranged that he should make a discourse to them all in a solitary place in the downs between that city and the sea-shore, taking for his theme or brief the Clearshining Torch of Slatius.

On Saturday that eminent divine entertained his sister and her husband Gerritsen, Jerome Ewouts, who was at dinner but half informed as to the scope of the great enterprise, and several other friends who were entirely ignorant of it. Slatius was in high spirits, although his sister, who had at last become acquainted with the vile plot, had done nothing but weep all day long. They had better be worms, with a promise of further reward and an intimation she said, and eat dirt for their food, than crawl in so base a business. Her brother comforted her with assurances that the project was sure to result in a triumph for religion and Fatherland, and drank many healths at his table to the success of all engaged in it. That evening he sent off a great chest filled with arms and ammunition to the "Golden Helmet" at the Hague under the charge of Jerome Ewouts and his three mates. Van Dyk had already written a letter to the landlord of that hostelry engaging a room there, and saying that the chest contained valuable books and documents to be used in a lawsuit, in which he was soon to be engaged, before the supreme tribunal.

On the Sunday this bustling conspirator had John Blansaert and William Party to dine with him at the "Golden Helmet" in the Hague, and produced seven packages neatly folded, each containing gold pieces to the amount of twenty pounds sterling. These were for themselves and the others whom they had reported as engaged by them in Leyden. Getting drunk as usual, he began to bluster of the great political revolution impending, and after dinner examined the carbines of his guests. He asked if those weapons were to be relied upon. "We can blow a hair to pieces with them at twenty paces," they replied. "Ah! would that I too could be of the party," said van Dyk, seizing one of the carbines. "No, no," said John Blansaert, "we can do the deed better without you than with you. You must look out for the defence."

Van Dyk then informed them that they, with one of the Rotterdam sailors, were to attack Maurice as he got out of his coach at Ryswyk, pin him between the stables and the coach, and then and there do him to death. "You are not to leave him," he cried, "till his soul has left his body."

The two expressed their hearty concurrence with this arrangement, and took leave of their host for the night, going, they said, to distribute the seven packages of blood-money. They found Adam Blansaert waiting for them in the downs, and immediately divided the whole amount between themselves and him--the chimney-sweeper, tailor, and fustian worker, "firm as trees and fierce as lions," having never had any existence save in their fertile imaginations.

On Monday, 6th February, van Dyk had a closing interview with Stoutenburg and his brother at the house of Groeneveld, and informed them that the execution of the plot had been deferred to the following day. Stoutenburg expressed disgust and impatience at the delay. "I should like to tear the Stadholder to pieces with my own hands!" he cried. He was pacified on hearing that the arrangements had been securely made for the morrow, and turning to his brother observed, "Remember that you can never retract. You are in our power and all your estates at our mercy." He then explained the manner in which the magistracies of Leyden, Gouda, Rotterdam, and other cities were to be instantly remodelled after the death of Maurice, the ex-regents of the Hague at the head of a band of armed peasants being ready at a moment's warning to take possession of the political capital.

Prince Frederic Henry moreover, he hinted darkly and falsely, but in a manner not to be mistaken, was favourable to the movement, and would after the murder of Maurice take the government into his hands.

Stoutenburg then went quietly home to pass the day and sleep at his mother's house awaiting the eventful morning of Tuesday.

Van Dyk went back to his room at the "Golden Helmet" and began inspecting the contents of the arms and ammunition chest which Jerome Ewouts and his three mates had brought the night before from Rotterdam. He had been somewhat unquiet at having seen nothing of those mariners during the day; when looking out of window, he saw one of them in conference with some soldiers. A minute afterwards he heard a bustle in the rooms below, and found that the house was occupied by a guard, and that Gerritsen, with the three first engaged sailors Dirk, Peter, and Herman, had been arrested at the Zotje. He tried in vain to throw the arms back into the chest and conceal it under the bed, but it was too late. Seizing his hat and wrapping himself in his cloak, with his sword by his side, he walked calmly down the stairs looking carelessly at the group of soldiers and prisoners who filled the passages. A waiter informed the provost-marshal in command that the gentleman was a respectable boarder at the tavern, well known to him for many years. The conspirator passed unchallenged and went straight to inform Stoutenburg.

The four mariners, last engaged by Slatius at Rotterdam, had signally exemplified the danger of half confidences. Surprised that they should have been so mysteriously entrusted with the execution of an enterprise the particulars of which were concealed from them, and suspecting that crime alone could command such very high prices as had been paid and promised by the ex-clergyman, they had gone straight to the residence of the Stadholder, after depositing the chest at the "Golden Helmet."

Finding that he had driven as usual to Ryswyk, they followed him thither, and by dint of much importunity obtained an audience. If the enterprise was a patriotic one, they reasoned, he would probably know of it and approve it. If it were criminal, it would be useful for them to reveal and dangerous to conceal it.

They told the story so far as they knew it to the Prince and showed him the money, 300 florins apiece, which they had already received from Slatius. Maurice hesitated not an instant. It was evident that a dark conspiracy was afoot. He ordered the sailors to return to the Hague by another and circuitous road through Voorburg, while he lost not a moment himself in hurrying back as fast as his horses would carry him. Summoning the president and several councillors of the chief tribunal, he took instant measures to take possession of the two taverns, and arrest all the strangers found in them.

Meantime van Dyk came into the house of the widow Barneveld and found Stoutenburg in the stable-yard. He told him the plot was discovered, the chest of arms at the "Golden Helmet" found. "Are there any private letters or papers in the bog?" asked Stoutenburg. "None relating to the affair," was the answer.

"Take yourself off as fast as possible," said Stoutenburg. Van Dyk needed no urging. He escaped through the stables and across the fields in the direction of Leyden. After skulking about for a week however and making very little progress, he was arrested at Hazerswoude, having broken through the ice while attempting to skate across the inundated and frozen pastures in that region.

Proclamations were at once made, denouncing the foul conspiracy in which the sons of the late Advocate Barneveld, the Remonstrant clergyman Slatius, and others, were the ringleaders, and offering 4000 florins each for their apprehension. A public thanksgiving for the deliverance was made in all the churches on the 8th February.

On the 12th February the States-General sent letters to all their ambassadors and foreign agents, informing them of this execrable plot to overthrow the Commonwealth and take the life of the Stadholder, set on foot by certain Arminian preachers and others of that faction, and this too in winter, when the ice and snow made hostile invasion practicable, and when the enemy was encamped in so many places in the neighbourhood. "The Arminians," said the despatch, "are so filled with bitterness that they would rather the Republic should be lost than that their pretended grievances should go unredressed." Almost every pulpit shook with Contra-Remonstrant thunder against the whole society of Remonstrants, who were held up to the world as rebels and prince-murderers; the criminal conspiracy being charged upon them as a body. Hardly a man of that persuasion dared venture into the streets and public places, for fear of being put to death by the rabble. The Chevalier William of Nassau, natural son of the Stadholder, was very loud and violent in all the taverns and tap-rooms, drinking mighty draughts to the damnation of the Arminians.

Many of the timid in consequence shrank away from the society and joined the Contra-Remonstrant Church, while the more courageous members, together with the leaders of that now abhorred communion, published long and stirring appeals to the universal sense of justice, which was outraged by the spectacle of a whole sect being punished for a crime committed by a few individuals, who had once been unworthy members of it.

Meantime hue and cry was made after the fugitive conspirators. The Blansaerts and William Party having set off from Leyden towards the Hague on Monday night, in order, as they said, to betray their employers, whose money they had taken, and whose criminal orders they had agreed to execute, attempted to escape, but were arrested within ten days. They were exhibited at their prison at Amsterdam to an immense concourse at a shilling a peep, the sums thus collected being distributed to the poor. Slatius made his way disguised as a boor into Friesland, and after various adventures attempted to cross the Bourtange Moors to Lingen. Stopping to refresh himself at a tavern near Koevorden, he found himself in the tap-room in presence of Quartermaster Blau and a company of soldiers from the garrison. The dark scowling boor, travel-stained and weary, with felt hat slouched over his forbidding visage, fierce and timorous at once like a hunted wild beast, excited their suspicion. Seeing himself watched, he got up, paid his scot, and departed, leaving his can of beer untasted. This decided the quartermaster, who accordingly followed the peasant out of the house, and arrested him as a Spanish spy on the watch for the train of specie which the soldiers were then conveying into Koevorden Castle.

Slatius protested his innocence of any such design, and vehemently besought the officer to release him, telling him as a reason for his urgency and an explanation of his unprepossessing aspect--that he was an oculist from Amsterdam, John Hermansen by name, that he had just committed a homicide in that place, and was fleeing from justice.

The honest quartermaster saw no reason why a suspected spy should go free because he proclaimed himself a murderer, nor why an oculist should escape the penalties of homicide. "The more reason," he said, "why thou shouldst be my prisoner." The ex-preacher was arrested and shut up in the state prison at the Hague.

The famous engraver Visser executed a likeness on copper-plate of the grim malefactor as he appeared in his boor's disguise. The portrait, accompanied by a fiercely written broadsheet attacking the Remonstrant Church, had a great circulation, and deepened the animosity against the sect upon which the unfrocked preacher had sworn vengeance. His evil face and fame thus became familiar to the public, while the term Hendrik Slaet became a proverb at pot-houses, being held equivalent among tipplers to shirking the bottle.

Korenwinder, the treasurer of the association, coming to visit Stoutenburg soon after van Dyk had left him, was informed of the discovery of the plot and did his best to escape, but was arrested within a fortnight's time.

Stoutenburg himself acted with his usual promptness and coolness. Having gone straightway to his brother to notify him of the discovery and to urge him to instant flight, he contrived to disappear. A few days later a chest of merchandise was brought to the house of a certain citizen of Rotterdam, who had once been a fiddler, but was now a man of considerable property. The chest, when opened, was found to contain the Seigneur de Stoutenburg, who in past times had laid the fiddler under obligations, and in whose house he now lay concealed for many days, and until the strictness with which all roads and ferries in the neighbourhood were watched at first had somewhat given way. Meantime his cousin van der Dussen had also effected his escape, and had joined him in Rotterdam. The faithful fiddler then, for a thousand florins, chartered a trading vessel commanded by one Jacob Beltje to take a cargo of Dutch cheese to Wesel on the Rhine. By this means, after a few adventures, they effected their escape, and, arriving not long afterwards at Brussels, were formally taken under the protection of the Archduchess Isabella.

Stoutenburg afterwards travelled in France and Italy, and returned to Brussels. His wife, loathing his crime and spurning all further communication with him, abandoned him to his fate. The daughter of Marnix of Sainte-Aldegonde had endured poverty, obscurity, and unmerited obloquy, which had become the lot of the great statesman's family after his tragic end, but she came of a race that would not brook dishonour. The conspirator and suborner of murder and treason, the hirer and companion of assassins, was no mate for her.

Stoutenburg hesitated for years as to his future career, strangely enough keeping up a hope of being allowed to return to his country.

Subsequently he embraced the cause of his country's enemies, converted himself to the Roman Church, and obtained a captaincy of horse in the Spanish service. He was seen one day, to the disgust of many spectators, to enter Antwerp in black foreign uniform, at the head of his troopers, waving a standard with a death's-head embroidered upon it, and wearing, like his soldiers, a sable scarf and plume. History disdains to follow further the career of the renegade, traitor, end assassin.

When the Seigneur de Groeneveld learned from his younger brother, on the eventful 6th of February, that the plot had been discovered, he gave himself up for lost. Remorse and despair, fastening upon his naturally feeble character, seemed to render him powerless. His wife, of more hopeful disposition than himself and of less heroic mould than Walburg de Marnix, encouraged him to fly. He fled accordingly, through the desolate sandy downs which roll between the Hague and the sea, to Scheveningen, then an obscure fishing village on the coast, at a league's distance from the capital. Here a fisherman, devoted to him and his family, received him in his hut, disguised him in boatman's attire, and went with him to the strand, proposing to launch his pinkie, put out at once to sea, and to land him on the English coast, the French coast, in Hamburg--where he would.

The sight of that long, sandy beach stretching for more than seventy miles in an unbroken, melancholy line, without cove, curve, or indentation to break its cruel monotony, and with the wild waves of the German Ocean, lashed by a wintry storm, breaking into white foam as far as the eye could reach, appalled the fugitive criminal. With the certainty of an ignominious death behind him, he shrank abjectly from the terrors of the sea, and, despite the honest fisherman's entreaties, refused to enter the boat and face the storm. He wandered feebly along the coast, still accompanied by his humble friend, to another little village, where the fisherman procured a waggon, which took them as far as Sandvoort. Thence he made his way through Egmond and Petten and across the Marsdiep to Tegel, where not deeming himself safe he had himself ferried over to the neighbouring island of Vlieland. Here amongst the quicksands, whirlpools, and shallows which mark the last verge of habitable Holland, the unhappy fugitive stood at bay.

Meantime information had come to the authorities that a suspicious stranger had been seen at Scheveningen. The fisherman's wife was arrested. Threatened with torture she at last confessed with whom her husband had fled and whither. Information was sent to the bailiff of Vlieland, who with a party of followers made a strict search through his narrow precincts. A group of seamen seated on the sands was soon discovered, among whom, dressed in shaggy pea jacket with long fisherman's boots, was the Seigneur de Groeneveld, who, easily recognized through his disguise, submitted to his captors without a struggle. The Scheveningen fisherman, who had been so faithful to him, making a sudden spring, eluded his pursuers and disappeared; thus escaping the gibbet which would probably have been his doom instead of the reward of 4000 golden guilders which he might have had for betraying him. Thus a sum more than double the amount originally furnished by Groeneveld, as the capital of the assassination company, had been rejected by the Rotterdam boatman who saved Stoutenburg, and by the Scheveningen fisherman who was ready to save Groeneveld. On the 19th February, within less than a fortnight from the explosion of the conspiracy, the eldest son of Barneveld was lodged in the Gevangen Poort or state prison of the Hague.

The awful news of the 6th February had struck the widow of Barneveld as with a thunderbolt. Both her sons were proclaimed as murderers and suborners of assassins, and a price put upon their heads. She remained for days neither speaking nor weeping; scarcely eating, drinking, or sleeping. She seemed frozen to stone. Her daughters and friends could not tell whether she were dying or had lost her reason. At length the escape of Stoutenburg and the capture of Groeneveld seemed to rouse her from her trance. She then stooped to do what she had sternly refused to do when her husband was in the hands of the authorities. Accompanied by the wife and infant son of Groeneveld she obtained an audience of the stern Stadholder, fell on her knees before him, and implored mercy and pardon for her son.

Maurice received her calmly and not discourteously, but held out no hopes of pardon. The criminal was in the hands of justice, he said, and he had no power to interfere. But there can scarcely be a doubt that he had power after the sentence to forgive or to commute, and it will be remembered that when Barneveld himself was about to suffer, the Prince had asked the clergyman Walaeus with much anxiety whether the prisoner in his message had said nothing of pardon.

Referring to the bitter past, Maurice asked Madame de Barneveld why she not asked mercy for her son, having refused to do so for her husband.

Her answer was simple and noble:

"My husband was innocent of crime," she said; "my son is guilty."

The idea of pardon in this case was of course preposterous. Certainly if Groeneveld had been forgiven, it would have been impossible to punish the thirteen less guilty conspirators, already in the hands of justice, whom he had hired to commit the assassination. The spectacle of the two cowardly ringleaders going free while the meaner criminals were gibbeted would have been a shock to the most rudimentary ideas of justice. It would have been an equal outrage to pardon the younger Barnevelds for intended murder, in which they had almost succeeded, when their great father had already suffered for a constructive lese-majesty, the guilt of which had been stoutly denied. Yet such is the dreary chain of cause and effect that it is certain, had pardon been nobly offered to the statesman, whose views of constitutional law varied from those of the dominant party, the later crime would never have been committed. But Francis Aerssens--considering his own and other partisans lives at stake if the States' right party did not fall--had been able to bear down all thoughts of mercy. He was successful, was called to the house of nobles, and regained the embassy of Paris, while the house of Barneveld was trodden into the dust of dishonour and ruin. Rarely has an offended politician's revenge been more thorough than his. Never did the mocking fiend betray his victims into the hands of the avenger more sardonically than was done in this sombre tragedy.

The trials of the prisoners were rapidly conducted. Van Dyk, cruelly tortured, confessed on the rack all the details of the conspiracy as they were afterwards embodied in the sentences and have been stated in the preceding narrative. Groeneveld was not tortured. His answers to the interrogatories were so vague as to excite amazement at his general ignorance of the foul transaction or at the feebleness of his memory, while there was no attempt on his part to exculpate himself from the damning charge. That it was he who had furnished funds for the proposed murder and mutiny, knowing the purpose to which they were to be applied, was proved beyond all cavil and fully avowed by him.

On the 28th May, he, Korenwinder, and van Dyk were notified that they were to appear next day in the courthouse to hear their sentence, which would immediately afterwards be executed.

That night his mother, wife, and son paid him a long visit of farewell in his prison. The Gevangen Poort of the Hague, an antique but mean building of brown brick and commonplace aspect, still stands in one of the most public parts of the city. A gloomy archway, surmounted by windows grimly guarded by iron lattice-work, forms the general thoroughfare from the aristocratic Plaats and Kneuterdyk and Vyverberg to the inner court of the ancient palace. The cells within are dark, noisome, and dimly lighted, and even to this day the very instruments of torture, used in the trials of these and other prisoners, may be seen by the curious. Half a century later the brothers de Witt were dragged from this prison to be literally torn to pieces by an infuriated mob.

The misery of that midnight interview between the widow of Barneveld, her daughter-in-law, and the condemned son and husband need not be described. As the morning approached, the gaoler warned the matrons to take their departure that the prisoner might sleep.

"What a woful widow you will be," said Groeneveld to his wife, as she sank choking with tears upon the ground. The words suddenly aroused in her the sense of respect for their name.

"At least for all this misery endured," she said firmly, "do me enough honour to die like a gentleman." He promised it. The mother then took leave of the son, and History drops a decorous veil henceforth over the grief-stricken form of Mary of Barneveld.

Next morning the life-guards of the Stadholder and other troops were drawn up in battle-array in the outer and inner courtyard of the supreme tribunal and palace. At ten o'clock Groeneveld came forth from the prison. The Stadholder had granted as a boon to the family that he might be neither fettered nor guarded as he walked to the tribunal. The prisoner did not forget his parting promise to his wife. He appeared full-dressed in velvet cloak and plumed hat, with rapier by his side, walking calmly through the inner courtyard to the great hall. Observing the windows of the Stadholder's apartments crowded with spectators, among whom he seemed to recognize the Prince's face, he took off his hat and made a graceful and dignified salute. He greeted with courtesy many acquaintances among the crowd through which he passed. He entered the hall and listened in silence to the sentence condemning him to be immediately executed with the sword. Van Dyk and Korenwinder shared the same doom, but were provisionally taken back to prison.

Groeneveld then walked calmly and gracefully as before from the hall to the scaffold, attended by his own valet, and preceded by the provost- marshal and assistants. He was to suffer, not where his father had been beheaded, but on the "Green Sod." This public place of execution for ordinary criminals was singularly enough in the most elegant and frequented quarter of the Hague. A few rods from the Gevangen Poort, at the western end of the Vyverberg, on the edge of the cheerful triangle called the Plaats, and looking directly down the broad and stately Kneuterdyk, at the end of which stood Aremberg House, lately the residence of the great Advocate, was the mean and sordid scaffold.

Groeneveld ascended it with perfect composure. The man who had been browbeaten into crime by an overbearing and ferocious brother, who had quailed before the angry waves of the North Sea, which would have borne him to a place of entire security, now faced his fate with a smile upon his lips. He took off his hat, cloak, and sword, and handed them to his valet. He calmly undid his ruff and wristbands of pointlace, and tossed them on the ground. With his own hands and the assistance of his servant he unbuttoned his doublet, laying breast and neck open without suffering the headsman's hands to approach him.

He then walked to the heap of sand and spoke a very few words to the vast throng of spectators.

"Desire of vengeance and evil counsel," he said, "have brought me here. If I have wronged any man among you, I beg him for Christ's sake to forgive me."

Kneeling on the sand with his face turned towards his father's house at the end of the Kneuterdyk, he said his prayers. Then putting a red velvet cap over his eyes, he was heard to mutter:

"O God! what a man I was once, and what am I now?"

Calmly folding his hands, he said, "Patience."

The executioner then struck off his head at a blow. His body, wrapped in a black cloak, was sent to his house and buried in his father's tomb.

Van Dyk and Korenwinder were executed immediately afterwards. They were quartered and their heads exposed on stakes. The joiner Gerritsen and the three sailors had already been beheaded. The Blansaerts and William Party, together with the grim Slatius, who was savage and turbulent to the last, had suffered on the 5th of May.

Fourteen in all were executed for this crime, including an unfortunate tailor and two other mechanics of Leyden, who had heard something whispered about the conspiracy, had nothing whatever to do with it, but from ignorance, apathy, or timidity did not denounce it. The ringleader and the equally guilty van der Dussen had, as has been seen, effected their escape.

Thus ended the long tragedy of the Barnevelds. The result of this foul conspiracy and its failure to effect the crime proposed strengthened immensely the power, popularity, and influence of the Stadholder, made the orthodox church triumphant, and nearly ruined the sect of the Remonstrants, the Arminians--most unjustly in reality, although with a pitiful show of reason--being held guilty of the crime of Stoutenburg and Slatius.

The Republic--that magnificent commonwealth which in its infancy had confronted, single-handed, the greatest empire of the earth, and had wrested its independence from the ancient despot after a forty years' struggle--had now been rent in twain, although in very unequal portions, by the fiend of political and religious hatred. Thus crippled, she was to go forth and take her share in that awful conflict now in full blaze, and of which after-ages were to speak with a shudder as the Thirty Years' War.

<< 22: Chapter XXII || TOC