9: Chapter IX (1613-15)
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Francis Aerssens had remained longer at his post than had been intended
by the resolution of the States of Holland, passed in May 1611.
It is an exemplification of the very loose constitutional framework of
the United Provinces that the nomination of the ambassador to France
belonged to the States of Holland, by whom his salary was paid, although,
of course, he was the servant of the States-General, to whom his public
and official correspondence was addressed. His most important despatches
were however written directly to Barneveld so long as he remained in
power, who had also the charge of the whole correspondence, public or
private, with all the envoys of the States.
Aerssens had, it will be remembered, been authorized to stay one year
longer in France if he thought he could be useful there. He stayed two
years, and on the whole was not useful. He had too many eyes and too
many ears. He had become mischievous by the very activity of his
intelligence. He was too zealous. There were occasions in France at
that moment in which it was as well to be blind and deaf. It was
impossible for the Republic, unless driven to it by dire necessity, to
quarrel with its great ally. It had been calculated by Duplessis-Mornay
that France had paid subsidies to the Provinces amounting from first to
last to 200 millions of livres. This was an enormous exaggeration. It
was Barneveld's estimate that before the truce the States had received
from France eleven millions of florins in cash, and during the truce up
to the year 1613, 3,600,000 in addition, besides a million still due,
making a total of about fifteen millions. During the truce France kept
two regiments of foot amounting to 4200 soldiers and two companies of
cavalry in Holland at the service of the States, for which she was bound
to pay yearly 600,000 livres. And the Queen-Regent had continued all the
treaties by which these arrangements were secured, and professed sincere
and continuous friendship for the States. While the French-Spanish
marriages gave cause for suspicion, uneasiness, and constant watchfulness
in the States, still the neutrality of France was possible in the coming
storm. So long as that existed, particularly when the relations of
England with Holland through the unfortunate character of King James were
perpetually strained to a point of imminent rupture, it was necessary to
hold as long as it vas possible to the slippery embrace of France.
But Aerssens was almost aggressive in his attitude. He rebuked the
vacillations, the shortcomings, the imbecility, of the Queen's government
in offensive terms. He consorted openly with the princes who were on the
point of making war upon the Queen-Regent. He made a boast to the
Secretary of State Villeroy that he had unravelled all his secret plots
against the Netherlands. He declared it to be understood in France,
since the King's death, by the dominant and Jesuitical party that the
crown depended temporally as well as spiritually on the good pleasure of
No doubt he was perfectly right in many of his opinions. No ruler or
statesman in France worthy of the name would hesitate, in the impending
religious conflict throughout Europe and especially in Germany, to
maintain for the kingdom that all controlling position which was its
splendid privilege. But to preach this to Mary de' Medici was waste of
breath. She was governed by the Concini's, and the Concini's were
governed by Spain. The woman who was believed to have known beforehand
of the plot to murder her great husband, who had driven the one powerful
statesman on whom the King relied, Maximilian de Bethune, into
retirement, and whose foreign affairs were now completely in the hands
of the ancient Leaguer Villeroy--who had served every government in the
kingdom for forty years--was not likely to be accessible to high views
of public policy.
Two years had now elapsed since the first private complaints against the
Ambassador, and the French government were becoming impatient at his
presence. Aerssens had been supported by Prince Maurice, to whom he had
long paid his court. He was likewise loyally protected by Barneveld,
whom he publicly flattered and secretly maligned. But it was now
necessary that he should be gone if peaceful relations with France were
to be preserved.
After all, the Ambassador had not made a bad business of his embassy from
his own point of view. A stranger in the Republic, for his father the
Greffier was a refugee from Brabant, he had achieved through his own
industry and remarkable talents, sustained by the favour of Barneveld--
to whom he owed all his diplomatic appointments--an eminent position in
Europe. Secretary to the legation to France in 1594, he had been
successively advanced to the post of resident agent, and when the
Republic had been acknowledged by the great powers, to that of
ambassador. The highest possible functions that representatives of
emperors and kings could enjoy had been formally recognized in the person
of the minister of a new-born republic. And this was at a moment when,
with exception of the brave but insignificant cantons of Switzerland, the
Republic had long been an obsolete idea.
In a pecuniary point of view, too, he had not fared badly during his
twenty years of diplomatic office. He had made much money in various
ways. The King not long before his death sent him one day 20,000 florins
as a present, with a promise soon to do much more for him.
Having been placed in so eminent a post, he considered it as due to
himself to derive all possible advantage from it. "Those who serve at
the altar," he said a little while after his return, "must learn to live
by it. I served their High Mightinesses at the court of a great king,
and his Majesty's liberal and gracious favours were showered upon me. My
upright conscience and steady obsequiousness greatly aided me. I did not
look upon opportunity with folded arms, but seized it and made my profit
by it. Had I not met with such fortunate accidents, my office would not
have given me dry bread."
Nothing could exceed the frankness and indeed the cynicism with which the
Ambassador avowed his practice of converting his high and sacred office
into merchandise. And these statements of his should be scanned closely,
because at this very moment a cry was distantly rising, which at a later
day was to swell into a roar, that the great Advocate had been bribed and
pensioned. Nothing had occurred to justify such charges, save that at
the period of the truce he had accepted from the King of France a fee of
20,000 florins for extra official and legal services rendered him a dozen
years before, and had permitted his younger son to hold the office of
gentleman-in-waiting at the French court with the usual salary attached
to it. The post, certainly not dishonourable in itself, had been
intended by the King as a kindly compliment to the leading statesman
of his great and good ally the Republic. It would be difficult to
say why such a favour conferred on the young man should be held more
discreditable to the receiver than the Order of the Garter recently
bestowed upon the great soldier of the Republic by another friendly
sovereign. It is instructive however to note the language in which
Francis Aerssens spoke of favours and money bestowed by a foreign monarch
upon himself, for Aerssens had come back from his embassy full of gall
and bitterness against Barneveld. Thenceforth he was to be his evil
"I didn't inherit property," said this diplomatist. "My father and
mother, thank God, are yet living. I have enjoyed the King's liberality.
It was from an ally, not an enemy, of our country. Were every man
obliged to give a reckoning of everything he possesses over and above his
hereditary estates, who in the government would pass muster? Those who
declare that they have served their country in her greatest trouble, and
lived in splendid houses and in service of princes and great companies
and the like on a yearly salary of 4000 florins, may not approve these
It should be remembered that Barneveld, if this was a fling at the
Advocate, had acquired a large fortune by marriage, and, although
certainly not averse from gathering gear, had, as will be seen on a
subsequent page, easily explained the manner in which his property had
increased. No proof was ever offered or attempted of the anonymous
calumnies levelled at him in this regard.
"I never had the management of finances," continued Aerssens. "My
profits I have gained in foreign parts. My condition of life is without
excess, and in my opinion every means are good so long as they are
honourable and legal. They say my post was given me by the Advocate.
Ergo, all my fortune comes from the Advocate. Strenuously to have
striven to make myself agreeable to the King and his counsellors, while
fulfilling my office with fidelity and honour, these are the arts by
which I have prospered, so that my splendour dazzles the eyes of the
envious. The greediness of those who believe that the sun should shine
for them alone was excited, and so I was obliged to resign the embassy."
So long as Henry lived, the Dutch ambassador saw him daily, and at all
hours, privately, publicly, when he would. Rarely has a foreign envoy
at any court, at any period of history, enjoyed such privileges of being
useful to his government. And there is no doubt that the services of
Aerssens had been most valuable to his country, notwithstanding his
constant care to increase his private fortune through his public
opportunities. He was always ready to be useful to Henry likewise.
When that monarch same time before the truce, and occasionally during
the preliminary negotiations for it, had formed a design to make himself
sovereign of the Provinces, it was Aerssens who charged himself with the
scheme, and would have furthered it with all his might, had the project
not met with opposition both from the Advocate and the Stadholder.
Subsequently it appeared probable that Maurice would not object to the
sovereignty himself, and the Ambassador in Paris, with the King's
consent, was not likely to prove himself hostile to the Prince's
"There is but this means alone," wrote Jeannini to Villeroy, "that can
content him, although hitherto he has done like the rowers, who never
look toward the place whither they wish to go." The attempt of the
Prince to sound Barneveld on this subject through the Princess-Dowager
has already been mentioned, and has much intrinsic probability.
Thenceforward, the republican form of government, the municipal
oligarchies, began to consolidate their power. Yet although the people
as such were not sovereigns, but subjects, and rarely spoken of by the
aristocratic magistrates save with a gentle and patronizing disdain, they
enjoyed a larger liberty than was known anywhere else in the world.
Buzenval was astonished at the "infinite and almost unbridled freedom"
which he witnessed there during his embassy, and which seemed to him
however "without peril to the state."
The extraordinary means possessed by Aerssens to be important and useful
vanished with the King's death. His secret despatches, painting in
sombre and sarcastic colours the actual condition of affairs at the
French court, were sent back in copy to the French court itself. It was
not known who had played the Ambassador this vilest of tricks, but it was
done during an illness of Barneveld, and without his knowledge. Early in
the year 1613 Aerssens resolved, not to take his final departure, but to
go home on leave of absence. His private intention was to look for some
substantial office of honour and profit at home. Failing of this, he
meant to return to Paris. But with an eye to the main chance as usual,
he ingeniously caused it to be understood at court, without making
positive statements to that effect, that his departure was final. On his
leavetaking, accordingly, he received larger presents from the crown than
had been often given to a retiring ambassador. At least 20,000 florins
were thus added to the frugal store of profits on which he prided
himself. Had he merely gone away on leave of absence, he would have
received no presents whatever. But he never went back. The Queen-Regent
and her ministers were so glad to get rid of him, and so little disposed,
in the straits in which they found themselves, to quarrel with the
powerful republic, as to be willing to write very complimentary public
letters to the States, concerning the character and conduct of the man
whom they so much detested.
Pluming himself upon these, Aerssens made his appearance in the Assembly
of the States-General, to give account by word of mouth of the condition
of affairs, speaking as if he had only come by permission of their
Mightinesses for temporary purposes. Two months later he was summoned
before the Assembly, and ordered to return to his post.
Meantime a new French ambassador had arrived at the Hague, in the spring
of 1613. Aubery du Maurier, a son of an obscure country squire, a
Protestant, of moderate opinions, of a sincere but rather obsequious
character, painstaking, diligent, and honest, had been at an earlier day
in the service of the turbulent and intriguing Due de Bouillon. He had
also been employed by Sully as an agent in financial affairs between
Holland and France, and had long been known to Villeroy. He was living
on his estate, in great retirement from all public business, when
Secretary Villeroy suddenly proposed him the embassy to the Hague.
There was no more important diplomatic post at that time in Europe.
Other countries were virtually at peace, but in Holland, notwithstanding
the truce, there vas really not much more than an armistice, and great
armies lay in the Netherlands, as after a battle, sleeping face to face
with arms in their hands. The politics of Christendom were at issue in
the open, elegant, and picturesque village which was the social capital
of the United Provinces. The gentry from Spain, Italy, the south of
Europe, Catholic Germany, had clustered about Spinola at Brussels, to
learn the art of war in his constant campaigning against Maurice.
English and Scotch officers, Frenchmen, Bohemians, Austrians, youths from
the Palatinate and all Protestant countries in Germany, swarmed to the
banners of the prince who had taught the world how Alexander Farnese
could be baffled, and the great Spinola outmanoeuvred. Especially there
was a great number of Frenchmen of figure and quality who thronged to the
Hague, besides the officers of the two French regiments which formed a
regular portion of the States' army. That army was the best appointed
and most conspicuous standing force in Europe. Besides the French
contingent there were always nearly 30,000 infantry and 3000 cavalry on a
war footing, splendidly disciplined, experienced, and admirably armed.
The navy, consisting of thirty war ships, perfectly equipped and manned,
was a match for the combined marine forces of all Europe, and almost as
When the Ambassador went to solemn audience of the States-General, he was
attended by a brilliant group of gentlemen and officers, often to the
number of three hundred, who volunteered to march after him on foot to
honour their sovereign in the person of his ambassador; the Envoy's
carriage following empty behind. Such were the splendid diplomatic
processions often received by the stately Advocate in his plain civic
garb, when grave international questions were to be publicly discussed.
There was much murmuring in France when the appointment of a personage
comparatively so humble to a position so important was known. It was
considered as a blow aimed directly at the malcontent princes of the
blood, who were at that moment plotting their first levy of arms against
the Queen. Du Maurier had been ill-treated by the Due de Bouillon, who
naturally therefore now denounced the man whom he had injured to the
government to which he was accredited. Being the agent of Mary de'
Medici, he was, of course, described as a tool of the court and a secret
pensioner of Spain. He was to plot with the arch traitor Barneveld as to
the best means for distracting the Provinces and bringing them back into
Spanish subjection. Du Maurier, being especially but secretly charged to
prevent the return of Francis Aerssens to Paris, incurred of course the
enmity of that personage and of the French grandees who ostentatiously
protected him. It was even pretended by Jeannin that the appointment of
a man so slightly known to the world, so inexperienced in diplomacy, and
of a parentage so little distinguished, would be considered an affront by
But on the whole, Villeroy had made an excellent choice. No safer man
could perhaps have been found in France for a post of such eminence, in
circumstances so delicate, and at a crisis so grave. The man who had
been able to make himself agreeable and useful, while preserving his
integrity, to characters so dissimilar as the refining, self-torturing,
intellectual Duplessis-Mornay, the rude, aggressive, and straightforward
Sully, the deep-revolving, restlessly plotting Bouillon, and the smooth,
silent, and tortuous Villeroy--men between whom there was no friendship,
but, on the contrary, constant rancour--had material in him to render
valuable services at this particular epoch. Everything depended on
patience, tact, watchfulness in threading the distracting, almost
inextricable, maze which had been created by personal rivalries,
ambitions, and jealousies in the state he represented and the one to
which he was accredited. "I ascribe it all to God," he said, in his
testament to his children, "the impenetrable workman who in His goodness
has enabled me to make myself all my life obsequious, respectful, and
serviceable to all, avoiding as much as possible, in contenting some, not
to discontent others." He recommended his children accordingly to
endeavour "to succeed in life by making themselves as humble,
intelligent, and capable as possible."
This is certainly not a very high type of character, but a safer one for
business than that of the arch intriguer Francis Aerssens. And he had
arrived at the Hague under trying circumstances. Unknown to the foreign
world he was now entering, save through the disparaging rumours
concerning him, sent thither in advance by the powerful personages
arrayed against his government, he might have sunk under such a storm at
the outset, but for the incomparable kindness and friendly aid of the
Princess-Dowager, Louise de Coligny. "I had need of her protection and
recommendation as much as of life," said du Maurier; "and she gave them
in such excess as to annihilate an infinity of calumnies which envy had
excited against me on every side." He had also a most difficult and
delicate matter to arrange at the very moment of his arrival.
For Aerssens had done his best not only to produce a dangerous division
in the politics of the Republic, but to force a rupture between the
French government and the States. He had carried matters before the
assembly with so high a hand as to make it seem impossible to get rid of
him without public scandal. He made a parade of the official letters
from the Queen-Regent and her ministers, in which he was spoken of in
terms of conventional compliment. He did not know, and Barneveld wished,
if possible, to spare him the annoyance of knowing, that both Queen and
ministers, so soon as informed that there was a chance of coming back
to them, had written letters breathing great repugnance to him and
intimating that he would not be received. Other high personages of state
had written to express their resentment at his duplicity, perpetual
mischief-making, and machinations against the peace of the kingdom, and
stating the impossibility of his resuming the embassy at Paris. And at
last the queen wrote to the States-General to say that, having heard
their intention to send him back to a post "from which he had taken leave
formally and officially," she wished to prevent such a step. "We should
see M. Aerssens less willingly than comports with our friendship for you
and good neighbourhood. Any other you could send would be most welcome,
as M. du Maurier will explain to you more amply."
And to du Maurier himself she wrote distinctly, "Rather than suffer the
return of the said Aerssens, you will declare that for causes which
regard the good of our affairs and our particular satisfaction we cannot
and will not receive him in the functions which he has exercised here,
and we rely too implicitly upon the good friendship of My Lords the
States to do anything in this that would so much displease us."
And on the same day Villeroy privately wrote to the Ambassador, "If, in
spite of all this, Aerssens should endeavour to return, he will not be
received, after the knowledge we have of his factious spirit, most
dangerous in a public personage in a state such as ours and in the
minority of the King."
Meantime Aerssens had been going about flaunting letters in everybody's
face from the Duc de Bouillon insisting on the necessity of his return!
The fact in itself would have been sufficient to warrant his removal, for
the Duke was just taking up arms against his sovereign. Unless the
States meant to interfere officially and directly in the civil war about
to break out in France, they could hardly send a minister to the
government on recommendation of the leader of the rebellion.
It had, however, become impossible to remove him without an explosion.
Barneveld, who, said du Maurier, "knew the man to his finger nails," had
been reluctant to "break the ice," and wished for official notice in the
matter from the Queen. Maurice protected the troublesome diplomatist.
"'Tis incredible," said the French ambassador "how covertly Prince
Maurice is carrying himself, contrary to his wont, in this whole affair.
I don't know whether it is from simple jealousy to Barneveld, or if there
is some mystery concealed below the surface."
Du Maurier had accordingly been obliged to ask his government for
distinct and official instructions. "He holds to his place," said he,
"by so slight and fragile a root as not to require two hands to pluck him
up, the little finger being enough. There is no doubt that he has been
in concert with those who are making use of him to re-establish their
credit with the States, and to embark Prince Maurice contrary to his
preceding custom in a cabal with them."
Thus a question of removing an obnoxious diplomatist could hardly be
graver, for it was believed that he was doing his best to involve the
military chief of his own state in a game of treason and rebellion
against the government to which he was accredited. It was not the first
nor likely to be the last of Bouillon's deadly intrigues. But the man
who had been privy to Biron's conspiracy against the crown and life of
his sovereign was hardly a safe ally for his brother-in-law, the
The instructions desired by du Maurier and by Barneveld had, as we have
seen, at last arrived. The French ambassador thus fortified appeared
before the Assembly of the States-General and officially demanded the
recall of Aerssens. In a letter addressed privately and confidentially
to their Mightinesses, he said, "If in spite of us you throw him at our
feet, we shall fling him back at your head."
At last Maurice yielded to, the representations of the French envoy, and
Aerssens felt obliged to resign his claims to the post. The States-
General passed a resolution that it would be proper to employ him in some
other capacity in order to show that his services had been agreeable to
them, he having now declared that he could no longer be useful in France.
Maurice, seeing that it was impossible to save him, admitted to du
Maurier his unsteadiness and duplicity, and said that, if possessed of
the confidence of a great king, he would be capable of destroying the
state in less than a year.
But this had not always been the Prince's opinion, nor was it likely to
remain unchanged. As for Villeroy, he denied flatly that the cause of
his displeasure had been that Aerssens had penetrated into his most
secret affairs. He protested, on the contrary, that his annoyance with
him had partly proceeded from the slight acquaintance he had acquired of
his policy, and that, while boasting to be better informed than any one,
he was in the habit of inventing and imagining things in order to get
credit for himself.
It was highly essential that the secret of this affair should be made
clear; for its influence on subsequent events was to be deep and wide.
For the moment Aerssens remained without employment, and there was no
open rupture with Barneveld. The only difference of opinion between the
Advocate and himself, he said, was whether he had or had not definitely
resigned his post on leaving Paris.
Meantime it was necessary to fix upon a successor for this most important
post. The war soon after the new year had broken out in France. Conde,
Bouillon, and the other malcontent princes with their followers had taken
possession of the fortress of Mezieres, and issued a letter in the name
of Conde to the Queen-Regent demanding an assembly of the States-General
of the kingdom and rupture of the Spanish marriages. Both parties, that
of the government and that of the rebellion, sought the sympathy and
active succour of the States. Maurice, acting now in perfect accord
with the Advocate, sustained the Queen and execrated the rebellion of
his relatives with perfect frankness. Conde, he said, had got his head
stuffed full of almanacs whose predictions he wished to see realized.
He vowed he would have shortened by a head the commander of the garrison
who betrayed Mezieres, if he had been under his control. He forbade on
pain of death the departure of any officer or private of the French
regiments from serving the rebels, and placed the whole French force at
the disposal of the Queen, with as many Netherland regiments as could be
spared. One soldier was hanged and three others branded with the mark of
a gibbet on the face for attempting desertion. The legal government was
loyally sustained by the authority of the States, notwithstanding all the
intrigues of Aerssens with the agents of the princes to procure them
assistance. The mutiny for the time was brief, and was settled on the
15th of May 1614, by the peace of Sainte-Menehould, as much a caricature
of a treaty as the rising had been the parody of a war. Van der Myle,
son-in-law of Barneveld, who had been charged with a special and
temporary mission to France, brought back the terms, of the convention to
the States-General. On the other hand, Conde and his confederates sent a
special agent to the Netherlands to give their account of the war and the
negotiation, who refused to confer either with du Maurier or Barneveld,
but who held much conference with Aerssens.
It was obvious enough that the mutiny of the princes would become
chronic. In truth, what other condition was possible with two characters
like Mary de' Medici and the Prince of Conde respectively at the head of
the government and the revolt? What had France to hope for but to remain
the bloody playground for mischievous idiots, who threw about the
firebrands and arrows of reckless civil war in pursuit of the paltriest
of personal aims?
Van der Myle had pretensions to the vacant place of Aerssens. He had
some experience in diplomacy. He had conducted skilfully enough the
first mission of the States to Venice, and had subsequently been employed
in matters of moment. But he was son-in-law to Barneveld, and although
the Advocate was certainly not free from the charge of nepotism, he
shrank from the reproach of having apparently removed Aerssens to make a
place for one of his own family.
Van der Myle remained to bear the brunt of the late ambassador's malice,
and to engage at a little later period in hottest controversy with him,
personal and political. "Why should van der Myle strut about, with his
arms akimbo like a peacock?" complained Aerssens one day in confused
metaphor. A question not easy to answer satisfactorily.
The minister selected was a certain Baron Asperen de Langerac, wholly
unversed in diplomacy or other public affairs, with abilities not above
the average. A series of questions addressed by him to the Advocate, the
answers to which, scrawled on the margin of the paper, were to serve for
his general instructions, showed an ingenuousness as amusing as the
replies of Barneveld were experienced and substantial.
In general he was directed to be friendly and respectful to every one, to
the Queen-Regent and her counsellors especially, and, within the limits
of becoming reverence for her, to cultivate the good graces of the Prince
of Conde and the other great nobles still malcontent and rebellious, but
whose present movement, as Barneveld foresaw, was drawing rapidly to a
close. Langerac arrived in Paris on the 5th of April 1614.
Du Maurier thought the new ambassador likely to "fall a prey to the
specious language and gentle attractions of the Due de Bouillon." He
also described him as very dependent upon Prince Maurice. On the other
hand Langerac professed unbounded and almost childlike reverence for
Barneveld, was devoted to his person, and breathed as it were only
through his inspiration. Time would show whether those sentiments would
outlast every possible storm.
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