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12: XII.

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The civil institutions of the country had assumed their last provincial form, in the Burgundo-Austrian epoch. As already stated, their tendency, at a later period a vicious one, was to substitute fictitious personages for men. A chain of corporations was wound about the liberty of the Netherlands; yet that liberty had been originally sustained by the system in which it, one day, might be strangled. The spirit of local self- government, always the life-blood of liberty, was often excessive in its manifestations. The centrifugal force had been too much developed, and, combining with the mutual jealousy of corporations, had often made the nation weak against a common foe. Instead of popular rights there were state rights, for the large cities, with extensive districts and villages under their government, were rather petty states than municipalities. Although the supreme legislative and executive functions belonged to the sovereign, yet each city made its by-laws, and possessed, beside, a body of statutes and regulations, made from time to time by its own authority and confirmed by the prince. Thus a large portion, at least, of the nation shared practically in the legislative functions, which, technically, it did not claim; nor had the requirements of society made constant legislation so necessary, as that to exclude the people from the work was to enslave the country. There was popular power enough to effect much good, but it was widely scattered, and, at the same time, confined in artificial forms. The guilds were vassals of the towns, the towns, vassals of the feudal lord. The guild voted in the "broad council" of the city as one person; the city voted in the estates as one person. The people of the United Netherlands was the personage yet to be invented, It was a privilege, not a right, to exercise a handiwork, or to participate in the action of government. Yet the mass of privileges was so large, the shareholders so numerous, that practically the towns were republics. The government was in the hands of a large number of the people. Industry and intelligence led to wealth and power. This was great progress from the general servitude of the 11th and 12th centuries, an immense barrier against arbitrary rule. Loftier ideas of human rights, larger conceptions of commerce, have taught mankind, in later days, the difference between liberties and liberty, between guilds and free competition. At the same time it was the principle of mercantile association, in the middle ages, which protected the infant steps of human freedom and human industry against violence and wrong. Moreover, at this period, the tree of municipal life was still green and vigorous. The healthful flow of sap from the humblest roots to the most verdurous branches indicated the internal soundness of the core, and provided for the constant development of exterior strength. The road to political influence was open to all, not by right of birth, but through honorable exertion of heads and hands.

The chief city of the Netherlands, the commercial capital of the world, was Antwerp. In the North and East of Europe, the Hanseatic league had withered with the revolution in commerce. At the South, the splendid marble channels, through which the overland India trade had been conducted from the Mediterranean by a few stately cities, were now dry, the great aqueducts ruinous and deserted. Verona, Venice, Nuremberg, Augsburg, Bruges, were sinking, but Antwerp, with its deep and convenient river, stretched its arm to the ocean and caught the golden prize, as it fell from its sister cities' grasp. The city was so ancient that its genealogists, with ridiculous gravity, ascended to a period two centuries before the Trojan war, and discovered a giant, rejoicing in the classic name of Antigonus, established on the Scheld. This patriarch exacted one half the merchandise of all navigators who passed his castle, and was accustomed to amputate and cast into the river the right hands of those who infringed this simple tariff. Thus Hand-werpen, hand-throwing, became Antwerp, and hence, two hands, in the escutcheon of the city, were ever held up in heraldic attestation of the truth. The giant was, in his turn, thrown into the Scheld by a hero, named Brabo, from whose exploits Brabant derived its name; "de quo Brabonica tellus." But for these antiquarian researches, a simpler derivation of the name would seem an t' werf, "on the wharf." It had now become the principal entrepot and exchange of Europe. The Huggers, Velsens, Ostetts, of Germany, the Gualterotti and Bonvisi of Italy, and many other great mercantile houses were there established. No city, except Paris, surpassed it in population, none approached it in commercial splendor. Its government was very free. The sovereign, as Marquis of Antwerp, was solemnly sworn to govern according to the ancient charters and laws. The stadholder, as his representative, shared his authority with the four estates of the city. The Senate of eighteen members was appointed by the stadholder out of a quadruple number nominated by the Senate itself and by the fourth body, called the Borgery. Half the board was thus renewed annually. It exercised executive and appellate judicial functions, appointed two burgomasters, and two pensionaries or legal councillors, and also selected the lesser magistrates and officials of the city. The board of ancients or ex-senators, held their seats ex officio. The twenty-six ward-masters, appointed, two from each ward, by the Senate on nomination by tie wards, formed the third estate. Their especial business was to enrol the militia and to attend to its mustering and training. The deans of the guilds, fifty-four in number, two from each guild, selected by the Senate, from a triple list of candidates presented by the guilds, composed the fourth estate. This influential body was always assembled in the broad-council of the city. Their duty was likewise to conduct the examination of candidates claiming admittance to any guild and offering specimens of art or handiwork, to superintend the general affairs of the guilds and to regulate disputes.

There were also two important functionaries, representing the king in criminal and civil matters. The Vicarius capitalis, Scultetus, Schout, Sheriff, or Margrave, took precedence of all magistrates. His business was to superintend criminal arrests, trials, and executions. The Vicarius civilis was called the Amman, and his office corresponded with that of the Podesta in the Frisian and Italian republics. His duties were nearly similar, in civil, to those of his colleague, in criminal matters.

These four branches, with their functionaries and dependents, composed the commonwealth of Antwerp. Assembled together in council, they constituted the great and general court. No tax could be imposed by the sovereign, except with consent of the four branches, all voting separately.

The personal and domiciliary rights of the citizen were scrupulously guarded. The Schout could only make arrests with the Burgomaster's warrant, and was obliged to bring the accused, within three days, before the judges, whose courts were open to the public.

The condition of the population was prosperous. There were but few poor, and those did not seek but were sought by the almoners: The schools were excellent and cheap. It was difficult to find a child of sufficient age who could not read, write, and speak, at least, two languages. The sons of the wealthier citizens completed their education at Louvain, Douay, Paris, or Padua.

The city itself was one of the most beautiful in Europe. Placed upon a plain along the banks of the Scheld, shaped like a bent bow with the river for its string, it enclosed within it walls some of the most splendid edifices in Christendom. The world-renowned church of Notre Dame, the stately Exchange where five thousand merchants daily congregated, prototype of all similar establishments throughout the world, the capacious mole and port where twenty-five hundred vessels were often seen at once, and where five hundred made their daily entrance or departure, were all establishments which it would have been difficult to rival in any other part of the world.

From what has already been said of the municipal institutions of the country, it may be inferred that the powers of the Estates-general were limited. The members of that congress were not representatives chosen by the people, but merely a few ambassadors from individual provinces. This individuality was not always composed of the same ingredients. Thus, Holland consisted of two members, or branches—the nobles and the six chief cities; Flanders of four branches—the cities, namely, of Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, and the "freedom of Bruges;" Brabant of Louvain, Brussels, Bois le Due, and Antwerp, four great cities, without representation of nobility or clergy; Zeland, of one clerical person, the abbot of Middelburg, one noble, the Marquis of Veer and Vliessingen, and six chief cities; Utrecht, of three branches—the nobility, the clergy, and five cities. These, and other provinces, constituted in similar manner, were supposed to be actually present at the diet when assembled. The chief business of the states-general was financial; the sovereign, or his stadholder, only obtaining supplies by making a request in person, while any single city, as branch of a province, had a right to refuse the grant.

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