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7: VII.

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A crisis, both for Burgundy and the Netherlands, succeeds. Within the provinces there is an elastic rebound, as soon as the pressure is removed from them by the tyrant's death. A sudden spasm of liberty gives the whole people gigantic strength. In an instant they recover all, and more than all, the rights which they had lost. The cities of Holland, Flanders, and other provinces call a convention at Ghent. Laying aside their musty feuds, men of all parties-Hooks and Kabbeljaws, patricians and people, move forward in phalanx to recover their national constitutions. On the other hand, Louis the Eleventh seizes Burgundy, claiming the territory for his crown, the heiress for his son. The situation is critical for the Lady Mary. As usual in such cases, appeals are made to the faithful commons. A prodigality of oaths and pledges is showered upon the people, that their loyalty may be refreshed and grow green. The congress meets at Ghent. The Lady Mary professes much, but she will keep her vow. The deputies are called upon to rally the country around the duchess, and to resist the fraud and force of Louis. The congress is willing to maintain the cause of its young mistress. The members declare, at the same time, very roundly, "that the provinces have been much impoverished and oppressed by the enormous taxation imposed upon them by the ruinous wars waged by Duke Charles from the beginning to the end of his life." They rather require "to be relieved than additionally encumbered." They add that, "for many years past, there has been a constant violation of the provincial and municipal charters, and that they should be happy to see them restored."

The result of the deliberations is the formal grant by Duchess Mary of the "Groot Privilegie," or Great Privilege, the Magna Charta of Holland. Although this instrument was afterwards violated, and indeed abolished, it became the foundation of the republic. It was a recapitulation and recognition of ancient rights, not an acquisition of new privileges. It was a restoration, not a revolution. Its principal points deserve attention from those interested in the political progress of mankind.

"The duchess shall not marry without consent of the estates of her provinces. All offices in her gift shall be conferred on natives only. No man shall fill two offices. No office shall be farmed. The 'Great Council and Supreme Court of Holland' is re-established. Causes shall be brought before it on appeal from the ordinary courts. It shall have no original jurisdiction of matters within the cognizance of the provincial and municipal tribunals. The estates and cities are guaranteed in their right not to be summoned to justice beyond the limits of their territory. The cities, in common with all the provinces of the Netherlands, may hold diets as often ten and at such places as they choose. No new taxes shall be imposed but by consent of the provincial estates. Neither the duchess nor her descendants shall begin either an offensive or defensive war without consent of the estates. In case a war be illegally undertaken, the estates are not bound to contribute to its maintenance. In all public and legal documents, the Netherland language shall be employed. The commands of the duchess shall be invalid, if conflicting with the privileges of a city.

"The seat of the Supreme Council is transferred from Mechlin to the Hague. No money shall be coined, nor its value raised or lowered, but by consent of the estates. Cities are not to be compelled to contribute to requests which they have not voted. The sovereign shall come in person before the estates, to make his request for supplies."

Here was good work. The land was rescued at a blow from the helpless condition to which it had been reduced. This summary annihilation of all the despotic arrangements of Charles was enough to raise him from his tomb. The law, the sword, the purse, were all taken from the hand of the sovereign and placed within the control of parliament. Such sweeping reforms, if maintained, would restore health to the body politic. They gave, moreover, an earnest of what was one day to arrive. Certainly, for the fifteenth century, the "Great Privilege" was a reasonably liberal constitution. Where else upon earth, at that day, was there half so much liberty as was thus guaranteed? The congress of the Netherlands, according to their Magna Charta, had power to levy all taxes, to regulate commerce and manufactures, to declare war, to coin money, to raise armies and navies. The executive was required to ask for money in person, could appoint only natives to office, recognized the right of disobedience in his subjects, if his commands should conflict with law, and acknowledged himself bound by decisions of courts of justice. The cities appointed their own magistrates, held diets at their own pleasure, made their local by-laws and saw to their execution. Original cognizance of legal matters belonged to the municipal courts, appellate jurisdiction to the supreme tribunal, in which the judges were appointed by the sovereign. The liberty of the citizen against arbitrary imprisonment was amply provided for. The 'jus de non evocando', the habeas corpus of Holland, was re-established.

Truly, here was a fundamental law which largely, roundly, and reasonably recognized the existence of a people with hearts, heads, and hands of their own. It was a vast step in advance of natural servitude, the dogma of the dark ages. It was a noble and temperate vindication of natural liberty, the doctrine of more enlightened days. To no people in the world more than to the stout burghers of Flanders and Holland belongs the honor of having battled audaciously and perennially in behalf of human rights.

Similar privileges to the great charter of Holland are granted to many other provinces; especially to Flanders, ever ready to stand forward in fierce vindication of freedom. For a season all is peace and joy; but the duchess is young, weak, and a woman. There is no lack of intriguing politicians, reactionary councillors. There is a cunning old king in the distance, lying in wait; seeking what he can devour. A mission goes from the estates to France. The well-known tragedy of Imbrecourt and Hugonet occurs. Envoys from the states, they dare to accept secret instructions from the duchess to enter into private negotiations with the French monarch, against their colleagues—against the great charter—against their country. Sly Louis betrays them, thinking that policy the more expedient. They are seized in Ghent, rapidly tried, and as rapidly beheaded by the enraged burghers. All the entreaties of the Lady Mary, who, dressed in mourning garments, with dishevelled hair, unloosed girdle, and streaming eyes; appears at the town-house and afterwards in the market place, humbly to intercede for her servants, are fruitless There is no help for the juggling diplomatists. The punishment was sharp. Was it more severe and sudden than that which betrayed monarchs usually inflict? Would the Flemings, at that critical moment, have deserved their freedom had they not taken swift and signal vengeance for this first infraction of their newly recognized rights? Had it not been weakness to spare the traitors who had thus stained the childhood of the national joy at liberty regained?

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