What was the Emperor Charles to the inhabitants of the Netherlands that they should weep for him? Their interests had never been even a secondary consideration with their master. He had fulfilled no duty towards them; he had committed the gravest crimes against them; he was in constant conflict with their ancient and dearly bought political liberties.
Philip II, whom the Netherlands received as their new master, was a man of foreign birth and breeding, not speaking a word of their language. In 1548 he had made his first appearance in the Netherlands to receive homage as the future sovereign and to exchange oaths of mutual fidelity.
One of the earliest measures of Philip's reign was to re-enact the dread edict of 1550. This he did by the express advice of the Bishop of Arras. The edict set forth that no one should print, write, copy, keep, conceal, sell, buy, or give in churches, streets, or other places any book or writing by Luther, Calvin and other heretics reprobated by the Holy Church; nor break or injure the images of the Holy Virgin or canonised saints; nor in his house hold conventicles, or be present at any such, in which heretics or their adherents taught, baptised, or formed conspiracies against the Holy Church and the general welfare. Further, all lay persons were forbidden to converse or dispute concerning the Holy Scriptures openly or secretly, or to read, teach, or expound them; or to preach, or to entertain any of the opinions of the heretics.
Disobedience to this edict was to be punished as follows: Men to be executed with the sword, and women to be buried alive if they do not persist in their errors; if they do persist in them, then they are to be executed with fire, and all their property in both cases is to be confiscated to the crown. Those who failed to betray the suspected were to be liable to the same punishment, and also those who lodged, furnished with food, or favoured a heretic. Informers against suspected persons were to be entitled on conviction to one half of the property of the accused.
At first, however, the edict was not vigorously carried into effect anywhere. It was openly resisted in Holland; its proclamation was flatly refused in Antwerp and repudiated throughout Brabant. This disobedience was tolerated because Philip wanted money to carry on the war between Spain and France which shortly afterwards broke out.
At the close of the war, a treaty was entered into between France and Spain by which Philip and Henry II bound themselves to maintain the Catholic worship inviolate by all means in their power and to extinguish the increasing heresy in both kingdoms. There was a secret agreement to arrange for the Huguenot chiefs, throughout the realms of both, 'a Sicilian Vespers' upon the first occasion.
Henry died of a wound received from Montgomery in a tourney held to celebrate the conclusion of the treaty, and Catherine dei Medici became Queen-Regent of France, and deferred carrying out the plot till St. Bartholomew's Day fourteen years after.
PHILIP now set about the organization of the Netherlands provinces. Margaret, Duchess of Parma, was appointed regent, with three boards, a state council, a privy council and a council of finance, to assist in the government. It soon became evident that the real power of the government was exclusively in the hands of the Consulta-a committee of three members of the state council, by whose deliberation the regent was secretly to be guided on all important occasions; but in reality the conclave consisted of Anthony Perrenot, Bishop of Arras, afterwards Cardinal Granvelle. Stadtholders were appointed to the different provinces, of whom only Count Egmont for Flanders and William of Orange for Holland need be mentioned.
An assembly of the Estates met at Ghent on August 7, 1589, to receive the parting instructions of Philip previous to his departure for Spain. The king, in a speech made through the Bishop of Arras, owing to his inability to speak French or Flemish, submitted a 'request' for three million gold florins 'to be spent for the good of the country.' He made a violent attack on 'the new, reprobate and damnable sects that now infest the country,' and commanded the Regent Margaret 'accurately to cause to be enforced the edicts and decrees made for the extirpation of all sects and heresies.'
The Estates of all the provinces agreed, at a subsequent meeting with the king, to grant their quota of the 'request,' but made it a condition precedent that the foreign troops, whose outrages and exactions had long been an intolerable burden on the country, should be withdrawn.
This enraged the king, but when a presentation was made of a separate remonstrance in the name of the States-General, signed by the Prince of Orange, Count Egmont and other leading patricians, against the pillaging, insults and disorders of the foreign soldiers, the king was furious. He dissembled at a later meeting, and took leave of the Estates with apparent cordiality.
Return to Outline of Great Books Volume I