Inspired by the Bishop of Arras, under secret instructions from Philip, the Regent Margaret resumed the execution of the edicts against heresies and heretics which had been permitted to slacken during the French war. As an additional security for the supremacy of the ancient religion, Philip induced the Pope, Paul IV, to issue, in May 1559, a Bull whereby three new archbishoprics were appointed, with fifteen subsidiary bishops and nine prebendaries, who were to act as inquisitors. The Spanish troops were to be kept in the provinces indefinitely.
Violent agitation took place throughout the whole of the Netherlands during the years 1560 and 1561 against the arbitrary policy embodied in the edict and the ruthless manner in which they were enforced in the new bishoprics, and against the continued presence of the foreign soldiery.
Foremost in resistance was the Prince of Orange, and he, with Egmont, the soldier hero of St. Quentin, and Admiral Horn united in a remarkable letter to the king, in which they said that the royal affairs would never be successfully conducted so long as they were entrusted to Cardinal Granvelle. Finally, Granvelle was recalled by Philip. But the Netherlands had now reached a condition of anarchy, confusion and corruption.
The four Estates of Flanders, in a solemn address to the king, described in vigorous language the enormities committed by the inquisitors and called upon Philip to suppress these horrible practices so manifestly in violation of the ancient charters which he had sworn to support warmly.
Philip, so far from having the least disposition to yield in this matter, dispatched orders in August 1564 to the regent, ordering that the decrees of the Council of Trent should be published and enforced without delay throughout the Netherlands. By these decrees the heretic was excluded, so far as ecclesiastical dogma could exclude him, from the pale of humanity, from consecrated earth and from eternal salvation.
The decrees conflicted with the privileges of the provinces, and at a meeting of the council William of Orange made a long and vehement discourse, in which he said that the king must be unequivocally informed that this whole machinery of placards and scaffolds, of new bishops and old hangmen, of decrees inquisitors and informers, must at once and for ever be abolished. Their day was over; the Netherlands were free provinces and were determined to vindicate their ancient privileges.
THE unique effect of these representations was stringent instructions from Philip to Margaret to keep the whole machinery of persecution constantly at work. Fifty thousand persons were put to death in obedience to the edicts, 30,000 of the best of the citizens migrated to England. Famine reigned in the land. Then followed the revolt of the confederate nobles and the episode of the 'wild beggars.'
Meantime, during the summer of 1556, many thousands of burghers, merchants, peasants and gentlemen were seen mustering and marching through the fields of every province, armed, but only to hear sermons and sing hymns in the open air, as it was unlawful to profane the churches with such rites. The duchess sent forth proclamations by hundreds, ordering the instant suppression of these assemblies and the arrest of the preachers. This brought the popular revolt to a head.
THERE were many hundreds of churches in the Netherlands profusely adorned with chapels. Many of them were filled with paintings, all were peopled with statues. Commencing on August 18, 1556, for the space of only six or seven summer days and nights, there raged a storm by which nearly every one of these temples was entirely rifled of its contents; not for plunder, but for destruction.
It began at Antwerp, on the occasion of a great procession, the object of which was to conduct around the city a colossal image of the Virgin. The rabble sacked thirty churches within the city walls, entered the monasteries, burnt their invaluable libraries and invaded the nunneries. The streets were filled with monks and nuns, running this way and that, shrieking and fluttering, to escape the claws of fiendish Calvinists.
The terror was imaginary, for not the least remarkable feature in these transactions was that neither insult nor injury was offered to man or woman, and that not a farthing's value of the immense amount of property was appropriated. Similar scene were enacted in all the other provinces, with the exception of Limburg, Luxemburg and Namur.
The ministers of the reformed religion and the chiefs of the liberal party all denounced the image-breaking. The Prince of Orange deplored the riots. The leading confederate nobles characterised the insurrection as insensate, and many took severe measures against the ministers and reformers. The regent was beside herself with indignation and terror. Philip, when he heard the news of the insurrection, fell into a frenzy. 'It shall cost them very dear !' he cried. 'I swear it by the soul of my father!'
The religious war, before imminent, became inevitable. The duchess, inspired by terror, proposed to fly to Mons, but was restrained by the counsels of Orange, Horn and Egmont. On August 25 came the crowning act of what the reformers considered their most complete triumph and the regent her deepest degradation.
It was then found necessary, under the alarming aspect of affairs, that liberty of worship, in places where it had been already established, should be freely accorded to the new religion. Articles of agreement to this effect were drawn up and exchanged between the government and Louis of Nassau and fifteen others of the confederacy.
A corresponding pledge was signed by them, that as long as the regent was true to her engagement they would consider their previous existing league annulled and would cordially assist in maintaining tranquillity and supporting the authority of his majesty. The important 'Accord' was then duly signed by the duchess. It declared that the Inquisition was abolished, It declared that the Inquisition was abolished, that his majesty would soon issue a new general edict, expressly and unequivocally protecting the nobles against all evil consequences from past transactions, and that public preaching according to the forms of the new religion was to be practised in places where it had already taken place.
Thus, for a fleeting moment, there was a thrill of joy throughout the Netherlands. But it was all a delusion. While the leaders of the people were exerting themselves to suppress the insurrection and to avert ruin, the secret course pursued by the government may be condensed into the formula--dissimulation, procrastination and again dissimulation.
The 'Accord' was revoked by the duchess, and peremptory prohibition of all preaching within or without city walls was proclaimed. Further, a new oath of allegiance was demanded from all functionaries. The Prince of Orange spurned the proposition and renounced all his offices, desiring no longer to serve a government whose policy he did not approve and a king by whom he was suspected. Terrible massacres of Protestant heretics took place in many cities.
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