The union of Holland under Prince William of Orange

The union of Holland and Zealand had been accomplished, with the Prince of Orange as sovereign. The representatives of various provinces met with deputies from Holland and Zealand in Utrecht in January 1579, and agreed to a treaty of union which was ever regarded as the foundation of the Netherlands Republic.

The contracting provinces agreed to remain eternally united, while each was to retain its particular privileges, liberties, customs and laws.

For two years there were a series of desultory military operations. The assembly of the united provinces met at The Hague on July 26, 1581, and solemnly declared their independence of Philip and renounced their allegiance for ever. This act, however, left the country divided into three portions-the Walloon or reconciled provinces; the united provinces under Anjou; and the northern provinces under Orange.

Early in February 1582 the Duke of Anjou arrived in the Netherlands from England with a considerable train. The articles of the treaty under which he was elected sovereign as Duke of Brabant made as stringent and as sensible a constitutional compact as could be desired by any Netherlands patriot. Taken in connexion with the ancient charters, which they expressly upheld, they left to the new sovereign no arbitrary power. He was the hereditary president of a representative republic.

The Duke of Anjou, however, became discontented with his position. Many nobles of high rank came from France to pay their homage to him, and in January 1583 he entered into a conspiracy to take possession of the principal cities in Flanders. He reserved to himself the capture of Antwerp, and concentrated his French troops at Borgehout, a village close to the walls of Antwerp.

A night attack was made on the city, but the burghers flew to arms and the force was either dead or captured. The enterprise, known as the 'French Fury,' was an absolute and disgraceful failure, and the duke fled to Berghem. Negotiations for reconciliation were entered into with the Duke of Anjou, who, however, left for Paris in June, never again to return to the Netherlands.

THE Princess Charlotte having died on May 5, 1582, the Prince of Orange was married for the fourth time on April 21, 1583, on this occasion to Louisa, daughter of the illustrious Coligny. In the summer of 1584 the prince and princess took up their residence at Delft, where Frederick Henry, afterwards the celebrated stadtholder, was born to them. During the previous two years no fewer than five distinct attempts to assassinate the prince had been made, and all of them with the privity of the Spanish government or at the direct instigation of King Philip or the Duke of Parma.

A sixth and successful attempt was now to be made. On Sunday morning, July 8, the Prince of Orange received news of the death of Anjou. The courier who brought the despatches was admitted to the prince's bedroom. He called himself Francis Guion, the son of a martyred Calvinist, but he was in reality Balthazar Gerard, a fanatical Catholic who had for years formed the design of murdering the Prince of Orange.

The interview was so entirely unexpected that Gerard had come unarmed and had formed no plans for escape. He pleaded to the officer on duty in the prince's house that he wanted to attend divine service in the church opposite, but that his attire was too shabby and travel-stained and that, without new shoes and stockings, he was unfit to join the congregation. Having heard this, the prince ordered instantly a sum of money to be given to him. With this fund Gerard the following day bought a pair of pistols and ammunition.

On Tuesday, July 10, the prince, his wife, family, and the burgomaster of Leewarden dined as usual, at mid-day. At two o'clock the company rose from table, the prince leading the way, intending to pass to his private apartments upstairs. He had reached the second stair when Gerard, who had obtained admission to the house on the plea that he wanted a passport, emerged from a sunken arch and, standing within a foot or two of the prince, discharged a pistol full at his heart. He was carried to a couch in the dining-room, where in a few minutes he died in the arms of his wife and sister.

The murderer succeeded in making his escape through a side door, and sped swiftly towards the ramparts, where a horse was waiting for him at the moat, but was followed and captured by several pages and halberdiers. He made no effort to deny his identity, but boldly avowed himself and his deed. Afterwards he was subjected to excruciating tortures and executed on July 14 with execrable barbarity.

The reward promised by Philip to the man who should murder Orange was paid to the father and mother of Gerard. The excellent parents were ennobled and enriched by the crime of their son, but, instead of receiving the 25,000 crowns promised in the ban issued by Philip in 1580 at the instigation of Cardinal Granvelle, they were granted three seignories in the Franche Comte and took their place at once among the landed aristocracy.

THE prince was entombed on August 3 at Delft amid the tears of a whole nation. Never was a more extensive, unaffected and legitimate sorrow felt at the death of any human being. William the Silent had gone through life bearing the load of a people's sorrows upon his shoulders with a smiling face. The people were grateful and affectionate, for they trusted the character of their 'Father William,' and not all the clouds which calumny could collect ever dimmed to their eyes the radiance of that lofty mind to which they were accustomed in their darkest calamities to look for light.

The life and labours of Orange had established the emancipated commonwealth upon a secure foundation, but his death rendered hopeless the union of all the Netherlands at that time into one republic.

Return to Outline of Great Books Volume I