7: Chapter VII
<< 6: Chapter VI (1612-14) || 8: Chapter VIII >>
Thus the Republic had placed itself in as proud a position as it was
possible for commonwealth or kingdom to occupy. It had dictated the
policy and directed the combined military movements of Protestantism.
It had gathered into a solid mass the various elements out of which
the great Germanic mutiny against Rome, Spain, and Austria had been
compounded. A breathing space of uncertain duration had come to
interrupt and postpone the general and inevitable conflict.
Meantime the Republic was encamped upon the enemy's soil.
France, which had hitherto commanded, now obeyed. England, vacillating
and discontented, now threatening and now cajoling, saw for the time at
least its influence over the councils of the Netherlands neutralized by
the genius of the great statesman who still governed the Provinces,
supreme in all but name. The hatred of the British government towards
the Republic, while in reality more malignant than at any previous
period, could now only find vent in tremendous, theological pamphlets,
composed by the King in the form of diplomatic instructions, and hurled
almost weekly at the heads of the States-General, by his ambassador,
Few men hated Barneveld more bitterly than did Carleton. I wish to
describe as rapidly, but as faithfully, as I can the outline at least of
the events by which one of the saddest and most superfluous catastrophes
in modern history was brought about. The web was a complex one, wrought
apparently of many materials; but the more completely it is unravelled
the more clearly we shall detect the presence of the few simple but
elemental fibres which make up the tissue of most human destinies,
whether illustrious or obscure, and out of which the most moving
pictures of human history are composed.
The religious element, which seems at first view to be the all pervading
and controlling one, is in reality rather the atmosphere which surrounds
and colours than the essence which constitutes the tragedy to be
Personal, sometimes even paltry, jealousy; love of power, of money, of
place; rivalry between civil and military ambition for predominance in a
free state; struggles between Church and State to control and oppress
each other; conflict between the cautious and healthy, but provincial and
centrifugal, spirit on the one side, and the ardent centralizing,
imperial, but dangerous, instinct on the other, for ascendancy in a
federation; mortal combat between aristocracy disguised in the plebeian
form of trading and political corporations and democracy sheltering
itself under a famous sword and an ancient and illustrious name;--all
these principles and passions will be found hotly at work in the
melancholy five years with which we are now to be occupied, as they have
entered, and will always enter, into every political combination in the
great tragi-comedy which we call human history. As a study, a lesson,
and a warning, perhaps the fate of Barneveld is as deserving of serious
attention as most political tragedies of the last few centuries.
Francis Aerssens, as we have seen, continued to be the Dutch ambassador
after the murder of Henry IV. Many of the preceding pages of this volume
have been occupied with his opinions, his pictures, his conversations,
and his political intrigues during a memorable epoch in the history of
the Netherlands and of France. He was beyond all doubt one of the ablest
diplomatists in Europe. Versed in many languages, a classical student,
familiar with history and international law, a man of the world and
familiar with its usages, accustomed to associate with dignity and tact
on friendliest terms with sovereigns, eminent statesmen, and men of
letters; endowed with a facile tongue, a fluent pen, and an eye and ear
of singular acuteness and delicacy; distinguished for unflagging industry
and singular aptitude for secret and intricate affairs;--he had by the
exercise of these various qualities during a period of nearly twenty
years at the court of Henry the Great been able to render inestimable
services to the Republic which he represented. Of respectable but not
distinguished lineage, not a Hollander, but a Belgian by birth, son of
Cornelis Aerssens, Grefter of the States-General, long employed in that
important post, he had been brought forward from a youth by Barneveld and
early placed by him in the diplomatic career, of which through his favour
and his own eminent talents he had now achieved the highest honours.
He had enjoyed the intimacy and even the confidence of Henry IV., so far
as any man could be said to possess that monarch's confidence, and his
friendly relations and familiar access to the King gave him political
advantages superior to those of any of his colleagues at the same court.
Acting entirely and faithfully according to the instructions of the
Advocate of Holland, he always gratefully and copiously acknowledged the
privilege of being guided and sustained in the difficult paths he had to
traverse by so powerful and active an intellect. I have seldom alluded
in terms to the instructions and despatches of the chief, but every
position, negotiation, and opinion of the envoy--and the reader has seen
many of them--is pervaded by their spirit. Certainly the correspondence
of Aerssens is full to overflowing of gratitude, respect, fervent
attachment to the person and exalted appreciation of the intellect and
high character of the Advocate.
There can be no question of Aerssen's consummate abilities. Whether his
heart were as sound as his head, whether his protestations of devotion
had the ring of true gold or not, time would show. Hitherto Barneveld
had not doubted him, nor had he found cause to murmur at Barneveld.
But the France of Henry IV., where the Dutch envoy was so all-powerful,
had ceased to exist. A duller eye than that of Aerssens could have seen
at a glance that the potent kingdom and firm ally of the Republic had
been converted, for a long time to come at least, into a Spanish
province. The double Spanish marriages (that of the young Louis XIII.
with the Infanta Anna, and of his sister with the Infante, one day to be
Philip IV.), were now certain, for it was to make them certain that the
knife of Ravaillac had been employed. The condition precedent to those
marriages had long been known. It was the renunciation of the alliance
between France and Holland. It was the condemnation to death, so far as
France had the power to condemn her to death, of the young Republic. Had
not Don Pedro de Toledo pompously announced this condition a year and a
half before? Had not Henry spurned the bribe with scorn? And now had
not Francis Aerssens been the first to communicate to his masters the
fruit which had already ripened upon Henry's grave? As we have seen,
he had revealed these intrigues long before they were known to the world,
and the French court knew that he had revealed them. His position had
become untenable. His friendship for Henry could not be of use to him
with the delicate-featured, double-chinned, smooth and sluggish
Florentine, who had passively authorized and actively profited by her
It was time for the Envoy to be gone. The Queen-Regent and Concini
thought so. And so did Villeroy and Sillery and the rest of the old
servants of the King, now become pensionaries of Spain. But Aerssens did
not think so. He liked his position, changed as it was. He was deep in
the plottings of Bouillon and Conde and the other malcontents against the
Queen-Regent. These schemes, being entirely personal, the rank growth of
the corruption and apparent disintegration of France, were perpetually
changing, and could be reduced to no principle. It was a mere struggle
of the great lords of France to wrest places, money, governments,
military commands from the Queen-Regent, and frantic attempts on her part
to save as much as possible of the general wreck for her lord and master
It was ridiculous to ascribe any intense desire on the part of the Duc de
Bouillon to aid the Protestant cause against Spain at that moment, acting
as he was in combination with Conde, whom we have just seen employed by
Spain as the chief instrument to effect the destruction of France and the
bastardy of the Queen's children. Nor did the sincere and devout
Protestants who had clung to the cause through good and bad report, men
like Duplessis-Mornay, for example, and those who usually acted with him,
believe in any of these schemes for partitioning France on pretence of
saving Protestantism. But Bouillon, greatest of all French fishermen in
troubled waters, was brother-in-law of Prince Maurice of Nassau, and
Aerssens instinctively felt that the time had come when he should anchor
himself to firm holding ground at home.
The Ambassador had also a personal grievance. Many of his most secret
despatches to the States-General in which he expressed himself very
freely, forcibly, and accurately on the general situation in France,
especially in regard to the Spanish marriages and the Treaty of Hampton
Court, had been transcribed at the Hague and copies of them sent to the
French government. No baser act of treachery to an envoy could be
imagined. It was not surprising that Aerssens complained bitterly of the
deed. He secretly suspected Barneveld, but with injustice, of having
played him this evil turn, and the incident first planted the seeds of
the deadly hatred which was to bear such fatal fruit.
"A notable treason has been played upon me," he wrote to Jacques de
Maldere, "which has outraged my heart. All the despatches which I have
been sending for several months to M. de Barneveld have been communicated
by copy in whole or in extracts to this court. Villeroy quoted from them
at our interview to-day, and I was left as it were without power of
reply. The despatches were long, solid, omitting no particularity for
giving means to form the best judgment of the designs and intrigues of
this court. No greater damage could be done to me and my usefulness.
All those from whom I have hitherto derived information, princes and
great personages, will shut themselves up from me . . . . What can be
more ticklish than to pass judgment on the tricks of those who are
governing this state? This single blow has knocked me down completely.
For I was moving about among all of them, making my profit of all,
without any reserve. M. de Barneveld knew by this means the condition of
this kingdom as well as I do. Certainly in a well-ordered republic it
would cost the life of a man who had thus trifled with the reputation of
an ambassador. I believe M. de Barneveld will be sorry, but this will
never restore to me the confidence which I have lost. If one was jealous
of my position at this court, certainly I deserved rather pity from those
who should contemplate it closely. If one wished to procure my downfall
in order to raise oneself above me, there was no need of these tricks.
I have been offering to resign my embassy this long time, which will now
produce nothing but thorns for me. How can I negotiate after my private
despatches have been read? L'Hoste, the clerk of Villeroy, was not so
great a criminal as the man who revealed my despatches; and L'Hoste was
torn by four horses after his death. Four months long I have been
complaining of this to M. de Barneveld. . . . Patience! I am
groaning without being able to hope for justice. I console myself, for
my term of office will soon arrive. Would that my embassy could have
finished under the agreeable and friendly circumstances with which it
began. The man who may succeed me will not find that this vile trick
will help him much . . . . Pray find out whence and from whom this
intrigue has come."
Certainly an envoy's position could hardly be more utterly compromised.
Most unquestionably Aerssens had reason to be indignant, believing as he
did that his conscientious efforts in the service of his government had
been made use of by his chief to undermine his credit and blast his
character. There was an intrigue between the newly appointed French
minister, de Russy, at the Hague and the enemies of Aerssens to represent
him to his own government as mischievous, passionate, unreasonably
vehement in supporting the claims and dignity of his own country at the
court to which he was accredited. Not often in diplomatic history has
an ambassador of a free state been censured or removed for believing and
maintaining in controversy that his own government is in the right. It
was natural that the French government should be disturbed by the vivid
light which he had flashed upon their pernicious intrigues with Spain to
the detriment of the Republic, and at the pertinacity with which he
resisted their preposterous claim to be reimbursed for one-third of the
money which the late king had advanced as a free subsidy towards the war
of the Netherlands for independence. But no injustice could be more
outrageous than for the Envoy's own government to unite with the foreign
State in damaging the character of its own agent for the crime of
fidelity to itself.
Of such cruel perfidy Aerssens had been the victim, and he most
wrongfully suspected his chief as its real perpetrator.
The claim for what was called the "Third" had been invented after the
death of Henry. As already explained, the "Third" was not a gift from
England to the Netherlands. It was a loan from England to France, or
more properly a consent to abstain from pressing for payment for this
proportion of an old debt. James, who was always needy, had often
desired, but never obtained, the payment of this sum from Henry. Now
that the King was dead, he applied to the Regent's government, and the
Regent's government called upon the Netherlands, to pay the money.
Aerssens, as the agent of the Republic, protested firmly against such
claim. The money had been advanced by the King as a free gift, as his
contribution to a war in which he was deeply interested, although he was
nominally at peace with Spain. As to the private arrangements between
France and England, the Republic, said the Dutch envoy, was in no sense
bound by them. He was no party to the Treaty of Hampton Court, and knew
nothing of its stipulations.
Courtiers and politicians in plenty at the French court, now that Henry
was dead, were quite sure that they had heard him say over and over again
that the Netherlands had bound themselves to pay the Third. They
persuaded Mary de' Medici that she likewise had often heard him say so,
and induced her to take high ground on the subject in her interviews with
Aerssens. The luckless queen, who was always in want of money to satisfy
the insatiable greed of her favourites, and to buy off the enmity of the
great princes, was very vehement--although she knew as much of those
transactions as of the finances of Prester John or the Lama of Thibet
--in maintaining this claim of her government upon the States.
"After talking with the ministers," said Aerssens, "I had an interview
with the Queen. I knew that she had been taught her lesson, to insist on
the payment of the Third. So I did not speak at all of the matter, but
talked exclusively and at length of the French regiments in the States'
service. She was embarrassed, and did not know exactly what to say.
At last, without replying a single word to what I had been saying, she
became very red in the face, and asked me if I were not instructed to
speak of the money due to England. Whereupon I spoke in the sense
already indicated. She interrupted me by saying she had a perfect
recollection that the late king intended and understood that we were to
pay the Third to England, and had talked with her very seriously on the
subject. If he were living, he would think it very strange, she said,
that we refused; and so on.
"Soissons, too, pretends to remember perfectly that such were the King's
intentions. 'Tis a very strange thing, Sir. Every one knows now the
secrets of the late king, if you are willing to listen. Yet he was not
in the habit of taking all the world into his confidence. The Queen
takes her opinions as they give them to her. 'Tis a very good princess,
but I am sorry she is so ignorant of affairs. As she says she remembers,
one is obliged to say one believes her. But I, who knew the King so
intimately, and saw him so constantly, know that he could only have said
that the Third was paid in acquittal of his debts to and for account of
the King of England, and not that we were to make restitution thereof.
The Chancellor tells me my refusal has been taken as an affront by the
Queen, and Puysieux says it is a contempt which she can't swallow."
Aerssens on his part remained firm; his pertinacity being the greater
as he thoroughly understood the subject which he was talking about, an
advantage which was rarely shared in by those with whom he conversed.
The Queen, highly scandalized by his demeanour, became from that time
forth his bitter enemy, and, as already stated, was resolved to be rid
Nor was the Envoy at first desirous of remaining. He had felt after
Henry's death and Sully's disgrace, and the complete transformation of
the France which he had known, that his power of usefulness was gone.
"Our enemies," he said, "have got the advantage which I used to have in
times past, and I recognize a great coldness towards us, which is
increasing every day." Nevertheless, he yielded reluctantly to
Barneveld's request that he should for the time at least remain at his
post. Later on, as the intrigues against him began to unfold themselves,
and his faithful services were made use of at home to blacken his
character and procure his removal, he refused to resign, as to do so
would be to play into the hands of his enemies, and by inference at
least to accuse himself of infidelity to his trust.
But his concealed rage and his rancor grew more deadly every day. He was
fully aware of the plots against him, although he found it difficult to
trace them to their source.
"I doubt not," he wrote to Jacques de Maldere, the distinguished
diplomatist and senator, who had recently returned from his embassy to
England, "that this beautiful proposition of de Russy has been sent to
your Province of Zealand. Does it not seem to you a plot well woven as
well in Holland as at this court to remove me from my post with
disreputation? What have I done that should cause the Queen to
disapprove my proceedings? Since the death of the late king I have
always opposed the Third, which they have been trying to fix upon the
treasury, on the ground that Henry never spoke to me of restitution, that
the receipts given were simple ones, and that the money given was spent
for the common benefit of France and the States under direction of the
King's government. But I am expected here to obey M. de Villeroy, who
says that it was the intention of the late king to oblige us to make the
payment. I am not accustomed to obey authority if it be not supported by
reason. It is for my masters to reply and to defend me. The Queen has
no reason to complain. I have maintained the interests of my superiors.
But this is not the cause of the complaints. My misfortune is that all
my despatches have been sent from Holland in copy to this court. Most of
them contained free pictures of the condition and dealings of those who
govern here. M. de Villeroy has found himself depicted often, and now
under pretext of a public negotiation he has found an opportunity of
revenging himself . . . . Besides this cause which Villeroy has found
for combing my head, Russy has given notice here that I have kept my
masters in the hopes of being honourably exempted from the claims of this
government. The long letter which I wrote to M. de Barneveld justifies
It is no wonder that the Ambassador was galled to the quick by the
outrage which those concerned in the government were seeking to put
upon him. How could an honest man fail to be overwhelmed with rage
and anguish at being dishonoured before the world by his masters for
scrupulously doing his duty, and for maintaining the rights and dignity
of his own country? He knew that the charges were but pretexts, that the
motives of his enemies were as base as the intrigues themselves, but he
also knew that the world usually sides with the government against the
individual, and that a man's reputation is rarely strong enough to
maintain itself unsullied in a foreign land when his own government
stretches forth its hand not to, shield, but to stab him.
[See the similarity of Aerssens position to that of Motley 250 years
later, in the biographical sketch of Motley by Oliver Wendell
"I know," he said, "that this plot has been woven partly in Holland and
partly here by good correspondence, in order to drive me from my post
with disreputation. To this has tended the communication of my
despatches to make me lose my best friends. This too was the object of
the particular imparting to de Russy of all my propositions, in order to
draw a complaint against me from this court.
"But as I have discovered this accurately, I have resolved to offer to my
masters the continuance of my very humble service for such time and under
such conditions as they may think good to prescribe. I prefer forcing my
natural and private inclinations to giving an opportunity for the
ministers of this kingdom to discredit us, and to my enemies to succeed
in injuring me, and by fraud and malice to force me from my post . . .
I am truly sorry, being ready to retire, wishing to have an honourable
testimony in recompense of my labours, that one is in such hurry to take
advantage of my fall. I cannot believe that my masters wish to suffer
this. They are too prudent, and cannot be ignorant of the treachery
which has been practised on me. I have maintained their cause. If they
have chosen to throw down the fruits of my industry, the blame should be
imputed to those who consider their own ambition more than the interests
of the public . . . . What envoy will ever dare to speak with vigour
if he is not sustained by the government at home? . . . . . .
My enemies have misrepresented my actions, and my language as passionate,
exaggerated, mischievous, but I have no passion except for the service of
my superiors. They say that I have a dark and distrustful disposition,
but I have been alarmed at the alliance now forming here with the King of
Spain, through the policy of M. de Villeroy. I was the first to discover
this intrigue, which they thought buried in the bosom of the Triumvirate.
I gave notice of it to My Lords the States as in duty bound. It all came
back to the government in the copies furnished of my secret despatches.
This is the real source of the complaints against me. The rest of the
charges, relating to the Third and other matters, are but pretexts.
To parry the blow, they pretend that all that is said and done with the
Spaniard is but feigning. Who is going to believe that? Has not the
Pope intervened in the affair? . . . I tell you they are furious here
because I have my eyes open. I see too far into their affairs to suit
their purposes. A new man would suit them better."
His position was hopelessly compromised. He remained in Paris, however,
month after month, and even year after year, defying his enemies both at
the Queen's court and in Holland, feeding fat the grudge he bore to
Barneveld as the supposed author of the intrigue against him, and drawing
closer the personal bands which united him to Bouillon and through him to
The wrath of the Ambassador flamed forth without disguise against
Barneveld and all his adherents when his removal, as will be related on
a subsequent page, was at last effected. And his hatred was likely to
be deadly. A man with a shrewd, vivid face, cleanly cut features and a
restless eye; wearing a close-fitting skull cap, which gave him something
the lock of a monk, but with the thoroughbred and facile demeanour of
one familiar with the world; stealthy, smooth, and cruel, a man coldly
intellectual, who feared no one, loved but few, and never forgot or
forgave; Francis d'Aerssens, devoured by ambition and burning with
revenge, was a dangerous enemy.
Time was soon to show whether it was safe to injure him. Barneveld, from
well-considered motives of public policy, was favouring his honourable
recall. But he allowed a decorous interval of more than three years to
elapse in which to terminate his affairs, and to take a deliberate
departure from that French embassy to which the Advocate had originally
promoted him, and in which there had been so many years of mutual benefit
and confidence between the two statesmen. He used no underhand means.
He did not abuse the power of the States-General which he wielded to cast
him suddenly and brutally from the distinguished post which he occupied,
and so to attempt to dishonour him before the world. Nothing could be
more respectful and conciliatory than the attitude of the government from
first to last towards this distinguished functionary. The Republic
respected itself too much to deal with honourable agents whose services
it felt obliged to dispense with as with vulgar malefactors who had been
detected in crime. But Aerssens believed that it was the Advocate who
had caused copies of his despatches to be sent to the French court, and
that he had deliberately and for a fixed purpose been undermining his
influence at home and abroad and blackening his character. All his
ancient feelings of devotion, if they had ever genuinely existed towards
his former friend and patron, turned to gall. He was almost ready to
deny that he had ever respected Barneveld, appreciated his public
services, admired his intellect, or felt gratitude for his guidance.
A fierce controversy--to which at a later period it will be necessary to
call the reader's attention, because it is intimately connected with dark
scenes afterwards to be enacted--took place between the late ambassador
and Cornelis van der Myle. Meantime Barneveld pursued the policy which
he had marked out for the States-General in regard to France.
Certainly it was a difficult problem. There could be no doubt that
metamorphosed France could only be a dangerous ally for the Republic.
It was in reality impossible that she should be her ally at all.
And this Barneveld knew. Still it was better, so he thought, for the
Netherlands that France should exist than that it should fall into utter
decomposition. France, though under the influence of Spain, and doubly
allied by marriage contracts to Spain, was better than Spain itself in
the place of France. This seemed to be the only choice between two
evils. Should the whole weight of the States-General be thrown into the
scale of the malcontent and mutinous princes against the established but
tottering government of France, it was difficult to say how soon Spain
might literally, as well as inferentially, reign in Paris.
Between the rebellion and the legitimate government, therefore, Barneveld
did not hesitate. France, corporate France, with which the Republic had
bean so long in close and mutually advantageous alliance, and from whose
late monarch she had received such constant and valuable benefits, was in
the Advocate's opinion the only power to be recognised, Papal and Spanish
though it was. The advantage of an alliance with the fickle, self-
seeking, and ever changing mutiny, that was seeking to make use of
Protestantism to effect its own ends, was in his eyes rather specious
By this policy, while making the breach irreparable with Aerssens and as
many leading politicians as Aerssens could influence, he first brought on
himself the stupid accusation of swerving towards Spain. Dull murmurs
like these, which were now but faintly making themselves heard against
the reputation of the Advocate, were destined ere long to swell into a
mighty roar; but he hardly listened now to insinuations which seemed
infinitely below his contempt. He still effectually ruled the nation
through his influence in the States of Holland, where he reigned supreme.
Thus far Barneveld and My Lords the States-General were one personage.
But there was another great man in the State who had at last grown
impatient of the Advocate's power, and was secretly resolved to brook it
no longer. Maurice of Nassau had felt himself too long rebuked by the
genius of the Advocate. The Prince had perhaps never forgiven him for
the political guardianship which he had exercised over him ever since the
death of William the Silent. He resented the leading strings by which
his youthful footstep had been sustained, and which he seemed always to
feel about his limbs so long as Barneveld existed. He had never
forgotten the unpalatable advice given to him by the Advocate through the
The brief campaign in Cleve and Julich was the last great political
operation in which the two were likely to act in even apparent harmony.
But the rivalry between the two had already pronounced itself
emphatically during the negotiations for the truce. The Advocate had
felt it absolutely necessary for the Republic to suspend the war at the
first moment when she could treat with her ancient sovereign on a footing
of equality. Spain, exhausted with the conflict, had at last consented
to what she considered the humiliation of treating with her rebellious
provinces as with free states over which she claimed no authority. The
peace party, led by Barneveld, had triumphed, notwithstanding the steady
opposition of Prince Maurice and his adherents.
Why had Maurice opposed the treaty? Because his vocation was over,
because he was the greatest captain of the age, because his emoluments,
his consideration, his dignity before the world, his personal power, were
all vastly greater in war than in his opinion they could possibly be in
peace. It was easy for him to persuade himself that what was manifestly
for his individual interest was likewise essential to the prosperity of
The diminution in his revenues consequent on the return to peace was made
good to him, his brother, and his cousin, by most munificent endowments
and pensions. And it was owing to the strenuous exertions of the
Advocate that these large sums were voted. A hollow friendship was
kept up between the two during the first few years of the truce,
but resentment and jealousy lay deep in Maurice's heart.
At about the period of the return of Aerssens from his French embassy,
the suppressed fire was ready to flame forth at the first fanning by that
artful hand. It was impossible, so Aerssens thought and whispered, that
two heads could remain on one body politic. There was no room in the
Netherlands for both the Advocate and the Prince. Barneveld was in all
civil affairs dictator, chief magistrate, supreme judge; but he occupied
this high station by the force of intellect, will, and experience, not
through any constitutional provision. In time of war the Prince was
generalissimo, commander-in-chief of all the armies of the Republic.
Yet constitutionally he was not captain-general at all. He was only
stadholder of five out of seven provinces.
Barneveld suspected him of still wishing to make himself sovereign of the
country. Perhaps his suspicions were incorrect. Yet there was every
reason why Maurice should be ambitious of that position. It would have
been in accordance with the openly expressed desire of Henry IV. and
other powerful allies of the Netherlands. His father's assassination had
alone prevented his elevation to the rank of sovereign Count of Holland.
The federal policy of the Provinces had drifted into a republican form
after their renunciation of their Spanish sovereign, not because the
people, or the States as representing the people, had deliberately chosen
a republican system, but because they could get no powerful monarch to
accept the sovereignty. They had offered to become subjects of
Protestant England and of Catholic France. Both powers had refused the
offer, and refused it with something like contumely. However deep the
subsequent regret on the part of both, there was no doubt of the fact.
But the internal policy in all the provinces, and in all the towns, was
republican. Local self-government existed everywhere. Each city
magistracy was a little republic in itself. The death of William the
Silent, before he had been invested with the sovereign power of all seven
provinces, again left that sovereignty in abeyance. Was the supreme
power of the Union, created at Utrecht in 1579, vested in the States-
They were beginning theoretically to claim it, but Barneveld denied the
existence of any such power either in law or fact. It was a league of
sovereignties, he maintained; a confederacy of seven independent states,
united for certain purposes by a treaty made some thirty years before.
Nothing could be more imbecile, judging by the light of subsequent events
and the experience of centuries, than such an organization. The
independent and sovereign republic of Zealand or of Groningen, for
example, would have made a poor figure campaigning, or negotiating, or
exhibiting itself on its own account before the world. Yet it was
difficult to show any charter, precedent, or prescription for the
sovereignty of the States-General. Necessary as such an incorporation
was for the very existence of the Union, no constitutional union had ever
been enacted. Practically the Province of Holland, representing more
than half the population, wealth, strength, and intellect of the whole
confederation, had achieved an irregular supremacy in the States-General.
But its undeniable superiority was now causing a rank growth of envy,
hatred, and jealousy throughout the country, and the great Advocate of
Holland, who was identified with the province, and had so long wielded
its power, was beginning to reap the full harvest of that malice.
Thus while there was so much of vagueness in theory and practice as to
the sovereignty, there was nothing criminal on the part of Maurice if he
was ambitious of obtaining the sovereignty himself. He was not seeking
to compass it by base artifice or by intrigue of any kind. It was very
natural that he should be restive under the dictatorship of the Advocate.
If a single burgher and lawyer could make himself despot of the
Netherlands, how much more reasonable that he--with the noblest blood of
Europe in his veins, whose direct ancestor three centuries before had
been emperor not only of those provinces, but of all Germany and half
Christendom besides, whose immortal father had under God been the creator
and saviour of the new commonwealth, had made sacrifices such as man
never made for a people, and had at last laid down his life in its
defence; who had himself fought daily from boyhood upwards in the great
cause, who had led national armies from victory to victory till he had
placed his country as a military school and a belligerent power foremost
among the nations, and had at last so exhausted and humbled the great
adversary and former tyrant that he had been glad of a truce while the
rebel chief would have preferred to continue the war--should aspire to
rule by hereditary right a land with which his name and his race were
indelibly associated by countless sacrifices and heroic achievements.
It was no crime in Maurice to desire the sovereignty. It was still less
a crime in Barneveld to believe that he desired it. There was no special
reason why the Prince should love the republican form of government
provided that an hereditary one could be legally substituted for it.
He had sworn allegiance to the statutes, customs, and privileges of each
of the provinces of which he had been elected stadholder, but there would
have been no treason on his part if the name and dignity of stadholder
should be changed by the States themselves for those of King or sovereign
Yet it was a chief grievance against the Advocate on the part of the
Prince that Barneveld believed him capable of this ambition.
The Republic existed as a fact, but it had not long existed, nor had it
ever received a formal baptism. So undefined was its constitution, and
so conflicting were the various opinions in regard to it of eminent men,
that it would be difficult to say how high-treason could be committed
against it. Great lawyers of highest intellect and learning believed the
sovereign power to reside in the separate states, others found that
sovereignty in the city magistracies, while during a feverish period of
war and tumult the supreme function had without any written constitution,
any organic law, practically devolved upon the States-General, who had
now begun to claim it as a right. The Republic was neither venerable by
age nor impregnable in law. It was an improvised aristocracy of lawyers,
manufacturers, bankers, and corporations which had done immense work and
exhibited astonishing sagacity and courage, but which might never have
achieved the independence of the Provinces unaided by the sword of
Orange-Nassau and the magic spell which belonged to that name.
Thus a bitter conflict was rapidly developing itself in the heart of the
Commonwealth. There was the civil element struggling with the military
for predominance; sword against gown; states' rights against central
authority; peace against war; above all the rivalry of one prominent
personage against another, whose mutual hatred was now artfully inflamed
And now another element of discord had come, more potent than all the
rest: the terrible, never ending, struggle of Church against State.
Theological hatred which forty years long had found vent in the exchange
of acrimony between the ancient and the Reformed churches was now
assuming other shapes. Religion in that age and country was more than
has often been the case in history the atmosphere of men's daily lives.
But during the great war for independence, although the hostility between
the two religious forces was always intense, it was modified especially
towards the close of the struggle by other controlling influences. The
love of independence and the passion for nationality, the devotion to
ancient political privileges, was often as fervid and genuine in Catholic
bosoms as in those of Protestants, and sincere adherents of the ancient
church had fought to the death against Spain in defence of chartered
At that very moment it is probable that half the population of the United
Provinces was Catholic. Yet it would be ridiculous to deny that the
aggressive, uncompromising; self-sacrificing, intensely believing,
perfectly fearless spirit of Calvinism had been the animating soul, the
motive power of the great revolt. For the Provinces to have encountered
Spain and Rome without Calvinism, and relying upon municipal enthusiasm
only, would have been to throw away the sword and fight with the
But it is equally certain that those hot gospellers who had suffered so
much martyrdom and achieved so many miracles were fully aware of their
power and despotic in its exercise. Against the oligarchy of commercial
and juridical corporations they stood there the most terrible aristocracy
of all: the aristocracy of God's elect, predestined from all time and to
all eternity to take precedence of and to look down upon their inferior
and lost fellow creatures. It was inevitable that this aristocracy,
which had done so much, which had breathed into a new-born commonwealth
the breath of its life, should be intolerant, haughty, dogmatic.
The Church of Rome, which had been dethroned after inflicting such
exquisite tortures during its period of power, was not to raise its head.
Although so large a proportion of the inhabitants of the country were
secretly or openly attached to that faith, it was a penal offence to
participate openly in its rites and ceremonies. Religious equality,
except in the minds of a few individuals, was an unimaginable idea.
There was still one Church which arrogated to itself the sole possession
of truth, the Church of Geneva. Those who admitted the possibility of
other forms and creeds were either Atheists or, what was deemed worse
than Atheists, Papists, because Papists were assumed to be traitors also,
and desirous of selling the country to Spain. An undevout man in that
land and at that epoch was an almost unknown phenomenon. Religion was
as much a recognized necessity of existence as food or drink. It were
as easy to find people about without clothes as without religious
The Advocate, who had always adhered to the humble spirit of his
ancestral device, "Nil scire tutissima fedes," and almost alone among
his fellow citizens (save those immediate apostles and pupils of his who
became involved in his fate) in favour of religious toleration, began to
be suspected of treason and Papacy because, had he been able to give the
law, it was thought he would have permitted such horrors as the public
exercise of the Roman Catholic religion.
The hissings and screamings of the vulgar against him as he moved forward
on his stedfast course he heeded less than those of geese on a common.
But there was coming a time when this proud and scornful statesman,
conscious of the superiority conferred by great talents and unparalleled
experience, would find it less easy to treat the voice of slanderers,
whether idiots or powerful and intellectual enemies, with contempt.
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