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Another step, and a wide one, into the great stream of European history.
The Lady Mary espouses the Archduke Maximilian. The Netherlands are
about to become Habsburg property. The Ghenters reject the pretensions
of the dauphin, and select for husband of their duchess the very man whom
her father had so stupidly rejected. It had been a wiser choice for
Charles the Bold than for the Netherlanders. The marriage takes place on
the 18th of August, 1477. Mary of Burgundy passes from the guardianship
of Ghent burghers into that of the emperor's son. The crafty husband
allies himself with the city party, feeling where the strength lies.
He knows that the voracious Kabbeljaws have at last swallowed the Hooks,
and run away with them. Promising himself future rights of
reconsideration, he is liberal in promises to the municipal party.
In the mean time he is governor and guardian of his wife and her
provinces. His children are to inherit the Netherlands and all that
therein is. What can be more consistent than laws of descent,
regulated by right divine? At the beginning of the century, good Philip
dispossesses Jacqueline, because females can not inherit. At its close,
his granddaughter succeeds to the property, and transmits it to her
children. Pope and emperor maintain both positions with equal logic.
The policy and promptness of Maximilian are as effective as the force and
fraud of Philip. The Lady Mary falls from her horse and dies. Her son,
Philip, four years of age, is recognized as successor. Thus the house of
Burgundy is followed by that of Austria, the fifth and last family which
governed Holland, previously to the erection of the republic. Maximilian
is recognized by the provinces as governor and guardian, during the
minority of his children. Flanders alone refuses. The burghers, ever
prompt in action, take personal possession of the child Philip, and carry
on the government in his name. A commission of citizens and nobles thus
maintain their authority against Maximilian for several years. In 1488,
the archduke, now King of the Romans, with a small force of cavalry,
attempts to take the city of Bruges, but the result is a mortifying one
to the Roman king. The citizens of Bruges take him. Maximilian, with
several councillors, is kept a prisoner in a house on the market-place.
The magistrates are all changed, the affairs of government conducted in
the name of the young Philip alone. Meantime, the estates of the other
Netherlands assemble at Ghent; anxious, unfortunately, not for the
national liberty, but for that of the Roman king. Already Holland, torn
again by civil feuds, and blinded by the artifices of Maximilian, has
deserted, for a season, the great cause to which Flanders has remained so
true. At last, a treaty is made between the archduke and the Flemings.
Maximilian is to be regent of the other provinces; Philip, under
guardianship of a council, is to govern Flanders. Moreover, a congress
of all the provinces is to be summoned annually, to provide for the
general welfare. Maximilian signs and swears to the treaty on the 16th
May, 1488. He swears, also, to dismiss all foreign troops within four
days. Giving hostages for his fidelity, he is set at liberty. What are
oaths and hostages when prerogative, and the people are contending?
Emperor Frederic sends to his son an army under the Duke of Saxony.
The oaths are broken, the hostages left to their fate. The struggle
lasts a year, but, at the end of it, the Flemings are subdued. What
could a single province effect, when its sister states, even liberty-
loving Holland, had basely abandoned the common cause? A new treaty is
made, (Oct.1489). Maximilian obtains uncontrolled guardianship of his
son, absolute dominion over Flanders and the other provinces. The
insolent burghers are severely punished for remembering that they had
been freemen. The magistrates of Ghent, Bruges, and Ypres, in black
garments, ungirdled, bare-headed, and kneeling, are compelled to implore
the despot's forgiveness, and to pay three hundred thousand crowns of
gold as its price. After this, for a brief season, order reigns in
The course of Maximilian had been stealthy, but decided. Allying himself
with the city party, he had crushed the nobles. The power thus obtained,
he then turned against the burghers. Step by step he had trampled out
the liberties which his wife and himself had sworn to protect. He had
spurned the authority of the "Great Privilege," and all other charters.
Burgomasters and other citizens had been beheaded in great numbers for
appealing to their statutes against the edicts of the regent, for voting
in favor of a general congress according to the unquestionable law. He
had proclaimed that all landed estates should, in lack of heirs male,
escheat to his own exchequer. He had debased the coin of the country,
and thereby authorized unlimited swindling on the part of all his agents,
from stadholders down to the meanest official. If such oppression and
knavery did not justify the resistance of the Flemings to the
guardianship of Maximilian, it would be difficult to find any reasonable
course in political affairs save abject submission to authority.
In 1493, Maximilian succeeds to the imperial throne, at the death of his
father. In the following year his son, Philip the Fair, now seventeen
years of age, receives the homage of the different states of the
Netherlands. He swears to maintain only the privileges granted by Philip
and Charles of Burgundy, or their ancestors, proclaiming null and void
all those which might have been acquired since the death of Charles.
Holland, Zeland, and the other provinces accept him upon these
conditions, thus ignominiously, and without a struggle, relinquishing
the Great Privilege, and all similar charters.
Friesland is, for a brief season, politically separated from the rest of
the country. Harassed and exhausted by centuries of warfare, foreign,
and domestic, the free Frisians, at the suggestion or command of Emperor
Maximilian, elect the Duke of Saxony as their Podesta. The sovereign
prince, naturally proving a chief magistrate far from democratic, gets
himself acknowledged, or submitted to, soon afterwards, as legitimate
sovereign of Friesland. Seventeen years afterward Saxony sells the
sovereignty to the Austrian house for 350,000 crowns. This little
country, whose statutes proclaimed her to be "free as the wind, as long
as it blew," whose institutions Charlemagne had honored and left
unmolested, who had freed herself with ready poniard from Norman tyranny,
who never bowed her neck to feudal chieftain, nor to the papal yoke, now
driven to madness and suicide by the dissensions of her wild children,
forfeits at last her independent existence. All the provinces are thus
united in a common servitude, and regret, too late, their supineness at
a moment when their liberties might yet have been vindicated. Their
ancient and cherished charters, which their bold ancestors had earned
with the sweat of their brows and the blood of their hearts, are at the
mercy of an autocrat, and liable to be superseded by his edicts.
In 1496, the momentous marriage of Philip the Fair with Joanna, daughter
of Ferdinand and Isabella of Castile and Aragon, is solemnized. Of this
union, in the first year of the century, is born the second Charlemagne,
who is to unite Spain and the Netherlands, together with so many vast and
distant realms, under a single sceptre. Six years afterwards (Sept. 25,
1506), Philip dies at Burgos. A handsome profligate, devoted to his
pleasures, and leaving the cares of state to his ministers, Philip,
"croit-conseil," is the bridge over which the house of Habsburg passes to
almost universal monarchy, but, in himself, is nothing.
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