Open main menu

Page:Catholic Encyclopedia, volume 10.djvu/832

This page needs to be proofread.


NETHERLANDS


700


NETHERLANDS


the zonith of their prosperity, as is evident from tho ilescriptiou sivcn in loti" l)y"Luigi Guicciardini in Ills '■ IV'scriiiidiio di tutii i I'acsi Bassi" (Totius Belpii drscriplid, Amstcrdain. IGlIi).

Few countries were so well governed; none was richer. Antwerp hail taken the place of Hruw's as commercial metropolis; every day saw a fleet of SOO scii-going craft enter or leave its port. Of (ilient (Gand), his native town, Charles V used to say jocosely: Jc mettrai.i Paris dan^ man Gand [I could put Paris in my glove (gnnt)]. Luxury, however, cor- rupted the earlier gocxl morals of the people, and humanism gradually undermined the faith of some in the upper cla.sses. Protestantism too had already effected an entrance, Lutheranism through Antwerp and Calvinism from the French bortler. The Analjap- tists also had adherents. In addition the more power- ful of the nobility now hoped to play a more influential part in the government than they had done under Charles V, and were already planning for the realiza- tion of this ambition. The situation presented many difficulties, antl unfortunately Philip II was not the man to cope with them. He hatl little in common with his Low-Country subjects. Their language was not his; and lie was a stranger to their customs. From the day he quitted the Xetherlands in 1559, he never set foot in them again, but governed from far-off Spain. He was despotic, severe, crafty, and desirous of keeping in his own hands all the reins of govern- ment, in minor details as well as in matters of more importance, thereby causing many unfortunate delays in affairs that demanded rapid transaction. He was on the whole a most unsuitable ruler in spite of his sincere desire to fulfd the duties of his royal office and the time and pains he consecrated to them.

It must be sai<l in justice that from a religious point of view, he brought about one of the most important events in the history of the Netherlands when he caused the establishment of fourteen new dioceses. The want had long lieen recognized and the sovereigns, particularly Philip the Good and Charles V, had often thought of this measure. In all the seventeen prov- inces there were but four dioceses: Utrecht in the north; Tournai, -Vrras, and Cambrai in the West; and all of them were subject to foreign metropolitans, Utrecht to Cologne and the others to Reims. More- over the greater part of the country was under the direct jurisdiction of foreign bishops: those of Liege, Trier, Metz, Verdun, etc. Hence arose great difficul- ties and endless conflicts. The Bull of Pope Paul IV (12 May, 15.')9) put an end to this situation by raising Utrecht and Cambrai to archiepiscopal rank, and by creating fourteen new .sees, one of them, Mechlin, an archljishopric. The others were Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Ypres, St-Omer, Namur, Bois-le-Duc (Herto- genbo.sch), Roermonil, Haarlem, Deventer, Leeuwar- den, Groningen, and Middelhurg. This act, excellent from a religious point of view, gave rise to many com- plaints. To endow the new sees it was found necessary to incorporate with them the richest abbeys in the country, and in certain provinces these carried the right of voting in the States-General. And this right Ijeing for the fviture exercised through the bishops, the result was that the king who nominated them gained a considerable influence in the Parliament, which had hitherto always acted as a check on the royal power. To aggravate matters, the Protestant faction spread a rumour that the erection of the new bishoprics was but a -step towards introducing the Spanish Inquisition into the Netherlands. Lastly the abbeys began to complain of their lost autonomy — the place of the abbot being now occupied by the bishop.

The onpo.sition of the nollles was led by two men, remarkable in different ways. On one hand was the Count of Egmont (see Komont, Lamoral, Count of), the victor at St-Quentin and Gravelines, a brave man, frank and honest, a lover of popularity but weak in


character and lacking in political shrewdness. On the other hantl stood William of Nassau, Prince of Orange, surnained "the Silent", a politician and diplomal of the first rank, filled with ambition which he will knew how to conceal, having no rehgious scrupK's, being Catholic, Lutheran, or Calvinist as it suiteil him, a man who had made the downfall of Spanish rule the one aim of his life. Grouped aroim<l these two chiefs were a number of nobles irritated with the Govern- ment, many of them deeply involved liiiancially or morally corrupt like the too well-known Breilcnxie. They kejit up the agitation and deniaMdcd fresh con- cessions day by day. They insisted upon I lie recall of the Spanish soldiers, and the king yieldeil (loCil). They demanded more moderate language in the public placard against heresy, and even sent the Count of Egmont to Spain to obtain it (1565); and Egmont, having been flattered and feted at the Spanish Court, came back convinced that his mission had licen suc- cessful. Soon, however, royal letters dated from the Forest of Segovia, 17 and 20 October, 1565, brought the king's formal refusal to abate one jot in the repres- sion of heresy.

The irreconcilable attitude of the king created a situation of increasing difficulty for the government of Margaret of Parma. Heresy was spreading every day, and it was no longer confined to the cities Ijut was obtaining a foothold in the smaller towns and even in country places. Protestant preachers, for the most part renegade monks or priests, like the famous Da- thenus, assembled the people at "sermons" in which they were exhorted to open war on the Catholic religion. Calvinism, a sect better organized than Lutheranism, became the popular heresy in the Low Countries. It had supporters in every grade of so- ciety; and although its members continued to be a small minority, their daring and clever propaganda made them a most dangerous force in presence of the inaction and sluggishness of the Catholics. Stirred up by these Calvinist preachers. Catholic and Protestant nobles formed an alliance which was called Lc Com- promis des Nobles, with the object of obtaining the suppression of the Inquisition. A body of them num- bering several hundred came to present a petition to that effect to the regent (5 April, 1566). It is related that as she showed signs of alarm at this demonstra- tion Count de Berlaymont, member of the Council of State and a loyal supporter of the Government, said to her: " Rassurez-voiis, Madame, ce tie sont que des gueux " (Courage, Madam, they are only beggars). The con- federates at once took up the word as a party name, and thus this famous name made its entry into his- tory.

Up to that time the Gueux meant to remain faithful to the king, jusqu'a la besace (to beggary), as one of their mottoes had it. They seemed to have been made up of Catholics and Protestants, indiscriminately, who were partisans of religious tolerance; and Virc les Gueux was originally the rally-cry of a sort of national party. This, however, was a delusion soon apparent. The Calvinist leaders held the movement in their hands, and did not hesitate when sure of their own strength to disclose its real fanatical opposition to the Catholic Church. Roused and excited 1)>' the impas- sioned appeals of the preachers, the rowdj' element of the people perpetrated unheard-of excesses. In the latter part of August, 1566, bands of iconoclasts scoured the country, wrecking and pillaging churches, and in a few days they had plundered four hundred, among them the magnificent cathedral of Antwerp. These crimes opened the eyes of many who up to that time had been too lenient with the sectarians. Public opinion condemned the iconoclastic outrages and sided with the Government, which thus suddenly found its position greatly strengthened. Once more, unfortu- nately, Philip II was not equal to the occasion. In- stead of skilfully profiting by this turn of events to