Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland: With a View of the Primary Causes and Movements of the Thirty Years’ War, Vol. 2. The Complete Works of John Lothrop Motley, Vol. 2

Author: John Lothrop Motley

Chapter VII.

Proud Position of the Republic—France obeys her—Hatred of Carleton—Position and Character of Aerssens—Claim for the "Third"—Recall of Aerssens—Rivalry between Maurice and Barneveld, who always sustains the separate Sovereignties of the Provinces—Conflict between Church and State added to other Elements of Discord in the Commonwealth—Religion a necessary Element in the Life of all Classes.

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, Dudley Carleton.

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 delineated.

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 husband’s murder.

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 Concini.

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 of him.

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 my proceedings."

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
Holmes. D.W.]

"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 Prince Maurice.

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 than real.

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 Princess-Dowager.

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 country.

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- General?

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 Prince.

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 by partisans.

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 rights.

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 scabbard.

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 convictions.

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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Title: Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland: With a View of the Primary Causes and Movements of the Thirty Years’ War, Vol. 2. The Complete Works of John Lothrop Motley, Vol. 2

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Chicago: John Lothrop Motley, "Chapter VII.," Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland: With a View of the Primary Causes and Movements of the Thirty Years’ War, Vol. 2. The Complete Works of John Lothrop Motley, Vol. 2 in The Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland: With a View of the Primary Causes and Movements of the Thirty Years’ War, Vol. 2. The Complete Works of John Lothrop Motley, Vol. 2 (New York: Society of English and French Literature, 1902), Original Sources, accessed July 20, 2024,

MLA: Motley, John Lothrop. "Chapter VII." Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland: With a View of the Primary Causes and Movements of the Thirty Years’ War, Vol. 2. The Complete Works of John Lothrop Motley, Vol. 2, in The Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland: With a View of the Primary Causes and Movements of the Thirty Years’ War, Vol. 2. The Complete Works of John Lothrop Motley, Vol. 2, New York, Society of English and French Literature, 1902, Original Sources. 20 Jul. 2024.

Harvard: Motley, JL, 'Chapter VII.' in Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland: With a View of the Primary Causes and Movements of the Thirty Years’ War, Vol. 2. The Complete Works of John Lothrop Motley, Vol. 2. cited in 1902, The Life and Death of John of Barneveld, Advocate of Holland: With a View of the Primary Causes and Movements of the Thirty Years’ War, Vol. 2. The Complete Works of John Lothrop Motley, Vol. 2, Society of English and French Literature, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 20 July 2024, from