William of Orange Becomes Protestant


Prince William of Orange

William of Orange, reading correctly the signs that portended the future, fled the country, retiring to his patrimonial estates in Nassau. Early in the year of 1568, promising him great leniency, the Duke of Alva summoned William to appear before the Council of Blood. William, however, was far too sagacious to walk into the trap. His brother Louis of Nassau, his brother-in-law Count van Den Berg, and the Counts Hoogstraaten and Culemberg were summoned at the same time. Needless to say, none of these noblemen responded, and as a matter of course, their estates were confiscated and they were sentenced to banishment.

Had they succeeded in ensnaring William of Orange, the joy of Philip and Alva would have known no bounds. His sagacity, strength of character and his influence with his countrymen counted for more than that of all the rest of the Flemish nobility. So long as he was at large, they could not be sure of retaining their hold on the Netherlands.  And though William had escaped, they were able to confiscate his numerous estates and his eldest son, a lad of 13, and at the time attending the University of Louvain, was seized as a hostage and carried off to Spain.

At this time, there was but one person to whom the inhabitants of the Netherlands could look to with even the smallest hope of deliverance and that was the man who had just been stripped of his property and declared an outlaw. The eyes of those who had already escaped as exiles abroad were also turned to William of Orange and he began to be earnestly implored raise the standard in behalf of his country’s liberation. William on his part, wished to defer such a perilous mission, hoping that Spain would involve itself in a war with some other nation making it more difficult for her to retain her hold upon the unhappy Netherlands. William was, however, being continually importuned by the exiles, whose numbers were continually enlarging by the new horrors that darkened their native country. As he viewed the desperate condition, he resolved to delay no longer.

His first business was to raise the necessary funds and soldiers to carry forward such a project. The cities of Antwerp, Haarlem, Amsterdam, and others contributed half the needed sum and more was gathered from the merchants of London and elsewhere. His brother, Count John of Nassau, gave a considerable sum; and the prince himself completed the amount by the sale of his personal belongings which were of great value.

For troops, William was largely dependent upon the Protestant princes of Germany. He presented to them the dangers to their own person and property, as well as the menace to their own liberties that would be presented should the Netherlands be occupied by the Spaniards, and the damage to their trade by the foreign occupation of the sea-board. The German princes were not insensible to these considerations and they not only helped in providing money, but looked the other way when while he levied recruits within their territories. William also felt confident that the Protestant Queen of England would lend some support in this crisis and that the Flemish refugees scattered all over the northern countries of Europe would swell his ranks with brave and patriotic soldiers. With these resources, small as they were compared to the treasures and power of Spain, he resolved to begin his great struggle.

Louis of Nassau

On the 24th April, 1568, Count Louis entered the Provinces. Besides the soldiers recruited in the north of Germany, levies had been raised in France and in the Duchy of Cleves, and it was arranged that the liberating army should enter the Netherlands at four points. One division would march from the South, another would descend along the Meuse from the East; Count Louis would attack from the north and the prince himself, with the main body, would strike the heart of the Netherlands.

The attacking forces on the south and east were repulsed with great slaughter; but the attack under Count Louis was completely successful. The Count’s little army was strongly posted and when the body of Spanish and Sardinian troops under Count Aremberg attacked, they were cut to pieces. The artillery, baggage and military chest of the Spaniards became the booty of the conquerors. However, both Adolphus, brother of Louis of Nasau, and Aremberg, the leader of the Spanish forces, fell in the battle.Duke of Alva

The outcome of the battle was a great blow to Alva. He knew the damaging effect it would have on the prestige of Spanish arms. His first burst of rage was directed towards a group of unfortunate persons who were in prison in Brussels. Nineteen Confederate noblemen, who had been condemned by the Council of Blood, for high treason, were immediately executed. Eight died as Catholics and received a Christian burial; the remaining eleven professed the Reformed faith and their heads were stuck on poles and their bodies fastened to stakes and left in the fields. The next day four gentlemen suffered the same fate but a yet greater tragedy was soon to be carried out.

Counts Edgmont and Horn who had lain in prison for nine months, never doubting that in their entire loyalty to the king they would eventually be exonerated, were shortly bought to the scaffold. The main accusation of these noblemen was that they had been privy to the Confederacy, which had been formed to oppose the introduction of the Inquisition and edicts and that they had met with the Prince of Orange to deliberate about opposing the entrance of the king’s army to the Netherlands. They did, in fact, know of the Confederacy but they had not been members. They had met with the Prince, but they had opposed proposition of Louis of Nassau to unite their endeavors against the entrance of Spanish troops into Flanders. Innocence of guilt, however, were of no account to the Blood Council once it had decided upon a victim to be sacrificed and their death had been determined by the king and Alva months before.

This affair having ended, Alva was free to turn his attention to the war and he headed out to meet Louis of Nassau with an army of 12,000 foot soldiers and 3,000 horsemen.

Even though the army under the command of Louis was somewhat inferior in size, and greatly so in discipline, he was in strongly defended by morasses and swamps. However, Count Louis was more in want of money than troops. The pay of his soldiers was greatly in arrear, and when they saw the Spanish approach, knowing that a battle was imminent, they refused to fight till their arrears had been paid. This intelligence was shortly carried to Alva by spies and accordingly, he promptly attacked. Count Louis and the Flemish exiles fought bravely, but deserted by the German mutineers, they were at last compelled to retreat. The Spanish army rushed into the camp, putting most of the Germans who had refused to fight, to the sword. Count Louis, with the remains of his routed army escaped across the river Ems, and soon thereafter set out for Germany to join his brother, the Prince of Orange.

Until this time, the Prince of Orange had professed the Catholic faith. At this point, however, his religious sentiments underwent a change that was reflected in a manifesto he now published. In the manifesto he stated his conviction that the doctrines of the Reformed Church were more in accordance with the Word of God than were those of the Catholic Church. This elevated the contest to a higher level. The contest was now no longer alone to maintain the ancient Flemish charters but was contending for the rights of conscience. 

The Prince of Orange advanced from Germany crossing the Rhine near Cologne and with an army of no more than 20,000 approached the banks of the Meuse. Alva, for his part, declined battle. Realizing that William’s resources were limited, he chose rather to prolong the campaign, fighting only a few minor skirmishes while waiting for winter to set in which would necessitate the disbanding of William’s army. In this strategy he was completely successful.

William had expected that at the sight of his standards, Brabant and Flanders would welcome him but not a city opened its gates to him or signaled defiance to the tyrant. At last, both money and provisions failed. His soldiers became mutinous and the prince had no alternative but to lead his army back to Germany and there disband it. Time would reveal, however, that the Flanders had lost far more than William did. The offer of freedom had presented itself before their gates, but they failed to correctly understand the hour of their opportunity. With William’s departure, Belgium sank under yoke of Spanish and Roman despotism.

◄List of Articles►Next Article