William's Second Campaign

On July 7, 1572, William with an army of 17,000 and 7,000 horsemen, crossed the Rhine and advanced as far as Roermonde where he requested provision for his men. The government of Roermonde was in the hands of zealous Roman Catholics and they refused his request. The refusal was rendered still more offensive by the haughty and insolent manner in which it was given.

The Spanish Troops Repulsed

William stormed the city and took it. Sadly, his soldiers which were made up largely of German mercenaries who were less amenable to discipline when their pay was in arrears, as now was the case and they exercised great barbarity in putting to death certain priests and monks, thereby dishonoring the cause for which the prince was in arms. Feeling that such excesses must be checked at all costs, William issued an order forbidding such future barbarities on pain of death.

Initially, the march was a successful one. Unlike the first approach when none of the cities of Brabant welcomed the prince, now many of the towns and villages opened their gates to the advancing army. Despite an auspicious beginning, William soon found himself in much straightened circumstances. The friends of the cause had not yet fully realized the size and scope of the project that had been undertaken. If the flow of bigotry and tyranny that was overflowing Christendom was to be stemmed, the friends of liberty both at home and abroad must be far more generous with both their blood and their gold. However, this truth was not yet fully understood.

Charles IX

At this time, William’s best hope lay in the direction of France. Even as he planned their destruction, the French king, Charles IX, gave assurances to Admiral Coligny that William would not want for either soldiers or money. Coligny allowed himself to be persuaded of the favorable intentions of the king and assured the prince that he could expect him to soon join with him at the head of 15,000 Huguenots. William, believing that France was at his back, felt assured that the campaign could have no other outcome than the expulsion of the Spaniards from the Netherlands.

William’s high hopes, however, were destined to be dashed. Just three weeks from the date of Coligny’s letter, William received the terrible news of St. Bartholomew Massacre. The men, with whose help he envisioned emancipating the Low Countries, now lay corpses across the plains of their native land. The Prince of Orange was devastated. The fate of his second campaign had been decided at Paris. Though William continued to try and stem the tide of Spanish tyranny, his efforts were without success. First he failed to relieve his brother who was encircled by Spanish arms in the city of Mons, and next he narrowly escaped being captured by the Spaniards in a night attack upon his camp in which 600 of his soldiers were slain. With nowhere else to turn, William retired to Holland.

With William’s departure, Alva took a terrible revenge on those cities in Brabant which had welcomed the prince’s approach. In his eyes, the archiepiscopal city of Mechlin was a greater offender than Mons, given the strength of its Romanism and the size and influence of its clergy. Alva resolved that it should suffer as preeminently as it had sinned. At this time, Alva’s troops had recently received no pay and he directed them to seek it in the rich city of the priests. “Along every street and lane poured a torrent of furious men, robbing, murdering, violating, without making the least distinction between friend and foe, Papist and Protestant. No age, nor sex, nor rank, nor profession had exemption from the sword, or the worse brutality of the soldiery. Blood flowed in torrents. Churches, monasteries, private dwellings, and public establishments were broken into and pillaged to the last penny. Altars were pulled down, the chalices and other rich vessels used in the mass were carried off, the very Host itself was profaned and trodden under foot by men who professed to regard it as the body and soul of Christ, and who had come from a distant land to avenge the insults which had been offered to it by others.” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, book 18, chapter 17

With the exception of Zutphen and Naarden, which were subjected to the same shocking barbarity that had been inflicted upon Mechlin. The residents of other cities which had opened to William were permitted to redeem their lives by the payment of an enormous ransom.

Occupied in the siege of Mons and the devastation of the revolted town in the Southern Provinces, the Spanish army was forced for the time to leave the Northern Provinces in peace. This time the Hollanders put to good account by increasing the number of their ships, repairing their fortifications and enrolling soldiers. Meanwhile, they waited anxiously for the coming of William.

The enemy with whom the Hollanders faced in battle was no ordinary one; he was exasperated to the utmost; he neither respected an oath, nor spared an enemy should they resist. However, they had in Naarden the awful evidence of what awaited them if their resistance was unsuccessful. And yet, the alternative was submission to the Spanish yoke. The resolution of the Convention was prompt and decided. Rather than yield the right to worship according to their conscience, they would die.

Just as the Hollanders were oppressed with grave thoughts as to the outcome of the struggle before them, an incident took place that helped to enliven their spirits and confirm them in their resolution to resist.

The butchery that had taken place at Naarden, was under the command of Don Frederic de Toledo, the son of Alva. At this time, he marched his men to Amsterdam, the one city that had remained on the side of Alva. In the shallow sea around Amsterdam, locked in ice was the Dutch fleet. The Spanish general promptly sent his men to cross the frozen waters and attack the ships. There advance was being observed, the Dutch soldiers, fastening on their skates, and grabbing their muskets, departed the ships and prepared to give battle the Spaniards. Sweeping rapidly towards the enemy, they poured a deadly volley into his ranks and just as swiftly they wheeled around and retreated beyond range of his fire. In this same manner they kept advancing and retreating, each time inflicting a heavy blow upon the Spanish lines, while their own ranks remained intact.

Frustrated by this new and novel method of battle, the Spaniards were forced to quit the field, leaving several hundred of their dead companions upon the ice. The next day saw a thaw set in which lasted just long enough for the Dutch fleet to escape, while the returning cold made pursuit impossible. This remarkable occurrence was understood by the Dutch to be a favorable omen.

Established at Amsterdam, the Spanish had effectively cut Holland in two and it was decided that the campaign to subjugate the country would begin with Haarlem which was some twelve English miles to the southwest. Believing that his conquest of Naarden had sufficiently inspired the inhabitants with fear, Toledo approached the city and waited for the gates to be opened. However, the tragic end of Naarden had just the opposite effect on the citizens of Haarlem. They clearly saw that those who submitted and those who resisted all met the same fearful end. They determined that rather than live as the slaves of the Spaniards they would die fighting for their freedom. The resolution was adopted to resist Spanish arms to the death.

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